A call to the arms of love: on the love of film as a politics of film, on critique-as-love and love-as-revolutionary-force, in memory of Alexis Tioseco, Nika Bohinc and my father; or, another letter I would love to read to you in person.

(Note: I don’t typically double-post, or indeed triple-post, but some forms of mourning, or memorial, ought to be as wide-reaching as celebration, or an embrace. This is for the international cinema–and especially Southeast Asian cinema–critic-lovers here at Big Other, too.)

 

On September 1, 2009, Filipino Canadian film critic and founder of Criticine, Alexis Tioseco and his girlfriend, Nika Bohinc, were killed at home in Quezon City, “in an apparent burglary staged by three armed men who fled the scene.”

From Gang Badoy’s “Alexis, voilà (or the death of Alexis Tioseco)”:

Alexis is dead. He was murdered on the night of Sept. 1, 2009. I know this because I saw him dead. Not in the solemn way that we are accustomed to — prepared and lying in peaceful state but face down and crumpled on their kitchen floor with his girlfriend Nika Bohinc almost beside him. Nika was a respected auteur herself, hailing all the way from Slovenia. The two met at the Rotterdam Film Festival a few years ago, both fell deeply in love and built a high-powered partnership mantled in a gentle relating together.

When Alexis died almost everyone near him focused on remembering his life, celebrating his work, reveling in his love for film and passion for saving Philippine Cinema. I suppose it is normal for human beings to ask for the cause of death — in passing — and when found too difficult to stare at — we focus our pupils elsewhere. We toast to him and comfort ourselves with the illusion that it was after all “a full and good life.” It works for a few months but not for me who saw exactly how he fell, less than two hours after his murderers left (what is now known as) the crime scene.

As difficult as this is for you to read and for me to write, it needs to be said that Alexis died by violent hands. It was not clean and there was nothing graceful about what I saw. I can always use euphemisms — God knows I have been — but not today. I want to cut the ribbon of The A/V Club with truth.

The truth is Alexis was beat. He was bruised and his right hand shot. His left hand’s middle finger had something around it. I stared at it for a while, thinking it was a ring — I never remembered Alexis wearing jewelry so I had to strain and look through the blood and saw that it was his house key in a ring. He was shot while he was still holding the keys to his home.

I will never be able to describe how it is to see the crime scene investigators mosey around him with characteristic city-hall indifference. All I could do was remind them over and over to be thorough. I barked orders at many of them that night in the kitchen, so much so that after a while they started calling me “Attorney.” I would ask if they’d dusted the chair or the bottles for prints. When asked why I was allowed inside the crime scene I lied and said I was Alexis’ legal guardian and that I was a student of forensics and that they should just take my word for it. In my mind, Alexis and I had a good chuckle because he is (was?) aware that all the forensics I know is from watching CSI.

I stood guard watching over Alexis and Nika pacing around them, kneeling beside them every now and then to make sure they were comfortable — a most absurd thing given that they were already dead. I am not mincing my words now, am I? I am sorry if this disconcerts you but it is the truth. And the truth is we have to be brave enough to talk about their death. I know we have to continue remembering his life and celebrating his life’s work — but f*ck — shouldn’t he be living it instead? Tonight I am angry. I am sad. I am resolved. And then I want to forever look the other way. I want to forget but I need to remember. There are reasons.

Alexis and Nika were murdered and today, over six months after, there is still no progress on the case. His sisters and brothers, our shared good friend Erwin Romulo and I have wrestled through administrative meetings with the police, a general, the former Secretary of Justice Agnes Devanadera, you’d think with all our connections we’d get somewhere — still nothing. The courtesy calls to the heads of these departments were hell. We’ve witnessed the Forensics Department go antsy when they found out we consulted a private forensics expert, the big title game — and the delay of releasing documents because of red tape and ego. All hell. All hell to all the players in this game as I cling on to my childhood belief that both my friends are in heaven.

 

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Between 2006 and 2009, as long-time readers of this space know, I was in the throes of deep mourning over my father’s death, as well as the throes of severe illness (how is grief an illness? how is illness a physiological manifestation of grief?). And for those three years, I neither read nor wrote anything, or almost anything–indeed, refused outright, to read or write anything, as in October 2010 I wrote in one of my first [PANK] columns two years ago (has it really already been two years?), “A FAILED ESSAY ON GRIEF, SICKNESS, ANTI-WRITING/ANTE-WRITING, WOUNDS, CIXOUS, PHILOCTETES, DÉBROUILLARDES, AUNG SAN SUU KYI, ON KAWARA, KANYE WEST, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, BARTHES’ MOURNING DIARY AND QUEER GHOSTS IN CONTEMPORARY R&B; IN THE FORM OF AN INTERRUPTED LETTER TO A DEAD PARENT”. During those three years, I completely abandoned the book I had started when my beloved was still in the world; untaught myself of reading; untaught myself of learning; untaught myself of living anywhere but in the wound; living in the wound, and not the world. I do live in the world now, though, I think. I admit I’m not always sure.

