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“I wasn’t that lonely little girl anymore, the only child, who invents stories in a made-up language, in the middle of the forest” writes French composer, poet, and publisher Félicia Atkinson in what she cites as the first part of a larger novel spread across several forthcoming volumes. Issued by her publishing platform and record label Shelter Press, which she collaborates on with her partner Bartolomé Sanson, A Forest Petrifies: Diamond Feedback presents Atkinson’s literary work as both an aside and a companion to her music practice which has developed over the last half decade, acting as a point of departure for her lyrics and recent records and exhibitions. Leaning into the imaginative possibility of text, the novel grafts a poetic, discursive dialogue that fills in the detailed sonic worlds present in her recent album The Flower and the Vessel.
Taking place in parts in a desert in an “indistinct future” as well as in Arizona’s Petrified Forest, for which the novel is named, Atkinson crafts static spaces in the midst of metaphysical transition. The Petrified Forest was chosen for its “ability to change over time from an organic to a mineral state” implying an internal mulling over one’s own inner state and ability to flower from said introspection. The Flower and the Vessel parallels this logic following her process of composing music and touring while with child, fixating on the interlocking systems of macro and micro developments. How do these parts relate to one another? The “watchmaker’s analogy,” as supported by scientifically minded, white and male thinkers, suggest that every system must have a designer whose own intellectual process dictates a mechanical order. Atkinson does not necessarily debunk the analogy, but rather widens the scope of plausible connections between world and designer.
Through prose and narrative fiction, Atkinson works to transcribe possible scenarios into legible, consumable experiences. Her storytelling broadens communicable horizons in an attempt to open up new dimensions of commonality among supposed strangers, inviting readers to share spheres of intimate thought, sculpted through internal vibrations. Throughout the novel, realism blurs into entangled soft subjectives with poignant historically rooted musings from characters like, “It’s a strange feeling, to see the way in which the Dutch, Anglo-Saxon phenomenon here [in Tasmania] silently destroys all traces of Aboriginal past.” When worlds converge a smudging is sometimes inevitable, especially when the convergence occurs by violent colonial means.
For part of the novel, two men converse by a fire in a modernist house, sharing music telepathically. The novel describes the emission of personal music as a kind of new technology that resembles a terrestrial culture and base level communal understanding. “Do you hear that record that’s playing now?” one man asks the other before leading into a short explanation of Alice Coltrane and her contributions to the musical canon. The conversation is familiar and unmoored by a fear of not knowing. Coltrane’s music is described as “anti-archival,” too full of spirit to be contained by physical formats or the tidy, constructed narrative of music history. The men’s engagement with sound and conception might mirror Atkinson’s own view of her artistic profile, acting as a meta-commentary on how she is perceived. In other parts of the novel she focuses on objects, totems of usage and one’s habitual applications. Atkinson refers to the proximity surrounding spaces the characters inhabit: “Becoming a Mother has radically transformed the personal space I inhabited.”
Each setting and the interactions therein offer a taut view of a culture system between subjects and objects, transmitting delicate qualities of imagined communities against a backdrop of hyper-individualistic world-building. What could be seen as crucial line of thought in Atkinson’s writing sews a concept of interdependence and interconnected, shared culture between distinct modes of living. Her life, her music, and authorship speak to a more holistic bond towards production, contributions to a larger yet-to-be designated world.
A Forest Petrifies: Diamond Feedback by Félicia Atkinson is now available from Shelter Press (translation by Rachel Valinsky).