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Superconversations Day 23: Paul Boshears responds to Ernesto Oroza & Gean Moreno, "La Ville Souvenir"


Bad Memory

Photography by Eric Michael Johnson for The New York Times (source)

“Would the slick sock of the ocean please consume me and not remember? Up here the sog goes on forever. Shopping malls and shooting ranges and apartment building deep beneath. A wronged froth foaming over our years together, awaiting evaporation under human sky. Now ripped to ribbons. Backyards buried. Our mottled sun. The crumbs we call plantations. Cemeteries weathered to no headstone. All my brothers and their women and their children’s children unmarked and eye to eye. The ocean’s face: a thick lick of grime and white rice and spit and petrol and blood. Somehow I am up here. Somehow I am unsplit. Throat ripped in undone cattle. Skin tanned so thick I’ll never feel.”
Blake Butler, “Bloom Atlas,” in Scorch Atlas (Chicago: Featherproof Books, 2009)

“Souvenirs only remind you of buying them.”
—Dave Berman, “Governors on Sominex,” in Actual Air (New York: Open City Books, 1999)

Moreno and Oroza invite us to imagine a world being overcome with a baleful tchotchke. In its cancerous metabolizing of our memories this malefic mass is reducing “the city” into “a blank space without identity.” The world is overcome with this strange (from the Latin extraneus, “outside”) thing that, without reason, arrived in the city. Theirs is a story about ontology, the study of what is. To ask “what is” is an act of consumption. It begins a circuit of economimetic circulation. Economimesis is the creation of values and concepts and the exchanges involved in their representation. In asking “what is,” we create a framework in which it is possible to transmogrify that which doesn’t register properly with us. By ascribing an identity to that which is unintelligible, or disgust-inducing in the case of Moreno and Oroza’s “pink mass,” we secure ourselves from the multiplication of other disgusting things. In establishing the criteria of our disgust at the pink mass we come to discern sections of the pink mass from sections. We can refer to the elements and actions of the pink mass that make it “this particular pink mass section here.” We then have the grounds for proper memories of the disgusting pink mass.

In exchange for securing ourselves against the haunting pink mass out there—amassing, overcoming everything into something unknown and unfaithful to our memory of how the world is—we begin to lose the opportunity for novelty to reveal itself. Aberrance is abhorrent.

I am from a city without an identity. At least this is what I am told regularly by some of the folks living here. Our city may have had an identity, but it is constantly under threat of being razed by speculative developers. Or, our city had an identity, but then three interstate highways were placed in the heart of our city to keep certain people from sharing the city with other people. Or, our city was invaded by European debt prisoners who exacerbated divisions among us and through this alienated us from our homes. Or, my city had an identity but then we sold out and now our city is just a metonym for any ol’ place.

I love this city, and in the way of an honest lover, I have to admit that I don’t know my city as well as I think. In Wendell Berry’s poem “The Country of Marriage” we read that our beloved is a path that leads always into a dark woods. A woods that we must enter unarmed, trusting. It is a dark path because it is a place beyond the capacity for light to travel. An unimaginable distance in which we can become engulfed, if we learn how to enter it. That is, if we learn how to consummate our relationship to that which we cannot subsume under our knowledge.

Of course, we already live in the souvenir world world Moreno and Oroza warn us about. The word “cunning” was used to describe the manner in which the La Ville Souvenir had established itself. This word demonstrates its robustness when presented alongside its etymological cousins: uncanny, kenning, kith, and kin. Each of these terms draw upon filiality as a governing metaphor for knowledge enactment.

What kinds of memories are permissible in the city?
What practices do we have that enable us to elide our relationships to one another in a place that eludes our initial comprehension?
Whose family practices will be tolerated?

Paul Boshears is a PhD candidate at the European Graduate School. Based in Atlanta, he has written for ART PAPERS, New American Paintings, and most recently collaborated with Lauri Stallings on her performance “And all directions I come to you” on view as part of Creative Time’s “Drifting in Daylight.”

This relationship can only be established if we understand that knowing comes with a certain level of violence applied to the dark woods, that our object of understanding can no longer remain as it was prior to us gaining epistemological traction upon it. It is the extent and form of this inevitably violent relationship that makeup most of what is missing in the battles between those advocating epistemology & ontology.

One thing for sure, we should not be afraid of knowing or knowing how to know. The dark wood can only be seen as dark because somewhere else the light not only is possible but existing and taken for granted.

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Yes, you’re absolutely right, this is a two-way street. To keep with the poetry references, “You must change your life.”

Not that “violence” is the wrong word, but it has a certain valence that would lead us somewhat astray, I think. The logic of violence is petulance, a hasty and ill-conceived force brought to bear on the matter at hand.

If by violent we mean that a powerful effect results from the transaction, then, yes, I agree.
It is a matter of trans-acting, however, a performative exchange.

Thus we can consummate our marriage, say, or one can be a consummate performer of the roles that their context finds them in.

Becoming adept at sussing-out what the prevailing material conditions call for, is a matter of apprenticeship. Here I do agree that we yeoman scholars (who tend to comprise those debates about epistemology and ontology) would benefit quite a lot from considering the means by which we achieve the effects we seek.

Thanks for helping me see the light.

The reason i use the word violence is to make sure it is clear the interaction with the world for the purpose of knowing MUST provoke world into a response and upset its calm. Sometimes if you don’t kick the bucket you might not find out whats hiding underneath it and there might not be any other way to do this.

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I like your provocation and I think you’re right to incite a question about technique.

One thing I should clarify about my own starting position is that I don’t think the world is calm at all. It’s a (and I use it in a guarded way) vibrant place that is always in flux and exchange.

Worlds that are thought to be calm are police states, with constant explosive revelations that make a mockery of those arrest-seeking agents.

I used calm only in contrast to violence. I agree about the world not being calm but since the word vibrant has been associated with vitalism, I have to ask what do you mean by it.

A Vibrant World indeed :slight_smile:

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Vibrant’s a nice word for intimating movement and energetic activity. My scholarly training includes a long exploration of Chinese philosophies and with that has come a long engagement with the metaphysical preoccupations of those traditions.

Thinking from that perspective, I have had to imagine what wuxing 五行 (“five phases,” literally “five goings”) metaphysics includes and requires. The basic assumption of this metaphysics is that the world is in constant exchange of qi 氣 and all things are expressions of various qualities of qi.

Unlike the classical vitalist view that living things are different from non-living things because of some élan vital, the wuxing perspective assumes that all things are equally involved in the exchange of qi. Clouds are formed of qi that is limpid and warm, thus they rise, rocks are of torporous and cool qi, thus they tend toward the ground.

Since Jane Bennett published Vibrant Matter the term “vibrant” has become a shorthand for some and I simply want to register that I am aware of the debate, but am not a partisan to either side.

I think that the cosmos is an exchange activity and there is nothing outside of these exchanges.