Wednesday, February 18, 2009
This novel is a memorial to someone who never existed. Who is he? A space alien, a man who fell to earth. one queer bird.
A monument does not commemorate or celebrate something that happened but confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event.
Deleuze and Guattari
What sensations should the novel and films produce? Just this: a sensation that “I,” the reader/viewer could be otherwise, that the world and me in it could become queer-- QUEER in the broadest sense, though queerness is not unrelated to sex. For the seductiveness of skin is the seductiveness of difference, it is the seductiveness of that intimate/infinite distance that lies between two bodies coming together.
The working title for the novel is Queer Skin. The idea of skin relates to identity as a mask that is put on, but also to the medieval beguine mystics who talk of “wearing” Christ as a skin. This requires a kind of radical submission, a self-effacement, an erasure of prior identity and historical memory that can be read within conventional power structures as feminine and masochistic. The idea of skin is also related to the idea of a screen, upon which we inscribe and project our impressions. Skin is the original wall, the original ground. If the body is a house for the self, the skin is that which separates. The seductiveness of skin is the seductiveness of becoming other.
Elizabeth Grosz reminds in her essay, “Chaos, Territory, and Art,” that there is an overabundance of data that we select from in order to create and reinforce one form and not an infinite number of other forms. Bergson talks about the skeletalization of objects meaning that we perceive only what interests us, is of use to us, or that to which, by habit or evolution, our senses have become attuned. Flesh/skin is the material ground for sensation, the necessary screen upon which sensation is experienced. But, like the movie screen, “flesh disappears in what it develops.”
Body as such exists only so long as skin that defines its territory exists. The body, always mindful of survival, preserves itself through kitsch, habit, and ideology so that predictable sensations are produced. How do we reframe, then? How do we begin to feel queer in our own skin?
The first gesture of art is the construction of a frame, this area of space-time that traps these fragments of chaos that slows and filters the continual flux of life. How does framing relate to Foucault’s idea of heterotopia—that virtual space between the real social and the unreal (utopia). Can we think of the novel as a heterotopic space, a temporary frame, for imagining transgression? It could be the honeymoon train that Foucault speaks about, the not quite-space where deflowering occurs, and therefore does not-quite take place.
Foucault says that Galileo was heretical because he destroyed absolute emplacement, since position was no longer fixed. Thus, the delineation of sacred and profane space became relative. In this novel, the sacred and profane should coexist. The novel itself should act as a heterotopia juxtaposing several incompatible spaces in a single site. The reader/viewer should be given enough freedom so that their own desires/belief provide the delineation. Thus, every viewer’s grouping of profane and sacred will be different. This should be accomplished through tagging. There must be an association of the words chosen by the reader and the material that is brought forth.
I think that the films need to act as heterotopias. The flip is a great device because it is a chimerical organ of vision and touch. You look with your hands. I would like to exploit its proximity to the body. When you move, it moves, that is important because the perspective is always linked to a lived, embodied experience. The smallness of the machine also allows for flexibility—you can run, jump, bend and stretch with it. What does the world look like when we see this way? For one, there is an immediate and overt awareness of framing. You see these things and not others and those things are seen through the eye in your hand because you do not hold the flip to your eye, you see through the frame. I think the key to the films is to see the world differently, to see place differently and part of this is dictated by the mechanism itself, this having an eye in your hand.
I want to capture the “real world” without trickery or cool effects or even artistry but with a change in perspective, a slowing, a consciousness of the frame and an examination of contents of the frame. The films should be intimate, as near as the camera is to your body. I want the films to reflect this sense of discovery of a new world, of beauty and horror. This could be anything from filming the landscape formed by sheets over a body in bed to view out a window of a building. I think the two key characteristics are making the everyday appear in a new way and to always maintain a consciousness of the intimacy of the mechanism ( to the body) and the personal act of framing, of choosing small pieces of information. So perhaps landscape is not the right word. I am interested in a perspective that is unique not because of content, but because of framing. At the same time, I am interested in the everyday because I want readers to be able to posit their own bodies (through memory) in that space. The images should be visually enticing, if they could be read as sacred or profane or somewhere in between, so much the better. There cannot be a real narrative to them. Rather, these films should create virtual spaces where the viewer can project him/herself into a world that is like and unlike that which they see everyday.
