Saturday, March 31, 2012

OMG WHAT WILL THE NORTH KOREANS THINK?

It is not often that I get to be an ACTUAL REVOLUTIONARY attempting to overthrow all that is good and right in the universe. Let me explain. Sort of. I have apparently joined the Revolution Nostalgia Disco Theater Revolution in Saudi Arabia that has something to do with Facebook and definitely promotes "homosexuality and pornography." This is from the arabic via google translate (and it got 246 hits!)--it is mangled but maybe I get the idea???
"Seemed that no one from the Saudis care about the so-called revolution of nostalgia, Valsafhh which calls for a revolution on Facebook does not exceed the number of members have 71 people, while the Forum calls for revolution, claimed that the number of Associate of another page reached 460 people through Wednesday last, in turn, opened the pages other to denounce the revolution and expose who is behind it, including the page "Sons of Arabia against the revolution nostalgia", and "page for the people of Saudi Arabia unified revolution against nostalgia" .. But what is the revolution of nostalgia and why so named?. Scan through a simple Internet - and the lack of people known to present themselves at the head of the revolution - show that there are a lot of statements about the reason for designation, there are those who say it's a quote from invasion of nostalgia, and others claim that they attributed to the founder of Revolution owner's Dr. Hanin Mahmoud Qadu - who is currently in the Nineveh Plain in Iraq - but the hidden quote for this Title is a quote west of the Revolution of disco nostalgia, which calls for pornography and homosexuality. And also shows that there are names - not Saudi Arabia - behind the revolution, including Mohamed Sabih Masri, and Iranian Hussein Ibrahim, Mohamed Ahmed, Ahmed Musawi vegetation. There is also a person named Hussein Abdel Fattah, one of the claims With 26 Saudi activists behind the revolution, but he did not mention their names, and simply put the name of the famous Salman and named it carved out the first" In any case, I am super happy to introduce Derek Jarman's Sebastiane to the Arab world.

WE ARE ALL GUILTY HERE

Apparently, there was, perhaps still is, a sign in downtown Pyongyang that reads, “We are all happy here.” I picture people on the street—rushing home from work, going to school, thinking about making dinner, a sick child, and that fight with a husband, etc.

Ordinary life makes for horrible propaganda.

It just can’t meet the 5-year plan. Take Henry Stimson, FDR’s Secretary of War who controlled the Manhattan Project. He goes to work, makes plans to obliterate Hiroshima and goes home for a nap.





War is supposed to be about good and evil. But, at the end of the day, it’s millions of ordinary people who each decide to kill millions of other ordinary humans.

This is from Philip Allott’s, radical Eunomia (I wonder what the other profs at Cambridge and his British foreign service chums thought of him after this):

“And they (the nation-state) have ordered the consciousness of their societies in such a way as to cause their citizen’s to accept value-forming theories to the effect that the ultimate identity of other human beings is not their sense of humanity, but their national identity—ultimate, in the sense that, as members of one nation-state, we may be required to act, preferably of our own willing (and, if not, under the compulsion of the willing of others), to kill or maim human beings who are members of other nation-states.”

Little Drops, my next novel, looks at the history of U.S. involvement in Korea as a way to explore mythologies of national identity, particularly my own.

The idea began with a newspaper article I’d read in the NYT about a Japanese tourist kidnapped off a beach by North Korean frogmen and taken back to Pyongyang. The complete absurdity of the story tickled me. I immediately envisioned a slapstick scene of some poor housewife being wrestled into a Zodiac by men in wet suits and Bozo-the-clown size flippers. Humor is subversive by nature. Laughter is difficult to control. In fact, it works by defying reason. It points out our own ridiculousness and forces us not to take ourselves so damn seriously.

Seriously. 3.5 million Koreans died in the Korean war. 2.5 million were in the North. One quarter of the total population there.

When I started doing background research. I realized all I knew about Korea was that we’d gone to war to protect the democratic South when the communist dictatorship of the North invaded.

THIS IS CALLED PROPAGANDA.

It’s the Cold War doctrine and I got it pushed into my head probably in eighth grade and stuck.

