My 1983 novel Dos Indios will be published in France in Fall 2013 by 13e Note Editions (Paris). in 2008, Sex for the Millennium and 15 Serial Killers were published in France by Editions Cambourakis (Paris).
OSWIECIM, Poland – As they do on every anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, witnesses to the Holocaust will gather Sunday, older, frailer, fewer than the year before.
After 68 years, the camp itself is showing its age under the pressures of time and tourism.
With a budget underwritten by the state of Israel, the current director, Jo’zef Korzeniowski, a 63-year-old retired hospital administrator in Warsaw, is searching for ways to preserve vital evidence of Nazi atrocities and update the exhibits without chipping away at Auschwitz’s authenticity — or giving fodder to Holocaust deniers.
“The major dilemma,” Korzeniowski informed a group of Israeli Knesset ministers crowded into his office in one of the Auschwitz barracks, “is preserving what is original while permitting visitors to see and touch.”
“This wasn’t constructed like a gothic cathedral to endure for centuries,” Korzeniowski reminded the ministers. “It was a Nazi death camp built to last a short time.”
Most sensitive, perhaps, is what to do about the remains of gas chambers which are slowly sinking into the earth, the result of weather, erosion and gravity.
Toward the end of World War II as the Soviet army advanced, the Nazis attempted to destroy the evidence by blowing up the gas chambers and crematoria in its multiple extermination camps.
Today, those testaments to German engineering are mostly in ruins, an abstract “canvas” both of the original crimes against humanity and the attempt to conceal them.
Auschwitz alone survived largely intact.
Given its singular role as proof of the Nazi atrocities inflicted on Jews, Roma humans, homosexuals, communists, and the physically and mentally disabled, the decay of Auschwitz poses a special problem.
Still visible are the railroad tracks on which the “cattle cars” transported the condemned to the camp,
the barracks where they lived in appalling conditions,
the chambers where they were gassed,
the crematoria where their bodies were incinerated.
Auschwitz, 68 years after, provides a picture of how the camp operated, whereas many other former Nazi extermination camps, including Treblinka and Belzec, are marked today only by rusted monuments.
Auschwitz’s eventual decay is accelerated because the materials used, such as softwood in the watchtowers and the barracks, will rot or collapse.
Korzeniowski reminded the Knesset ministers that some of the decaying structures at the camp were initially constructed by weak and starving inmates exerting minimum effort to preserve their strength.
Evidently, those inmates rejected the exhortation which the Nazis nailed over the main entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei — “Work will make you free.”
Technically, Auschwitz is not one camp, but two, each with its own aging problems.
Auschwitz I was constructed in an abandoned Polish military base in 1940; Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, a much larger complex, was built two miles away in 1941 to speed up the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”
Together, Auschwitz-Birkenau stands as virtually the last tangible emblem of the Nazi plague, so making any change is fraught with great responsibility and controversy.
Korzeniowski is calling for retainer walls to be built around gas chambers to prevent them from sinking further.
“We are at a moment where we must act,” Korzeniowski announced to the Knesset ministers.
“If we don’t, there’s the risk that in 10 or 15 years, it will no longer be possible to understand their construction.”
“Any tampering with the gas chambers is problematic because Holocaust deniers could seize on photographs of repair work to argue that the whole project was fabricated.”
So pronounced Herbert Weltmann, Professor of Jewish studies at the University of Manchester and a member of the International Auschwitz Council, which advises Auschwitz administrators.
Weltmann noted that the barbed wire at Auschwitz had already been replaced twice since the war, because the original was so rusted.
Gas chambers are another matter.
“Fiddling with gas chambers is fiddling with the heart and soul of what Auschwitz represents,” said Weltmann, who has urged the Council to seek the advice of engineering experts before starting any work.
Another mission Korzeniowski has set for himself is modernizing the exhibit at Auschwitz I that was established in 1955.
Housed in the original brick barracks, the exhibit includes pitiful photographs of inmates;
SS offices left in their original state down to the photograph on the wall of Hitler stiffly bending to pet a small dog;
displays of broken, weathered suitcases; twisted eyeglasses; hair and teeth and toenails extracted from victims before their remains were incinerated;
three full cans of Zyklon, the gas with which the inmates were exterminated.
Korzeniowski insists that he wants none of that removed; nonetheless, certain upgrades are necessary because the exhibit no longer meets international museum standards.
In response to a question from a Knesset minister, Korzeniowski explained that he is in the process of gathering information about how best to modernize the camp, that all decisions would be made after consultation with authorities on Holocaust commemoration.
The exhibit “was at the time created for people who remembered the war very well,” Korzeniowski reminded the Knesset ministers.
“Now we have a generation of young people whose parents don’t even remember the war.
If we do not change that, this exhibition will say always less to the next generation until it will say nothing at all.”
As to the Holocaust deniers, they are spreading rapidly throughout the globe, even as newer, cleaner genocides are occurring on every continent.
Shortly after 7 p.m. 200 people suddenly assemble on the mezzanine level of the Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Station, in Manhattan, sit on the floor, then clear their throats loudly twice at intervals of 2 minutes. After exactly 4 minutes, they get up, disperse.
Invoke a system that assigns terrorist scores to airline passengers; the system tracks what passengers eat and drink, their seat assignments, how often they go to the restroom to perform which function, how many smartphone calls they make and how many text messages they post when the aircraft lands at its destination. Passengers must not be apprised of their scores.
Gas or otherwise poison your own humans and blame the Crusaders / Zionists / Jihadists.
Taunt and abuse the deposed tyrant as he is being hanged; nonetheless he dies bravely.
Purchase (at discount) enormous quantities of opium from an Southeast Asian country, sell it to organized crime in the inner cities of your own country, use the profits to buy munitions for a Middle Eastern country to incite an “Arab Spring.”
Remove contagious tubercular patients from hospitals and instruct them to spit blood into the mouths of anyone they come in contact with.
Enlist a seductive Mata Hari and slip her out of Central Asia with a vial of smallpox and the orders to contaminate every non-Muslim with whom she consorts.
Inject a cadre of suicidal fedayeen with smallpox or plague or SARS or Legionnaire’s Disease or flesh-eating bacteria.
Smuggle them into the US with instructions to visit every crowded shopping mall and ballpark and Apple store and Starbucks they can.
