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Thinking latency with Flamenca

I have already forgotten a lot about Flamenca from the last time I read it. But one needs to forget in order to excite –not memory, but latency. I know Sepp Gumbrecht has recently written a book about latency, and that he has used this concept in order to explain how have we been writing contemporary history since 1945. I guess my latency is a little bit different, and yet it is a latency so intimately linked to a theory of history. Theory of History is perhaps all about latency.

So you have to forget. Actively. You have to tell a certain history, to replay it, even in slow motion, but only in order to forget some of the noisy stuff that gravitates around it. Since it would be simply useless to become Funes, it is better to become conscious of everything that surrounds not the facts as they have been, but the facts as they have been so pervasively that they have never stopped to be. Forget everything that is there not obviously in front of you, before our eyes. Forget, rather, all the images and texts that have been taken in order to focus –and here the photographic metaphor would come handy– on those other images that you took by happenstance, but that somehow have become part of a certain loose fantasy, images that are blurred, undeveloped, that constitute a tiny geography and geometry of shapeless fragments, but that haunt you because they have been uttered, performed, and yet they have only taken one mere instant, small enough to be unable to locate it in time, small enough to be lost in space, small enough to be impossible to be measured all but in a fraction of a second.

Let’s think, for instance, of Guilhem de Nevers and Flamenca. There is a very logical dispute about what is the reason why the romance is completely genius. The fact that it is wanting the beginning, and that there is no end to the manuscript, increases the magnitude of its mythical existence in literary history. It is not, as Limentani called it like thirty something years ago, l’eccezione narrativa because it is one of the rare narratives in Occitan culture. Limentani did indeed know of other narratives, he simply thought most of them were not intriguing enough –and he was probably wrong about that, if we consider the fact that every single epic poem and otherwise narrative poem in Occitan is a piece of sublime craftsmanship. Flamenca is exceptional precisely because it plays with latency –that is with parts of history that have been vaguely registered and that need to be developed in order to become full-fledged pieces of a crucial, transformative vision of history. If we place Flamenca in or around 1270, the poignancy of the historical events as they are built by this poem, become all the more powerful.

Everybody has now read Flamenca. I would not even try to tell the tale, it would be laughable to try to replace its literary perfection with a paragraph or two in bad English. So, you know that Guilhem is in love with Flamenca, because he has never seen her. Herein lies its logic, that’s as a matter of course. Flamenca, at her turn, does not know anything about this blonde guy, standing seven feet tall, who is claimed to be knight and cleric –with all the power those two concepts had around 1270 or so. He does know that he cannot see her very easily, so, in order to become her knight, he must be a cleric. An altar-boy, to be more precise. Flamenca is in a spot of her own in church every single Sunday, for the mass, and Guilhem needs to be there long enough to convey his message to her. She, naturally, does not expect it at all. As an altar-boy, he is in charge of approaching the Psalter book to her lips, for her to kiss it. A fleeting instant of intimacy, protected by an object that really is Galeotto, a screen not to read, but rather to write laboriously the events that might unfold after that. As I said, I have already forgotten lots of details from my last reading of *Flamenca*, so, in a sense, I am being unfaithful to the literality of the poem. I am developing a black and white image, a tonal rendering, of an extremely colorful event.

Before the real encounter with Flamenca, Guilhem has been trying to predict the future. The encounter will be so short, that he will only have the time to pronounce two syllables. It’s not too much. There is not too much one can say with only two syllables, especially considering the stakes of the game. He wants her love, and sex. He then decides to pronounce only two syllables that do not have any sense of their own. The have no semantic content. In a way, they are pure signifier, or pure deixis, they do not point to one certain content, but rather to the quite tall continent pronouncing them. They focus on him, rather than on their meaning —ai las.

