in silence

knife’s edge — rachel chew

the taste of garlic sleeping on my favourite knife
scrubbed with soap
rubbed off
on persimmons, unexpected flavour, from the nights
and nights and nights and
nights before.

gloss — rachel chew

historical memory is a fiction.

in ‘the art of forgetting’, daniel sack says the work moves the art of forgetting into a public sphere. unarticulated, but the act of retrieval, and not memory as it emerges fully formed, is also moved into the public sphere.

once upon a time paul ricoeur teaches us that ‘remembering is a moral duty’. decades on, david rieff asks, “what if, over the long term, forgetfulness is inevitable, while even in the comparatively short term the memory of an instance of radical evil, up to and including the shoah itself, does nothing to protect society from future instances of it?”

sack’s performance is about an act of recovery that is effortful, speaking against an effortless performance and re-performance, membering/re-membering. historical memory is a fiction because it is not an act of recovery. instead, an act of creation, at least as far as we take our location of study to be the individual. it is so often entirely cerebral. i find myself unable to imagine further.

there is not much space in this person. sometimes i imagine i know it all. intimately.

but then it is a saturday afternoon and i am reading about iran. in this book, a reference to an old persian folktale: “the story of sohrab, a story of the brief life and tragic death of a young hero, sohrab, who dies in his father rostam’s arms”. suddenly, they must be old friends. this cannot be the first time i have heard their story – i am certain, if confused.

the story doesn’t come back to me. that takes wikipedia, google, etc. but soon, the sensation of being sprawled out on my bed, a book two times the size of my face before me. the image of sohrab on the battlefield, bleeding out in his father’s arms. the gem confirming his identity.

porridge is cooking outside in the kitchen and i know mommy will call me for lunch soon.

 

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some days doing the things you feel so strongly about feels so daunting it’s paralyzing. writing and feeling like i am getting somewhere with it but feeling like it is all too far away and that i will not succeed in this task i have set out for myself. how do we write about and represent ourselves in these spaces, in this city? dare i say ‘in our city’? in what ways can we lay claim to it? who believes it belongs to us?

it’s startling how time passes, how it’s been 5 years since i first created this space. all the parts of me that have passed through it since.

i wake up at 10.20 am. there is a moment of shock (it’s 2 hours after when i had planned to get up!) and then a moment of joy when i realize i am entirely okay with it. the sun is bright through my windows in a way i haven’t had the opportunity to appreciate in awhile. my mind feels clear and rested in a way that it hasn’t in awhile. i think, ‘i have slept so soundly’, i think i can smell the remnants of the stress-relief oil that k gave me in a bag of other tiny other insomnia relieving items. i thank it, i am thankful.

and so the day begins. before i go to bed i tell myself that i’m going to cut myself some slack this week and just not finish the reading for anthro class so that i can do my assignment for my other class. but now it is 11 am and i feel like i must. and so i spend the next two hours reading. and i am glad i do. i am glad i am here, again.

all these mundanities. i’m, already, imagining dinners with various friends as the week passes by. i think about my project and it’s a little worrying perhaps, how little i have done. but i know i’ve put such time and effort into it and must simply trust that it will be alright in the end. i make myself a burrito with rice and spinach and vegetable balls and mushrooms and onions and tofu and cheese and i eat it happily. i look across to my bookshelf and find joy in how reflective each little array is of me. that i can walk over and pull things out from my little personal library that i will use and use again. it is these moments that feel like growing up to me, i think.

water water water

olivia laing: the vestigial sensitivity to the flow of water, perhaps muted by car horns and the repetitive trilling of mobile phones.

yesterday, i was biking to yoga at breathing room when i cross paths with a car. we are at an intersection. i’d forgotten my helmet in my rush to leave the house and so was taking extra care – “rachel, this would be such a futile way to die, please do better”. the streetlights are brighter than you’d expect. i feel safe under them, a sense that my body, even in its thick black coat, is illuminated, must be illuminated. the red of the traffic lights perpendicular to my direction make me pedal ahead. but suddenly, a car. i stop, it stops, i figure it’s letting me go first (me, five foot three body on thin bicycle frame), and i kick off and leave. and that is it.

