Writer Mirene Arsanios did an interview with me for Ibraaz. Forensic Transgressions covers recent and upcoming work, from fictional epistolary in American Letters to literary translation in Waly Salomão’s Algaravias: Echo Chamber to net art in Bio. We also discussed the provenance of this very space.
Here’s an excerpt:
Mirene Arsanios: In 2009, in Rio de Janeiro, you started a blog called ‘South/ South’, which was transplanted to The New Inquiry in 2012. Can you briefly introduce ‘South/ South’ and what prompted it?
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi: ‘South/South’ is a crossing point for several ideas. At its broadest it allows for an extended questioning and critique of the dominance of western universalism. There are many ‘Souths’, inclusive of – but not limited to – the nations of the Global South and the southern hemisphere, and the American South. Their autonomous cultures are undervalued. Their systems of knowledge are undervalued. Their connectedness to each other is undervalued. The spirit of address is solidarity or speaking nearby and never for. But there is no single approach in style or content at all except that the concerns of those on the receiving end of big-scale ‘-isms’, like imperialism and colonialism, is an animator. I don’t believe in harbouring illusions about power.
‘South/South’ started when I was doing dissertation research for one year in Brazil. There are so many restrictions on a form like a dissertation. The soul constantly tries to escape its rigid planks. Everything else becomes interesting! But I had a long-standing interest in the way political and material life zigzag in and out of each other, and the blog became an open space of thought for that. For example, I think the very first post was about these new walls or so-called eco-security barriers being constructed around several favelas in Rio. The connection to walls elsewhere was so obvious that the residents of these communities dubbed theirs the ‘Gaza wall’. Well, this connection is already interesting at a surface level. What I became affected by was the nature of what sustained all of this. There’s the idea of a wall, and secondarily the way that idea is marketed and sold, but there’s also an indivisible material and aesthetic life belonging to it. And there’s a whole historical legacy dating back at least to Roman law that informs separation and security today.
But the blog is a starting point, an open repository where a lot of my ideas first take shape. It happened spontaneously and without any ambition, and I have let it evolve as it has needed to.
MA: In ‘Jet-Lagged Poem’, Salomão ponders departure and arrival: ‘To travel, for what and where to/ if we become unhappier/ upon return?’ In My Algeriance, Cixous says: ‘I have said elsewhere that when I departed, it was a pure departure: without return and without arrival; I departed…I went to France without thinking about it: I went to non-Algeria. So that when I arrived in France, I did not find myself there, I did not arrive there. What is more I have never managed to arrive in France.’ ‘Jet-Lagged Poem’ stalls in a zone between here and there, the virtual and the physical. Can you say more on that in-between?
MMG: Salomão lived through several military regimes in Brazil. Those years were rife with the contradictions of political authoritarianism: the isolating and dogmatic nature to the dictatorship on the one hand, and aggressively optimistic efforts at ‘modernization’ at all costs on the other. That contradiction played itself out in ways that are familiar to us. We have an idea of what it’s like to live through periods of mass social repression and networked realities and militarized landscapes and near-infinite consumer choices. It’s a conjugated and multivalent reality that he’s dealing with. There’s a proliferation and explosion of choice but a deep and lasting loneliness common to nearly everyone. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Salomão’s self-described birth as a poet happened while he was imprisoned for marijuana possession. Prison is a stalled zone, as you say. What I find powerful is that for him, the act of searching requires an artist to be still. Stillness and limitation and non-arrival isn’t conventionally associated with wild and hellishly beautiful art.