An experimental transcript

From Mondothèque

Sînziana Păltineanu


Note: The editor has had the good fortune of finding a whole box of handwritten index cards and various folded papers (from printed screenshots to boarding passes) in the storage space of an institute. Upon closer investigation, it has become evident that the mixed contents of the box make up one single document. Difficult to decipher due to messy handwriting, the manuscript poses further challenges to the reader because its fragments lack a pre-established order. Simply uploading high-quality facsimile images of the box contents here would not solve the problems of legibility and coherence. As an intermediary solution, the editor has opted to introduce below a selection of scanned images and transcribed text from the found box. The transcript is intended to be read as a document sample, as well as an attempt at manuscript reconstruction, following the original in the author's hand as closely as possible: pencilled in words in the otherwise black ink text are transcribed in brackets, whereas curly braces signal erasures, peculiar marks or illegible parts on the index cards. Despite shifts in handwriting styles, whereby letters sometimes appear extremely rushed and distorted in multiple idiosyncratic ways, the experts consulted unanimously declared that the manuscript was most likely authored by one and the same person. To date, the author remains unknown.


I've been running with a word in my mouth, running with this burning untitled shape, and I just can't spit it out. Spit it with phlegm from a balcony, kiss it in a mirror, brush it away one morning. I've been running with a word in my mouth, running...

… it must have been only last month that I began half-chanting-half-mumbling this looped sequence of sentences on the staircase I regularly take down to work and back up to dream, yet it feels as if it were half a century ago. Tunneling through my memory, my tongue begins burning again and so I recollect that the subject matter was an agonizing, unutterable obsession I needed to sort out most urgently. Back then I knew no better way than to keep bringing it up obliquely until it would chemically dissolve itself into my blood or evaporate through the pores of my skin. To whisper the obsession away, I thought not entirely so naïvely, following a peculiar kind of vengeful logic, by emptying words of their pocket contents on a spiraling staircase. An anti-incantation, a verbal overdose, a semantic dilution or reduction – for the first time, I was ready to inflict harm on words! [And I am sure, the thought has crossed other lucid minds, too.]



During the first several days, as I was rushing up and down the stairs like a Tasmanian devil, swirling those same sentences in my expunction ritual, I hardly noticed that the brown marbled staircase had a ravenous appetite for all my sound making and fuss: it cushioned the clump of my footsteps, it absorbed the vibrations of my vocal chords and of my fingers drumming on the handrail. All this unusual business must have carried on untroubled for some time until that Wed. [?] morning when I tried approaching the employee at the reception desk in the hideously large building where I live with a question about elevator safety. I may take the elevator once in a blue moon, but I could not ignore the new disquieting note I had been reading on all elevator doors that week:

m a k e / s u r e / t h e / e l e v a t o r / c a r / i s / s t a t i o n e d / o n / y o u r / f l o o r / b e f o r e / s t e p p i n g / i n 


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Walking with a swagger, I entered the incandescent light field around the fancy semicircular, brown reception desk, pressed down my palms on it, bent forward and from what I found to be a comfortable inquiry angle, launched question mark after question mark: “Is everything alright with the elevators? Do you know how worrisome I find the new warning on the elevator doors? Has there been an accident? Or is this simply an insurance disclaimer-trick?” Too many floors, too many times reading the same message against my will, must have inflated my concern, so I breathed out the justification of my anxiety and waited for a reassuring head shake to erase the imprint of the elevator shaft from my mind. Oddly, not the faintest or most bored acknowledgment of my inquiry or presence came from across the desk. From where I was standing, I performed a quick check to see if any cables came out of the receptionist's ears. Nothing. Channels unobstructed, no ear mufflers, no micro-devices. Suspicion eliminated, I waved at him, emitted a few other sounds – all to no avail. My tunnel-visioned receptionist rolled his chair even closer to one of the many monitors under his hooked gaze, his visual field now narrowed to a very acute angle, sheltered by his high desk. How well I can still remember that at that exact moment I wished my face would turn into the widest, most expensive screen, with an imperative, hairy ticker at the bottom –

h e y t o u c h m y s c r e e n m y m u s t a c h e s c r e e n e l e v a t o r t o u c h d o w n s c r e a m


That's one of the first red flags I remember in this situation (here, really starting to come across more or less as a story): a feeling of being silenced by the building I inhabited. [Or to think about it the other way around: it's also plausible and less paranoid that upon hearing my flash sentences the building manifested a sense of phonophobia and consequently activated a strange defense mechanism. In any case, t]hat day, I had been forewarned, but I failed to understand. As soon as I pushed the revolving door and left the building with a wry smile [on my face], the traffic outside wolfed down the warning.


