A Fiery Flying Roule:

to all the inhabitants of the earth; specially to the rich ones

The Kropotkins :: “If I had my way”


Protestors use bulldozer against police in Ukraine


Protestors use bulldozer against police in Ukraine

Hannah Weiner (1982)

Adam Weg :: “Bar None”

Moorings, halls absorbed our world.
Yet it stayed on faces, and crossed legs on settees, like a running joke.
Among euphemisms, we preferred
those that, becoming glacial and unreasonable
around lives, were like an old hat
climaxing upon a head: You couldn’t put it down—the city shown, or told.
I would touch it with a ten foot pole.

What did it look like, after your
life depended on it? Rain tumbling; a Socratic yawn—different
bodies of statistics, like pieces of trash. Eventually
puffed its. Thank god
we could begin as youths, shaping our faces in one
direction or another, out of the corners
of our disclosed eyes—yet somehow still cast
into the strict sense of somebody
else’s childhood…where we stay, same here, placed
on the side of no caution. Who are these
extreme literalizations of the future, walking, talking, crapping
laughter, falsifiable only
by still further exaggeration, their projections poor, tiny, and basically
unelectable? Yes. We seem to get it better as a downtown
than as a production of Jaws.

Will they marry me?

Proceed this way, slight shebang.
The chords state it well. The plot
is basically unchained. You can tell.
It does nothing
to keep the intruders out. The sun watches the desk.
Then the poor device begins to ring.
The senses warm, civilian in different places, tables of fruit.
We note a dysphoric blondness
being put into the sky, like a bell.
But hey. We make these things talk.
What shall we say we wanted?

Katrina (L) & Haiyan (R)

Rolex and relax

          As we left the theater after seeing The Act of Killing the other night M. said, “That might be the most moral film I’ve ever seen.” I’d agree: has a more gripping demonstration of the medium’s power as an instrument of ethical inquiry ever been made? 
          In part this involves the forthright (because unintentional) indictment of Hollywood’s spectacles of domination, and the forms of mimesis they entail: quondam self-fashioned low-life movie-scalper thugs take their revenge on the communists who threaten to deprive them of their livelihood (by calling for a reduction in the number of crowd-pleasing Hollywood blockbusters that come to town), and moreover take that action by fashioning their revenge after Hollywood gangsters, whose name — “gangster” — we hear repeatedly means “free ones”: an ad lib etymology (at least in English), but one that pulses with valid information about liberalism’s historical course.
          So that’s a first layer of “poetic justice” at work, and it is not insignificant to be reminded, even at this late date and notwithstanding all the munitions this nation-state has deployed at a distance, that a no less damaging form of power has been its spectacular evanescent projections, the movies as mighty as the missiles, those reels spooling out not so much the banality of evil as its stupidity. [ A friend asks a relevant question here: “what do you make of the fact that the film tends to downplay the direct military (as opposed to merely cultural) role of the U.S. in the massacre?” (for more on wch see here).
          But the film’s real power is produced in the second layer of “poetic justice,” isn’t it?, which works by cutting against the grain of the first, albeit by means, in part, of the first’s momentum…. I mean the one that takes hold as the technicians of genocide are given permission to recreate the scenes of their crimes by American filmmakers (whose nationality no doubt served as a lure that exacerbated the attraction of the exercise) on behalf of their own professed commitment to “the truth,” licensed by a political culture that still runs on cartoonish anti-communist fumes and celebrates their crimes as acts of heroism in the national interest, thus setting the stage for a glimpse of a form of recognition I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed or partaken in before. 
          I realize I’m trafficking in crude Aristotelianisms, but do so encouraged by that moment of dry-heaving at the end of the movie, when Anwar Congo, in the actual locus of his bloody praxis — where he efficiently and “hygienically” strangulated his victims with a wire (a TV producer at one point says he killed thousands) — cannot quite succeed in retching: a moment of katharsis captured on film. The scene before shows pity and fear play across the face of Congo as he watches, flanked by two grandsons deployed as human shields, a recording of a graphically re-enacted torture scene in which he plays the part of the victim. Attempting to articulate the act of recognition the representation triggers, he says something to the effect of, “I now know what my victims felt,” but is corrected by the filmmaker, and told that in fact he does not know what his victims felt, because he knew during the re-enactment that he would not die. Which raises the question of whether the katharsis was “successful,” what it accomplishes, and whether it’s triggered by an insight into what’s not being recognized. [ A colleague pointed out to me earlier this week that to go by the difference in Congo’s hair-coloring between these scenes, the retching would in fact have preceded his review of the torture reenactment — wch makes me want to say that the artifice in this instance increases the success of the film’s improbable poiesis: the filmmakers chose to dislocate a causal sequence in order to make an ethical sequence visible. ]
          As M. NourbeSe Philip puts it at the beginning of her afterword to ZONG!, ”There is no telling this story; it must be told.” The film is of necessity an elliptical device, both in George Puttenham’s and in Lauren Berlant’s senses: falling short but in so doing exposing what goes without saying by showing what’s somehow never been seen before, least of all by the doer of the deeds committed and depicted. A ricochet of recognitions.  

What do you want to know more about?


What do you want to know more about? was the question Naima Lowe’s friend asked her as she was working on Thirty-nine [39] Questions for White People. I hear that question as a sibling to the question Montaigne liked to ask: “Que sçay-je?” or “What do I know?” (His 16th-century spelling nicely shows the Latin word scire at the root of “to know” in French — same root as “science”). 

