Published: 2018-11-06

This is the third in a new series of texts by  Whitechapel Gallery Writer in Residence Sophia Al-Maria (b. 1983), an artist, writer and filmmaker based in London.

The following is a version of a text read at an event on November 1, 2018.

23.

Welcome back to the appointed hour.

The witching one.

Deep in the wild without.

Tonight is a rite. A tactical training. 

A test we no longer take because we have been taught to fear the unknown.

We have been taught to fear ourselves. 

To dread our desires.

To quiet our brains. 

Believe our bodies a bête. 

Our cunts and cocks the mouths and snouts all entrances to the labyrinth what needs fearing. 

They tell us there is only one way to face the darkness: alone.

But let’s not, okay? 

The first time we met we made a mourning place. 

For Ursula Le Guin and others. 

The second time we met, we left a trail of severed heads.

Voices whispering at the edge of earshot.

Urging us to gather up their bodies in this text – this text – our final carrier bag.

This time we are all the widows of the lives unlived.

The unjustly dead pleading with us to perform.

Asking us to conduct an unnatural experiment.

A dangerous alchemical process. 

To drag up the past. 

And not let it lie. 

Tonight I wish to reanimate the thing lying just out of sight, at the edges of this holy fire’s light. 

Yes tonight I wanna breathe life back into the bodies of histories unrecorded, of dreams unremembered of parts unknown.

Beginning with our own. 

24.

“To name is to know. To know is to control.” – Camille Paglia [5]

Name your vagina after the last film you saw.

Lol.

“Annihilation.”

25.

Some people (especially French people) think that to cover one’s face is to disappear to be without name.

But in a desert landscape – this makes me hyper visible.

No white thawb and chequered ghutra rendering me into a masc fata morgana but a clear femme stamp on the horizon.

A boldfaced letter ’I’ in thick black ink.

Yet some see this as being ‘buried alive’ in an unmarked grave. Those are the specific sentiments of Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva in The Severed Head.

Amazing that the person who wrote The Powers of Horror and fearlessly crossed valleys of human violence can be at all disturbed by this little swath of fabric. I wonder if she remembers what Freud said, that ‘the fantasy of being buried alive induces the feeling of uncanny strangeness, accompanied by a certain lasciviousness – the fantasy, I mean of intra-uterine existence’.

A return to the womb.

A homecoming.

A queen.

While I studied at Goldsmiths I considered Kristeva a queen…my queen.

Yet when I read those words in that book – I felt drowned in the semiotic (that Lacanian pre-mirror stage Kristeva describes where instincts and emotions reign).

I felt as if my voice (as a person who has spent much of a life and still spends time in this crepe Lexus coffin)  has been muffled by the symbolic (the place Kristeva describes as the space in which the development of language allows the child to become a ‘speaking subject’ and to develop a sense of identity separate from the mother. This process is known as abjection. 

Abjection whereby the child must reject and move away from the mother in order to enter into the world of language, culture, meaning and the social).

Am I not allowed to develop a sense of identity separate from Kristeva’s white fear of my berqa?

Am I not allowed to enter the process of abjection and reject the fear of my cunt?

Who cares?

I wanna break the psycho-grammatical rules of the ‘symbolic’ space we are sitting in and take Kristeva’s orbital stance against Lacan’s fixed star.

In his view: We pass from the semiotic into the symbolic and remain there permanently.

In her view: We oscillate between the symbolic and semiotic. Forever.

In other words because my identity is not fixed and I am ‘in process’ – I move between the spoken and the felt, the known and the unknowable, the masc and the femme, the light and the dark, the top and the bottom, the fucked and the fucker.

But who wants to be bound by binaries?

I will seek evolution through abjection again and again.  I will pride myself in being humbled over and over. I will know that the only thing I know is that I know nothing and never will.

Although my vagina is becoming better versed in being vers.

My Kus.

An organ Freud thinks of as an ‘unheimliche place’. ’there is something uncanny about the female genital organs afterall…the entrance to the former Heim of all human beings,after all, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning.’

I’d like to see Freud put theory into practice.

Like to see him face his horror.

Like to see him eat a pussy.

Hey Sigmund! Hey goat face! Kus Umak! [3]

This is a photo my father took of me having a nap. 

