DAY 23 /// ERNESTO OROZA & GEAN MORENO — LA VILLE SOUVENIR, by PAUL BOSHEARS
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.”