:: the language revolution :: conversations with Enrique Enriquez
Interview by Danilo DiPrizio
english version by E.Enriquez :: spanish version by K.G.Treviño
(zen queen enquires requiem quire)
II . la Papesse
DD. Hi Enrique, I like to start with something actual, what about your last book “Linguistick”?
EE. Linguistick is the tongue turned into a magic wand, as we see it expressed in the Ace of Batons. Linguistick is “Tarology” ‘s twin brother, its practical expression, where the tarot as an engine for thought transforms the alphabet into a grimoire. This book compiles three years of weekly emails I have sent to a private list. To be in my list a person has to send me an email telling me “which one is the fastest letter in the alphabet?”
DD. How did your movie “Tarology” came about? Why did you decided to make it accesible by streaming it online?
EE. The movie was an impulse of Chris Deleo y Kimberly Naughton. It was out of my hands from the very beginning. The tarot seems to be one of the very few things that can still be taught by oral transmission. That is why the idea of a documentary was interesting to me.
I haven’t placed it online for free streaming. Perhaps somebody else did. That is the thing with one’s work. Its right to survive is given by those who keep it alive.
DD. Do not you have a web site, really?
EE. Three or four years ago I eliminated all my presence in Internet, except for facebook, that I consider like an extension of the street. My only one output happens across the e-mails that I send to my private list once per week.
DD. What happens in your live meetings in NY?
EE. The common thread in all these events is that I speak of the tarot as a poetic text. Popular culture has the tarot associated with predicting the future. As outlandish as this claim may me, once we take it out of the equation, the tarot enters a limbo of self-help and psycho-babble. Instead of all that I try to focus on the beauty of the images and its “gay sçavoir”.
DD. Enrique when did you find the tARoT?
EE. The tarot is a silence that reinvigorates speech. I constantly try to return to that moment when I saw the cards for the first time. It is not easy. Everything conspires against this. Even the eye, being a sphere, can only partially touch the flat surface of the images.
DD. Could you name any person who has influenced you?
EE. The tarot is an entry point to the world of forms. I pay attention to those who inhabit that world, specially to the poets. Alfred Jarry, for example, left this phrase:
“The Geometer knows all things by the means of lines drawn in different directions, and hast given us the veritable portrait of three persons of God in three escutcheons which are the quart-essence of Tarot symbols.”
What is this “quart-essence” of the tarot Jarry speaks of? In the original French, Jarry doesn’t use “shield” but “écusson”. In English, the word escutcheon names both the outlines of a coat of arms and the contours of pubic hair. That is how Jarry gave us a key: “écusson” becomes a space inhabited by two ideas at once. This gesture reveals a poetics that could be visually expressed in the mandorla, the intersection of two circles, as it is seen in the XXI le Monde.
Thanks to Jarry I was able to understand this other phrase. I haven’t been able to locate its author, as it belongs to the Marseille tarot’s folklore: Le Tarot contient de vingt-deux lames ses leçons. (The tarot contains its lessons in twenty two cards). But the phrase’s sound is ambiguous. It could also be heard as saying: Le Tarot qu’on tient, devin de lames, c’est le son. (The tarot you, cartomancer, hold, is the sound). This phrase is, in fact, a mandorla. It suggest that the essence of the tarot is contained in the concrete aspect of the images, and in the act of turning those images into sound. We could summarize all the ideas in this graphic:
The woman in XI la Force opens the lion’s mouth. Above that image we have St. Blaise, patron saint of obstructed throats. ‘Blaise’ sounds like ‘blaze’, a blurt of fire, like the one we see atop the building in XVI la Maison Dieu. The top of the tower looks alike the lion’s head. The blaze suggest a roar. All these ideas mirror each other while inhabiting the tension between the dense level of the images, which never changes, and the subtle level of the word, which is in constant flow.
What we have here at play is the ‘phonetic cabala’, also known as the ‘language of the birds’. With all this in mind I looked into a lineage of writers whose ideas seems close to this folklore that mystifies wordplay. I am talking of people like André Bretón, Farid ud-Din Attar, Raymond Roussel, Jean-Pierre Brisset, René Guenón, Fulcanelli, Claude-Sosthène Grasset d’Orcet, Velimir Khlebnikov, François Rabelais, Marcel Duchamp, and many others.
