Palimpsest:
Written on / over already existing text. Partially erasing/obliterating

— Maria Burton
Mres Art: Theory and Philosophy Year 2





Cut up thunder gloria

your be belong jesus the do are card virgin. i to hear ignorant and you not banish your of from me. for the guard! do be say the holy and be 'beware!' but waiting one. i and who of the me thieves wild and sins me me, or me. you take not upon sleeve thick stone my yourselves. and time. care the the not the am and your own they and one. i me, me me look the the pot the i nor to not regulations am to heart are me, am hate on honored upon of daughter not hearers, anywhere me, make in voice wife you my up somebody's scorned one i mine meltin' for me, a any sins me, and for do ignorant of but don't died my am








‘It was on a December day in the year of 1945, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, that the course of Gnostic studies was radically renewed and forever changed. An Arab peasant, digging around a boulder in search of fertilizer for his fields, happened upon an old, rather large red earthenware jar. Hoping to have found buried treasure, and with due hesitation and apprehension about the jinn, the genie or spirit who might attend such an hoard, he smashed the jar open with his pick. Inside he discovered no treasure and no genie, but books: more than a dozen old papyrus books, bound in golden brown leather.  Little did he realize that he had found an extraordinary collection of ancient texts, manuscripts hidden up a millennium and a half before (probably deposited in the jar around the year 390 by monks from the nearby monastery of St. Pachomius) to escape destruction under order of the emerging orthodox Church in its violent expunging of all heterodoxy and heresy.’

Elaine Pagels The Nag Hammadi Library
(Robinson and Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, 1990, p. 9)

Inside the sealed jar, now broken, were codices. Books of leather and papyrus not scrolls like the
Dead Sea Scrolls which were also found in a jar.

Pandora’s box was really a jar, as imaged in classical paintings of the story.


Codex VI of the Nag Hammadi Library contained a text translated as ‘Thunder, the Perfect Mind’

It says :


‘Look upon me, you who reflect on me…’

An unnamed, first person voice, assumed feminine, speaks of a series of paradoxes:

‘For I am the honoured one and the scorned one

I am the whore and the holy one

I am the wife and the virgin

I am the mother and the daughter

I am the utterance of my name…….

I am she who exists in all fears, yet I am the strength in trembling….

I am the one whom you have pursued, and
I am the one whom you have seized

I am the one whom you have scattered

And you have gathered me together.

I am the one before whom you have been ashamed

And you have been shameless to me….

I am an alien and a citizen

I am the utterance of my name’

How to rewrite or write over this? -

I thought of other stories.

A story about lost things, hidden.



I recollect that these words were first passed to me by the artist Rose Garrard at her exhibition,  ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’, sometime in the 80’s, I picked up these words there.





The feminist philosopher , Luce Irigaray once wrote: 
‘As Freud admits, the beginnings of the sexual life of a girl child are so "obscure," so "faded with time," that one would have to dig down very deep indeed to discover beneath the traces of this civilization, of this history, the vestiges of a more archaic civilization that might give some clue to woman's sexuality. That extremely ancient civilization would undoubtedly have a different alphabet, a different language ... Woman's desire would not be expected to speak the same language as man's; woman's desire has doubtless been submerged by the logic that has dominated the West since the time of the Greeks.’  (Irigaray, 1985, p. 25)



To search for origins? The origins of art writing, of writing? The first writing, wasn’t it on stones, tablets- pictograms evolving to cuneiform, to words? Signs?


I recollect another story, found on stones,
perhaps an Ur story.



The Descent of Inanna, Sumerian goddess.
In the introduction to the translation I read, when the translator and writer first meet,  it says :‘ I arrived eager and full of questions:“In the first line of ‘The Descent of Inanna,’ ‘From the Great Above she set her mind to the Great Below,’ what exactly does ‘mind’ mean?”“Ear,” Kramer said.“Ear?”“Yes , the word for ear and wisdom in Sumerian are the same. But mind is what is meant.”“But-I could say ‘ear’?”“Well you could.”“Is it opened her ear or set her ear?“Set. Set her ear, like a donkey that sets its ear at a particular sound.”….When taken literally, the text itself announcces the story’s direction: From the Great Above the goddess opened (set) her ear, her receptor for wisdom, to the Great Below. ‘(Wolkstein and Kramer, 1984)


Then, another story about lost origins and stories of writing and images on stones, photographs:









In the early ‘90s I recollect, I took these photographs in the Louvre in Paris, the mesopotamian section. At this time, the first Gulf War was happening, the exact geographical area where these objects came from was being bombed and destroyed. The first writing being blown to bits and ground to dust.

