Moved by On Kawara’s work today. It has occurred to me also to write postcards to those I know, especially since I now live so far from everyone I know. Postcards which say only, just as his do:
I AM STILL ALIVE
I HAVEN’T COMMITTED SUICIDE DON’T WORRY
I HAVEN’T COMMITTED SUICIDE WORRY.
Listening to Rakim and Funkdoobiest, and dueling once again with debilitating pain. It gets better and then it gets worse, it gets better and then it gets worse, it gets worse and then it gets worse and then it gets worse.
Funkdoobiest, “Rock On”:
Rakim, “Guess Who’s Back”:
“IF YOUR SOUL LOVES THE SUN.”
Thinking about writing and illness, writing and grief. After October 2006 I barely wrote for two or three years.
During this period of two to three years I was also at what was then my sickest and most dangerous (this still being true in some ways and no longer being true in others) as well, so it was perfectly just that I would not or could not write. Dedicating what little strength and what mountains of time I had to the project of healing myself, a project which seemed to consist of a succession of failures and increasingly dramatic privations, resulting in damages whose magnitude and permanence also increased dramatically, even exponentially.
A body that repudiates me. A body sensitive to everything, easily poisoned. A body that holds onto everything, that keeps secrets from me, that turns from my ministrations like a melancholy child on the verge of puberty, like a willful and dreamy animal who will never trust anyone. A body covered in lesions.
Now I have always known myself to be a knight but my body sought to prove it, for these years my skin had become an armor, my skin had been turned into leather (lichenification, it is also called), into a hide for me to wear, though I was still alive within it. I, within the auto-flaying. No need to tan the hide, the hide has been naturally tanned since birth. A hide that makes itself. I, within the hide.
The effect being that naked I seemed to be wearing chain mail; but chain mail of skin, skin mail.
(Growing up I had the armor too but immunosuppressive drugs took it from me. The kind and merciful face worn by various forms of suppression. Suppression to be differentiated from, but obviously related to, repression.)
That this would come after your death is also well and just. Given that until I turned eighteen I was sure I would kill myself after the event. Your death being my life’s axial dread. Your death being the ultimate coming-of-age ritual of my life. “Coming-of-age” in this case meaning “never-coming-of-age.”
And so—no writing no writing never writing. No living and therefore no writing. No blood in the skin, no water in the plant. Beyond muteness, beyond silence, beyond emptiness. So deep inside the wound as to be the wound. I can write THE WOUND but I can’t write THE WOUND.
It is perhaps not the greatest idea to have your father as your greatest — and indeed, the only true — friend for most of your life. Especially if this father will certainly die in your youth. In your younger brother’s even starker youth.
Liliane Giraudon, quoting Beckett: “Language is gone. My heart is gone.”
I am not totally opposed to the therapeutic possibilities of writing (although to be honest I am quite opposed to it, or at least the trappings of tyrannical hygiene), but for this particular wound, I was very clear with myself. Refusal to write through it. To be cured by writing. This mud hole, writing will not drag me from. This wound, writing will not cauterize.
Wikipedia says that cautery is useful for stopping severe blood loss, closing amputations and preventing infections.
Reasons for rejecting cautery.
How to be a writer who says no to writing, or at least a certain kind of writing, but by virtue of that kind of writing, all writing. Knowing when writing has no time in me, knowing where writing has no place in me. Locating a silence that is not a writing too; a silence that is a silence that is a weeping wound.
The writing I want will never heal me of anything.
And yet I know that this not-writing, this silence which is not writing, does not escape from writing, I know this well, and in this at least I know myself, too. I am not one to put a thousand-year-old sword between life and writing to preserve the chastity of either, and least of all my own. (Though I have put a sword between my writing and other people, is that different?)
In any case, I know my own impossibilities. No thousand-year-old-sword, no perfumed veil—however diaphanous—between living and writing.
I think what I am saying is that my refusal to write was therefore a refusal to live.
And so the sickness has its place here, too.
