Japanese Steps

[Note: “Japanese steps” (“stone steps;” tobi-ishi) were invented by XVIth century masters of the tea ceremony to make access to the tea house easier and more pleasant. (Kiyoshi Seike and Masanobu Kudo)

They are flat stones placed on the ground, well anchored and regularly spaced (the length of one step). (Christian Pessey)

The further apart the stones are, the quicker one tends to walk while the closer together they are, the more they cause one to loiter.
Always take into account what the visitor will see before him while walking down this path and strive to create points of interest as well as places to rest. (Kiyoshi Seike and Masanobu Kudo)]

 * * *

Everything already exists, but nothing truly is until we have had its revelation.
(Bernard Noël)

Warn space! And listen to the pebbles fall silent.
(Valère Novarina)

You can only write while losing
the body of what you name.

Our gaze, our words are precisely
what must be taken away from things so
that they may appear.

There is no ground except for that which we part from
each moment.

We walk
because in space
something calls us.

Perhaps living only consists
in transmitting images, words
upon the density of forgetting.

In our utterances, in our words
the void attains its own dispossession.

You speak, you write so that things
no longer coincide with themselves.

You don’t write to give things a
place, you write to make room;
so that the tree is never borne by its
name and the stone remains silent in what
signifies it.

Even the inexpressible needs a border,
a skin.
Even the inexpressible needs words.

The name of things allows us to catch a glimpse of
what may be a world detached from

To write is to bring water to a spring
so that it discovers its thirst.

To write is to call, to call primarily
so that nothing comes.

Everything is at a remove.

A form can arise only
through the closing of another.

At least you know that the other’s gaze
halts you, prevents you from falling out of yourself.

You talk, you write so as not to lose
your footing, to remain distant
from everything.

Words encompass the world so that
it doesn’t unfurl, so that it stays in place.

It’s a crime to demand silence
within oneself: who would speak
for everything that remains silent?

It’s almost more a question of breathing
than of writing.

You speak so that what you must not pronounce
can settle at the bottom of your words

Things take the shape
of their silence.

Is it possible to carry on writing knowing
that no word can encompass the body
of what it names.

The closing of things is a starting point,
a beginning.

To write is to continually seek support.

To write, in order to read one’s voice in the voice
of others.

Simply to hem the world.

What you cannot pronounce in a
thing is precisely that which constitutes
its body.

You actually write not to hear
what the words say,
but to array all this silence.

You constantly search for the seam
within, to verify how the divided
is bound.

Space can start as soon as a thing
finds a border.

The voice doesn’t conceal silence:
it proclaims it.

Is it perhaps that our words are the sole
ground where we can find our footing?

This vital need to go home.

Our gaze is not meant for us to see,
but for the world to see itself
through us.

To write is to dwell next to what
remains silent.

After always dragging our bodies
around, always pulling them towards
the inside: might we, someday, be able to dwell
within our gestures?

You place a stone near this tree
to mark this spot and recognize it.
And so, you think you specify a place in this
world, whereas the place you actually designate
is somewhere inside of you.

To feel already equals a wound,
not a pain, a wound.

If you are drawn towards what is not you,
it is in order to be expanded by all that
you must lose.

Words always express somewhere else.
—What else would you expect them to say?

To write is to sustain the call,
to simply be the place of this call.

One does not say the word flower to
only designate a flower, but
also to not bind oneself to it too tightly.

Speaking, writing are to finally provide silence
the occasion to keep quiet, to consider itself said.

Sometimes you are the place that you bear within you.

Vertigo begins when you no longer know
where the ground of words is.

Is it perhaps the coming of the reader
which allows words to discover their ground?

To write is to fly, while being both
this fixed point which watches the flight and the one
which always flies further ahead.

You carry land like someone
who parts from it.

He who causes a gesture to
appear, speaks for everything
which cannot appear.

Words don’t rely upon their
silence, but on what they must
silence in order to exist.

How could we keep our body
whole if in each of our gestures,
our utterances, our words,
a way back couldn’t be found?

Words exist because we don’t
know how to remain within ourselves

Every word, every utterance proclaims
what it cannot cross over.

Writing retains, in each of its words,
its fount and its thirst.

The more a spring flows
the more the intensity of its thirst
makes its call heard.

A spring doesn’t murmur,
at the top of its lungs it screams
the thirst that it cannot quench.

We cannot express presence,
but only what departs.

To repeat, in order to persist from one phrase
to another; to, at least, retain
some kind of a foothold.

To write is to skim past the grip
of words.

Is writing, perhaps, the body
of our gestures?

What our words summon is simultaneously
given and withdrawn.

We write to give ourselves a within, to
stifle our wanderlust.

We write hoping to quench our thirst with each
word, yet each word demands still more.

