Yesterday I began thinking again about Christine Chubbuck: supposedly the first woman’s suicide caught on film and, importantly, an intentionally public act. This was not an accidental recording. She shot herself in the head while news anchoring. To make a point, I’d say.
Later that evening, I went to see No Home Movies: Chantal Ackerman’s last film that is utterly changed by her own suicide, which happened in the wake of the awful reception of the film.
I went home from the cinema and forgot why there was a knot in my stomach, while I ate currywurst and thought about cuddling, but remembered the why in the moment of opening the door to my empty flat. It struck me in brick wall waves. I sank to my knees and puddled on the fat Berlin floorboards. The half-dead plants looked on unblinking. Usual scene.
I remembered that there are good reasons as to why I stopped researching Christine in 2013. Now, in 2016, two films by male directors premiere about her that focus on Christine’s depression, love life, career. Though each film politicizes Christine’s suicide in relation to larger systems of power (sexism. heteronormative and capitalist expectations of what a “good life” looks like.), neither seems to go as far as I feel. Neither film is willing to exit moral judgements of suicide. Moral judgements like, “To kill yourself is sad, the worst case scenario, a sickness that wasn’t cured in time, is failure, is unfair to those around you.” Moral judgements that are often also used to prop up the systems of oppression (sexism. racism. ableism. and on…) that make life less liveable for some people than for other people.
Neither film says, “Hey, you know what? Sometimes killing yourself makes the most sense given the constant push and pull of power that plays out over different bodies differently. Yep. We get it.”
Or even to ask if the sense might be of some other world, where the logic of self-killing is completely different than in this one.
Instead we make non-sense and scramble acts, reconfiguring them into the systems of power at hand—caught—thinking only about working the trap we are in instead of landing outside of it.
My interior organs begin screaming.
Look, Christine, Chantal: she’s got it pretty good, comparatively. In terms of her position in the world. Comparatively.
And still: it makes sense to me. And none the less: the sense is always removed from those acts.
Maybe she (go ahead, transpose the names and bodies of cis-women and trans-women you’ve heard of, you’ve met, you respect, you are) is just simply “unhappy.” (What Would Sara Ahmed Say?) Crack. That gun going off into her skull. Crack. If she could’ve just been happy none of this would’ve happened. Crack. She was sick. Crack. She was too alone. Crack. Disgusting sight.
Fissures when we can’t hold it together any longer. Gone brittle with lack of nourishment. No longer flexible and supple (read: pliant). We crack.
Later in the week I go to more of the Arsenal’s Chantal Ackerman program.
Watching Jeanne Dielman jam thick scissors into his dense, seal-skinned stomach
full of sense
as her peeling of potatoes to boil them for dinner.
2 + 2 = 4.
Once we start seeing the violence it’s hard to stop. Walking out the door there is only banality: buying another metro ticket, skirting another hissed whistling comment on what he wants to do to me or whether I’m smiling at him. Striking back makes as much sense as getting out of bed. 2 + 2 = 9. Dispersed suffering. There is nothing spectacular to report.
Sometimes neither sense-es.
Sometimes killing. Sometimes killing ourselves. Is the only way to deal with the systems we are moving under, within, perpetuating. Sometimes the only logical thing under oppression, when enacting oppression, when caught within both, in the claustrophobic theatre hamster wheel while the projector flickers is to kill this body and all that’s attached to it.
I talk to Amy on the phone and she talks about privilege as I wallow in the throws of my research-as-there’s-no-way-out-of-this-violence. I tell her I don’t believe there is a way out and she says, “There’s not. But there are moments of thinking and writing and making that hold open the possibility. And I like that possibility.”
I ask if by empathy she means love. She aurally shrugs but I’m sparked.
Maybe, the only logic towards staying alive is something akin to “love.”
Some days later, another lover breaks my heart and I realize that being in love has almost killed me.
Winnie and I sit by the canal talking heartbreak, astrology, and anti-racism in performance. Typical ways to pass the summer as an poc art queer. Winnie says, “Love is not a sensation, it’s a practice.”
