susan sontag on aging (1978)

You can’t feel angry at nature. You can’t feel angry at biology. We’re all going to die — that’s a very difficult thing to take in — and we all experience this process.
It feels as if there’s this person — in your head, mainly — trapped in this physiological stock that only survives 70 to 80 years, normally, in any decent condition. It starts deteriorating at a certain point, and then for half of your life, if not more, you watch this material begin to fray. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re trapped inside it; and when it goes, you go.

I think the sense of a self trapped in something is impossible to get over. That’s the origin of all dualisms — Platonic, Cartesian or whatever. There’s no way that we can be conscious and not feel ‘I am in my body.’
Of course, you can try to come to terms with death, try to shift the axis of your activities to things that are less body-dependent as you get older: your body neither is as attractive to other people nor does it function in the way that is pleasurable to you.

But it also should be said that a lot of our ideas about what we can do at different ages and what age means are so arbitrary — as arbitrary as sexual stereotypes. People say all the time: ”Oh, I can’t do that. I’m 60. I’m too old.” Or ”I can’t do that. I’m 20. I’m too young.” Why? Who says so?

I think that the old-young polarization and the male-female polarization are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people. The values associated with youth and with masculinity [and I must add here cis-het whiteness] are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old. What you can do when you’re young and what you can do when you’re old is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man…

…This may be my limitation — and it probably is — but I cannot understand the truth except as the negation of falsehood. I always discover what I think to be true by seeing that something else is false: the world is basically full of falsehood, and the truth is something carved out by the rejection of falsehood. In a way, the truth is quite empty, but it’s already a fantastic liberation to be free of falsehood.

– Read the full interview here: Susan Sontag to Jonathan Cott, in Rolling Stone,1978.

little annie – midlife lazarus (2016)

Fucking wonderful.

‘Midlife Lazarus’ is taken from the forthcoming Little Annie record “TRACE” out on Tin Angel 20.05.16.

Film created by C Querci & A Bandez
Featuring Ryan Driver
Produced & Directed by C Querci (https://cquerci.com)
Dance & Choreography by Andrew Braddock (https://braddock.website)

Camera by Kika von Kluck (https://kikavonkluck.com)
Make-up by Shana Miner-Ladin

rainer maria rilke – from “requiem for a friend” (1908)

… That’s what you had to come back for: the lament that we omitted. Can you hear me? I would like to fling my voice out like a cloth over the fragments of your death, and keep pulling at it until it is torn to pieces, and all my words would have to walk around shivering, in the tatters of that voice; as if lament were enough.

But now I must accuse: not the man who withdrew you from yourself (I cannot find him; he looks like everyone), but in this one man, I accuse: all men. When somewhere, from deep within me, there arises the vivid sense of having been a child, the purity and essence of that childhood where I once lived: then I don’t want to know it. I want to form an angel from that sense and hurl him upward, into the front row of angels who scream out, reminding God.

For this suffering has lasted far too long; none of us can bear it; it is too heavy — this tangled suffering of spurious love which, building on convention like a habit, calls itself just, and fattens on injustice. Show me a man with a right to his possession. Who can possess what cannot hold its own self, but only, now and then, will blissfully catch itself, then quickly throw itself away, like a child playing with a ball. As little as a captain can hold the carved Nike facing outward from his ship’s prow when the lightness of her godhead suddenly lifts her up, into the bright sea-wind: so little can one of us call back the woman who, now no longer seeing us, walks on along the narrow strip of her existence as though by miracle, in perfect safety — unless, that is, he wishes to do wrong. For this is wrong, if anything is wrong: not to enlarge the freedom of a love with all the inner freedom one can summon. We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.

sulamith wolfling – the little mermaid

Are you still here? Are you standing in some corner? You knew so much of all this, you were able to do so much; you passed through life so open to all things, like an early morning. I know: women suffer; for love means being alone; and artists in their work sometimes intuit that they must keep transforming, where they love. You began both; both exist in that which any fame takes from you and disfigures. Oh you were far beyond all fame; were almost invisible; had withdrawn your beauty, softly, as one would lower a brightly colored flag on the gray morning after a holiday. You had just one desire: a year’s long work — which was never finished; was somehow never finished. If you are still here with me, if in this darkness there is still some place where your spirit resonates on the shallow sound waves stirred up by my voice: hear me: help me. We can so easily slip back from what we have struggled to attain, abruptly, into a life we never wanted; can find that we are trapped, as in a dream, and die there, without ever waking up. This can occur. Anyone who has lifted his blood into a years-long work may find that he can’t sustain it, the force of gravity is irresistible, and it falls back, worthless. For somewhere there is an ancient enmity between our daily life and the great work. Help me, in saying it, to understand it.

Do not return. If you can bear to, stay dead with the dead. The dead have their own tasks. But help me, if you can without distraction, since in me what is most distant sometimes helps.

[Translator: Stephen Mitchell]

genna gardini – performance scale (2017)

CN: Chronic illness; Multiple Sclerosis; graphic depictions of bodies and illness.

‘Performance Scale’ is a poem about Genna Gardini’s personal experience of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It was adapted into a film by three people close to Gardini and personally affected by MS. The film was created as part of Gardini’s 2016 ICA National Fellowship project MS Independent: Diagnosis.

