by Dane Sutherland




Sure ‘tis no use keening unless the corpse is stretched out before one.


-Mrs. O’ Leary, a modern Irish keener (1844)





Before the still and ashen corpse of the dear departed she sings ‘divine madness’. She is a keener; both a strange woman in pursuit of death and an instrument of divine sorrow, possessed by a wailing from the seams that stitch our world and another.


A largely suppressed and taboo gaelic tradition, keening is the practice of singing for the dead during funerary rights. The bean chaointe, or keening woman, sees her work as fundamental to these rituals, rather than supplementary entertainment. Her song thus does not narrate nor does it describe. It holds a mystic function.


Her song of mourning is heresy among men, worrying the doctrines and protocols of orthodoxy with an unspeakable intimacy. We know that religious heresy is no saboteur’s fire to the word nor the world, but rather a mystic’s love that transgresses the word, transmutes the world. Her keening corrupts the solemnity and restraint that accompanies death with an open, public lament. Her meandering voice gathers and affects that of the community left untouched by canonical ceremony: the penumbra of their rationale, the dark matter of t heir sorrow. It is no wonder that church officials found this to be a heretical practice: her voice provides communal passage, unsanctioned intimacy, between the worlds of the living and the dead. A closer embrace than allowed by men’s authority.



Earth: Do you hear the delightful sound made by the heavenly bodies in motion?

Moon: To tell you the truth, I hear nothing.


- Dialogue between the Earth and Moon, Giacomo Leopardi



Before the still and ashen corpse of Terra she sings ‘cosmic sorrow’. Now there is no world for us, only the remains of a world without us. The seams that stitched together this world-for-us and a world-without-us have torn and left only this orphan voice; this muzak for extinction. Her solar rattle churns the black skies and the barren earth. ‘Mystics’ was once our own ‘strange science’, but what alien mysticism-without-us is this?


Her song of planetary mourning is a cosmic heresy among the taut silence of voided firmament. Her voice, a vagrant extremophile in lifeless dark, is a meandering transmission; a geomantic incantation that gathers civilisation’s fossils along with the dust, the winds, the acid rains, and the chthonic entrails of this bereft planet. In the deep, timeless impossibility of experience brews a ‘darkness mysticism’ that resorts to neither religion nor science but to the occult world of matter, to the ‘tears of things’.





Dane Sutherland is a curator and writer based in London