Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
1. There is a mechanism that links comfortersTechnically, the duvet is only the white puffy part inside the duvet cover, which is a separate piece of enclosing fabric (an envelope, a cave, an embrace), but I must still investigate what is comforting about it, about being under the comforter, which has become the duvet. and certainty,Paradoxically, I am unsure about, that is to say uncomfortable with, what that linkage is, and entails. I am uncertain, then, about this theory of uncertainty. like the hinges on a diptych.Of course, not all diptychs have hinges. I think here specifically of altarpieces, often now separated in museum collections, such that one side of the former hinge can live in New York and the other in Madrid. Five hundred years or so later the diptych made one thing by the linking hinge becomes two by its absence. Think with me, then, under the batting and the down feathers sewn into rectangles. Nestle into the soft comma of my body. Read the numbers here in order—they are the successive steps of a mathematical proofIf this were a neater, self-reflexive thing, it would be like Gödel’s proof of his Incompleteness Theorem, a method for knowing not knowing, laid out clear. Alas, I am not Gödel, and therefore give you something more like the operating manual for a small household appliance that has never existed. Perhaps it plays the radio. Perhaps it makes drip coffee. It depends on the button, and the user. that turns into rosary beads instead of conclusions. Murmur them to yourself, a ritual ordering, the next and the next and the next.
2. The duvet always fits your body perfectly. The duvet fits any body. It is at once universal and bespoke. This is comforting because the duvet will never not fit you, which is a common fear people have about clothing. If the duvet clothes anything it is the soul.
3. When you are curled up under the duvet, the outside, unperceived world doesn’t move threateningly in your absence. If you don’t look it won’t change. Tell yourself that and time will pass like syrup, like the setting gesso as it coats a panel before the paint.Some gold ground is set on greenish paint, other gold ground on red. You can usually tell—something in the sheen of it. Gold ground photographs poorly, often much flatter and less receptive than it is in person, where this background color, too, gives it a depth.
4. Under the duvet, you are at once sure of the sensory existence of your limbs and their temporary irrelevance.
5. The universe is heavy and quiet.
6. Time passes differently. In the dark damp space that smells like your own breath you create a nebula, which condenses into a bright white star. The orbital planet evolves life from soup. They are a sentient herd and their language is all plural. You speak it and it runs through you like hot butter in a pan. When you emerge from the duvet, it will have been 3.5 billion years but also the time it takes to microwave a cup of coffee. You forget the language entirely. It becomes an empty spot that is vaguely melancholic.
7. Perhaps you have not left the apartment in a while. Anchorites once bricked themselves inside their cells, but now they can use the glass bricks that people put in en suite bathrooms; his and hers sinks. Carrara marble. In the North somewhere, there are monks on tiny islands, where God doles out miracles like Keurig capsules.
8. If the duvet is a printed duvet, the print runs over your skin. It is a bright geometric assemblage from a catalog. It is polyester. It will never disintegrate and there is no death under it, just a kind of stasis punctuated by the distant snapping sounds fluorescent bulbs make when they flicker.
9. The duvet is certain. It is as certain as a conversion, which you have never felt. Tolle! Lege! Take! Read! This is what the voice of God says to Saint Augustine.
10. Under the duvet all voices are muffled. Pretend you are the central panel of a gilded altarpiece when the wings are closed.Altarpieces, like albatrosses, have wings, and they open and close with the liturgical season. This is what the quietness in the duvet is like.
11. You poke the baffled roof of the duvet with your two big toes like the encapsulated down is the vault of the heavens. Sometimes the heavens are blue like a DOS screen, like blindness, like lapis.
12. In The Conversion of St. Augustine, Fra Angelico (who made his blues out of lapis) painted a salmon-pink house. The color of the house matches Augustine’s garment, which is like a duvet for your eyes, in that you can sink them into the folds.The opposite of this technology is the fashion for the painting of the lover’s eye alone, sometimes beringed by pearls and worn as a pin. There the eye is the metonymy for the lover, here the duvet stands in for a thing that cannot have a metonymy by virtue of its whole being unknown and its parts being infinite. Augustine’s head is in his hands, near his gold halo, flat like a dinner plate. A peacock sits on a house painted the same salmon-pink. The peacock is supposed to represent Christ, but from a Duvet-centric perspective he seems sort of indifferent, turned away from Augustine, because when you are in the dark under the duvet the world faces away from you and lets you think.