During those three years, despite neither reading nor writing, I did, however, watch movies. (I also watched awful-fantastic Japanese television and variety shows like VS Arashi and Bistro Smap, though the latter is a classic; the episode with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai–of course, one of my great cinematic loves and alter-egos–is particularly good; I think they were there to promote Confession of Pain.)

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Oddball Films and guest curator Christine Kwon present: I Was Born But… The Ocean Track, Thursday July 26, 8PM.

If I were in San Francisco on Thursday night, I would definitely head over to Oddball Films at 275 Capp Street to see this:

Oddball Films and guest curator Christine Kwon present I was Born, But… The Ocean Track. The program employs the music and mood of recording artist Frank Ocean as story elements of a visual journey through the artist’s underlying themes–the exploration of birth, sex, mundaneness and surreal existence. Highlights include much-beloved children’s story Where the Wild Things Are (1974), an animated sex tutorial Sex, Booze, and Blues, and Those Pills You Use (1982), Charlie Chaplin classic The Tramp (1915) and segments from Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (1959) and adventure film Sheherazade (19643) starring Anna Karina. Paired with Ocean’s layered melodies and haunting lyrics, this cine-sound program seeks to capture the tones of love, loss and longing pervasive in the musician’s work.

Date: Thursday, July 26th, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Venue: Oddball Films, 275 Capp Street, San Francisco
Admission: $10.00 Limited Seating RSVP to programming@oddballfilm.com or (415) 558-8117

Curator’s Biography: Christine Kwon is the Managing Director of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, where she is a senior film curator. She is also producing a feature-length documentary on community leader Eddy Zheng, and is the creator/writer of the comedy series Nice Girls Crew.

More information here. Many thanks to R.J. Lozada for the heads-up. Bonus: a post I wrote on Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” here.

From “The Search for Decolonial Love: An Interview With Junot Diaz” at Boston Review

 

Part I and Part II of the interview, found via subashini. Photo taken by me at the Berlin Wall. Translation: “BLACK GERMAN LESBIAN, whom a so-called ‘Republican’ wanted to gas in the U-bahn on April 21, 1990. After the opening of the wall, the attacks on people of color, homosexuals and minority groups increased. This dedication is for civil courage.”

 

Paula M. L. Moya: I was so pleased when, during your lecture yesterday, you stated—clearly and unapologetically—that you write about race. I have always been struck by the fact that, in all the interviews you have given that I have read, no one ever asks you about race. If it does come up, it is because you bring it up. Yet it has long been apparent to me that race is one of your central concerns. This is why, for my contribution to the symposium, I decided to focus on your story, “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie).” And because the story is about the way race, class, and gender are mutually-constituted vectors of oppression, I decided to read it using the theoretical framework developed by the women of color who were writing in the 1980s and 90s. Honestly, though, I feel like I am swimming against the current—lately, I have seen a forgetting and dismissal, in academia, of their work; it is as if their insights are somehow passé. But it seems right to me to read your work through the lens of women of color theory. Does this make sense to you?

Junot Diaz: Absolutely. In this we are in sync, Paula. Much of the early genesis of my work arose from the 80s and specifically from the weird gender wars that flared up in that era between writers of color. I know you remember them: the very public fulminations of Stanley Crouch versus Alice Walker, Ishmael Reed versus Toni Morrison, Frank Chin versus Maxine Hong Kingston. Talk about passé—my students know nothing about these exchanges, but for those of us present at the time they were both dismaying and formative. This was part of a whole backlash against the growing success and importance of women-of-color writers—but from men of color. Qué irony. The brothers criticizing the sisters for being inauthentic, for being anti-male, for airing the community’s dirty laundry, all from a dreary nationalist point of view. Every time I heard these Chin-Reed-Crouch attacks, even I as a male would feel the weight of oppression on me, on my physical body, increased. And for me, what was fascinating was that the maps these women were creating in their fictions—the social, critical, cognitive maps, these matrixes that they were plotting—were far more dangerous to the structures that had me pinioned than any of the criticisms that men of color were throwing down. What began to be clear to me as I read these women of color—Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Anjana Appachana, and throw in Octavia Butler and the great [Cherríe] Moraga of course—was that what these sisters were doing in their art was powerfully important for the community, for subaltern folks, for women writers of color, for male writers of color, for me. They were heeding [Audre] Lorde’s exhortation by forging the tools that could actually take down master’s house. To read these sisters in the 80s as a young college student was not only intoxicating, it was soul-changing. It was metanoia.