The drive to my grandmother’s camp had been long and I was wracked with a hideous bout of endometriosis. On arrival the goat kid came toddling up to investigate me, I swept the bundle of warmth into my arms to ease my flared belly. 

I show you this photo 

Because I am not representative of anything or anyone. 

I can barely represent myself.

And while I know that this practical garment is a symbolic tool for patriarchy. I also know it is out of a practical vanity that the women in my family wear it. And that this ‘coffin’ is a protected anarchic space where identity does not need to be confirmed or interrogated and instead one can slip over borders, through back doors, over thresholds without being questioned. 

And although I acknowledge “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” To go back to Audre Lorde. 

I resent that this, which to me is a symbol of the beloved matriarchs in my life – is also a tool for ‘radical white feminists’.

And for the general European hetero-patriarchy Kristeva is ventriloquized by with her un-nuanced opinions of it.

In my situation this garment has been  the opposite of a chastity belt. It allows me to move without identifying.

26.

“Like you don’t even ask anybody’s name anymore. In this particular subculture it doesn’t even matter what your name is anymore. Might matter what your birth sign is more.” – interview in Revolution (1968)

I’m convinced the boomers tried and failed America.

A failure which is traditionally marked by events at the Altamonte speedway. That night Denise Kaufman of  Ace of Cups was pregnant and suffered a fractured skull when bashed in the head with a beer can. But that was the least of it. The height of the Haight was past. And death was coming.

Digger Peter Coyote had a theory for what went down.

“I blame the Stones. They were planning to make a fortune off the movie rights, for trying to put on a phone free concert, with the Angels and all these kids as their extras. And I blame Mick Jagger for fucking with black magic. They reaped what they sowed. So you want to go strolling on the dark side, boys? This is what it fucking looks like.” [1]

And it was DARK SIDE that day. Descriptions from helicopters overhead are of a kind of purgatory. Tire smoke and black irrigation water and a seething mass of humanity shitting and pissing and fucking and vomiting on a swath of drought and frost scorched turf.

The murder of black teenager Meredith Hunter by white Hell’s Angel Alan Passaro happened during the Rolling Stones’ performance of their song “Under My Thumb”.  In this song Jagger prances and proclaims his control over a pushy woman he turns into a pet.

A “squirming dog.”

By this point in San Francisco, the generation of runaways who became the guiding light of the movement had began to face the the return of a great darkness in the form of war veterans harrowed by addictions to heroin and speed and racist violence.

LSD was replaced by PCP.

A drug that made users psychotic for months causing murder, god complexes and even cannibalism.

A redness of the skin accompanied these side effects.

In other words – the devil had come to town.

And Satan wasn’t asking for sympathy.

Shaytan was coming for souls.

Some still think this was the CIA’s doing.

That the U.S. government let the revolution kill itself with bad drugs and rock and roll.

Isn’t it significant that this fork in the road of history happened while the Rolling Stones played “Under My Thumb”.

The micro becomes macro.

This song not only soundtracked the end of Meredith Hunter’s too-short life, or of the possibilities of sea-change in the 60s -it also marked Camille Paglia’s rift with radical feminism (although not white feminism) at a 1971 conference at Yale Law School.

“We had a screaming fight about “Under My Thumb.” I said, “Yes, yes, the lyrics are sexist, but this is a great song. This is a work of art.” And these feminists cornered me with my back against the wall practically spitting in my face saying, “Nothing that demeans woman can be art.” Now, as a student of art history, how can you have any dialogue with these people? That is the Nazi and Stalinist view of art, where art is subordinate to a pre-fab political agenda.” [2]

But it’s not that simple is it?

Oh, Oruboros.

Won’t you ever let us go?

Let us evolve past the past.

Let us escape the skipping record of history?

Because here we go again.

You dig?

I can feel it.

And you can too.

It makes me squirm uncomfrotably.

Know what else makes me squirm?

Straight love for straight women is the real black magic.

The real stroll on the dark side.

The lived nightmare.

Let’s face it.

I want you to think about what you feel when you see Tina sped to fuck like a puppet in the gaze and on the strings of Ike.

He terrifies me.

He makes me want to hide.

27.

“What monstrous thing came to pass in the Syrian city of Ma’arra late in that year of 1098?” – Amin Maalouf – “The Cannibals of Ma’arra” from The Crusades Through Arab Eyes

Let’s go back to another earlier fork in history. 