The day I resigned myself to those forces – and I assume, I had unleashed them upon myself through my vengeful desire to hxxx {here, a 3-cm erasure} words until I could see carcass after carcass roll down the stairs [truth be said, a practice that differed from other people's doings only in my heightened degree of awareness, which entailed a partially malevolent but perhaps understandable defensive strategy on my part] – that gloomy day, the burning untitled shape I had been carrying in my mouth morphed into a permanent official of my cavity – a word implant in my jaw! No longer do I feel pain on my tongue, only a tinge of volcanic ash as an aftermath of this defeat.


I've been running with a word in my mouth, running with this burning untitled shape, and I just can't spit it out. Spit it with phlegm from a balcony, kiss it in a mirror, brush it away one morning. It has become my tooth, rooted in my nervous system. My word of mouth.


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Since then, my present has turned into an obscure hole, and I can't climb out of it. Most of the time, I'm sitting at the bottom of this narrow oubliette, teeth in knees, scribbling notes with my body in a terribly twisted position. And when I'm not sitting, I'm forced to jump. Agonizing thoughts numb my limbs so much so that I feel my legs turning to stone. On some days I look up, terrified. I can't even make out whether the diffuse opening is egg- or square-shaped, but there's definitely a peculiar tic-tac sequence interspersed with neighs that my pricked ears are picking up on. A sound umbrella, hovering somewhere up there, high above my imploded horizon.

{illegible vertical lines resembling a bar code}

Hypotheses scanned and merged, I temporarily conclude that a horse-like creature with metal intestines must be galloping round and round the hole I'm in. When I first noticed the sound, its circular cadence was soft and unobtrusive, almost protective, but now the more laps the clock-horse is running, the deeper the ticking and the neighing sounds are drilling into the hole. I picture this as an ever rotating metal worm inside a mincing machine. If I point my chin up, it bores through my throat!


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What if, in returning to that red flag in my reconstructive undertaking [instead of “red flag”, whose imperialist connotations strike me today, we cross it out and use “pyramid” to refer to such potentially revealing frames, when intuitions {two words crossed out, but still legible: seem to} give the alarm and converge before thoughts do], we posit that an elevator accident occurred not long after my unanswered query at the High Reception Desk, and that I – exceptionally – found myself in the elevator car that plummeted. Following this not entirely bleak hypothesis, the oubliette I'm trapped in translates to an explainable state of blackout and all the ticking and the drilling could easily find their counterparts in the host of medical devices (and their noise-making) that support a comatose person. What if what I am experiencing now is another kind of awareness, inside a coma, which will be gone once I wake up in a few hours or days on a hospital bed, flowers by my side, someone crying / loud as a horse / in the other corner of the room, next to a child's bed?

[Plausible as this scenario might be, it's still strange how the situation calls for reality-like insertions to occur through “what if”s...]


Have I fallen into a lucid coma or am I a hallucination, made in 1941 out of gouache and black pencil, paper, cardboard and purchased in 1966?

[To visualize the equation of my despair, the following elements are given: the above-whispered question escalates into a desperate shout and multiplies itself over a considerable stretch of time at the expense of my vocal chords. After all, I am not made of black pencil or cardboard or paper. Despite this conclusion, the effort has left me sulking for hours without being able to scribble anything, overwhelmed by a sensation of being pinched and pulled sideways by dark particles inside the mineral dampness of this open tomb. What's the use of a vertical territory if you can't sniff it all the way up?]