i am a few meters away from where i started when i think about how strange it is that i didn’t do anything to acknowledge or gesture to the (assumed) person in the car who let me pass. and maybe it was weariness. leaving my house for yoga my mind was still rooted in frustrations from earlier in the day. maybe it was the cold – conservation of energy, minimal movement, you know?? but really it also felt like the car was such an alienating object that i’d forgotten there would be a person in it. the darkness of the night and of the interior of the car, there was no image of a person, only its assumed presence. without that image, the car simply seemed like that – a hunk of metal letting me pass, a hunk of metal that i didn’t feel the need to respond to.

olivia laing writes about a vestigial sensitivity to the flow of water. i think about this as i am walking through a wealthy neighbourhood in new orleans, tracking swimming pools. growing hyper-sensitive of my body in space, hyper-sensitive of the sounds around me. a mother passes with her son and i back away from the gate that i am pointing my camera through. sometimes, someone passes and i make it a point to stay still. to perform fearlessness. and that is a possibility for me (me, five foot three asian female body in a grey dress, tiny kanken bagpack, old pentax film camera). walking past houses that stand in all presentation of openness – unguarded front yards; “this land is for sharing! safe neighbourhoods!”. the whispering of pools in backyards somewhere further behind. I pause and peer, sometimes seeing them only through the focusing eye of my camera, more precise than i could ever really be.

 

these are the moments where i think – where can i take this anger? or this sense of injustice? where is it coming from, where can it go? what does it mean to be angry and frustrated at my anthropology professor? should i go in to try and have a longer conversation with her that gets at the way that – i don’t know, that i do really respect the work that she has done and how all the work in this discipline builds on each other. i guess this gets me thinking about work in archives class. i’m not sure how. but i just wish i could go in and have a conversation where we talk about how there was a dynamic in class and it was really public and all of that and i’m just hoping we can have another, slower, softer conversation about the things that were going on in that exchange. like so much of this is somehow a thing about generations and like surely there must be a conversation that can happen here. that, if i can’t have a conversation with my professor who clearly sees herself as liberal, as an intersectional feminist, as progressive, about these topics then how will we ever have these conversations with anyone else anywhere else? but how does one do this as a twenty-one year undergraduate without coming across like i have some point i want to prove, without it feeling like it’s coming from a place of arrogance? what if it all goes terribly wrong? do i do it anyway because there is that fear and there are things we must do anyway in the face of fear, with the sense that it is a thing that we should do? how much self-importance lies in the notion that it is a thing i should do?

when i was eleven i was at a girls scouts camp. we were given the chance to abseil and i felt too scared to do it. so i waited, at the top of the tower while girl after girl passed in front of me and went. leaned back, sat down and walked their feet down the tower just as they were told they should. finally, i felt ready. finally, i was two students away from the edge and i felt like i could do it. the instructor begins to pack up his things and says, “sorry we’re out of time. the rest of you will just have to go back down by the stairs.” the deflation of the moment is what i remember whenever there’s something i feel too scared to do but would otherwise want to do. “do it rachel, just do it, don’t let it pass you by like abseiling did in 2008.”

there are things that don’t follow this same logic i guess. our bodies. are our bodies spaces we choose to share even when we are scared? even when we don’t feel ready just yet? i mean somewhere this metaphor is clearly incomplete. somewhere, there is an incongruency that makes this metaphor imperfect. but maybe this clarifies the metaphor. maybe this is a reminder that the thing i took out of it was the unreadiness and the unreadiness was just right for the moment and was what i needed to be ready in every similar instance proceeding from that. perhaps in every instance where i have thought back on that 11-year-old abseiling experience, and then done something, i simply had been ready, in a way that i hadn’t in every moment leading up to the abseiling moment. and the recalling was what i needed.

but really i don’t know what i am getting at with all of this. other than that this week has felt full of little absurdities. using a styrofoam box when we know we could easily have used a reusable container. the ydn charging ridiculous prices to provide feedback on students’ college admission essays. my professor and her defensiveness. my professor using the term “illegal immigrants” in class. my mental dismissal of a woman who asks me for money saying she’s pregnant, thinking “you’ve been pregnant since i was a first-year”.

