I recall Felix Guattari, who, at the end of his Chaosmosis, asks whether art is the appropriate mode of radical, ethico-aesthetic experimental mode of subjectivation. Guattari’s hyphenation — ethico-aesthetic — invites us to articulate together what Plato sundered: the arts of poetry with the arts of truth. It matters not only that something works or is said, but how something works or is said. What is done or uttered is inextricably the same as the manner in which it is done or uttered. Even more radically, what is done co-creates what could be done, or could-have-been done, in other words actualization co-constructs the potential. –Sha Xin Wae
I’ve been in Saas-Fee for a week. And I definitely need to write. So much has happened here. It’s absolutely overwhelming, but also deeply resonant and magical. I couldn’t be happier with my choice to come here for my PhD, and even though it’s a four year program and I’ve only been here a week, I already feel time is going too fast. It’s also essay #23, which means that something different has to happen with this essay than the others. I had originally thought that the fiction would simply seep in, and that maybe you wouldn’t know which was which and that would be the experiment. But now I feel that isn’t quite right. I will see as this one goes how it might work.
The second night I was here I stopped with the Masked One after class, late, to get a beer at a little bar called Happy Bar on the walk back down from our classroom, which is a round building up quite a steep hill, to our rooms, which are in a sub hotel building called Artemis. I have a lovely little room, bright and cool with a mountain view. It has been a haven since school is so overstimulating. The classes are one thing. Because it’s an expressive arts program the classes are not only intellectually stimulating but also quite psychologically ripping. (As in a new one.) But then there are the meals, which we share with the students and teachers from the philosophy program. I have been making a very concentrated effort to bridge over to the philosophy program, since it was definitely my originally interest in EGS, and since I do feel jealous of the incredible ideas and visionaries who are teaching there. But I think in this week I have begun to strike the balance I’m looking for, because my program is where I belong. I don’t want to sit and listen and learn by questioning and thinking. I also want to do what we have been doing, which is learning and research through the arts. The anti-platonic de-cartesian Dionysian learning through devouring. This morning, for example, we began the day with a singing dance. The fifty of us, all with the restriction to dance only on a lateral line in a long room (with the mountains streaming in the windows) and then also improvisationally singing to each other. Maybe for twenty minutes. After which Paulo Knill had us create an improvised motet with four parts (our four “companies” he calls them, which are the two masters groups, the digital arts group and our little PhD cohort.) We began with Barabara Hielscher (who was our philosophy professor as well) on the piano, playing a simple chord. Two of us in each group were to hold a tone from that chord throughout the improvisation. Since I was choreographer last time I volunteered to be the tone holder with Fuschia. Then two others were composers, The Masked One and Sniffer, to create a short repeating pattern, which the rest, the choir, were to repeat and be responsible for repeating, though they could also add anything else they wanted. Honestly, there were moments of transcendent beauty. Of chaos also. But I am learning a new way into the expressive arts here, different than PYE and the Creative Community model. More emergent, more unstructured. More embracing of chaos.
After the morning hour of arts (and a very short craft talk from Paulo) we had a two hour lecture on family systems and chaos theory, mostly based on Bateson. It was wonderful. I loved how Daniel Dietrich broke down Bateson’s systems theories into such simple to understand point, to understand how systems are operating on multiple scales, from the cosmos to the cell, and where the family fits into that. Then he showed us how to use scaling questions (like Bebear has always taught us) to get the temperature or state of a client or group. He showed us the elements of a system and then he moved us into chaos theory, which is really in a therapeutic sense learning to manage chaos. Of course, there isn’t anything new here, and this is what our camps and group work alsways do, but it was refreshing to sit on a dance floor and just be reminded in a clear way. The constant digging for chiggers to get to knowing is exhausting and my laziness just wanted to be told. In general, here, instead of tending teleologically to order, we are encouraged to stay with the chaos. And this is embedded into the ExA methodology. It’s very exciting. I know it will change my work. But it has also been operating on me in this week. I want to tell you two stories of how this has been happening. The first, because it is, in the end, my life with its long endless threads as all of yours have as well, is about love.
Back to Happy Bar. It’s a little place with a kind of anarchist maybe hard rock kind of feel. The Masked One and I walk in and order some small drinks. There are some people in the space. Most look like locals, and then there is a small knot that I can hear are talking about lectures, and I figure they’re from the philosophy side. Until this point I think I’d only had some casual conversation across the divide at dinner. Yes, that’s right. I has spoken with the Salt and Caramel Commie that day at lunch, the Greek sociologist writing his second PhD (his first was on the Vedas). I saw a dark skinned face, looking South Indian, across the bar, and just gave a little wave. We then went over and I introduced us to the knot of students. One of them is Neon Lillies who I hope will be a friend. A brilliant, sassy, edgy softie from NYC. Then there was Farenheit, actually the only black man I have seen here. A local called Richard. We began to chat. Neon Lillies gave me some insight and a reading list when I told her I was interested in learning about time. Agabden. The article “what is an apparatus.” We heard about some issues of anti O that had happened on their side. Richard was very drunk, so that was entertaining. Neon rolled a joint. Then the dark skinned Indian came by and introduced himself. He sat down, said his name was Lodi and asked me if I had Indian roots.
