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A few posts ago I mentioned exploring experiments in observation and form, with Katie Stewart, in a project called The Hundreds. Two of them have just been published in the experimental journal TAG. You can download them there. Here they are, for the record, though: and this way I can revise them as I refine the project over time.
Abusive Encounters for the Revolution
1. I take writing classes because art that says it loves women hates women and it can’t be undone by theory. Any “story about a woman who” is doomed to be but a laugh. As in love, though, a body can have an episode that savages the story-spectacle shackle, blazoning a freedom for which there’s no world yet and bad luck in the one that is. Bette Davis fires gestures, Cate Blanchet lunges into panorama–and then there’s the Mahalia Jackson incident. Insist on the upshot of the encounter. I have deleted five instances of the word “really” from this hundred.
2. A colleague’s combover is a living crop circle whose origin might just reveal the hand of god. His club sandwich of shame and contempt is braced by the sourdough toast of xo’s. After I ate one I blistered in hives and slept hard for two days in a Benadryl haze. I now have spontaneous “episodes.” O love, we know that the fidelity principle makes details inconvenient. O love, your history is only and always one of collateral damage. But what is it when no love is there or lost? It is as though analogy can force itself into full-bore likeness.
3. On a street corner I was accosted by a homeless mind. It pressured me to house it; I mimed a vomit. Having found no time to invent an intention, I am now bound forever to fail reparation. Aristotle says debt is material and moral and Nietzsche says this way debt can’t be retired. As Arendt says, there is no unsaying. Philosophers of the desert make aloneness less lonely. I aspire to deadpan femininity. An anorexia of the encounter would be a gift card allowing for sadism and the feeling of smallness to run free like flies that shoot through screens.
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The Hundreds: Method 2x
The game is a form of life coming into being, extension, and activity, the blinking open at the start of the day and the beyond to anything that was explained. If I run out of gas but not out of love, if you let a piece go without completion, if the session isn’t finished but definitively over, if the delicious coffee could only wake us forever, if we could come forth as “I” with the other objects, if we would take in that all things don’t happen for a reason, if the flat voice were other than contract or trauma. If we could be the person we would go out with again, if we could hoist our accusations against ourselves, if I could stop motion sugar and labor power, if we could feel the chance touch with soft eyes and no ducking, if you can bear the arbitrary, if they can bear the common structure, or vomit, or accident, if we could take the hard hit that it’s all brevity and struggle, if the form of life turned toward a way of life, sidestepping this event and that one’s tough but only seeming infinity. Sometimes things have to be forced.
(Lee Edelman, Juliana Spahr, Keston Sutherland, Katie Stewart, Lynn Hejinian, Fred Moten, Joshua Clover, Lacan, Foucault, Wittgenstein, Harryette Mullen, Catherine Malabou)
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Try to forget.
Not unintentional forgetting, but of a thing that insists on being in the flow of things.
It could be the forgetting of a dream you can’t stop because you’re in it, or of a sense that the world is converging over there, on that other guy’s table. All of history did not do its work to produce you. You can imagine that history sought to produce you, but who are you? A bundle of action and feral muttering, a sweet thing inhaled by various strangers, booty for money, a small bird puffing out its chest, a bit scared, an accident.
Or it could be of the angry surprise that again you want a thing you can’t have without help. Continue reading →
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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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3. What is the wish of the dream?
I open my hand and a small cluster of people peer up at me out of it silent and bug-eyed. I draw them out of my palm like taffy, but there is no snapping sound and no lost teeth. In a minute the crowded room buzzes harshly, wondering why it had bothered one more time to show up for nothing but an exhausted optimism. I was lucky to be the dreamer because the dreamer never stops being interested. People know when they haven’t said enough, that’s why they dream. Or that’s not why they dream, but why they continue loving.
When I met him he was raking leaves, in his tiny yard; usually they’re across some table in a room. And what of the very bald one who practices his Foucault Face™ in the mirror each day? If I try to write the story of someone who worked hard in case he showed up to work, what is the plot? She played touch tag by saying a thing then running into a field of noise. The delay architecture is so deliberate I can feel the shot-reverse-shot, the voiceover, and the signs of truth tattooed on my often-entered vagina. Continue reading →
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2. This game is called “Watch Your Step.” I am not sure that it’s a game or that any of the games I’ve described is a game. It’s more like a scene that stimulates games of encounter, which is to say, scenarios of risk. My thinking about this was world-shaken by Diana Taylor’s article on double-blind scenarios, which came out after her book, which I also loved, but as I was the editor for the smaller, later piece, my bones know it as deeply as a body would that has many times leaned toward its object. This is not objective knowledge.
