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In Conversation with Toni Hildebrandt: Postcards, Conversations & Other Blind Sports

In Conversation with Toni Hildebrandt: Postcards, Conversations & Other Blind Sports

This conversation has a unique element to it in that this was the very first and, as of yet, only conversation held in any sort of real time between these two collaborators.  Toni first reached out to Berit Jane to involve her in a discussion of such themes that he had seen her discuss in Sirens Go Silent:  A Memorial Colloquium for Friedrich Kittler, and to do so by exchanging postcards (upon a quick Google search, he had come across an old blog that hosted many of Berit Jane’s postcard interventions and experimentations).  Berit Jane happily complied as postcards remain a part of her daily practice and the two of them have been in postcard conversation since that summer of 2013.  Due to their own rules, they have not shared anything through any other sort of medium besides postcards and an occasional email to adjust addresses or check on delivery of postcards.  Berit Jane chose Toni as a participator in this dossier of conversations since many of the themes brought up in their co-ponderings and wanderings influenced and affected the work in the excavation part of 99 Problems to be told to a plant & The Excavation of Its Future Memory. 


TH
At some point direct questions become difficult.

BSH
I'm quite thrilled you've accepted my invitation, by the way.

TH
It made me think a lot, especially the question at what point a conversation becomes a one between two.

BSH
What I've worked on has been in part influenced by our correspondence, which is taking quite the turn in direct-ish conversation. Here we have this strange platform to directly discuss what we have been discussing—rather slowly—over the course of a year and almost a half... And we aren't even sure that my last postcards have made it to Switzerland yet. There's no telling where we are in our conversation.

TH
I had a first memory, which than, I realized was not a good Denkbild, certainly not for our conversation.

BSH
It still piques my curiosity.

TH
When I was young I used to play quite well table tennis. My hero's come from Sweden: Jan-Ove Waldner and Jörgen Persson. I have their biographies, written by a Swedish philosopher by the way, with their signatures. There were very often not the best players in the ranking but everyone knew they were the best "in style", and there enigmatic style became obvious when they played against each other. Already as a child I thought it was not so much about winning when they played, not just the agony of conversation, but the attempt to reach an "unforeseeable point", let's say, to put it hilariously, not yet played in the history of table tennis. Now this thesis on the concept of history in table tennis seemed to me also relevant for the logic of confrontation  in general, which is only possible if there is someone/something else who allows the unforeseeable point. But there are also other conversations, maybe that one, where the polemos is sublated in mediation, or loss...

BSH
This is a beautiful point to make. Because it so well encapsulates a part of our own project, we've embarked on a conversation very much limited by its material, and systems of mail. What is to be gained by a conversation? A mere trading of informative bits? To forgo the element of "making points" and to instead embark on accomplishing a "foreseeable point" through style. But so much is communicated through style. Perhaps much more than data alone.

TH
And tone, which is possible only with attention, not of the addresser to the addressee but from the addresser towards the objects the addressee will receive. A conversation turns the object of trading, the informative bits, into a gift. Is this too sentimental? Like making a drawing on the table tennis ball...

BSH
There are games with rules, but they came from somewhere and that somewhere was conducive to a poetic moment. When a ball was thrown through a basket, for instance. It was probably the strangest thing to play one of the first games of basketball or ping pong.  Someone explaining the rules, someone else agreeing. "okay, I guess I can do that...." It reminds me of what you wrote to me about blind fútbol players... When I write a postcard to you I have all these things swirling around me. The memory of when I received the last postcard, the little stack that accumulates of your bits of thought. And then my response comes from a matrix of everything I've been immersed with, been dealing with, and I send it along. I also happen to make most of my postcards, a style thing I suppose, so you get quite a bit of information about the details of a morning making a postcard to be sent to Lisbon or Rome or Bern.... But receiving it, you have no idea of what my mannerisms are, for instance, over an afternoon coffee - something many friends know about each other. You don't know how my texts appear when I'm stressed, for instance. Something people I interact with on a daily/weekly basis know.  You only get this thing flying out of México and landing somehow, with some luck, in your mailbox.  And you respond to that, what you hold in your hands. It is a lot like blind fútbol, no?

TH
Yes, there is illegibility, which is not a sufficient ground, but tangentially, I would say, closer or nearer to poetry than to communication, when one is playing with what one gets, and I think it would be great to write more about blindness actually.

