blindsided (an experiment in remembering and forgetting)

blindsided - original photo by pia ednie-brown

an experiment in recalibrated perception

by chance i come across a brilliant land art installation in a small thicket of trees on the periphery of our cabin retreat. simple, elegant, fragile, rich: it has been created by three danish artists as a site-specific gift to our temporary community.

it is also the last thing that i will see for the next hour or so.

a blindfold is placed over my eyes. black and moderately worn, it is the type of blindfold preferred by the frequent airline traveller or perhaps by one who lives sufficiently north that the sun rarely sets at certain times of the year. i can see cracks of daylight at the bottom of my visual field, even though i am craving deep darkness. we begin to move.

i am guided by my left hand as we begin walking away from the art installation, back towards the main cabin area. i hear voices off in the distance — noni's in particular stands out from the lake area off to the far right. or at least that is what the rough map in my memory is trying to tell me. where are my coordinates?

the touch on my hand stays cool even though my body bakes with many fevers of exposure. what are the politics of consent in this context? i wonder briefly, although it may not have been at this point in our journey. while my consent is not one of language, it is present nonetheless.

there is a pause. i wait and wait before i realize i am meant to figure out some sort of puzzle. that's it, there is a short step in front of me, i feel it with the edge of my foot. we've intersected a small wooden boardwalk: i don't remember that from my mental map … where are we? i am gently assisted onto the step and then off the other side. there are more voices now and i feel even more acutely exposed, naked to my context or how my body-in-relation is being perceived, if at all. the field as i understand it has been compromised by this invisibility.

we keep walking. though the voices and their conversations do not seem to break rhythm, i feel more acutely aware of a collective gaze that connects to-them-to-me in some way. the relational field has been altered irrevocably, or maybe it is just in my mind.

we stop once again. this time the hand gently pushes down on my shoulder and then i am sitting at the end of a picnic table. the voices continue to pretend that nothing unusual is taking place, and maybe that is the case with these thinkers and creators — maybe it is only unusual for me.

wait, did i already say that?

slowly, my shoe is untied and removed, followed by my sock. i think it is my right foot first, though i cannot be sure at this time. the other foot follows. i feel a brief tremor of thrill or fear as i wonder if anything else will be removed. once again my left hand is taken — an already familiar comfort — and the bare skin of my soles feels the cool grass underfoot. once again we are walking.

noni asks why that man is blindfolded and barb tries to explain, though i can tell by the sound of her voice that she's not quite certain either. exposed. the ground underneath my feet changes from grass to hardscrabble dirt and tiny pebbles. the level path begins to slope away — we are heading down to the water's edge, i think. another pause, another puzzle: but this time i am more prepared and gently feel around with my foot for the large step in front of me. we proceed.

we enter a rowboat. i can feel its hydraulic imbalance underneath. i am sitting at the front of the boat, in the navigation seat. ha, ha! we push off from shore.

paddle, paddle. are we headed to the other side of the cove? another tiny thrill, far from the madding crowd. my exposure levels are stabilizing out here on the water and again i wonder briefly about the question of consent. i don't know where i'm going and my quality of touch has been radically reconfigured.

we don't make it to the other side of the cove, but rather describe a sweeping arc that leads back to the floating trampoline about 25 feet away from shore. we dock with the trampoline and i am helped aboard from the rowboat. erin and brian are there, alanna's laughter sings from off to the right, and i think somebody else was present as well.

i sit there like some sort of praying mantis or character from a pulp fiction movie. erin asks something about what i am doing, i don't remember what exactly. i reply that i don't think i'm supposed to talk. (and that is all i said for the duration of the exercise.) i'm just here/hear in a listening role.

now back on the boat, though this time i hold the oars. awkward gesture for me, even at the best of times, and now is not the best of times. i paddle off, my guide now sitting behind me in the boat. and off and off, i have no idea where we are or where we are going. i think we actually run slightly aground at one point, don't we?

as time passes i become convinced that my guide has quietly slipped out of the boat and left me there paddling blindly. turns out to be true, only i find out later that i was actually abandoned much earlier in the passage — though who can be certain of time in these imprecise storytellings?

and is it really abandonment we are describing anyway, or a stretching of the relational fibres toward a tentative autonomy?

noni breaks the silence of my contemplation, chattering and laughing with abandon. i try to hone in on her to find my way back to the dock but it sounds like she is running back and forth along the shoreline, a beacon in motion. i find out later that this perceived movement was relative: i've in fact been rowing in circles the entire time.

after much exercise, the sirens finally guide me back to the floating trampoline. i ferry the discussion back to shore — clever idea, erin. she is sitting in front of me, i think. she puts her hand on my left shoulder as she gingerly navigates her way to the back of the rowboat. i paddle, and the extra weight of my cargo isn't as noticeable as i'd thought it would be. i do not sing opera en route, as we would do in the dark later that week.

i am helped out of the boat and guided uphill to the other trampoline, from water to land. two trampolines: did you feel the difference?

i'm jumping, tentatively. brian is with me. was erin or saara there as well? i want to say one of them but i can't be certain then, and i do not remember now. i do hear noni's voice as she joins us on the trampoline and i hope i don't crush her in my awkward bounding about.

have you ever tried doing yoga on the subway? start there and then add unpredictable vertical oscillations on trampoline elasticity — or something like that. my gesture in staying on my feet can only be described as supple arthritis. except for those times i fell.

time to go, but it was fun. i exit the trampoline netting, am led back over to my socks and shoes, and my blindfold is removed. or maybe we walk back over to the front door of the lodge first, i can't be sure. though my other senses have been spoiled, i never fully let go of vision.

maybe next time.

get your head out of your Asana

Courtesy of Lululemon

i guess the models
lost their Heads in the process
of achieving Enlightenment.