{several overlapping thumbmarks in black ink, lower right corner}



                           / one gorgeous whale \
                        my memory's biomorphic shadow
                   can anyone write in woodworm language?
               how to teach the Cyrillic alphabet to woodworms?
            how many hypotheses to /re-stabilize\ one's situation?   
       how many pyramids one on top of the other to the \coma/ surface?
 the denser the pyramid net, the more confusing the situation. true/false\fiction



Hasty recordings of several escape attempts. A slew of tentacle-thoughts are rising towards the ethereal opening and here I am / hopeful and unwashed \ just beneath a submundane landscape of groping, shimmering arms, hungry to sense and to collect every memory detail in an effort of sense making, to draw skin over hypotheses and hypotheses over bones. It might be morning, it might be yesterday's morning out there or any other time in the past, when as I cracked the door to my workplace, I entered my co-workers' question game and paraverbal exchange:

Puckered lips open: “Listen, whose childhood dream was it to have one of their eye-bulbs replaced with a micro fish-eye lens implant?” Knitted eyebrows: “Someone whose neural pathways zigzagged phrenologist categories?” Microexpressionist: “How many semiotician-dentists and woodworm-writers have visited the Chaos Institute to date?” A ragged mane: “The same number as the number of neurological tools for brain mapping that the Institute owns?” {one lengthy word crossed out, probably a name}: “Would your brain topography get upset and wrinkle if you imagined all the bureaucrats' desks from the largest country on earth [by pop.] piled up in a pyramid?” Microexpressionist again: “Who wants to draft the call for asemic writers?” Puckered lips closes {sic} the door.


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It's a humongous workplace, with a blue entrance door, cluttered with papers on both sides. See? Left hand on the entrance door handle, the woman presses it and the three of them [guiding co-worker, faceless cameraman, scarlet-haired interviewer] squeeze themselves inside all that paper. [Door shuts by itself.] Doesn't it feel like entering a paper sculpture? [, she herself appearing for a split second to have undergone a material transformation, to have turned into paper, the left side of her face glowing in a retro light. It's still her.] This is where we work, a hybrid site officially called The Institute for Chaos and Neuroplasticity – packed with folders, jammed with newspapers, stacks of private correspondence left and right, recording devices, boxes with photographs, xeroxed documents on shelves, {several pea-sized inkblots} printed screenshots and boarding passes – we keep it all, everything that museums or archives have no interest in, all orphaned papers, photographic plates and imperiled books or hard disks relatives might want to discard or even burn after someone's death. Exploring leftovers around here can go up and down to horrifying and overwhelming sensorial levels...


{a two-centimeter line of rust from a pin in the upper left corner of the index card}

Sociological-intelligence rumors have it that ours is the bureau for studying psychological attachment to “garbage” (we very much welcome researchers), while others refer to the Institute as the chaos-brewing place in the neighborhood because we employ absolutely no classification method for storing papers or other media. The chances of finding us? [Raised eyebrows and puckered lips as first responses to the scarlet-haired question.] Well, the incidence is just as low as finding a document or device you're looking for in our storage. Things are not lost; there are just different ways of finding them. A random stroll, a lucky find – be that on-line or off-line –, or a seductive word of mouth may be the entrance points into this experiential space, a manifesto for haphazardness, emotional intuitions, subversion of neural pathways, and non-productive attitudes. A dadaist archive? queried Scarlet Hair. Ours is definitely not an archive, there's no trace of pyramidal bureaucracy or taxonomy here, no nation state at its birth. Hence you won't find a reservoir for national or racial histories in here. Just imagine we changed perception scales, imagine a collective cut-up project that we, chaos workers, are bringing together without scissors or screwdrivers because all that gets through that blue door [and that is the only condition and standard] has already been shaped and fits in here. [Guiding co-worker speaks in a monotonous and plain GPS voice. Interview continues, but she forgets to mention that behind the blue door, in this very big box 1. everyone is an authorized user and 2. time rests unemployed.]


Lately, several trucks loaded with gray matter have been adding extra hours of induced chaos to everyone's content. Although it is the Institute's policy to accept paper donations only from private individuals, it occasionally makes exceptions and takes on leftovers from nonprofit organizations.

Each time this happens, an extended rite of passage follows so as to slightly delay and thereby ease the arrival of chaos bits: the most reliable chaos worker, Microexpressionist by metonymically selected feature, supervises the transfer of boxes at the very beginning of a long hallway [eyeballs moving left to right, head planted in an incredibly stiff neck]. Then, some fifty meters away, standing in front of the opened blue door, Puckered Lips welcomes newcomers into the chaos, his gestures those of a marshaller guiding a plane into a parking position. But once the gray [?] matter has passed over the threshold, once the last full suitcase or shoe box with USB sticks has landed, directions are no longer provided. Everyone's free to grow limbs and choose temporal neighbors.


