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4. Contact Sheet
It is only evidence that she has been somewhere at the same time that her camera’s been there. There’s a pig in a doorway, a street, a man from behind. The places seem akimbo, as though executed by the fist of a small, tight child. The problem of a book is that it is fixed. But “archive” senses a strewn thing, of stuff and gesture moved by weather systems. Will we want to know later that the insurgents at the skirmish wore brightly colored jeans? We can imagine the folders into which they will go, each according to his palate.
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Consider the following examples:
I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen.
Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we
– we own this country.
We — we own it. It is not you owning it, and not
politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours.
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(This is a very lightly revised version of the paper I tried to deliver at the American Studies Association conference as a performance piece that also riffed on the talks just given around me: a complete failure as a performance. Chronologically it was written after the previous two combover pieces were written, and so represents a development of the idea I’ve been serializing here.)
Amitava [Kumar] originally called this panel “The Message Chain.” Its idea was to ask some scholars who see themselves as writers, how, for them, a particular space becomes a “locale” for writing, an event that requires not just attention and consideration but a decision to write outside of the usual academic idiom or medium. This was to be a panel about crossing over, not into death, but toward a bigger life for writing. A spatial impact becomes-event in this view when it induces a communicative action–writing, teaching, and performing–you know, the kinds of things that our careers are made from, although few of us would admit to having the career as our ambition. But that is because ambition is one of the obscene affects of capitalist culture. It’s hard not to think about it, though, when someone asks you to talk about “crossover” writing: when you’re crossing over it’s because your ambition isn’t hiding in a repetition but in sincerity, in the desire to do something for an audience whose relation to reading is unprofessional or outside of the norms our professions perform.
It would not be too strong to say that the capitalist subject is distinguished by its education in judging ambition.
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The number of things you can not pay attention to now is diminishing. Pluming beneath the visible water draws out attention the way an earthquake makes the ordinary sway not just before your eyes but in the surround, ungrounding and expanding the senses. The sheer increase in accurate metaphors for marking disintegration is one way to track it: the sticky surface of the metaphor-that-works helps to keep in focus the expanding archive of the splintered, the broken, the frayed and the fraying stressed out structure of involvement. Language can hold things loosely clustered together in a kind of technical way and one can navigate the present by playing pick-up-sticks with the accumulated phrases.
First, the surging number of natural disasters and atmospheric tendencies induced the sense that the weather, after all, might be industry’s fault: and this problem looked like it had a remedy, too, if only the stentorian paralysis of the political world would be interrupted by a rush of sovereign courage; or if only the administrative branch could sneakily make regulations according to a realism that it’s difficult for lawmakers to admit in its revelation of how bad the lived real had been allowed to get.
Then the crumbling physical infrastructure of the built environment from Bhopal and Chernoble and Three Mile Island seemed linked to the massive proliferation of potholes, sinkholes, train wrecks, exploding pipes, and collapsing bridges across the industrial world. In these the present became increasingly apparent in the serial shock of always yet one more crisis of a connectivity dream so extensively realized that its upkeep seemed unnecessary and could, in any case, be deferred. After the era of expanding public works, the public infrastructures came affectively to resemble bodies whose health seemed solid and could be taken for granted. You know the internal monologue: I was healthy until I got sick, my mouth was fine until I awoke with that toothache, if only there had been a convincing sign, I would have dodged x disaster–but no, I had the bad luck not to have things go my way, and it’s my own damn fault, but really, things don’t always happen, and worrying about this thing too was just too much on top of everything else.
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The rain was still torrential when I left the library to make my way to the far northwest side of Chicago: through the windscreen the traffic was in a slow chaos, cars shuddering from the beating wind and barely moving forward, the flooding streets outlining once again the urban infrastructure crumbling in real time. Potholes, puddles, and spray pounced out into sight as if the out there were a video game full of menacing threats to survival and not also ordinary life.
In the middle of all that a well-placed Shell station on Hollywood was processing a lot of traffic. In the back right hand corner of the pumping area, though, a man stood just watching the cars. His gray and white cardigan and black cargo pants were becoming just dark with rain. He was tall, no longer young. He seemed to have no relation to a car or the cars or to becoming soaked. He was standing there just looking without watching. It was easier to suss out what wasn’t happening than what was. I wanted to get out of the car and ask him something but couldn’t figure out the mechanics. Or the ethics.
Then things cleared up and moved on and so did the hard day of wondering about those scenarios of the ordinary that are predictable by now and yet feel immoveable too because their accumulation–as data, as exempla, as anecdote–does not lead to clarity, let alone transformation via something made live when the phenomenon turns trope. Continue reading