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Performance and Narrative: Craft Notes

By Bhanu Kapil

Last night, in the Dikeou Gallery in Denver, as part of the launch for TITMOUSE magazine, I gave, towards the end of the evening —  a performance, that built in me:

:as I sat in my chair. Built. Until it became impossible to consider reading from the Belladonna chapbook of a book, a “poem-essay” (not yet written): BAN.  Instead, I did this.  I presented a scene from a novel that does not exist, in novel-form: though the scene does.

I performed a scene from a novel in order to write a novel.  How does a poet write a novel?

Nude Page for Ban:

1. To strip down, partially, because nudity, to be effective, to be frightening, should be that.  I read it like this — the description.  Of the person who was exposed: to light.  In the night-time scene.

2. To ask three women of color, who identify as non-white in some way, to stand to my left.  One is my mother, one is my sister, one is my child who was not born.

3.  To ask eleven men who are white, or who identify as white, to stand to my right.

4.  There is what I understand later to be a ceremony, or at the very least, preparation.  To prepare for what’s coming, and it comes.  The red Kashmiri powder mixed with champagne in the cup.  Or water.  Or champagne.  The alcohol has a place in the story.  The water is always there, pouring over the rooves and into the streets at night as rain.  The women apply the paste to my torso, throat and face.  I stop them when I am dark enough.  Darker than I was.  Visibly so.

5.  An invitation.  To take, in turns, the chance to hit.  Or kick.  Or hit. Or hurt.   The white men took it in turns to hit me, then re-formed the loop.  I ended the loop by saying, now the performance is over.  I did not feel attenuated or vivid during the series of impacts; I felt something else.

6.  Afterwards.

7.  Afterwards, the men spoke to me, some of the men spoke to me, about mixed race sensation deep in the body, and what it felt like to line up, to identify as white, and what it felt like to hit a woman with a symbolic weakness or low tone.  With the women of color, something else unfolded.  They wept.  And in the night, an e-mail from Danielle Vogel about color and failure. The sensation, again, in the body around race.  With the women, I talked about writing directly.  With the men, the work was to talk about touch.

8.  I want to write another symbolic scene and I want to stand on the edge of the carpet.  The carpet is a concrete floor.  It is a street.  It is a year.  It is 1978 or 1979; a brown-skinned girl, walking home from school like Brueghel’s Icarus, gets caught in the beginning moments of what will become a year-long surge of racist violence, culminating in the Southall Race Riot of 1979, in April, in which the anti-racist campaigner, Blair Peach, died.

9.  Today, I finished Kurdo Baksi’s “Memoir of Friendship” — an account of Steig Larsson’s anti-racism work in Europe in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and on.  I wept by the daffodills to complete it, this small book from the Loveland Public Library. At the limit of three renewals, I had to return it today.  I wept and wept, discharging the emotion from the night before.  I pinned the postcard of Leanora Carrington, sent by Kate Zambreno, to the tree.

10.  Some of the red is from the powder, which is Hinduism.  But I wanted to record the bruise beneath my left clavicle, and also a scratch.  I can’t see the scratch in this photograph.  Next time, I would push that loop until it burst of its own accord.  The moment of terror, someone in the audience said, was when the men lined up again.  I made a factory line.  I did not give them an instruction but, having struck my body, to varying degrees, they took their places again.  Like cognition.

13.  Laura Mullen sent a photograph from the Guggenheim’s HAUNTED show.  I immediately saw, a fact that was confirmed by my mother, that she had sent the Southall Water Tower; or a structure resembling it so precisely, that I pinned it to the tree.  Our (rather special) mailman said: “No Bach today?  I think Satie would be a better choice for a tree….”

15. Which comes first: gender or ethnicity: as a factor in the violence committed against an immigrant woman or girl?  (“Gender.”)  This is Steig Larsson’s question. Not mine.  

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Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, April 10th, 2011 by Bhanu Kapil.