Look at the Material
The writing (like everything else) is still tattering, fraying, falling apart.
These days, saying something feels like too much. You might say I’d rather ask questions, but even questioning misses what I’m after. Fred Moten says, “Words don’t go there”; maybe I’m pursuing what can’t be said, not because it’s beyond understanding, but because language per se can’t address or reveal it. If you’ve kept up with me here, this isn’t news. Last month’s newsletter unraveled into a tangle of words, sounds, images. Various threads looped around some central point, even as they trailed off into their own directions.
This month, I intended to write something about tissue. Fabric and muscles, tension and fraying. Many objects in my life are literally falling apart, worn down as they’ve been by various actions—walking, sweating, sitting on trains and buses—that have constituted long-standing conditions in my life. These are conditions that are literally failing to serve me1, as evidenced by the backpack with busted seams, or the pair of shoes threatening to tear.
The prospect of writing the essay sat close to me, pricking at my skin like a rug burn for weeks. The text only came in shards. I’d try and stoke them, but eventually decided it would take too much time to flesh out the ideas. Procrastination got compounded by a personal emergency, and both yawned on further and further into the endless extension I was already granting myself. I just need space, I told myself! How else to understand the hole in a pair of jeans?
I felt at a loss for material. How could I think this, when I worked through the fallacy of “having nothing to say” just last month? But that kind of material slips easily. Without tensility, it falls down or floats away. Or maybe that’s only true when I try to hang it all on my-Self, that pretend being that floats at a single point in space and time. How much longer do you think it’ll take me to learn that it’s only through reading others, witnessing others, being with others, that I find material—that is, my conditions for being?
How long until I feel the truth, for real (ha!), that past iterations of me are among those others?
I may not be writing in the way I’ve wanted to, but I’ve never stopped putting my hand on various things in life. The things I’m sharing here have helped tack this stretch of existence as it unfurls. There’s one item I hold most dearly, and it’s the last one in this letter: it’s a piece I made right at the beginning of 2020 called loam. I didn’t share it with many people when I made it. Why I didn’t is a question I’m investigating now. In that searching, I sense a lot about making parts of myself available to others, and the process of deciding who will (or won’t) see what, and when, and how.
One condition I want to change is a reluctance to talk my shit because, come on—look at the material! What a concept: this platform can be a place to share things I’ve already made and am proud of. There are always conditions; there is always material; and the way a knot or wrinkle or tear pulls on a fabric’s weave, lets you know what there is to work and how to work it.
In its first iteration, I’d planned to close this newsletter with an anecdote about a deep-tissue massage I got last week. The process pressurized me such that I couldn’t even trust my breathing, my relaxation, or my voluntary release of tension—skills I’ve acquired as a Good Dancer—to pull me through it. My-Self, that ongoing longing for untroubled and untroubling coherence, could not save me. All there was, in that tiny room, was learning hidden tensions. Hanging in a net of sounds (wall clock, fan hum, piano muzak, my cracking back). Cussing and gritting my teeth. Letting my knots be combed out by another. Waiting my way through the unraveling.
Adrian Piper, “Kinds of Performing Objects I Have Been: Notes for Rosemary Mayer’s ‘Performance and Experience,’” in Out of Order, Out of Sight (Volume 1: Selected Writings in Meta-Art 1968-1992), 89-90.
There is also, in opera’s inclusion of language, of oration, and of speech-as-song, the very crux of opera’s ability to define its own operation, and to design and practice operations that operate beyond opera. Operations as individual performative acts may be themselves defined already by forces more powerful than singing voices onstage, but definitions of what operates continue to form dialogical, potential, transformative, participatory, interpretive, insensible, intentional, consequential, emergent, and otherwise here-defined-as improbable operationalities. In definitions themselves, from defining that which is put “into scene” as a performance of opera, through defining what we mean by “opera,” there is an ability to “think through form” using words as forms, as well as other iterations, activations, and ideations, including those which we may experience as the plethoric forms of musical notation available and possible. […] Beyond the opera as production (classical definition of “operation,” to produce) into opera as operating, working, in a processual way, opera combines the linguistic and the extralinguistic, the sensate and the symbolic, the viable and the insane, across many layers of operational process.
Esther Neff, “Opera as Operations,” Experimental Music Yearbook (2015; emphasis mine).
loam (2020), by me. I recommend watching it with headphones if you can. (Visit the Vimeo link for more information.)
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