Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Love Letter

I sent a love letter to the DNC this morning:
After 30 years of voting almost entirely for Democratic candidates on local, state, and national ballots I will no longer be able, in good conscience, to support a party that does not include as part of its platform condemnation of Israel's illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine.
Looks like I'll be moving soon: further (and further) Left.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Taking Out the Trash

Apparently there are writer-translators who either write or translate at one time. I don't have much of a problem finding a balance between the two. Although I do find my attention pulled away from one toward the other all the time. No matter what.

But as a writer-translator I find it next to impossible to do other tasks while I'm walking the tightrope of that hyphen. Tasks that might at least make it appear as if I were a functioning person. Tasks such as shredding.

When Wisława Szymborska was asked why her artistic production was so low compared to other poets she replied, "Because I fucking know how to use a trash can." At least this is my translation of her overly-mild reply. For me, the shredder is my best editor. I wonder if I could've just called it my "shredditor"?

Nine months of drafts piled up in my office closet. Nine months' worth of junk mail and paid bills and documents for my eyes only. Nine months since I last shredded. I spent 2½ hours this morning shredding. My fingers have that "having touched too much paper" quality about them now: chapped with hints of strange inky smells.

I submitted my translation of Robert Rient's Witness to my publisher on May 31 after spending almost a full nine months working on it full time. I'm a slow, terribly slow, translator. But I was writing during this time as well: interviews, essays, very few blog posts.

For the past eight days I've struggled a bit trying to find my writing legs again. I find myself now stressing the first two syllables of writer-translator. Especially since one of my friends (also a writer-translator) told me to stop wasting my time with other people's writings and write my own damn books. At least this is my translation of her overly-mild admonition. I may be slow but I'm thorough. And I'll always add profanity. Because why the fuck not?

Though "struggle" is perhaps not quite accurate. Indeed, I've thrown myself back into work after the "hiatus" of focusing so intently on one major project for nine months. In the past eight days I've edited essays, completed and submitted an interview, consolidated another interview, written a foreign rights agents regarding three novels in need of translation and received said three novels, started reading said three novels in need of translation, begun re-organizing the novella I'll finish over the summer, etc. etc. Being my own boss is the best. Though my shredditor demands sacrifices and blood offerings.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

All Apologies

Any time an apology is issued, we need to ask why.

Just who exactly is she apologizing to? Can you apologize to the dead?

Or is this merely an exercise in hypersensitivity? We thin-skinned queers were offended by something she said, so she has to say something else. To placate us. To smooth it all over. If that's the case, then fuck sensitivity.

We know she didn't write her own apology. Politicians don't write their own words. There's a cadre of queer apologists who would be all too happy to stay up late at night crafting and manufacturing the soundest of apologies. Gotta mention ACT UP, gotta give a shout-out to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Look at me; I read a history book; let me cite Silence = Death. Look how knowledgeable I am, despite not knowing better than to keep my damn mouth shut about Nancy Reagan and her devastating legacy of AIDS and HIV when a bunch of queer ears are listening.

Further proof that she, as the consummate politician, is always craftily crafting her message, no?

Then there's "And I’ve always tried to do my part in the fight against this disease, and the stigma and pain that accompanies it." Well, since you bring it up, just where were you exactly while the White House was ignoring the deaths of tens of thousands of people dying in America? I somehow can't recall hearing your voice at the time. Indeed, Silence = Death.

Tell me, Madame Secretary, how many quilt panels did you sew?

Yes, she and her husband have a lovely legacy regarding queer rights in America. But since you didn't ask, I'm not obliged to tell. Said lispingly and with a flick of the wrist: Ssshhhilence = Death. I'm sure she and her husband were just ensuring we didn't get –er, too cocky.

And yes, "some of my best friends," too, have died of HIV/AIDS. Which is why you won't hear me lauding a vile person like Nancy Reagan, even at her funeral. No apologies needed.

Perhaps there's something this election cycle we queers would do well to remember. It's something that Black Lives Matters knows all too well: "We know that the revolution won’t come at the ballot box."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In the Name of David

Back when I collected personalities the way other kids collected trophies–dissociative identity disorder, for those in the know–there were two who went by the name of David. I've always liked the name David.

For the first few years of my life, I believed the official government documents that said the middle name of my uncle, my namesake, was David until someone told me the government had made a mistake. My uncle's middle name had been Davis. A typo. An unforgivable exchange of a D for an S, much like the governmental transaction that had rendered a nineteen-year-old boy a box of body parts.

There was also David in the Bible, who loved his friend Jonathan as he loved himself, who went on to become King of Israel. The boy I was when I first read about David recognized in that kind of love something missing from his own life, something necessary for survival. Something the other readers of the Bible in his church, community, state, nation, world would find as a reason to condemn the kind of boy who would love another boy as he loved himself.

Eventually, David had to go. Not long after I–or he–had mustered the courage to write, "I think I have split personality," on a scrap of paper and hand it to a psychologist when I was sixteen.

