The Coming Revenge

In Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue (2015), she wonders:

To what degree are creative acts antidotes to the desire for cultural or institutional revenge (91)?

Kapil is writing the story of a race riot through a collection of images. Or scenes. Where the voice that tells the story seeps through into the Ban that portends to hold the collection together. It is a story told through averted vision. For the multiple Bans of the novel, there is the text as some sort of permanent marking around what is otherwise a nothing, a negation. The writing is an act of refusal, but there is not yet revenge. I believe that is still to come. I believe it—the creative act—is not an antidote, not entirely. Though something is made possible, which might just be revenge itself.


Failing amidst an army

In conversation with a dear friend recently, she was describing the desire to fail more, which to me sounds like the reciprocal impulse of bravery, a position that makes risk-taking possible. The future may come as we imagine it, or it may come otherwise, but there is only life as it is already if we do nothing. I was reminded of our conversation as I read through the final episode of Juliana Spahr and David Buuck’s An Army of Lovers (2013). Set in five parts, each perhaps related to the others, the central characters wonder at the futility of artistic creation, knowing that music cannot cure disease, that poetry cannot stop the warming of the climate and that performance art cannot end the practice of torture. The book ends with a glorious, extended call to act none-the-less, specifically in collaboration, despite the fact that circumstances may remain unchanged—because in the acting there is an electricity that is transmitted amongst us.

“We want art that makes us wet and driven, driven to flail and whelp and court failures in our impulse to action, again and again, failing with ever more grace and cunning, until futility becomes the magic that when dissolved beneath the tongue of all those ready to bark leads to ever more fruitful inquiries, for our bodies are bored by answers, which is why we wish to striate and rejuvenate the questions, even if in our questioning some of us are led to then ask how might we refuse this, refuse all of this” (139).

And I was reminded of my dear friend and how much I want to fail with her again. That thing between us is its own kind of life, and we can tend to that as a political gesture, encouraging each other to believe that music or poetry or performance can come to bear on the world outside of our intimate connection. Even if it can’t. Or, not in the ways we imagine it.


Sovereignties and Colonialisms


Today, the third major conference of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association opens in Toronto at York University. Entitled Sovereignties and Colonialisms: Resisting Racism, Extraction and Dispossession, the conference “aims to critique settler colonialism and white supremacy; challenge colonial gender binaries; examine genealogies of anti-Black racism and colonial racial formations; and think about resistance and oppression transnationally, in ways that challenge western hegemony and the travels of racist and colonial methods.” So many amazing minds have gathered to talk about sovereignty and colonialism from a range of perspectives and across a breadth of topics. The full schedule can be accessed here.

On Friday morning, 10:45-12:00 in room ACE 003, I will be participating in a panel called Art, Literature and Representations of Indigeneity with Sean Kennedy (CUNY), who will be speaking about “Indigeneity, Desire, and Refusal: Reconfiguring Literary Studies for Decolonization,” and Katherine Starks (Independent), who will be speaking about “A Holistic Approach to Gregory Scofield’s I Knew Two Métis Women.” I will be talking about the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition, testing some ideas about the decolonizing potential of cultural institutions, especially ones so closely tied (financially and ideologically) to the Canadian state. (This presentation at CESA is an edited version of a paper I gave in April as part of the University of Toronto’s 5th Annual Graduate English Conference: Memory, Memorialization, and Forgetting.)

The way that Indigenous identification functioned in the context of Sakahàn was not only a claim of being from a place since time immemorial; it also marked an inextricable connection to experiences of colonization. Considering Canada’s colonial history, Sakahàn was aptly situated at the country’s national gallery, an institution which has often acted as a mechanism of colonial subjugation by way of its perpetuation of Eurocentric art-historical values and subsequent omission of artworks and narratives that emerge from other cultural traditions. Unsurprisingly, many of the works within the exhibition were themselves acts of resistance to the gruesome inheritance of colonization and expressions of the ongoing struggles against it.

Theoretically, the exhibition was a gesture of solidarity with the decolonial work that is our living responsibility. And yet, the NGC undid at least some of this work through a repeated gesture: disclaimers that formally distanced the gallery from the politics of the work on display. Focusing on the appearance of the disclaimer directly next to the didactic panel for Nadia Myre’s work For those who cannot speak: the land, the water, the animals and the future generations (2013), I will discuss the responsibilities of curators and institutions in presenting work that directly engages decolonial politics within a colonial context.