This coupled with her description of her pedagogy as a form of collective risk-taking leads me to suggest that Thirty-nine [39] Questions for White People is an essay in that root sense: essai as “attempt.” At the center of the words “experience” and “experiment” is the Latin root peri, for danger (as in “peril”); the essay, in this sense, is form of calculated risk-taking. What was most remarkable to me about Thirty-nine [39] Questions for White People as we experienced it in performance this morning in the Art Lecture Series at Evergreen was that it was an experiment actually conducted (for the most part, if not exclusively) by and with the essay’s subject matter: white people.

No less remarkable, given the provocative clarity and rawness of the inquiry (“Do you notice when the last white person leaves the room?” — really, do you? Have you ever even thought about it in those terms?) were the moments of laughter as the experiment was being performed — laughter being, as Tom Stoppard puts it somewhere, the sound of comprehension. Not so much recognition, in this case, as something closer to cognition: not repeating what you already knew but maybe forgot and just needed a quick reminder about, but actually asking the question, being made to show up for it, being located and sounded by means of what, we should remember, was understood by all involved to be an aesthetic encounter, which from where I was sitting, far from reducing succeeded in deepening the ethical scope and force of the inquiry.


from “Scenes of Instruction, Scenes of Insurrection”

[…] When I say that the early modern consumption of classical texts was “implicitly and explicitly bundled” with insurrectionary energies and came packaged with unpredictable political vectors of conflict and resistance often accompanied by violence, I mean it both literally and figuratively. Let’s begin with a literal instance. Consider Petrarch’s famous response to his discovery of a packet of letters Cicero had written late in life. At last he has found something new in Latin worth reading (in contrast to the clunky writing of his contemporaries). So what does he do? Stimulated by a recognition of his master’s style, and the force with which it rings out across the ages, he sits right down and writes Cicero a letter — a remarkable reaction, in and of itself, a kind of projective recognition. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that he takes it upon himself to admonish his master for involving himself in Roman politics at such an old age (when he should by his own reckoning have been studying philosophy). What politics, you ask? Petrarch makes shorthand reference not only to Cicero’s extrajudicial execution of the Catiline conspirators, but also his perseverating in the name of the Republic against the overreaching ministrations of Marc Antony and the Second Triumverate. 

            It’s worth filling in what Petrarch leaves out, because we too often forget that not only did Cicero lose his head on the command of that Second Triumverate, but moreover that the hand he wrote his speeches with and with wch he gesticulated as he delivered them was itself removed from his body and stapled to the rostrum for all to see. This conjunction in Petrarch’s letter between admiration and admonition stands as a blunt and bloody signal of the unsettled relation between ruthless physical force exerted on behalf of political gain, on the one hand (so to speak), and the exquisite verbal power Petrarch was recruiting to enhance his own authority, on the other. Remembering the end Cicero meets puts Petrarch’s account of his encounter with the fragments of Quintilian’s corpus in an altogether new and gruesome anatomical light: “I saw the dismembered limbs of a beautiful body, and admiration mingled with grief seized me.”  

            Grief was one passion through which Petrarch palpated this distance, but his relationship to the past took shape in other more ostentatious assertions of continuity. Given that Petrarch crowned himself in 1341 with a laurel wreath, and given that the Nobel laureates were announced last week, I cannot resist observing another instance of violence encoded in an encounter between classical past and modern present, a violence, that in this instance is manifest at both ends of the spectrum, both figuratively and literally. Our side of things is easy: most of us know, or should, that Alfred Nobel was the inventor of nitroglycerin, better known as “dynamite,” and made the fortune out of which the prize money is paid as a munitions magnate. (Apparently before he settled on “dynamite,” from the Greek word, dunamis, for potentiality, he’d considerd calling this special substance “Nobel’s Safety Powder.”)

            But do you remember why we call laureates laureates? What does this figure of speech contain? It’s a bombshell, let me tell you. Victors in antiquity — whether athletes or warriors — were crowned with the laurel wreath because the laurel tree was a metonym for the Apollo (who was often depicted with a lyre, which is how poets get in on the deal). But if Ovid’s telling of the story is anything to go by, that metonym for Apollo is in fact a body part trimmed from the nymph named Daphne who metamorphosed into a laurel tree in order to evade Apollo’s attempted rape. She escapes this unwanted assault only to get her metamorphosed attributes requisitioned as symbols of her would-be rapist. Here’s how Arthur Golding translates the scene in question: 


We’re still in that train (whether we like it or not); the tree’s still writhing.

            “The laurel wreath […] was immune to natural flux, verdant amid the decay of time, staunch against the bolt of judgment”: thus Margaret O’Rourke Boyle on Petrarch’s understanding of the durable, non-deciduous character of this leafy symbol. And thus we still call laureates those persons who confer the “greatest benefit on mankind,” and reward them with largesse derived from the sales of an explosive “Safety Powder.” Which is to say: the laurel is one signal of authority sinuously continuous between past and present that comes explicitly bundled with unexpected and forgotten energies of violence and resistance. […]

[ “Scenes of Instruction, Scenes of Insurrection” = a paper carved out from work in progress that was read at the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society Annual Conference this weekend at St. Martin’s University in Olympia, WA. ]  

score # 1

If you see something, say something. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Go ahead, I dare you. Take yourself into a public space of your choosing, preferably one you traverse frequently, and commit to performing this score while there. There’s no rush; in fact, plan on loitering until the seeing and the saying come together. Keep track of how it feels to say the thing you see. Also keep track of how the persons in earshot respond. What do we allow ourselves to see? What do we allow ourselves to say? And what does the saying show us? Thanks in advance for your cooperation.