Archive

Essays

“The Weaponization of Language”: an essay on trauma theory, mass communication, the somatization of guilt, and what Mary McCarthy already knew seventy years ago after watching Nixon’s “Checkers Speech” — in LitHub

In the 1990s, trauma theory, most notably that of Cathy Caruth, Judith Herman, Shoshana Felman, and Kirby Farrell, expanded the literary criticism of cultural trauma—based as it was on the Holocaust and the psychological interpretations of its aftermath—to encompass a broader range of subsequent political events that have greatly impacted contemporary society. Caruth drew on the neurological insights of Bessel van der Kolk to assert that trauma, because it so overwhelms the psyche’s capacity for normal perception and memory formation, remains unassimilated and takes its place outside language. The result is a blind spot that is essentially unknown to the traumatized individual, who nevertheless compulsively reenacts it in the form of flashbacks, involuntary bodily responses, phobic reactions, deluded ideation, etc.

While the biological metaphor—the notion that the mechanisms of individual trauma and its somatization can be applied to the pathological symptoms of the larger social body—is not a code for deciphering every troubling feature of the culture, it can nonetheless be instrumental for analyzing phenomena that otherwise defy interpretation, including the enabling fictions that American society, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, creates to reinforce its fundamental beliefs about itself and to justify itself when its behavior transgresses its own declared moral boundaries.

— continue reading in LitHub

Wann ist es Zeit, die Toten hinter sich zu lassen? Auf einer Fotografie, abgedruckt in der New York Times während der Jugoslawienkriege, konnte man Bosnische Serben sehen, welche auf ihrer Flucht die mit dicken Seilen aus den geöffneten Gräbern gehobenen Särge ihrer Angehörigen auf den Dächern ihrer Autos befestigten; sie kannten ihre Feinde – trotz ihres enthemmten nationalistischen Wahns waren diese kaum anders als sie selbst – und wussten, dass diese die Gräber ihrer Ahnen schänden würden.

Scrima Viral Brecht-Haus

Immer wieder werden Flüchtlinge, die bei ihrem Versuch, den afrikanischen Kontinent zu verlassen, im Mittelmeer umgekommen sind, an den Stränden Libyens, Tunesiens und Italiens angeschwemmt, wo es selten Vorkehrungen gibt für Grabsteine, DNA-Datenbanken oder nummerierte Grabstätten. Angetrieben von Barmherzigkeit versuchen einige Personen vor Ort die Opfer zu identifizieren, Angehörige zu kontaktieren und den Leichen eine würdige Bestattung zukommen zu lassen. Doch wenn das Meer selbst zum Friedhof geworden ist, welche Bedeutung hat es dann, in fremder Erde begraben zu werden?

Lesung für das Brecht-Haus Berlin im Rahmen des Literaturfestivals VIRAL. 

Read an in-depth conversation with artists Simon Lee and Eve Sussman, online in my Artists’ Conversations series at 3 Quarks Daily:

“The guys in Dubai’s Old Market were being oppressed for less than minimum wage, they were worker immigrants from Bangladesh that lived in a work camp and sent their wages home to support their families; the construction site that Eve and I originally fantasized about producing Stalkerpooh on became luxury apartments in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the deceits of powerful people—their spoken words—became our script; we built a useless factory that circulated water for no reason.”

Simon&Eve8

“Thirty years later we speak of the ‘Fall of the Berlin Wall,’ but the Wall didn’t simply tumble down like a row of dominoes on November 9th. The GDR continued to exist for another year, during which the East German authorities did what they could to keep up appearances. The border guards let East and West Germans cross the border freely, but when it came to foreign residents like myself those first few weeks, they didn’t quite know what to do. My passport wasn’t enough for them; I had to go to the foreign police and apply for an interim document, a ‘Lichtbildbescheinigung’ that was essentially a stamped sheet of paper with my address and a photograph stapled to it. It was a pretend-document for a situation in which the authorities pretended they still had authority; a document for a charade.”

My essay on November 9, 1989 for the Times Literary Supplement

Non-subscribers can read the PDF here. 

 

“I know of no love that exists with moderation, at least on my side. The older I get, the busier I am, and the more engrossing my social life becomes, the warier I grow of submitting to the powerlessness of being in a love affair in which the heart is truly engaged. There’s a Kenneth Koch poem posted on the wall behind my computer that explains why. It says, ‘You want a social life, with friends/ A passionate love life and as well/ To work hard every day. What’s true/ Is of these three you may have two.’ When love comes in the door, my work and social life seem to fly out the window. Yet every now and then… even though I know how disruptive it is, I succumb, and all balance is lost.”

I talked to Liesl Schillinger to celebrate the publication of the Strange Attractors anthology with UMass Press—you can read the full conversation here

Strange Attractors cover

And come to the reading at McNally Jackson in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: 

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Joy Amina Garnett is an Egyptian American artist and writer living in New York. Her work, which spans creative writing, painting, installation art, and social media-based projects, reflects how past, present, and future narratives can co-exist through ‘the archive’ in its various forms. She has been working on a memoir and several other projects around the life and work of her late grandfather, the Egyptian Romantic poet and bee scientist A.Z. Abushady (1892–1955).