Before the Franj atrocities of 1098, Ma’arra was an unremarkable town known mainly for birthing the blind poet Abu Ala al-Ma’arri. Ma’arri was a cantankerous Arab atheist.

“The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: Those with brains, but no religion. And those with religion, but no brains.” 

Throughout the literature of this period the Franj are mentioned as anthropophagi. 

In fact, they are self-described cannibals. In an official letter to the pope, one of the commanders of the army at Ma’arra writes “A terrible famine racked the army and placed it in the cruel necessity of feeding itself upon the bodies of the Saracens.” But this mournful tone seeking the papal pity is perhaps a softening of the unholy blow. Other descriptions by French writers of the time such as Albert of Aix tell of how the Frankish army not only ate the human dead but went after dogs with glee.

Perhaps it was merciful but it was certainly not divine that Ma’ari would not live to see the droves of European religious fanatics flooding his home forty years after his death. French men boiling the Syrian dead in great pots and skewering children to grill. 

These Medieval horrors continue to haunt us. 

These Medieval horrors that are coming back. 

These Medieval horrors that await us. 

Which reminds me. 

I met a young cannibal recently.

She is very, very fine. 

And very, very young.

A beautiful and macho blood hobbyist. 

I am not shocked by the flesh eating she describes. 

In fact, it sounds romantic.

An act of love between two consenting hungry adults. 

However.

I am shocked a few pints deep at how she speaks of befriending the grandson of an SS commander.

The warm fizz of getting to know someone chills in my veins. 

“It’s weird that you say that as if it’s a bragging rite.” 

Can I blame her for what she doesn’t understand? Which of the theological positions would I take? To go back to the Jesuit Father Pedro Font, should heathens who have never been given the chance at conversion still go to hell? I try another thought experiment. If I were a flesh-eating vampire eternal – would I give grace to this mortal?

This is one of the questions at the heart of Octavia’s Patternist series. 

In these books Doro is the immortal African patriarch of a clan of telepathic humans who he has bred for increased sensitivity. His eugenics project is to create a superhuman race of psychic cannibals. He believes that human suffering tastes better. Doro is a sommelier of torment and the more profound the pain the more exquisite the pleasure. 

I’m sure the young, white, cannibal I am drinking with believes the same.  

I change the subject. 

She has no adequate response to my question. 

“Have you ever heard of Abu Sakkar? The Cannibal Rebel of Syria? The moderate? The brave? The Bedu? 

“No.”

We watch the video. I translate.

Here. 

See him.

Filled with righteous vengeance after seeing video proof of the government soldier at his feet raping and murdering a mother and her two daughters.

A rebel at the sidelines says, ”It looks like you’re carving him a Valentine’s heart.” 

Abu Sakkar picks up a bloody handful of something and declares: “We will eat your hearts and your livers you soldiers of Bashar the dog.”

Ibn al kelb!

I break into a cold sweat. 

“Deblet kebd.” (“I’ll throw up my liver.” Usually said in exhausted disgust about a person or situation.) 

I ache deep when I see this.

A heinous sorrow.

A lightning wracking my belly with a sharp and sudden sympathy pain. 

In Bedouin culture the liver is coeval of the western romantic heart. 

The liver, the source of feels. 

A Valentine chopped with onions. 

Abu Sakkar looks uncannily like my brothers, my cousins, my uncles. 

He could be any of ours. 

Now my sweet sibling Leo (Al-Asad in Arabic horoscopes) is being trained by the French to maintain military helicopters sold to Qatar.  The only one who never questioned my choice not to wear burqa or hijab. This sweetest of brothers who I can laugh with and who visits me and who kisses my brow with respect in spite of our drastically different beliefs. 

This sweetest of brothers, who I held at my breast as a child. 

He is just another faceless brown body, mill-grist to history’s machine. 

Another enemy of the states. Another symbol of the west’s irrational, guilt-sodden fear. 

A fear well-founded. 

But dumb.

Leo says not to worry. 

He would never see combat. 

But my god. 

Who knows what is coming?

Did the makers of this Syrian wine know when they bottled this 2011 vintage that it might be one of their last? 