Slowly die while fatally infecting everyone in the vicinity.
Use mobile phones, text messaging, e-mail and other instantaneous electronic communication to gather participants for dissidence, as in the 2006 civil unrest in France, which helped coordinate the student and labor union protest at the ill-advised employment statute which the center-right French government, up against the wall, then withdrew.
Get another piercing and join the World Naked Bike Ride, an international event in which naked participants ride together en masse on human-powered transport — primarily bikes but also skateboards, roller blades, roller skates — to protest oil dependency and celebrate the power and individuality of our flesh and blood bodies.
Become a Human Shield, the-nanosecond dance craze, it spans the globe.
The music has been described as a blend of Portuguese Fado and Jamaican Reggae.
Shake your booty, relax.
With one proviso:
Ganja is strictly prohibited.
What follows is an excerpt from a work in progress, called “Orlando.” Enjoy.*
* Please leave comments and responses, and – if so inclined – share with other fiction readers.
Slaughtered stock animals hang from their hooves.
The SM dungeon club in the meat district on Gansevoort in Greenwich Village north is nouveau-chic.
Males pony up $30, fems admitted without charge.
Indeterminate genders? You’ll have to check with the management.
Butchers and assistant butchers have blood on their aprons, beneath their fingernails, on their thick shoes, the same shoes NYC cops wear.
To “protect and serve.”
The SM joint opens at midnight and goes deep into the dawn hours.
My invite comes from a friend of a friend of a friend who works for Google.
Google reportedly owns the club and sister clubs in Soho, Chelsea, and upper Broadway just north of Columbia University.
Just south of Harlem.
Is there still a “Harlem”?
Didn’t Columbia buy up Harlem and evict the tenants?
They weren’t tenants, they were welfare cheats, freeloaders, crackheads.
Sure, they’re black. What can I tell you?
The club is called Genet, as in Jean Genet.
French homo-masochist, prideful petty thief, anarchist, celebrated author.
Rolled with the Black Panthers, later with the Palestinians.
Google’s SM clubs are Genet 1, Genet 2, Genet 3, Genet 4.
The joint in the meat district on Gansevoort is Genet 2, the most popular of the four.
It’s the ambiance.
Stock animal blood on the concrete floor.
Though it’s stormy Monday Genet 2 is rocking.
Naked males crawling on the concrete, whimpering, knees and elbows bloody.
Naked or nude?
Dominatrices with whips and paddles.
Clusters in various stages of undress groping.
Above the concrete “arena” on three sides are wooden bleachers; I’m sitting in one.
The designer-rough arena resembles a much larger version of an MMA cage.
Mixed Martial Arts.
You’ve probably noticed it on TV between commercials.
Steroidal young men with shaved heads, bad tats and cauliflower ears manically grappling and kicking.
Several of the meat outlets on Gansevoort label themselves kosher.
PETA records that a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa produced at least “300 instances of inhumane slaughter, in which fully conscious cows, hung upside-down, had their sensitive muzzles shocked with electric prods, had their tracheas and esophagi ripped from their throats with meat hooks or knives, as they writhed in pools of their own blood, moaning, trying desperately to stand for up to three minutes as blood streamed from their throats.”
Jewish animal death scholars insist that traditional kosher slaughter is the least inhumane of all stock animal murders.
Why pick on kosher?
Yet another species of anti-Semitism?
I am strictly an observer, and one scene has stayed with me.
A middle-aged couple is sitting in the bleachers above me holding hands when the male, thin / pale, separates himself, descends into the arena, removes his clothes, is bound to a pole and flogged by an extremely tall masked dominatrix in ebony leather with a cat o’ nine tails.
She resembles Grace Jones.
She may be Grace Jones.
She flogs him mercilessly on the lower back, buttocks, thighs . . .
Stock animals whimper.
They shriek in pain.
Dolphins shriek in pain in a register we cannot hear.
So do rabbits, commonly ignored by humans.
So do even smaller animals and amphibians.
The injured goldfinch I’m cupping in my hands.
Tune in, turn on, hear them scream, shriek, whimper.
The pale male whimpers and screams, he bleeds from his buttocks.
It looks like blood.
I glance up at the woman, his other half.
She observes without expression.
After a delirious 20 minutes he is released.
And now I smell shit, vaguely–it could be a participant’s cologne.
Or savory remnant of slaughtered stock animals.
The calf, dead, released finally into the suffering animal afterworld.
Infinitely above human kind.
I am impressed that the pale male, bleeding, naked, dragging his clothes, is embraced tenderly by his female companion.
He broadcasts his “weakness,” whimpers like a tormented calf, shrieks like a tortured rabbit, and the woman (she wears sunglasses, I can’t see her eyes) kisses him tenderly, sensually on the mouth.
What follows is an excerpt from a work in progress, called “Orlando.” It is the title narrative of a collection of fiction and docufiction. Enjoy.*
* Please leave comments and responses, and – if so inclined – share with other fiction readers.
Orlando: Performer terrorist
Trieste: Performer terrorist / Disciple of Orlando
Catalan Carlos: Photographer / Disciple & Lover of Orlando
Simona: Actress / Disciple of Orlando
Duane Redbone: Pornographer / Admirer of Orlando
Setting: Global village
Time: Five years before the Millennium
The concept was to have a team of Parisian surgeons recast her face to duplicate the representations (surprisingly few in number) of Joan of Arc. What the representations shared were Joan’s large soulful eyes, delicate features, pointed chin, rapt expression. The surgery would be done with local anesthetic and videotaped. The video would be featured in an exhibition the Pompidou Centre was mounting on “The Body in Pain.”
The surgery took place as scheduled. The surgeons were French, hence appreciated the extravagant claims of art. They kept the surgery theater open, which allowed Carlos, glossy long hair in a braid, to videotape the procedure.
The surgery was projected by satellite to 18 cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Beijing, Tokyo, Rio, New York, San Francisco. (No techno-upload; this is before manic technology.)
As always Orlando healed rapidly. In 21 days nearly all of the swelling disappeared and she became the reincarnation of Saint Joan, though at six-feet-three she had to be nearly two feet taller than the Maid of Orleans.
Meantime, Trieste and his terrorists were on Wall Street wrapping the NY Stock Exchange in an enormous pelt of human shit. Most of the investors and speculators appeared not to notice the transformation.