When I was deciding on my new name, the name of David kept coming up as a possibility. I had always liked that name. But like my uncle, some things are best left buried in the past. Never forgotten–as if that were ever a possibility–but nonetheless still held at bay. For protection, the kind of protection that might show itself as dissociative identity disorder.

And when one writes requiescat in pace, one inherently acknowledges the unspoken and unsayable ora pro nobis.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Dada (Part 2 of 2)

With dada, Ball here, as in his poetry, dispenses with conventional, communicative language. Both dada as well as dada show themselves as a “question of connections, and of loosening them [the connections] up a bit to start with.” By dismissing the use of dada/dada as communication, Ball hopes to be granted access to a new language or a new use of or for language. Indeed, he aims to invent a new language altogether, where the affirmation of the da gets repeated and negated in the same breath and in the same word. Even more so, the complete word dada serves as not only the most basic homonymic replacement and translation for dada qua anti-art, but it also performs dada as anti-communication in its necessary and repetitive repetition. Hence, we can speak of and write dada/dada as the necessarily doubly doubled (da repeated four times) dispersal of non-/self-identity. With the doubling of dada/dada here, we are reminded of the necessary dispersal and dispensation of language, of texts, and of words, particularly as those words rupture and disperse themselves along the page: da da da da ad infinitum.

Ball sees in his poetry “a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language.” He insists, “I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.” We should pause here to reflect on this last statement. How can we read this sentence? Dada qua new anti-art movement is the heart of words? Or does the word dada itself form the essence of all words? Perhaps we can even return to the term’s original communicative register to say that the essence of language is the French hobbyhorse or the German farewell. I would argue, and it seems that Blanchot would, to some extent, agree, that it is precisely this line of questioning along the internal rift of dissonances and ambiguities within language that bespeaks the heart of words as the da-da of the rhythmic heartbeat of language. Ball asserts, “I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own.” Perhaps, after all, we are not so far off the mark with our rhythmic interpretation of the heart’s da-da.

Ball next explains how, by allowing the vowels to “fool around,” the word comes into being. In addition to the agency that language has, according to the text, to play or to get frisky, he also reveals that he lets “the vowels quite simply occur, as a cat meows.” Depicting a birth scene of language, he describes the shoulders and limbs appearing, though instead of coming from the birth canal (and because of the references to vowels), we can assume he is referring to the mouth and to spoken discourse. (The vowel, of course, denotes the orality of language. It is a spoken unit.) Finally, Ball briefly mentions the materiality of language: “Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself.” In this, we find yet another of surrealism’s concerns regarding the relationships (or non-relationships) among word, object, and thought. As we saw previously with the term dada, the word seems to fall back in or upon itself as it disperses itself. The word is a thing is a word, etc. We have a movement that both annuls and enacts language as a power of communication and the transference of meaning.

In directly addressing his audience, Ball speaks of the need for an audience and for a public: “The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.” Such a use of the vocative implies that dada will indeed have (or already has) an audience. It complicates our reading of the manifesto in that it appears to be a simple, straightforward statement, much like the praise of Swiss hospitality. We can read this sentence naively outside the context of dada itself, or we can understand it ironically. That is, in addressing these “gentlemen,” Ball is merely imagining an audience that might not exist for dada. Or perhaps it is not the word after all that is of public concern. Perhaps there is no public at all who can hear about the word that is, to Ball, so important. In this way, Ball both expresses and finds himself incapable of expressing the word that may or may not have any importance to an audience who may or may not be listening or even existing.

Notwithstanding these hermeneutic pitfalls, words spread out to and through others in promulgation, even as their emergence can be constricted by selves who are effaced in their own ineffability or inability to express themselves. Here in the actual document of the manifesto, written to be performed, we have written language performed as speech that admits the impossibility of language as such—a declaration that language no longer can bear the burden of communication. If we consider that dada’s anti-art (and anti-war) stance stems from a repulsion for the atrocities of World War I, this facet of language, while claiming to be entirely non-communicative and irrational, becomes understandable in its striving for incomprehensibility.

Although dada insists on nonsense in art as well as in language, the nonsense itself carries with it the desire to be heard, read, seen, and therefore understood, at least within the logic of the irrational. Even the dada “nonsense” of “dada m’dada, dada m’dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza” can have meaning for us, at least to some small extent. It is easy to consider, for example, that the last two phrases serve as repeated, though abbreviated and reordered, references to “Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck” that begins the “sentence.” Even as we struggle to make sense out of our words, texts, and languages (as well as ourselves and our environments), our minds are always already gleaning sense even from something necessarily—at least ostensibly—devoid of communicative powers. This is both the great achievement and the utter ruination of dada as anti-art. We need only to visit a museum to appreciate to what extent dada’s supposed anti-art has been accepted (or co-opted) by art proper. Dada, however, may have another destiny.