First of all, the South became democratic only in the 1990’s. Second, the 38th parallel was put into place by two colonels who went into a room and came out a few hours later with a map. Third, no one ever asked what the Koreans wanted. In fact, the U.S. military had the appalling idea that they would just keep the same people in power to ease transition. Of course, the Koreans had just a bit of a problem accepting that they’d continue to be ruled by the occupying Japanese and their Korean collaborators. The North did, in fact, invade, contrary to what the NK textbooks spit out about Yank imperialists, but Syngman Rhee, the President of South Korea wanted to do it first and was only held back by his U.S. handlers. Of course, this was all played out against the Cold War which had started almost immediately after Japan surrendered in World War II.

Let’s play the blame game. How many of those three million Koreans were guilty? Let’s make it easy—we won’t even define the crime. 5000? 100,000? A million?

And the others?

And me?


Of all the tragedies of this peninsula’s history, I think the one that makes me, an American, the saddest, is the March First movement of 1919. After President Wilson issued his Fourteen Points, which included the right for countries to have self determination, a group of Koreans (living under Japanese occupation) issued this declaration of independence:

“We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.
We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race's just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.”

I read this, and that naïve part of me thinks, yes! America, of all nations, would certainly recognize this yearning for freedom.

Right?

This from Wikipedia:

A delegation of overseas Koreans, from Japan, China, and Hawaii, sought to gain international support for independence at the ongoing Paris Peace Conference. The United States and Imperial Japan blocked the delegation's attempt to address the conference.[5]

In April 1919, the State Department told the ambassador to Japan that "the consulate [in Seoul] should be extremely careful not to encourage any belief that the United States will assist the Korean nationalists in carrying out their plans and that it should not do anything which may cause Japanese authorities to suspect [the] American Government sympathizes with the Korean nationalist movement."[6]


This novel is my way of looking at my own national identity and my country’s mythology. The Cold War background of U.S. Korean relations and the stuck-in-a-time-capsule politics of North Korea itself provide a ready-made historical backdrop for this exploration. Afterall, it was during this time, that the United States begin to sell the image of itself abroad as an alternative to Communism, even as, at home, it pursued Joseph McCarthy’s decidedly un-American agenda of persecution. Moreover, I want to explore power dynamics on the domestic front in the form of traditional and non-traditional gender roles in the U.S., Korea, and Japan, as well as Japanese genderbending in manga and Kabuki.



It seems to me that the current political scene can be read as a desperate attempt to revive a vision of small-town, middle class America that hasn’t existed since 1950, if ever. The lives of everyday Americans (a majority of whom use some form of birth control and have pre-marital sex and have never fought in a war and have no problem buying cheap Chinese air conditioners at Walmart) as well as the world will be altered, perhaps irrevocably, by our misplaced nostalgia for a past that never was and a future that never will be.

My work changes as I go but right now I see the novel as a road-trip game. Using Google maps, you begin with planet earth, then hone in on marked cities in the U.S., Japan, Korea, (and probably Moscow and Beijing) and there discover objects and structures which have been superimposed onto the landscapes. Sound will be very important, and possibly different types of gesture or other direct user interface such as camera function. In this way, I hope to capture concomitant intimacy and distance of individuals to historical events. Also, important to consider would be the concept of group play influencing individual trajectories and outcomes. Maybe you have to pool your tiny drops or ask for help or work together on a project.



Google maps on street level possesses a vaguely apocalyptic emptiness. It's time standing still. It reminds me of the oddly normal yet eerie city scenes in Neon Genesis Evangelion (que to 2:00)
I want the process of history to become one of discovering it from multiple sources both fictional and historical. The novel itself will be in an organic architectural structure either a tree (like Miyazaki) or underwater which is a really nice idea conceptually because it’s adding your tiny drops to an ocean that is “grown” when you collect enough tiny drops. I’ll also consider shooting out the novel in “chapters” as text plus ephemeral data (photos, vids, soundfiles etc.)

