Editors’ note Francesca Brooks, Editor in Chief Editorial Team: Thalia Allington-Wood, James Fisher, Sinead Kennedy Krebs, Amy Lidster, James Morland, Ellen Pilsworth, Charlotte Rudman, Christopher Webb and Briony Wickes. A year ago The Still Point editorial team came together for the first time to discuss our vision for a new literary journal for Arts & Humanities researchers in London. We were just beginning our PhDs and, floundering in both the uncertainty and rich possibility of our research projects, we decided we wanted to publish a journal which reflected this experience of being new researchers. For us, ‘the still point’ represents those moments when we take time out of our day for deep thinking and reflection. The pieces in the journal, free of footnotes or bibliographies, should feel more like a collection of conversations had with fellow researchers over coffee than academic papers. The journal, then, is a space for storytelling about the research process. This first issue is an experiment in the many different ways we can write about our research; we hope that this is just the beginning. Despite the openness of our call for submissions we found that there were a number of themes threading their way through the material we received. Issue #1 begins and ends with researchers listening to voices from the past, but audioception (hearing) is just one of the many senses invoked by our contributors. From the sensory-overload of flicking through a book; to the intense, sensational quality of memory; or even the vivid
www.thestillpointjournal.com @stillpointldn www.facebook.com/stillpointldn email@example.com sights and smells of the Moscow Library Canteen; all this, and more, makes Issue #1 a veritable feast for the senses. Language is also a sensory experience; for many of our contributors – either writing English as a second language, or testing out other tongues – language has the power to make the world feel different. Mina Ray’s multilingual poem (in which English, Croatian and French each form another layer in the linguistic palimpsest) is the centrepiece of a journal which moves, reflectively and imaginatively, between languages. At The Still Point we believe in the printed object and the practice of slowreading. The journal has been designed to attract your attention and to keep it: get to know the feel of the pages, explore the visual riches of the illustrations, and maybe even try the words aloud. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it.
The Still Point Journal Issue #1 02/ On Bitter Coffee & Dead White Males Christian Melby 05/ Motor Sensory Cortex Polly Gregson 07/ Medium Gell Jane Yoonjeong Rhee 10/ Constructing Intention: Communication & Profound Cognitive Impairment Polly Mitchell, in response to Maud Craigie 15/ Walk Along Camden Lock Laura Silva 16/ Drawings & Poems Flair Donglai SHI (施东来) 20/ Imagine Outside Naomi Lawson Jacobs 22/ Reveries About Language Mina Ray 28/ The Women of Moscow: Conversations in the Archive Polly Corrigan 32/ Ste eped on a beach Penny Newell 34/ The Last Door to Heaven, 2015 Remani Sadani 36/ III – CLOSER TO WHAT YOU ARE AFTER an excerpt from Cool young poets talking about their art basically Xxxx Penny Newell 38/ I Feel Like Multiplying Izabella Scott 43/ Travels with Biren: WWII through the eyes of an Indian doctor Diya Gupta
On Bitter Coffee & Dead White Males Words by Christian Melby Artwork by James Morland The coffee is bitter. Filled with a sense of writing-élan, I brewed it too strong. The Dead, White Male of my article looks at me quizzically while fiddling with his impressive moustache. “Haven’t you got any milk to put in it?’” he finally asks. “Or sugar?” “I don’t need more sugar, I’m jittery enough as it is. And the milk’s gone off. Must be a sign.” I sigh. Sipping the coffee while staring at the keyboard, trying to remember where my thoughts left off. I decide that I prefer the brew to be bitter anyway. The Dead, White Male shrugs. “I’m not even sure why you want to write about me,” he says, not noticing how I’m trying to ignore him. “I mean, there must be a number of monographs and articles out already, dealing with my life.” “Yeah,” I hesitate a bit before continuing. “Not as many as you would think. And anyway, I’m trying to do something different here, looking at your life from a different angle, you know.” “There can’t be that many angles.” “Why not?” “Well, history is about truth, isn’t it? Once the truth is found, that’s the end.” “I wouldn’t say that, no. I am trying to illustrate a wider point, about imperialism and nationalism in your times, by looking at certain aspects of your life. Your writings are a gateway to a more general point. What I mean is: there aren’t any real truths in history, just different ways of interpreting it.” 2
“Is that why you’re writing history? To find new ways of interpreting it?” “I guess it is. History is a dialogue with the past.” “This is not much of a dialogue, though. I’m dead, you’re just imagining a dialogue. You want to discover a different mind-set, a different time, simply by looking at texts left over from the past. It’s a bit unfair, really. I can’t answer you back, if I think your interpretation is wrong.” I shift uncomfortably in the chair, trying to avoid his eyes. They are, as the sources say, of piercing blue. It feels like he can see right through me, and at all the holes in my arguments, all the flaws in my methodology, all the uncertainty I have over the article. I take another sip of coffee. “You should at least treat me with respect,” he adds. “You know, I don’t even think I like you.” My words do not bring much of a reaction from him. He keeps eye contact with me for a few seconds. I am the one who ends up looking away. “Why not?” he finally asks. “I sympathise with you, in many ways, despite myself. But you are a product of your time, a different time, with rampant imperialism and racism. And I don’t, in the end, agree with what you tried to achieve. There were worse people than you around, and you may not have understood what a repressive system the British Empire was. In the end, however, nothing can hide the fact that you were wrong, you were on the
wrong side of history.” He smiles, and leans forward. “That,” he slowly says, “sounds like someone who believes in historical truths. Why else would you cast judgement on me?” “It’s about decency, I guess. About a timeless idea of humanity. Supporting a system that takes other people’s land from them, that bases itself on militarism and a flawed idea of nationality and race is just plain silly, at least in hindsight. But I see your point: I suppose that’s my interpretation of it.” As I realise that I won’t be getting any more work done on the article today anyway, I lean back in my chair a bit. “In the end, your ideas lost out. That’s probably the best indication that you were wrong.” I look over at him. The Dead, White Male seems confused now. I almost feel sorry for him. “There was the World War –” He interrupts: “There was a World War?” “Two, actually, after your time. And the empire disappeared.” “So we lost?” “No, Britain won both wars. It’s just one of the ironies of history that the empire disappeared in the aftermath.” The Dead, White Male closes his piercing blue eyes. He breathes through his nose, and finally asks: “It was Germany, wasn’t it? The wars?” “Yes,” I reply. “Yes, you were actually right on that note.”
