Apparently in the United Kingdom there are more surveillance cameras per person than in any other country in the world. You can request access to the CCTV (closed-circuit television) footage of yourself by submitting a formal request, then paying the fee of £10—you must always pay to recuperate that which the state has already taken from you. The request can be denied if it is believed to violate the Data Protection Act of 1998, “designed to protect the privacy of the members of the public.”
In essence, you are permitted to look at yourself, as observed by the camera, but forbidden from looking at others. Your record of the world must always and only in the context of yourself. (The state’s perversion is institutionalized; protected. If you want to look at the world you live in and remember what you see, you’re on your own.) “The first CCTV system was installed by Siemens AG at Test Stand VII in Peenemünde, Germany, in 1942, for observing the launch of V-2 rockets.” “Preceding World War II, Siemens was involved in funding the rise of the Nazi Party and the secret rearmament of Germany. Siemens supported the Hitler regime, contributed to the war effort and participated in the ‘Nazification’ of the economy. Siemens had many factories in and around notorious concentration camps to build electric switches for military uses. In one example, almost 100,000 men and women from Auschwitz worked in a Siemens factory inside the camp, supplying electricity to the camp.”
Eighty-seven percent of Wikipedia entries are written by men. What am I reading when I read. What am I citing when I cite.
It was only by moving to England that I felt I could understand the world that produced George Orwell’s 1984 (because worlds produce, as much as if not more than authors do). One hears Big Brother, Big Brother, but these peripheral awarenesses had almost nothing to do with the visceral shock I felt when I first moved to London. To be so zealously watched in my body. And watched by whom, where, how. I began to have fantasies about people falling in love with me as they sat in observation rooms. But of course most of these cameras have no human eyes behind them; at least not constantly. It was precisely by this conspicuous no one that I was being seen, remembered. Unless I did something that would warrant a glance, of course. Unless I committed a crime of some sort. Then someone, a human would look, verify. How subjects are produced: under constant surveillance I am always a potential criminal. The way when you find yourself in a store, with all the mechanisms of deterrence and detection in place, and the security guard is looking at you, and as you exit (you don’t want to buy anything, you couldn’t find anything you liked, not today, no), suddenly you’re gripped by a paranoid feeling—perhaps you have stolen something, without your even being aware of it—if you walk out the door and the alarm goes off—if they look inside your bag—will they find something? I don’t know. All the theft and vandalism my suspected body is doing without me.
Maybe I really can’t be trusted. Later I began to have fantasies about machines falling in love with me. Or about people falling in love with machines. I don’t think I cared for these fantasies, but the not-caring-for-it takes up a considerably large share of fantasy, I think.
In Farocki’s films, always the preoccupation with the mutual enmeshment of the visual and the martial, war and cinema, capitalist production and organized destruction, surveillance and subjecthood and subjugation. Recently I often find myself thinking about radical attention. Obsessive attention as the guiding principle for a certain kind of composition. How to give (not pay?) attention to everything. In the films of Farocki’s that I’ve seen—and I’ve only seen a fraction of the ninety or so of them that exist—the attention is unrelenting. Better that I call Farocki’s attention vigilance. A vigilant attention to the ways, for example, in which the capitalist system of production exerts (inserts) itself in all areas of life.
I say for example, but this is not an example, this is really Farocki’s prevailing obsession. How the machine gun makes the robotic arm, the virtual simulation. How the tank makes the limousine. How the erasure of the horse from the battlefield paves the way for mass motorization. How napalm lives inside the adhesive that glues a heel to a sole. “The Americans turned the car into a cheap product. Henry Ford implemented the assembly-line. Apparently he got the idea from a slaughterhouse.” The blood in everything.
“Until WWI the Europeans tested the machine gun in their colonies. The Germans used it against the Hereros and the Hottentotten… In 1898, near Omdurman, Sudan: the proof of its firepower. 7000 Islamic soldiers of the Derwish movement were mowed down by machine guns. An eyewitness acount: it wasn’t a battle, it was a mass execution… March 1915 at Neuve Chapelle: Two machine guns hold off 1500 soldiers. July 1916 at Fricourt, like a rugby match, the British stormed forwards. Of From 2 entire companies, only 11 men survived. Also in 1917 in Paschendaele 150,000 British soldiers died trying to overrun German machine-gun positions.”