Next, Trieste flew to London where Orlando, disguised as a black-skinned male, attended a football “friendly” between Nigeria and Manchester United. She sat among the rabid British fans while rooting avidly for Nigeria. After the match ended in a 1-nil upset win for Nigeria, British hooligans beat the disguised Orlando severely, using lengths of pipe and brass knuckles while singing God Save the Queen.
Catalan Carlos, wearing a maroon watch cap to hide his Latin hair and with his face and hands bleached, captured the bloody beating on vid.
Orlando had her Joan of Arc nose broken in four places, eye socket shattered, retina detached, jaw dislocated, skull fractured. No teeth were knocked out, which was a surprise.
She was treated by a team of surgeons led by a tall Scot who resembled Sean Connery. He refused to let Carlos video the surgery. Moreover he did an inept job of reconfiguring Orlando’s face, which is why she flew to Los Angeles ten days later where cosmetic surgeons re-operated. Here too Carlos was forbidden to videotape, though he got good snaps of her post-operative swellings.
In six weeks Orlando resembled her stunning marmoreal self and was plotting the next outrage. Carlos’s vid of the beating and miscellaneous snaps were forwarded to the Pompidou Centre for their Body in Pain exhibition.
After a performance in which a vengeful band of Quiche children of “the disappeared” locked forty-nine living Guatemalan generals in the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City and firebombed the building, incinerating every last general, Trieste and his troupe, featuring Orlando, toured the country.
In the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, Orlando contemplated jumping from the top of the central Mayan temple but desisted.
Too high. The ground was too rocky. She wouldn’t have survived. Not that survival was paramount.
She wouldn’t mind not surviving one of her “performances”?
Survival is merely one factor. She’d died so many times in small ways. Shattered bones, ruptured organs, features reconfigured.
What did she do?
Staying with the Maya motif, she cut into her chest with an ancient slate and exposed her heart. Or an area of her chest near her heart.
In the holy, heathen city of Tikal. At the foot of the Temple of the Great Jaguar.
Though Orlando had studied anatomical templates, she severed an artery instead of a vein. Maybe it was the other way around. The result was she nearly died. A physician-member of Trieste’s troupe stanched the bleeding. She was flown back to Guatemala City on a tiny single-engine prop where they sewed her back together. Carlos videotaped the procedure.
After exposing her heart in the ancient Maya capital of Tikal and getting sutured in Guatemala City, Orlando traveled into the heart of Guatemala.
She rode a bus into the northwest highlands. Squeezed among the poor Indians, campesinos, livestock, animal smells, woodsmoke, Orlando looked different, pliant, almost Indian. She bought a bunch of bananas in the public market. She rode the crowded, bumpy bus, up and around the hairpin turns, occasionally eating a banana.
Two hours out of Guatemala City the bus was stopped at a military checkpoint. Soldiers with bayoneted rifles ordered the passengers out, lined them against a walled husk of a church, then fumigated the inside of the bus with two large hoses. The passengers were ordered back into the bus which stank of disinfectant. En route again some of the passengers muttered to each other. Three hours later they were in Sololá.
At the Sololá market Orlando bought a Bat Clan jacket woven by the Cakchikel Indians out of sheep wool.
She washed her hair in the volcanic lake.
She ate tortillas, chiles, beans and roasted corn in a local restaurant then rented a room above the restaurant. She sat on a cushion on the floor of the small room and listened to the night sounds. Laments of drunken men and drunken boys. Crickets sawing. The faint whistlings of a poorwill.
She smoked a cigarette.
She shared her narrow bed with fleas.
The next morning she rode a bus farther into the mountains.
That afternoon she drank beer in the dusty cantina, fourteen Indian or Ladino men and Orlando.
Sentimental music from an old jukebox.
The men stared at her. A Ladino asked her to dance. In the confined dusty space she danced with the man whose head came to her shoulders. Another man asked her to dance and she danced with him. When a third man asked her to dance she said, No, horita me voy.
Two men, drunk, followed her outside, knocked her down, dragged her behind the cantina and brutally raped her.
You expected something like that and so I gave it to you. It didn’t happen.
She left the cantina, walked to the center and rented a room. She washed.
That evening she went to the zócalo and listened to music: brass, a harp, two wooden flutes.
Back in her small room she sat on the floor and smoked a cigarette.
Orlando bussed north from Guatemala through Belize into Quintana Roo, the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. She got off at Akumal, just north of the Maya ruins of Tulum. She avoided the tourist hotels fanning south from Cancun. She rented a room in a tiny pension in the low lying jungle.
Gazing through the small cracked window of her room at dusk she saw nineteen toucans in single file, one after the other, fly leisurely from the west to the east side of the jungle.
Someone said there were alligators in the mangroves.
Orlando lay nude in a mangrove swamp in the jungle denseness.
The next day she bussed to Cancun. Checked into Hotel Jesús Intercontinental, which was also a theme park. She bathed, made herself beautiful, and that evening at seven-thirty she mounted the six-story Mary Mother of God Barn, filled with theme rides and “recreations,” facing the ocean, in full view of the St. Paul Plaza dining area. She launched herself into the moist salt air. She lay sprawled, exposed and bloody on the astroturf below.
“Orlando did Mejico and now she’s planning on Cuba,” Trieste said to Simona on the phone.
Trieste laughed. “She plans to get an audience with Fidel. When that happens she’ll slip on a salt and pepper Fidel-like beard and put a match to it.”
“Fidel’s people will let her do all that?”
“Orlando moves fast. Besides, when Fidel sees her he’ll want to visit with her alone. He’s pushing eighty but he’s still sexy.”
“She sets her face on fire,” Simona said. “What then?”
“Her face burns.” Trieste shrugged. “Her hair. She recovers in a Havana clinic. They do advanced burn work in Cuba. The only thing she won’t have is a video record, or maybe even snaps. Nothing for the new millennium.”
Orlando was resting in the burn clinic of Habana Hospital when Fidel visited her. Because of all the disinformation people don’t know this about Fidel, but he’s a funny man. He appreciates a good joke even at his expense. Plus he has a refined esthetic sense — despite long lip service to socialist realism.
Fidel and Orlando hit it off?
Fidel saw to it that she got class-A treatment. After spending five days in the hospital he had her removed to his own dacha. Fidel was amazed at how rapidly she healed. They became lovers.