Joy Garnett: “Growing up, his ghost was all around me, the stuff of fairy tales, but I didn’t have a real sense of him as a person. My mother and aunt put him on a pedestal—their father, the famous Egyptian poet and doctor. Much literary criticism has been written about his poetry, so I spent years reading and absorbing as much as I could while trying to put together a more intimate and complex picture of him. As an undergraduate, I studied classical and spoken Arabic, and recently I took a series of hands-on beekeeping classes.”

Read the conversation here

 

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Caricature of A.Z. Abushady by the Persian/Alexandrian cartoonist, Mohamed Fridon (ca. 1928)

Read the interview here.

 

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David Krippendorff: Without wanting to sound naive, first and foremost I hope that my work has a strong emotional impact. Every initial idea I ever had for a piece always started with an emotional reaction to something, be it a film or a piece of music. Throughout the process, I then conceptualize it and parse out the various political subtexts and interpretive layers. I do think that all art is political, but I am also a great believer that art should be more visceral. We live in times in which nobody trusts their feelings anymore; our society is becoming increasingly cerebral. I think this is a very dangerous trend, because remaining in touch with one’s feelings is also the first step toward empathy. When we’re detached, it becomes much easier to turn a blind eye to injustice; we fail to see the humanity in a homeless person we pass by on the street. I strongly believe that the role of art should be to help people get in touch with their feelings. To me, this becomes political, and it’s the only way that it can have an impact and make a change. We have enough “interesting” art, but how often does somebody go to a show and say: “That was really moving,” or “That was beautiful”?

New essay up on 3QuarksDaily.

alyssa

 

“Letting You in on a Secret is a work that reflects on this very depletion of language and mass imagery, a work that proposes and articulates new and surprising ways to recalibrate our perception, to shake ourselves and our stunned senses awake. DeLuccia’s formal reference to Dada provides us with an important clue to the work’s subtly subversive nature: in citing a movement that would presage and then endure the advent of fascism, mass extermination, and world war, she is pointing to the necessity of encoding explosive cultural commentary in humor and visually appealing imagery, of going underground with it, as it were—both to protect one’s powers of perception and to counter the effects of the spellbinding that numbs us to the dangers facing us.”

A conversation with Patricia Thornley published on 3QuarksDaily

08still from The Western, 2018

From November 17, Patricia Thornley’s work The Western, part of her series THIS IS US, is on view as part of the group exhibition “Empathy” at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The project is the latest in a seven-year series of installation and single-channel video works consisting of interviews and performances. Previous videos of the series are An American in Bavaria (2011), Don’t Cry for Me (2013), and Sang Real (2015). As a whole, THIS IS US  formulates multiple parallel inquiries into the collaborative fantasies Americans enact through popular media. In the current political climate, as the escalation of social and economic forces impacting millions of lives is cast into increasingly sharp relief, these fantasies take on new urgency and, in many cases, a new absurdity.

The Western’s cast of characters consists of these Civil War-era archetypes: Indian Scout, Beast of Burden, Frontiersman, Savage, Deserter, Justice, and Drifter. The work is conceived as a two-part installation in which the cinematic trope of the Western is used as a framework for inquiring into the American psyche. In the exhibition space, a projected “movie” is installed opposite a wall of screens playing a series of interviews with the seven participating characters.

Andrea Scrima: Patricia, a few years ago I conducted an interview with you about a previous work of yours, Sang Real (2015), for the online poetry magazine Lute & Drum. Now, with The Western, the overall structure of THIS IS US is coming more and more clearly into focus. The last time we spoke at length about your series was a year and a half before the last presidential election. How have recent changes on the political landscape affected your approach to the themes in your work?

Patricia Thornley: From the beginning in the THIS IS US series, one of the questions I asked in my interviews with the people who featured in the individual videos was “how do you feel about being an American?” Historically, there’s always been a certain political disconnect at play with Americans, due to less armed conflict on our own soil and a certain comfort level.

I didn’t ask this question because I was trying to be instructive, but because one of the most important aspects of my work is to observe opposing and conflicting states of consciousness and to create situations that attempt a kind of uncommon reconciliation of these states. So in terms of what has changed I would say that what I was perceiving as a state of unconsciousness (pre-Trump) has been pushed to the surface by outrage and fear.

Read the interview on 3QuarksDaily here

 

Read the interview here.

“The novel oscillates between mediated reflection, immediate perceptual state, and, later on, madness. This stage of perception does entirely without any sort of explanation. It’s about immediacy. The self is fully within it, there’s no help from without, no visible motive to reconstruct reflection a posteriori. That’s how it is with our perception. To my mind, when it comes to language, things start to get interesting. We trust reflection and reason so much more. Pure perception is trusted less, but insanity is never trusted. In the novel, we have an unreliable narrator telling the story after it’s already occurred. You might assume that the events were reflected upon and are now related through this conscious filter. But that’s not the case. Only in madness can you see what’s actually going on. The body itself speaks, unfiltered, directly. It’s a huge, profound immediacy that we can’t rationally grasp. It’s another language, like the language of dreams. You want to decode it, but there’s no code. In the novel, it presents as a primordial language, as opposed to a verbal one: a language of images that exerts its effect directly. It just does this, and the reader has to surrender to it to get any closer.”

Ally Klein Portrait_03_by Pezhman Zahed.jpg

Ally Klein