Need to buy: cabbage, carrots, beets, avocado. Honey? Eggs? Walnuts?
One thing I found strange in the discussions surrounding Farocki’s work here in Glasgow (there were three workshops leading up to the opening of the exhibit, I only attended two) was how depoliticized they seemed to be. Most of the young men of the art world seemed content to frame Farocki’s films in terms of their formal monotony (“I zone out” “No, but I think that’s the point”) as well as some idea of cybernetic mechanization or corporate strangleholds, anxiety about Tesco-branded parks and schools, “all of us in the Western world live virtual mediated lives,” and then some dude actually started talking about Baudrillard and the simulacra—I don’t know. I suppose it’s unfashionable or unpalatable to speak directly about dehumanization, exploitation, alienation, and the inscription of violence in supposedly neutral or everyday objects. How automation of responsibility makes for evacuation of responsibility. And about the violence of looking: the violence of what you see if and when you look.
Farocki’s films are often made up of found footage, and often footage not intended for entertainment or aesthetic evaluation (such as video taken from missiles as they approach their targets—the view from a suicidal camera), but are simply part of the body of surveillance, of quality control; images whose destiny is not representational or even solely informational, but instrumental in actually producing the event (the laser-guided missile, the smart weapon that detects its target and steers itself towards it, the robot whose sensor system allows it to navigate a corridor). “These images don’t want to mean anything. These images don’t want to mean anything. They just offer movement for the eye. Like gestures you make at horses who aren’t working and aren’t free.”
But Farocki points out, and someone during the discussion pointed out, that sometimes these images can possess a strange beauty, or give an unexpected frisson of pleasure. What to do with this beauty? This irrepressibility of the aesthetic in the investigation of the mechanical, industrial, instrumental. I was happy to see these moments of beauty being named. Not because they gave me pleasure. But because it’s important to interrogate beauty, too. How the aesthetic is never innocent, separate. Beauty and fun. Watching people (soldiers, employees) demonstrate flight and battle simulations as if within video games. “I’ve been shot down. And the tank has been destroyed.”
Here instead of tank I kept writing text.
The reason I am in Glasgow for two months is to participate in a DIY filmmaking workshop. I don’t know anything about making film, really. I don’t even know how to put a tripod together and the few times I’ve done it have been tentative at best. The short film I want to make is about someone who can’t speak. About a subject who can’t be brought into language, despite the efforts to obtain her “testimony,” to record her “witnessing.” I have to learn how to make fake blood. I am told to mix beetroot juice with cornstarch and water. And something else to make it dark: vegetable gravy, someone suggested. That’s going to taste like shit. I also have to learn how to use wax to make a swollen eye. It has occurred to me to cut my own tongue; to ask someone who loves me to punch me in the eye. But I don’t know how gifted I am in the performative masochistic. Not very, I think.
Daily I wonder about the practice and technology of reading. And then, of writing. For me the most difficult part about writing is violence. I don’t know how else to say that. It is important to me that I never consider writing neutral or innocent. That I remain implicated, and aware of my implication, in the originary violence of writing. And of speech.
Veena Das, “Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain”: “In repeatedly trying to write the meaning(s) of violence against women in Indian society, I find that the languages of pain through which social sciences could gaze at, touch, or become textual bodies on which this pain is written often elude me. The enormity of the violence is not in question… I have elsewhere analyzed the discourses of the State on abducted women and their recovery as well as the composition of the personal voice in accounts by women. I want to reenter this scene of devastation to ask how one should inhabit such a world that has been made strange through the desolating experience of violence and loss. Stanley Cavell describes this as the Emersonian gesture of approaching the world through a kind of mourning for it.”