Intolerable thought, thought that makes me want to lie under a bus: four years ago—to have written, then healed, then been happy. Adjusted. Healthy.
Sickness, then, a thousand times sickness; sickness, sickness, sickness unto death.
I will not write you out of me.
Wasn’t SICKNESS UNTO DEATH referenced in NEON GENESIS EVANGELION at some point? I want to think this.
Thinking about how for two or three years, after a lifetime of fighting valiantly to keep mind-blindness at bay, finally shouting with the voice of my flesh: THEN COME FOR ME MIND-BLINDNESS COME FOR ME.
Saying, I will not be in the world in any other way but this; inside this wound. Saying, This wound is a place I can live.
Like Hector’s degraded body, remade every day. Only instead of a body made fresh again; a wound made fresh again. A wound kept from scabbing, cells broken open daily, moisture let back in, fresh blood through its slashes and gaps. Not Hector; Philoctetes.
PHILOCTETES! You too are in the book I wrote, O victim of Odysseus’ martial cruelty. Sappho dreams of a discussion with you when she is on a train from Brussels to Cologne, I think.
(Looking at that On Kawara picture. Zagreb/Yugoslavia. Zagreb is the second city Sappho visits.)
Like Hélène Cixous, I have always preferred Achilles to Odysseus. Prefer is an inadequate word. Like Cixous, I love Achilles. Like Cixous, I am a secret Achilles. Like Cixous I am suspicious of the Odysseus the diplomat, Odysseus the eternal survivor, Odysseus the winner. We are suspicious of Odysseus most of all because in spite of ourselves we find certain textures of his intelligence in us.
The first word of the ILIAD is MENIN. The first word of the Odyssey is ANER. Between rage and man, I choose rage.
Which is to say, ILIAD > ODYSSEY FOREVER.
A story for a future that will never come: why I had to walk away from ancient Greek. Why I had to walk away from Classics and my life as a classicist. Even though Greek felt like breathing to me. Having to walk away. But still missing Greek like a part of my body. Among a not-so-motley collection of lovers, Greek is “the one that got away.”
“THE GODS NEVER FRONTED.”
Saying, This wound will not make me productive.
Saying, I will not make an 808S AND HEARTBREAK.
Though I find Kanye’s most recent material even more compelling than that album.
I could do without the recurring trope of the TRAGIC DEAD FEMALE, though. TRAGIC DEAD FEMALE being of course necessary for the affirmation of HEROIC MALE EGO. Hearing that Selita Ebanks as a phoenix in Kanye’s RUNAWAY film has one such TRAGIC FEMALE DEATH, I was like, ehhh.
(Edited to add: WAIT, SHE DOESN’T DIE! I HAVE BEEN MISINFORMED. Having now watched this film; now have to write something about Kanye, RUNAWAY, gurlesque, cheesiness, females and meat-eating, white servants, appropriation as revenge, Michael Jackson, Gil Scott-Heron. And who will survive in America.
Also, Nicki Minaj as epic narrator, with self-destructing English accent. Like a rebellion on a colonized island, in a voice. Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj. After her verse in “Monster,” Nicki Minaj FOREVER.)
(Yes, I’ve seen the Orientalizing “Your Love” video. Still. I might even like the video. Though, speaking of TRAGIC FEMALE DEATHS.
The end of the video was like the end of SAMURAI SAGA [ARU KENGO NO SHOGAI], with the falling sakura petals. Mifune as Cyrano de Bergerac as samurai.
SAMURAI SAGA, which we watched together.
Also known as LIFE OF AN EXPERT SWORDSMAN.)
Recurring, revenir, revenant, ghost. A revenant is a ghost, a revenant is the one that comes back.
Carrying women out of the fire. Thinking about Scarlett Johansson’s death in Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…/…Comes Around.” (This album is full of great specificities of grammar.) A song which Joshua Clover perfectly describes as being the sequel in the genre that Timberlake has invented, via Jane Dark:
JT has a certain kind of song, of which this is the best yet, that sounds like a million dollars on a crying jag, as seen through the impossibly glossy black of a plasma screen, pivoting across a pyramid of Quaaludes from self-indulgent misery to a killing spree, and you sort of can’t imagine how come every pop song doesn’t sound exactly like this, except no one else comes even close to the JT vibe, which is saying something.
