Writing ‘Traces’ / Darragh McCausland
As a commuter, I became interested in repetition. For the guts of a decade, I’ve worked in a part of Dublin that is out in the suburbs, miles away from where I live. To get there by 8.15 am, I walk a bit, then get a tram, then a train. The entire process takes about an hour. Throughout the journey, my mind behaves in certain ways. I fall into modes of thinking that don’t just last for a single day. Rather, they can last for days, even weeks. For example, a certain song, a nursery rhyme-like song, like The Beatles’ ‘For the Benefit of Mr Kite’, can go through my mind for mornings on end, repeating over the rhythm of my footsteps. As these lengthy interior trances take hold, I notice very little about the environment. What breaks through are repeating fragments of landscape and its inhabitants, symbols almost. A certain car going around a certain corner. A certain woman smoking a fag outside a train’s doors and rapidly talking into her phone, with no room for interjection, to presumably the same person each morning, because surely there is only one person in the phonebook who can suffer an uninterrupted stream of negatively inflected chat at 7:09 am? These symbols are so familiar that my memory of them becomes slippery, in that on any given arrival at work, I can’t remember for sure if they truly occurred? Whether I was not, in fact, remembering the morning before?
Sometimes a startling thought throws me from my state of interiority and my imagination kindles. Such a thought was the beginning of the story ‘Traces.’ Somewhere between the confectionary dispensing machine and the security gates of Connolly station, a person once caught me staring at them. Why I was staring, I do not remember now, but I know I have a propensity to stare at people in a dopey kind of way, as in my face is slack and open, probably unnerving. In the shame that followed, I became aware of myself as seen through other eyes. I was to me as others see me. This impression was not merely fleeting. It had a temporal element, too. Just as those I see day-on-day are compounds of all my impressions of them, then surely the same applied to me. Wasn’t I a compound too? I thought of former versions of me travelling through the train station and a potent image came to me. The computer game Mario Kart, and how, when you race through its circuits, you see the ghost, or trace, of yourself racing before, your previous best time. A vivid thought. Vivid enough, indeed, to power a short story.
One strong thought often happily leads to another. In the case of ‘Traces’, the idea of my ghost-self passing through my commute in Mario Kart fashion led me, by association, to the book I was reading, ‘The Logic of Sensation,’ the philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s monograph on the painter Francis Bacon. A key insight in the book relates to how Bacon, above all painters, could use paint to render some uncomfortable temporal aspect of a sitter’s flesh visible. The spasm, in other words. From that idea came the strange character René, whose painterly treatment of my narrator feels like a logical extension of the thought of a ‘trace.’ As Gilles Deleuze has it, both he, as painter, and I as a writer, attempt to ‘render the spasm visible.’
Darragh McCausland is a writer based in Dublin. He has had short fiction and essays published in The Dublin Review, Gorse, Stonecutter, Lighthouse and the Tangerine. He is finishing a collection of short stories called The Final Fantasy.
Image by Jo Mazelis.