I have a few ideas for “games” within the game. One would be to add neon propaganda signs to “Vegas” –I would love to see “We are all guilty here” in flickering neon. Also, I would like the 38th parallel to consist of a thicket of words—people can post political tweets regarding Korea, and players have to maneuver over and around the collective morass to get to the other side. Also, have an idea for a dress-shop, where you could dress yourself in new look designs. I have always wanted to make my JFK’s White house dinner party seating chart (Arthur Miller and Robert Rauschenberg and Saul Bellow!) ballgown a reality.

video

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Machine Narratives and Database Animals

Hiroki Azuma argues in his book “Japan’s Database Animals” that the grand narratives of modernism were replaced, first by multiple small fictions of postmodernism, and more recently by attractive character elements (moe) that emerge from and relate to a database. He calls this process animalization as it constitutes a kind of compulsive affective grazing that does not require or even encourage the construction of narrative. He relates the relative social/political isolation of otaku as a symptom of this animalization.

Partially agreeing with Azuma, and, like him, rejecting a Lacanian model of subject construction in favor of one based on information systems, Thomas Lamarre argues that the database or “distributive field” is not an “infinitely symmetrical material structure without horizon or limits. Material limits emerge in the form of attractors and they emerge with affectively linked cooperators.” The distributive field does not generate subjective asymmetries. Rather it generates affective asymmetries, which, if reinforced over time, can become subjective positions/asymmetries. Or put in the language of Felix Guattari: “Machine is ontologically prior to structure and the subjective asymmetries that may come to inhabit the field.”


If we concur with Lamarre’s idea of subject position emerging from the distributive field (as opposed to being imposed from without) then we see that the distributive field, in so far as it is asymmetrical, is necessarily political. (That is not to say that asymmetries arise in an entirely predictable way. Because they are emergent, the sum is necessarily more than its parts.) I would argue that Azuma’s database animal is the end-position of the human subject in a late-capitalist system. With the bankrupting of the narratives that support the dominant political and economic structures, all that remains is the mechanism for empty/meaningless repetitive consumption, emotional lollipops devoid of historical or even grand fictional flavor.


For Lamarre, the move from grand narrative to database/moe elements does not necessitate the end of narrative, rather, storytelling “is a function that appears upon the distributive field which builds on the emergence of attractor-cooperator asymmetries and tends to settle on characters.” With manga’s exploded view of perception and affect, and action spread across pages, it is the character function that allows for a controlled explosion of the action image. Lamarre relates character to embodiment in the visual realm or form. This is critical, I think, because although the compulsion to construct an ontologically consistent subject position is subverted in limited anime and manga, the embodiment of the viewer remains. Material limits –physical, psychic, political, economic and cultural will determine the asymmetries that exist in the database at any given time. Moreover, attractors connected to the body have a gravitational pull that is difficult to overcome, though not impossible. Illness and pain usually have the effect of constricting the distributive field. In extreme pain, there is nothing but the experience of pain.


In relating otaku obsessions with various moe elements, Azuma is astute to point out that “the desire to remain with a transitional object in PERMANENT transition is precisely realm of perversion.” Perversion as such exists because the Law, which it defies, is acknowledged. Practiced within a social group or privately, it is a form of resistance to the Law. In the database model, reinforcement of multiple lines of sight including narrative, through which other asymmetries emerge, creates transitional or multiple subjects as opposed to fixed, singular, Cartesian subject positions.
It is unsurprising then, that manga and limited anime disrupt the most important of Capitalist/Lacanian subject positions/power relations—that of gender. The anime version of The Rose of Versailles (manga by Ikeda Riyoko, 1972) is perhaps the earliest example. Here, we see Oskar, the beautiful captain of the Queen’s Guard, raised as a man but clearly female, announcing her decision to join the Revolution and to remain with her husband, a fellow soldier.


The phallacy of the Lacanian/capitalist subject position is that the experience of lack is based upon the possibility of and desire for a fully constituted subject. If the idea of wholeness, completeness, that is to say selfhood and self-ownership is abandoned, then what was previously experienced as lack is experienced as ecstatic excess, not too little, but too much. The phallus turned inside out is a space, both receptive and generative. The truth is that an ontologically consistent subject is only one possible asymmetry among many. A viewer-retriever of information follows a sight line that depends on his or her own attraction. If the consistency of a line of sight is maintained, a traditional gendered object/subject may emerge, but this is also not necessary. For Lamarre, “asymmetry begins to implicate perception and imply emergent positions which hover between a viewing position (subject) and sheer delight, terror, disgust, or lust (affect).”