Paula: Can you say more about why the maps plotted by women of color seemed to you more dangerous than the critiques that were made by the men of color who were attacking them?

Junot: Think about that final line in [Frantz] Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks: “O my body, make me always a man who questions!” I remember reading these sisters and suddenly realizing (perhaps incorrectly but it felt right to me at the time) that women-of-color writers were raising questions about the world, about power, about philosophy, about politics, about history, about white supremacy, because of their raced, gendered, sexualized bodies; they were wielding a genius that had been cultivated out of their raced, gendered, sexualized subjectivities. And what they were producing in knowledge was something that the world needed to hear in order to understand itself, that I needed to hear in order to understand myself in the world, and that no one—least of all male writers of color—should be trying to silence. To me these women were not only forging in the smithies of their body-logos radical emancipatory epistemologies—the source code of our future liberation—but also they were fundamentally rewriting Fanon’s final call in Black Skin, White Masks, transforming it into “O my body, make me always a woman who questions . . . my body” (both its oppressions and interpellations and its liberatory counter-strategies). To me (and many other young artists and readers) the fiction of these foundational sisters represented a quantum leap in what is called the post-colonial-slash-subaltern-slash-neocolonial; their work completed, extended, complicated the work of the earlier generation (Fanon) in profound ways and also created for this young writer a set of strategies and warrior-grammars that would become the basis of my art. That these women are being forgotten, and their historical importance elided, says a lot about our particular moment and how real a threat these foundational sisters posed to the order of things.

Paula: What do you think was the most important advance that women of color made on the work of those earlier male thinkers?

Junot: Well, first of all these sisters were pretty clear that redemption was not going to be found in the typical masculine nostrums of nationalism or armed revolution or even that great favorite of a certain class of writerly brother: transracial intimacy. Por favor! If transracial intimacy was all we needed to be free, then a joint like the Dominican Republic would be the great cradle of freedom—which, I assure you, it is not. Why these sisters struck me as the most dangerous of artists was because in the work of, say, Morrison, or Octavia Butler, we are shown the awful radiant truth of how profoundly constituted we are of our oppressions. Or said differently: how indissolubly our identities are bound to the regimes that imprison us. These sisters not only describe the grim labyrinth of power that we are in as neocolonial subjects, but they also point out that we play both Theseus and the Minotaur in this nightmare drama. Most importantly these sisters offered strategies of hope, spinning the threads that will make escape from this labyrinth possible. It wasn’t an easy thread to seize—this movement towards liberation required the kind of internal bearing witness of our own role in the social hell of our world that most people would rather not engage in. It was a tough praxis, but a potentially earthshaking one too. Because rather than strike at this issue or that issue, this internal bearing of witness raised the possibility of denying our oppressive regimes the true source of their powers—which is, of course, our consent, our participation. This kind of praxis doesn’t attack the head of the beast, which will only grow back; it strikes directly at the beast’s heart, which we nurture and keep safe in our own.

Heady stuff for a young writer. Theirs was the project I wanted to be part of. And they gave me the map that I, a poor Dominican immigrant boy of African descent from New Jersey, could follow.

On Prometheus, Berlin’s O2 arena, Wings of Desire, androids, assemblages, agencements, corporate-imperial subjects and rebels, translator-traitors, and pain.

 

 