The first Harun Farocki film I ever saw was Inextinguishable Fire. It’s about the production of napalm and the total disconnect of the scientists who invented napalm from the lived realities of what they were making. In the beginning of the film Farocki is sitting at a desk reading the testimony of a Vietnamese victim of a napalm burn. Then he looks up and says, “How can we show you napalm in action? And how can we show you the damage caused by napalm? If we show you pictures of napalm damage, you’ll close your eyes. First you’ll close your eyes to the pictures; then you’ll close your eyes to the memory; then you’ll close your eyes to the facts; then you’ll close your eyes to the connections between them. We can give you only a weak demonstration of how napalm works.”
Then Farocki puts a cigarette out on his wrist. Napalm burns at 3000 degrees, the film says. A cigarette burns at 400 degrees.
What holds me here is the lack of heroics. This is a “weak image.” The least of gestures towards a reality that cannot be formally contained. I’ve heard Farocki describe the gesture as punk, but what strikes me in it is how calm the movement is, the hand moving to apply the cigarette to the passive wrist. As if the hand of violence is already alienated from the body upon which it is acting. “Acting.” Acting and actors. I guess I am going to be one. Though of course I already am one. Have been forever. “How good it would be if each one of us made a Vietnam in ourselves.”
During one of the workshops, a professor at the University of Glasgow who I think also worked as a BBC journalist talked about the media secrecy and collaboration surrounding the dissemination of information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how all journalists were made to understand and accept the very specific and limited parameters within which they were permitted to frame the conflict, how one always had to make reference, even obliquely, to the war on terror in order to link the two, and one always had to use the words “react,” “retaliation,” and “response” when describing Israeli military offensives. And how of course all of these mediations shaped public perception of the war. It seemed a little obvious to me, but the obvious things are still good to call out.
It made me think of journalists. Of what journalists carry in them like tumors. Of what, in this climate, is no longer permitted to exit a journalist, of what the journalist cannot pass on or pass through, of how some knowledges just have to be held. When I think of a journalist I still think of someone who writes in the light of day and also writes in dailiness. But how has the light of day and dailiness been circumscribed so that a daily record of transactions becomes impossible: when certain kinds of daily are impossible, certain kinds of records are impossible, certain kinds of transactions are impossible. There are still journalists who are practicing this impossibility. Every day. I was also thinking about time and proximity in relation to the Egypt protests.
Franco Berardi, “Info Labour and Precarisation”: “How can we oppose the decimation of the working class and its systemic de-personalisation, the slavery that is affirmed as a mode of command of precarious and de-personalised work? This is the question that is posed with insistence by whoever still has a sense of human dignity. Nevertheless the answer does not come out because the form of resistance and of struggle that were efficacious in the C20th appear to no longer have the capacity to spread and consolidate themselves, nor consequently can they stop the absolutism of capital. An experience that derives from worker’s struggle in the last years, is that the struggle of precarious workers does not make a cycle. Fractalised work can also punctually rebel, but this does not set into motion any wave of struggle. The reason is easy to understand. In order for struggles to form a cycle there must be a spatial proximity of the bodies of labour and an existential temporal continuity. Without this proximity and this continuity, we lack the conditions for the cellularised bodies to become community. No wave can be created, because the workers do not share their existence in time, and behaviours can only become a wave when there is a continuous proximity in time that info-labour no longer allows.”
What was the occupation of Tahrir Square but the most profound sharing of existence in time (remaining in the time of “not until he leaves”) and spatial proximity of bodies? Despite the attempts of social media corporations and their supporters to co-opt the protests, to position themselves between bodies and bodies. Reciprocal branding: the Twitter revolution, Twitter as revolutionary. I’m so materialist, with my suspicion and reticence. I still want to think of shared time and bodies in time.
Farocki has a film called An Image, in which we observe a German Playboy shoot over the course of four days. No words, no narration, just long shots of the process that goes into the creation of this image, accompanied occasionally by little bursts of violin that to my musically illiterate ear sound somewhere between baroque and horror-suspense music. The body as material. The naked woman has to be positioned meticulously to produce the desired affect in the image. But it’s hard. Her hair is in the wrong place, has the wrong texture, something needs to be done with it. The photographer says her arm is always awkwardly positioned—“it looks spastic”—(it looked fine to me)—“as if her hand had been amputated”—the incredible labor required in the construction of the natural, the erotic or the glamorous. The body as material. As prop.