(this is not a publishable poem,
you bet your Asana.)

Male Art

dancing+posing

Idea for a Conceptual Art Project, No.22:

1. Buy an old Remington typewriter, paper, and plenty of carbon-copy sheets.

2. Write a letter of application to the National Ballet of Canada's apprentice programme (sponsored by RBC). Mail it directly to the Artistic Director of the company.

3. Tell them that you are 38 years old, you cannot touch your toes, you are slightly overweight, your joint flexibility is poor, your breathing stamina is spotty, your weak upper body strength prevents you from lifting other dancers, and your overall body expressivity is generally restrained and uninteresting.

4. But tell them that you have an athletic background which allows you to readily grasp new motor skills. Tell them you will work very hard to overcome any deficiencies between yourself and the other dancers.

5. For the requested photo, attach that picture of you doing Natarajasana during yoga class — you know, the pose you're not very good at. It sort of looks like ballet.

6. In case you are unsuccessful in your first application, submit a new letter the following year. Update vital statistics accordingly.

7. Re-apply annually until either: a) you are successful, or b) seven years following your ddddeath.

8. Share all project correspondence with Sophie Calle upon completion.

vital air (yoga poem no.1)

inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
i n h a l e
e x h a l e
i n h a l e
e x h a l e
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
i n h a l e
E X H A L E
i n h a l e
E X H A L E
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
.
.
     exhale!
inh
      xha
  hal
     exh
 nha
        ale
inha
      xhal
inhal
      xhale
inhale
     exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
i n h a l e
e x h a l e
I N H A L E . . .
EX(in)EX(in)EX(in)EX(in)
EX(in)EX(in)EX(in)EX(in)
E X H A L E . . .
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
i n h a l e
e x h a l e
i n h a l e
e x h a l e
i   n   h   a   l   e
e   x   h   a   l   e
i   n   h   a   l   e
e   x   h   a   l   e
i    n    h    a    l    e
e    x    h    a    l    e
i    n    h    a    l    e
e    x    h    a    l    e
i    n    h    a    l    e    x    h    a    l    e

comma, garçon

Pain and intensity

One of the most important components of sport and physical culture, yet continuously one of the least considered, is the pain one experiences both during and after the embodied becoming of athletic poiesis. To some degree, however small, participating will always hurt. Degree, or intensity, is important here: this pain should be considered on a spectrum from the simple lactic acid soreness one gets from overly taxing the muscles during a workout, to the small tears that appear in muscle fibres from stretching them beyond their current state of elasticity, to the bruises resulting from elbows and other sundry collisions in a basketball game, to the more acute injuries such as sprained ankles or dislocated fingers or broken bones, to the severest sporting traumas requiring surgical intervention.

adidas, threshold

Wherever it may be located on the spectrum, this pain may be variably distasteful or pleasurable, depending upon the context and the relation. But the intensity makes itself present nonetheless, periodically returning as if an old friend or a musical motif that weaves into the soundtrack of one's life. Make no doubt: pain is a marker of memory.

Pain remembers pain.

The anesthesia of telesthesia

At what point does capital enter or infuse this spectrum of pain? There is certainly a qualitative difference between the pain of lifting weights at the gym or a yoga class, on the one hand, and the ruptured ACL of a professional football quarterback that requires surgical intervention on the other. Generally speaking, this difference in the quality of intensity emerges as a question of scale in the assemblage that is the body athletic: have the fibres and connective tissues been severed or ruptured at a microcellular level or at a more complex macro-scale?

But there is also a structural difference between the conditions that led to the pain and the forms of intervention (rest, surgery) required to heal the injured parts of the body. We witness a capitalist imperative in football, for example, that yields to increased speed and size in players, more violent collisions and subsequent injuries, and the becoming-commonplace of surgical interventions to return the cyborg athletes to full operational status as soon as possible — such that an asset does not become unprofitable or a labourer does not risk losing a job.

Saved By Technology

The athletic subject undergoing a surgical procedure is administered an anaesthetic before the operation such that the pain cannot be felt, for once a threshold of intensity is crossed on the spectrum of pain, any sort of pleasure leads to pure agony and trauma. (Is this commensurate with the risks of absolute deterritorialization that Deleuze and Guattari warn against?) One does not even want to approach such a threshold again and the narcosis must be welcomed. In doing so, however, one also opens up the possibility for another (the administrator of the medical gaze) to cut, sever and otherwise realign the structural fibres and relational flows of one's animal body.

