Monthly Archives: July 2013

I was invited to speak on performance for eight minutes at Naropa, specifically on the question: Is there an aspect of your work that is lost if it is never performed? What follows is a response, the transcription of a process. The footnotes inserted afterward.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that this is an impossible task; to attempt to speak rhizomatically on performance for eight minutes is to leave many things out, is to sacrifice complexity for clarity, and because I care for you or because I could care for you, I will try to hold these complexities, the best I can, though they slip between the cracks of every sentence.

Coming from a perspective of being between, of being queer or trans, and similarly of those who are between cultures, nations, binaries or borders, the notion of what is and is not performance begins to collapse.[1] Let me see if I can elaborate. And I will begin from my own experience in the hope that it carries across.

Being outside what is the norm trains you to recognize the gestures of normativity. Having been born female bodied, my upbringing was immersed in the gestures and codes of normative (white) femininity, in this immersion, a carrying of outside within oneself, to rupture, to deconstruct these codes to even be able to recognize them; subtle, simple things, the lilt up at the ends of sentences, implying a question?, the tilt of the head when another is speaking, raising the pitch of my voice when I want to get something from someone, crossing the legs, holding the body at a slight angle in relation to a speaking someone, not initiating conversation, how to giggle to deflect attention, there are many other examples. When viewed together, these motions form a gestural language.

I was not directly trained in the gestural language of normative (white) masculinity, I had to learn through research, through observation, to tip my head back while talking, to square my shoulders, to lace my fingers together and lean back into my hands pushing my hips forward [here the fingers are laced together, the body of the speaker leaning back and into], to place a heavy period at the ends of my sentences, to widen my stance, to pitch down the voice, for example. And that is not to say I am trans-masculine.  And that is to recognize the social and economic and geographic limitations placed on certain bodies preventing their ability to move fluidly, to access certain modes of normativity, to pass in this way, whether they wish to or not.

Those of us who are able to pass or who are aware that we are failing to pass are well versed in languages such as these, whether those are languages of gesture, gender, dialect or culture, nationality, what have you.

But a shift happens, in this awareness. These languages become unmoored. They are shaken loose from their stable position, a tectonic rumbling in the realm essential qualities, and these gestures, these languages become visible, in becoming visible, can be recognized as performance.[2] And this recognition collapses the binary, suddenly you see that everyone every day, at all times, in all places, whether you are aware of it or not are performing, and that in every moment of your performance, you are either re-inscribing the status quo or you are disrupting it. And so this performance-in-every-moment, whether you want it to be or not, whether you are aware of it or not, is also a political act.

This way of being body in the world, this awareness of performance-in-every-moment has been present in literary avant garde movements throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Consider the happenings or readymades of dada, consider fluxus scores, situationist situations, consider collage, found-language, annotation[3]. Consider the decentralizing that attempts to occur through death of the author, through N+7, through cut-up and other procedural practices, despite their often absence of the body, despite their often absence of a critique of colonialism. Consider the whiteness of the approaches I have mentioned. Consider somatics, the opening of many bodies through ritual and the positionality of your own body in relation to the limitations placed on other bodies. Consider a vector moving outward in all directions, emergence, the attempted dispersion of power through punk, DIY, RIOT GRRRL, the dispersed geography of the internet.

What if we consider these decentralizing movements in the context of the systematic erasure of free public spaces in the United States. And in many other places stained by colonialism. And here I am talking about land and property and privatization of reources, and here I am speaking of the criminalization and capitalization and militarization of the commons. And here I am speaking of sit and lie laws, of free speech zones, of stop and frisk, of the erasure of posse comitatus, of surveillance, of sanitization and safety and so many other methods of curtailing and the unequal distribution of these curtailings of different bodies. And when I speak of these small everyday curtailings and here I am quoting Erica Hunt (link to: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Hunt.php) who was quoting someone else, I do not remember, maybe Freire maybe Boal, who said that “we must always be practicing our freedom.”[4]

And so as our commons are being taken from us, how can we, as writers, as artists, as performers-at-all-times, create new forms of commoning?

How in eight minutes, or a lifetime, to trace the lines between the body and gesture, gesture and language, language and the everyday, the everyday and performance, performance and the land, the land and the limits placed upon it, the limits placed upon us and the need we have for commoning. I have no answers. I do not know how to do this because it does not exist yet. And we already know how to do this because it does not exist yet.

