for Mira, angel on speed dial
There is really no difference between memory and sight, fantasy and actual vision…
David Wojnarowicz – Close to the Knives
Q: Can you write a manifesto about cinema?
A: (me, heartbroken, horny, lost) I’ll see what I can do.
I. The Time Traveler
My life is quite boring. Nothing much happens. I fall in love three times a year. I feel uplifted, ecstatic maybe, until I don’t and am alone again. I put down some words, mostly when I’m alone again. Sometimes they get read, I think, most of the times I feel only my editors read them. I still get paid, so I can write more and take guys and the occasional girl out on dates.
On one of the first dates I went on with the last guy, we went to the movies. We went to Happy Death Day 2U, a sequel that works as sequels should. It understood the best parts of the original movie and blew them up to almost ridiculously fun proportions. Before we entered the theatre, the guy and I drank milkshakes in the McDonalds restaurant that was located next to the movie theatre in the shopping mall of a rather ridden down area of the Central-European city where I was living at the time. We had a conversation about quantum-physics and metaphysics and I tried to impress him by convincing him that it doesn’t matter if the theory of multiple universes excluded the existence of God because the possibility of this existence is completely irrelevant for the quintessential human experience we call faith. Even if there are multiple universes, we still have to live in this particular one where we finished our milkshakes and went to the movie that would offer us a pop-culture equivalent of the conversation we just had.
I have no memory for plots. This is partly snobbish prejudice, as I’m the writer of an essay called Against Narrative, partly a result of the limits of my concentration. I get so overwhelmed by certain details that it takes me some time to readjust my focus and figure out how the protagonist turned up in this room I have never seen before. (This last sentence could be a metaphor for my dating life too.) So I could not give you a summary of what went down in Happy Death Day 2U. What I remember as speaking most accurately to my own experience is the face of the heroine who is forced (again!) to relive the day she gets murdered over and over until she finds out … who killed her? What happened with the time travelling machine her friends built? Something about her mother who died ten years ago? At the end of every day that is the same day, we cut to her face resting on the pillow and see that moment of hope right before her eyes open, that everything she went through, the whole one and a half movie up until now, was just a dream and she would not have to live through another one of the same days. I have been thinking about this moment of hope a lot ever since the guy I went to the movie with broke up with me: how, in this gloriously stupid teenage slasher/time travel movie, I saw represented my desire for not having to live through another day, that is, ever since I was alone again, the same day over and over again. If not for this.
II. The Painter
During the dog days of last summer I found myself in the position of first time model for a painter. He found me through what we could euphemistically call a dating-app, through which he sent me the puzzling message that he wanted to paint me. I was genuinely relieved to find out this was not a shitty metaphor for ejaculating on my face. He had an Instagram-account with pictures of his body of work and I scrolled through it not really needing to be persuaded since I was bored and it was too hot to move so I would willingly dive into any distraction offered to me. The pictures he sent me of his body weren’t bad either, although there was something slightly odd about the ones that showed his face. Something I could not quite put my finger on.
I went to his studio, which was only a fifteen-minute walk away from my apartment. This proximity didn’t prevent me from arriving completely drenched in sweat. He opened the door for me and it took me a while to understand what was going on. I never asked since I did not want to make him self-conscious and also because I am not in any way educated enough to make the assessment I am going to write down now anyway, but I believe this painter has, if not the real thing, something quite akin to Gilles de la Tourette’s. His face would involuntarily twitch and he would make sounds that I only realized were not necessarily aimed towards me after having asked him “what?” at least twenty times.
I undressed and he complimented my legs. I looked down at them and saw, indeed, how nice they were even though I had never particularly considered them as such before. I lay down on the sofa and suddenly realized how unusual it is to be looked at intensively for what would turn out to be four and a half hours. Lying there with the Goldberg Variations drowning out the muffled sounds of the streets, it took me some time to relax and shrug off the feeling of being a charcuterie board in a butcher’s window. I started to look back at him, it seems he was not entirely comfortable with that.