If I analyze my own hybrid media writing in terms of the Azuma/Lamarre database/distributive field model, it’s clear that I am interested in creating a non-random distributive field of information containing an attractor called a story. My predilection for using melodrama and genre codes makes this line of sight apparent while at the same time positing it in an exploded field of information elements. “Reading” the novel, the viewer experiences not lack, but an excess of information (this, in part, because I use an open system of collaboration, in the case of Mayakovsky through links rather than embedded information, and in Queerskins through appropriating objects from virtual communities Youtube and Flickr. ) Just as the filmmaker uses editing to overcome the partial/lacking view provided by the frame, the viewer/reader sews together fragments of text, image and sound-- suturing becomes overt and the spaces between them apparent. Thus, the process allows the viewer to perceive the limits of perception related to embodiment and to his or her own desired subjecthood. In constructing a narrative whole (or not) the viewer becomes aware of his or her decision to pursue certain asymmetries. Continuities of form and action is replaced by multiple possible asymmetries created through resonance, iteration, affinities of affect, media form, character, action, and rhythm (time) which can be followed, or not, according to the reader’s own desires/limitations.

Reading: Hiroki Azuma, Otaku: Japan's Database Animals
Thomas LaMarre, The Anime Machine video

Friday, November 27, 2009

Scary Monsters/Super Freaks




If as Agamben suggests “ the profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation,” then the task of writing in the 21st century is the profanation of the apparatus of media that aims, Agamben says, at the “neutralizing (of the) profanatory power of language as pure means, at preventing language from disclosing the possibility of a new use, a new experience of the word.”

How does one profane media except through the appropriation and mis-use of its own codes? Agamben would call this a form of play. “For the cat, what is the possible use for the ball of yarn? It consists in freeing a behavior from its
genetic inscription within a given sphere (predatory activity,
hunting). The freed behavior still reproduces and mimics the
forms of the activity from which it has been emancipated, but,
in emptying them of their sense and of any obligatory relation-
ship to an end, it opens them and makes them available for a
new use.”

What I refer to as “kitsch” narratives are really media forms that, because of their propagation, repetition and relative stability, are contemporary substitutes for myth. Agamben writes that, “Play breaks up this unity (of myth that tells a story and rite that reproduces and stages it): as physical play, it drops the myth and preserves the rite; as wordplay, it effaces the rite and allows the myth to survive.”

To have the two in union produces a great satisfaction that is not unlike the process by which a new being is produced. But, if the point of the modernist project was a sacred object, the point of contemporary art ought to be perversion. For, resistance manifests not in the attempt to substitute one sacred object for another, a process that Agamben calls secularization, but in the conscious production of an object that cannot be made into a symbol of anything except that process of unmaking that produced it. Agamben calls this “pure means.” In other words, there can be no absolute winner, because there is no universally accepted set of rules.

Or as Deleuze, quoted by Zizek http://www.lacan.com/zizrealac.htm#_ftnref2
puts it, “I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed."

Zizek goes on to point out that: “This Deleuzian procedure has an unexpected theological precedent - not the Christian immaculate conception, to which he himself refers, but the Jewish legend about the birth of the Messiah, reported by Joseph in a monoscript from the 13th century. God wants to give birth to the Messiah, but knows that all of the forces of evil are waiting in front of the vagina of Shekina to kill the Messiah the minute he is born. So God goes at night to his mistress, Lilith, the symbol of evil, and penetrates her anally (the expression used can also mean that he pees into her vagina). The Messiah will come from Lilith after anal sex: this is the way God tricks the forces of evil, by bringing the Messiah through evil.”




Keren Cytter’s "History in the Making or the Secret Diaries of Linda Schultz" which combines film, dance and theater is the best example of Deleuzian monstrosity that I’ve seen. It is about a male liberal activist and a female graphic designer/waitress who fall in love and wake up one morning to find they have shifted genders. Cytter utilizes repetition in dialogue, music (I am almost positive it’s constructed from free Garage Band loops) and choreography to empty it of a dominant meaning. As Zizek points out, “If the founding move that establishes a symbolic universe is the empty gesture, how is a gesture emptied? How is its content neutralized? Through repetition.”