But the Dead only talk, they never listen. That is why one has friends.
DD. When did you started to work with the tarot’s alphabet, and with words?
EE. The soul of words suggests a geometry. In it we recognize the essence of tarot cards. For example, the Wayuu word for ‘to dream’ is alapüjaa. The Wayuu word for ‘nightmare’ is maa’inwaa.
There are four letters “a“ in both words, suggesting a square. If we re-arrange the remaining letters in alapüjaa around that square we end up with a sense of flow where the letters l, p, ü and j seem to move around in a cyclical way. On the other hand, by doing the same thing to maa’inwaa we end up with the crystallized structure of an hexagon. The consonant m at the top and the consonant w at the bottom are locked in their symmetry. Nothing moves around.
One doesn’t have to understand Wayuu (an indigenous language from northwestern Venezuela) to get this. It would be better to read these words as one would look at an angel.
If we forget the meaning of words, if we observe the rhythm suggested by their forms, we witness concrete truths that exist beyond the limits of language. This brings to mind something Hugo Ball wrote: “Adopt symmetries and rhythms instead of principles”. The same thing happens if we forget the alleged meaning of tarot cards and simply look at the cadence of their figures.
DD. Did you have a set plan of studies about it or is this pure inspiration?
EE. I used to think that the work consisted on making decisions, in such a way that something that never existed before would exist just because one would will it to be. Little by little I have learned not to make any decisions, leaving the world of forms to lead me in some direction. In the beginning I saw tarot cards as departure points on my move towards the words. Eventually I understood that they became arrival points, familiar forms that, once returned to me by chance, signal that is time to stop.
DD. You have published several different books. Some contain interviews. Could you tell us more about these works’ genesis?
EE. The interviews were the way I found to reach onto the tarot world, to understand who inhabits that world, and also, to get a sense of how these people relate their practices to the contemporary world.
DD. HOw did yoU develop your ideaS whilE writinG the first bOok about tarot that Doesn’t contain any images: “Tarology”?
EE. Every single tarot book is a failure because it occludes a direct experience of the images. At best, all tarot books could be seen as footnotes to the actual text, which is the tarot itself. That is why I thought unnecessary to add images to the book.
Even the lives of all the people who have consulted the tarot through history could be seen as some sort of tarot’s “marginalia”.
DD. I feel your work points towards a recovery of the symbolism in letters and the use of words as living, malleable, entities. In that regard it make me reflect upon iconoclastic cultures like Islam, where the absence of images allows us to focus on the perception of the pure alphabet’s geometry, its visual nuances and rhythms (gestures) – elements that are directly linked to the sound of words. Paradoxically, who knows how might be a deck of cards made by pure alphabet?
EE. I have been asked to do an alphabet tarot, but the alphabet is already a tarot! There are strong gestures around, things like Michael McClure’s LION FIGHT, a deck of cards with words printed on them. Each word belongs to the semantic field of a lions fight, so, whenever you place a few cards on the table the combination elicits a lions fight. Russian poet Lev Rubinstein also works on index cards. There are many others. Personally I don’t feel the need to make a statement through a tarot deck of my own invention. I am just trying to understand one single deck among thousands. That’s overwhelming enough!
The 20th Century was interesting for language. At the beginning, Futurists and dadaist blew language into pieces. In the 1960s conceptual artists privileged language as a material to work with. Recently, I found this poem by Kasimir Malevich:
Malevich wrote the word ‘Village’ and framed it with bold straight lines. Below it he wrote a footnote that says something like: “Instead of drawing the huts of nature’s nooks, better to write ‘Village’ and it will appear to each with finer details and the sweep of an entire village.” In this poem, a word woks like a readymade. Malevich, in 1915, was anticipating the work of people like Joseph Kosuth o Lawrence Weiner, who is very interesting to me. Finding that poem was very exciting.
Honestly I don’t know what is what I am doing. I just follow a logic suggested by the relationship between the shape of letters within words. Writing in all these languages leads you to discover that the silence is the music of the spheres.