Written by Genna Gardini
Directed by Gary Hartley
Performed by Amy Louise Wilson
Filmed and edited by Francois Knoetze
A Horses’ Heads Production, created with the assistance of the Institute for Creative Arts.

‘Performance Scale’ was nominated by PEN SA for the 2015 New Voices Award. Read an interview with Genna about the poem here.

Performance Scale
The startling fact was this: my body was offering a precise physiological equivalent to what had been going on in my mind.
Joan Didion, The White Album.

1:

I spent so many years attacking my body,
finding fault in faint abundance, obsessing over every lack
that it didn’t surprise me when I woke up one morning
to discover that it was finally fighting me back.

2:

This was the year you kept killing all the machines you owned
and that is what we refer to as a “running motif”
(and that is what we refer to as “dramatic irony”).

3:

You’ll come to,
conked out on some strange cistern in a Southern Suburbs mall,
your legs hinging against the plastic billboard of the bathroom door,
angled in the jamb like damp cardboard
folded and forced into a full stop.

4:

This is paper as metaphor and limbs as punctuation.
This is the reverse of writing.

5:

You’ll find your phone lying, lesioned, next to you,
a fissure fresh down its crustacean container
like a phantom crack. Like a mime at a wall,
bucking but flat.

6:

You’re tipped against a nurse
whose prophylactic palm pats nerved and certain on your neck.
You have heard her tell the others that they are good girls.
You are not a good girl
because when she sets you straight on the mat, then the scale,
she only says, “Try not to hurl”, then
“You must make a note of your weight”.

7:

The zinging technology of your mouth
steams against the frosted door of the consultation room.

8:

She is warm and alive as an urn at the Church fete
and you are the Styrofoam cup
leaning at her tap.

9:

“Look at it this way, at least you’ll be skinny!”
is quite a funny thing to say to someone
when you think they could be dying.

10:

You began to let your bob grow unbidden,
split and wrought
because if a part of your physicality still chooses to thrive
who are you cut it short?

10:

You make these kinds of jokes.

11:

You are convinced that the nails and hair of a corpse
inch out past conclusion, intrepid as weeds, eternal as worms,
eyeless and edging in all directions, past even the last right
to scratch into life. This is poetry, I thought,
before I was told that I was wrong.

12:

You retract back into yourself, creating the illusion of growth,
moving like a skirt hitched above the knee, balking as if in shock
pressed against the back of the closest ablution block.

13:

At 27, I became blind in one eye
but didn’t realise, because I only notice my mouth.
I thought perhaps a crack had formed between my head
and the cheese-cloth membrane of my disbelief.

14:

Speaking is uncertain and pinpricked.
It is shrouded. It is grief.

15:

Every bad thing that’d happened to me before
was because a man had decided to teach me a lesson
and this is why, after I found out,
I had to reconsider atheism.

14:

You are turning a manuscript into a
fan with the bridging press of pleats.
You are not Keats.

15:

The good doctor made eye-contact with me for the whole beat
which I know is supposed to convey the meaningfulness of the moment
because of my expensive acting degree.

16:

Raisins injected with water.

17:

Thinned the way paint under the slow drip of turpentine is.

18:

I pick this bed because of its proximity to the TV. I am surrounded by women who are in various states of collapse. One spends each day lamenting the canteen’s slopped and unbroiled chicken ala king, sending voicenotes to her daughters to remember to let the cat in. The others cannot walk. I do not want to know them. I do not want to admit that I am one of them. At first, I shuffle, hesitantly, like it’s a character choice, until I realise I am not performing and the gimmick has stuck, gammy. My legs lurch and twitch beyond me.

19:

I look up and there is nothing.

I look down at my own arm, which the nurse has stuck so repeatedly, finding me false and veinless, that the blood clotted before it gathered, like I was a boring meeting they wanted to leave and this might be the exit.

I look up and she is staring straight at me.

Her face is wide and aimed. I pull out my earphones but she is whispering. I say her name. She is mouthing something and I do not know the words but I know that what she is saying is help me and I cannot even help myself

which is why I am plugged into a wall like a faulty Blackberry on charge
which is why I am connected to wet metal that looks like a clothes horse,
which is why I am making so many Joan Crawford wire hanger jokes.
This means help me.

I thumb the call button. The station, which perpindiculates next to us is unlike, myself, without staff. I use the IV as a cane and I call out but the movement of my voice is as interrupted as my legs, cramped, boned by pain. There is a sound here, it rings out, clean and to the side as a scalpel. Panic is a disinfected metal knife, it slices me from myself, each thought going into the brain instead of the mouth, bounced like an email sent to the incorrect address. The prospect of the seizure is thick and electric in her bones, I can see it. The day before, her family had come to visit. Two of them explained how this latest bout was caused of the evil thoughts she allowed to enter her head. She must lose them. My own – which buzzed, a constant cortex, old and reliable as a Cortina that has been veering for years, cutting breaks and ties with whoever passed me by – stay stuck. I wish I had a demon but I don’t, I have my legs and I run past corn rows of beds to find some assistance

20:

towards the end.