Is this so unlike the narcosis that the sports fan embodies when integrated with the networked media-entertainment apparatus? Archives of statistical data, the tracking-images of surveillance and spectacle, and the algorithmic engines of machinic intelligence form a different assemblage with the professional athlete, one that allows a vicarious participation rather than an inert spectatorship. Sports television and videogames are crucially founded upon this principle: if one has experienced at some point the pain of athletic poiesis then the simulation becomes acceptable insofar as its non-touch may represent some never-felt new pain.

Put differently, nostalgia in sport assumes a different meaning as it becomes less about experiencing an idyllic past that has been lost to progress and rather about allowing us to remember a history of our own pain without actually having to submit to its intensity once again. We allow a class of worker-athletes to experience the touch of pain for us instead, which we then consume in mediated and narcotic form. We cut, sever and otherwise realign the structures and flows of this singular-plural body in the process. Flesh intimacy yields to data intimacy, never to return.

Pain remembers pain, then, but perhaps memory hurts memory as well.

Touch and its return

What are the structural conditions of possibility governing memory? This very contemporary question seems to be a matter of determining what technical apparatus is both generated by and interfaced with the human body, does it not? But it is also a matter of the flesh. Where do technical apparatus and flesh meet on Chris Marker's sunless visual horizon? Where do they meet Jonathan Crary's ruminations on the struggle between the collective flesh of the multitude and military-techno-capital over the right to sleep and dream?

Threat Alert Graffiti, NYC

unknown artist
street mural, lower east side, new york city
november, 2009

How long does the perfume linger on the lapel of a man's wool jacket? How long does an image from the eye of Marker's camera flicker in the eye of that same man's memory? How does Marker's Sans Soleil resonate with Crary's reflections on sleep, capital, and the sensations of always-on digitality? As pain and memory most assuredly weave into one another in a very fleshy or visceral way, we might also reconsider how it is that we dream in and of the flesh in the age of ubiquitous data and light-networks.

For what if it was all a dream sequence, anyways? Or what if the whole thing was digital and the perfume was but a simulacrum fashioned from the archival bits of a hundred late-night B-movies and a thousand trendy style magazines scattered across the subway stations of Tokyo?

Digital, touching: will flesh intimacy return? Erin Manning writes:

My gesture toward you is a momentary one. There is no touch that can last beyond the first moment of contact. To touch longer, I must touch again: as my focus shifts elsewhere, my skin soon forgets to acknowledge yours. To touch me, you must return the touch to and from yourself in an ongoing process of exchange. Because it is temporary and immediate, the gesture is never more than momentary. This is a political moment in the most ethical sense, for it demands a continual re-articulation rather than a subsuming into the same. If I attempt to subsume you through touch, I will not reach you. Instead, I will inflict the worst kind of violence upon your body: your body will act only as the recipient of my directionality. Your body will become prey. If, instead, I acknowledge the ephemerality of the gesture, I risk an opening toward [what Agamben refers to as] "the sphere of ethos of the most proper sphere of that which is human" (Politics of Touch, p. 60).

The layout of this particular photo spread appears hip, gritty, underground chic. As they have faced each other in the past across the basketball court or over the dinner table, so too do photographer and model face each other now, standing on opposite platforms of the subway, she to take the A train uptown while he will hop the southbound line to Kreuzberg. But this time the vector of becoming is important: the two train lines are headed in opposite directions. Antagonism and relational aesthetics and an eerie silence. One cannot help but laugh at what is either the cheapest of metaphors or perhaps the formulaic ending to this particular B-movie.

Medusa laughs, at any rate. Or is it Capital? The hour is late, too late, it has been statistically determined, to run frequent and profitable service on these particular public transit lines: there are no trains on the horizon. The two stare at each other across the empty tracks. Their gaze lingers, lingers for too long and then some, lingers for what becomes an uncomfortably interminable period of time. Where is the goddamned train?

The banality of this moment has become spectacular! Or, maybe the cinematic spectacle has been rendered banal by the rhythms and perturbations of capital in flux. He cannot be certain either way.

But certainly a space has been opened by this uncomfortable duration, a space in which the relational fibres come to the fore as units of analysis once again, as with the embodiment of athletic poiesis discussed at the outset of this memoir. Though we are describing here a micropolitics of intersubjectivity, as with before this "micro" begs the question of scale: At what level of embodiment does the trauma appear? Have the relational fibres been stretched, bruised, or severed? Will they be subsumed within the worst kind of violence inflicted upon a body? How will they heal?

Once again he cannot be certain. After all, pain remembers pain.

Coda

June, 2007: The sleep comes, but it is the fragmented, delirious sleep of a man with dengue fever. Tortured sleep. Rivulets of sweat flow into tributaries of liquid linen. Shards of disconnected thought mosaic the global electronic conscious and the matrix of the unconscious. Material and immaterial bridge centuries of temporality. Experiences gained and lost.

A Meditation

Can yoga practised today in a rational, square studio space truly claim to fully represent and embody the rich philosophical and historical tradition of yogic practice? Is a disclaimer made at the door?