Would these winemakers from a pro-Assad area have sent their booze out as a weapon to quell the protesters in the early days of 2011 if they had known what was coming? 

Would they have acted like the CIA pushing PCP in the Haight Ashbury? Like the British and Opium in China?  Like the Liquor stores out west pushing Night Train and Thunderbird fortified wines on low income alcohol ‘high impact’ areas? 

Let’s face it.

The future is not fortified. 

No citadels of stone. 

No deep ditch or strong walls to protect it. 

Just look at Ma’ara surrounded by both. 

And now the demons unleashed by Christian religious fanaticism and ghosts of European imperialism and the monsters of exploitative war and disaster capitalism and chattle slavery are all coming home to roost at once. 

These are hungry ghouls. 

With bone-saw teeth for chomping.

So here is my advice to you: 

Join the horde, honies. 

Join the horde.

And feast! 

And drink.

28.

But But who is she?

This headless queen?

Stars over nipples. 

Snake in belly. 

Skull strapped onto crotch. 

Heart in one hand. 

And Knife in the other. 

Her name is Acephale!  

The erotically bodied symbol of Georges Baitaille’s secret society. 

A group required to refuse hand shakes with anti-Semites and celebrate the decapitation of Louis XVI.

In addition to this the society was concerned with carrying out a human sacrifice. Each member agreed to be the sacrificial victim but none would agree to be the executioner.

A perfect order.

The order of radical consent.

Where dreams were free to mingle with reality. 

Or vice versa. 

Let me share another drawing by Masson.

The Earth.

“The goddess has no face or feet; unclothed and large-breasted, she lactates and exposes her genitals. Even the technique of the painting – sand mixed into the oil medium – assists in the identification of the subject with the soil, around which spins the rest of the cosmos. She is the landscape, and in her all creatures live and move and find their being.” – Belton

Much of Masson’s ideas and work were inspired by Johann Bachofen’s Das Mutterrecht which described social organisation based on principles of equality, respect for human life and the power of love which advanced an alternative to patriarchal social and political order which had shaped the surrealist revolt. Masson enthusiastically declared he was matriarchal. However inequality is built into this because if every woman’s womb is “the mortal image of the earth-mother” then this means mortal women are prime and therefore equality is not possible.

The same Masson who drew the cover of Acéphale and The Earth painted this surrealist variant of Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde. He did this for his brother-in-law, Jacques Lacan who was the last private owner of the painting.

I wonder what the surrealists have thought about this Ariana Grande video for God is a Woman. 

Anyone else have trouble with the visual hints at facism around 2:30?

The Nazi stormtrooper helmet with cute kitten ears. The triumph of the femme will is laced into this construction, holding this mashup of pop feminism/fertility rite together like a bone-bound corset. 

Squeezing the organs into a mush of thoughtless ideology.

This is pop feminism dressed up in a hyper gendered totalitarianism.

This is meaninglesss, pointless representation of a binary extremity. 

Ariana Grande is not yet abjected. But we know this is what we all desire. 

Like Beyonce, with a phalanx protecting her conservative image – ‘Mrs. Carter’ – these figures are stony, dead gods who have lost their way from the mystery cult that birthed them. 

Who have lost their raw potential by divorcing themselves from the filth and chaos of queer sexuality.  

Real power doesn’t need to show itself.

Like a stealth bomber. 

Only visible to the naked eye. 

Real dominatrixes don’t need latex catsuits or a suite of whips or the grandsons of SS officers to give them power. 

It reminds me of the little cannibal excited at her proximity to a famous villain. As if Nazis were the pretty Hugo Bossed aesthetic shadows from a Mike Mignola comic book. 

It also brings up the odd British preference for Nazi-style dress in Fetish clubs. 

The first time Leo ever went to one of these she asked Taurus, her playmate and fairy godcister for the night, what they thought of it. 

“In Berlin you’d never see that. Maybe an occasional Soviet uniform but very little military stuff.” 

They go into the dungeon where a variety of action is occurring. 

Obviously here, to play is the thing. 

And in theory here, any configuration of power dynamic is not to be judged. 

This is an autonomous zone away from reality. 

As long as it is consensual it’s okay. 

Now a few relevant details about Taurus the Dom: although they are from Manchester they live in Germany. Taurus is Leo’s elder. They both identify as queer POC. Taurus is black. Leo is mixed race. 