It is no coincidence that the latest proofs of God comes from mathematicians. Ever since the Copernican revolution started by Immanuel Kant, philosophy understands the only thing we can attempt to understand is not the world itself but the way we perceive (and as later would become clear constitute) that outside world. Mathematics has always been the clearest example of this understanding of our own influence in the manifestation of things outside us. What is a number? What is ‘two’? It is a categorization of the world that nevertheless is not something we can separate from the objects we are counting. We tend to look for mathematical formulas in everything, to find a center from where to understand the world. Mathematically it is therefore possible to prove that there must be a God, since this particular reading of the world seems too conclusive to be random; the intellectual’s intelligent design. (God is thinkable.)
So as I lay dying there from the heat, I started looking for the patterns in the seemingly erratic behavior of the painter. It was astonishing to witness the difference between his steady hands—he would paint with the right and hold the pallet with his left hand for the whole four hours—and the rest of his body that kept moving and twitching, as if the concentration necessary to be able to perform his artistic endeavor had its inevitable counterpart in the other limbs that took even more liberty than they did otherwise. There were the sounds, as I said, that needed to be accepted as not being directed to me first. There were grunts, hums and even little shrieks that I thought were commentaries on the painting or my posing but were nothing more than interjections in a conversation that did not exist or, if it did, was not about to include me. Then there were the facial expressions; the licking and biting of the lips, the raising of the eyebrows, the corners of the mouth that were pulled up and down as if to signal something. I tried to read him, make sense of all of this. It did not work, amounted to nothing intelligible, also because I must have fallen asleep at least two times. Maybe my understanding of mathematics was not deep enough, maybe it is possible to find a formula for this enigmatic floorer; if this were the case I decided it would not be unraveled by me. I saw no choice but to surrender, to give up my attempt at deciphering and tip over into a new way of looking, one not of understanding but of pleasure. Looking at it to preserve it in its essence rather than deconstructing it into something it need not be.
The word grace has fallen out of … well, grace in our everyday vocabulary but it is exactly this word that came to mind when observing the most elaborate movements the painter made during my visit. Standing in front of the canvas he made little jumps back and forth, combining the elegance of a ballerina when retreating with that of a matador when he launched forward to attack once more this image of a pink, naked bull he was wrestling with. When I had forced myself to witness a bull fight a few years earlier in Spain, because it was possible and the possible has its own rights and demands, I was immediately struck by the resemblance with the ballet performances I was much more comfortable attending, but never had I seen the similitude of these two incorporated so harmoniously. Beauty of a sum much bigger than its parts. After four and a half hours my body was cramped and moving again felt almost post-mortal, rising from the purgatory of having been an object to someone else. He helped me loosen up again, unfolded me into a liquid state by pressing the knot hidden underneath the skin of my perineum. His body smelled like sweat and turpentine. If not for this.
III. The Australian Boy
It got dark. A small light beamed through the smoke to supposedly light the way. Call me Oedipus, for once not because of parental issues, of which I have plenty, but because I am almost completely blind, especially in this polar opposite of a clean, well-lighted space. Before I knew it I was surrounded by silhouettes of naked men touching every part of my body they could get their hands on which, since I was naked too, was everything. One of the shapes took my hand and pulled me through this labyrinth of discount desire until we reached the door and were able to come up for air.
“Are you A.” I asked. He was.
We were supposed to meet here but his messages had been very annoying to say the least. He’d be there at 4-ish, at 5-ish. When I waited in front of the building that was only differentiated by the most discrete of sings, I was sure he would not show up. I entered anyway, ringing the bell next to the door, going down a staircase, ringing another bell next to the sign that read “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (I am not making this up, although, of course I am), entering the next door then standing in front of a small window where the Speedo-clad Cerberus took my silver coins and gave me a key.
It was a three-story building. On the first floor were the saunas, the whirlpool, the bar and the steam labyrinth wherein I was almost devoured by the ghosts that wanted to feel alive again so desperately. The second and third floors consisted mostly of private cabins that were so dimly lit, you could not be certain there was even anything at all, until you stumbled against something that could be described as a bed, even though every single one of us was here because of the insomnia called lust. (A few weeks earlier I had seen Loves of a Blonde wherein the titular Blonde at one point decries the human condition for being continually bound to Eros.) I had been wanting to go to this place for quite some time, but I suffer from this condition whose name will only let itself be translated as ‘threshold fear’ by losing most of the poetry it has in my mother tongue.
A., whose full name is A.B., was the best Virgil I could have hoped for.
