In the beginning of Book I of Paterson, Williams describes the Paterson as a dreamer: “Eternally asleep,/his dreams walk about the city where he persists/incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.” This Paterson is an ancient Paterson, not exactly the city, but the reason for the city as emanation. And the citizens are not exactly sleepwalking but they are the insubstantial substance of another’s dream. What I always end up pointing out to people, even though I admit it might be a referential stretch, is that the mention of butterflies brings to mind Lao Tzu’s taoist parable about dreaming one is a butterfly. When you awake from dreaming that you are a butterfly, how do you know you are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man? Williams is dealing with similar paradoxes when he sets out the premise that we are all but dreams of some old giant under the falls, even though we can imagine this giant (and so why isn’t he our dream?). Ultimately, Williams sides with the reality of the giant: our imaginations are dwarfed and we suddenly become things, “thoughts sitting and standing” in the bus, thoughts who only exist because they are “listed in the Telephone/ Directory.” The reference to the butterfly is soon followed by the famous line “no ideas but in things”—a more strictly materialist statement that I think Williams overturns again and again in Paterson, especially here with his description of dreams, and is not to be taken completely seriously or simply. After all, towards the end of Book I, he writes something that celebrates the power of immaterial thought to transform squalid thingness: “Things, things unmentionable,/the sink with the waste farina in it and/lumps of rancid meat, milk-bottle-tops: have/here a tranquility and loveliness/Have here (in his thoughts)/a complement tranquil and chaste” (38). These, however, could still be the thoughts of the giant, and not that of a doctor making a house call to the tenements.
There is a drink at a Dominican, Ecuadorian, Colombian restaurant on 21st Ave in Paterson called "Morir Sonando
," which translates as “To Die Dreaming"--a drink with orange juice and heavy cream. I didn’t order it, but during a particularly orange dinner of paella, plantains, and mango juice, I wondered how it came to be that all over the world, the flavor of dreams is orange-vanilla. Is it is some transcultural unconscious association, or is some giant Dreamsicle dreaming us into existence? The abandoned steel structures of this city have a similar color. Is rust the dream of steel, steel attempting to understand itself through a figment of what it could be? Is orange the pigment of what could be, of lost dreams which the material world steals from us (and steels from us)? I go to the old factories, get some orange rust on my tee-shirt. It looks good. Maybe I should stage a Chris Burden
-esque performance whereby I rub the orange of oxidized metal all over my tee-shirt, get completely smashed and walk around Paterson at 3 am with “We Are All Bridge and Tunnel People” written on it. With lipstick. In French. I am in that kind of mood. “To die dreaming” indeed. But it is still just an orange smudge, only a hint of catastrophe on a mostly white v-neck, and I cross the bridge to New York. I think I will go to the Richard Serra
show, and decide not to change my shirt: the orange smudge here will be chic, although as soon as I get to MoMA I realize that it immediately puts me under suspicion with the security guards, as if I had been stealthily frottaging Torqued Ellipse IV
. There is a lot of very expensive rust here. It is uniform and smooth on some of his structures, more aleatory and environmental looking on others. It’s a pixie dust that makes metal less metal, makes it dream of air. Perhaps here in his labyrinthine structures I can find some secret portal to the dreams of Paterson
, which may be my own dreams. Or be escorted brutally back to my single line in the Telephone Directory.
Labels: Book I, Chris Burden, dreams, Lao Tzu, MoMA, no ideas but in things, Paterson (City), Richard Serra