 

 

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
– Lilla Watson

this world feels really absurd sometimes. in big ways and little ways. white power and stones. students benefiting from an institution capitalizing on their place in that institution to prey on the anxieties of people. styrofoam. idk. how have we desensitized ourselves so that we allow these things to keep happening again and again?? how do we live in a world where these things keep happening? how can any of these things feel okay to us?? thinking about conversations in coffee shops where we ask ourselves how things in history happen and then realize that history is happening right now and it is so easy to close our eyes to it, to take a trip to montreal, to run away, to not resist. it feels dramatic to say these things maybe, and i feel a little self-conscious about it. maybe in ten years i’ll look back on this and laugh at myself a little. or maybe i’ll feel comforted by a sense of the person i was. who knows really, and who knows if that person in ten years will really be a good judge of this person now.

how to do ethnography?? reckoning with the ways in which people talk about seeing brokenness in other people and other communities and the way that talk and that tone makes me want to retch. needing someone to talk to about this but not knowing who to go to. wishing my professor was on campus but knowing that she’s on sabbatical and feeling the need to respect that so she can do the work that she needs to. feeling like i will probably cave at some point and talk to her anyway because there’s no one i want to talk to more about this. maybe i should go talk to the few other anthropology majors in my year idk.

looking forward to winter. not sure what i’m signing up for but hoping this thing works out. solidarity in dance?? and in movement?? looking at the work of wen hui and feeling excited that for once this is a chinese choreographer, feeling like there’s a whole body of knowledge out there that is unaccessed and waiting for me to dip into. excited by the way there are all of these convergences between my classes and the way each of my classes feel so personal. sitting in the anthropology building writing this. the luxury of being able to sit in this tiny classroom alone; tiny classroom filled with light and pretty windows. sent my film in earlier today, excited to get it back, excited to start work on the graphic novel. this world!! is wild!!

nervousness and performance and the creation of fictions

often, i can feel the way i am such an anxious person. the way the sensation builds up in my gut as i do/ think about things. i don’t even fully understand it because i feel it happening even now, even in this moment when i’m excited about the convergences that are occurring in the work that i’m doing without my planning for them. in the convergence between reading and thinking about anna deavere smith and being able to go back and think about the work of sarah jones that was previously brought up to me. work that i didn’t draw fully from then but am now getting the opportunity to revisit. the ways that that has led me to venus and returning to the essay venus in two acts by saidiya hartman that felt so resonant with the things that i’ve been thinking about.

thinking now: what does fiction (or the admission of fiction) do in how it makes the author/ creator vulnerable as well? again, i don’t think i really thought about or addressed the distinctions between sarah jones’ and anna deavere smith’s work before and am grateful for the chance to reacquaint myself with both now. but one distinct difference i felt when watching both pieces was a vulnerability that was present with the work that sarah jones presents to us and the work that anna deavere smith presents to us. smith’s contextualization of the work as text and intonation that she learns, verbatim, from people she interviews, turns the performer into a conduit, a messenger, who is in many ways absolved of much the political implication/ baggage of her work. she is, then, not held responsible for the things that she’s saying. this is unlike the work of sarah jones where, despite stating that her work draws from people and characters in her life, never claims to be recreations of exact things these people she is inspired by have said. this means that jones continues to hold responsibility for the things that she presents on stage. the theme of the ted talk at which she is presenting is “invention”. her work is primarily about inventing/ reinventing the self and revealing the mutability of selves, the possibilities for these different presentations to exist within a single body. smith’s work certainly gets the audience to reckon with the question of how easy or how possible it is for her, as a black woman, to play these different characters, therefore tangentially casting doubt on the distinct boundaries we draw between identities. however, the assertion that she is drawing directly from  ‘real life’ means that the focus of her work, or at least the focus of my experience watching it, was on processing what is being said through this, with her body as a vessel for communication. it’s less about the act of invention or the consideration of that as meta-commentary, and more about explicit considerations of the particular social issue approached through the method.

i think there is value in both approaches (read: reproducing narratives verbatim and the space that gives them on stage and the space that gives us to think about ‘real’ positions that people hold) but i think one thing that looking at jones’ work against smith’s work gives us is the question of whether a performer should need to share in that vulnerability in order to place others’ narratives up there on a stage in a vulnerable position. further, what does our answer to that question do for our understanding of how we might approach such performance work? what does it say about the attitude we take towards addressing difference in communities?