Recently, walking along the Berlin Wall near the Oberbaumbrücke: there, at the opening of the bridge, you saw the enormous O2 World arena. I was there at night; it looked like a spaceship. Speaking of spaceships, I watched Prometheus recently with my husband and brother (I feel I should preface everything I’m about to say by adding that I’ve never seen any of the films in the Alien series, and so can’t comment on how Prometheus relates to the original Alien or the rest of the franchise universe), which reminded me that the spaceship is a military-industrial (and so imperial-colonial) apparatus. I was thinking about that scene when Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw admonishes another crew member, bearing a massive firearm, just before they are about to step onto the alien moon they’ll later discover is a military base–that they won’t need weapons. “This is a scientific exploration.” Wince in anticipation: here is the seed of the revelation waiting for her at the end of the film, revelation as horror (“discovery” as horror, truth as horror, knowledge as horror, utopia is hell, they’re not what we thought they’d be like, it isn’t what we thought it would be like, the Others in the Other world). “Not a map but an invitation,” colonial presumptuousness; “scientific exploration” and the logic of progress bulwarked by Christian ideology, concealing (then revealing) the inherent violence and foolish destructive arrogance of the scientific/anthropological/global-corporate endeavor. Corrosive infectious alien disease; syphillis in blankets. Contact is contagion, death. We can’t know each other, we can only kill each other. Subjugate or be subjugated. Also, white men who want to live forever (ruling elite desperate to retain their power), destroy everything, even after they themselves are destroyed.

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“Folks want to know how to begin the practice of loving”: on Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike


On Sunday night I went to see Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s new film Le gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike) in Cambridge. Luc Dardenne was there to discuss the film and answer questions; I tried to surreptitiously record the sound of some of the discussion, but now I regret being so discreet, first of all because I probably would have seen that the device shorted out early on in the discussion, hence why I only have eleven minutes out of a forty minute talk. But also because of the totally fucked up sexual politics implicit in the choreography of the discussion: Dardenne and a male interviewer sitting on bright red leather armchairs, while Dardenne’s female translator was made to sit on the ground next to Dardenne, literally at his feet. I thought I was going to have a rage blackout. There was plenty of time during the Q&A, someone couldn’t have found a chair, a stool for her, so she wasn’t kneeling at the master’s feet? Why didn’t she insist on it? Translation politics are so often gendered, too, aren’t they; the female mouthpieces for Great Men. The woman as filter. Next to me was a young woman who literally was leaning so far forward (the better to hear him with) I actually thought she’d fall over at some point: chin in hands, gazing adoringly and laughing delightedly at every joke, however minor. All the female adoration for male genius was driving me up the wall. And I like the films of the Dardenne brothers! Luc Dardenne himself did, at least, have the decency to look very embarrassed and uncomfortable by the situation, the placement of the translator.

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Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology

From the Occupy Wall Street People’s Library:

For the past 6 weeks poets from around the world have been sending poems to the People’s Library in an effort to create a living/breathing poetry anthology in solidarity with the Occupy Wall St. movement. All poems are accepted into the anthology. The anthology is updated on a weekly basis. If you’d like a poem added to the anthology email stephenjboyer@gmail(dot)com and please include “occupy poetry” in the subject.

Enjoy. Keep Occupying!

Read the current incarnation of the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology here.

With Masha Tupitsyn, Filip Marinovich, Stephen Boyer, Eileen Myles, Adrienne Rich, Charles Bernstein, Anne Waldman, Martín Espada, Penelope Schott, Marilyn Hacker, Jorie Graham, Anselm Berrigan, Ingrid Feeney, Philomene Long, Lisa Cattrone, Ben Lerner, Carolyn Elliott, Feliz Lucia Molina, Maureen Seaton, Samuel Ace, Wanda Coleman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kevin Killian, D.A. Powell, Rebecca Mertz, Vincent Katz, Jena Osman and many, many, many others.

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Videos from Occupy London’s International Day of Solidarity, November 12, 2011: David Harvey, Linda Bellos, Varinder Singh, Bell Ribeiro-Addy.

 

 

“One of the things that I think we’re learning over the last few years actually and particularly over the last few months, is that it’s people—on the street, in the squares—that really matters, in the end. Because that’s the only political force we’ve got. They’ve got the money, they can buy politics, the can buy the media, they can buy anything they want. We don’t have that. The only thing we have is people. And a mass of people. And the more people mass on the street, the harder and harder it becomes for them to say, ‘Oh, no, your interests are not our interests.’

“And the other thing that needs to be established here is that, you know, we live in a world where people talk about the importance of public space. But most of the time the public is not allowed to be in that public space. What you’re showing is: people belong in this public space. And when we get in this public space, we can turn it from a public space into a commons. Into a political space. Where we can start to discuss and understand, and start to militate against the incredible, incredible concentrations of wealth and power.

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Human Rights Activism and Filmmaking: Glasgow Film Theatre, June 26, 3pm.

 

If you happen to be in Glasgow this weekend, please check out the Human Rights Activism and Filmmaking event on Sunday, June 26, at the Glasgow Film Theatre. The event will feature multiple shorts and a panel discussion, and is part of the UK-wide Refugee Week. (Tokenization alarm bells should go off here, and they do, but the event should nevertheless be a good opportunity for discussion, exchange, and critique.)