Leo is new to this whole subbing thing so she pretends to be a fighting dog instead of an obedient puppy. Snapping at strangers and getting tangled in the leash. Taurus shouts commands at her. They seem to be genuinely annoyed at Leo’s flouting of the rules. Finally they bring Leo to heel by holding the chain tight and Leo’s head close to the floor. 

Leo chills and slowly looks up around the room. 

At first Leo thinks it’s fun kneeling beside Taurus’ feet on a leash, tail wagging and tongue out watching all of this scene for the first time with her ears and eyes pricked. 

So many new people!

It’s fun to pretend oneself into the mind of an animal. 

But then. 

Leo bristles at a situation happening in a darkened corner of the room. 

She pulls her tongue back into her panting mouth.

A fully-dressed young white masc-presenting person is paddling a nude middle aged black femme body. 

A circle of others watch. 

Leo rises from all-fours. 

Unbowing herself to Taurus’ game. 

“I don’t know if I like this anymore.”

Taurus misunderstands Leo.

“Well, maybe you’re just not a sub.” 

They unhook the leash from Leo’s thick leather collar. 

A hint of disappointed judgement. 

Leo glances towards the dark corner. 

“Maybe I just don’t like that.”

Again Taurus misunderstands her. 

Quick to assume. 

“Well, maybe you’re just too straight.” 

Leos shakes her head. Now it’s her turn to be disappointed. 

She know that part of being welcomed into this requires that she not judge the consensual erotic power exchanges of others. 

Yet she’s being shaded here by her chosen playmate about her presumed orientation in a strict code of conduct. 

That night the ghost on the stairs haunts Leo. 

Why did that scene fill her with intolerable discomfort that didn’t bother Taurus?

For the first time she checks herself.

“I’m definitely not too straight but what if I’m too white?”

Leo does not think of herself as white. That has not been her life. She is brown of an indigenous tribal culture.

But perhaps the answer to her revulsion is some kind of deep guilt. 

This phrase keeps echoing inexplicably in her mind, ‘radical consent’. 

Where has she heard it before?

She doesn’t have the language to navigate this confused knot. She feels a temporal vertigo as all of history seems to collapse in on her heart. Yes. She is brown. But some of her ancestors were slavers. Some of her people were complicit in colonialism. She is living a duplicitous life of wanton consumption made possible by the enslavement of invisible workers and of the exploitation of earth.  

She trawls the net and comes across this work by Lewis Call: “Structures of Desire: Postanarchist kink in the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany”. 

Le jackpot!!!

She digs in. 

Having no fucking clue what Postanarchism is.

Call’s words: 

“Postanarchism implies and includes a crucial sexual anarchism. Indeed, the disruption of conventional forms of sexual identity is one of the most powerful moves available to the postanarchist. When postanarchism’s anti-essentialist critique is applied to sexuality, the result is queer. When that critique is applied to power, the result is kinky. Postanarchism enables a system of erotic ethics suitable for an age beyond humanism. That system endorses radical relations of erotic power up to and including consensual play-slavery. This dramatic form of erotic power exchange mimics the structure of slavery~ but in a way which produces radically different subjective meaning for the partici­pants: unlike slavery, play-slavery can be ethical and erotic. Postanarchism suggests that ethical structures of erotic power (including those of play­ slavery) may actually sap the authority of their non-consensual Doppelgangers.” [4]

29.

Our Qabila – al-Marri (no relation to Ma’ari of 11th century Ma’ara)  are the ‘nomads of the nomads’ according to American and British and German anthropologists. But we don’t need European branding slogans to give us that title. Our reputation is outsized for we are the largest tribe in the gulf and the scariest to our sedentary cohabitants. 

In high school no one would drive me home for fear of the savage toddlers who roamed the streets of Madinat al-Murrah slashing the tires of strangers. 

These brands were burnt into the left hip of camels and behind the left ear of goats. 

Ancient herders used firebrands as part of magic spells to protect animals from harm.

I ask my grandmother to draw the one which goes on her goats. 

 

I ask Victoria, the deity who haunts these texts to mark me with my grandmother’s glyph. 

Now. 

Brands are there to ensure commodities are trackable.

And to a tribe, a womb is the most valuable commodity. 

So I’ve been branded. Invisibly. 

