Jason Abdelhadi

A Diary, Including Preliminary Encounters with Material Fragments (Towards a New Myth?)

February 2nd, 2017 – 11:46 AM – Ottawa

I am drifting along a cul de sac of cramped residences bordering the highway called Hurdman Yard. It is a claustrophobic place to walk. Houses face directly onto an industrial storage site, a snowplow yard and a depot for old restaurant equipment. In the glare of the sun I encounter a black cat with an elongated shadow. Fine. Then we will negate in the shade. Poe and Lovecraft have speculated on the special role of these house pets that double-up as secret agents from the dream lands. But in that case, is its furry body the mask, and its shadow the real? Stepping into a Randolph Carter role, I am encouraged to speculate in mythological connections ranging from Ancient Egypt to the IWW. I admit that I walk with such stupid confidence towards a creature that could be much more than it seems. For the shadow cat, the streets do not seem so solid. In its disembodied form it appears to easily pass between worlds. Thankfully I realize I should not approach it too closely. A rebel might do wisely to learn from its disguise. It prowls like a frondeur; it knows the alleys and the crevices; you can hardly accuse it, it is a harmless cat, to all appearances; it prepares traps and ambushes under the noses of the bourgeoisie. When the time comes, the trap might spring, and the social order will lie dead and bleeding beside it, a gift: a mangled songbird.

The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

March 12th, 2017 – 8:43 AM – New York City

I am walking through midtown Manhattan. On the corner of a doorway, I notice the silhouette of an owl outlined in chipped paint. It seems to watch the infrequent passerby. I can feel the shift in the city’s atmosphere, of which it is maybe an integral though subtle part, a haphazard formation on a doorway to what will be. Perhaps it relates to the old man in the stump / owl in the stump from Bosch’s The Trees Have Ears and the Fields Have Eyes, which the Surrealist Group of Stockholm brought to our attention in the Sea issue of Peculiar Mormyrid. But I notice that in its watch this time around the owl significantly has no eyes. It is a mask in silhouette. A rubbed out Athenian coin. I wonder if I put it on, whether I will become a stain like it, standing guard, counting down the minutes… Will the hour ever strike? Or is it a clock without a cuckoo? The informal watch gives way to urban conspiracy. Like the cat, which it recalls to me, it is a hunter. When the time comes, and the clock strikes May, it could fly out of the silhouette. Its hoot will cause the all well-mounted monuments of the city to sunder.

Athenian Tetradrachm (480-420BCE) / Woodsy Owl Coin (1970)

March 26, 2017 – 1:29 PM – Ottawa

Coming out of an underpass at the beginning of The Glebe neighbourhood, a sign is waiting for me: a typical bonhomme eager to foist the latest inconvenient imperative on pedestrians. But looking closer, I see this particular icon has revolted against propriety and set itself apart from its colleagues by donning what seems to be a plague doctor’s mask. The face of pestilence. At the same time, it could also be a buffoon. On the city’s stage, it sometimes plays the doctor, the charlatan, the harlequin or the learned professor. The magical masks of Gozzi (“Here I have the famous magic root mandragora. The Universal Doctor and Great Herbalist Pimpernel, Market Square, second door to the right”). A Tengu. It is Sigmund Freud. One might see it on its way, and perhaps chuckle at its harmless, bumbling demeanour. Other times one may ask it for advice. But what one doesn’t always know, are the subjects of its study: dreams, the unconscious, dialectics, pataphysics, the dark arts, alchemy, the formation of situations, and materialist history? It brings out with its experiments the hidden sulphurs of the city. In its library, it sequesters banned children’s books, hidden plans, indeed, results… I see the mask of an enthusiast; put it on, and become the necromancer. Yes, it is at once a supervillain and a psychoanalyst. Doctor Mabuse. My city, this place, the whole world will be enchanted, and then, wiped out.

Johann Melchior Füssli – A plague doctor of Marseilles (c. 1721)

April 13, 2017 – 12:20 PM

I am hoping to find my “conclusive mask” and set out on this walk with masks very much top of mind. A true atopos, the steep hill behind Ottawa’s out of the way Carlington Park is an officially abandoned zone where children sled, as the signs indicate, very much at their peril. “Persons using this property do so at their own risk”. A call to adventure. Liquor bottles and garbage everywhere, a lot of them toys, helped into sequence by the recent melting snow. An ice-age retreat leaving the transitory remnants of commodities in lieu of boulders. This highly charged hill was formerly a limestone quarry and currently serves as a water reservoir. In 1965 it was converted into a real inner city ski-hill, complete with a tow lift. This lasted until the 90s. Since then, no development proposal has been accepted, and so it has happily drifted into a zone of worthlessness, at least for the time being. Now all the equipment facilities are abandoned to the rust, the sky, and the overgrown brush. Looking at the base of one of the former elements of this ski lift, surrounded by trees and barely reachable, I find the laughing face on an old fuse box. A response, almost classical, to my extended “feelers” for a mask. The cackling grin of revolt itself, a local Cheshire Cat, growing like a disease, or like an obsession, totally surrounded by trees and discoverable only upon exploration, and in the right lighting, like some kind of clever Egyptian burial site. A researcher at the height of its powers; the mad doctor from a 19th century Grand Guignol play. It laughs at me, with me. Now we’re co-conspirators.

Adrien Barrère, for the Grand Guignol Theatre – Les 3 Masques (1920)