When I finally got to see his face in the red and blue lights, installed here by someone who got his idea of an erotic atmosphere from watching too many of the early 2000s porn played in the movie theatre on the third floor, I immediately recognized the failure of the pictures he sent me in doing justice to his eyes. He had a very big nose which made for a strong profile as I turned his face from one side to the other, but it was the clarity of those eyes that made me decide, even though deciding sounds too conscious, too in control of what I was doing, more correct would be to say those eyes made me tumble into the decision to, spend the rest of the night with him. I asked if he was alone here and he was but now he was not anymore.
We went into the whirlpool so we could loudly whisper profanities in each other’s ears while we fumbled under the guise of the bubbles; an experience made even more exhilarating because of the audience that sat next to us, staring frantically for any sign that could be interpreted as an invitation to join us. Since we had decided to spend the night in his hotel room, I thought it opportune to use our time here together exploring the possibilities of this peculiar couleur locale. I wanted to see him fuck someone else. As God had given Jesus to this most beloved creation, so I would find this beautiful boy the ass of all asses to posses. We went to the second floor, into one of the cabins, left the door open and as I knelt down on my knees to pray with my back towards the hallway, I was anxious to see which fruit would awaken his hunger, curious to see another body filtered through his desire. It was le beau garçon sans merci that entered our booth straight out of the frame of a Julián Hernández picture. He got down on his knees to take over the holy task I had been taking upon myself but not before too long he climbed on the heathen altar and offered us his halolike crown jewel. I became a high priest, making sure the sacrifice was consumed wholly by the God I served. And while he was fucking this guy merciless, our gazes interlocked and I felt his desire tangle itself around me, making me more beautiful, more glorious than I had ever been and I understood then and there what desire is, this force that urges us to erect statues and write poetry and start wars and invent Gods. (And this, children, is how your grandfathers found love in a hopeless place, some sixty years ago in what was then known as the Old Continent.) If not for this.
IV. The Doctor
We met, as we had been doing for quite some time, for no other reason than a maybe misguided romantic inclination distilled from old Hollywood films and French existentialist novels, at the buffet of the main train station in the city where my friend M., my sin! my soul!, had been living for the last couple of years. She was having difficulties with the combination of work, literary ambitions and the household she formed with her lover, a handsome man whose occupation never became clear to me apart from the fact it involved legislation on a European level. She seemed to have it all, at least all I wanted in those moments of doubt wherein I could not shake off the feeling I had been wasting my life and had nothing to show for those 20 odd years that now, in retrospect, let themselves be understood as accumulating to nothing more than one big flight away from everything my parents represented to me.
I was completely free and it scared the shit out of me.
I had been taking anti-psychotics for a week now and one of the side-effects was this excruciating rash in my loins and ass crack even all the way down to my ankles. The fire burned mostly during the nights, when it drove me to the brink of sleep deprivation induced madness. (Ever since I was a child my biggest fear was becoming crazy.) I scratched my body until the skin had been completely excoriated. Fighting fire with fire until I could no longer bear it and found all too short relief under the shower. This had been going on for a couple of days (nights) until, while discussing the demeaning micro-aggressions of one of M.’s editors, I not only pulled out a small black dot from between the hairs around my ankles, it also moved on the tip of my finger while M. and I stared transfixed upon this new development in my medical history.
M. called her doctor.
We were sitting in another waiting room, a few blocks away from the station. She was telling me about this doctor, how handsome he was, only graduated a few years ago; specialized in andrology, he had overseen the rather late in life circumcision of the EU-affiliated boyfriend. My attention was elsewhere. Investigating the other people waiting for their appointments, I wondered if they could see why I was here. What is health? The absence of sickness? We do not think of ourselves as being marked by health, yet when we are sick this seems to become part of our identity. I was now the bearer of a parasite and felt the urge to defend myself against this self proclaimed conviction, as such slandering myself much in the same way Jozef K did. I wanted to preserve an image before it was even contaminated.