I ask my aunt to tell me about Blackie. A legendary figure from our clan who I was told stories of growing up. Blackie is a figure who in any other context I would have seen as a bad guy – who killed an unarmed black man. Who kidnapped a young girl and sold her into sex slavery. Aunt Aries tells us all about it. 

 

Now even though we are the victims of European colonialism and American soft power and even though we live off government rations in crumbling government housing and the men in my family are disproportionately singled out for prison and corporal punishment — how the fuck have I not seen this particular angle?!

Some parts of my Bedouin family are in some ways the analogue of dissenfranchised, angry, lower-than working class whites in America with extremist religious views and right wing politics and a culpability in the injustices of history. 

Now I remember in particular the story of the Omani girl as being disturbing when it was told to me on a family camping trip to Saudi. In particular a detail about the fact she had gone out into the dark to find a place to go to the bathroom and that she was so frightened when Al-Soodi got her in the saddle she pissed all over him.

I remember the uncle telling me this story seemed to think the urine detail was amusing.

But I had a major hangup about peeing at that age.

Having to go was deeply linked to shame.

And this is why.

A Jordanian nun taught me Islamic ablutions. I was six years old and attending the Abu Dhabi Rosary School for Girls run by the Vicariate Apostolic of Arabia.

I didn’t speak Arabic, I wasn’t Catholic and until Sister Pisces taught me how to ritually cleanse myself ‘In the Name of the Most Beneficent’ I hadn’t really thought about being Muslim.

One-hour of everyday was devoted to religious lessons.  We were separated into flocks. Muslims were herded into a carpeted room and arranged into a cluster at Sister Pisces’ feet.

We listened as she pulverized every Quranic passage between gnashing teeth, furious that Emerati law should order her to lead ripe young souls astray.

The game we could all participate in was the circle song and dance, “Ifta7iya Warda” (or Open Flower) in which we opened and shut the circle like a blossoming and wilting rose.

Virgo was Christian and had the shortest skirt  of all.
This was a status symbol. My wool pleated skirt dragged the floor and got tangled when I ran. Virgo was free to flash her underpants and do cartwheels in the yard. I was consumed with jealousy. Virgo never had to worry about dragging her skirts through the wet puddles in the lavatory.

I had developed a morbid fear of the Turkish toilets and I avoided the stalls at all costs.  This meant I was incontinent all the time. This in turn led to bullying which led to all of my skirts bearing patches of blood where my knees bled through.

One day Sister Pisces assigned Virgo to oversee my bathroom proceedings. To make sure I really went and so I wouldn’t lose control in the classroom again.

I squatted over the toothless mouth of the toilet. I was convinced the commode was the porcelain entrance to hell.

Virgo was readying a ream of viscous spittle over my head when I saw it: a bloated rat, dead under the outer lip of the toilet.

My torrential pee was causing the carcass to slide in the deluge.
I lurched up, lost my aim, pissed all over myself and knocked Virgo full in the chin, cracking her jaw with the back of my skull.

I left her lying there on the tile and returned to the classroom alone, much relieved.

If only Al Soodi had gone down half as easy as Virgo. 

30.

If there is one thing I am learning at this particular time it is that history is a fiction and the future is a fact. There is nothing fantastical about that which is coming. It is reliable and consistent and bigger than us. Unlike the past – a palimpsest embellished and occulted in the translation and narration of old white men.

Every single one of us here is the product of our pasts.

I am the child of yesterday me and you are the mother of tomorrow you.

Take this logic and apply it to the writer.

Every writer’s work is the product of what they have read.

And I have always read a lot of science fiction and fantasy – the escapist’s hinterland – the genres from which those who shrink from experience disappear into.

But even the freaks and geeks and loners and losers in the room are at the apex of a tk year long saga that is being written.

It’s been written in cosmic dust and radiation and the cluster of cells and volcanic eruptions and genetic mutations. To write and fight and fuck and dream and love and die is to participate in the play.

An epic play we are all actors in. The ultimate and ongoing performance that begins with mitochondrial eve.

Here, wait a minute:

Can you feel it?

Can you feel yourself?

Can you feel you are the ecstatic climax of your history.

Cresting a temporal tsunami before it rushes away without you when you die.

But who is narrating this story?