Cytter’s project is not purely nihilistic. She acknowledges our nostalgia for revolution—though she kills off the protagonist--liberal activist Webber, she allows him to resurrect again and again with his identifying data slightly changed. In this way, Cytter hints at the potential for revolution. Nothing is infinitely reproducible, no category of knowledge or naming is stable for ever. [R]evolution will happen, Cytter suggests, not with a grand, unified effort, but in the slippage.

Again, this is from Zizek’s essay, “Today’s crisis is indeed one of experience, that is, a crisis of the destruction of experience, and the ‘spectacle’ is indeed the means of that destruction. But what exactly is the relation between spectacle and the destruction of existence and temporality? If by spectacle we name our captivation by the techniques of the audiovisual technical system, then the question is to understand this process. It is a question of understanding what it is about experience as such that makes us susceptible to such captivation. And this means understanding the ways in which the flux of consciousness is able to enter into or be entered by another flux, that flux constituted by the programs of the audiovisual system, programs which are nothing but, as Stiegler calls them, “industrial temporal objects.” If clues about this process can be inferred from Agamben’s writing, these are not pursued to the point of constituting an analysis. In the end, Agamben fails to grasp that if the word or the image is insubstantial or immaterial, nevertheless the conditions of both are always material, and technical, and therefore historical. Agamben fails to think through the history of the exteriorisation process itself, to think the historicity of the changing milieu, from language to writing to photography to cinema, and beyond. For Agamben, in the end, everything is reducible to language, the apparatus par excellence, and hence what is taking place today is seen only as destructive (which it is), not as the opening of new dimensions of preindividual potential (which it potentially is).”

Google images is perhaps the best example of this potentiality. Below are search results for “sacred.”











There is something wonderful and horrible about this. Clearly some video game has co-opted the word in the collective imagination. Nevertheless, that “sacred” has been released from its conventional associations opens up the possibility of new ways of working, thinking, communicating.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ordinary Gospels


So the golden boy shows up in this airport and it’s just a madhouse: people shouting, selling things, kids high on glue, people begging.





I happened upon an essay by Juan Suarez entitled “Myth, Matter and Queerness: The Cinema of Willard Maas, Marie Menken and the Gryphon Group, 1943-1969” in the Grey Room journal. Suarez links myth with metaphor since both serve to temporarily arrest the flow of time and meaning. He then juxtaposes these with matter and metonymy, the senselessness of surfaces jointed through flow in time and/or space. “…the rise of matter to the surface of film (is) a way to stage the vagaries of sexuality…’queer’ might be another name for the way in which sex uses everything and anything, indefinitely extending libidinal connections across the surface of the world…” The ability of desire to connect bodies in sex is part of a larger desire to connect things. These objects “both recall and replace the primal sources of sensation and affect.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqqaSno6EoI



In Menken's film, the unification of the images occurs through the soundtrack. Used in this way--even the natural sound of birdcall-- is experienced as patently artificial. Likewise, our experience of the garden- which begins with certain inchoate sensations and evolves into the cataloging of material objects, is shown to be a highly restrictive and reductive process. Nevertheless, this process is also always incomplete. The sheer variety of objects overflows all attempts to contain. Thus, despite the soundtrack and crude slide show, the film manages to re-invoke a primal sense of wonder. It is just this tension, the back and forth between what Suarez refers to as the "centripetal" pull of myth and the "centrifugal" attraction of objects, that I am interested in exploring in the novel.

The flux between myth and matter is nowhere better demonstrated than on flickr.
Once we documented what we held dear, what we wanted to remember, what we did not want to lose in the flow of time. Now we photograph everything and upload it in an instant for all to see. Searching through the creative commons, I seek the banal, the incidental. The photographs I want are the ones that prompt the question: why did the photographer choose this subject and not some other? In these photos, the original meaning is lost. Only the power of materiality remains. By placing the object in an alien landscape, I hope to strip even the meaning that is acquired passively through its everyday use, and then reconstitute the divine aura of meaning through an overt act of fetishization. I am experimenting with makeshift shrines or frames. The frame itself will communicate through its material qualities: the color, texture, weight, opacity or reflectivity of the cloth. Ultimately, it is the text that will unite the images—in other words, the story itself will act as myth.