And as these things go, when I was lying on the sheet-covered table with my dick in the doctors latex gloved hand, nothing was there to be found. He combed through my hairy loins with his fingers not finding anything that was not supposed to be there, so he concluded that it truly must have been a side effect of the anti-psychotics. We go to the doctor to be recognized in our suffering, to be told it will be okay, whatever is wrong will be fixed quite simply by this or that. In contrast to the people in the waiting room, we want to be diagnosed, seen by this man. We subjugate ourselves to a clinical examination in hopes of being released from the weight of being responsible for our own well-being. We want to be understood as a pure biological creature that you cannot think of in terms of culpa-responsibility. So when you fail to perform your illness in the moment of truth it is frustrating. Therefore, when the doctor sat back at his desk, I went through my pubic hair myself until I found a little black dot again and with a weird kind of excitement, pride almost, pushed the tip of my finger under his nose and said; “Look at it. It’s alive.” If not for this.
V. The Australian Boy, Pt. 2
We didn’t spend the night in his hotel room. I left him there and call me Orpheus because I learned from his mistakes so when I found my way out of this infernal labyrinth I didn’t look back once, afraid as I was to lose him forever to the avaricious hands of those who had abandoned all hope except for not feeling completely dead inside for one fleeting moment. I had more prosaic events to attend to and did not yet know that when I would message him after ‘it had been done’, he would have fallen asleep already. I let him know he could call if he would ever wake up, not really believing that would happen. The calling or the waking up, I’m not sure.
But from the slumbers of my own sleep his signal did reach me the next day and so I invited him into my room of one’s own where I am typing these exact words right now. He was there and even more beautiful in the daylight as he had been under the red and blue flames the day before. I had made coffee for him but since he was not European he had no taste for real coffee, preferring those drinks made by what we in Orwellian newspeak have learnt to call baristas, of which he claimed to be one himself. (If you’re reading this, A., I’m joking. Please answer the many messages I will have sent you between the writing and publication of this text.)
We undressed again. This period of my life seems to have been one long undressing. He had something close to a rugby body, a modern Hercules. Call me many things, but not a morning person, so we did make love but instead of consuming our desire it was more the consummation of the sheer possibility of it. Already saying goodbye to each other as he would take the train around noon towards Vienna. Distances mean something else to inhabitants of countries rich with spaciousness and poor in history. We talked and I found out his lineage went back to Lebanon. He had a brother. Owned a bar in the capital of his country. He had only been single for a couple of months, didn’t want to talk about that. A voice as smooth as his eyes were clear, a voice as a mountain stream whose current I wanted to follow “from swerve of shore to bend of bay”, in order to escape the heat already accumulating against the glass of my window, the heat of that summer that seems to last until this very day.
I took him to the roof. Before him I had only been there with one other person, the time-travelling guy. In this city where I owned nothing this was all I had to offer someone. A gift I wanted him to carry and treasure on the rest of his große Reise. The castle, the watchtower, the river, the surrounding apartments I have visited on late-night adventures. A map of this city consisting of the fragments of my loneliness. Take it with you, please, read it another time, on the train perhaps, don’t leave it left unseen.
We drank coffee in the bar around the corner and there, already, were symptoms of his unrest. He needed to do some more packing, check out and head for the station. We walked towards a crossroads, as good as any other, and parted ways by kissing in a porch. The promise of a visit to Australia was made. He walked away and I followed him along the streets, up the stairs towards his Airbnb, saw him packing the last things, making the rounds of the room to check nothing would be left behind (except for me of course), checking out, descending the stairs again, closing the door behind him, walking towards the station pulling his suitcase behind him, would he take a tram, no he would walk, it wasn’t that far, drinking another barista cappuccino at the station, entering the train, how cute he looked when he gets confused because there is somebody sitting in his reserved seat, being on his phone for almost the complete three hour ride, not sending me a message, even though I would pop up in his thoughts once in a while, and I would have followed him even further along the streets of Vienna, a city I found too big and clean, next stop Budapest, which I liked because it was dirty, people seemed to actually live there in comparison to Vienna, and then I would have said goodbye to him at the second, smaller train station in Budapest where he would embark the shuttle train to the airport, a place I had never been to and thus could not follow him in my imagination, I would have loved to follow him all the way until the end of my imagination but there are rules to this game and the most important one is that you are only allowed to follow a person until they have forgotten about you, which in this case happened right after his train had left the country I would stay in for a little bit longer, a mere few hours after we had said our muted goodbyes. If not for this.