A single word, a single name is what it takes to stop.

But what if writing only consisted of preventing
a fall?

Every limit is the call of what can’t

The absence of things in their name
is one of the forms of space.

How place a thing in its name,
when it runs away as soon as it’s

And what if words were only the portent
of a coming, a body’s shadow?

You never know by what bonds
things support one another.

All these gestures, all these words
in order to try and enter, to lean upon the within.

What we exchange only has the gaze
of our silences.

To write
like a tree
pushes its body
into space

like a fruit
touches its own hunger
with space.

All is a within
but nothing indicates
where the dwelling is.

Writing renders things present
by omission.

Water only exists through its insistent
demand for water.

The desert is only the dream of water:
the dream of a reservoir.

You write in order to unite
and yet you only separate.

You write so that there is a passage deep
within our words, a subterranean river.

You place a word upon this page, and everything
is set in motion, even though nothing
in the room has moved.

Others’ words like a space
which is perpetually missing your arrival.

Perhaps the other’s voice
essentially calls us within?

Are we the final brink?

When you write, how do you really know
whether you unite or separate?

The closer you get the further away you are.

Words, you who absent all bodies, tell us
where does the world begin, where
is the origin of our coming?

You write to free yourself, to acquire
some space, but each word only restrains
you, shackles you one knows not where.

Words are the shadow of a body which bears
land like a receding horizon.

Actually, the world is here.
Absolutely here. The invisible is no other than
the tangible: what your hands touch
like a refusal.

Your origin remains within the call.
Your origin is ahead of you. Not to go
would mean getting lost, losing your footing.

One must speak, write so that silence may
truly commence.

It is not a question of letting things dwell within your words,
but of always creating a passage.

The meaning of words merely indicates
a direction, nothing more.

A body can only appear when
it comes to dwell in the open.

Are objects, things, perhaps,
the infinitude of what cannot be seen?

Our words only exist to close
the endless space which our eyes open.

What must you let go of every time you speak?

You speak, you write so as not to merge
with the things which surround you,
so that everything remains in its place.

To write down the name of things, is simply to
fill their absence.

And what if it was necessary, in order to go within yourself,
to erase gestures with gestures;
words with words?

In words you touch what has no shore.

You hold yourself in the air
which does not hold you.

Even limits have their share of the incommensurable.

Even your voice contributes to the dimensions of silence.

A word is always open.
Even if it can neither retain, nor contain a single thing:
it remains open.

Similarly birds perpetuate
space throughout their flight.

A word contains all that writing
is unable to exhaust.

Have you already seen a spring return to its source?

In your name lives what will never be yours.

Words in order to give things a semblance
of face, to conceive a vis-à-vis.

Words to stitch up space.
Words we will no longer fall from.

Why don’t these objects, at the edge of this table,
suffer vertigo?

In the void, this ground which persists
despite the fall.

I set my briefcase in the middle
of a field, and stepped back as if I had
found a center, somewhere to weigh anchor.

What if you could only remain beside

One writes to trace where the inside begins.

To write is to discover a shore
where there is only the flow of a river.

To no longer speak, no longer write is a way
of renouncing one’s body.

To deprive words of air so that they demand
more air, more space; to deprive them of the essential,
to the point that it is in short supply.

You thought you were closing, only to discover that your
words are always a portent.

Your writing precedes your words,
but not on the page.

A spring is a source only by carrying
its origin further away.

A spring can only flow toward its thirst.

A gesture always calls another one
while disappearing.

You write so that things do not lose
the place of their absence.

How would you write if all the stones,
the trees … either came onto this page
or wanted to remain in their name?

You write so that this shore doesn’t touch
the other shore.

A word always knows where it must begin
and end.

Writing is a bit like touching your body
with this skin that is the page.

Even though things are never borne
by their name, they take its passage.

Things are only here by default;
yet this is all it takes to create an entire world.

Our words are the space that one must cross
in order to put things in perspective.

Nothing awaits us, but our coming releases

Your hand doesn’t touch an object:
it reaches for it.

By evaporating, spoken words find
their basis.

By touching the inexpressible, written words
find a form.

Each object has its own sound
its own music.

Words that can be pronounced like
giving air to space.

to broaden our horizons
to be within the breathing of things.

Words can only arise by letting go
of the hand which once held them.

Where is the support,
the edge before the leap?

You can only become airborne with the ground
beneath your feet.

To move within the movement of your own path.

Each word is a place.

Objects have dreams which take
the exact shape of their bodies.

To gesture
simply to remain in the world.

To dwell
only in the movement of your words.

Flat stones
among waves of grass
to receive and leave a trail.

that the page links and separates
which await your coming
to open the path.

A land
page and word.


Jean-Louis Giovannoni
Pas Japonais,  Editions Unes 1991.