What if we consider performance as the site of intersection between a body, or bodies, and the commons. And when I say commons I mean land and I mean language and the space of the page[5] and also this room, and I also mean you and you and you and you and yous. And how can we pull these invisible threads to the surface? And when we are everyday, how can we prepare ourselves to encounter this shimmering field of possibility, this space that betweens us.


[1] In the introduction to Disidentifications. José Muñoz proposes that “insert quote here.

[2] Having eaten my copy of the book, Gender Trouble, for a performance last summer, I can no longer accurately cite the source of this way of thinking in my body. The words have been consumed, have altered me on a cellular level, and I must only assume have euphemistically “passed through” by now. I can recall to you the taste of Butler’s language, which was dry and stuck to the sides of my mouth, though, it stuck.

[3] Specifically, annotation of the everyday occurring through conversations. See: footnote 5.

[4] In searching the internet for this quote days later, I uncovered a thing having been washed through many ears and my own mistranslating, it was Freire who writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that “Education [insert: Performance] either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which [we] deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of [our] world.”

[5] After I had spilled his coffee across the table, while we were soaking it up with white napkins, JH Phrydas asked with emphatic hands if I would agree that “a page in a book is a point of contact between two [or more] bodies,” given the accumulation of knowledge on mirror neurons and empathetic neurological processes. See: essay. [link to transcript of panel discussion that has never yet existed]

I woke with a nosebleed. A curl of blood coming out of. Premonition, u said. The body anticipates. When I was a child, u said. Nosebleeds. Would happen. Often. A premonition in the body. Something bad, u said, Would always happen after. I won’t go into it, u said, The bad, not this time. And we will know from the curl of blood that something was coming. The body, u said, and I believed you, anticipates the event. U said I believe you, anticipating the knot and splinter. Fracture in the body, when I was a child I won’t go and e would know. Fingers curl around lip and the HAZEL child nosebleeds in wake. Prepositions are orientation, I believe u, I believe u, I won’t go. But when I force my body in motion, sinuses release and ultraviolet blur escape cramp. Everything in motion.

by emji spero and joel farris
from a conversation with tessa micaela

re-Defining the Individual / the Movement

the movement (n.): 1) how can one start except to say that we could still be marching or to say that we were buzzing that there was this we or could still be or could be and that in this yawning moment everything and the electric body of allofus approaching, collapsing into; (2) i open my mouth and your voices are howling through, you cast my limbs across the lightning air, pulsing through, you could still release the clench of my hands, fifteen feet from here another bank window crumples into shards and recrystalizes, a sheer wall of grief there to be broken again, we crumple into our shards blinking and flickering on the harsh grey of the ground; 3) what is–a seed falls from your lips–this feeling–and lands on the grey earth; (4) the empty weight of lungs when no one else is breathing through you

the individual (n.): (1) your lethargic months, your aftermath. lying on the floor of your lovers living room, how every time. how you stop. moving. how every time you. lying flat on your back. shoulders sinking into gaze. falling past the razed landscape of the ceiling. through the apartment above you. through the attic and the pattering sounds, the small ceiling mammals. through dry arms, the lightning tree. murmurings draped like strings at the fractured corners of your vision. when the house is all hum and feigning silence; (2) the grey steel of the nothing sky, dragging yourself along behind, the body streaming; (3) you, bleeding from the ear. you, pressed to the concrete. you, followed home daily. you, and all these yous. you, constrained by sentences. you, bending under the totality of the state. you, with your single rubber pencil, your name, your number. you, with your longing. your fine tooth comb. bends, and breaks.

the movement (v.): (1) if to still be rounding this corner, if to blink and the city shifts and we finding ourselves instead on a stairwell, a thousand in our body, a thousand and the forward thrill of we, some still hefting wooden chairs, stiff legs sprawling upward, some we dragging the couch behind us, and some we rushing to lift it up and over the lip; (2) to crowd the armrail, crowd the poolside, crowd the plaza, we pushing or pulling tables in the constant uphill current, up into the fresh green grass of this accidental departure, up into this artificially lush landscape, up we still processing, up as brass band blaring out this rage, we still bursting through the borders of this rage into every dry and unused building, as if every dry exhausted one of us could be filled; (3) to empty the home of the things once held dear, old letters and photographs, tired symbols of the past, before these too will have been taken from us; (4) gutted sofas on every streetcorner, we tear the slit wider, climbing inside, our cotton spilling outward from these eyes, this throat; (5) to arrive back home exhausted and slump into pillows still dressed, despite the stain of o-chloro benzal malo no nitrile still burning on our breath.