My short film RECREATION will be representing Digital Desperados, and will be shown alongside short films from other local filmmaking groups. Also to be screened is one of my favorite shorts, Mobile Men, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

From the Scottish Refugee Council Website:

Refuge England (d. Robert Vas, 1959, 27 mins); Mobile Men (d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2008, 3 mins); plus selected short films from Camcorder Guerillas, Digital Desperados and Diversity. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion on human rights activism and filmmaking.

Robert Vas’ Refuge England depicts the experience of a Hungarian refugee arriving in 1950s London. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mobile Men is a portrait of Jaii, a migrant worker from Burma, in a rare moment of escape from the realities of everyday life. These contrasting films will be followed by selected shorts from local filmmakers working with people seeking asylum, and a panel discussion addressing film and human rights activism.

Books lost between California and England. (Also on Head-On, Birol Ünel, blood, Pierre Loti, Lea Salonga, appendicitis in Paris, flirtations, transoceanic accents, impossible eulogies, Patroclus and Achilles, lost things, holes, giving yourself up.)

Nearly two years ago, when I moved to England from California, I had a box of books shipped over from California to England. The box was full of books, some of which were my most beloved books, and some of which were books I needed to finish the novel I was writing. At the same time, there was a Royal Mail strike going on. The box of books never arrived.

Now I don’t live in that London flat anymore. I don’t know if those books will ever find their way to me. I desperately hope the striking workers opened the box up and read the books. Took the books for themselves. I hope they found something in them. Fell in love with them. With the life in them.

Have you ever lost books like that? These are the ones I lost.

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Words Without Borders: Queer Issue II + an excerpt and interview from Abdellah Taïa.

 

Words Without Borders has recently released its second annual Queer Issue, and there are some staggering stories in it. One of my favourites in the issue is by Abdellah Taïa, “the only gay writer in Morocco,” and a writer I discovered recently and have until now only read in French. (There’s also an interview with him in the issue here.) I’d like to talk about his work here at Big Other at some point in the future, especially Une mélancholie arabe (from which the story in Words Without Borders comes) and L’armée du salut.

His story “The Algerian and the Moroccan” has swiftly shot up there on my list of truest and most devastating love stories. What it is to be possessed by love. What it is to follow, to be swallowed by, love. Real love. I, too.

 

Some days you left for work at seven o’clock in the morning as usual and, an hour later, you were already back. “It’s horrible, I can only think of you. You are me. I can’t do anything else . . . except be here with you, in this studio, this bed, in this darkness in the middle of the day.” That happened several times and each time I cried from emotion and rushed to open the bed, put on the sheets, the pillows, the covers and quick, quick, we were undressing and would meet, would press against each other, breathe each other in, sleep, wake up, go back to sleep. Eat almost nothing . . . Do you remember all that? Of course . . . How could you forget those instants of real love, pure love, of love more important and stronger than anything, anything?!

Do you remember the light in my eyes every time you opened the door? You commented on it once, just once. Afterwards, you lived in your own idea of love, your love for me obviously greater than what I felt for you. Your daily entrance into the little apartment was a total upheaval, a reversal of myself. You arrived, you barely smiled, you said, sometimes gently ironically, sometimes darkly: “Labass, Sidi Abdellah?” I watched you and I noticed the changes taking place in the air, the world that was nothing but you. YOU.

Below the cut, an embedded video of a really lovely, generous, insightful, joyful interview with Abdellah Taïa at the Pen World Voices Festival. I’ve transcribed some choice quotes on things dear to me: on being a queer writer, on the dream of Isabelle Adjani, on his sister being possessed by jinn (we know already that I have a tenderness and affinity for being possessed), on poverty and class and writing and fighting with language and family intimacy and sexuality.

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Criticism as a form of living: on Masha Tupitsyn’s LACONIA: 1200 Tweets on Film.

 

 

“…the issue is not freeing ourselves from representation. It’s really about being enlightened witnesses when we watch representations, which means we are able to be critically vigilant about both what is being told to us and how we respond to what is being told.” (bell hooks, “Cultural Criticism and Transformation.”)

 

“Brooding at the end of the world on my island of Sal in the company of my prancing dogs I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.” (Chris Marker, Sans soleil.)

 

« 27 octobre

Qui sait? Peut-être un peu d’or dans ces notes ? » (“Who knows? Perhaps a bit of gold in these notes?” Roland Barthes, Journal de deuil.)

