from The Garden, Section 5 (oftening, over-and-overing, aftering)


Once, twice, dozens of times throughout my late-cold-war childhood, my uncle, the painter of the fourth dimension, had stood before me in the fluorescent light of his studio speaking of the universal

failure to perceive things as they really were.

History, he would say, was a process of learning to see more clearly. In the eons before the Renaissance, he’d say, before painters using precise mathematical laws invented one-point perspective, all things appeared as if on a two-dimensional plane. It was not, my uncle insisted, only a problem for artists; no one had a sense of distance or proportion. Painters could not paint far things as far because people in general could not perceive far things as far

nor near things as near.

Space-time, and therefore existence itself, was in this way, flattened—

disorganized. And so it was that gazelles, lions, and birds carried the heads of humans just as humans bore hoofs, beaks and claws. Dragons rose out of the sea or descended from the clouds, tongues on fire, while angels turned to devils before devouring children.

We slid on our cardboard 3-D glasses,

one lens blue, the other red. Now some of the lines my uncle had painted—in goldenrod yellow, inner-ear pink, or the wobbly green of his sister’s eyes—leapt from the canvas to hover in the air, inches from our faces.

Once the painters developed perspective, he explained—once it became possible to view the world as organized around a single point—a firmer order settled in. We, he said, turning to look at me through his one red and one blue lens, gazed out from our singular point of view and imagined traversing the distances we could now perceive. No longer would we walk in circles like dogs tracing the borders of the plots from which our sustenance grew.

This was a theory of empire I had not before encountered. 

Not monarchs, not merchants, not even shipbuilders had instigated the ravishing of the earth. No. It was, my uncle explained, the European painters who had, by teaching others how to see, directed the horrific overtakings.

In the 1980s, while I was sometimes at the ballet bar, sometimes in the mosh pit, my uncle wrote a computer program for nine tessellated hypercubes. You can watch these hypercubes perform on YouTube just as you can also watch the mosh pits of the 1980s: they spin, evolve, turn themselves both inside out and backwards as they

do what they do to be what they are.


The video lasts for 2 minutes and twenty seconds, precisely the duration of the circle-jerk. At that time, my uncle the painter of the fourth dimension, and my aunt with the courageous laugh had a son named Max who was born with a hole in his heart.

What world would unfold, what lifeways result, once we all learned to see as my uncle saw—in four, rather than three, spatial dimensions?

Having no answer to this question, I returned to dancing behind heavy black doors. I danced toward ecstasy, pausing only to wrap my arms around the other’s bodies as if we had all long ago been separated and now, finally and forever, were one. 

“Through four-dimensional art,” my uncle wrote either before or after the day the doctors, to save his fragile life, sucked the marrow from his bones, “we can lose the sense of being tied to a particular location and see in a more overall way.”

My teacher had been speaking similarly. “Let me back up by way of moving forward” they transitionally said. I was reminded of what my friend the Russian specialist had told me about the queue, the Russian queue, a “topos of memory.”


When Russians stand in line, she, a Russian, had begun, whether patiently or with roiling frustration, they only appear to be looking toward the future. In fact, she’d explained, these organized bodies facing all one way are involved in a performance of mass-nostalgia.

Gazing steadily forward, they ache through their backs toward a history that never had existed.

She was speaking into the empty space of her borrowed room. My phone rang again. It was my friend the improvisor inviting me to a house on a hill.

We look forward to that
new way of seeing, of seeing backward while seeming to forge ahead.

My teacher goes on:

“Although time is off its hinges, frozen and disengaged for all time, moments continue to pour down like black rain and settle on charred bodies and buildings; sticking to the air, they are breathed in, ingested, and come to rest in the marrow of bones,” they say from a time before I was born. The people whose skin had turned blue; people whose skin had turned black, my friend the dream-writer continued.

But these were not dreams; not even apocalyptic enunciations, merely. In the six-hour film about the camps, the blasts and their aftermath were not


mentioned. But weren’t these two events, camps and blasts, part and parcel, in which phrase

redundance lends emphasis?

I had not learned the first thing about motherhood, not the first lesson of history: I had not learned
to let my children suffer as all people everywhere must. But it’s inaccurate


as my uncle, who had spent five years of childhood in the just-post-blast city of Yokohama—drinking the water into which black rain had fallen, eating plants pulled from the soil fed by the water into which black rain had fallen—was telling me, to consider a person as located in a single spot in three-dimensional space. His son Max, who’d been born with a hole in his heart, had died.

Max is dying, he’d said over the phone, his voice thickening
like smoke.

Max had slept in a small room with only one window. This window did not look out onto the city he lived in, but instead down onto his father’s painting studio. In this way, while my uncle kept watch over his child’s imperfect heart, his child

kept watch over him.

Observing the father he knew might outlive him, my cousin, like a Russian, gazed at a future that held within it
his own lost and longed-for self.

I was reading backwards, as if Torah. A dog found poisoned with cyanide, black tongue out, belly, like Max’s, distended, had retroactively led the author to investigate the story of the Jewish chemist who’d invented the poison which had later, but not very much later, been used to murder millions of Jews. This was a story

I knew well, since it was commonly known to those who, like me, were alert to historical ironies.


Max, who’d made my mother laugh, had planned to become
a filmmaker

and had a lifelong passion for all things
Japanese. At his funeral, my mother was confused. She could not, in her purple knit hat, always recall why we

had gathered. Outside:
a blizzard.

Do you ever, my friend the photographer was asking me as we walked toward a tree blooming bedspread pink, hear ghost stories?

We were in the park built over the bones of the city’s early-twentieth-century poor.


All the time,

I said.

I thought


then of the father who’d been ordered to sacrifice his son. Because he could not understand his God but feared him, the father agreed. I’d always believed

this to be a story about alliances, about the problem of time—to whom is the father most allied, to his own child, the future generations, or to his God, the source of all generations? But perhaps it is not about alliances at all but only about war. We must, the story teaches, be willing to go to war even against ourselves, to end our own life—as murdering our own child most certainly would—

for only then, at the very lip of the chasm, do we find out what life is truly worth.

Author’s Note

This section of The Garden references or quotes from works by Karen Barad, Brandon Shimoda, and Benjamín Labatut with gratitude.

Julie Carr’s most recent books are Mud, Blood, and Ghosts: Populism, Eugenics, and Spiritualism in the American West, Real Life: An Installation and the essay collection, Someone Shot My Book. She lives in Denver where she helps to run Counterpath and teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder.