A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

November 29, 2018

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Quote

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One story making the rounds when I first arrived was that a policewoman, armed and in uniform, was standing on a packed morning bus headed to her job at the Ministry of Interior when a man pinched her bottom. She drew her sidearm, turned, and shot the assailant dead. The policewoman was placed on leave until trial, at which she was found not guilty based on self-defence and returned to her job. Women loved to tell that story and would add that since that incident the men in Managua had left their hands off female strangers in public.

- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War



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November 21, 2018

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Quote

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The deputy director of the CIA, Bobby Ray Inman, one of the weirdest of that cast of spook characters, was featured at a press conference exhibiting grainy photographs that resembled Rorschach inkblot tests. In a seeming parody of a TV meteorologist, he pointed his white stick at various parts of the photograph and recounted a narrative that had nothing to do with the picture, which he then described as unassailable evidence. The story he told was of a massive Cuban occupation of the northeast region of Nicaragua. He claimed that the landing strip at Puerto Cabezas was being prepared for fighter jets to land and that a Cuban military base was being built; the most telling detail of all, he said, was the appearance of a baseball diamond, which proved the Cubans were there to stay. This caused amusement in Nicaragua, where baseball had been the national sport ever since the US Marines had first occupied the country in the 1890s.

I never figured out if Inman was completely insane or quite crafty. In any case, he resigned in March 1982, and his boss, William Casey, was even loonier. At times, it seemed absurd to try to counteract this nuttiness with rationality. But it was not only the spooks; General Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state, held a press conference at the Dupont Circle Hilton Hotel in Washington in which he pointed to another photograph (blown up almost two stories tall) and described what he termed as widespread massacres. The photograph showed human bodies enveloped in flames. Haig claimed that these were Miskitu Indians being burned alive by Sandinista soldiers. Newspapers featured the photograph with headlines screaming of massacres and atrocities against the Nicaraguan Indians. During the following days, tiny correction boxes appeared in newspapers - why it wasn’t a big story itself I couldn’t figure out - reporting that the photograph was the property of the conservative French daily Le Figaro, and was taken in 1978, before the Sandinistas took power. The photo actually showed the Red Cross burning corpses of the victims of Somoza’s bombing of civilians in Managua in 1978. The irony was that such massacres were actually happening in nearby Guatemala as Haig spoke, massacres about which the administration said nothing. To my knowledge, no reporter ever questioned Haig about his allegations and misrepresentation of the photograph, nor did he ever admit his deception. The administration was that brazen. Even when corrections were printed, the lies created a kind of populist genocidal logic, in which “exaggerations” were then acknowledged, but people assumed that there must be some core of truth to the charges nevertheless.

- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War



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October 28, 2018

Walt McClements / Lonesome Leash Quote

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"I wrote “Gallery Floor” based on two things; an unexpected, charming and short lived (by design) romance with a wonderful man, and reading this book, “Polyamorous Love Song” by Jacob Wren, which is a really lovely piece of experimental fiction. In it, the narrator says this: “most already existing love songs, mainstream or otherwise, were directed towards one person, the ultimate soulmate or new excitement, and maybe a polyamorous love song … might undermine some basic songwriting assumptions.”

I thought to take up the challenge proposed in the book, but in many ways feel I failed, as I found the structure of the love song in general warped the narrative tone into one of high drama, like the person you’re singing about is all that matters in the world of the song, and you’re nothing without them. Wren later writes “love songs are propaganda for monogamy,” and after my first attempt at a polyamorous love song I’d have to agree, but think trying to dismantle the structure is a worthwhile exercise."

- Walt McClements / Lonesome Leash


[You can read the rest of the interview here.]

[And listen to the beautiful song “Gallery Floor,” here.]



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October 24, 2018

Miguel Gutierrez Quote

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A few years ago I started to feel that I needed take a break from making performances. I was beginning to feel trapped in a cycle of making and presenting, touring and teaching. My friend mickey introduced me to Walter Benjamin’s quote “the eternal hellish return of the same,” and while Benjamin said this in relationship to the merry go-round of fashion shows and making new designs every year, it felt like a pretty accurate description for the cycle I felt trapped in. One jet lagged night in Hamburg I busied myself by counting all of the nights over the course of the past five years I had spent home and all of the nights I had spent away for work and it came out to 50/50. I was surprised because it felt like I’d been away from home even more than that, but I realized that that was because a lot of the time I spent at home I was either recovering from jet lag or gearing up for another trip. I felt like I could never settle into thinking of New York as my real home and pretty much, over time, most of my friends began to assume that I was gone even when I was home, as I lost the will to keep them up to date with my schedule.

At first I thought I would just stop making art altogether, but I quickly realized that that was ridiculous. It wasn’t about not making stuff per se it was about not leaving all of the time. I began to say no to every offer I got to teach out of town, as this is the kind of travel that usually feels the most isolating, because I’m by myself rather than with my fellow performers. I decided I would only leave New York to tour work that I’d already made. My manager, who, like me, is prone to drama, started calling this whole idea of mine THE SHUTDOWN. I found out he was portraying it as such to other professionals in the field, and this made me nervous. I know how quickly you can fall off the radar of relevance in this field. I started to say, no, I am taking a sabbatical. Seemed like a softer word. It’s conceptual of course because I don’t have a university job or a fellowship or any savings for that matter. I still have to figure out how to make money.

But I have to do it. I have become suspicious of this cycle of production because I feel like it keeps me from truly imagining other modes of artmaking or other notions of audience. I’ve made things that end up in mostly white spaces for mostly white people. I’ve made things that cost a certain amount of money that some people can afford and a lot of people can’t. I’ve made things that mean a lot to certain people in this particular city and that have no impact on most people in other places. The first two concerns are big – like, really, truly how does that change? The last concern feels like it’s about ego, or my persistent wish to become even bigger and more famous somehow. This itinerant lifestyle is also partly to blame for the fact that I haven’t had a boyfriend for over four years. Although, at the same time, this lifestyle has helped me to appreciate and value the sweet intimacies available in other temporal modes of romantic or sexual relation. In Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure there is a cogent and beautiful critique of monogamous hetero-patriarchal family as the dominant and dominating form of kinship, and a real celebration of other, queer forms. I think of this critique often whenever I feel like I’m being too slutty. “I’m experimenting with other forms of queer kinship!” I tell myself and sometimes it’s true and sometimes it isn’t. The point is that the nature of constant production has rendered it impossible for me to know HOW I really feel or WHAT I really want from relationship.

So I’m in it now. 2016 – the year of the sabbatical. I’m not sure what to say about it yet. It’s early days. I CAN report that it’s incredible what a shift of intention or language to describe what you’re doing does to your psyche and to your interactions with others. Right now, quite simply, there’s nothing that I want from anyone. No show that I’m trying to get, no project funding, no good review that I’m hoping for. I’ve gone to a couple of performances this year and the process of sitting and watching something in the theater already feels a little alien and slightly purposeless. Not in a huge existential crisis way, I’m just feeling it out. I’m still comparing myself and my work to this person’s work – does that ever end? – but it feels… softer. I run into people, professionals, peer artists, who don’t know anything of my mythical “sabbatical” and they ask me “So what’s next?” And it’s satisfying to me and them puzzling to them (and to me) when I say, nothing. Nothing’s next. I’m not making a piece right now. And they look at me and I look at them. And they look at me and I look at them. I can’t really be sure what is happening in that moment but I can say that something else happens in that moment.

- Miguel Gutierrez, Notes on Idleness and Labor



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October 14, 2018

Possible opening for a book-length essay tentatively entitled The Conditions for Human Flourishing

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I’m worried that I’m going to write too many books. This is book number eight. Perhaps I think eight is already too many. But it is also already too late to have written less. Philip Roth dies in [reminder to look up the year that Philip Roth dies.] At the book store they dedicate a small wall to all of his books, most of them in the same edition, each with the exact same spine. And standing in front of his books I think: he is my exact image of a writer who wrote too many books. I’ve only ever read one book by Philip Roth and I liked it but thought he completely fucked up the ending. I imagine someone reading this and then, years later, meeting me, out of curiosity asking me which Roth title I once read. And I imagine myself telling them.

And this next thought is really a stretch. But I imagine that writing too many books has something to do with the end of the world. (I just remembered that I’ve actually read two books by Roth, both a very long time ago.) That to produce and continue producing, without any thought for limits or demand, and what’s more to produce as an individual, away from any collectivity or collective constraints, is tangentially connected to the desire for infinite growth on our rather finite planet. Of course, I will not produce books infinitely or even indefinitely. Sooner or later I will die. And this is also somehow connected to the end of the world. We overproduce because we know the clock is ticking, that we are running out of time, a perverse inversion of the fact that we are running out of time because we overproduce.

But I have already misspoke. I don’t believe the coming environmental collapse will be the end of the world. I believe billions of people will die, the world population will be corrected towards previous levels, it will be the worst thing humanity has ever witnessed and therefore also a wakeup call for us to change our ways. This isn’t what I want to happen. Just as I don’t want to write too many books. And another related thought: I find it extremely difficult to just do nothing. This is a quote from Ruth Levitas:
However, ‘doing nothing’ is here intended also as a positive proposal. Politicians may declare that 'we need to do more and we need to do it faster’. The opposite is true. We need to do less, and we need to do it more slowly. Doing a lot more nothing, including sleeping, would reduce resource consumption, lower stress levels and enable social relations more conducive to dignity and grace…
I really love the books of Renee Gladman. When I read them, I feel many similarities and affinities between how and why we both write. However, when it comes to my identity, I am probably more like Philip Roth, who I feel almost no affinity towards.


[Unfinished]



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Notes towards a novel tentatively entitled Promiscuous Bewilderment

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A person who sets up a museum in their home.


A horse that climbs into a boat.


Reading a non-fiction book and encountering a minor character, a character mentioned only in passing, but who is clearly portrayed as despicable, and then gradually realizing the character is based on you.


Being a public figure whose private life does not match up with their public image. The fear of being exposed or being blackmailed.


Spending years trying to find your idol, finding him, at which point he attempts to scam you out of money.



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October 8, 2018

15 Favorite Compilations

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[As is well documented, I really love lists. A few years ago I made a list of Twenty all-time albums. I was recently thinking that, since then, my favourite albums have substantially changed, or a least I might well have twenty new ones. But then I thought such a process could easily just go on forever. And I also got to thinking that a lot of the records I listen to the most are in fact compilations. So here, in no particular order, is a list of some of those.]


1970’s Algerian Folk And Pop
1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground
Black Man's Cry: The Inspiration Of Fela Kuti
Brand New Wayo - Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Madness 1979-1983
Lipa Kodi Ya City Council: Nigerian High Life
Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984
Sky Girl: Compiled by Julien Dechery and DJ Sundae
Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa
Sharon Signs To Cherry Red: Independent Women 1979-1985
Outro Tempo: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
Good God! Apocryphal Hymns
Nextlife
Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth-Boogie in 1980s South Africa
Louder Than A Bomb Mixtape 2018
Jamla is the Squad



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October 3, 2018

October Thought Residency

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For the month of October I will be in Thought Residency at the SpiderWebShow. Posting 30 seconds of thought three days a week. You can find it all here.



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August 29, 2018

M. NourbeSe Philip Quote

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It was during those lectures I heard one of the truisms that form part of the canon on African art, and one which helps foster another type of erasure - this time about Western art. It also reveals how useful African art and primitivism have become as countercultural alternatives to Western art practices.

African art is functional, inseparable from the social order, the argument goes, vis-à-vis the Western art tradition where art by designation is what we have come to understand art to mean. Integral to this approach is the belief that art exists here in the West over and above the social order - often apart from the social order. The commodity value assigned to art - and to the artist - makes it a part of the economy, but essentially it is a thing apart - alien, alienated and, at times, alienating.

It is, however, integral to the concept and understanding of art here in the West, that its connection to the social matrix - to labour, history and politics - not be seen, acknowledged or articulated. Which is where the African and Oceanic - the primitive - has served such a useful purpose, for with the primitive, the cultural connections between art and the social fabric - although irrevocably torn - could be clearly seen and held up as a significant difference from the Western tradition.

On the one hand, the cultural object forcibly torn out of its context, assigned artistic value and meaning, and reinterpreted as functional - an integral part of the social order; on the other, the cultural object still within its context, but with its connections to the social fabric hidden or obliterated. What are, in fact, flip sides of the same coin are presented as radical differences.

- M. NourbeSe Philip, from Blank: Essays & Interviews