The novel is about love and forgiveness and the possibility for radical forms of this. When S. forgives the man who attacks him, he does it at a point where he has no choice. He is about to die. His options are only love or hate. He could resist, go down fighting for himself, but he does not. He submits. He becomes something other than his narrowly defined self and because of that act of non-attachment, comes back to life. This is how S. will understand it. And, the fact of that act so upends his sense of himself and what is possible in life, that he tries to leave his old life, history behind by running off to African, to the desert like the saints of old. It is ridiculous of course, possible in philosophy and biblical tales only. The end is not utopian. S. dies of AIDS, but he will have lived and loved in a way that is not at all tragic. If the reader is sad, S. is not. The point is to not neglect the limits of the body: hunger, pain, sickness, death. The point is to allow our vision of our own concerns and needs to expand beyond ourselves to include others. The divine limit of this (and also the Buddhist ideal) is that we love all others equally without consideration of how they relate to us or our welfare. The notion is perverse. It makes a lot of people angry mostly because it requires that they detach from their notion of a fixed self.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
text: Jean--the medical student from France and Sebastian's last love.
He was already very sick.
It made me angry that I couldn't do anything for him.
What did it matter that I was almost a doctor?
I told Batilde, I was going back to France.
She called me a coward. I took the bus to Bamako.
I missed the first plane. The next was fully booked, so I spent the day
looking for souvenirs in the marketplace.
When I got back, Sebastian had become an old man. He couldn't even stand up.
The suit was dry like parchment, yellowed and stained.
He asked me not to leave again.
I promised. It was unbearable at the end.
But, there was nothing else to do. I had given my word. I had to see it out.
Voice-over narration: Sebastian
Jean at my bedside. Big Head. Skin shiny as navy silk. Lips pink and round as moons. His eyes were red. He had been crying. I always forget how young he is. He could have gone either path—to jail or to this--his private glory that manifests not as a golden laurel or halo, but as a quiet and steadfast confidence. J. is waiting for me to speak. And I do. I tell him that I would like to learn how to tango before I die. And he looks at me as though I were mad, and laughs raucously and shakes his head. A big laugh from his belly as if from a bass violin. Two days later, he made the trip to Bamako and in the bazaar there by the Great Mosque of Djenne, found a seller of old toys, dolls with real nylons, and waxy tubes of orange lipstick, he found a water-stained cardboard box containing numbered plastic feet decals and an inscrutable set of instructions, I believe, in Portuguese. In addition, he bought an old, yellowed suit of white duck and white tasseled white nubuck loafers, slightly cracked and flattened.
He wanted to dress me, but I was, too weak so he dressed himself and danced round the room using a shepherd’s stick for a cane. I love him. And, now that I am dying, I have no fear. I would proclaim it from the rooftop.
Carlos: the prosecuting attorney
He sent me a letter from Africa on hotel stationary—the Intercontinental. Old fashioned letter head, cheap paper that soaked up the ink. It must have gotten wet. I couldn’t read half of it. He asked if I would forgive him. He’d asked me that before at the trial. At the time, I thought it was some kind of stunt. I didn’t know he was sick. But, the letter seemed like he was saying goodbye. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I heard that he’d jumped off the balcony. He told me he’d been mugged his first week there. It must have brought it all back for him, Even though Suzanne did not think he had post-traumatic stress disorder, I still think that something like that kind of violence affects you. It has to. I called his boyfriend, Alex after I got the letter. I thought he might know something. He never called me back. I thought about telling the police—they knew that Hector was lying about Sebastian, still they were not happy about him leaving the country. Legally, yes, it was the correct thing to do. But, then I thought, what good will that do? So, I just ran the letter under the faucet, let all the evidence run off like invisible ink.
