Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Expanded Poetics Feature—Issue 62, March 2016)

Evan Calder Williams
T-1, 2

In the years after WWII, the US Air Force stepped up their polar observation project. Worried that the Soviets might creep cunning over the top, the 46th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron flew and flew the Arctic to watch the ice. In ’46, they spotted something huge:15 miles wide and 18 miles long, five times the size of Turin, too big to be a ship but where no island had been before. Arctic outpost? Experimental submarine? Ruin? Experimental ruin? Unsure, they classified it and named it Target-X, later renamed T-1. They then proceed to lose it. T-1 went unspotted for three years, drifting rogue despite all attempted surveillance.

T-1 was eventually found and revealed to be nothing explicitly weaponized or conspiratorial, just a tremendous and mobile ice island through and through. But the question it raised – how do you find ice amongst ice? – shapes a brilliant nightmare of a book called just that, Ice, by Anna Kavan. Its story is simple enough: a sadistic man chases a woman across a world busy getting consumed by illogical glaciers that may or may not be influenced by starlight. Yet to write Ice is a problem, because as a novel, things do advance – more of the world gets covered in ice and snow – and yet the longer it goes on, the possibility of describing it anew narrows and narrows, given that more and more is covered in snow. When Kavan writes, “I longed for something to focus my eyes on, there was nothing inside or out,” the lack of focus is no problem of the eyes or of deciding what the snow means. It’s a problem of exhaustion, of the impossibility of not just writing the ice was white, and the rocks were black over and over again. So her snow turns “yellow like swarms of bees round the lighted windows.” The ice becomes a rainbow wall jutting from the sea, as I expect it would have the good grace to do when it annihilates us. Above all, though, she burns the thesaurus and opts for repetition. “White stationary shadows beyond the moving fabric of falling white.” The prose comes to chase its own tail, restrict its options, and go for it anyway. But the historical and colonial echoes of that whiteness is no more incidental than the gendered specificity of the violence around which the story turns and the military frame that shapes it. It’s the slow bleed of the historic world into Kavan’s collapsing fantastic one and the impossibility of any universal catastrophe. Talking about the weather comes to be anything but. And in so doing, in remarking on its passage, its day in and day out, it was snowing slightly, it was snowing hard, in writing from the background and scrim of the narrative on out, Kavan comes to write something that can never advance and where that ferocious violence can never be left behind, neither when one just watches the snow fall nor when the narrator skips town and continent.

T-1, 2 is one screen of a wider research, video, text, and performance project called T-1 that deals with compromised vision, landscape, and storage. On this screen, brief moments from Kavan’s text bleed into each other and compete for screen space with an endlessly blowing rainbow storm built from aftermarket particle effects, from snow that never fell anywhere other than a screen. Halfway between a narrative poem and screen saver, it’s meant to be watched and read as a second screen, while doing something else, reading, cooking, cleaning, or watching, as a distraction or a drift that changes too slow to watch with attention but too fast to entirely turn away.