in some ways, lemon’s work seems more similar to jones’ work in content and theme, even if, superficially, jones’ and smith’s work seem far more similar due to the coherency in the two mediums. like jones’ work, lemon’s work seems invested in the personal body, with a greater personal vulnerability of the performer on stage/ the artist who creates the work. shifting between the styles of dancing, our attention is once again called to the ways in which a body learns to move is so contingent on the time and space in which it grows up, as opposed to an essential trait. markers of identity, that we read so easily through styles of dance, (that lemon also articulates in his essay when he talks about tensions between him and post-ailey companies for instance), are presented as learnt items, and items that can be thus shared and relearnt between bodies.

however, lemon’s work also raises further questions about the mediums we undertake in order to engage in such discourse. how different is it watching a dance performance which is less immediately/ explicitly legible to the typical audience than a theatrical performance centred on language and text appears to be (at least superficially)? how does the difference in legibility affect the way these works are received by their audiences. how do we choose our tools of communication? i think about the beauty of maintaining ambiguity in one’s works, in the inability to parse for sure, or at least easily, what the author means. because that forces the audience to contend with what their own perspectives are in that uncertain space. i don’t write this to say, however, that this ambiguity lies solely with non-verbal/textual modes of communication – i did, for instance, get a strong sense of this in the final essay of the lemon group of readings. where i think the two pieces (jones and lemon), or indeed even all three, might be remiss is how they do not fully engage with the effort it takes to move between identities (or representations of identity) in the way that each of them appear to do so effortlessly.

when one looks up the work of anna deavere smith alongside the work of sarah jones, suzan lori parks’ play venus comes up. venus reminded me of a text by saidiya hartman, about ubiquitous presence of venus in the archive, the violence that is enacted upon her body and the struggle to write “at the limit of the unspeakable and the unknown” as parks has done, writing the fictional life-history of sarah “saartjie” bartman. hartman’s writing brings to the forefront of our consciousness the way writing about someone/ putting narratives on stage can be a potentially violent act that requires careful handling. what are the ways that self-conscious fictionalizing allows us to approach the line of violence in a productive manner without infringing upon it? again, what are the ways that that requires the vulnerability of the performer on stage as well? what does the assertion of the veracity of things (in relation to its capacity to capture ‘real life’) do to the dynamic between performer and represented? are there certain narratives that we are more willing to present without being, ourselves, vulnerable? what does that say about our approach towards democratizing space??

wow crazy how i started this post really to talk about the ways i was feeling anxious and finding ways to reckon with that and ended up pretty much writing my whole reading response here. really i just also wanted to think and talk about how i’ve been getting anxious or nervous about things even when i feel them coming together and going well. and that seems definitely unhealthy. am i just worried about the prospect of things falling apart or not coming to fruition in the future?? is that it?? so much of the work that i’m doing in my classes now feels like things i feel personally really invested in. in ways that i’m grateful for, i think, but also in ways that can be stressful!! hmmm more thoughts but there will always be more thoughts and, for now, i think it’s time for bed!

frustration with myself and with how little motivation it feels like i have to do work (giving myself 5 minutes to write this and then i have to head off to drop off the book, to go sit in haas and to churn out this essay). wondering if it just actually is that i’ve been working really hard and am burnt out or if it’s just laziness. but knowing that, regardless, the work has to be done, and it’s not helping me that i’m choosing not to put my 100% in when i could. and i know i could. last night is evidence of that. i just don’t want to let myself down, you know??

alas, at least it feels like i’m living a life, not like i’m just merely going through the motions of the day. the sense of wonderment! and excitement! radical mundanity! was reading deb’s pieces in preparation for class on tuesday and i cannot wait for it to happen. now i see why rachel was raving about her class and now i feel like i must take a class with her next year. thinking about this space and this campus and the ways it feels like home. in the corner of my room and overflowing laundry basket, only overflowing with clean clothes. but around them a tiny ring of dirty clothes from the past two days, the difference legible only to me. my stomach’s churning a little, maybe from anxiety about this paper i need to write, maybe from too much food.

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