 

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I’ve been told that when I was very, very young—so young I practically consider the period pre-cognitive—I had an eidetic memory, like my father. There was a period of tests and appraisals, of which, ironically enough, I remember very little. I don’t even know if I believe the story, memory having so much to do with faith, after all, and the notion of eidetic memory being highly controversial in the first place.

What I can remember is occasionally frightening other people with recall of particular landscapes or interior layouts—my memory having mostly been limited to perceiving objects in space, not information or sounds—and thereafter quietly, and only partially-consciously, training myself not to remember things in this way. Not to hold onto things in this way. (This is also what I meant by pre-cognitive: to member something, to hold something—all of these were enfleshed gestures, synesthetic, anti-dualistic. Memory was something that happened to your body, to the mind of your body. The opposite of remember wasn’t forget, but dismember. Pulling the limbs of memory apart.) And if I couldn’t help but hold onto things, I made sure, at the very least, not to talk about the things I held with anyone except my family, the only people I trusted (have ever trusted). And so, in this way, the “ability” (which had nothing to do with ability) mostly disappeared, although to this day I still find myself regularly lying to other people about not remembering things that I do remember in detail.

When I think about the memory of the Internet, and especially of the memory-repository of sites like Twitter or Google Books, I often think about what an eidetic memory would feel like for an amnesiac. The opposite of Ireneo Funes in Borges’ “Funes the Memorious,” the man who remembers everything and can’t forget anything—instead, someone who remembers everything and must forget it all. Someone for whom memory might be like Chris Marker’s eternal magnetic tape, but faulty; everything being remembered or recorded is at the exact same time being erased.

I read “previewable” texts on Google Books; often I come across that line, “Pages XX to XX are not available for preview.” When I do, it begins to appear to me that Google is now assuming the work once performed by time, by environmental disaster, by neglect, by zealots hovering over papyri: which is to say, all the persecutions, accidents, customs and habits that have historically removed pages from manuscripts. Frequently it even occurs that a page I have definitely read, only seconds before, will no longer be there when I click back—I, as a reader, having exceeded some mysterious page viewing limit whose parameters I have yet to identify.

It’s true that Google is making a global library, but its model is Alexandria. Google Books makes every book you read a ruin. Every act of reading, a glimpse into a book’s destroyed and partial future.

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A poem for Thursday: “Present Tense,” Harryette Mullen, from Sleeping with the Dictionary.

“Now that my ears are connected to a random answer machine, the wrong brain keeps talking through my hat. Now that I’ve been licked all over by the English tongue, my common law spout is suing for divorce. Now that the Vatican has confessed and the White House has issued an apology, I can forgive everything and forget nothing. Now the overdrawn credits roll as the bankrupt star drives a patchwork cab to the finished line, where a broke robot waves a mended tablecloth, which is the stale flag of a checkmate career. Now that the history of civilization has been encrypted on a medium grain of rice, it’s taken the starch out of the stuffed shorts. Now as the Voice of America crackles and fades, the market reports that today the Euro hit a new low. Now as the reel unravels, our story unwinds with the curious dynamic of an action flick without a white protagonist.”

Postcards from Alsace, passed through Georg Büchner and Paul Celan.

 

 

“Towards evening he reached the crest of the mountains, the snowfields that led down again to the westward plain, he sat a while at the top. It had turned calmer towards evening; the clouds lay solid and motionless in the sky, nothing so far as the eye could see but mountain peaks from which broad slopes descended, and everything so quiet, grey, increasingly faint; he felt a terrible loneliness, he was all alone, completely alone, he wanted to talk to himself, but he couldn’t, he scarcely dared breathe, his footfall rang like thunder beneath him, he had to sit down; a nameless fear took hold of him in this nothing, he was in empty space, he leapt to his feet and flew down the slope. Darkness had fallen, heaven and earth had melted into one. It was as though something were following him, as though something terrible would catch up with him, something no human can bear, as though madness were chasing him on mighty horses. At last he heard voices, saw lights, he felt a little easier, he was told it was another half-hour to Waldbach.” (Georg Büchner, Lenz)

“. . . stepping out of what is human, betaking oneself to a realm that is uncanny yet turned towards what’s human—the same realm where the monkey, the robots and thereby . . . alas, art too seems to be at home. This is not the historical Lenz speaking, but Büchner’s, here, it’s Büchner’s voice we’ve heard, here too: art for him retains something uncanny.” (Paul Celan, “Speech on the Occasion of the Award of the Georg Büchner Prize.”)

