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South/South
By Maryam Monalisa Gharavi
Whose universal is it anyway?
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Wall of Names

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As the massacre of Gaza reached its tenth day we began laying out the names of the dead, their ages, and the locations in which they were attacked.

We consulted information registered by the Gaza Health Ministry (who risk their lives to make this record possible) and compiled by Al-Akhbar English and Al Jazeera English.

We are trying to keep pace with the names as they are released, but the list grows before cartridge ink has dried on the page.

The document we are using is available for public viewing, downloading, and printing. We are updating it as often as we can.

(This is not an art installation.)

—Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Judith Kakon, and Cecilia López
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Canceled Message (Part Two)


Part One
 precedes this post
.

◊     ◊     ◊

Social Media as Corporate Cannibal

“You won’t hear me laughing, as I terminate your day
You can’t trace my footsteps, as I walk the other way”

“I’ll consume my consumers”

—Grace Jones, “Corporate Cannibal

◊     ◊     ◊

How to Almost Completely Disappear (on Twitter)

Last March I spent some time in Iran, where my access to the internet was severely hampered. This limitation made me snappy and tense, possibly in the throes of some sort of vacant withdrawal that I didn’t get over until eventually landing somewhere with airport wifi.

In a connection-deprived space a lack of self-control can’t be faulted as the culprit of this aimless malaise. One could blame the false promise of ubiquity. Going from a country with near-limitless access to one without is like having the water abruptly cut off before you’re done taking a shower. It leaves a cold and shrill sensation.

I have heard from people who think and write more exclusively about this issue that the best relationship one can engender is one in which the internet becomes a “stream,” an image that conjures more of a gently babbling brook than the digital culture shock I just described. The ubiquity of the internet frees us from the shackles of compulsion, goes the idea. There may be truth to this but it leaves out why off-gridding might still be desirable, difficult, or both. What if the magnification of solitude or at least simulating that one is in a semi-deprived state of access or connection is a positive value? (“It is very uncomfortable to be alone, and I think that is why we, as a globe, have fetishized connection the way that we have. But I think that we are losing a lot by losing the experience of solitude.” —Jennifer Egan.)

The Iran experience was uncomfortable, but in the same way that being thrown into a pool against your will is uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean you stop craving a deep-sea diving experience.

Beginning that kind of experience requires a real ending. Social media is powerful but stays too close to the surface, and requires too much squelching and self-flattening for any sort of dive. It is most “successful” when it is productive, in the sense of accumulation and accretion, and that is true regardless of the user. Whether someone engages in playful banter, sports predictions, or an aphoristic/literary Twitter creation, adding and multiplication always trump stasis or subtraction.

I more and more sought subtraction, or at least an addition without accretion. If the first part of “Canceled Message” was a dissection of that emerging concern with erasure in open view, here I am tackling the question of how one can enact it. 

Bio is a yearlong exploration of how to appear without accumulation. It is one approach—my approach—to the issue of becoming immersed in solitude in full “connective” mode. It’s a leave-taking without fully exiting the scene, casting a self-made ghost in the machine. From May 2014 to May 2015 I update the 160-character “bio” portion of Twitter every day. No record is kept (at least to my knowledge) save for the one I keep offline. There is no data storage center to aim a “delete tweet” command to. Formation and deletion work in unlikely harmony, like those intriguing canceled artists’ texts. And it’s a low-tech, and in my eyes, unsuspecting, hack in the system.

This conceptual approach, a two-month excerpt of which I’m leaving below, has precipitated more questions for me than it has answered. (If it has sown a “practice” it has done so with an open, plasmatic response, not a fixed agenda.)

How do you redact the self inside the very structure erected for self-appearance?

How do you un-stream something that is meant to be streamed? Similarly, how do you un-scroll an infinite open text into a into finite matter?

How do you produce “content” without obligatory time-stamping, all the while not totally disregarding the limits of temporality? In other words, how do you stay within a temporal limit without being marked by time?

As of this writing, Twitter Inc. does not allow mass deletion of bulk tweets. (This makes the sudden appearance of priorly deleted tweets all the more ghostly, even sinister.) How do you manipulate the superstructure of a medium—preferably in the most low-fi way possible—to produce cancelability in a medium that immensely restricts it?

In short, how do you use a medium against and within its own confines?

