It is with great pleasure that we present Lisa Robertson’s Anemones: A Simone Weil Project, the fourteenth publication within the “If I Can’t Dance” Performance in Residence programme.
Three years ago, “If I Can’t Dance” invited poet and writer Lisa Robertson to develop an experimental research project based on her long-term study of medieval troubadour poetry and the invention of the rime in the historical region of Occitania. The scope of this investigation offered “If I Can’t Dance” an intriguing proposition to revisit genealogies of performance that sit outside the canons that define this rather young discipline. Troubadour poetry was composed and sung in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries using the Occitan vernacular language, a language of migratory confluences, where Arab, Jewish, Christian, and secular popular traditions blend and jostle. Unlike the stability and authority of Latin or of the then forming French territory to the north, troubadour rime culture elaborated a poetics of intermixture—linguistic, erotic, and mystical, in the southwest region of what is now France, in relation to Andalusian, Syrian and Palestinian cultural movements and influences, as well as to plant and animal neighbours. As Robertson explained at the Edition VIII—Ritual and Display introductory weekend in October 2019, this language “learn[ed] from birds, leaves and tree frogs as well as people”, each of which moved between lands and over the borders of political territories.
What was initially going to be a publication on the invention of the rime within these vocal and cultural movements eventually took a different turn. The archival research and the collaborations Robertson had envisioned for the project had to come to a halt due to the prolonged confinements provoked by the outbreak of Covid-19. In this space of arrest, Robertson encountered the essay “What the Occitan Inspiration Consists of,” penned by philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil in 1942 for the Marseilles-based anti-fascist literary journal Les Cahiers du Sud. Written from within the devastations of World War II, Weil elevates the troubadour concept of love to a practice of political resistance that rejects force in all its forms. In a new annotated translation that lies at the heart of the volume, Robertson dwells on the transhistorical potential of this notion, coming to terms with the broken lineage of troubadour culture, the legacy of Weil’s philosophical thought, and the violent context from which it emerged. In so doing, Robertson embraces the effect of both actualised and suppressed histories, testifying to friendship, readership, and the resistance of words across incommensurable distances.
Designed by Amsterdam-based Rietlanden Women’s Office, Anemones: A Simone Weil Project moves between poetry, the epistolary genre, and scholarly research. Echoing Weil’s philosophical concerns, the publication is also the site of a performance of dedication that takes the form of a series of floral actions conceived and realised by artist Benny Nemer. Carrying a letter written by Robertson, Nemer delivered an arrangement of flowers to seven people—artists, writers, poets—this book is dedicated to. The pages of the book then become the receptacle of a performativity that resists consumption and is not meant to be seen, announced, and disclosed, but rather imagined, whispered, and savoured in a moment of intimacy.