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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