Among all the sounds in the earth’s many-colored dream
A soft note calls to the secret listener.
- August Wilhelm von Schlegel
“Some people want to run things, other things want to run. If they ask you, tell them we were flying. Knowledge of freedom is (in) the invention of escape, stealing away in the confines, in the form, of a break. This is held close in the open song of the ones who are supposed to be silent.”
- Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons, “Blackness & Governance”
“It ain’t necessarily so that it ain’t necessarily so.”
- Sun Ra
“She believed in angels, and, because she believed, they existed.’
- Clarice Lispector
On October 11, 2014 I presented “Reckoning in the feedback loop: some notes on the poetics of transcendence/transfiguration” as part of the panel “Echo Locution : Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics” for the Naropa University [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference, alongside David James Miller and James Belflower. In my portion of the panel I I introduced my exploration of the (un)likely resonances in the works/utterances of African American musician/thinker/writer Sun Ra and the Ukranian Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.
In thinking about sound, a feedback loop is a sonic structure in which a produced sound, or output, is returned to its input, thus becoming an output of changes and modulations, building up continuously on what came beforehand. What if we were to think about the feedback loop as a performative and philosophical gesture in Ra and Lispector’s work – as a performance of reckoning, which is to say, the performance of always coming back to one’s being-in-the-world, the constant return to and revision of a phrase, enacting a kind of politics of transfiguration, always looking outward from the limits of one’s body? Reckoning as the process of calculation, reckoning as judgment, reckoning as dealing – reckoning as that which occurs in the apocalyptic, or in the disclosure of knowledge….
This is something that I continue to think through in my critical and poetic work. In a way this writing itself is my own reckoning of what an artist’s project might be capable of doing in the world: who are our secret listeners and how we act as both as noisemakers and listeners at once, as a way of finding the otherwise to the structures of the world that enclose us? I claimed that I approach this project as skeptic and believer, and from the audience came the request to elaborate (from Jill Magi) – what does that mean? I am still negotiating my trust in the word as resistance to the world. I dwell in both. As I prelude to this presentation of notes I invoked recent writing from Ashon Crawley: “It has always seemed difficult to imagine joy. And even the present is tense. To choose joy in the midst of pain, brutality, horror can feel impossible. If not impossible, perhaps simply delusional. To make the choice, to have a preferential option for the joyful and joyous occasion, against the violence of any moment, indeed is a radical act of resistance.”
Other resonances that emerged in this work included Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Sara Ahmed, Jacques Attali, Akilah Oliver, Paul Gilroy, and August Wilhelm von Schlegel as invoked by Robert and Clara Schumann. I am grateful for the many amazing listeners and interlocutors present in that room and throughout the [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference at Naropa, whose responses have given me the much-needed inspiration and motivation to continue working in my own loop. A very special thanks to David James Miller (panel organizer) and James Belflower for their work and alongside presence in this panel with their own expansive thinkings on sound, poetics and listening, and to E. Tracy Grinnell for soliciting my presence in this.
I am revising this presentation and hope to be able to share it in a chapbook format sometime in 2015. In the meantime, I offer two resources for this project: a loosely annotated bibliography (with commenting enabled) that offers more information and extended quotations from my sources, and a video playlist of some excerpts referred to in the presentation, as well as a few other videos that might be of interest.
Outerspace heaven music for the post-apocalypse.
Thinking about some of the conversations that I’ve seen floating around on the Ferguson supporters at the St. Louis Symphony – and there are two loose thoughts in particular burning in my mind right now:
1) Objectivity really just makes no sense when discussing protests or political action. To be able to be objective about something like this is a big-time privilege. On this note, also: the idea that a protest has “no place” in a particular space is precisely the point of that kind of political expression.
2) Consider the comparison of inconvenience/discomfort caused by such action vs. the fact that there are people whose belonging within this society – in spite of being part of this society as far as paper goes (and only recently, in the grand scheme of history) – is being dangerously contested //every//single//damn//day.