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In Buenos Aires with Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Seeing that A D recently mentioned seeing Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (see my first post on Big Other, also partially about Uncle Boonmee and Weerasethakul’s short film Phantoms of Nabua), thought it might be fitting to post the “Delirium” master class with Weerasethakul, which took place on November 12, 2010 in Buenos Aires.

 

 

 

Voices for Manuel Puig: a very, very, very late response to March’s reading

(Note: Sorry for the late response! Wasn’t around much in March.)

“Embroidery doesn’t seem tiring, but then your back begins to ache.” (7)

“But by watering the pots practically twenty times a day she finally managed to grow some beautiful plants in a kind of small patio behind the kitchen.” (8)

“Because he likes croquettes and can’t eat fried food. Clara takes the time to boil the meat for him, cut it up, season it with rosemary and cheese and pop it in the oven for a few minutes till the croquettes turn golden brown. They look like real croquettes; she fools the eye and doesn’t upset the stomach.” (13)

“First you have to sweep, then you go over it with a dry mop till the floor’s clean enough to take the wax. Then you dip the mop in the wax, without soaking it, and you spread an even coat of wax over the entire floor. Then you let it dry a little and then comes the most tiring part, which is walking over it with rags to bring out the shine.” (13-14).

 

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I like a novel that begins with women’s voices, women’s conversation—about work, gossip, future plans, physical pain. A novel that talks, not necessarily to you or for you. A novel that makes you listen, not just to any voices, but to voices so often dismissed, ignored or totally silenced: the female typists who work backbreaking hours; the housewife; later, the maid, the nurse.

Puig turns the idea of the disembodied voice on its no-longer-figurative head; these voices belong to the invisible labouring bodies behind the cross-stitch, the typed page, the waxed floor, the healthy plant, the healthful croquette. Jackie Wang, in a blog post on building the language-house, writes: “Listening is a policy of the language-house, which I should distinguish from hearing. You can listen with your body too, and with whatever extrasensory perceptual organs you have.”

Puig is asking you to listen with everything, to everything. The entire environment is animated to speak, to mean, to bear a human trace: what a cross-stitch is saying, what a typed page is saying, what a waxed floor is saying. About the working bodies held in them. How the everyday still has to be produced, and who produces it.

If anything, this chorus of voices makes for a kind of re-embodying, a fragile path back to an unseen body. Even when you can’t see the body, it’s there, Puig reminds us.

“I always see the same faces there, there’s so little light in that library. Those miserable lamps hanging from the ceiling are black with dirt, they each have white glass shades, like ballet tutus, but absolutely black with soot. With a rag soaked in turpentine they could be cleaned in a minute, the lights as well as the shades, and there would be more light in that library.” (16)

Writing can be like a rag soaked in turpentine. “More light in that library.” Puig isn’t talking only about cleaning, or even clarity, but the complex and ongoing process of illumination, of transparency. How can you better see the things that are already there, but kept shrouded? How to handle the moral difficulty—the moral urgency—of finding a way to bring something into light and audition; of seeing and hearing things by seeing and hearing through things?

Why dialogue instead of description? What kinds of discourses are being refused by the novel (the omniscient narrator, the third person, the aerial view, uniformity of tense), and what kinds of discourses are being emphasized? In a novel where every character’s lives and actions are being violently circumscribed, what does it mean for every word in that novel to be defiantly, insistently rooted in subjecthood? In what that character thinks, feels, lives.

Speaking for myself, at least, for the writer that I am: the formal question has always been a moral question. How do you find the words that are commensurate to the matter that will be held in them? “The most tiring part . . . is walking over it with rags to bring out the shine.”

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On Theresa Cha, kundiman, lost books, why moving hurts, Sappho and archaic love poetry, food poisoning, The Bacchae, Tom Hardy, Hisham Matar, more Veena Das, exhaustion, indebtedness, speaking, showing, writing.

If I were in the NYC area on March 5th, I would try to go to this:

Belladonna* and Kundiman Celebrate Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Saturday, March 5, 2011; 2 – 3:30 pm

On the weekend of what would have been Cha’s 60th birthday (a full life cycle event in the Chinese/Korean lunar calendar), Belladonna* and Kundiman gather nine poets to perform a staged reading from Dictee. Cha’s best known written work, Dictee focuses on the life of several women framed with the art of the Greek muses, yet in the cosmos of Shamanism and Daoism. Their struggle to speak and overcome suffering is enacted through a mixture of media which destabilizes the notion of a progressive and seamless history.