Not the giffed-out micro-narratives of our instastories but the mega-narrative of this reality that is feeling less and less consensual?

There is no such thing as a reliable narrator.

Narration by its very nature is unreliable, unstable, incomplete.

It’s the act of drawing an arbitrary path through a series of people and events.

A sentence which might as well sit as a definition of the word ‘history’.

The ultimate fiction.

It is written.

In Edward Said’s lecture Freud and the Non-European he states “…the often surprising dynamics of human history can dramatize the latencies in a prior figure or form that suddenly illuminate the present.”[6]

I would like to try now to illuminate the present.

The prior figure I would like to dramatize is Saddam, the form I would like to discuss is the act of forming fiction.

After the events of September 11th 2001, Saddam was quoted in Al-Hayat Newspaper as stating, “This is the end of America.”

I believe that statement was a fact and that a prediction can be truer than a recollection.

Here is my recollection:

In the fall of 2001, a friend went to visit Baghdad. She was considering going there to study Arabic. She came back to Cairo with a copy of this for me.

The book was “Written by He Who Wrote It” a traditional way of providing anonymity to a writer in Arabic. She knew I loved fantasy art so I assumed she chose it for this reason.

“Thanks. It’s pretty.”

“Saddam wrote it.”

“What?”

“It’s a romance novel!”

“WHAT.”

Just look at the cover of Zabibah and the King – the painting is by Jonathon Earl Bowser.

It is called The Awakening.

“It’s Saddam’s allegory of the Gulf War.”

Inside was the story of Zabiba, a beautiful commoner representing the Iraqi people whose unloving husband (The U.S.) rapes her. The king (Saddam) falls in love with her and tries to avenge her rape but he dies in the struggle.

I wonder if this was allegory or prophecy?

Saddam was captured in his bunker during Operation Red Dawn on the 13th of December 2003. He was found surrounded by books and the jewel coloured foil wrappers of his favourite sweets: Quality Street.

While awaiting his trial he did not ask for candy but was constantly requesting something to write with. “You must understand, I am a writer,” he told a CIA interrogator, “And what you are doing by depriving me of pen and paper amounts to human rights abuse!”

Say what you will of Saddam’s brutality…but the man had a rich interior life. And a sweet tooth to boot.

According to Deleuze the sadist has a “projective use of fantasy” and the masochist points the fantasy inwards giving it “suspended and static power”. [7]

Saddam was nothing if not a sadist.

In fact, those who write history – politicians and despots in particular – are all sadists. It’s a prerequisite of the job. They do not wait for nature to take its course, they will new worlds into being. Frequently forcing the rest of us into a non-consensual reality.

Saddam’s fantasy came to an end on the 30th of Dec 2006 when a black scarf was placed around his neck and a noose was thrown around the scarf and pulled in tight. He yells “Do you consider this bravery?” Someone tells him to go to hell. “The hell that is Iraq?” he retorts. 

He begins to recite the Shahada.

Here is a video I made that year when a relative sent me that snuff film.

It was the first time I saw a hanging.

And one of the first videos I ever made.

Apparently the American soldiers who guarded Saddam, grieved Saddam.

“That a retinue of guards could grieve for their prisoner reflects the strange alchemy that can develop in such a peculiarly intimate situation.”

A sort of reverse Patti Hearst’s Stockholm Syndrome.

Let’s call it Baghdad Syndrome.

He wrote constantly in those final three years.

If he wrote another novel, I wonder what he’d have chosen as the cover.

Perhaps this painting by his plastic surgeon, a painter I would meet many years later named Ala Bashir.

In June 2004, Bashir was quoted in an article on Al Jazeera speaking critically of the rewriting of history that was occurring in Iraq after the United States-led invasion. “I was reading an unbelievable amount of falsehood about Iraq, and thought it was my responsibility to tell what I know,” Dr. Bashir said. “I was reading and hearing information which seemed to come from people’s imaginations and guesswork.”

I admire Bashir’s obstinance in the face of America’s fouling of fact.

But I don’t know if counterfactuals are useful in the revision of history.

Instead I believe in the conjuring of counter realities.

By means of drugs and magic and study and sex and work and gathering and all the other practices which can lead to a revolution.

That’s a heavy word to evoke.

Revolution – the rich and powerful’s name for apocalypse.