“What Goes Around…/…Comes Around” has an important moment in the book I wrote. Important because of the Turkish bağlamas. Sappho as a Turkish girl in Europe.
The best part of this song (which is to say, the only part of the song that makes this song great, in my opinion) is the two-minute “Comes Around” interlude, starting around 5:19. Those bağlamas, and then the ghost of “Cry Me a River” comes back to haunt us.
A revenant is a ghost, a revenant is the one who comes back (around).
There must be something here about the epic genre and the pop music video.
(I wanted to love DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN, until the TRAGIC FEMALE DEATH of Martina Gedeck’s character, and then I couldn’t love it anymore but only like and mostly respect it.)
To be fair to Kanye, the TRAGIC DEAD FEMALE is part of a recent increase in his material of a conspicuously (even caricaturesque) heterosexual violence-cum-baroque, omnivorous, revisionist imperialism; not Napoleon in Egypt, but an Egyptian Napoleon. (“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh / aaaaaahhhh, put the pussy in a sarcophagus / now she claiming that I bruised her esophagus”). A black phoenix. (Rakim, “Guess Who’s Back”: “WHEN I DIE GO AND BURY ME AND MY NOTEBOOK IN CAIRO.”)
I realize that for some, putting Rakim and Kanye in the same paragraph is tantamount to sacrilege.
I’ve also been meaning to write about J. Cole but I keep putting it off.
(Before ‘Ye’s blog and namesake site became repositories for the G.O.O.D Friday tracks, both were updated constantly with photographs of thrones, chalices, Napoleon-era furniture, accessories, tapestries. That blog was better.)
Also, a new incarnation (re-incarnation) of Michael Jackson’s Royal Military Drag.
All this to say I don’t think affirmation of heroic male ego is the only thing in play with Kanye’s recent output; or rather, it gives us affirmation of heroic male ego taken to its most monstrous bloated emperor rendering; but always with great tenderness (the way a diseased or injured flesh is tender, is rendered). (Elvis?)
Somewhat related: “Christian Dior Denim Flow” becomes incredibly moving—well, it’s already quite moving—when one imagines an absent male beloved as that YOU.
After that exhaustive list of supermodels, this elusive YOU. The YOU of lyric poetry. The YOU of grief, failure, youthful error, obsession, violent sexual longing, unrequited or impossible love.
I GOT THE WORLD IN MY HANDS
THE MASTER PLAN
BUT I DON’T KNOW WHY
I KEEP CALLING—
WHY I KEEP—
ALL OF THESE GIRLS AT MY SHOWS
THEY LOVIN’ ME
BUT I DON’T KNOW WHY
I KEEP CALLING—
WHY I KEEP CALLING—
YOU in my mind being a young man of Ganymede-like beauty. (Or Alexis Phifer, I guess.)
Listening to more artists sampling and transforming into a concentrated substance the melancholy of 90s R&B. Is this really being called “dubstrep”? Salem’s genre is sometimes called “drag.” Seems to me that all genres should be called “drag.”
I also liked when people were calling it “haunted house.”
I like hearing Kelis’ “Caught Out There” and Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” in “CYMK.”
People seem to be especially haunted by Aaliyah. We miss you, Aaliyah.
James Blake, “CYMK”:
James Blake, “I Only Know (What I Know Now)”:
It seems like lately everyone is mourning or revisiting past mourning or talking about dead loved ones. Roland Barthes’ MOURNING DIARY. Anne Carson’s NOX. Kid Cudi and his father. (I can’t wait for THE LEGEND OF MR. RAGER. I listened to the songs from his previous album as I was finishing POSTCARD and just before performing the second burial of my father, in London. Mostly “Dat New New” and “Down and Out.” Kid Cudi, a dead father, night terrors, fantasized death, hysteria, paranoia. Yes.)