The best a thought can do, after all, is to make itself available to be found, by documenting its encounter with something so well that it shifts things into a new proximity, as though words in a dictionary had suddenly slid down into each other’s definitions. That’s not too eloquent, but the event of eloquence has only a little to do with meaning emerging. I was researching what a “scene” is while editing Diana’s piece for a “special issue on the case,” which the University of Chicago Press refused to make into a book because they thought it wasn’t “sexy.” Continue reading →
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1. The Test
There’s a can of blueberries at the back of the shelf amid dust and flour mites or whatever it is that gets into the rice, like an old writing file where you made a deposit in the darkness of a late style. As though berries too syrupy even for ice cream and the cheesecakes your mother never got to make were just waiting around for you to be found, like that child in the game. Continue reading →
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I noticed, over the last few months, as my mother was dying, that I had taken pictures that seemed very specific. Now I am looking at the archive, as one looks at a drying hand after a manicure.
My mother died of femininity. I told her that I would say this about her. She had said, “Will you write a book about me?” and I asked if she wanted me to. She said “Yes. I want you to say that I left the world a better place because I had you!” I said I thought that this was a bad idea: people would think it an excuse to write about me. She said, “Can you think of another topic?” I offered this phrase about femininity, and explained why. My brother-in-law thought that it would be better to say that my mother died from vanity rather than from femininity. I can see why he would prefer that story; it’s interesting to see how a label shifts the implication.
In her late teens she took up smoking, because it was sold as a weight-reduction aid. When she died she had aggressive stage 4 lung cancer. In her teens she started wearing high heels, to enhance the back arch and ass-to-calves posture whose strut transforms the whole body to a sexual tableau, shifting between teetering and stillness. Later, she had an abortion and on the way out tripped down the stairs in those heels, hurting her back permanently. Decades later, selling dresses at Bloomingdale’s, she was forced to carry, by her estimate, 500 lbs. of clothes each day. Shop girls, you know, are forced to dress like their customers. They have to do this to show that they understand the appropriate universe of taste, even while working like mules in that same universe, carrying to their ladies stacks of hanging things and having to reorganize what their ladies left behind on the dressing room floor. She liked this job, because she liked being known as having good taste.
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I’m converting a cafeteria to a café—Valois just got wi-fi and I wanted to be in a capacious space, light with big tables and no soundtrack. It’s empty, almost, mid-afternoon. A few old people are sitting around schmoozing as they will, and we look after each other’s tables when we need bathroom breaks or a refill. After a few hours a father and son come and sit two tables up. The father, young, instructs his son relentlessly: on how to use a laptop, how to play a game, how to sit, how to be quiet, and how to eat without smacking his mouth. I am working with my head down trying to drown out the noise. Then at one point I hear him say to his son, why do you want to give up on your dream, why do you want to give up on your dream of being a football player? Kid: I want to draw cartoons. Father: you also want to be in the NFL, why do you want to give up on your dream? Kid: I want to draw cartoons, I have lots of stories to tell. Father: tell me, why do you want to give up on your dream?
A piece of paper falls off the table. It has boxes drawn on it and word balloons. The figures they’re attached to look better than stick, but there’s a not lot of detail. His father says, Don’t you see, when you’re 35 and you’ve been in the Super Bowl, you’ll have the skills of a 35 year old man, not a 9 year old boy, and when you’re 35 and a cartoonist, you’ll have the skills of a 9 year old boy?
They call it a skill set, the father says.
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#2 in the series.
I spent most of the summer reading the kind of fierce poetry that moves fearlessly into barely inhabitable breathing space three beats beyond the object that was supposed to anchor attention. A poetics of associology whose noise world sits me down in disbelief at the rare freedom of other people’s minds. Not because attention gets things right (any more than attachment guarantees love), and not because there’s always in operation productive energy that can never be tamed but because—in these poems, and for me–revolt requires curiosity, a tipping over on a verge.
I can’t remember how I heard of C. D. Wright; this book written from within incarcerated space seems to have migrated onto my desk from a lateral impulse I must have had once. People who liked this also liked. It’s been in a pile of revealed intention that I’ve been reading up and down.
Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit is one version of the commons: C.D. Wright includes it as a kind of acid irony. After all, the next line, si bleu, si calme, isn’t available as realism to the incarcerated–or the manumitted for now who swerve around aggressively while looking down at their feet, or anyone with a stomach overfull of the indigestible. I read this book and my brain clicked around over it all summer: glory hole, dream hole, peephole. Continue reading →