The Caretaker Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 5

[History Always Favours the Winners; 2018]

Styles: phantom limb, cortical homunculus, plaque
Others: hello doris. hello doris how are you today?

Place your hand on a wood table, or a tile wall, on a thigh. Tense the muscles in your hand. Make a pressure of your senses.

The neural pathways that determine the body’s sensory experience run from the finger tips into the palms, up our arms, and around our bones into the brain. Every chalky balsa or cool smoothness or hot blood rush is met out in the coded highways of our bodies. We’re experts at making sense of senses. We build ways of knowing around those senses, come to depend on our own body’s brilliance as a meaning-maker. Too hot, must kiss, back off, get out get out give me. And we catalog our ways of knowing (the things we think every day, instinctive shapes of us in the world) into tenses past and future: that then was like this now, I hope tomorrow as always was.

It isn’t. Eventually (eternally), we disintegrate, like files corrupting under too much thumbing or celluloid film left out in splashes of rain. The first lesson you learn from the tense hand on the table is what it’s like when the table’s gone. The last lesson, maybe, is when the hand goes too.

Because passed loss, our patterns continue; our bodies enact sensation in the face of absence. At the site of trauma or amputation, nerve endings often begin to misbehave. They thicken and clot and misread mild pressures and tensions at the site of severance with too much alarum, signals they relay down our spinning neural pathways, miracle mechanisms unwittingly attacking ourselves. Those misread sensations hit the dorsal horn, itself corrupted with bad information: our bodies, coded for converting worlds into reactions, betray us, lose their ability to mitigate and mange sensory distress signals accordingly. Signals intensify.

These stresses pass through the spinal column into the somatosensory cortex, a surface map of the brain that alerts us to the shape and feel of our body. The cortical homunculus is the topography of us, all our sensory and motor functions, how we sense what we know and what we feel. Sensory deference (how much attention is paid to a specific limb) is determined based on how much input the brain receives from that limb. Increased cortical representation from the sites of trauma, those misfired misread sensations lead to phantom pain. We misfeel what we used to know. Representation of what was lost remains, heightened, tensed in absence.

In A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes wrote: “This singular distortion generates a kind of insupportable present; I am wedged between two tenses, that of the reference and that of the allocution: you have gone (which I lament), you are here (since I am addressing you.) Whereupon I know what the present, that difficult tense, is: a pure portion of anxiety.” Or: Everywhere at the end of time.

This fifth part in The Caretaker’s ongoing ill remembrance of things past takes the tension of absence and the presence of phantoms as its entry point into the grand damned ballroom. It is tense, an anxious flirtation with how we make sense of noise; it is tense, a set of forms taken by verbs to indicate time. The sliced and split pre-war 78s of earlier stages recede not only to a distant whisper, but farther still, passed knowing. Earlier moments on Everywhere at the end of time feel like leaves pressed in Mark Fisher’s readings in hauntology, as if the slipping grasp of memory reduces recall to seeing the thing drifting through a crumbled mansion, losing and lost. With this fifth stage, a tumor of bad steps and blocks, the ghost resembles the semblance so little that the haunting is not a return or even a refraction, but rather the impression of a new mass against the haunted body. It not only prevents recall, but also inspires confusion and dread, compounding a failing system with the uncanny choke of absence. If the thing is gone, why do I still feel it?

Phantoms settle in, even among our sensory patterns. Bad data corrupts good processes. That’s how Alzheimer’s works/breaks: Beta amyloid proteins that used to get broken down remain and clog, microtubles charged with delivering nutrients to other cells collapse, and leave ruins. Absence is new presence, almost haunting but not quite, a phantom pain beyond lost fingertips in the empty space. Like leaving a lover, not for an afternoon or an only, but longer, an ever, an eternity. Like leaving yourself.

This record hurts. Its four sprawled teeth of tracks abandon the occasions of (unknowable unseen) comfort that could creep into The Caretaker’s earlier memory-obsessions. “A loop like any of those here is an illusion. It promises continuity, repetition as sameness, a sort of dependable and assured presence. But things fall apart,” Pat Beane wrote of Stage 1. If earlier movements in this enormous ambiance of sick time shifted and looped to suggest the treachery of dementia, Stage 5 presents its diseaseness. With its battering, almost drummy spasms of noise and hiss, it unsettles the earlier stages. It feels like a new mass, but maybe it’s all the same song. Sam Goldner suggested that Stage 4 was The Caretaker breaking the loop. Stage 5, then, is the loop unspooling (endlessly) off the capstans and piling up until new shapes form. Processes that once helped hurt. This memory hurts. This record hurts.

Barthes again, still: “The imperfect is the tense of fascination: it seems to be alive and yet it doesn’t move: imperfect presence, imperfect death; neither oblivion nor resurrection; simply the exhausting lure of memory.” I want to get away from it. I can’t. Bringing inept understandings of phantom limbs and dementia’s biology into a record review is a defense mechanism, unfolding theoretical memory loss into an ambient music project; we’re trying to do our best. I think it’s good, to feel this bad. I do not know. “This theater of time is the very contrary of the search for lost time; for I remember pathetically, punctually, and not philosophically, discursively: I remember in order to be unhappy/ happy — not in order to understand. I do not write, I do not shut myself up in order to write the enormous novel of time recaptured.”

The candle burns until it extinguishes, but at least there’s a wax mass left at the end. Alzheimer’s wrecks our innards and our stories, but it has to end eventually, as death. How will The Caretaker’s project end? Will it end with silence? Or can it not?

We’re experts at making sense of senses. Our capacity to design and dream is limitless — our unwinding isn’t to a terminal point, but rather equally limitless, limitlessness in reverse. Oblivion isn’t fixed or terminal: it’s timeless. Stage 5, the waxy buildup of losing, is beyond remembering, a new mass of phantom pain. It breaks unending, but I fear it isn’t forever. Why do I shy from an end to this fearful trembling?

I place my hand on a wood table, or a tile wall, on a thigh. I tense the muscles, feel feeling what is there.

Because I do not want nothing. I remember what that is like.

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