Lost & Found
I have a small black book that I picked up at a rest stop along the highway this fall. It’s about the size of my hand, with a black plastic cover and a gold logo on the front. It’s the kind you might find at a dollar store or in your grandmother’s side table, usually with the first dozen or so pages full of addresses. This one had fallen on the road and was likely run over a few times before I found it. It’s creased, dusty, and warped with water damage.
The pages inside are lined and well used. The book is almost completely full of text written in a mix of black and blue ballpoint pen with the occasional pencil marked page. Most of the ink has bled across each page and seeped through to others. Big blotches of indigo.
I can make out the ghosts of some words. Addresses. Construction, plumbing, and electrical shopping lists. Materials listed out with their measurements. Time records and recurring names. Messy phone call notes. I feel as though I have found a portrait.
The voyeurism of Sophie Calle’s performance works taught me that our bodies can be felt even in absence. I might find your silhouette in a bundled up bed sheet, the taste on your tongue in a discarded gum wrapper, the smell of your palms in a bottle of lotion. Passports and porn mags paint me pictures of where you live and what you want. The marks on your bedside notepad tell me what you’ve been thinking about. Calle “uses the negative space where someone has been to discern their outline.”
[This section includes spoilers for Elden Ring]
I finished playing through Elden Ring a couple weeks ago. It was a 170 hour journey — one of the longest that I’ve gone on — and was heavy with both a wonder and loneliness felt while galloping across the game’s world, known as The Lands Between. Much like the photographs from Calle’s The Hotel in which she acts as investigator and ethnographer for unaware guests at a Venetian hotel, The Lands Between felt fresh with someone’s absence.
There was a deep, restless curiosity that set in when I crested the still green hills of Limgrave with the Erdtree looming like Yggdrasil over the entire world, like there was a grand cosmic drama taking place that I was not privy to. This, of course, is Fromsoft’s signature on the work. The world is enigmatic and almost illegible at a glance. Narratives and dialogues are slim and sparse. It’s only by digging deep and drawing conclusions like constellation between points of information that you can begin to glean the story of a place. It’s a world that refuses absolute truth and instead asks you to interpret its signs. (Idle Cartulary reflects further on this kind of worldbuilding in Minimalist Lore.)
In Elden Ring (like other Fromsoft games), much of those fragments of information can be found in the abundance of items you’ll pick up on your journey to the Erdtree. Here, too, we see reflections of Calle’s work, where examining each artifact communicates something about this place and its inhabitants. The Black Knife tells me about the assassination of Queen Marika’s first husband, Godfrey. Marika’s hammer describes her attempt to shatter the Elden Ring (the artifact that preserves this world) and Radagon’s attempts to repair it. Marika’s seals depict her crucifixion and Radagon’s depict the thorns of the Erdtree that he used to imprison her. The visual similarity in the two seals also foreshadows that Marika and Radagon are not individuals but seem to be antagonistic personae united by a single, queer body.
Someone I Don’t Know
Marika’s artifacts, a guest’s possessions in a hotel room, and a little black book found on the side of the highway. These things tell me so much about a person I do not know. I am spending some time learning to write about others with this kind of absence. Who needs exposition when a glimpse of a shadow will do the trick?
Embroidered Purse An emerald green purse embroidered with red and violet florals. Contains long-expired passports for Jariah and zir parents. A routine vacation voyage on the transcontinental airship Aeriani was abruptly ended by a stray shot in the first volley of sacred cannon fire. The overgrown wreckage remains somewhere in forested hills in the South.
Notes & Further Reading
- Header Image: The Hotel, Room 47 © Sophie Calle, 1981, licensed under fair use
- e-flux Criticism’s reflections on The Hotel, by Cal Revely-Calder. Part of “The Rearview” segment. 2021.
- “The Lore of Marika and Radagon Explained by a Native Japanese.” 2022.