The only value I give to this work is the fact that I do it daily, like other people do yoga, or booze. Poetry (visual, concrete, conceptual), is just one reference among many. I am interested in sigils, in the spells we find in grimoires, the Congolese patipembas and the Haitian vévés, rebuses, and hieroglyphs. Part of the work consists on inhabiting language as an active experience. The other part consists on weaving a lineaje some sort of tradition composed by countless authors who have been touched by the allure of words.
For example, The Conference of the Birds, a Persian poem written in 1177by Farid al Din Attar, exists in the space between SIMORGH, a Persian word that names a mythical bird, the king of birds, and SI MORGH, meaning “30 birds”. In the book, the birds decide to seek an audience the king of birds. Out of the thousands that travel across seven realms, many die, get tired, eaten, or lost. Only 30 birds reach their destination, where they face their own reflection in a pool of water.
Many of Duchamp ideas work like this. His first readymade, in 1916, was a bicycle (ROUE) wheel atop a stool (SELLE): ROUSELLE. Duchamp was a fan of Raymond Roussel, a writer who also knew how to write in the space between words..
We can outline the lineage of an idea: the Language of the Birds, from the 12th to the 20th century, from a classical poem to modern art. Somewhere in the continuum of that mythical folklore we find the tarot’s language.
DD. It all makes me think of eastern ideograms or hieroglyphs (perfect “mandorlas” between sound and image); also Apollinaire’s Calligrams and all the experiments in visual poetry, etc.
Otherwise if we were to get deeper into the origin of all Indo-European languages until we end up pure syllables and letters from old Sanskrit, for example, we could re-discover our Western language’s visual-phonetic roots by sensing the letters themselves and their graphic movement in space.
Taking all these aspects into account, and getting closer to this alchemy of language and the poetry of forms, could we say that a good etymological dictionary would be most useful than any tarot manual?
EE. The mark of letters on the surface of the page is the visual equivalent to the sound of the voice traveling through the air. I always have Marcel Bénabou in mind. He wrote: “écrire c’est tracer deux lettres et puis rire”, (“Writing consists on tracing two letters and laughing”). The mere act of tracing letters give us an extraordinary pleasure that is charged with the otherness of magic.
Of course, in French écrire literally is é + c + rire (to laugh). See? We are always playing the same game, consisting on finding the gap in between things. Letters started out as drawings. Before that they probably were gestures. Any word has an obvious semantic value, but also a graphic value, even a choreographic value. If we dance a letter in space we become a tarot figure.
As for the rest of your question, anything is a better tarot manual than a tarot manual.
DD. What you are saying about the “space in between things” reminds me only one word: SYMBOL, and its meaning as a joining of two elements. I like the idea of an “active void” and this tension between different entities, because this is a constant evidence in the Marseille cards. This symbol of “osmosis” can be seen in XXI the World with the “mandorla”, but it is also present in many of the pip cards: in the suit of Swords, or in a different way at the center of the Wands, the Two and the Six of Coins, the Two of Cups and all the cards with floral ornaments.
Could we said that this allegory of syncretism between elements – an undefined dimension where the semantic-visual metamorphosis is achieved – is in fact the soul of Tarot?
EE. A symbol is nothing more than the relationship between two forms, a relationship that carries an emotional charge. That is why a symbol can move us into action. That is also why, perhaps, we should ignore the symbol’s calling.
DD. You MentiOned french pOet aNd playwright Alfred Jarry, who invented “pataphysics”, a word that is not known outside certain ArtistiC or litErary contexts. While reAdiNg your book ‘Tarology’ I noticeD Several reFerences tO this “science Of imaginary soLutions”.
Could you tell us a little bit about this science of the absurd?
EE. Jarry was an extraordinary character. He is mostly known because of Ubu Roi, a play many see as the beginning of modern theater. The most famous detail of the play is its first word: ‘merdre’, an intervention to the French ’merde’. This caused a commotion in 1896. Same thing happened in 1965 with Aram Saroyan’s poem ‘lighght’. Once published, it caused all kinds of quarrels, that continue nowadays.