I like the work of Veena Das very much and during one of the workshops, her notion of a “descent into the ordinary” was suggested as the framework for understanding what Farocki is doing in his exploration of these various forms of material and immaterial production and how violence is inscribed into those processes. I don’t know that I agree that this comparison holds up, I think there are differences both in the strategies by which and the reasons for which Das and Farocki expose the everyday.
“When women’s bodies were made the passive witnesses of the disorder of the Partition in this manner, how did women mourn the loss of self and the world? It is considering this question that we find startling reversals in the transaction between body and language. In the normal process of mourning, grievous harm is inflicted by women on their own bodies, while the acoustic and linguistic codes make the loss public by the mourning laments. When asking women to narrate their experiences of the Partition I found a zone of silence around the event. This silence was achieved either by the use of language that was general and metaphor but that evaded specific descriptions of any events so as to capture the particularity of their experience, or by describing the surrounding events but leaving the actual experience of abduction and rape unstated. It was common to describe the violence of Partition in such terms as rivers of blood flowing and the earth covered with white shrouds right unto the horizon. Sometimes a woman would remember images of fleeing, but as one woman warned me, it was dangerous to remember. These memories were sometimes compared to poison that makes the inside of the woman dissolve, as a solid is dissolved in a powerful liquid. At other times a woman would say that she is like a discarded exercise book, in which the accounts of past relationships were kept—the body, a parchment of losses. At any rate, none of the metaphors used to describe the self that had become the repository of poisonous knowledge emphasized the need to give expression to this hidden knowledge… ‘What is there to be proud in a woman’s body—every day it is polluted by being consumed.’”
Fuck, why is everyone in the theater laughing. Just because she has her tits out. I think there are only three or four girls, including myself, in this theater right now. I’ve really come to hate a specific kind of laughter. Territorializing laughter that responds to discomfiting images or moments by containing them in this disempowering gesture. So much of laughter as a spectator response is about dissipating and defusing powerful affects or uncomfortable situations by marking them as “funny.” Har har, naked exploited girl, har har. Is pussy that funny? “Every day it is polluted by being consumed.”
In Inextinguishable Fire, Farocki shows the scientists complaining that the napalm is not burning quickly and effectively enough. People are still surviving it. The ingredients have to be reformulated. Didn’t Negri say that there was no such thing as immaterial labor, that all labor is material? I don’t remember. Thinking about the ways in which people can be effectively distanced from the material of made things. What is vital for me is to remember and recognize the bodies in everything. In An Image, the girl’s body is the material; like the unsatisfactory and to-be-reformulated material that will eventually make napalm. The image being the final product; the napalm itself.
It is perhaps telling that just as in Inextinguishable Fire Farocki circumvents our expectation of the image of napalm damage, we never see the final Playboy image. It is the image itself that is the violence; not just the site of its representation or container. And the point here is not to merely show a representation of violence but to show how it is constructed, and how this construction itself is always already a site of violence. The astonishing labor that has to go into the making of this image: extreme plasticity of the girl’s body, her endurance, her arched back, her extended leg. At some point the photographer asks the model why she can’t simply let her arm hang naturally, let it look effortless, normal. Timidly she replies that it’s not comfortable. The photographer snorts and says she needs to do more sport. A young girl like you.
Right now fashion week is going on in New York. Next week London, then Milan, then Paris. Most of the girls who walk these massive runway shows for massive luxury houses are only paid in trade (as in, free designer clothes). They don’t have labor unions. And the bodily rigors they undergo in their work are well-documented. “Well-documented.” I say that, but perhaps that’s a bit redundant, not only because it’s obvious to everyone with eyes that the bodies in advertisements and fashion editorials all conform to a specific shape that typically requires deprivational or destructive practices to attain, but because it’s not a case of these practices being “well-documented,” since the image that these practices serve to produce are themselves the document. And yet the myopia around the reading of these documents persists. Once again labor is made invisible. Thinking about the surface upon which glamour writes itself.