Having lived a life where being an orchestra musician was once something I aspired to, I don’t know that I will ever forget seeing that, and being so grateful that it happened in a space of cultural privilege that has always troubled me – and I don’t know that I will ever forget the face of the white woman who showed such clear disdain for the disruption in her life that was only a disruption, not an end, nothing more.
Reading Alice Notley’s Place in the Pines this morning.
Lately: this desire to reside in the melismatic tone of this place called the world, somwehere in the malapropism of the particularities of this being alive. To misread everything as a resistance to being misread: again and again until then comes that happiness. If the everyday is an apocalypse unto itself then what is the revelation that we look for, the big event, if there is such a thing. I think of it everyday: the relief that will come when no longer will we be bodies, having to speak coherently, meeting expectations of what our bodies are. As I was leaving the house yesterday one of the neighbors, a man who is in fact a boy in the body of a man, eagerly waved to me hello as he does to all the people on the block in the morning and then said to me that I looked beautiful today, like a princess, and though I was afraid at first I remembered that he was a boy in that body, and that I had jumped to believe in the harm of the statement. I winced first and then I said thank you, thank you, and smiled, and waved goodbye. What more could I know. On the way to the station I thought about how it is that we live like this, always afraid of what will happen to us because of our bodies. My fear of being pushed into subway tracks that comes to mind everyday, because I might appear vulnerable, how this is likely a fear of many in this city. What a relief it will be. What a relief it will be, to no longer live by the insistence of speaking coherently, articulately, about who you are, how the gone live by the grace of not being alive and not speaking but by appearing to us, in our dreams, in the everyday. Not to say that I am wishing for death, but what it might be to be of another world: to live it as the physical, tangible world keeps moving. How Clarice Lispector, in The Hour of the Star, writes: “All the world began with a yes,” as an invocation, as a beginning after an exhaustion, after a dedication, first, to Robert Schumann and Clara, his secret listener. If what I am desiring is that way of being both that secret listener and to make that secret, known for those who will hear it, both at once. If when the man who is the boy says hello in the morning and acknowledging the strange way I enter the world as beautiful when I do not think of myself as beautiful by the then he is saying, may you be as you wish to be, she who sees over her own existence, do not fear. I overread this, maybe. Revelation, as the romantics remind us, is in the everyday: the strange protagonist who should not be happy as she is, but she is. How to be a strand among all the other strands, maybe, unto itself, always coming back to itself, not really knowing how to describe anything about itself. Elliptical as I am, I don’t know how to get out of it but I do not know that I want to.
José Mejía Vides | 1903-1993 | Salvadoran
India de Panchimalco | 1935 | Oil
I think it’s important to provide a little context about this piece and the other portraits and paintings that José Mejía Vides did. This portrait for example was produced by Vides a few years after the horrible Massacre of 1932 in El Salvador that targeted indigenous/campesino people. It is an act of resistance at a time in Salvadoran history where the government was enacting a genocide against indigenous people in the country under president Maximiliano Hernández Martínez. Vides fought against the erasure that was systematically happening during the Martínez regime through his art works. They function as historical documents of campo/indigenous life during that time.-Óscar Diaz
"Why do some forms of violence strengthen the psyche rather than disrupting it? Radical modernity requires something of me. It requires me to write aesthetically about violence. To write the larger scene. Every day I try to write the race drop for Ban, the moment that her knees hit the ground, but at night I simply dream this. I dream of exiting a London Underground stop at the interface a car would make with the M25. The commuters are processing around—what else?—a roundabout, their hands on imaginary steering wheels in V position, their wing-backed loafers shuffling on the Tarmac, the black road. They are playing a game. Evening editions of regional newspapers tucked sharply under their arms. The dream requires something of me. It requires me to acknowledge that my textual creature (Ban) is overwritten by a psychic history that is lucid, astringent, witty. No longer purely mine." Bhanu Kapil, from Treinte Ban.