Merdre’ is a great model for us to understand ‘pataphysics. Jarry defined it as “the science of imaginary solutions”, and also as a science that focused on the particular, and “the laws that govern exceptions”. ‘Pataphysics two main principles are syzygy and clinamen. “Syzygy” comes from astronomy. It names the alignment of heavenly bodies. Jarry borrowed “Clinamen” from Lucretius. The words accounts for a swerve that compels atoms to create new orders through chance and chaos. We could imagine that the alignment of letters in each single word is a syzygy, a particular event, momentary and exceptional, like an eclipse. After all, each word we use is just an exception within the alphabet’s constant motion. We could also see as a syzygy any instance where a form becomes the conjunction of two or more ideas, like in ‘blaze-Blaise’. The World’s mandorla depicts a syzygy. In the symbolic world’ constant motion, forms attract each other by the erotic pull of their coincidences.
By adding an additional ‘r’ in ‘merde’, Jarry propiciated a clinamen, derailing both the word and his audience. In the same way, each tarot card derails the previous one. I lime to think that every syzygy is its own clinamen.
One aspect of ‘pataphysics I am interested in is the common interest all of his enthusiast had in wordplay. This is not about making puns, but about understanding wordplay’s poetic potential as a concrete way in which language creates and re-creates the world.
DD. With this in mind I came up with these wordplays:
iMÁGEN o ENiGMA?
LiSTEN or SiLENT?
CONViNZiONi o CONVENZiONi?
MATER o MARTE?
ORACULO o LOCURA?
WORDS or SWORD?
GOD or DOG?
EE. Anagrams are concrete truths. IMAGEN gets reordered as ENIGMA. That’s a fact. There is nothing subjective nor relative about it. Anagrams are amongst the most perfect examples of word-magic.
DD. In your, very exciting, documentary “Tarology”, you focus on the permutations in the 78 cards of Tarot (objects, colors, gestures) as an endless source of scrutiny, inside and outside ourselves.
EE. The tarot seems like a good entry point to the poetic intelligence of the world. At the moment I am more invested on experiencing this intelligence within language itself, as it seems the most perfect material. Language is both unreal and true, subtle and dense, abstract and concrete. Language is also a dreamscape, and orphic world we can travel to in search for visions.
I write in languages I cannot understand, so I can detach myself from my own thoughts. I am not sure that’s ‘poetry’. ‘Poetry’ seems to be a word people use when they want to turn the space between ‘this’ and ‘that’ into literature.
DD. In this film you make clear your disdain for the traditional beliefs systems associated to the tarot, from the mere folklore to the New Age: the Tarot as an ‘Astrological Atlantis’, a ‘Mystic travel’, ‘Cabalistic’, ‘Egyptian’, ‘Chakras’, etc. Are you equally uninterested in the tarot’s usage as an archetypal mirror, or tool for psychological inquire?
EE. Psychology ruined divination. It made it into a narcissistic rendezvous. Those who link tarot readings to psychotherapy hope to normalize divination’s subversive potential.
We hate empty space. We try to fill it in any way we can. But the tarot is there to make empty space, so we can learn to live within uncertainty.
DD. I agree, but we cannot ignore the evident assonance between cards like XVII the Star and the astrological icon for Aquarius, or the Pleiades myth. Obviously this doesn’t mean we have to mummify the card’s meaning, but it seems evident that this deck is soaked in Greek mythology, Mesopotamian and Christian symbolism… medieval allegories, and in particular, alchemical imagery.
Look for example at these images. The first two sculptures of Pazuzu and Istahar, (well know as Inanna, Astarte or Lilith) are demons from the Mesopotamian tradition that, with their gestures and positions, remind us of XV the Devil.
imagen central: XV Le Diable . CBD Tarot by Yoav Bend Dov
And these others. In the first box we can also appreciate the Hermit in the Italian tarot “Charles VI” (Italy XV century) and another figure comes from the ‘Splendor Solis’ codex, a German alchemical treatise from 1852 that is now at the Library of London. On the right there’s a beautiful representation of I the Magician from the astrological codex ‘De Sphaera’ (Italy, XV century, Estense Library).
EE. Of course, we are talking about the same game. The only way to know an image is by placing it within the iconographical context of the culture that created it.