What did he do? Take a vacation from running the country?
Not at all. Fidel has enormous zest. He’s always had a raunchy private life.
How long did the affair go on?
A month, six months. Orlando doesn’t look at calendars. She plots her outrages by the phases of the moon. When industrial pollution obscures the sky, she reads coffee grounds.
After Cuba and amorous nights with Fidel, Orlando was flown in Habana 1, Fidel’s private jet, to Barcelona where she regrouped with Catalan Carlos. From Barcelona they drove in Carlos’ indestructible Citroën 2CV through France and Belgium into the Netherlands.
In Amsterdam they got a room on Achterburgwal in the Red Light district. After settling in, they had dinner at a creperie close by. After dinner they dropped in on the mafia office which controlled access to the windowed prostitutes’ compartments in the area around Oudekerk.
The next evening Orlando, sleekly radiant in magenta chemise, matching G-string and ivory velvet slippers, was posed in the neon light of her whore’s window near Oudekerk. It was Friday, teeming with tourists.
When a successful transaction was arranged, the red drape was pulled closed. Orlando opened and closed her drape half a dozen times at intervals which averaged thirteen minutes, having entertained one Sikh, two Indonesian business-men en menage, a nineteen-year-old American marine, good for twenty-three seconds, an Armenian drug merchant, and a Lutheran minister from Antwerp. After the Lutheran she locked her door, took her place in the illuminated window and commenced to strip.
The gawkers, hugger-mugger in front of the window, watched her recline naked on the plush red divan and masturbate herself with a pearl-colored dildo. Suddenly a burly man with an Afrikaans look carrying a metal crutch burst into her compartment from an inside door and attacked her, whacking her with the crutch across her face and breasts and buttocks, then when she was in a bloody heap on the floor, pulling down his pants and mounting her from behind.
He’d just thrust into her and arched his back, moaning coarsely with his head held high, when Orlando pulled away and in the same motion produced a straight razor and hacked off his genitals.
You’re making this up. Where’d she get the straight razor?
From under the divan cushion. Every working girl keeps a weapon close by.
She hacked off his penis and . . .
The whole monkey business.
What were the gawkers doing while this was going on?
Gawking. They assumed it was part of the performance.
Sleeping alongside Carlos in the large walnut bed, designed by the school of Gaudi, in their flat in the medieval quarter of Barcelona, Orlando dreamt of a dwarf with a hump under his left shoulder and a comically large erection. With his black head thrown back he blew rhythmically on a wooden flute. Naked, she danced to the music. Cobra-like she wound around the dwarf and as she closed herself onto his penis the flute he blew became her cobra mouth. She could feel every one of her scales which were her wounds. The flute player blew into her mouth, the music was the sound of whales surfacing.
Orlando woke, drank some water, went back to sleep. Not yet dawn.
Outside the Bundesbank in Frankfurt five theatrical Nazi skinheads gassed Chancellor Helmut Kohl, all 333 pounds of him, in a replica crematorium. After this “performance” the German authorities detained Trieste the terrorist.
Four days later sixty-six other terrorists led by Orlando converged outside the Frankfurt prison which was holding Trieste in isolation. The temperature was two degrees centigrade with slushy rain. The terrorists commenced to undress and when they were entirely naked held hands and formed a wide circle around the prison. Each of the sixty-six had the initials DM, for deutsche mark, tattooed, large and black, on their chests. On their backs each wore a large, black swastika.
Beneath the windowless second-story confinement area where Trieste was held, the Terrorists formed a naked-bodies pyramid two stories high. From the apex of this pyramid the naked Orlando suspended herself from her left ankle, like the Hanged Man of the Tarot.
First, reading from a script in her upside-down hand, Orlando recited Heine in German. Then, loudly, in chorus, the sixty-six terrorists with their tattooed deutsche marks and swastikas, repeated:
Night lay upon my eyelids,
Upon my mouth lay lead,
With rigid brain and breast-bone,
I lay among the dead . . .
Since the international newspapers and TV channels had been forewarned, the performance was taped, photographed, video’d, and beamed by satellite around the globe. The German authorities gave way, announced they would release Trieste at midnight with the condition that he leave Germany straightaway. Trieste rejected that condition. He was released in any case, filtered through a tight cordon of police to shield him from actual Nazis.
While Catalan Carlos followed Trieste to Asia and mischief at the expense of the Japanese and brave-new-world Singaporeans, Orlando flew to Jamaica, West Indies. Deplaning in Montego Bay directly behind Orlando, perspiring in a size 56-long seersucker suit and size 16 triple-E cocoa wingtips, was the pornographer, Duane Redbone. Turned out they were staying in the same hotel and, at Bone’s suggestion, shared a taxi. In the taxi he introduced himself.
At dinner time Bone rang Orlando’s room. She didn’t answer the phone. Bone came by in person and knocked at her door.
“Hello there,” from Bone. “How about dinner?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well how about a drink?”
“How’s ten-thirty? We can meet at the patio pub. It’s a nice spot.”
“See you then,” Bone said.
Did she show up for the drink?
What’s she doing in Jamaica now? It would have made better sense to go there from Cuba.
She’s not a sensible traveler.
The next morning at about 8:30, Orlando rented a beige Toyota Corolla from the hotel rent-a-car and pulled out of the driveway. A taxi was blocking the exit with rawboned Redbone about to get in. He saw her.
“Hey, where you going?”
“Coincidence,” Bone said. “I was going there myself. Daytrip. Can I ride with you?”
She motioned for him to get in.
“As she pulled onto the road Bone said, “I would’ve rented a car but driving on the left side of the road’s a hassle. What’s your name?”
“Nice name. How long you going to be in Negril, Delphine?”
“I don’t know.”
“So I guess you didn’t make it for the drink last night?”
“I was tired.”
It takes about two and a half hours to get to Negril and Redbone did most of the talking.
“Have you ever heard of “Freak da Virus,” Delphine? It’s a film company. Actually video. I’m a cameraman and director. We do porn flicks. Some of the best around. Do you like porn? Pornography?”
“Love it,” she said.
This simple affirmative surprised and aroused him.
“What do you do?”
“You mean . . . Like where?”
“Maybe you will get a chance to see,” she said.