the individual (n.): (1) in jail they asked you to remove your breasts. because you were powerless. you puckered your lips at them and winked. and pushed the soft mass together squeezing hard before relenting. taking first one and then the other and dropping them into the sterile plastic bag. with your keys, your drumsticks, your i.d., as their hands found the shape of your thighs, found the shape between your thighs, or between your distant glare and the tensing of your thighs; (2) you, who wanted all the messy signifiers of gender and i who only wished to be rid of them; (3) our bodies pushed into narrow aluminum shelves, you and other yous shelved on the left and i roughly wedged into the shelf on the right. this body barely fit, though there were many with and inside you there on the right and here this body into wracked odd angles; (4) the ways in which we were already separated; (5) from the inside of the ear’s soft lips, i could still have been bleeding; (6) the tapping of your many bodies, your knees and hands, your foreheads and heels, against the thin metal sheet as if to splitting this van open. as if to fill all the cavities left by jutting limbs against the frame, the armpits, crooks of elbows, beneath the chin, between the forking thighs, the sound of your knocking; (7) hollow thud of a body thick with gravity against the ground. the whole weight of a knee against the back of the heart. the dense packed body behind it. crushing the ribs and the whiteness that blinds and the dark.

Returning to the Site of Ruin

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i wanted to locate a site of ruin. i was thinking about this my own body, the ruin of this body; having lost its source, the expulsion of the childhood home. the separation of memory from site. i was thining of ruin. the long process of displacement from an original context. ruin, as that which has lost its source and i was walking out into the creek. clothes left folded on the shore. up to my thighs in thought, in the streaming.

this is what come of this way of streaming and this way of standing in streaming:

what is the site of the ruined body? of the ruined social body? does the ruin reside in the body of treyvon martin? in the proliferation of images, the evidences of the body? in the photographed laughing face of george zimmerman upon acquittal? in our response? in what streets, in broken windows, on facebook? between these conversations?

if a site of ruin is that which no longer has a source, if we can see ruin as the signifier whose signified has been so deeply buried in the past (in earth, under history / language / etc.). then is the wound too close? too fresh? the rift in the usually smooth linguistic veiling of racism torn open, enough, for a moment, to be noticed by the many?

could blackness for a moment been pushed out of its residence in the uncanny valley[1] of empathy, that liminal space in which a black man could somehow still be thought of as 5/8 of a person, just close enough to be viewed as a threat, as monstrous. and through this act of violence, this multivalenced process of distancing, Trayvon Martin, and after all ain’t he just a man, made monster, made impotent as corpse, made potent in photograph of corpse, made empathetic as faceless hoody, made many through slogan[2], made minstrel of on tumblr[3], made symbol as another Rodney King or another Oscar Grant or another [insert black man murdered by police here], and in this mediated space, finally, we have all killed this young man, we have all stepped out of the car and pulled the trigger and hastened the process of making the man into the body and the body into the martyr and the martyr into the monument, and, returning to the site of the ruin, days that are decades later, finding only an eroded empty signifier, worn shiny by the touch of so many hands, and having lost the memory of how it came to be there, we create our fictions as to who might have erected this monument, and why. and we climb up along the smooth stone surface as if to somehow touch the event through the distance of memory, and say take a photo and so some of us climbs down and takes a photo. and we go back to our jobs and we go back to making dinner and we go back because we are tired and we want to shower and because it is not, in the end, our bodies at the end of the barrel every day, and then we go out and we shoot another young black man. we stand back from the body and we look and we cannot look away, and we look away.


[1] the uncanny valley: a phenomenon discovered by Masahiro Mori in the field of robotics, in which as a robot is made to appear more human, people respond more empathetically to it, until a point is reached where the robot appears almost-but-not-quite human at which point it is regarded, suddenly, with revulsion.

[2] the rally cry of We are all Treyvon! rolls through the riot. we are not all Treyvon Martin. for those of us who are white, or who pass as white, to claim the suffering of black people in the United States, even masked as a declaration of solidarity, is a modern form of blackface. though it is useful to recognize how we are all connected, how we are implicated, how our roles become inscribed more deeply and our collective futures determined by the contingencies of this event.

[3] through the meme of treyvonning, when a white person in a hoodie lays facedown on the ground with their arms outstretched, one hand clutching bag of skittles, the other a soda can, in imitation of the crime scene photograph of Treyvon Martin, and someone photographs them and posts this photo to tumblr.