by Lucas de Lima on Oct.22, 2011
[Here’s my talk, which followed Feng’s, from our “No Future” panel at the &Now Festival…]
PREFACE: THE VIRAL TREE OF LIFE
For Faustin Linyekula, the Congolese choreographer whose mix of dance, punk, and Ndombolo pop I saw a few weeks ago at the Walker Art Center, “no future truly means any future.” Linyekula explains that, if the title of his piece is “MORE, MORE, MORE… future,” it’s because
One “more” was not enough, it had to be more, more and more! […] To deny the future would be to go in the same direction as politicians. No, this is definitely about future! Of course, the title also reminds one of the punk-rock slogan “no future”. My idea was to inject a punk attitude in Congolese music and musicians, to contaminate the system and to shake the house.
While dancers thrash about in recycled Afro-fusion costumes, one singer dressed in gold lamé declares, “We are dancing but it’s nothing but a procession towards the burial chambers – open your eyes!”
In Roberto Bolaño’s short story “Mauricio ‘The Eye’ Silva,” the glittery eye of art similarly scrambles the equation and multiplies futurity. As in Linyekula’s performance, the ethos of British punk is remixed across borders. Bolaño’s story dislodges the frame of traditional ‘family values’ when a gay photographer with an optical nickname is exiled during Pinochet’s dictatorship. If punk, as James Chance says in the documentary Punk: Attitude “meant, you know, a guy in prison who got fucked up the ass,” The Eye is so punk that he clambers out of his death-oriented, sexually nonreproductive role: he refuses to stay childless. Faced with the plight of two prostituted boys in India, Bolaño’s protagonist experiences a mysterious christening that re-centers children as figures of a decidedly off-center future:
…what the Eye saw was a drowsy, tearful child; the eunuch was still at his side, with a half-amused half-terrified look on his face. Then the Eye was transformed into something else, although the expression he used was not ‘something else’ but ‘mother.’
Mother, he said and sighed. At last. Mother.
To contaminate the system. To shake the house. In both Linyekula’s performance and Bolaño’s story, political unrest translates into a restless re-imagining of family and citizenship. In the brimming eye of a mother—a queer one, to be sure—and the feverish yearning of Congolese performers, social death turns out to be the condition and stage for a viral conception of worlds to come. Just as viruses have multiple, individual ancestors, this voracious art does not stop spawning origins along with destinations. It is fruit hanging off a viral tree of life.
To take up the virus as a living metaphor is, in other words, to assume fertility, or plasticity, as the utterly creative response of the dispossessed. Whether through queer motherhood or a motherland plagued by global capitalism and cosmetic democracy, the viral tree of life casts sacred shadows wherever it grows. This embrace of futurity looks less like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign intended to combat teen suicides than it does the death drop, or shablam, of contemporary voguing, in which queer black youth reenact urban shootings by collapsing upon their backs on the floor. When such a flashy ritual takes the instability of bodies as ground, it becomes at once an act of death and descent, healing and rebirth, exaltation and prayer: it becomes more, more, more.
More than an affirmation, it’s about a cry, an invocation, an incantation almost: we want much more of a future.(Linyekula)
CHAPTERS 1-ETERNITY: THE SPACE IN WHICH WRITER & READER BLEED THROUGH PAPER & KISS A DEAD BEING
I’ve been working on a manuscript that, from its inception, defied the future as we ‘know’ it. The future, in my writing, is not the end-goal of a path forged through human cognition. Instead, my poems mythify the alligator attack that killed a close friend of mine in 2006. To write this book—to inscribe myself into its bloodstained wetland—I have to become a bird. I have to transform into the airborne body that shares a dinosaur ancestry with the alligator and remains the latter’s closest modern kin. I do this without much thinking, as if the evolution of reptilian scales into feathers were only a reflex or adaptation to grief. We sustain a weird, impossible bond—the gator, my dead friend, and myself as a bird. Our dynamic is something like the bond of the Book that Edmond Jabès spent a lifetime describing:
All writing invites an anterior reading of the world which the word urges & which we pursue to the limits of faded memory.
In the book, the words fall like birds struck by lightning for having thought they could wrest a piece of sky from the infinite.
Does the book heal? That book is always to come. Is it not strange, this book which survives death and is made of all our deaths, as if the death of a human being were only a wound which only we succumb to?
When I remember that alligators are prehistoric animals whose highly potent blood can destroy HIV, I sense the immortality of the word that Jabès obsesses over. Such an overflow of life into art, in which life comes to resemble a circulatory artwork, forces the Book so wide open that it cannot help but aim for a convivial purpose. The Book, cracked spine and all, craves a meeting of bare lives where words eat the poet, eat the reader, eat their referents, eat themselves. Yet, everyone survives as much as they die, exhausted and ecstatic. The future of writing, for me, is thus a horizon that feeds on all bodies and gives them all breath insofar as the Book becomes cyclical, at once Christlike and crocodilian. The Book demands the use of upper case letters as its rows of teeth; it also resurrects a broken, screeching bird folded into pages.
POSTFACE: IT IS EMBARRASSING TO BE HUMAN
503.03(a) Works-not originated by a human author.
In order to be entitled to copyright registration, a work must be the product of human authorship. Works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author are not registrable. Thus, a linoleum floor covering featuring a multicolored pebble design which was produced by a mechanical process in unrepeatable, random patterns, is not registrable. Similarly, a work owing its form to the forces of nature and lacking human authorship is not registrable; thus, for example, a piece of driftwood even if polished and mounted is not registrable. (The Compendium II of Copyright Office Practices published by the US Copyright Office)
On an Indonesian island this past summer, a crested black macaque snatched a photographer’s camera and took various pictures of himself. Remarkably, many of the pictures look like self-portraits in which the animal peers straight at the camera lens. By returning our technological gaze, the macaque accomplishes the unthinkable and scrambles evolution as well as species hierarchy. He makes an artist of himself despite copyright laws that fail to recognize him as such. Because he is our voyeur as much as we are his, the monkey projects a vision of the unlikely day when humanity is not embarrassing. The human, in this version of the future, perhaps no longer even exists as a category. An undifferentiating sensation erupts through the macaque’s photos, like the feeling one wants to experience when opening a book. In effect, the macaque mirrors the cow that the Oromo believe ate their sacred books: he appears to be ruminating just such a book. His images surface as a dream of the end of all private property, which is a dream of total commingling and congregation, which is a dream without a name…