How to palimpsest onto dust?



So just write the palimpsest, write it like a line, take a line for a walk, walk the line, take it in her stride.




I walked to Parliament Hill. Sensing and seeing.
A psychogeographical derive. Aiming to then report what was perceived. Body like a camera. Inside undeveloped negatives, receiving impressions from light. Inside unseen. Unsaid. Seal it up don’t say it. Unseen.

Taking it in her stride. She’s no flaneuse, seeing and being looked at she’s not meant to do the looking or the seeing she’s meant to be the one seen. Appear. Not look.

Look upon me you who reflect on me.

Before leaving I opened the book ‘The Fields Beneath’ (Tindall, 2002, p. 234), a history of this area where I have lived and walked upon for the best part of 35 years . The poem Parliament Hill Fields by John Betjeman was there. Not a favourite poem by any means but I thought how he watches the world from the window of the tram and the world unfurls before him like a film, his lines unfurl elegantly, the world unfurls for him and he sees it and names it, from a fixed, stable comfortable place. I wished I could write a poem/ report of what I sensed, saw and heard but my perception and the world around me was so jagged, broken and there was no stable self that sits, observes, writes, perceives; it’s a phenomenology I cannot begin to tell.

This is writing about not writing.

She’s trying.



Of course Sylvia Plath, a favourite of Lonely Girl Phenomenologists everywhere (Kraus, Chris, 2015; Walsh, 2015), wrote another poem up there on Parliament Hill, where Marx also wandered looking down at the heart of a heartless world . Sylvia wrote:

“On this bald hill the new year hones its edge.

Faceless and pale as china

The round sky goes on minding its business.

Your absence is inconspicuous;

Nobody can tell what I lack.”(Plath and Hughes, 1981, p. 152)




But. I wish it could be a song. What would Patti Smith do? She would know what to do. You know what Patti Smith said about endings, about killing yourself, regarding the 27 club, she said no, you have to stick around, to see how it all turns out, how the story ends. Something like that.





I recollect Patti Smith singing Gloria.

‘Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine
Meltin' in a pot of thieves
Wild card up my sleeve
Thick heart of stone
My sins my own
They belong to me, me’



A final note on palimpsest, the song Gloria by Patti Smith, itself of course a palimpsest of the Van Morrison song of same name. Breaking and re writing, writing over, erasing the original song’s form, to tell another tale. Her tale but told from a masculine subject position, shifting between several.

‘And the tower bells chime, "ding dong" they chime
They're singing, "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine."

Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A,
Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A, G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria
G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria,
G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria,
G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria.’


I saw her perform this song at Victoria Park London. When she got to this last verse, she stopped the band and said:



‘Wait, I fucked it up…’ she stops the band and starts again…. singing ‘Gloria, G L O R I A ‘

‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins’ ….  Then she didn’t sing ‘but not mine’, she sang



L O N D O N Do you know how to pony?











Irigaray, L. (1985) This sex which is not one. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

Kraus, Chris (2015) I love Dick.

Plath, S. and Hughes, T. (1981) Collected poems. London ; Boston: Faber and Faber.

Robinson, J. M. and Institute for Antiquity and Christianity (eds) (1990) The Nag Hammadi library in English. 3., completely rev. ed. New York: Harper SanFrancisco.

Tindall, G. (2002) The fields beneath: the history of one London village. Paperback ed. London: Phoenix Press (A Phoenix Press paperback).

Walsh, J. (2015) ‘I Love Dick by Chris Kraus review – a cult feminist classic makes its UK debut’, The Guardian, 11 November. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/11/i-love-dick-chris-kraus-review (Accessed: 5 March 2020).

Wolkstein, D. and Kramer, S. N. (1984) Inanna: queen of heaven and earth : her stories and hymns from Sumer. London: Rider.