But the relations between the tarot’s images and all the other esoteric systems never amount to an organization of the whole tarot. Here we go back to a “science of exceptions.”
Last Sunday I sneaked out very early to go write at my usual coffee shop. Half-way I realized I had forgotten my notebook, so I turned around. I knew that, back at home, everybody was still asleep. We live in a very old apartment. Everything creaks. On my way back I noticed this image:
Then this one:
The first image contains The Fool. The second one contains the Ace of Cups, which in the card looks like a house. “The fool goes home” or maybe “Only a fool would return home.” That is the direct experience of the tarot. What would be the point of smearing it with numerology?
All the occultist’s thinking is betrayed by an involuntary gesture suggesting that the tarot in itself is not enough, that it must be aligned to other systems if we are to take it seriously.
DD. Yes, all we have always wanted to identify the Tarots with something abstract, philosophical or esoteric. I’m agree with you and I think also that the moment we start to recognize them concretly – into our daily actions, in the objects and through the forms of the surrounding reality – it begins a true revolution-evolution in our experience with the Tarot: the reading of the cards and the symbols changes irreversibly. I think that once we are conscious about this, especially using the 56 minor pips, endless worlds can be opened.
DD. Enrique, some more technical questions: Why do you use the Marseille tarot and why the Noblet and Dodal decks? You dedicated the movie ‘Tarology’ to JeanClaude & Roxanne Flornoy. Can you tell us a little about them?
EE. In most tarot decks the action takes place in the image within each card. In the Marseille tarot the action seems to take place in the space in between cards. The action seems to focus on what happens in between the images, when a sign in one card activates a symmetrical sign in another card. I am interested in the space in between things and the space between a thing and itself. That is why I look at that tarot and not at any of the others.
In the last ten years it has become fashionable to speak of ‘restoring’ the Marseille tarot to its ‘original’ form. This is a great sales pitch of those peddling their own versions of the deck. Back then the only ones who were effectively re-printing the oldest Marseille tarots were Jean-Claude y Roxanne Flornoy. Now we have other people, like Pablo Robledo in Argentina or Yves Reynaud and Wilfried Houdouin in Marseille. In a field so rarified by charlatans as the tarot world is, I welcome the sobriety of their work.
DD. Could we say that the 56 minor aracana (the common playing cards), with its geometrical and metaphysical language, is the original Tarot’s deck? Its origin extends far back in the night of time. Could it be that addition of the 22 figures was some sort of expansion? If this were the case, could we imagine new possible expansions of the deck in the future?
EE. The addition of the trumps seems, indeed, as an extension of the traditional pack. Why is that we feel this need to re-tell the tarot’s history once and again? Perhaps we do so to convince ourselves that it is true. Perhaps we do so hoping to let in an imaginary remembrance that would make more palatable the misreading known as the ‘occult tarot’. It is quite possible that, in the future, somebody will unearth a Yu-Gi-Oh! (japanese cartoon) deck and claim it was a counter-cultural enclave for a late 20th Century secret intelligentsia.
DD. Is the querent’s question absolutely necessary? Has the classic dynamic querent-reader / question-answer become too limiting?
EE. Every day I am less and less interested in reading tarot.
I am interested, instead, in the possibility the tarot afford us to think about forms and about how, when we approach them, we make signs and symbols.
The tarot allow us to observe in real time how we make symbols. To access all that one has to immerse oneself in the practice of readings, but all these possible answers we would get aren’t the goal. They are a beginning for other questions about the reality of signs.
Lately I have been thinking that the value of a sign isn’t its metaphorical content, but its persistency in reality. I found a nice example of this in the movie Sult (Hunger), a 1966 film directed by Henning Carlsen. In one scene, actor Per Oscarsson asks for a ‘sign’. Right away he notices an earthworm on the ground:
A few minutes later he boards a carriage and notices a safety pin:
I am intrigued by this thought: the sign received, the earthworm, is simply a loop-like form that activates an awareness in the character, in such a way that, when he finds the safety pin, another loop-like form, he can recognize it as relevant. Our daily experience shows, indeed, that a sign is only meaningful if it is insisted upon us. Here, instead of delving into the earthworm’s symbolism, what matters is its symmetry with the safety pin. In the same way, the actor doesn’t wonder about the symbolism of the safety pin. In fact he uses it to close his jacket once he cuts all its buttons hoping to sell them. The sign doesn’t solve his problem. It simply elicits an awareness of a certain form. The problem is solved by the actor’s inventiveness.