Participants to include: Anne Waldman, Tamiko Beyer, Sarah Gambito, Laura Hinton, Cathy Park Hong, Soomi Kim, Nathanaël, Alison Roh Park, Sina Queyras, Jen Shyu, Zhang Er

Join us for an afternoon of projected images, voices, pictorial characters, scholarly contextualization, a birthday cake, and surprises.

Event is being filmed for Woo Jung Cho’s documentary on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, The Dream of the Audience.

Curated by Cara Benson and Sarah Gambito

When: Saturday, March 5
Door: 1:40pm; Show: 2pm to 3:30pm [PROMPT]
Where: Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, NYC
Cost: $8

 

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One of the books I took with me here to Glasgow was Theresa Cha’s Exilée and Temps Morts: Selected Works. It’s my second copy; I had to buy this book again online because it was one book in a massive box of books that disappeared in transit to me between California and England, when I first moved to London, where I no longer live. The books were lost during the Royal Mail strike, so I comforted myself with the knowledge that at least they were lost for a good cause. I like to think that some striking postal workers were tearing open my box of books and reading Derrida’s Le monolingualism de l’autre or Shklovsky’s Zoo: Or Letters About Love, which was one of my favorite books—the actual, specific body of that one book—ever. I bought it again, it’s not the same. There were books in there whose skins I will never again be able to retrieve, books the buying and having of which were totally suffused with the people who bought them and had them with me, next to me, for me. The tracks of love that were in these books. People I loved who are now dead.

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Notes on visiting the Harun Farocki exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow.

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.

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Monsters (not) vs. aliens: on Philippe Parreno’s Serpentine Gallery exhibit, Elizabeth Grosz, animals, aliens, architecture, emigrants, immigrants, orifices, utopias.

(Yeah, I just wanted to use all the vowels in that title.)

Recently the artist Philippe Parreno has been haunting me (this story again). It started because I was planning on writing something about the film he co-directed with Douglas Gordon, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Then I happened to start reading Veronica Gonzalez’s twin time: or, how death befell me—and on the back cover: a blurb from Philippe Parreno. The next day, someone asked me about the Serpentine Gallery in London, so I looked it up, and saw that Philippe Parreno is having an exhibition there. I get it, Philippe Parreno. I took the train to London.

I’m not gifted with summaries. From the Serpentine Gallery website:

 

Parreno’s exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery has been conceived as a scripted space in which a series of events unfolds. The visitor is guided through the galleries by the orchestration of sound and image, which heightens their sensory experience. Noise from Kensington Gardens and from the surrounding streets can be heard inside the Gallery, as though the outside is leaking in. The blinds come up to reveal a sudden change of weather. Taking the exhibition as a medium, Parreno has sought to redefine the exhibition experience by exploring its possibilities as a coherent ‘object’ rather than a collection of individual works.

The show features the UK premiere of Parreno’s latest film, Invisibleboy (2010), the story of an illegal Chinese immigrant boy who sees imaginary monsters that are scratched onto the film stock. In this filmic portrait, fantasy and social realism, fiction and documentary overlap. June 8, 1968 (2009) recalls the train voyage that transported the corpse of assassinated senator Robert Kennedy from New York to Washington D.C. Kennedy’s invisible body and the Invisibleboy are characters that float between several layers of reality.

Set in Asia, The Boy from Mars (2003) follows dimming points of light and reflections of the sun, before lingering on buffalo tied to a purpose-built structure containing an electricity-generating machine that provides the power required to make the film.

Whether through the cinematic image or the exhibition itself, Parreno explores and manipulates contemporary signs in all of their hallucinatory reality.

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“You don’t know if you’re creating a monster.” On Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Phantoms of Nabua, Camille Roy, Jacques Derrida, xenia, domestication and writing, being possessed.

I am someone who has long been a host or playmate for monsters and ghosts. My maternal grandmother had to spread chicken blood around my house as an offering to the ghosts who were befriending me and thereby killing me. These friendships were thought to be the source of my early (and enduring) frailty and sickness.

(And not, for example, the great quantity of immunosuppressive and antibiotic drugs of which I had regularly been the recipient. But this essay is not about the trials of children of medical professionals, of which there are many, all with varying levels of hilarity and cutting.)

The idea of “Being friends with ghosts diminishes your health” is similar to: “Whom the gods love, die young.”

Camille Roy, “Monstrous”: “For me writing grinds itself into what’s familiar yet unbearable.”

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