Follow Harriet on Twitter
The Shape of the I: Decompressions
“Analyze compulsory admissions.”—a label/decompression. Vanessa Place stuck it to the lapel of her jacket.
I cut off a lock of my hair and placed it on a postcard of Lord Chatterton, then took a photograph before giving it (minus the hair) to Vanessa Place. This happened in a break between panels at a conference on the self.
The Shape of the I, a national conference on subjectivity, took place this last weekend in Colorado. It was curated by Julie Carr and Jean-Michael Rivera—tender, lit up, quiet and intense curators.
Decompressions from Day 1:
“To exist is to be measured.” Tim Morton
“The void is more real than plants. Or wood. But we can’t do that. We can’t reduce the table upwards, or downwards, for that matter.” Tim Morton
“I’m advocating ecology without the present.” Tim Morton
“Any attempt to draw a circle around a person and say this is natural, this is not natural…is not possible.” Tim Morton [wanted to ask a question here about the politics of naturalization]
“I mean, I think we really have to talk about Levinas. This conversation is about the uncanny, but it’s also about intimacy. When it rains, for example, is that because global warming made it rain? There’s no background. So there’s no foreground anymore. It’s creepy and vivid. We’re inside a thing.” Tim Morton
“I want to respond with perversity to what Tim is saying.” Margaret Ronda
“I want to talk a little more about the ‘withdrawn core’.” Margaret Ronda
“The theory of the commodity is motivated by the work of the negative.” Margaret Ronda
“Diaspora, like plutonium, disperses over a great area and keeps dispersing.” Margaret Ronda, gesturing to Tim Morton
“What would be truly exciting would be a standstill, the same newspaper arriving every day.” Patrick Greaney
“Rephotography.” Patrick Greaney [Here, I got distracted (by actual listening) and stopped taking notes]
“Non-photography.” Vanessa Place
“A permutation is a repetitive, non-redundant creation. This is non-photography.” Vanessa Place [May have got this wrong]
“The initial error of philosophy, according to Lacan….” Vanessa Place [Here, my notes continue to deteriorate]
“We have it coming and going. From behind.” Vanessa Place
“An I for an I? Am I my browser?” Vanessa Place [Statements following this included the words “monster” and “orifice”]
“So, aesthetic labor is a hyper object?” Petra Kuppers [In Q/A]
“The reception of conceptual work is untethered from the site of its emergence.” Vanessa Place [In Q/A]
“Can you say more about the way each of you are moving to another scale in order to talk about the self? The “next-to-nothing”?” Kent Puckett [In Q/A]
“A severed head…a silver head.” Jennifer Pap [on Appolinaire/citizenship/colonial warfare]
“Each of these positions connects through…the ‘copulative encounter’.” Cheryl Higashida [who responded to my essay in the journal accompanying the conference: The Shape of the I: Volume 1] [Incredible experience to hear someone describe and contextualize what you are doing as a writer. Profoundly proprioceptive. Suddenly, listening to Cheryl, I understood the mode of monstrous self-hood in my work, and also why it might be useful — meaningful — to be writing about a riot on the cusp of Thatcherism in: this country/time. This altering experience continued with a brilliant talk/interoceptive response to “Ban” by Francsico Aragon, in which re-memory — the capacity of the traumatic narrative to be written — also: happened. Through recollections of the assassination of Harvey Milk — of Dan White, Mesconi (sp?) The trigger of the date: April, 1979]
“The I as vector.” Cheryl Hagashida (on Ban)
“The vectors never arrive. Fiction as a mode of multi-directionality and non-arrival.” Cheryl Hagashida
“Ban as Caliban, the returning slave in the metropole.” Cheryl Hagashida
“The moment of articulation as the moment of agency.” Cheryl Hagashida
“Future yellow. Future black. A trans-national, trans-racial text.” Cheryl Hagashida
“Storytelling, laced with disclosure.” Francisco Aragon [Again, here, listening. Very moved by Aragon’s “deformation of the bildungsroman” — his own — work with the questions of a schizophrenic narrative, trauma and syntax: syntax here: as happening in the body: the register of trauma as esophageal — a redacted throat movement (the refusal to speak) during the transitions of the piece, read aloud]
Very, very moved by the whole thing.
Meanwhile, having been quite unprepared and suddenly unable to face reading aloud the journal essay, “Writing [not writing] the Diasporic Self: Notes on a Novel of the Riot,” I was VERY HAPPY to discover the page I had extracted from a Gail Scott interview with Kate Eichorn in Prismatic Publics. I wanted to read it on the aeroplane and my luggage was way over, so I tore out the page and stuffed it in my bra, like a tango rose. Or hemlock.
I am a British hooligan.
