Chorography and Toute-eau in the Waters of Lower Murray Country

By | 1 May 2019

March 2018. This research is drenched in imaginary aerial waters. After yet another summer of below-average rainfall, I long for a storm. I need to be reminded of the sound of water drops tapping against my tin roof. They are an infinity of ‘Hellos!’ I need these greetings to calm me down. The droplets of perspiration running along my back as I sit in front of my computer and write simply cannot do it. I turn the pages backwards and find Miriam Hyde’s 1970 piece for soprano and piano, Prayer for the Rain. I play it in my head:

Land waiting for rain,
Land waiting for rain,
Bones of dead sheep
On pulverised earth.
Land straining for rain,
Land straining for rain,
Life giving showers
Oh come,
Come soon!

Already, in 1970, waters were a thing of prayers rather than of reality. The ‘pulverised earth’ longs to be turned into dough (again); it longs to remain dough.1 The quest for waters can no longer be confined to the ground. Explorers have long been and gone. Their desiccated faces are imprinted on the clouds. I imagine them smiling as rain pours: Murrundi / Murray River will flow and run again; it will flood the veins of Australia and Australians. Rivers in the sky will drop, reconnecting dry patches, creating one giant puddle after the other. Praying for waters becomes a form of pataphysics. It conducts and dictates behaviours: the heavens will open and pour – if only imaginarily. Because if it does not happen on the ground, it must eventually happen above. The water in the sky will surely compensate for the quietness of the water on the ground. The equilibrium is restored; the equilibrium is kept, to paraphrase chemist Antoine Lavoisier whose statement has become a French idiom: ‘in nature, nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes’ (140-1). My first year of research on watery musicality, my second year of research, my third year of research. They have unfolded one after the other. This is my fourth year of research on spatial poetics and waters in Lower Murray Country. It does not come after the others: it precedes them all. It is their imagined totality; it is how they open to, and contain, the world. It is how, breathing air, I return to the beginning of my research. Returning transforms journeying as an act of (re)joining and disjoining. Returning suggests a previous departure, or a multiplicity of departures. Yet, without retracing my steps, without the physical and imaginary journeying, this essay would not be what it now is. H2O flows in between these lines. ‘Nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes.’ Because the sky reaches other horizons. My fourth year of research is (already) upon me. The rain must come from elsewhere. I must sing-write louder.

This work is my chant of and for the waters of Lower Murray Country: it explores reciprocities and antagonisms; it connects and disconnects; it recesses and progresses; it is loud (over-abundant) and quiet (blatantly absent). It is cyclical. I am breathing air. My chant is born in the Glissantian Tout-monde. It is where (my) Toute-eau finds its roots and routes. Glissant explains:

I call All-world our universe as it changes and persists while exchanging; and at the same time, the ‘vision’ that we have of it. The totality-world in its physical diversity and in the representations that it inspires us … (Traité 176)

Imaginaries and realities are interconnected. One flows into the other, while simultaneously receiving the other within its own flow. Similarly to this essay, they form a constantly self-actualising loop. One does not (cannot) exist without the other. Glissant insists on the indivisible nature of the swirling between the imaginary and physical aspects of his concept: it is ‘the world you have turned in your mind while it turns you in its swaying’ (Tout-monde 208). Yet, this real-imaginary whirlpool does not mean that the physical is equivalent (or reducible) to its representation(s). The endless back-and-forth movements in between these two is primordial – being static in itself is movement: it is the refusal of movement. The waters contained in my Toute-eau illustrate the same principles as Glissant’s Tout-monde. Toute-eau is our watery environments as we hear (feel) them and imagine them. It is our watery environments as they fill and surround us. Toute-eau is a Tout-monde of waters; a Tout-monde where waters inundate bodies and swirl them (with)in their sonic flows. This world I imagine and inhabit, though, somewhat diverges from the Tout-monde. It is feminine. An ‘e’ is added to Glissant’s ‘tout’. It softens its consonants. Unlike the noun ‘world’, which is masculine, ‘water’ belongs to the feminine realm in French. I am happy about this. If I echo Glissant (if I repeat myself), it is au féminin (in the feminine form). I grow out of the Tout-monde, as much as I grow against it.2 I am not Glissant, and I cannot parrot his words without making them mine; without integrating them within my own and transforming them in the process – as much as each of them changes me. This is one of the ‘liberatory alternatives’ with which I wish to experiment in this essay. For I am a woman, and that fact should be stated: it bends every sound I hear and shapes every word I write.

The Toute-eau is turbulence. Waters generate whirlpools which rise against linearity. My discourse circles from their abyssal depth to their surface. It adds to its core with every passage. I expand and contract time by shifting points of view mid-paragraph: this merges past, present and future together. Shifting chronologies stand as a defence against the many gaps in the colonial historical narrative. Through this disruption of the chronological order, I attempt to remember in-between, occulted, unrecorded histories; and these histories connect me to my watery surroundings. Time no longer matters. In the Tout-monde, time becomes irrelevant in terms of hierarchical organisation. Glissant insists: there, all fill the present (are present), while simultaneously carrying all pasts and foreseeing all futures (Traité 230). For how could there be a beginning if there is no end to the transformations that are taking place? I am writing a Möbius strip of text. I follow in Glissant’s path:

I dreamt that I had developed a text which would innocently coil around itself but in a vigorous and triumphant manner, until it engenders its own meanings as it goes. Repetition was the guiding thread, with that imperceptible deviation which pushes forward. (La Cohée 20)

Repetition is the reflection of a quest for totality: endless accumulations sketch a picture of what this totality could be. It becomes a protective mechanism. I constantly repeat myself, but in every repetition, I slightly shift what I am saying and add a layer of meaning to it, making it more complex, and thus impossible to reduce or appropriate. And if I use definitions by negation – if I explain what something is not rather than what it is – it is to leave what it is open. Repetition is also how to transcend the dryness of concepts – the speculative nature of pure abstractions. As words vary, they become picture-words. Rather than defining, they illustrate. They associate and cumulate, coming to life on their own to form moving images. The colour of sounds tinges them. Examples pile after examples (in an extremely Glissantian fashion), and their combination allows me to imagine a potential totality, while not reducing this totality to a bounded and fixed concept. A tumultuous cumulus saturated with meanings is forming; it connects sky and earth through torrential water drops. These word variations, like musical pieces, flow ad libitum (at will), in their unity-diversity. And, as the words are introduced (declined), my body travels with them. It follows the pictures they raise in my mind. I am projected elsewhere. I am moving forward.

The unity is submarine
breathing air, our problem is how to study the fragments
  1. On water, dough and malleability, see Bachelard (19).
  2. This joins with feminist and environmental humanist Astrida Neimanis, who sees the feminine in waters as a way of rising against one more (academic) barrier. Bachelard also insists on the feminine character of waters – as a source of constant rebirth (L’Eau et les Rêves 20).
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