What you need to know, and what I think I mentioned in the last essay is that I feel Maji so strongly here. I feel as if I’m so blessed to be able to study, period. Maji never got to as you remember from That Fertile Disarray. And not just to study but in this way, in this incredible mountain retreat, with the body and heart engaged, learning how to heal and have purpose in the world, how to engage my creativity for a greater good. I feel Maji, and Grandma Vicky and Grandpa Edwin especially, but I know that all my ancestors are with me. I had mentioned them a number of times in class, as well. It just kept coming up as we were opening and invoking our time together. I had laid Maji’s mala on our class altar (yes, the class has an altar. It’s like that. It’s intellectually and profoundly personal.) I had put down Maji’s mala and shared the prayer I received when I prayed for a prayer because I didn’t know how to use the mala. I was surprised at myself sharing something so personal. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as open as I do right now.
So, my ancestors have been present. And when Lodi asked if I had Indian roots I said yes, I’m from Goa. And he, with his skin near maroon, and his round face, he looked a lot like Shams I had already seen it, said, what. Me too. In that moment we had a bond. He looked like he could cry. We actually hugged. Turned out he was from Calangute, which is so close to our home village, Saligao. Well, we continued to chat. I was feeling the first inklings of the beauty I feel in myself today, I felt relaxed and open. We were all laughing and chatting, and I was definitely doing some facilitation work to keep everyone connected and in the conversation. Lodi has a strong Swiss German accent. He has been living in Saas Fee for seventeen years and is the manager of the recycling plant here. He was married here and has a seven year old, too. It was amazing to me to think of what he would have had to do to stay that long in a place as white and traditional and conservative as this. As we talked it became clear that this was a very open, very emotionally intelligent man. I went out to have a little smoke with N. Lillies and then came back in where the Mask and Lodi were talking. He asked if we could stay for another beer. I said yes, but then changed my mind. I’d already had a half a pint and I wanted to stay clear for school. But I agreed to stay and chat a little longer. We sat back down on the couch and suddenly I found myself kissing him. I have not felt chemistry like this since Hari. So easy, so delicious. I felt I was kissing Shams, I felt my ancestors had given me a gift, I decided to go home with him. It seemed like a very bizarre decision, but at the same time I had no doubt. And the Masked One, though I didn’t know her, had only met here the day before, also seemed to say it was a good idea, though she made sure I knew how to contact her and had the numbers and she had mine. I went back to his house and we connected at a very deep level. I enjoyed it enormously and felt clear that my ancestors were answering my prayers to feel loved and connected while I was here. He wanted me to stay over the night, but I didn’t want to, I knew my priority was school, and that this was a gift to facilitate that.
Day 3-6 at school were incredibly full. I was meeting all kinds of incredible people, both the profs and the students. I wasn’t able to meet with Lodi in that time.
Once of the people I met was Eely, who stays here at Artemis too which means he is at breakfast everyday. He and two of his friends one day I sat with them and they gave me a list of readings and things to think about. Offhandedly Eely mentioned a drag performer called Christeeene. I don’t know why, but for some reason it stuck more than anything else (though I will be going through that precious list of readings, for sure.) I went up to my room at lunch and watched the video he told me about, a music video called African Mayonnaise. Christeeeene is an incredibly raunchy performer. The video is about how she is going to be your superstar. Her performance of femininty is liminal at best, barely there, messy lipstick, a man’s chest, but also a languid stringiness that is very starlet. In the video she wreaks a kind of havoc on a small suburban place. She is barely gendered. It was one of the things we had been talking about. And Eely had said something else that really tweaked my mind. That there is dignity in gender. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about Shams and our conversations about gender. When Shams asked me what I wanted from this time I said I wanted to glamourous and magnetic. The magnetic part was satisfied by Lodi and the glamourous part was being interrogated and disturbed by Christeeene.
On the night of day three Barbara and Tinquy gave us an assignment, to answer what is human (what is your menschenbild, your image of what makes a person), and what is art (and there fore what is your work and what work will you do here at EGS). When Eely told me about Christeeene and related it to dignity I couldn’t stop thinking that I so much wanted her to be part of my presentation, but I had no idea how. The morning of day four we had time to work into our projects a little. That afternoon at lunch I was on facebook, and Curlypaws had posted a CBC video of three drag queens at a public library reading to children. I knew that I wanted to put these side by side. But I still didn’t know how. I began work on my presentation, rereading my master’s thesis, because in that I had created a theory of mind that centered metaphor and had clarified already for myself what I thought was a human. I remembered the part about discrimination and reference. Now I could see how Christeene would fit in. In the end I didn’t show the videos, but I did talk about them, especially from the standpoint of assimilation as Kendi has it in Stamped From the Beginning. It was amazing to me on two levels, one that I knew it would be connected to my classwork when I heard about the video. And how seamlessly it ended up fitting in. This mysterious appearance of things out of time, out of order, in defiance of causality. It was good to talk about discrimination without talking about race. It’s good for me to think about gender, too, as I mentioned in the last essay, I have noticed my internalized misogyny and want very much to work on it. But also about the performance of my gender and how I do that. This, one of the seats of Judith Butler, would be the place to do it. I guess this is a question that has been knocking on my door since 2012 when I a) started doing the manic manicures and b) feel apart over falling in love with Chris Abani and c) finished my master’s degree AND d) started working on my rejection complex. And femmy glamour is something I want so much. Here it was in this twisted wonderful sweet ultra-raunchy charming drag performer. And it was also in the encounter with Lodi.
