Saturday, December 5, 2020

Bingen tune mate!


"The female vocal  sampled in "The Sun Rising" is from a song titled "O Euchari" which appears on the album "A Feather On The Breath Of God" composed by Abbess Hildegard Of Bingen and sung by Emily Van Evera who was a member of the vocal ensemble Gothic Voices in 1981 when the album "A Feather On The Breath Of God" was originally recorded." - Wiki

from Tank magazine conversation between Huw Lemmey and Hans Ulrich Obrist, titled "Unknown Language:

"Lemmey's latest novel is unusual in that it was written in collaboration with a co-author who lived over 800 years ago. In Unknown Language, Lemmey channels the voice of medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen, recasting key passages from her visionary writings into a work of polyphonic authorship. Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist spoke with Lemmey about his collaboration with Hildegard and the affinities between her eschatological visions and our own extreme present.

HUO .... I’ve always been very inspired by Hildegard. For me, she’s the mystic of mystics, a mystic like no other. How did this historic collaboration between you and Hildegard come about?

HL Ben Vickers and Sarah Shin of Ignota Books approached me with the opportunity, asking me if I wanted to read her works and reimagine them within a novel form – in both senses of the word – to make them more accessible for people today. Her work is extremely rich but very dense. There’s a lot of repetition of the same ideas to reiterate and strengthen them, which makes it quite hard going to read. They knew that a lot of my previous work dealt with a sort of eschatological vision of desire and worlds that are moving towards a catastrophe or crisis, and within Hildegard’s own theology there’s a strong eschatological or millenarian idea of an end of the world. Based on her distinct visions, I had to narrativise her cosmology and her teachings. This came quite easily because it feels like we’re living in a world which is on a similar sort of eschatological brainwave, in terms of climate catastrophe and imminent political breakdown.... 

HUO ... The structure of the book mirrors the choir singing Hildegard’s great work. It’s polyphonic. Hildegard said, “Those voices you hear are like the voice of a multitude, which lifts its sound on high; for jubilant praises, offered in simple harmony and charity, lead the faithful to that consonance in which is no discord.” Could you tell me a little bit about the polyphony of the book?

HL ... The nature of the book, as a dialogue that emerges between myself and Hildegard, is very much about allowing myself to become a medium for her ideas. My contribution is a technical novelistic framework which provides a tempo and a pace for the ideas and for the narrative. So the narrative is produced, but then the real flesh of the book, the cosmology, the ideas around grace and spirituality, are all Hildegard’s. It was a matter of trying to find within my own work the space and the silence in which her work could speak.

"....  it was a very easy book to write. Because Hildegard had already written the meat of the cosmology, once I found myself in a creative state I felt like I understood what she was trying to say and I understood what I wanted to do....  I felt like a bit of a jobbing author, like I was ghostwriting the story that she’d already told in her visions.

... Her ideas are mystically revealed, and therefore potentially at odds with the mainstream theology of the Church. She’s a rebel when she emerges, but by sheer luck or serendipity, she becomes somebody whose visions are accepted, which gives her enormous earthly power. Within her work there’s this constant tension between the established Church and what she regards as the revealed truth. My interest, politically, is in her relationship with God the Father as a patriarchal figure, and then God the Spirit, the entity who delivers grace..... 

.... The only way you can really understand her life is through its tensions. The tension between her visions and the strict form of the Catholic Church, and the extremely physiological tension between her sickness and her visions and her sickness and her work. She was a very unwilling subject for the visions that manifested in her and felt a deep sickness whenever they arrived. She experienced them as something painful and unpleasant that had to be made manifest in order to almost exorcise them from her, and yet she recognised them as communication from God.... 

HUO...  Ben Vickers suggested we discuss the erotics of spirituality. Is there a relationship between queerness and its speculative dimension, between Hildegard and queerness?

HL I was very influenced by Elvia Wilk, who writes amazingly about female mystics in the Middle Ages and the relationship they had towards the body. One of the only ways in which female mystics could contextualise or survive their experiences was through their relationship with the body...  Elvia talks a lot about the embodied knowledge of female mystics and their relationship towards Christ being one of sublimated sexuality, which is unsurprising given the material conditions in which nuns were living at the time. Hildegard spent her entire adolescence locked in a single room with an anchoress, one other woman. Hildegard was very unusual as one of the few women in the medieval Catholic Church who could preach, and that was partly because of the force of her revelations and her mysticism being based on the body. People very much understand that relationship when they talk about her illness, but less so when they talk about her sexuality. Calling that queerness is maybe pushing it. It’s impossible to retroactively fit contemporary notions of sexual identity back onto people for whom sexuality was not necessarily a discrete part of identity but rather just a series of acts. Certainly though, her vision of the body and of sexuality is not one that fits comfortably into a lot of binaries around gender and sexual orientation that we have today and is much richer for it. There is a strange, sensual, erotic aspect to a lot of her writing and it’s quite literally very fluid. There’s a lot of discussion of bodily fluids and the vitality of things that flow.... It’s about her relationship with the natural world as well as her embodied relationship with God’s grace. She believed in this idea of viriditas, of greenness, which is a sort of early ecology stating that there’s an ecosystem of living things that are all interrelated in order to sustain the worship of God...

HUO Do you think Hildegard had drugs?

HL No. There’s a lot of discussion around the nature of her visions. There’s a very interesting essay by Oliver Sacks which suggests that what she experienced might be something similar to what contemporary migraine sufferers would understand in those terms....

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