A show of Haley Tompkins work at Kreps Gallery allowed me to synthesize my recent obsession with objects. Any description of this show will fall flat which is part of its magic. It resists any attempt at abstraction. Tompkins takes objects and alters them. The intimacy of her gestures is what communicates. There is no great meaning, but these "objects" (that is what she calls her drawings and sculptures) become the meager but lovely substitutes for the artist herself. After viewing the show, I felt that I knew her in a way that was akin to sneaking into her room after she'd left for the day and lying in her bed and smelling her sheets and looking through her drawers. In other words, I had access to unquantifiable information. It was like touching a sleeping body.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Turning


If as Judith Butler says in her Psychic Life of Power, the coming into being of a subject is predicated on loss of a desired object and the process of internalization of the object through identification, then the psychic landscape of the subject is populated with images of things, fictional entities, that serve to demarcate boundaries of self and other through ritual and repetition. “…a subject only remains a subject through a reiteration or re-articulation of itself as a subject, and this dependency of the subject on repetition for coherence may constitute that subject’s incoherence, its incomplete character.” Referencing Althusser’s idea of how the law hails the subject and how, the subject, in responding to the interpellation, not only buttresses the power of the law, but also, limits his own freedom, in so far as naming, and language itself, does. How then to escape the law? Butler says, “such a turn demands a willingness not to be—a critical desubjectivation—in order to expose the law as less powerful than it seems.” In other words, “ 'being’ (is) precisely the potentiality that remains unexhausted by any particular interpellation. Such a failure of interpellation may well undermine the capacity of the subject to ‘be’ in a self-identical sense, but it may also mark the path toward a more open, even more ethical kind of being, one of or for the future.”

Why ethical? Perhaps because the loosening of attachments and the loosening of the boundaries of self allows one to see and experience the fact that the self and other are dependent upon each other for their definitions. If self can be reinforced through repetition and ritual, perhaps it is possible to use repetition and ritual to iterate an(other), more expansive self. Or, as Foucault puts it, “The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate us both from the state and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us from the state and the type of individualization which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of the kind of individuality that has been imposed on us for several centuries.” The idea is perverse. It upsets one’s idea of natural law. This brings us back to the body, especially a body in pain—that which cannot be shared and so can be used to justify cultural, social and political institutions that would limit the self to a singular guilty subject.

The law and the subject co-emerge because the power of the law depends upon the illusion that the law is other than the subject, resistance to the law (experience of law as law) occurs only when law and subject are perceived as self and other. Thus, resistance empowers not only the self, but the law as well. But, what happens if the subject’s submission is so complete, without any resistance that would serve to reify self and other? The self as such becomes a vessel for the law, is not separate from the law. Again, the stomach turns, the skin bristles, the self resists, “no, it can not be, I will not allow it.” In Tibetan Buddhism, the reliance on the teacher is paramount for progress along the path. Optimally, the guru’s will becomes inseparable from one’s own. The word guru brings to mind cults, brainwashing. But, the difference lies in the self-consciousness of the disciple’s act. The self is given not as blood-sacrifice to a higher power but as an offering for the sake of all sentient beings. What remains of self is something that exists and does not exist. It is a will, a entity of the future, that exists only in the future, the proof of which lies only in the past—in memory and the world—in objects and in habits, in ritual and repetitions that we are barely conscious of. The law is everywhere. Why accept the cup, but resist the blow? A man sits contemplating a tree. He says, “I know that is a tree, I know that is a tree.” He isn’t crazy, he’s just doing philosophy. The first noble truth is the truth of suffering. To recognize that there is no suffering is to understand this. The only response is compassion. It is a mathematical law, like adding two plus two. Knowing this, there is no other answer.

Sebastian is in that in-between place. He begins with a blind obedience. He spends his life between resistance and submission. At the end, death forces a complete submission. What it is that Sebastian submits to is open to interpretation. Should we perceive his death as punishment meted out by the law (divine or natural?), an act of nihilism, or the occasion for his liberation? Can the conception of a self be so radically altered that death of the self is experienced as freedom instead of annihilation? In writing him as me and a male counterpart, I am playing with this expansion of self. It is a game, of course, but it feels real. The leakiness of self is the leakiness of bodies. Blood, semen, urine, shit. It shames. I try to embrace it, but it is hard. I hide. Guarding the image of myself, I am closed up, wordless, unable to write. When I started this project, I wanted so badly to change Sebastian’s name. I hated signing it. If I were a man, I’d be a real one, I vouched. A real man called by a real man name. When the law hails me/him, we will turn, in rectitude or shame. If I lived virtually, could I be a thousand selves, a million? By what name would I be called, what would my/our turning be?