Just outside Negril, with the placid blue Carib to the west and dense tropical bush to the east, Delphine was accelerating to pass a lorry on the single lane road when she suddenly blacked out, losing control of the wheel. Redbone with quick reflexes snatched the wheel with one large hand and guided it into the correct lane seconds before an oncoming lorry. He steered onto the narrow shoulder and stopped the car. Delphine had regained consciousness.
She was all right, she said, and took the wheel again. She drove to the new, expansive Hotel Tafari. It was a few minutes past noon. Redbone arranged to meet her at two for a drink on the penthouse patio.
He was sitting at a table overlooking the sea nursing a Red Stripe when he saw Delphine open the door. At first he wasn’t sure it was she. Her black hair was arranged in intricate dreadlocks. She wore a floor-length periwinkle batik skirt and beige halter top. She was smiling.
Redbone finished his beer and ordered Jah cocktails for himself and Delphine. A Jah cocktail is three parts white rum to one part fresh coconut water. With a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.
“So where do you do these performances of yours, Delphine?
“You wish to see one?”
“Sure. You bet.”
“I will go for a bathe [that’s how she said it]. You stay here, watch from the patio.”
“Aren’t you going to drink your drink?”
She was gone. Seconds later Bone saw her on the white sand stripping off her clothes. She did this deliberately. There were maybe a dozen other people on the beach in her vicinity, sunning white tourists. Lifeguard tower but no lifeguard. Bone watched her, lithely naked, move toward the water and wade out beyond the coral reef. He watched her swim, not fast but gracefully, freestyle then breastroke, farther out. Too far . . . Redbone was racing down to the beach tearing off his clothes on the run. By the time he stripped down to his fuchsia briefs, she had disappeared. He plunged into the water and propelled himself in her general direction, swimming — it occurred to him — faster than he’d ever swum, because he was not an expert swimmer. When he stopped, breathing hard, treading water, there was no sign of her. On the shore, distantly, the sunning tourists continued sunning. The water was mild, clear, sun-dappled; he dove but didn’t see her. He dove again, swimming and twisting under water, gasping for air as he surfaced. Again he glanced toward the shore and this time he shouted: Help, Help, flailing his arms. People heard, they moved slowly toward the shore craning their necks.
Redbone sucked in breath and dove again, swimming farther out underwater. A school of gold and purple fish swiftly swerved out of his way. He was about to resurface when he felt a strong tug at his left ankle. Thinking shark, he panicked, pulled away toward shore. As soon as he slowed he was tugged at again, hard around the waist, actually pulled under water. Delphine, her long hair on his chest pulling him down. He fought her, he was 247 pounds, he surfaced dragging her with him, keeping her head above the water. And now a lifeboat was motoring toward them . . .
One Jamaican lifeguard gave her mouth-to-mouth on the boat while the other maneuvered the boat to shore. Mouth-to-mouth was continued on the surf, the Jamaicans taking turns. She was breathing. They covered her and transported her in a stretcher to the ambulance with its red roof light rotating slowly parked on the sand near the hotel.
Bone rode with her to the small hospital a few kilometers away. She lay on her back, the white cotton blanket up to her chin. Her eyes were open, she looked like a Madonna, she gazed at Redbone as she had in the car on the shoulder after she’d blacked out while trying to pass the lorry.
Did Redbone have any idea he was part of a performance? In the rented Corolla? In the sea?
What do you think?
I think he might have sensed his contribution. In some unspoken way. But does that matter to Orlando? Does she care whether people who “perform” with her know they’re performing?
Redbone was told she’d be in the hospital overnight. And he was booked to fly out of Montego Bay to LA the following morning. One of those non-cancellation tickets. You forfeit, it’s your ass, you pay anyway. When he tried to extend his stay with the travel agent at Hotel Tafari, he was advised to deal with the airlines in Montego Bay. So he got a note from the physician at Queens Hospital, drove Delphine’s rented Corolla back to Montego Bay, persuaded the Airlines to re-write his ticket, packed his belongings, checked out of his hotel, and returned to Negril that same night, late.
Orlando was gone.
Yes. The physician said she was a good deal better and insisted on checking out. She left Bone a note and a few hundred dollars to pay the rental fee on the Corolla.
What did the note say?
Orlando was in Naples. She’d sent 40 invitations to the movers and shakers of that extroverted city to attend a formal-dress premiere “installation” in the Silvio Gallery. Invited guests included pols, industrialists, mafiosi, art bigs.
The installation was called Vino da Pasto (tablewine). It consisted of Orlando wearing a couture-designed business suit, crucified on a teflon cross, within reach of the guests who stood beneath her around a large rectangular oak table. The table included these implements: gardening shears, four rubber dildos, three anal plugs, five packets of razor blades, two butane lighters, seven wax candles, three serrated kitchen knives, one rattan cane, a length of steel chain, two pairs of faux-ivory Ben Wa balls (one pair containing a drop of mercury and the other a tiny vibrating metal tongue), a Beretta nine millimeter semi-automatic with full magazine, and a Sony high resolution monitor with remote. Also a Mason jar containing Orlando relics from previous performances: skin, tears, blood, mucus, urine, discharge, assorted teeth, bits of bone, toenail parings, matted clumps of hair.
When everyone was settled Orlando pronounced six words: “Give me pain. Give me pleasure.”
Where was Catalan Carlos?
Carlos was operating the concealed vidcam.
So what happened?
Not much at first. A few cuts and burns, her pantyhose cut away, dildo probings. Tentative sniffing of the relic jar. Actually three or four of the guests tried to leave but the doors were bolted from the outside. After an hour or so they got into the spirit. They ripped and cut off her clothes. Administered razor cuts to the tender insides of the thighs, candle burns, whippings about the breasts and thighs, liberal use of the anal plugs, they sniffed and licked the relics.
The Ben Wa balls?
Forcibly inserted, front and back.
Pressing the buttons of the Sony remote shocked the nerve endings in her breasts and genitals.
A row broke out when one of the guests forced the loaded Beretta into her mouth.
Someone tried to keep him from killing her?
No. Someone argued for killing her by degree.
The one who wanted to shoot her in the throat ended up shooting the one who wanted to kill her by degree.
Effectively terminating the installation?
Hardly. The distinguished guests ripped off their clothes and took it to the next level. The killing grooved them. They jacked into overdrive. They gave Orlando what she asked for.