◊     ◊     ◊

Bio

30 June | If office-bound, not offing but offlining

 

29 June | Changing color in a dark, oceanic cave, like a private amphibian

 

28 June | Every day the encounters with the falsity all around us

 

27 June | Seduction by falsetto

 

26 June | Images disguised as speech acts

 

25 June | A dictionary in reverse, defining public terms in a private language

 

24 June | A 1-800 number reaching back and forward into previous and future centuries

 

23 June | Clocks reset, so hopeful become everlasting

 

22 June | In/process and/or out/bound

 

21 June | Ex tempore

 

20 June | Always procedure, always process. Sometimes proscenium, sometimes project.

 

19 June | Courting betrayal

 

18 June | Run, Mona, run

 

17 June | You say “cry like a baby” like any adult actually ever did

 

16 June | Going to tell it on the mountain so it can go tell it on the molehill

 

15 June | Capture, log, assemble, conceal, export

 

14 June | Treason in the age of military dominance

 

13 June | Clean windows are dangerous: just ask the young bird who learns the mechanics of flight in the safety of classroom instruction

 

12 June | A teen hotline for people in their late twenties and early thirties

 

11 June | Better a blind sailor near shore or a seeing swimmer lost at sea?

 

10 June | Desirous of making only things of no value, or more extremely, non-value itself

 

9 June | This is impacting my schedule

 

8 June | I placed a self on the internet and watched it spread

 

7 June | Anti-social media or non-mediated sociality are further options

 

6 June | Butter knives and machetes, in a particular order

 

5 June | Headless poet

 

4 June | Saudade is Portuguese for the wrangling haul of cardboard boxes and the brevity of feeling settled

 

3 June | New kids on the black bloc

 

2 June | Tehran Savings & Loans, LLC

 

1 June | Never not leaving; always already on arrival

 

31 May | Mud, mudder, murder; and other Hitchcockian themes

 

30 May | How to Wear a Mask (physician’s office poster / alternative book title)

 

29 May | A soft spot for quitting stories

 

28 May | Communication never ceases to mis-

 

27 May | A suggestion box like at Qalandiya Checkpoint, only a biography

 

26 May | Caraca, mané…

 

25 May | And there was always somebody calling you on the telephone, to interrupt the fantasies of suicide (Audre Lorde on the working definition of a friend)

 

24 May | Femmephilia in a femmephobic world

 

23 May | Passport renewal services, unincorporated territories

 

22 May | I make myself seeing

 

21 May | We can self-complete when we’re dead

 

20 May | I am fine to drink my wine. I have glee to drink my tea. I’ve the wits to drink my spritz.

 

19 May | Rushing less and less to fill irreducible voids

 

18 May | This month I operated power tools for the first time. It may sound delusional but I experienced them as tools that make you feel powerful

 

17 May | Face veils are really in right now

 

16 May | It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s capital and cops

 

15 May | How about we didn’t

 

14 May | Films, like __________, have to be finished

 

13 May | Erring and/or caring

 

12 May | Should I be trying to ‘own’ it? What are the terms of ownership? What is ‘it’?

 

11 May | A donkey will mother almost any animal

 

10 May | Refresh, delete, delete, delete, close tab, scroll down, expand, select, highlight, copy, scroll up, new tab

 

9 May | Wild and varied dreaming.

 

8 May | Maybe it unsettles you now but every real beginning requires a real ending

 

7 May | News? I had no expectation of news

 

6 May | Containing live fires

 

5 May | What if the difference between biography and autobiography were like the one between jail and prison? In one summary detention. The other, prolonged conviction.

 

4 May | No forced haha’s, only authentic haha’s

 

3 May | The battle to compose life is daily fought between rhopography and megalography, between the merits of the trivial and mundane against the heroic and important

 

2 May | Only daughter of an only daughter of an only daughter

 

1 May | Possessor of a telencephalon and highly opposable thumbs

Canceled Message (Part One)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-erasure, deletion, and effacement. The least addressed ways of being on the internet are the subjects of my obsession. Not total withdrawal but a hiddenness in plain sight.

It is not merely that such attributes are the opposites of self-promotion, aggrandizement, and re-insertion in the macro and micro economy of attention, but that they run antithetical to the active material of the internet itself—appearance and surfacing.

And I admonish myself from reducing “the internet” to social media, but if I do it’s owed to social media’s interactive premise, not merely its assumed dominance or prevalence. “Sender” and “receiver”—again, dubious if such constraints can still be deployed in the age of the scroll—are assumed to be connected, even if asynchronously, but their connection is inadequately explained in terms of relations to text, image, temporality, and other intelligible classifications of meaning.

Beginning with Man Ray’s “Untitled Poem” I have slowly amassed a collection of artists’ cancelled texts.