So, I had that page and an unpublished interview with Rowland Saifi, in which I answer questions about authorship, nationality and Ban. Therefore, abruptly, I read excerpts from that instead: towards Gail Scott’s remark that is difficult to work on a “disintegrating subject” and “cope with questions of national identity” at the same time. I read the parts about female suicide and sovereignty, possibly due to earlier dazzle-beak about Agamben with Isaac Linder, a former student who now studies in Saas Fe with the man himself.
Who knew? You don’t pronounce “Homo Sacer” Homo Sassair. Rather: Homo Sacker.
Isaac and Vanessa educated me on that point. Conferences are so libidinous, so frightening, suddenly.
“The immense internal force inside the contact.” Kent Puckett
“How the lens tilts ten degrees and suddenly it’s like the whole world has fallen apart.” Kent Puckett (on camera work in David Lean’s Brief Encounter)
“Where is the camera in relation to all these reflective surfaces? It’s actually really hard to take that tilted shot and not have the camera, the act of taking the shot, appear in the frame.” Kent Puckett [this helped me so much, instantly, with Ban: how the tiny mirrors are set behind her in the ivy when she is lying, a neomort, upon the street: installed, twitching. Also, in London, in March, when I made my first attempts at a photography of the meat/street/ivy of Ban—it was a big problem: to look vertically down at the scene, obviating a first person narration (negating it) — but at the same time (through my own appearance in the mirror, taking the picture on my cell phone): doing something too dominant from a third-person ‘stance’.”]
“The deep connection between the face and the argument of film: the tilt of the camera to the face.” Kent Puckett [such a brilliant person!!!!! Felt like idiot compared to him on panel, but still felt so profoundly helped as a novelist]
Meanwhile, more brilliance: “The mirror is the thing we make faces in.” Vanessa Place.
Brian Teare asked a question about Winnicot, Kent Puckett’s statements about the “good-enough” mother in the film. I said something about the neutrality of the parent—the capacity to be indifferent, on some level to your child’s fate: as transposed to the relation to the character’s fate.
I thought of Lynda Barry’s visit to Goddard, and her talk on “deep play.” And, from Vanessa’s remark on mirrors and faces, had the new idea—which I had once had, but forgot—to make Ban herself turn to the mirrors behind her and “make faces.”
One thing I want to work on, an early goal for Ban: was [is]: the ways in which: tragedy and comedy: conjoin. That feels like my life. Uncle Roshan picking up the banana when the phone rang, on his first visit to the UK from India. [He has extreme cataracts, taught me how to read palms in a non-linear way, is beloved to me, was the personal astrologer to Indira Gandhi (she had several) and also Moharaji Desai, the President of India (who drank a cup of his own urine every morning)]. But also: well—the street’s floor that I am writing about. The experience of physical, cellular and sexual assault: from the ground up. What it is to be: but not as a narrative of that being.
Something else. Something else the novel wants to be. I am changing. Though it embarrassed me, in some ways, to be in such lucid and remarkable company—I felt so remedial in my remarks on Ban—I…have woken up feeling as if something is very clear.
I long for the space and time to write Ban. Of course, if I tilted things a little bit, there is so much space. So much time. I am fed up with complaining that there is no space or time when there are such massive bits of it everywhere, really. Also, my mother woke up at 4 to cook the evening meal, wash our clothes (by hand), commute to Mile End, teach in super-rough schools (as a supply teacher) then come home at 5. To cook. To wash. To put us to bed. What do I do? All I do is take Thelonious to the cafe for a bagel. And read the poems of Shelley aloud. As did my mother. She sang or read poems to me every night. I sang and sang, all my way through my complicated childhood—a poetry, I sometimes think, that provided me with the resilience I have today. The sense that I could write at all.
Right. Back to the conference.
“I am dead.” Vanessa Place
“To say ‘I am dead’ is a scandal. It is a scandal because it reveals the impossibility of the structure.” Vanessa Place
“We’ve moved beyond the death of the subject.” Tim Morton [I thought of Ban and felt weird that this, in fact, was where I was, as a writer. Still there. Watching the “subject” — die.]
Roberto Tejada asked a question about “loose character.” I said: “Instead of loose, I prefer to say weak.”
Kent Puckett said many brilliant things.
Then I drove home, straight to another reading. Finally, once the day had ended, I lit candles and took them out to the writing hut in the garden with a small glass of brandy, hot water, lemon and honey. And an old copy of Conjunctions: a Carole Maso piece I suddenly wanted to read.
Then I heard singing.
I ran out of my house. In the darkness, a procession of people—flowing groups—were walking by, holding candles and singing: atonal/orthodox melodies. At the front of the procession was a palanquin of flowers being carried on horizontal stilts. The air was thick with lilac and apple blossom as I watched them pass.