This occurs to me when I read that Sailor Pluto is the Guardian of Revolution and Sailor Saturn the Harbinger of Apocalypse. 

Sailor Saturn, the weak and sickly senshi. As a child Hotaru was implanted with an alien egg  when her father tried to bring her back to life after an accident. Little did he know that the egg inside his little girl would become Mistress 9 – a terrifying femme with dominatrix vibes. 

“I am the Messiah of Silence, Mistress 9.”

Mistress 9 is the emissary of Pharaoh 90 (perhaps a pseudonym for Strontium 90?) the embodiment of chaos which seeks to destroy the order of the infinity arc. 

If all of this breathless Otaku talk is nonsense to you. I am so excited to share.

The Eldrich Abomination that is the Messiah of Silence, breasts bursting and hips expanding from out the little one’s form – is the spirit of crushed revolutions. Hotaru the host has completely skipped puberty, lost out on the age of revolt. 

She grows from a poorly sexless kid into an evil femme bitch top. 

Cackling witch-wise with eyes ablaze and third eye covered by the black star. 

As Pharaoh 90 smothers earth, Hotaru struggles against Mistress 9 and rests her silence glaive down on the earth to unleash her Death Reborn Revolution attack. 

It saves the day. 

But what do you do with a revolution once you have it?

How do you avoid becoming the thing you sought to change?

Confront. History. With. Honesty. 

We are made of the memories we retain or the stories we are told. 

You may be some % what you have lived or where the stars were when you were born.

But you are at least 90% a story you tell yourself.

And that story is suspect.

The second we experience a moment in time, it becomes unreal.

We weird the world in the witnessing.

In order to process the encounter with reality, our minds compress and distort events in the external environment into a comprehensible rendering – perception is an assemblage, a sliver of some platonic ideal of ‘the truth’.

And so I’m not convinced ‘truth’ exists.

When someone asks you to tell them the truth, it’s an impossible ask.

All you can actually offer is to describe the view from inside your niche reality.

And that is why I don’t believe in the integrity of history.

Only the immutable purity of the only fact – that the future isn’t just here but unevenly distributed.

The future is coming.

Crushing and absolute.

It is coming and it will not stop for us.

Link to translation

Addendum

“Hi Sis, Can you please edit and make more articulate I would like to send today. Libra”

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing concerning a recent incident at the school which has truly shaken and concerned me me. 

As you are probably aware, earlier this fall a new staff member who is of African and Muslim decent came to teach at the school. 

Over the course of the first months of the semester she endured taunts from Native American students who are only a few years younger than her. These taunts generally involved the use of the ’N’ word. When she spoke to her supervisor (a white woman) she was told “This language is very common in the Alaskan Native  and Indigenous community.” As a result of this callous response, my colleague tendered her two week notice. 

On the day she was to leave, the same supervisor who made excuses for the use of the ’N’ word escorted my colleague off campus. A scene which was witnessed by many as she was marched out into the parking lot. Although I don’t know what caused this ugly  and public scene, I can certainly imagine. This seems like punishment and an escalation for expressing concern for how the situation was being handled.

I have been bothered by this for weeks. When  I raised it with my Lodge Leader (a white woman and a lesbian), I was similarly rebuffed. Frankly, I was horrified when she said, “I get called Dyke all the time by the students. You can’t take it personally.” 

It. Is. Not. The. Same. Thing. 

I feel that as teachers we have a duty to ensure this behaviour should is not tolerated. There is no excuse. 

And it is the negligence of staff to understand the gravity and the difference. 

According to p. 58 section 17:4 Policy Against Harassment and Discrimination I do not believe that my colleague’ supervisor showed her respect or consideration when she brought forward the inappropriate language that was being used towards her.

I also found the assumption that multiple staff members have about the ‘N’ word being common and acceptable among Native communities  a dangerous assumption.

I am reporting this because as I saw it unfold it felt very wrong. 

Regards


[1] Peter Coyote, Sleeping Where I Fall, 90

[2] https://reason.com/archives/2015/05/30/everythings-awesome-and-camill/print

[3] Translation: Your mother’s cunt

[4] https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/hist_fac/49/

[5] Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, 5

[6] Edward Said, Freud and the Non-European, 25

[7] Gilles Deleuze, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty, 73


Year


Follow us on