Mourning dead parents on literary blogs. October, death month for everyone. In my reading I stumble across a Bill Berkson poem called “October” that begins: “It’s odd to have a separate month. It / escapes the year, it is not only cold, it is warm / and loving like a death grip on a willing knee.”
Halloween was always my favorite holiday, and now even more so because the dead person I love has a macabre sense of humor. Adored daughter, bury my body on All Hallows’ Eve.
A destiny: to be surrounded every year, with this perfection beyond irony, beyond comedy. Gravestones, ghosts, ghouls, corpses, witches capable of bringing back the dead. How to hallow.
“WHEN WILL THE FANTASY END / WHEN WILL THE HEAVEN BEGIN.”
“YO MY RHYMES AND LYRICS, FIND SPIRITS LIKE A SÉANCE.”
Late in the time of the wound, when I was just realizing I had to climb out of it or really die, I listened to two songs and wept so hard I thought the weeping would be the cause of death.
The songs were Biggie’s “Juicy,” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
Hearing these songs and thinking, Probably have to live in this world.
Then writing then writing yes writing.
I walked into this book with you alive and walked out of it with you dead.
Ways of saying: THIS IS NOT A HEALING NARRATIVE.
POSTSCRIPT: My mother is not confident in my ability to survive within my physical body. Not only because she has been the greatest and most fearful witness to this body’s ailments and failures, but because she has also been witness to my own native genius for despair, which showed itself early on, not with any kind of theatricality, but with mute animal withdrawal and surrender. Animal mourning, an animal’s way of preparing for death.
I was fed on canned baby formula until I was five years old because I refused to eat any form of solid food, and was indulged, for though my body may have been weak, my will was strong. My mother tried to wean me off this formula by hiding it from me, thinking: The child will be hungry, she will have to eat something, and then eventually she will seek out food.
I did not seek out food. I gently and solemnly retreated into what I understood to be my imminent death or vanishing into glitter. Half-starved and dessicated I was rushed to a hospital. I was wearing a dress of great luxury, burgundy and gold brocade with an empire waist. (In a recent blog post, Bhanu Kapil writes, “I felt glamorous and lonely, as I have most of my life.” This is one of the truest things I have ever read. I almost never need to recognize myself in reading, but this was one of the times.)
And thus my veins were nourished in spite of me. Later I tasted chocolate milk for the first time. My father bought me a picture book with thick pages. I did not die.
I was five years old but I don’t know if it happened on October 23, 1989.
(I also tasted pizza for the first time when I was mildly kidnapped, maybe a year later.)
When an animal is sick, it fasts, I read somewhere. Fasting was one of the things I tried, to heal myself. Fasting was good only during the time of fasting. But the time of fasting is a lot like the queer time of Halberstam recently discussed on Montevidayo. The time of fasting. The time of sickness and the time of health.
I fasted for 23 days, then a few months later I fasted for 30 days, then a few months later 55 days. I’ll write about that later. The human body can do a lot of things. Living, well.
Sun bathing is also important but the sun was often brutal to me. I tried, and am going to try again, infrared rays.
Ways of saying: I have not lived in the time of health in four years.
And even before then, that time of health was produced artificially, procured steroidally. So I think I have never lived in the time of health.
Looking for it. Looking for it. Still looking for it.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: I would like to mention that my mother is a baller. A BALLER. You know this. You were my greatest friend, ally and fellow melancholy knight, but Mom has destroyed me for all other women.
One of my greatest preoccupations in life is a complex revenge plot meant to publicly humiliate a single family, in particular a woman and her evil crone of a mother, who were snobbish, cruel and abusive to my mother during my childhood. Perhaps some of their friends will be included in my wrath, too, I haven’t decided. My mother has requested I let go of this grudge. I find I cannot.
Ways of saying: I have enough hubris to think I am protecting her in your absence, though of course she is the one who has been protecting us.