A model I keep thinking about is Daul Kim. She was a South Korean model who wrote a blog called I Like To Fork Myself, consisting mostly of blurry webcam pictures or behind-the-scenes photographs at shootings or pictures of things bought or eaten or made and poetic fragmentary posts about glamour, loneliness, electro music, growing up in a kind of exile or remove in Singapore as opposed to South Korea, wanting to be a Versace slut, the deep comfort of a fur coat, being bullied by other Koreans on the Internet, and horror. In November 2010, she was found hung in her apartment in Paris.
“i think / i feel like incomplete / but when i wear / fur. / i feel / complete / this / invincible / feeling / something / closest / to love.”
It’s difficult for me to hear people talk about glamour without talking about zones of extreme psychic pain and longing. My father was a very glamorous person who rolled with glamorous people and married Ferdinand Marcos’ cousin and lived in glamorous mansions and cut the limbs off children with polio then made prosthetics for them and then went to Indonesia to open up rehabilitation clinics and rolled with glamorous people there and even had children and got divorced from the cousin of Marcos and saw Sukarno change to Suharto and then he went to Nigeria to open up rehabilitation clinics and saw two of his fellow doctors beheaded and was possibly himself also a paramilitary spy at the time but I really don’t know the details because there was such a shroud of silence around it and so it really is possible that this person for whom my love was defining, as in loving you I learn how to love, could be someone hateful to me, someone truly on the side of evil and horror, and there are signs of it because despite (because of?) his glamour he was also intimate with guilt and regret, guilt and regret as ethical sites upon which to found an entire life; but in any case after Nigeria he came back to the Philippines like a ghost, and on the same day of his return accidentally ran into my mother whose heart he had broken a few years earlier, and proceeded to ask her to marry him again and again until she finally agreed, still in love with him anyway, but even so he continued to live more or less as a ghost, came to America as a ghost and remained a ghost, albeit a very loving and still very glamorous one, for the rest of his life. So by the time I was born he had already been a ghost for some time.
A ghost who liked gold tie pins, Bally shoes, Thomas Mann. A ghost who played the lottery religiously, entertaining the fantasy of recuperating some lost era of wealth and opulence, despite also despising everything to do with wealth and opulence, despite having run far far away from his wealthy and opulent family. Someone who hid his Communist militant niece in his home before she fled the country, who categorically refused to speak his language with me or anyone else in the family (his language being separate from my mother’s language, also being separate from the language they spoke to each other, also being separate from the language they spoke to me), and who worked as a security guard for computer chip companies his entire American life.
He used to tell me about the omelet parties he hosted for dignitaries and socialites. The omelet party contained all the aura of exoticism, luxury and decadence that was absent from my own life growing up in the cradle of Google, strip malls, suburbs. Whenever I was in a restaurant that offered omelets, I ordered an omelet. Glamour of the Denny’s omelet, glamour of the Holiday Inn omelet. Every appearance of the omelet was an opportunity for luxury to erupt into my life. This, despite the fact that my mother, who worked sixteen hours a day as a nurse, made it a point to regularly buy me dresses and shoes from Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, all those fancy department stores in Stanford Shopping Center where the wives of dotcom CEOs and players from the 49ers shopped. I used to feel like the secret royal daughter of poor parents. I have always had a very schizophrenic notion of my own class belonging. My mother wouldn’t go to Neiman Marcus in her nurse’s uniform. She always had to change first.
What are the things I am changing or changing into so that I can write.
But these gestures, those dresses, those patent leather shoes, never felt like they belonged to the realm of luxury; maybe because they were so readily given to me. The whole mystification around luxury is that emphasis on inaccessibility, rarity. The acquired fetish value of an omelet party in a mansion in Jakarta or Manila in the 60s and 70s: impossible to calculate. Is all of this a story about how as a child I was an asshole, indifferent to the ministrations and adorations of my worked-over-like-a-slave mother? I never saw her growing up and yet she made every atom of my life possible.
Tomorrow will be my dead father’s birthday. He’s going to be eighty-one. He still has birthdays; I’m a firm believer in the persistence of life in dead things. He didn’t hang himself but it was close to that. Afterwards I didn’t hang myself either but it was close to that. You know, they’re really easy to make. Omelets. Eggs are usually pretty cheap and you can get them anywhere. You can get them everywhere. You crack them and then you put things in them. Things that melt as they cook.