BSH
Well, anything we see has already been discernible, right? We can tally those points. What becomes fun, a challenge, a reaching into some kind of beyond is to feel out something besides what we can see. Games of table tennis based on style, not on who smacks the ball the best. I am very intrigued by what you brought up as some kind of mediation.... a third perhaps—someone who can appreciate the style between the two. A recognizable recognizer....

TH
...that was the mail carrier, reading our postcards, called into play in one of your first postcards.

BSH
True, I do love the idea of a mail carrier reading the postcards going through the mail, I would be that mail carrier. But I've always been a bit of a voyeur.

TH
And this goes back to your questions, of the "conversation between two". there is the triangulation, with the surveillance of the mail carrier, the voyeur, some illegal power. But there is also the possibility to conceive a conversation with more agents, like Goethe's string quartet, ein Gespräch zwischen vier vernünftigen Leuten. We also exclude the mail carrier now.

BSH
Perhaps that was part of my invitation to you to be a part of somehow introducing this work on talking to plants, to introduce an even more abstract but somehow more concrete third.... So when does it become a conversation? The sending of messages between two people?

TH
I'm not sure if there is a difference between two or more people, but for sure there is a difference or a bridge between Selbstgespräch and Conversation. Somehow a problem of narcissism, the blind lane of someone walking just on his own Feldweg, and I think in every Selbstgespräch there is this longing for a conversation; help me, destroy me, change me, play with me, i just played enough against the wall... attraversare is überbrücken, versare is also "gießen", to water plants. I have no definition, but slow repetitive thoughts.

BSH
Sometimes with some people, a quiet walk is the best conversation. But you bring up a point of valid interest to our inquiry and mine with plants. We need response, or we seek in in the activity of conversation, sometimes talking.

TH
Also a Selbstgespräch, conversation with oneself, has an exigency. But there is little or less hope of good responses.

Two of the sent postcards from Switzerland to Mexico, 2014.  Many of the postcards sent to BSH were, in fact, windmills. 

Two of the sent postcards from Switzerland to Mexico, 2014. 
Many of the postcards sent to BSH were, in fact, windmills. 

BSH
Perhaps this is merely a side note, but what works with our own penpalship is that is has carried on based on our own slow repetitive thoughts. In a way, we've never had a rush to answer, we throw the ball blindly perhaps, but we don't hit a wall necessarily. Perhaps our practice is one without exigency...  sometimes necessarily so due to the countries' mail systems we've utilized. And that's why I guess, out of all the people I could have asked, I engage you in these questions of what is hoped to be gained by conversation... Talking to plants is talking to oneself, perhaps. Bouncing a ball off a wall. But a wall that has untranslatable answers.

TH
This is a beautiful allegory, but I don't know exactly for what. I was always impressed when certain historical figures said, that they reached a point in their expressing, where they felt a solitude of not being anymore understandable, comprehensible. Than one can talk to the listener in posteriority, this messianic index of poetry, but you can as well and always talk to plants, landscapes and animals, and receive their untranslatable answers. This is talking to oneself, I'm not sure, perhaps?

BSH
I do believe that what we receive when we talk to animals and plants and such irresponsible answerers is something of ourselves. But we throw our voice so far afield that when it returns to us it can be unrecognizable in a way that it seems something else is talking. And this allows for a space. For exploration. How far away are the things that surround us everyday? For instance, you are in my tomorrow and I am in your yesterday. We can respond to each other and are arguably doing so through means of technology. However, entonces, ademas, sin embargo, I am very much "by myself". And does this slippery slope then keep its closeness when we are in a room full of people, other people? I've received more intelligible answers to my inquiries from rocks than some people. And while it could very well be I am merely gazing upon my reflection, I do think there is something in the style that we remain subject to. By this I mean that what is returned to us, certainly we interpret it and make it recognizable to ourselves, but still in the act or attempt a style remains amongst the unintelligibility...

BSH
Conversations are tricky things. And Ich bin langsam...

TH
This "conversation" will be our yesterday, and there are questions, were there were answers... maybe a possible conversation has to be slow, even slower. In music, I think, there would be a fade-out now

BSH
I was just thinking about the architecture of music....

TH
How do you end your conversations with plants?

BSH
Ha, I never stop. Actually, it depends on the plant. I have a plant that makes me dance. No lie. Do you listen to music in the mornings?

TH
Not at the moment, sometimes, if I'm not in a rush, I play guitar in the morning.

One of the sent postcards from Switzerland to Mexico, 2014.

One of the sent postcards from Switzerland to Mexico, 2014.

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