VI. The Pictures
A dick is a dick is a dick, as Gertrude Stein once wrote. More or less. If this were to be true, what would a phenomenology of the dickpic entail? Because there’s more to these pictures than penetrates the eye. At first it may seem as if these pixels convey nothing more than the exemplum exemplorum of the convergence between object and the desire to show this object, but in the margin there’s always more to grasp from these pictures. Be it a bathroom with an dirty mirror, a bedroom or any other place where the shooter of said pictures deemed the light to be most generous towards his precarious punctum, it almost never occurs that these pictures don’t show us the conditions wherein they are taken, which mostly means the way in which the dick-owner lives his life. And there’s a lot to untangle there most of the time. Especially when you agree with Pascal’s notorious maxim that all humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone and you therefore choose to be hosted in another room than one’s own. The cadre in which the membrum virilis is presented to the viewer, is an indispensable part of the calculations necessary to judge if tonight will be the night you will end up as a newspaper headline. But what is even more interesting, provided you did not end up as a newspaper headline, is the pictures you received beforehand change post coitum when you are able to place them in a larger reality of which it was just a postcard before.
Because of course pictures lie to us. We do not need the prevalence of the concept of fake news to be in the know of this fact. Every second utterance a human being makes is a lie, there seem to be no exceptions to this. The willingness informed by hormones to interpret the pictures you received from someone you have not met and did not know the existence of a few minutes earlier, is a prime example of suspense of disbelief. Even though we know that these pictures are nothing more than an advertisement for the person who’s sending them, (and I do not mean this completely negatively) we are willing to buy whatever we are being sold. Desire is a dangerous thing. The longing to transcend oneself is the same urge that let us put ourselves in a position wherein this transcendence can be attained for eternity. We are willing to die for dick. This being too stupidly clichéd to be tragic, it is merely comical. The absurd repetitions of the whole undertaking that start with the exchanging of stock phrases that can barely hide their superfluity. What we want is pictures that let us determine if we are willing to take the risk of leaving our room. There is poetry in this, as Poe pointed towards the death of a beautiful woman as being, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.
You never feel more alive than when, having just rang the doorbell, waiting for the door to be electronically unlocked and climbing the stairs to whatever floor the equally young and broke poet you are about to encounter, lives on. Once inside the hardest part has passed and in the first few minutes you both disarm each other in order to get on with the Sisyphean endeavor you both condemned yourself to. Repetition might be hell, but in this particular one we understand why Camus needed to imagine Sisyphus as a happy man.
Returning home with new knowledge about one person in particular and possibly the world in general, we can now apply this framework to reassess the pictures we had received a mere few hours, or perhaps, if we’re lucky, days before. We understand the way in which these pictures lied to us, not about the desire they pretend to illustrate so openly, but about that openness with which they illustrate this desire. The pictures become moving pictures because we put them into a grander narrative that belies the static nature of the picture. In reality what is being expressed is much more troubled, muddy and disturbing than we were willing to believe in the beginning. Only now can we project these images in such a way they start showing traces of the movements that were made by the person who took them.
We all have these kinds of pictures in our phones. This one moves with the unmistakable nervosity of someone who was as scared as you were. This one has the cool posture of someone who will not let you inside, who will not be able to pretend he does not want you to leave as soon as possible. This one shuts the door in your face when he is disappointed by the discrepancy between your own pictures and your incarnation of them. This one already shows signs of the rage with which you will be tied to the bed that makes you shiver every time you come across this picture (and yet, perversely you are incapable of deleting it). This one is no longer in the picture because he is the one that got away.
Through reimagining these images we dismantle them and unmask the way they tried to persuade and belie us. We criticize them in a way that puts at stake our own desire and the deceptions of ourselves we cherish. We force ourselves in a volatile position somewhere in this dynamic of desire, a position that changes us and needs us to change in order to be able to keep it. Pictures are made into moving pictures because we desire them to be so. If not for this.
VII. The Manifesto
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Adam Zagajewski – Try to Praise the Mutilated World
Desire is like loneliness, when you experience it yourself you see it everywhere. Yet, recognizing desire, seeing it, is also something that needs to be taught, because the variations of it are as plentiful as the possible constellations between the individual manifestations of the Mangelwesen known as the human being. The famous maxim of La Rochefoucauld that “there are people who would never be in love had they not heard [others] speak of love” is even more applicable to the mimetic practice of desire. We covet what we learn to covet through the eyes of another as we only learn to love ourselves when someone else loves us first, despite what the new consumerist imperatives try to sell us as self-care and/or -love.