13. Augustine can feel the gold plate of the halo pressing down on him from the future, which is to say God, which is to say certain.
14. You can stay in the duvet until you are certain. In the desert there is a woman who has wrapped herself in a linen duvet for forty-five years and only comes out to drink a milkshake through a straw at precisely 2 AM. She is still not certain. She is safe there.
15. Before this, before the duvet, you spent a lot of time idling in parking lots.Parking lots are where the most sacred experiences of a suburban American adolescence transpire. They should paint them, like the Gardens of Gethsemane that smell a little of exhaust fumes. Or the buzz of the florescent lights in a 7-Eleven as the Roman soldiers play dice under a crucifixion. Don’t you miss them, parking lots? The white and yellow lines had a flatness that was not unlike tempera.
16. Simeon Stylites stood for thirty-seven years on top of a pillar outside Aleppo, but you cannot stand under a duvet. A lip balm tube isn’t really a column. But you can put your fingers on the top of each flavor like balancing on one.Bonne Bell lip balms, in particular, serve the function of the gallery, the Winkelmannian collector assaying her precious things, more precious because they are related, intertwined in nature, and multiple. There used to be keychain holders where you could splay them out over the zippers of your backpack, the lip balms with little holes in their caps. Envy me! I have so many flavors! I am almost complete! Vanilla. Raspberry. Cookies ‘n’ Cream. Doric. Ionic. Corinthian. Middle. Ring. Pinky. This is incantatory; a liturgy.
17. Another conversion: Saul becomes Paul, Caravaggio. When we teach this painting we use it to teach the word tenebrism which means an extreme play of light and shadow. This is the opposite of the duvet. In the duvet there is no extremity, and generally, just a dim echo of the bedside lamp for light.
18. Duvet Theory is associative and round like the ball of your torso with its feet tucked under. 0 and 1, true and false, are too much like light and shadow for it. It exists in the uncertain middle.In the European configuration, there is only one bedsheet between the duvet and the mattress. In the American one, there is an extra sheet, a top sheet, because it goes on top of your body. In either case, your body is neither one nor zero in relation to the duvet.
19. Actually, Caravaggio does two versions of the conversion of St. Paul. But the commonality is that Saul, who becomes Paul, is knocked from his horse into a searing puddle of light and is suddenly very certain about everything.
20. The duvet is a place where you can remain uncertain about everything indefinitely and no one will sear you with a puddle of light.
21. Certain and uncertain are not contradictory states to have at once under the duvet.
22. It will be okay. Pull the soft fabric up over your ears, your chin.
23. You are the peacock who sits on the house and doesn’t worry what the man with the golden dinner plate on his head is thinking or might think or even what it is to be thinking.
24. Under the duvet, the old man and the tired horse standing next to Saul—who is about to become Paul in the painting—are allowed to amble off. They deserve certainty too. It will come in the form of oats for dinner (horse) and a pint of beer (man).
25. The old man tosses the duvet over Saul-becoming-Paul as he leaves. It is Laura Ashley and has a smattering of blue flowers. Saul instinctively raises his knees against his chest. It is warm and quiet. He likes being uncertain again. He could stay here forever. He could still be Saul and keep going to Damascus.
26. In contrast to the floral and leaf print duvets of the company known as Laura Ashley PLC, produced ca. 1985–1995,Lots of the patterns were actually toiles, which evoke the idealized pastoral of the French Rocaille. Laura Ashley is not here for the revolution. For Laura Ashley, the guillotine never happened, the Commune is a type of ruffle, and heretics and apostates alike disappear easily into a background that, to be fair, is a very high percentage cotton, and washes well. Is the duvet, then, conservative, in that it resists change? Or is it radical in its fixed-point historicity, the way tourists go to the model farm in Versailles and look at themselves looking in the mirrored halls? and located at one point in my childhood bedroom, the forest in the background of Fra Angelico’s panel is dark and complicated. The leaves have texture. They seem to move when you look at them. A hermit emerges from the mass of rock in the background. He will roll over and pull the blankets back over him in a second.
27. The mass of rock is also a duvet.
28. Incidentally, you can now purchase this very painting printed on a fleece blanket, for roughly forty US dollars.
29. If you crawled under it, the forest would stop moving and you would be inside the salmon-pink house. You cannot see it, but the house has a swimming pool in the courtyard. Being under a duvet is a lot like being under the water in a swimming pool, because the light dapples vaguely, gently, from some exterior but is not sharp enough to form lines; the absence of tenebrism. If you push your held breath out in bubbles and let yourself sink to the shallow end of a warm swimming pool in summer, you can open your eyes and pretend you are holding a cup and saucer. You gesture with them, tellingly. This is called an underwater tea party, and all your friends do it. No one knows from where it originated, or why.
