Illustrating Grief-Space

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I drew the above diagram in a seminar after the death of Mark Fisher in 2017. I was trying to explain how I felt about my own losses previously; and how I felt being in the university environment without Mark there.

Grief-space is a term which I coined for the space, or hole, that is created by absences within a place. It is the notion that something, or someone, might be present through the vacuum created by their absence.

For Doreen Massey, ‘Space is always under construction … a simultaneity of stories-so-far,’ so then grief-space is always under construction and is stacked in a similar way. Each unfinished thread of story is layered over the next, and over the next. Each space precariously balanced against each other and kept tethered by tenuous threads between the two.  The stack exists as a totality  in which all the things that have been lost from landscape still exist, and shall always exist in a strange sense, in the layers underneath. As each new moment of progress or change adds a new layer, that which has been lost is interred within a previous layer. Each new loss creates a hole in the surface down to the strata below. A hole is an interesting idea, for whilst it suggests an absence, and is touched by connotations of the void, it is nonetheless present within a landscape. These holes allow that which has been lost to be accessed from the surface. Grief-space is characterised as a place that is full of these holes. It is a surface that has been perforated by a kind of anti-presence: you notice a hole precisely because it doesn’t contain the solid. 

The notion of ‘absence’ becoming a kind of ‘anti-presence’ is what marks the grief-space as something other to the other levels in the stack. They permeate the stack itself almost creating anti-levels: holes, or cracks in the strata. So much so that, if personal grief for the individual is felt inside, but is formed of ‘the sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside’ then it is possible to suggest a cartography for loss that extrapolates those sudden blows into a spatial capacity. However, it is interesting to note that, for F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his short story ‘The Crack-Up’ there is ‘another sort of blow that comes from within’ that cannot be explained and sends out ruptures and cracks from the inside-out. Whilst Fitzgerald claims that the rupture from the inside, and the great blows from the outside have separate sources, Fisher would claim that ‘there is no inside except as a folding of the outside.’ This is perhaps the simplest explanation of loss, or trauma – as a great blow that comes from an outside which is buried and repressed, only to rupture upward from the inside at a later point. 

I am reminded of Mark Fisher’s seminal text The Weird and the Eerie, which was integral, really, to the formulation of this idea. Whilst I had been thinking of the world as a kind of holey stack within which I undulated for some time, it was Mark’s writings of the inside as a folded up outside, and the ‘hints of an outside, of something beyond the ordinary world’ glimpsed through gaps and openings within the system itself that caused me to envisage grief-space thusly. In the final chapter, ‘the eeriness remains’, in which he enters into an exploration of the eeriness at the core of Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, Mark quotes quite extensively from Yvonne Rousseau’s essay on Linday’s novel : ‘A Commentary on Chapter Eighteen.’

She says that a hole is ‘a thing in itself, giving shape and significance to other shapes. […] a presence, not an absence.’ This is the distillation of the idea of grief-space. In the final unpublished chapter of Picnic at Hanging Rock – the aforementioned ‘Chapter Eighteen’ – Lindsay offers an explanation of the disappearances that take place in the novel. The women, unperturbed by the notion that they will be leaving forever, pass through a hole in the rock. According to Mark they ‘cross over’, and the hole itself is ‘a gateway to the outside.’ Those we lose through the holes within the landscape, those who pass over, ‘leave haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside’ upon the surface. It may be possible for them to emerge back through as ghosts, or intrepid interdimensional time travelling spectres; or it may be that those eerie intimations of the outside cause us to imagine them there. It may also be that, should we choose to dive into the holes ourselves without consideration of the consequences, that we might not be able to make our way back.


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