By the time Orlando healed she was in Budapest. So was Simona, informed by Trieste that Orlando was planning an “installation” in the voguish Soros Gallery in Pest on the east bank of the Danube. Orlando and Carlos were staying in a flat in the Buda hills and Simona taxied there directly from the airport.
Carlos opened the door. Orlando was in the sitting room on the floor playing with a frisky Abyssinian cat. She looked up with a mild smile.
In French, Simona said: “I admire your art. I’d like to work with you. I’m prepared to do anything you ask of me.”
That was Tuesday. The premiere was scheduled for Friday. Again, forty movers and shakers — pols, the so-called Russian mafia, industrialists, art bigs — received invitations. Called Judas O, the installation consisted of Orlando and Simona, naked, each mounted like a caryatid on one side of the narrow opening that led to the exhibition space. Together they constituted an arc, connected to each other by sticky transparent tape: Simona’s left earlobe to Orlando’s right nipple; Orlando’s clitoris to Simona’s nose bridge; Simona’s vulva to Orlando’s left big toe; Simona’s tongue to Orlando’s unshaven right armpit; Orlando’s right eyelid to Simona’s right nipple.
I’m trying to envision the configuration.
To enter the exhibition proper the invited guests had to squeeze past the mounted, fastened-to-each-other women, get entangled in the sticky tape, hence cause multiple abrasions and bleedings in the womens’ bodies where the tape aggravated the skin — and get their own fine clothes soiled and bloodied in the process. Carlos videoptaped the fortuitious assemblage of performers and invited guests.
What was in the exhibition proper?
Nothing. The exhibition space, a high-ceilinged, well-lit, L-shaped room, painted chartreuse, was empty.
Trieste and his terrorists mounted a performance in Singapore in which virtually the entire population of toilets backed up and overflowed into the antiseptic WCs, down the building walls, onto the sanitized streets, flooding the biosphere-city in hard sewage.
For his pains, Trieste and Catalan Carlos were arrested, with the prospects of caning and a substantial prison sentence.
Although officially refused admittance into the country, Orlando slipped into Singapore with a gang of four, made it to the detention center where Trieste and Carlos were being held. Three of the four, all in black latex executioner suits, were either fems or slender males; the fourth was burly. They surrounded Orlando while she stripped and slipped into her Trieste mask while wearing 6-inch red stiletto heels.
One of the latexfems draped Orlando over a trestle which projected her buttocks. The burly one caned her four hard times. She groaned loudly from deep in her throat. At that point the authorities moved in with their own rattan canes breaking up the party, forcing a robe on Orlando, arresting the participants.
Nonetheless, Orlando’ performance had been videotaped by technicians from CNN, BBC and Agence France-Presse. Beamed by satellite to fourteen different locations, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the McLuhan Center in Toronto.
That same afternoon everyone, including Trieste and his lieutenants, were released and ordered out of the country.
Pious Singapore gave in?
But only after Orlando took four lashes on her arse.
I can understand the Trieste mask but why the red stiletto heels?
Did you like them?
I did. In any case, she didn’t pass out?
On the contrary.
Oudekerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam, dating from the early 14th century, is in the very groin of the Red Light district in a small cobbled square overlooking an ancient canal. Brown rats are in the canal and hundreds of used condoms. Though the area is less violent than you’d expect, body parts and the odd corpse sough in the scum. A drunken sailor on leave toppling into the inky water. A prostitute from Morocco or Senegal or Borneo or Manila, 18-years-old and alone utterly, throwing herself into the bloody water. Mallards and mute swans, resourceful feeders, in deliberate transit from linking canals.
Orlando’s concept was to gargoyle herself to the easternmost turret of the Oudekerk, open her veins, bleed into the canal.
The performance was scheduled for Saturday, midnight, when the area would be thick with whores, johns, windowshoppers, bussed-in tourists. Announcements were posted:
Will Perform “Kuan Yin”
Oudekerk, East Facade
Saturday, May 1, Midnight
Midnight, Orlando is lashed by the waist to the easternmost turret of Oudekerk overlooking the canal. Her waist-length hair is gathered into an elaborate top knot. She is incandescent, naked, tattooed.
What kind of tattoo?
An image of Kuan Yin in green on her torso. Kuan Yin is the Buddhist goddess of mercy and she is holding a vase of “sweet dew.” Orlando has a scalpel in her hair.
She slits both wrists and ankles and bleeds slowly into the inky water.
And Catalan Carlos is vid–
Carlos is not videotaping this one. He’s down below on the ancient cobblestone sucking it up. Along with Simona, Trieste the terrorist, Redbone . . . It’s an overflow “audience,” the largest since five years before when Mother Teresa performed an outdoor Xmas mass for the Red Light-district prostitutes. Orlando’s admirers have not yet spotted each other. French Channel 4 is beaming the performance by satellite to sites all over Europe, Asia, San Francisco.
I have a feeling Orlando is not going to make it this time.
Ah. She bleeds to death. But she has left this verse behind to share with her admirers.
You are crossing the ocean
Hunting for white jade
If you wish finally to reach the other shore
Be mindful of Kuan Yin
between Harold Jaffe and Gary Lain
Gary Lain: There is a line of theoretical inquiry, beginning with Debord in the 1960’s, further developed by Baudrillard, and then more recently in Virilio, addressing the degradation of the actual (or, for our purposes, the degradation of real time) in the service of the virtual.
Whether viewed in terms of Debord’s spectacle, Baudrillard’s simulacra, or Virilio’s dromology, the sense is that the fabric of everyday life has become overdetermined — fatally compromised in some way by the ascendance of the virtual.
Harold Jaffe: Rather than everyday life being “overdetermined,” I’d say mono-determined — the “mono” signifying technology. Not technology itself, of course, but its fetishization, relentlessly promoted by post-industrial capitalism. For EF Schumacher, for example, advanced technology did not mean fabricating what hadn’t yet been fabricated irrespective of its potential application. Rather technology advanced only as far as benefited our bedeviled earth and its inhabitants.
GL: We should offer here a theory of the virtual. After all, as the virtual has developed into an apparatus of the dominant culture, it has become more ideologically transparent. What was once pitched as a liberatory new technology, (one thinks here of the inflated claims made in the famous Apple “1984” commercials), now encourages new abuses of power: an almost whimsical surfeit of surveillance tech (spy cameras on every London corner, voice mails hacked, emails monitored); remote controlled drones overhead; the tech-enabled financialization of every human exchange.