Friday, July 31, 2009

The World is All That is the Case


I have just finished devouring a book called the Body in Pain: the Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry. Reading it provided another of those uncanny moments that no longer seem supernatural, but still amaze me. Her book has two parts. The first focuses on the “unmaking” of the world as it operates in war and torture. The second focuses on the process by which the imagination remakes objectlessness (that is pure being or sentience) into an image object that is then materialized into the “real” object which is self-substantiating and which acts back on the sentience of a being to alter it’s conception of itself. Thus, she says, “human beings project their bodily powers and frailties into external objects—telephone, chairs, gods, poems, medicine, political organizations that in turn become objects of perception that are taken back in to human consciousness where they now reside as part of the mind or soul and this revised conception of oneself as a creature relatively untroubled by the problem of weight (chair), as one able to hear voices coming from the other side of the continent (telephone), as one who has direct access to an unlimited power of creating (prayer) –is now actually felt to be located inside the boundary of one’s own skin where one is in immediate contact with an elaborate constellation of interior cultural fragments that seem to have displaced the dense molecules of physical matter.”


She relates the beginnings of this object making to the biggest object of our making –God—and shows how in the Old Testament, that God (who is pure idea) is substantiated by his inscriptions upon human bodies (mostly in the form of wounding, but also in the form of pregnancy). In the O.T. God is voice/hands and human is body, mostly deprived of voice except for God’s words and forbidden to create images. The commandments and law itself becomes a substitute artifact for the body, but if man breaks God’s law, only the body is left to substantiate Him. Christianity is a radical move: God’s embodiment in the form of Jesus Christ makes the wounding of human bodies unnecessary to the display of God’s power. In fact, the reverse occurs, Jesus’ wounds become proof of his divinity and the disciples are called on to witness-to touch, to see that which before was only voice. Compassion is bound up both with imagination and with the knowledge of the sentient origins of the world. In a world flooded by images, constant acts of making, a remembrance of suffering body (the origin of world making) is important else the reciprocal effects of objects on private realm of being be forgotten or dismissed.

In so far as we can extend ourselves (our identity) through objects we make/cherish, we not only share our private mental state with others, but also escape the confines of our bodies. Even so, bodies remain and torture, war, illness of all kinds remain. Scarry describes torture as an unmaking of the world for the victim—where every object/idea loved or despised becomes meaningless, is essentially erased by pain. The victim of torture loses language—resorting to the pre-language of scream or else the words/confession the torturer supplies. She makes a very impressive analysis of the torturers re-appropriation of a most basic object of human construction-- the house. Whereas before, walls, floor, table, chair had allowed a human to ignore some of the basic wants of the body, now these things become the objects used to elicit pain. Thus, the torture cell becomes a horrible inversion of shelter.
Scarry talks about Marx’s writing as a conscious alternating between sensuous abstract passages about the moving of capital to the most banal, detailed recounting of workers lives—how big a room, the kind of food they eat, the illnesses they have. In other words, he brings it back to the forgotten body. He does not object to object making, in fact believes that this is key to human happiness, but he objects to the loss of the reciprocal action of the object on it’s maker’s being.

So, you can see that there are so many ideas here with voice/body, making/suffering, self/object, contraction/extension, being/world, God/human. The narrative voice has a divine quality (the Word) and yet the objects which point back to a body and its needs will also be present in the form of the short object films. Scarry says that if the object is intended to have greater reality than human beings themselves (as in a god or king) then it is important that the existence of that be made to seem natural (ie not artificial), it should be “seamless” without “cutting marks.” But, I am interested in no other reality above human. I am interested in the power of human imagination and meaning making to overcome suffering and to extend the self (a process of dispersal, that if infinite would be akin to negation) through creativity and love (extension of one's concerns to another’s wants/needs.)