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… seated cross-legged at the longest desk ever, Ragged Mane is randomly extracting photodocuments from the freshest chaos segment with a metallic extension of two of her fingers [instead of a pince-nez, she's the one to carry a pair of tweezers in a small pocket at all times]. “Look what I've just grabbed,” and she pushes a sepia photograph in front of Knitted Eyebrows, whose otherwise deadpan face instantaneously gets stamped this time with a question mark: “What is it?” “Another capture, of course! Two mustaches, one hat, three pairs of glasses, some blurred figures in the background, and one most fascinating detail!” – [… takes out a magnifying glass and points with one of her flashy pink fingers to the handheld object under the gaze of four eyes on the left side of the photo. Then, Ragged Mane continues:] “That raised right index finger above a rectangular-shaped object... you see it?” “You mean [00:00 = insertion of a lengthy time frame = 00:47] could this mustachioed fellow be holding a touchscreen mobile phone in his left hand?” For several unrecorded skeptical moments, they interlock their eyes and knit their eyebrows closer together. Afterward, eyes split again and roll on the surface of the photograph like black-eyed peas on a kitchen table. “It's all specks and epoch details,” a resigned voice breaks from the chaos silence, when, the same thought crosses their minds, and Ragged Mane and Knitted Eyebrows turn the photo over, almost certain to find an answer. [A simultaneous hunch.] In block letters it most clearly reads: “DOCUMENTING THE FILMING OF PEACEMAKERS / ANALOGUE PHOTOGRAPHY ON FILM SET / BERN, SWITZERLAND / 17.05.2008”



/ meanwhile, the clock-horse has grown really nervous out there – it's drawing smaller and smaller circles / a spasmodic and repetitive activity causing dislocation / a fine powder begins to float inside the oubliette in the slowest motion possible / my breathing has already been hampered, but now my lungs and brain get filled with an asphyxiating smell of old paper / hanging on my last tentacle-thought, on my tiptoes, refusing to choke and disintegrate / NOT READY TO BE RECYCLED / {messiest handwriting}

A Cyrillic cityscape is imagining how one day all the bureaucrats' desks from the largest country on earth get piled up in a pyramid. “This new shape is deflating the coherence of my horizon. [the cityscape worries] No matter!” Once the last desk is placed at the very top, the ground cracks a half-open mouth, a fissure the length of Rxssxx. On the outside it's spotted with straddled city topographies, inside, it's filled with a vernacular accumulation of anational dust without a trace of usable pasts.

{violent horizontal strokes over the last two lines, left and right from the hole at the bottom of the index card; indecipherable}



“What's on TV this afternoon?” This plain but beautifully metamorphosed question has just landed with a bleep on the chaos couch, next to Ragged Mane, who usually loses no chance to retort [that is, here, to admonish too hard a fall]: “Doucement!” Under the weight of a short-lived feeling of guilt, {name crossed out} echoes back in a whisper – d – o – u – c – e – m – e – n – t –, and then, as if after a palatable word tasting, she clicks her tongue and with it, she searches for a point of clarification: “Doucement is an anagram for documenté – which one do you actually mean?” [All conversations with {name crossed out} would suffer unsettling Meaning U-turns because she specialized in letter permutation.]


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Gurgling sounds from a not-so-distant corner of the chaos dump make heads simultaneously rotate in the direction of the TV screen, where a documentary has just started with a drone's-eye view over a city of lined-up skyscrapers. Early on, the commentator breaks into unwitty superlatives and platitudes, while the soundtrack unnecessarily dramatizes a 3D layering of the city structure. Despite all this, the mood on the couch is patient, and viewers seem to absorb the vignetted film. “A city like no other, as atypical as Cappadocia,” explains the low trepid voice from the box, “a city whose peculiarity owes first to the alignment of all its elements, where street follows street in a parallel fashion like in linear writing. Hence, reading the city acquires a literal dimension, skyscrapers echo clustered block letters on a line, and the pedestrian reader gets reduced to the size of a far-sighted microbe.”