One of the things I might have forgotten is, precisely, her immediate reaction to those two syllables. Latent in me are images of a Flamenca that looks a lot like Anne of Burgundy, expresses herself like Christine de Pizan, and is a reader the size of Emma Bovary. She is surprised by those two syllables that kind of descend from the pages of the Psalter without ever being them. She is perhaps as surprised to realize that the moment these syllables are uttered coincide with the moment in which her lips contact the parchment –skin– of the book, and that the communion between flesh and words are troubling to a degree that cannot be easily conceptualized without exploring the theological and liturgical panes of a complex altarpiece. It is as if the kiss on skin were the actual moment of production of the two syllables that pierce her ears. For her ears only, the two syllables do not surprise anybody else.

It is totally obvious that I am going to verify all that in one of my copies of Flamenca, but even if the reading proves me wrong, I won’t change a word of my text –unless it is to improve it, but then who could blame me for that? The main feature of latency is that is extraordinarily subjective, and that, as it happens with an image latent on the negative, you can develop it in one hundred different ways, and each time it will be a thesis about the same fraction of a second that flashed in a moment of danger.

Flamenca has been transfigured. She now has something she did not have before –two syllables, and the image of the man who uttered them then and there. But she does not understand them. She becomes now interested in latency, insofar as she predicts that she will have seven days in front of her not only to determine the meaning of that instant, but also to react to it in a productive way, that is, in order to respond in kind. In kind, here, means that if she is lucky, she will only have the same amount of time for to the altar-boy, and that, considering the circumstances, she will have to replace the time of her kiss with the time of two syllables. But first, she needs to see whether she has understood what has happened in an instant that feels more present and more ghostly the more she thinks of it.

Let’s replay the scene. It is the only way to get it. The are now in a tower, the one where Flamenca has been relocated by his jealous newlywed husband, Archimbaut. She shares the fortress with two female friends ad servants, Alis and Margarida, that in my mind are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, because I cannot tell who is who, and I will never recognize them in the street, and I will probably think that Alis is Margarida, and that Margarida is Alis. To replay the scene, one needs a Flamenca other than Flamenca who can play Flamenca, a Guilhem other than Guilhem who can play Guilhem, and a book other than the Psalter that can play the Psalter book. Alis and Margarida can indeed be the actresses for Flamenca to watch; she can abstract herself from the scene, in a sort of a hamletian mise en abime that is all to dear to Occitan narratives –think of Beto playing the treason to his father, Bobis d’Antona, before the traitor Gui d’Aspremont in Daurel e Beto. Choosing the book is already an interpretation of the scene, another level of understanding, one of the chemical additives that will develop the latent impression into a narrative with a certain intentionality. They choose the first book they have at hand, which happens to be Floires e Blancaflors, who knows in what language, but most probably in… well, who knows, and who cares. Floires and Blancaflors, of all possible books. It is already something that was not there, a genetic construction of a story that now begins to become history because it will give birth to a series of events that won’t be just accidental, or unrelated.

Three women and a book. There is nothing a bunch of philologists can do with that. They will try, but they will only find themselves with ready made interpretations, traditions, and perhaps a couple of salacious commentaries, instead of watching at the complexities of this micro society that needs to interpret two syllables, and then beget two syllables out of practically nothing.

The resulting syllables are not more semantically explicit that the ones uttered by Guilhem who, at his turn, is trying to predict whether Flamenca is even considering his two syllables or not, let alone whether she has understood anything out of them. His game is a completely different game on latency –whether the light has gotten in contact with the emulsion, producing the latent image that needs to be developed.

You know what happens after that. Flamenca decides to utter her two words, que as, acknowledging the deixis from Guilhem’s utterance, and therein begins a long bisyllabic conversation throughout the weeks, with scenes and sessions of interpretation that will lead to an encounter. If you don’t know this yet, I will not spoil it for you. So, I will leave this at that. And in any case, my plane is already in its descent to LGA, which means that I would rather wrap this up, before it is too late and I become unable to finish it. I know it would not be too important if I did not finish it, but still, you don’t understand that the very fact of writing in English is something superhumanly difficult for me, and that it is as if I were inventing a language rather than reproducing a discourse according to rules already transparent for me. Finishing is, in a way, a victory of proportions whose explanation would require flamencan encounters before a Psalter. Besides, only a few days ago I killed a book I was supposed to write in English, and now I need to heal from that.

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