I believe there is something radical in the simultaneous demonstration of process and the undoing of process. Procedure revealed as a concealment. Meaning hidden in plain sight.

Here’s what else they prompt:

suspicion of knowability;

illegibility of text as legibility of visual form;

an active space for silence (often, and tragically, confused with passivity in Anglo-European cultures);

the question of whether striking out is emptying (it is not, but neither is it exactly adding).

In collecting these works I grew encouraged that they represented not a genre—in fact they span Symbolism, Constructivism, Concretism/Neo-Concretism, and other forms—but a mode. Cancelled creation not as a classification but a method.

Some cancelled texts, like Broodthaers’ “Un Coup de Des Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard” (“A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance,” an artist’s book created in November 1969) incorporates the black typographical rectangles of government censored documents. Magritte gave Broodthaers a copy of a Mallarmé poem of the same name. In Broodthaers’ cancelled text the words are replaced by black lede. (Here’s a translation by Basil Cleveland.)

Other cancelled texts, like Rosaire Appel’s work, show poems that have been individually canceled by hand. Appel’s recent work concerns architecture—a “transitional stage—temporary and uninhabitable—of buildings being built and a (foreign) language being learned.” Lines, like language and building material, layer over each other in scaffolds.

Sandra Hoffman’s text (from a book co-produced with Christoph Stähli) replaces existing text with new forms, using “letters, words, sentences, and black-and-white elements [as] building blocks of new parks and red-light districts, apartment and office buildings, stores and industrial centres, new city fringes and suburbs.”

Anna Maria Maiolino’s “Secret Poem” is as sophisticated as it is youthful, like a message of mutual affection passed between teenage girls.

Cancelled texts have everything to do with the internet ontologies I have been obsessing over, as Part Two will discuss.

The Inner Qualities of Darkness

A letter by Joseph Conrad to English literary editor Edward Garnett. Their correspondence lasted 30 years. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional. 

deluge  

                                                                        February 24, 1898

My dear Garnett,

Thanks for your letter, especially in absence of mine. We—Jessie, the Male Baby, and me—are spending our fifth day with the Cranes. Steve is in a buoyant mood, and Jessie and his missus go on and on about the babies in a frightful display. Only I remain dispossessed of myself. Thoughts turn to the Rescue at dinner, at tea, in every hopeless private moment too. I am horrible at vacations. O! better a full stop midway in that sentence.

The length of my letter stands in inverse proportion to how many words of R. I’ve produced over the past week. Today, five in three hours. Those five hastily discarded as I sank—every so comfortably!—lower and lower into a torment of my own making.

Though every writer puts up a front about the selling business as though its odiousness would sully a baptismal frock just by standing near it, it occurs to me how numbers men and words men are more in tune than either fellow would care to admit.

The shekels of selling and the shekels of story both grope at an economy. Economy is a pleasant word. Counting is inescapable. Believe me, G., for my hell is counting unwritten words in a frozen paralysis.

It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that Am. is a whole country of counting. I would fare even more poorly there than I do in England. N.Y. Can you imagine it? I hate the Yanks. Yet Am. is where you can disguise your lack of courage, moral character, and in my case, agility with writing through a sociopathically good relation to numbers.

The writing comes as easily as eating soup with a knife. It is true, I am losing the last morsel of patience with myself. I induce a rotting in my innermost self as despair gives way to gloaming gives way to vanishing. I was rather hoping for the vapor of mystery (l’arte) over the murkiness of this terrible crisis. And I swear to myself it is not for a capricious public—be it England, be it U.S.—I write for, whether or not I believe it to be entirely true. It is true enough. I am not a machine, or a writing-machine (machine savant). But to-day I became wrangled by the thought that none of this is of any use at all. Or that is of some use but my life is too insular to be touched by it in any drastic way since the Congo experience.

You are not the first or last to dwell on my foreigner’s accent, my consistent mispronunciation. Ha! A day laborer left to work at Steve’s asked for a metal drill bit when I was left alone, and I detected in his face a humorous apprehension at my speech, as he tipped his head slightly leftward like a ponderous bird, straining to hear the newcomer’s cry-call.

Both life and art are obscured by mists and going about either with a sense of wishing to render justice unto the world is akin to how I began Nigger of Narcissus, here recited in hazy memory—

Mr. Baker, chief mate, stepping out of the ship’s lit cabin into the darkness of the quarter-deck.

To struggle with one’s blurred vision as you leave the comfort of a lit place for a sea-like unknown is both the great fear and the great imperative.

                                                            Vale frater

                                                                        Ever yours

                                                                        CONRAD