It was like they say in the movies: my life passed before my eyes. And, suddenly it all seemed so absurd. I felt like I was on top of a mountain range looking at my life. The mountains were massive, immoveable and as I stood looking left and right, I saw how it all continued on and on.
I wrote letters to everyone. I cried doing it. I wasn’t sad. I was grateful. The tears drip-dropped onto the paper. I sent them anyway, I knew I wouldn’t write again. I didn’t want them to try to find me. I could picture my life, returning home sick—hope forced down my throat like some awful treacle. But, I did want to communicate some things before it was too late. I had to tell Alex, first off, so that he could get tested. I wanted to tell Carlos that I was sorry for running away. I wanted him to know that I was happy, not that that would make a difference. But, he was a kind man. He actually did care. I wrote my mother, too. I hadn’t talked to her in years. She came to the hospital, stayed for three days while I was still sedated. Alex told me later. I could only assume that she’d defied my father in coming. I wanted to thank her for it. For a long time, I had wished she would leave him, find a life somewhere, but I understand now, that I was wanting that for myself.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen: I want to make this perfectly clear.
I AM NOT, (nor have I ever been) A MAGICIAN.
I was speaking last night with a man who came from of family of famous magicians. Their job was to make their audience believe. They did not consider themselves liars, (he was talking about me) because there was never any expectation of truth. It was a complicit arrangement.
Being professionals, they did whatever was required to finish the job.
So, the man says to me that he has spent his life trying to assume the correct position ( I could only suppose that it was missionary) in terms of self-authenticity. And, that he could not believe that such a woman as the one I/SebastianA. had befriended on line , the children's minister who writes violent erotic poetry, could be charged with the spiritual education of children. I said, do you mean to tell me all your thoughts and feelings can be shared with your wife and daughter? His answer was essentially "yes." I felt ashamed because I realized that he was in the position of the magician and I, by that binary logic, was necessarily the liar.
I'd be a sad excuse for an illusionist. I admit it-- I wear my heart on my sleeve. The blood drips over everything. Really, I wanted to say to him, (we were in a swank sushi place in Chelsea), really, you can’t take me anywhere.
I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM.
I do love minimalist art, I do. And piano music, too—so clean, so precise, the stroke ringing out. I am sure both arts have bored people to tears or even to death, but they have never embarrassed a soul.
I saw for the second time, the Pipilotti Rist video installation at the MOMA. Draped with magenta curtains, the two story high screens present a video so overflowing and luscious that it delights for hours. In viewing it, all the sensual pleasures of the body are experienced again pre-cognitively. The work is unapologetically female and brilliantly subversive. The traditional association of female with irrationality, sensuality, and nature is not denied; nor is it celebrated, rather it is made strange by making a world and acts that are usually imperceptible to men (and women) perceptible to both. Whatever shame rooting through the muddy grass for a fallen apple ought to bring is buried in the visceral satisfaction of that experience.
In other words, one ought to know better. The two little boys, who crowed and ran around touching the screens like skin, don’t yet.
I look for Sebastian in crowds. The thought of him makes me pulse warmly as if he were a newly missed lover. I am slowing the writing of him online. I will stop it soon. It is too painful. I am a bad liar. Is it this shedding of old skin that hurts? or the new one emerging?
Once in college, this guy to whom I was attracted and I were sitting in a dorm room drinking and talking with friends. At some point, we ended up exchanging clothes so that I was wearing his jeans and briefs and a white t-shirt with no bra and he was wearing a too tight skirt and sweater. Everyone watched us watching each other. The next day my friends all said, “we were so sure you were going to f*.” But, we didn’t. We certainly might have, but the exchange was erotic enough.
Sometimes I don't know who said what. It it like Deleuze's becoming-Eskimo--I write in a hybrid space between us.
Elizabeth Grosz Space, Time, and Perversion http://books.google.com/books?id=Htf7y-rcVFwC
Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II , page 53. http://books.google.com/books?id=8GJlkhNCcy8C