Cinema has been a lot of things these last hundred odd years but I believe it should not be underestimated in terms of the way it has influenced our understanding of what it means to desire someone. Just like nurses learnt how to walk by watching movies, we have learnt what to look for when we hear music to watch the girls go by.
And yet cinema seems to be forgotten what it desires itself. There are exceptions, as always, of course, but when was the last time you were awestruck or blinded by lightning when it came to experiencing the seventh art as a visual one? Movie stars are neutered specimens that no longer arouse the interest of someone who is not the demographic of either Fifty Shades of Grey or The Hunger Games. They are sons- and daughters-in-laws or the friendly boy (m/f/x) next door who means well. The only genuinely exciting star I can think of taking on the legacy of those silver screen idols we were a bit scared to desire, is Rihanna. Everybody else wants to be your friend and if I have learnt one thing in life it is I do not want to fuck my friends. What I desire from cinema is a reinstating of the Parnassus that once captured the imaginations of a people because it promised us a life bigger, bolder and more beautiful than our daily banalities. Moving pictures because they move us and set our bodies into motion in ways we do not fully grasp.
We live in the era of #MeToo and rightfully so, but this should not have as a consequence an art that fears to dwell upon the darker realities of the human being. This should be an opportunity for reimagining these stories in order to include more people and more diverse afflictions than the one-way street of capital and power that led us towards this impasse. I do not believe in an art that is secluded from society but also do not believe anyone gains anything when art becomes a mere excuse for moral reckoning. Morality has, without a doubt, a place in art and entertainment but should not be the end to justify all means. It can be one of the means towards the end which should give us a deeper understanding of who we are and not solely who we like to believe we are. Imagine a picture penetrating you in such a way you feel weak in the knees when leaving the theatre. The complexity and poetry of desire.
I want a cinema that lures me inside a dark alley and shows me the lewd theatrics of the old in-out, in-out. I want a cinema of the death of ideas in the broken glance of a scorned lover. A cinema that shows me how to talk to boys at parties. A cinema that teaches me how to wait for the results of my STD-test without completely losing my mind and a cinema that teaches me how to wait for the message of a lover while completely losing my mind. I want a cinema that knows how to dip salted chips in a glass of champagne and smoke cigarettes while contemplating the end of an affair. Cinema as a mask that allows you to reveal your inner rhythm to an unsolicited audience. A cinema of the post-mortem stadium wherein every movement explodes with the renewed flux of oxygen in my blood. I want a cinema that comes alive in those five minutes before sunrise when the world belongs to us and you are still mine. A cinema of hands and feet and shoulders and fingers and cheeks and hair and even more feet. A cinema of fetishes. A cinema of piss and cum and shit and sweat and tears and, most importantly, how all these got smeared on the same worn out sheets filled with holes. A cinema of mind games and melancholy and how these are ingrained in the texture of a voice. (Two lovers meet after an eternity and tell each other their story through a mirror.) A cinema for the blind and a cinema for the gods. A gospel to the marginalized, the forgotten, the not-yet-living, the aborted, the junkies, the prostitutes (m/f/x), the crooks and the Chinese rookies. A cinema of loneliness, out of loneliness, into loneliness, screaming with joy about how to be alone. No rules in this game, no stories, no plot except as mere excuse, just light and shadows and night and fog and perhaps once in awhile a glimpse of light. Give me moments of truth and sweet little lies. Give me porn and love and schmaltz and kitsch but let it be the kind that breaks my body open. Let me know how to carry my fears upon Golgotha and find comfort in the agony and the ecstasy. Don’t hold back, don’t look back, make me quiver with the joy of being alive in this Godforsaken hopeless place that we call home. Give me exercises in mourning the death of my mother and her lineage of angels and saints ante factum. Give me life in its purest form; poetry and violence both born out of the same nightmarish lucidity. Make me see things I never thought imaginable. “I’m the least difficult man. All I want is boundless love.” Show me how to translate this desire into motion.
If not for this, what do we go to the movies for?