[Woodworm laughs]


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Minutes into the documentary, the micro-drone camera zooms into the silver district/chapter of the city to show another set of its features: instead of steel and glass, what from afar appeared to be ordinary skyscrapers turn out to be “300-meter-tall lofty towers of mailbox-like constructs of dried skin, sprayed on top with silver paint for rims, and decorated with huge love padlocks. A foreboding district for newlyweds?” [nauseating atmosphere] Unable to answer or to smell, the mosquito-sized drone blinks in the direction of the right page, and it speedily approaches another windowless urban variation: the vastest area of city towers – the Wood Drawers District. “Despite its vintage (here and there rundown) aura, the area is an exquisite, segregated space for library aficionados, designed out of genetically-engineered trees that grow naturally drawer-shaped with a remarkable capacity for self-(re)generation. In terms of real proportions, the size of a mailbox- or a drawer-apartment is comparable to that of a shipping container, from the alternative but old housing projects…” bla bla the furniture bla... [that chaos corner, so remote and so coal black / that whole atmosphere with blurred echoes beclouds my reasoning / and right now, I'm feeling nauseous and cursed with all the words in an unabridged dictionary / new deluxe edition, with black covers and golden characters]


In front of the place where, above a modest skyline, every single morning [scholars'] desks conjoin in the shape of a multi-storied pyramid, there's a sign that reads: right here you can bend forward, place your hands on your back, press down your spine with your thumbs and throw up an index card, throw out a reality version, take out a tooth. In fact, take out all that you need and once you feel relieved, exchange personas as if in an emergency situation. Then, behind vermillion curtains, replace pronouns at will.

[Might this have been a pipe dream? An intubated wish for character replacement? {Name crossed out} would whisper C E E H I N N O R T as place name]


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[“gray – …
Other Color Terms –
argentine, cerise, cerulean, cyan, ocher, perse, puce, taupe, vermillion”]

To be able to name everything and everyone, especially all the shades in a gray zone, and then to re-name, re-narrate/re-count, and re-photograph all of it. To treat the ensuing multilayered landscape with/as an infinitive verb and to scoop a place for yourself in the accordion of surfaces. For instance, take the first shot – you're being stared at, you're under the distant gaze of three {words crossed out; illegible}. Pale, you might think, how pallid and lifeless they appear to be, but try to hold their gaze and notice how the interaction grows uncomfortable through persistence. Blink, if you must. Move your weight from one leg to the other, and become aware of how unflinching their concentration remains, as if their eyes are lured into a screen. And as you're trying to draw attention to yourself by making ampler, pantomimic gestures, your hands touch the dark inner edges of the monitor you're [boxed] in. Look out and around again and again...


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Some {Same?} damned creature made only of arms and legs has been leaving a slew of black dots all over my corridors and staircases, ashes on my handrails, and larger spots of black liquid in front of my elevator doors on the southern track – my oldest and dearest vertically mobile installation, the one that has grown only ten floors high. If I were in shape, attuned and wired to my perception angles and sensors, I could identify beyond precision that it is a 403 cabal plotting I begin fearing. Lately, it's all been going really awry. Having failed at the character recognition of this trickster creature, the following facts can be enumerated in view of overall [damage] re-evaluation, quantification, and intruder excision: emaciating architectural structure, increasingly deformed spiraling of brown marbled staircases, smudged finger- and footprints on all floors, soddened and blackened ceilings, alongside thousands of harrowing fingers and a detection of an insidious and undesirable multiplication of {word crossed out: white} hands [tbc].


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Out of the blue, the clock-horse dislocated particles expand in size, circle in all directions like giant flies around a street lamp, and then in the most predictable fashion, they collide with my escapist reminiscences multiple times until I lose connection and the landscape above comes to a [menacing] stillness. [How does it look now? a scarlet-haired question.] I'm blinking, I'm moving my weight from one leg to the other, before I can attempt a description of the earth balls that stagnate in the air among translucent tentacles [they're almost gone] and floating dioramas of miniatures. Proportions have inverted, scraped surfaces have commingled and my U-shaped. reality. and. vision. are. stammering... I can't find my hands!


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--Ospal (talk) 09:27, 19 November 2015 (CET) Here is where the transcript ENDS, where the black text lines dribble back into the box. For information on document location or transcription method, kindly contact the editor.


Last Revision: 28·06·2016