Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blogger isn't great for photos, but here are a few of the aforementioned shots from the SOAW gathering. Click 'em for slightly larger versions.

Top to bottom: The Puppetista pageant; Saturday's crowd (merely 13,000 or so); the skeleton waves hello; cops seen through Ft. Benning fence; the fence w/names of the dead; me w/Holly Near; Charlie King eating a sandwich; George Shrub, the world's only known singing CIA agent; Father Roy Bourgeois (SOAW founder) and Francisco Herrera (SOAW stalwart and amazing singer); a smaller cousin to the Puppetista family.

I was in the backyard in the large loft apartment.

I’d never noticed the terrarium with its curled-up blue puppies—now they awoke and started to bark, and the german shepherds from next door leaped over the fence. I lay down as quickly as I could and made low humming sounds until they nuzzled me, one of them sliding a paw under my chin. When R arrived and they left, a smaller, bristly red dog appeared, next to (it turned out) a sign showing this animal with an entire soccerball in its mouth, its head huge, encephalitically round, with the warning, “Never show it Up or Down.” I tried to stand up horizontally, which somehow worked.

All this only weeks after I nearly “made love” to that giant owl.

I seemed to be the fifties sitcom dad with pipe in mouth, reclining on the bed, saying:

‘ “How did I make all my money?”, they’ll ask—and I’ll tell ‘em, “From laffs! I made it from laffs!” ’

Not sure how I knew it was spelled that way.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Also in the last month: the annual gathering to close the School of the Americas. The best political demonstration I've ever attended, every time. Three main reasons:
1) The organizers know that art is essential to activism, so there's at least as much music (and some large-scale pageantry from the Puppetistas) as there is speechifying. Pete Seeger called it "the singingest movement since the civil rights movement," and there are fine, fine, musicians there every year.
2) More than any other movement than the anti-globalization nexus, the SOA Watch gathering involves people with a staggering variety of foci in their political concerns and their lives in general.
3) Formalized ritual tends to repel me on an instinctive level (I don't always--though I used to--feel like there's an essential connection between ritual and fascism; now it's more a personal discomfort, sometimes for political reasons and sometimes for reasons of "taste"), but the central event of the gathering--the liturgical intonation, for 3 1/2 hours, of the names of victims of SOA-educated military leaders, each followed by a mass, harmonized chant of the word "presente" while people leave crosses and other objects bearing the names of the dead on the fence of the base--bowls me over. I'm on stage, singing the "presentes;" the list comes to a series of "unnamed persons;" I think of the faces of my friends, there at Ft. Benning and elsewhere, and my friends fill in the voids left by that namelessness; we could be singing about them; I choke up, and have to turn the mic over to someone else.

The bill to close the School comes regularly before congress. Last time it lost by 15 votes. 34 of those opposed were voted out in the last election.

Here you can read the lyrics to a song by the Prince Myshkins about our friend Mimi LaValley, who was one of many to spend time in prison in 2002 for crossing the line onto army property (I'm amazed that we don't have the MP3 up; I'll have to change that).

(Incidentally, the prison to which Mimi was sentenced was built for the Watergate criminals; she says that every morning and evening prerecorded announcements would blare over the PA: "the swimming pool is now open;" "the swimming pool is now closed." The swimming pool was utterly dry, and probably had always been, since Nixon's crooks never ended up there).

David Rovics and Holly Near have written more thorough reports. I'll get some photos up here, or on the Myshkins site, soon.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I have an essay on poetry and political ethics (an expansion on some ideas presented in an earlier post here) in the first issue of Absent, an online magazine that looks excellent. Now that I finally have time to read through its contents, I’m carefully going through editor Simon DeDeo’s essay “Towards an Anarchist Poetics.” I like it a lot, and plan on posting my thoughts in response here.

My own essay (which is—I think—the magazine’s lone PDF, due to complexities resulting from my sending it in at the last possible minute) has had a couple of nice comments from Kent Johnson and Josh Corey. Thanks, guys.


Two nights ago my friend Rick and I had the opportunity to see the International Contemporary Ensemble perform Luigi Nono’s rarely-presented 1966 piece a floresta é jovem cheja de vida (“the forest is young and full of life”), for soprano, three reciters, clarinet, six percussionists (playing bronze metal sheets), and ten-channel tape playback. The concert took place at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography in conjunction with an exhibit by An-My . Lê’s work consists of photos of people re-enacting Vietnam war scenes and, in another series, shots of “29 Palms,” the fake Iraqi village (and environs) constructed in the southern California desert for Marine Corps training; it’s a twenty-four-hour-a-day theatrical pageant, complete with anti-American graffiti on the buildings and delivery trucks turning out to contain bombs that, in fact, destroy sections of the base. Very weird.

More impressive to me is Martha Rosler’s photomontage series Bringing the War Home (in two phases, one from the Vietnam era and one focused on Iraq, and especially Abu Grahib). Rosler’s collages juxtapose often brutal war imagery with scenes of comfy middle-class domesticity. Doesn’t sound that original, but these constructions are somehow absolutely irony-free; the war doesn’t just make suburban materialism look bad—it actually seems to invade it, suffuse it with horror and mournfulness. Especially in series, these pieces took my breath away.

In any case, I’d heard Nono’s piece on recordings before, and had been pretty baffled (though I loved it, as I do nearly all of his music). Hearing it live, with the percussionists and reciters in one small gallery, the soprano and clarinet in the next room, and the speakers distributing their performances and the prerecorded tracks throughout the composite space, blew me away. Nono’s settings of the live texts (quotations from NLF members, Angolan guerillas, Castro, and others, ending with the repeated question—a quote from a demonstrator in Berkeley—“Is this all we can do?”), always had an interesting relation to the language; the point is clearly neither to musically intensify the meaning (as if unmediated by words) nor to ironize anything (two bad approaches to text-setting in contemporary music).

More than any other music I’ve heard, Nono’s clears out the workings of my perception in a very concrete way. For at least a couple of hours after hearing it, I could hear multiple simultaneous conversations and understand them; sounds and seen things had a distinctness they don’t usually have. Daily experience tends to blur and blend, to encourage habitual perception, and Nono counters that in an astonishing variety of ways throughout his compositional career (especially in his last works). The combination of Marxism and concrete phenomenological intervention—who could ask for more from a composer? Thanks to the ICE for doing it, and for doing it so damn well.