And as these abuses become systematically more integrated into the culture, we become more inured to them. While it is true that handhelds and social networking have served to domesticate the virtual, they also afford new opportunities for social conditioning and control.
Yet one rarely hears the term virtual used in any cautionary sense as one did just a few years ago; in fact as the virtual has become established as culturally normative, the virtual has become invisible.
HJ: I think of Kafka’s parable, “Leopards in the Temple”:
“Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.”
Now the temple, sacrificial pitchers, sacred ceremony, and remarkable beast have been transfigured. Into what? Well, log in and you’ll see. Ah, you’re already logged in…
I am reading here and there in Julia Kristeva, and she remarks with some passion that “Our period is at once a technical apotheosis and a time of great human distress.”
I would add that the “technical apotheosis” is not just contributing but greatly exacerbating the “human distress.”
GL: Kristeva’s technical apotheosis reminds one of the hagiographic obituaries on the death of Steve Jobs. Jobs and Apple — no better than the rest, certainly not good corporate citizens. Apparently, Jobs didn’t even have the noblesse oblige of his rival, Bill Gates.
The apotheosis might be the cultural extension of the technological sublime. In the mid-19th century, some of the tropes of Romantic painting were transposed to representations of technology.
I do think that technology’s capacity to increase pleasure, knowledge and awareness should be exploited. I have sort of puzzled at the interface between human and machine. At the ways it can be eroticized.
One of the prevalent sources of anxiety, at least as manifested in popular culture, concerns not cyborgs, but androids, which can pass as human, and are thus potential objects of desire. This ontological confusion and dread runs through some of the best science fiction of our era.
HJ: “Androids” as objects as desire or “humanoids”? With humans in technologically advanced countries having become indentured to the electronic alter-self; and with many of these same humans possessing surgically inserted inorganic, often electronic-dependent, parts, our culture needs to be fearful of humanoids.
Watch the humanoid walk without moving his arms. Listen to him talk without inflection or affect. Smell his cologne with or without pheromones.
And Mother Earth is perishing.
GL: Technology has problematized human identity fundamentally. One sees this in the ways that psychology, once so essential to the enterprise of the dominant culture, has been reduced to an arm of the pharmacological industry. A theory and practice regarding the understanding of the human psyche, once critical to the processes of acculturation in an advanced technological society, has become largely irrelevant at this historical juncture.
HJ: RD Laing’s “existential” psychoanalysis in the Sixties had the courage to declare that many of those accounted mad are actually mounting a breakthrough rather than having a breakdown. They are the humans who are in effect walking point for the rest of us; they experience and, in their torment, testify not to a dysfunctional self but to a dysfunctional world.
Where it is remembered at all, Laing’s thinking is traduced. Everything is organic, “neuro,” don’t you know! Deviate from the crazily spinning globe and you are dysfunctional. Use Skype, be happy.
GL: This anxiety regarding individual identity plays out in the popular culture in interesting ways. The current fascination with zombies might signify a profound unease regarding the excesses of biotech, the undead condition often linked to genetic experimentation, etc. More fundamental, though, is the notion that there can be no succor beyond death. Instead, one is condemned by technology to exist, monstrously, forever.
Also now prevelant is the doppelganger. The popular TV show Fringe spins elaborate, paranoid plots regarding doubles both created artificially and existing naturally in parallel universes. Often one has no idea whether a main character is authentic or a copy. The same was also true of the popular space opera Battlestar Galactica.
Technology, thematically, is here a fundamental threat to human identity. But I would argue that the effect is curiously denatured. Is anyone truly anxious about this sort of thing anymore? Or is this a sort of simulated anxiety, masking a deeper sense of unease?
HJ: Official culture sublimates or, better, transmutes legitimate anxiety into simulacra which are normalized, or, better, sanitized. The catharsis, then, is bogus, but still contains the mediating energy to derail functional anxiety — at least to a certain extent.
Graduate writing students who watch TV and pop movies routinely write of zombies occupying a post-holocaust landscape, but when I talk with these students about climate change and the natural world in fact dying, most tend to look at me oddly. Writing about the landscape insulates them from inhabiting it.
Similarly, the extreme violence of wars is transmuted into X-Games, video games, and professional football, and if these “circuses” don’t have enough simulated force to insulate the viewer’s anxiety, the simulation is pushed several degrees further into “fantasy football” or state-of-the-art, high definition screens for hyper-violent vid games.
GL: A few years ago, when official America still was invested in the invasion of Iraq, much was made of the virtual training of U.S. infantry soldiers. The games then became commercially available, but of course they weren’t as “good” as the vid games already being played by sixth grade boys. Of the soldiers themselves, well, who knows — stricken with PTSD, they may be among us, homeless, or perhaps working as police officers.
HJ: The virulent long-time book critic of the NY Times, Michiko Kakutani, asked rhetorically: “When did we become a culture of 12-year-olds?” My reply: In the 17th century, when religious white immigrants “discovered” a country that was occupied by native Americans, a much more highly evolved species, whom the Puritans proceeded to genocide.
Alignment of godliness with wealth; slave-ownership; heroic capitalists; colonialist wars . . . The official US has always been a culture of 12-year-olds, except via electronic media, hyper-violent video games and compulsive speed without direction have been much more copiously displayed.
The US, officially, is what it’s been, just worse.
GL: This “compulsive speed without direction” interrupts reflection, critical thought, interiority. The cliché is that, under the virtual dispensation we have become a “visual culture.” We might discuss the implications for writers in a post-literate society, but more urgently I think, as Virilio indicated, the effects of the speed of digital transmission/interruption on consciousness are profound.
HJ: Digital instantaneity naturally privileges visuals that ape electronic transmission or are otherwise rapidly and easily absorbed. Hence, the revival of comic books and Batman movies. What Lionel Trilling once called “sincerity and authenticity” have given way almost entirely to image and soundbite. Of course there are intellectuals and academics who can still gaze at a Rembrandt without stealing a glance at their smartphone, but they are decidedly fewer in number as universities veer in the direction of corporate for-profit institutions.
