Uimhir a Cúig | On Being There and Not Being There; or Cotard’s Delusion, A Case Study: Text & Video — Kevin Barry & Louise Manifold
Today Numéro Cinq begins a new special feature tagged Uimhir a Cúig, which means Number Five in Irish, wherein you will find some of the best in contemporary Irish literature and culture exhibited. To launch Uimhir a Cúig, we have a video by the amazing and uncanny Galway artist Louise Manifold with text and voiceover from the massively celebrated Kevin Barry, winner of last year’s Dublin IMPAC International Literary Award for his novel The City of Bohane as well as the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Prize. Barry is a wonderful read. He is especially good on the rhythm and nuance of Irish idiom (his stories set in pubs are wonderful, put you in mind of Flann O’Brien) and comedy in a dark time. Cotard’s Delusion happens to be a real pathology in which the sufferer believes he is dead.
This is a piece I wrote to go with a video and audio installation for an artist called Louise Manifold in Galway based on Cotard’s Delusion — a rare mental state in which you wake up one morning and believe yourself to be dead. It was apparently Cotard’s that inspired Beckett’s The Calmative. Louise filmed the interior of a derelict old cinema in New Jersey — as good a locale to define a state of living death as any!
My wife is distraught and has refused to accept the facts of the situation. I suppose her reaction is common to the bereaved. She cannot accept that the old realities are done with now. That I have no heat in my bones to lend her now. She rants like a mad woman – she refuses to accept the pure state of my absence; she will not accept that I am no longer here. I can only hope that time will do its patient work on her now – as they insist it will – and that she can find something or someone to live for again; she is not an old woman yet.
It is Saturday I can tell even by the feel of the streets and somehow by the way the light falls – there is a species of winter light that holds the particular resonance of Saturday – and it is late morning, and the people are about and lost in the make-busy routines of their lives, as though any of it matters, and I move among them and sometimes, even still, I draw passing nods from the acquaintances of my old life, but I do not return their smiles and gestures – how could I? – and their faces fall into frown and puzzlement then, and I sense the way a chill of cold certainty passes through them. Word will have got around of my demise, and they will know it is a spirit they have seen, or sensed, or a cipher, or a ghost, for I could be nothing else now and no other, for I have passed on, and I throw no shadow in the white winter sun.
But I can taste the world still even though I am no longer a part of it. Still there is the waft of coffee from the cafes but it stirs nothing in me. Still from the tannoys of the shops I can hear sentimental pop music – old love songs I would have held her to, in discos, in 1978 – but it stirs nothing in me. Still I can recognise the beauties of the planet – they are all about on this fine bright Saturday –but they stir nothing in me.
I could not name for you the precise moment of my death. I suspect, of course, there was a significance about the moment when the tendrils of smoke came from my nostrils. It was a sweetish, greenish-black smoke, as from the burning of a seasoned ash wood. Perhaps something left me at that moment – another might call it a soul – and it was perhaps then that I become merely this husk; I became something to be carried on the breeze off the river, on the wind off the bay.
I can witness the moments of my old life still but only as a stranger. I am puzzled by my actions. By the decisions I made and the paths that I took. What a fool I was. What a happy poor fool I was. What a happy and arrogant and deluded poor fool I was.
I walk straight ahead with my shoulders thrown back and the head held high and the people walk straight at me but they swerve at the last moment though they cannot see me but somehow they must sense me – I was once of the tribe, and my scent is about the streets still. These are the streets of our lives and our Saturdays, as though we are a confluence at the centre of the universe – what arrogant poor fools – and I walk on, as always I walked on, and as ever I am drawn to the water.
The occult places are where the rivers enter the sea and I walk now by the mesmerizing roar of the black water, and I am drawn along the same old pathway again – tang of sea – and I walk into the saltwind and into the light; I am there and I am not there; I have become water, wind, light.
— Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry is the author of the story collections Dark Lies The Island and There Are Little Kingdoms and the novel City of Bohane. He has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Prize. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House and many other journals. He also writes plays and screenplays. He lives in County Sligo, Ireland.
Born in Co. Galway Ireland, Louise Manifold studied at Central St Martins College London and the Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology, Ireland. She has exhibited extensively throughout Ireland, and internationally in group exhibitions at ISCP, New York. Proximal Distances Chicago, Supermarket Art Fair, Stockholm, Red House Arts Centre Syracuse New York, Candid arts centre, London. 411 Galleries Shanghai, China and the Botin Foundation, Spain. Louise has been the recipient of numerous awards from Galway City Council, Galway County Council, The Arts Council of Ireland and Culture Ireland, In 2009 she was one of the four artists short-listed nominated for Allied Irish Bank Art prize. Louise is currently based in Galway and is on the board of directors of Galway Arts Centre, and Artspace studios Galway, Ireland.
This is just wonderful, a perfect winter pairing.
This piece of writing, not only stands alone, but walks down a dark alley and takes you along, and takes you, takes something with a feverish slowness out of your body until you are left, outside of the time that isn’t running anymore…
The inevitable response–haunting–is justified by the language and cadence, as well as the images.