Blog by the artist Sanne Kabalt

a reading (if fiction speaks the truth)

My eyelids sleep, but I do not. I felt the shape of a room around me, a big room with open windows. A pillow molded itself under my head, and my body floated, without pressure, between thin sheets. I recovered my sight and I was amazed to find a darkness around me soft and restful for my eyes, but perhaps even more so for the mind, to which it appeared a thing without cause, incomprehensible, a thing truly dark. That this blue exists, makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it.

If I am already sleeping here, then where should this me sleep? Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer. As long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on… The world goes on because some one’s awake somewhere. If, by accident, a moment were to occur when everyone was asleep, the world would disappear.  But there is always the sun when the sun shines and the night when the night falls. There’s always grief when grief afflicts us and dreams when dreams cradle us. There is always what there is and never what there should be, not because it’s better or worse, but because it’s other. Earlier, I would at times feel the need to shut myself up in the dark, letting nothing awaken the empathy, to sit just like that in the healing darkness of the nothingness. To keep myself from scattering, to stop the influxes of other people’s sorrows and stories.

But the truth is that we do not know what the herring feels. An idiosyncrasy peculiar to the herring is that, when dead, it begins to glow; this property, which resembles phosphorescence and is yet altogether different, peaks a few days after death and then ebbs away as the fish decays.

It’s also true that sometimes people felt things and, because there was no word for them, they went unmentioned. …on those occasions the outlines of people and things suddenly dissolved, disappeared. People disappear into their stories all the time. Meanwhile the wolf ran straight to the grandmother's house and knocked at the door. Pain serves a purpose. Without it you are in danger.

I cannot yet find a mouth with which to tell you the story. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over. I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others – the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. His unlived life worried him, tortured him, turning round and round inside him like an animal in a cage. He beckoned to me to approach.

“When did you see me?” I asked.

‘And how did you recognize that it was I?’

‘From the photograph, and…’

‘And what?’

‘And you were just as I had imagined you…I feel as though I have seen you somewhere too.’

‘Where- where?’

(You have ghosts?)

(Of course I have ghosts.)

(What are your ghosts like?)

(They are on the inside of the lids of my eyes.)

(This is also where my ghosts reside.)

They exist in people’s ears, in the eyes when the eyes looked inside and not out, in the voice as soon as it begins to speak, in the head when it thinks, because words are full of ghosts but so are images.

Nothing and yet everything had passed between us. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. It meant that his life was good but his thinking was bad. How long will he last, do you think? If a calamity should strike him, it’s only in a small part of the total notion we have of him that we will be able to be moved by this; even more, it is only in a part of the total notion he has of himself that he will be able to be moved himself.

I was listening to that sound. The sound woke me up, but I didn’t have the courage to open my eyes, so I kept them close and strained to listen in the darkness. Footsteps, so quiet as to be almost imperceptible.  Two feet marking time with the lightest of threads, like a child learning a new and difficult dance. But then it was suddenly still as death. No rumbling was to be heard, no toppling, no cracking, no nothing, and no echo of nothing. Meaningful sounds all ended up as silence. And the silence grew, deeper and deeper, like silt on the bottom of the sea. It accumulated at his feet, reached up to his waist, then up to his chest. …and his heart fell into his knees, his eyes hid in terror in the back of his head, and his ears blazed bright red. …and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in; and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.

How to paint a dead man. …the very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always, a feeling of delight that he had died and they hadn't. It seemed to me that my own body, if you touched it, was distended, and this saddened me. I was sure that I had cheeks like balloons, hands stuffed with sawdust, earlobes like ripe berries, feet in the shape of loaves of bread. Everything starts to feel unfamiliar. Like I’ve come up to the back of something. Shut up behind a door without a handle. I’m afraid to meet new people and feel new feelings.

It is blood that moves the body. Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving greater things. Deep down, I don’t believe it takes any special talent for a person to lift himself off the ground and hover in the air. No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves. You must let yourself evaporate. Let your muscles go limp, breathe until you feel your soul pouring out of you, and then shut your eyes. That’s how it’s done. The emptiness inside your body grows lighter than the air around you. Little by little, you begin to weigh less than nothing. You shut your eyes; you spread your arms; you let yourself evaporate.Too many events in a man’s life are invisible. Unknown to others as our dreams. And nothing releases the dreamer, not death in the dream, not waking. Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person? Anyone wanting to make a catalogue of monsters would need only to photograph in words the things that night brings to somnolent souls who cannot sleep. Only in bad novels people always think the right thing, always say the right thing, every effect has its cause, there are the likable ones and the unlikable, the good and the bad, everything in the end consoles you.

Reality is as thin as paper.


This text is entirely composed out of sentences from my favourite books - works of fiction by authors including Haruki Murakami, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Han Kang, Elena Ferrante, Fyodor Dostoyevsky & Clarice Lispector. 

An experiment in the context of the Dutch Art Institute's course The Kitchen Not the Restaurant. 

Sanne Kabalt