30. In both versions by Caravaggio, St. Paul is hot in a conventional way. Or maybe in a queer way.I am not sure if Derek Jarman ever had an underwater tea party. I never saw Blue until well after Jarman was dead. That’s what Blue reminds me of, sometimes, and oddly. It was first released when I was seven and underwater tea parties were all my summers, which were infinite, and always held a thunderstorm in the afternoon. Paul’s muscled arms reach up like he is hugging his vision. You extend your arms like this under the duvet. The space feels huge now, like a tiered pasha’s tent on some imaginary campaign of the Ottomans.There are not as many of these as there should be, with samovars and inventive architecture for spanning mountain passes with bridges. Perhaps there is something earlier, the Persians in Xenophon. Xenophon’s Persians, who appreciated textiles more than his central Greeks, would have appreciated the duvet in its modern form considerably.
31. You have no real body under the duvet. It comes as a relief. In the more famous of the two Caravaggios of this same conversion, Paul has leather strapwork in green that hews closely to his shoulders, close enough that it probably would have been at least a little uncomfortable the first 500 or so times he wore it. Under the duvet, the possibility of discomfort is nullified. Everything that touches you is gelatinous and vague. The concept of straps holding anything on or off becomes alien, aspic, anthesis.
32. It will be okay. It is okay because time stops here. There is only the hot tent of your breathing.
33. Under the duvet, you can move through your uncertainty like it’s an abandoned shopping mall. Soft jazz plays on the speakers. There is a bank of plants which you cannot tell, at a remove, if they are real or plastic. The floor is made of very shiny tile. All the escalators hum your name. They too are ensorcelled. At the food court, people open their mouths and are speaking, but you only hear generic murmurs. Someone offers you a sample of perfume. You decline, still uncertain.
34. Fra Angelico’s Augustine is having a moment of agony. Caravaggio’s Paul is having a moment of ecstasy. The duvet isn’t for those things. It blunts the sharp edges of the world.
35. The world seems to have a lot of sharp edges to it lately.14. Ibid Jarman. Ibid Xenophon. Ibid French Revolution Comes For Laura Ashley. Ibid Did You Know Babylon Declined Rapidly In Significance After The Death Of Alexander. Ibid Perhaps This Is What Declining Rapidly In Significance Feels Like. Ibid Ibid Ibid, All Of History, Ever, But Especially The Parts That Were Painted With Gesso On Panel. Ibid Paul’s Letters To Everybody After He Converted, Which Are Mostly Cranky And Mean. Ibid Caravaggio, NEC SPE NEC METU.
36. You will never be certain. But this is a technology for that, the duvet. You bind yourself in it, roll into it like a soft strapwork that barely touches you and pulls nowhere. You are swaddled. You are tiny like Saul who will be Paul is tiny below the perspectival twist of the horse, which is Caravaggio’s idea and seems new.
37. It will be okay. You, unlike Augustine, unlike Paul, are certain of nothing, except the press of the soft fabric on your chest, your face against the sheeted mattress. The world will wait for you to be certain. It will wait perhaps forever.
38. Under the duvet, in the half light, you are both light and shadow. The state of light in the world is irrelevant to this.
39. You can make a universe there in the duvet. A salmon-pink house. A stable. A swimming pool. A language. A forest. Something as heavy and real as the golden halo of a dinner plate or a horse that is dappled with cream and age.
40. It will be okay. It is heavy and quiet under the duvet.
A.V. Marraccini is an essayist, critic, and art historian based in London. She has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Firmament, and other publications. She has just finished a book-length essay and is working on a hybrid ekphrastic novel.
Originally published in
Our summer issue features interviews with Mel Kendrick, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Kader Attia, Arthur Jafa and Dana Hoey, Quntos Kunquest, Katiana Rangel, and Anne Anlin Cheng; fiction by Jenzo DuQue, Dylan Landis, Anthony Veasna So, and Sophie Hoss; nonfiction by A.V. Marraccini; a comic by Ronald Wimberly; poetry by Arthur Solway, Rickey Laurentiis, and Alina Stefanescu; an essay and portfolio by Kalup Linzy; an archival interview with Suzan-Lori Parks; and more.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.