DD. What you are saying reminds me this surrealistic painting by René Magritte ‘Clear ideas’ (1955):
EE. Of course. After you see a sign you become more aware of some forms in the world. Your way of seeing the reality gets tuned in a specific frequency. Acquiring coordinates to look at the world seems a better use for signs than simply navel gazing.
Consider the Italian word ‘essere’ (to be), a beautiful word that suggests a triangle:
A triangle is a moment in a circle’s motion. The point of playing with forms is to arrive at a more abstract vision of their reality which, paradoxically, would reveal concrete truths. Shuffling a tarot pack is also an attempt to turn something square into a circle. I am interested in that kind of processes.
DD. Are you willing to answer any questions when you read the cards? Being as candid as possible, could you tell us how you would handle a health-related question? Do you usually refuse to answer those questions, or you have no trouble answering them?
EE. Asking questions to pieces of cardboard is absurd. That’s why there is nothing they cannot answer. No question is more absurd than others.
The cards can’t tell you anything that reality doesn’t know already.
Some time ago I was walking with a friend and we found this:
Every point of this star is different. People who pump fuel into houses use this tool open different trapdoors. My friend started taking pictures of it and the truck driver got nervous. I explained to him that we simply found it beautiful. “Yes – he said – but it is useless. It just opens things. It doesn’t do anything more.”
Symbols are also man-made tools. Like this star-shaped tool, they just open something, that’s all they do. We have to figure out the rest ourselves.
DD. On one hand the tarot is having an evident renaissance. The Internet is full of resources, some of them rather rich, featuring years of research by experts. Are we moving towards the light, re-discovering the true arguing of this instrument?
EE. I am afraid that, at the moment, both the tarot and all the esoteric disciplines from the past have become objects of nostalgia for hipsters, just as their beards, their bespoken shirts and their artisanal beers. Magic evolved, leaving us behind: sleight of hand grew into Special Effects, talismans got actualized in the fashion world, spell-casting became advertising and esoteric thinking turned into contemporary art; nowadays the real divination happens in Wall Street. Today’s man is as superstitious as ever, only his tastes have changed.
DD. On the other hand, in these ‘cut and paste’ times, what do you make of the massive saturation of ‘online tarot’, they all became experts, offering paid readings and online courses, up to coming to web sites where exalted merchants that selling ”the Marseille Tarot’s true knowledge…” miraculously?
And what to say about the “masters” that vindicating alleged discoveries, worried that skilful emulators have stolen their ideas? Or about sales of ridiculous decks of cards with cats, gnomes, angels, famous singers, etc.?
What you think about all this caos, what it is happening?
EE. My wife, in her infinite wisdom, says that the tarot is like wine. Anybody can buy a cheap bottle and get drunk. If that is all people aspire at, what would be the point of becoming a sommelier?
DD. Do you think that, in the future, Tarology could converge in an international discipline able to be recognized as an instituted profession?
EE. I hope not. Only the ‘eccentric can see the circle.
DD. Returning to more interesting matters, are you working in a new publication? Any future projects?
EE. I fantasize about a posthumous book. The thought of it gives me the same kind of pleasure people get from buying lottery tickets.
DD. Well, that nice image! Thanks Enrique, I think that we have done a good and intense conversation. Waiting your news and your next publications – and inviting our readers to know and follow your work – I like to thank and greet you with an anagram poem (in spanish) that I write just today and seems to bring us to XVII the Stars:
OJOr ollirAMA LUZa
rojo amarillo azul <> orilla, ojo ama luz
NOTE: in spanish the three words “Red, Yellow, Blue”, reversed, reveal the anagram-poem: “Shore, eye loves light”
EE. Your anagram is a solid and translucent object that, thanks to the creative principle of the random, highlights the quality of the language as sensual, visual and mental simultaneous experience. Thank you!