He texted me all week, but I was busy with the presentation, and then last night I wasn’t busy with school but very much wanted to go to Xin Wei Sha’s lecture. Yesterday we had a class trip into the mountains. It was exhausting but wonderful. The night we had off and there was this lecture. I had seen Xin Wei arrive, he is impossible to miss, a willowy man with the most beautiful energy. He smiled at me four or five times during lunch the day before and I introduced myself, and we decided to meet. In the morning he told me he would be speaking and that we could talk after. So I didn’t want to miss the lecture. When I looked up his work I was just beside myself. He is the director of the department of art media and engineering at ASU, and his research is arts based and interrogative, and has to do with time and material and physics and computation wow. So I couldn’t meet Lodi. Xin Wei’s lecture did not disappoint. I was telling Pure Pitt this morning I wished I could have taken out a lighter and held it up and swayed. We kept the joke going and decided that Kendrick Lamar should open for him at a 4000 person stadium. I wish that was the world I lived in. After the lecture I followed him and Elie During down the hill (meeting and chatting with Amira, the only black woman here. It was good to connect on that level.) Xin Wae invited me to follow them to another little Saas Fee bar called Metro Bar (which I quite like). I was so excited to get to talk to him. His presence is like sunlight. Truly a beautiful human. When we walk in who is there? Lodi.
It could have been very awkward and definitely tried to run that way. Not only was Lodi there but his adopted father Erich who is obviously protective of him, was there too, who I’d briefly met at Happy. He waved at me, and Xin Wei asked me if I’d been here before. I said I knew this man. I wanted to follow Xin Wei, but also wanted to connect with Lodi (he has been also walking by the school…it’s understandable, we had had such a deep connection). Lodi wanted me to sit with him, but I couldn’t do it. I had written to him a few hours before thankfully to explain that school was busier than I had expected. He told me not to worry about it. But then he started to get into that mansplaining world of giving advice and telling me how to act and what to believe. Trust yourself, etc etc. I smiled, because I could understand, but I also told him that I was going to talk to the professor. He tried to insist that I sit with him, and tried this weird put down technique of asking, do you live for other people? He kept repeating the question and trying to make me sit down. Finally I had to be a tiny bit sharp and just tell him I didn’t need him to teach me a lesson. He apologized, and I got myself a cranberry and soda and went to talk to Xin Wei who was sitting with Mark, the vice Dean here at the school.
He told me to pull up a seat. And what a conversation. What a mind. What a human being. Oh my god. I’ve been having incredible conversations and insights since I got here but this was on another level entirely. So generous. Mark had the conversation for a while, talking about Trump. Which was kind of okay because a) he had some very interesting ideas about how the constitution needs to change and add another amendment to protect voting rights (yo) and also because it let me tell them a little about my work. But then Xin Wei purposely turned the conversation to me and asked what I was doing at EGS and what I’m interested in. I had the chance to ask him about prediction and time and experiments and emergence and all kinds of things and he had so much to share. He turned me onto Grotowski, told me about his work, talked about interactions and how to work with art not at the level of making, but understanding the nature of the universe. About an hour and a half. I have never felt so high. We walked back. He gives another lecture tonight.
I’m having so much insight about my work from all these different angles. There is the philosophy, the new insights about arts, the deep work on myself. I mean, from the processing of the presentations that we did I ended up realizing that I do have ultimate choice over how I present myself. All week I’ve been doing my hair in the ways Vanessa showed me in Dec that I wasn’t ready for until now. All updos and lots of braids and just…glamorous, and wearing jewelry and just not being so hidden and tomboy. There is a shift happening in my mind that is on my body and there is work in my body that is shifting my ideas and basically I feel just alive and full of light.
Lodi just texted to ask if I would see him tonight. I’m a little torn. The chemistry is so nice but I think as the rejection complex really is starting to disintegrate in its totality, that I don’t know if I care that much to engage sexually with someone who doesn’t feel totally right. I don’t like the way he talks down to me, and especially doesn’t seems to respect me intellectually. I loathe being talked to in that way by men, as if I’m a child and their ideas are something precious like garnets. I certainly didn’t come here for that. The man I dated a few times in April was like that, too, remember? I think I’d rather avoid it. It was a blessing that night, connected to Goa and my roots, a kind of invocation, but I think I would much rather stay focussed here and keep on my path. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t need love and approval the way I used to? I mean, of course I still need them, but I just feel…free. I feel like being with myself is enough, and I’m excited to explore what else is possible.