Does the presentation of Myre’s work, in and of itself, constitute a moment of cultural self-determination, despite the presence of the disclaimer? Or does the disclaimer in some way neuter the decolonial potential of the work as displayed at the National Gallery?


Weak Dialectics

I am frustrated at the lack of generosity our electronic conversations compel. I am frustrated, in general, that there seems to be a social value to asserting the shortcomings of another’s ideas rather than trying to translate between one way of knowing and another, in order to engage the ideas of another with as much integrity as possible. I’m so fucking mad that we don’t want to have our ideas changed more than we want to induce shame in others. It’s so fucking boring. We are boring.

But thank goodness for reading. I came upon these words is Laura Broadbent’s Interviews (2014), which are drawn from a posthumous interview with Jean Rhys (the text is reconfigured from Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea [1966] and Good Morning Midnight [1939]):

The audience rocks with laughter
at the exhausted, collapsing woman.
It’s so easy to make a person
who hasn’t got anything
seem wrong.

It’s always like that.
When you are tottering,
somebody peculiarly well qualified
comes along and shoves you down.
And stamps on you.

And I think, at least these feelings are real. This is what literature gives me, this is what poetry reveals.


Müller, Heiner

As quoted in Suzanne Scanlon’s Her 37th Year, An Index:

The only thing a work of art can achieve is to create the desire for a different state of the world. And this desire is revolutionary.

(What I first read for “Heiner” was “Helen” and came upon Helene Müller, who, according to Wikipedia, was “one of the first European women to put together a major art collection.” Equally plausible that she would have said such a thing, and without know Heiner’s work, I almost prefer my mis-reading to fact.)

Happenings, SBC

The Oblique Cut, et cetera

Photo courtesy of Jackie Wang.

Photo courtesy of Jackie Wang.

As the final events of SBC’s Talk Show exhibition, which focuses on the art and politics of conversation, this weekend Jackie Wang and I are going to investigate language in a couple different ways: we’ll examine how words can gloss systemic phenomena and how words can be a way into/out of the shadow that runs aside living. We’ll be talking and we’ll be writing, and the whole thing is participatory. There’s still a spot or two left in the workshop, which is free!, so if you wanna get tough on your logic and/or get tough on mine and/or invoke the oblique cut and/or figure out what Jackie means by “the trauma monster,” then you should come join us. All events happen at SBC (#507, 372 Ste-Catherine ouest).

April 24, 7-9 pm, Jackie Wang in conversation with cheyanne turions

Departing from Jackie Wang’s text “Against Innocence; Race, Gender and the Politics of Safety,” Wang and turions will engage the audience in a discussion about the precision of language. As Wang notes in her text, the “social, political, cultural and legal recognition [of Black people in North America] only happens when a person is thoroughly whitewashed, neutralized and made unthreatening…[and that] using ‘innocence’ as the foundation to address anti-Black violence is an appeal to the white imaginary.” Collectively, we will attempt to map how language works to obscure and deflect systemic exercises of power, envisioning tactics to use language more precisely, in order to reveal and dismantle.

Those attending are encouraged to pre-read “Against Innocence,” which can be downloaded from LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism here.

April 25, 11 am-5 pm, The Oblique Cut: A Writing Workshop

Participation in the workshop is limited. To register, please contact SBC Gallery at 

Participation in the workshop is free.

“How can I explain it to you? I’ll try. It’s that I’m perceiving a crooked reality. See through an oblique cut. Only now have I sensed the oblique in life. I used to only see through straight and parallel cuts. I didn’t notice the sly crooked line. Now I sense that life is other.” —Clarice Lispector, Água Viva

Drawing on Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva, Wang will lead a writing workshop that uses Lispector’s idea of the oblique cut as a way of communally exploring the relationship between trauma, the written word, the fleshy body and something Wang calls “the trauma monster.” Together, we will try to enact the cut that casts life as other.

Jackie Wang is a poet, musician and academic, and is the author of the zines On Being Hard FemmeMemoirs of a Queer HapaThe Adventures of Loneberry and The Phallic Titty Manifesto. In her critical essays she writes about queer sexuality, race, gender, the politics of writing, mixed-race identity, prisons and police, the politics of safety and innocence, and revolutionary struggles. She blogs at Ballerinas Dance with Machine Guns and she is currently working on a book or two.

Photo courtesy of SBC Gallery.

Conversation documentation courtesy of SBC Gallery.