That night, I go to a performance created by a handful of performance artists I consider community. One of the performers has donated 500 Euros of his own money to the bar for everyone to have free drinks. The work is a wild, unwieldy celebration of Dada and it’s loud and intense and gives me a headache and a smile. An American- or Canadian-sounding trans-woman stands up on stage in the midst of the work and announces that she’s been living in Berlin as an immigrant for the past three months, without access to healthcare or social welfare, and that she would gladly shove a beer bottle up her ass just as these white men performers are shoving things up theirs, in exchange for the 500 euro. She says that this space is misogynistic. A performer yells back that the intervener “doesn’t know how many women are involved in the production and so should shut the fuck up.” She yells back/another performer yells for her to leave/her friend starts taking her side///everyone is provoking everyone/they paid for tickets, they’re going to stay if they want/////here’s the same amount of money as you paid—now leave///////the artistic director of the theatre tells them they can stay////////a friend says that they peed in one of the performer’s installations/////////////everyone is enflamed/////////////////////
At some point they decide to leave and the performers continue performing.
I feel sick watching representations of my own communities::: the performance art people and the queer, anti-racist, feminist activist people::: misunderstand and mistreat each other thoroughly… the activists (who are possibly also performance artists) behaving as if the performers have money and privilege when many of them are hand-to-mouth and immigrants themselves, the performance artists behaving as if the activists are speaking absurdities when I also experience the space as hugely white and misogynistic, when I believe that when a trans-woman stands up to speak, the first move of white cis-dudes should be to shut up and listen. But then I’m used to a Canadian context and have learned all my rhetoric and fighting words from there. The conversations in each continent are so different… histories and ways of naming systemic oppression… making communication doubly hard.
I ache and think.
I write a node:
Keeping a Practice
Love is not a sensation, it’s a practice.
Relationalities, communities, are continued practices.
The dangers of the practices of love that maintain communities lay in how we respond to difference. The requirement to refuse, to draw boundaries, in order to maintain space for “us”—particularly a marginalized “us”—is very real (here I’m thinking about PPL’s excellent Transition Document http://panoplylab.org/ppl-space-transition-document-and-report-2012-2014 in which Esther and Brian articulate inclusion as most often re-enacting the status quo).
What practices of evaluation might we use to determine who is in & who is out? Because we are so often taught that sameness is safeness, I can’t always trust my initial reaction—the reproduction of the status quo is taught well and sits bone-deep. How to respond to dis-comfortable events as a performance art community? When the stranger enters and is recognized as a stranger: what next? How quickly do we say no? How do we determine the ever-shifting boundaries of the inside and the outside?
How can we stay safe enough to open to the dangerous task of listening? Listening is dangerous because actually receiving new ideas means allowing the potential for them to be just as valid as those already held——–which brings the potential for dismantling of the self.
(Dissolution of the self: an anti-neoliberal capitalist withholding.
Assertion of the self: an anti-racist queer feminist withstanding.)
A practice of listening from privilege, in all it’s shifting slipperiness, is also hard to articulate:::whenever everything has to remain in-movement in order to be relevant, it’s hard to talk about. There cannot be hardline rules…
Can there be hardline rules?
But the voice of the text is so assertive… so far from the kinds of speculative potential that gentle propositions can open. Feminized modes of communication that I like but that are harder to hear. Beyoncé told me that I’m a grown woman and can do whatever I want. She’s not right but it’s a nice thought.
So when I’m catcalled on the street I respond by yelling straight into the leering face: GHOUSTBUSTERS! Dazzle camouflage: according to Vidisha Fadescha who told me about it, is an initially British tactic from WWI in which ships, rather then trying to disappear, became confusingly visible through sharp, intense designs with the intention of encouraging the enemy to take up a poor firing position.
I smoke a fake cigarette and think about the lover who broke my heart. Again. And again.
Esther and Joël and I skype. Across oceans: I love them.
There’s not much you can say about love that’s interesting, anyway.
I used to run an artist’s residency in upstate New York. Once, all the cell phones in the house went off simultaneously: tornado warning. I forced everyone into the basement because I was “in charge” and scared. The air was green and dead still. Thick and spongy. My head pounded, I could feel the air pressing in on it. Harder and harder, curled in the basement. Certainly my skull will CRACK and splatter, now.
And suddenly, it lifted. My skull breathed again.
The phones went off: the potential for the tornado had passed.
Perfect conditions sometimes arise.
And whether the tornado manifests or not is simply happenstance.
keeping a practice of love
keeping a practice of life
(which is to say interdependent)
and are hard as hell.