GL: If we were to date the emergence of the virtual, most would agree it to be around 1980. Correspondingly, we have the emergence of new social and cultural paradigms: economic globalism rooted in crony capitalism, cartels, privatization and austerity; an astonishing increase in technologically-driven Western military adventurism; rampant institutional failures resulting from deficient, unaccountable leadership — the TED-networked “Twitteratti”; corporate propaganda disseminated via a compliant media deliberately confusing the relationship of carbon emissions to global change, despite clear scientific evidence. The causality here is tangled, but clearly, it’s hard to argue that life has fundamentally improved during the past 30 years. We were a freer, more literate, just society sans email, portables, social networks, etc.
HJ: As with the movement from rural to industrialism at the end of the 20th century; as with the space program; and certainly with the electronic dispensation, engineering far exceeds ethical and emotional maturity. I remember one of the very early astronauts while on the moon inquiring about the score of an NFL game.
Technology itself could become a great boon were it primed to advance only as far as benefits earth and its inhabitants. Intermediate technology, was Schumacher’s term. But capital will not permit “intermediate” if it smells profit potential. Hence, technological “upgrades” are developed and launched with a dizzying rapidity, and ad campaigns convince us that expensive new software, let’s say, is not just convenient but essential. Without the new software, however unnecessary, one’s technology may even cease to function.
GL: While the situation is grim, approaching the question dialectically, there may be reasons for cautious optimism. For example, Occupy Wall Street was able to interject economic inequity into the national conversation, their reach greatly extended by their use of social media; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks increased awareness of the abuses of the security state; “Arab Spring” protesters deployed social media in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, eventually forcing governments from power.
One might argue that Twitter and Facebook have been useful in revealing the strength of public opinion outside of the official consensus. For example, the self-serving corporate media taboo against “politicizing the tragedy” of mass murdered children in Newtown, Connecticut may well have been undermined by social media, which immediately placed the massacre in the context of gun control and public health policy.
What I am getting at here may be related to your statement that activist writers need to find opportunities for agency in the situation as it exists on the ground, to “find a seam, plant a mine, slip away.”
HJ: True, there are “seams” in the electronic network into which rebellious voices can be smuggled. The corp-govt is working dutifully to obliterate these seams to render the virtual world as impermeable as the real-time fortress-structures where “first world” governments and/or global corporations meet and devise against “ordinary” people’s best interests.
Right now dissension resembles “samizdat” during the Stalin years, writers passing their impious texts from hand to hand to avoid officialdom.
However ephemeral virtual dissent may be,it is not negligible. Will dissenters halt climate change or stop genocidal wars? Climate change at this stage is unavoidable; the same may apply to genocidal wars which have become ritualized rather than necessary, as such.
What then does dissent signify? It testifies.
GL: I’d like to segue here to the role of the imaginative/activist writer under the virtual dispensation.
The nature of the writer’s work has changed greatly due to these technologies: the use of word processors rather than typewriters, for example. Further, internet-based research as opposed to text-based library research has changed the practice of writing, making it easier to accrete surface detail, perhaps rendering a depth of experiential or research based knowledge obsolete. The claim here is that while it may be easier to now acquire facts, it is no easier to become aware of context, especially, I would argue, the social/historical context.
HJ: For the writer the word processor is a prosthesis. Virtually all you need to know, at least in English, is at hand; so like the child using a calculator rather than learning arithmetic, the machine does the work. This means, among other things, that knowledge, rather than “earned” in the old-fashioned way, is at your fingertips, such that it is difficult to distinguish a cultivated writer from a Wiki addict. That fits with Virilio’s distinction between actual movement, “mobility,” and virtual movement with the electronic mouse, which he calls “motility.” In plain words: the word processing writer can present an image that has little to do with how s/he really is. Then again, what does “really” signify?
Re working, writing directly on the word processor greatly ameliorates the tasks of editing and is a timesaver. It permits the writer to get into his work almost instantaneously.
Re imaginative writing, or art-making in general: technology is practically useful; theoretically, it is of course problematic.
GL: We sit at our desks, faces bathed by the light of our screens, trying to make sense of the world through discourse. Yet our thoughts, our words are structured by the virtual mediations that we employ/that deploy us. We are subjects complicit in our own domination. This is why a sensitive and intelligent young writer might never recognize literary discourse in its native, social context. One can now read the satires of Rabelais, Chaucer and Cervantes, the naturalism of Zola and Turgenev, the interventions of the Modernist avant-garde, and never know one’s own work as a social act within this long tradition.
Regarding narrative form, you have plundered the official discourse in ways specific to this discussion. For example, in your book Anti-Twitter you expropriate Twitter’s 50 character limit laterally; that is, without foregrounding the device per se, you turn it to your own ends, to the privileging of consciousness, the “ghost in the machine.”
Further, your development of the “docufiction” allows you to parallel the discourse of the popular media, that “neutral,” denatured prose of news broadcasts and ad copy, but always to the prerogatives of your own imagination.
HJ: In William Faulkner’s justly praised Nobel acceptance speech in 1949, he declared that the writer must “leave no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart . . . love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Were Faulkner delivering his speech today he would have to add information to his “verities.” Love, honor, pity, pride, and technologized information, which of course is primarily disinformation.
I’m joking, but not joking. Technology has in less than a generation restructured our consciousness. We first worlders have lost touch with those crucial fundamentals that Faulkner cites. What we have instead are readymades: rehearsed love, distended honor, misplaced pity, excessive pridefulness. Compassion? Deleted from the lexicon.
Instead of robins on a grassy lawn we have Muslim “insurgents” in their own country but on our screens assaulting white wannabe colonists wearing state-of-the-art special ops costumes.
Some tradition-minded writers and artists still try to revitalize Faulkner’s verities, but others recognize that instead of soil we reside on electronic-generated word-vomit with its codes, numerals, acronyms, hashtags. Copyright laws have relaxed in good part because every public forum uses the same platitudes and soundbites.
We writers have, then, a virtual landscape of info-carrion from which to draw. Those are our readymades, and so I have addressed them, deconstructed them, teased out their coded anti-truths. And, formally, I have aped the compelled info-shorthand to permit readers to spoon very small doses while tending to their smart phones.
The paradox is that the debauched culture is a fertile feeding ground for resourceful writers and artists. But then who will read our books? Who will view our visuals?