He opens his eyes again, looks over at me. “Your interpretation of history, your judgement of me, is based on your knowledge of what happened afterwards. I didn’t have the knowledge you have. I lived in a time and place where I worked for what I believed in, not knowing what the outcome would be. Isn’t it a bit cowardly of you to sit there and in hindsight pass judgement over me and what I did?” “I wouldn’t say I’m judging you. That’s the point: I’m trying to understand you on your own terms, and the terms of the period you lived in. But it would be absurd not to also include the knowledge I have of what came after you. I think it was Walter Benjamin who said that ‘At any given
time, the living see themselves in the midday of history. They are obliged to prepare a banquet for the past. The historian is the herald who invites the dead to the table’.” “I don’t know who Walter Benjamin is.” “I know, and the fact that I know who he is doesn’t make me a better person than you. We don’t know the future, we are all at the mercy of historians, who, at some point, will come along and judge our times and our actions, according to their own sense of morality.” “Seems unfair, doesn’t it?” “Yes, it does. And it probably is, in a way.” I sigh, rubbing my eyes. “You know, I often find myself thinking of Charles Huntziger when I’m pondering
the writing of history. He was a French general, in both of the World Wars. Competent, for all I know of military history, but what he is ultimately remembered for is his role in the armistice in 1940, when France capitulated to Germany. He led the negotiations, and signed the final capitulation. He’s remembered for France’s military failure, not her success.” “Not a good way to be remembered.” “He didn’t know that that would be his legacy. It was just the way things turned out.” “But you said that there were no truths in history. Surely, Huntziger’s role in the capitulation can be interpreted and revised in future historians’ texts?” The coffee is cold now, and no less bitter. I contemplate whether to make a new cup. “Maybe Huntziger will be one of the lucky ones, in the revisionism of the future,” I say. “However, that’s a discussion for a different time.”
‘Motor and Sensory Cortex’ Polly Gregson
‘Motor and Sensory Cortex’ Polly Gregson
Medium Gell (A Working Title) Words & Artwork by Jane Yoonjeong Rhee Here are some foreplays: 10. Magnify the symptom,
8. Curate unseen objects, 9. Revert an illustration,
5. Draw Parallels, 6. Reenact Gell in life-size scale, 7. Transform 2D to 3D,
1. Respond to gestures, 2. Make space, 3. Trace around the object, 4. Reduce into an initial
The self-made index of acrobats numbered 10 to 1 (Gell, 1998). I say there is an excitement in flipping through a book by the anthropologist Alfred Gell. Arriving at Gell’s figures and diagrams theorised on paper, it is their reduced experience – abstracted muscles and objects in thumbnails – which continues to stimulate and circulate somewhat like a museum. A googling later, I learn that flipping through a book is an exercise among ASMR video makers alongside a list of anonymous hands performing 20 minutes, bi-aural, stroking, tapping, turning and brushing pages. Emulating their gestures with my UVgelled nails, I too find that there is a pleasure in a textual object.
(*An arbitrary caption) From three dimensions to two in Western art (Gell, 1998) ‘M’ (cf. ‘4. Reduce into an initial’) is the museum that I used to work for – uncontracted and underpaid, I was a marginal labourer. It wasn’t so long after I had left the job that ‘M’ reappeared on the local newspaper – reduced to the greyand-white silhouette of a woman parallel to a picture of Gangnam Style. ‘M’, hereinafter a tenant, was flattening from 3-dimensions to two. (Report on 21 March 2015) Gangnam Style singer attempts to freeze out a museum ‘M’ putting up 6 metres tall barricades (cf. ‘3. Trace around the object’) around his property. (Report on 13 August 2015) Gangnam Style singer wins a suit on the eviction case of the tenant ‘M’ museum ‘M’. Q. How might a 2-dimensional narrative transition into a 3-dimensional one? New Hart’s Rule explains that, in the case of general publications, these illustrations are provided vectorised to ensure the quality of the print. (Now the vector space is interesting.) In a vector space, a figure can expand infinitely on the 2-dimensional plane being directed by its paths. What if we were to take their vector renderings and enlarge them to a physical scale? Imagine a GPS map. Move in dots and shapes as a flatlander. A circle drawn on a map, then a circle simply walked 100 miles; I am thinking of Richard Long’s 100-Mile Walk. Draw a 3 dimensional parallel with your immediate surroundings. There are fixed nodes (bodies/objects) positioned on the x, y plane (time-space) directing the paths of the figure (event), which as a result allows the figure (event) to be infinitely magnified or reduced while retaining its original form (score). Repeat the performance elsewhere. 8
Q. How might a sentence transform into a parade?
(*An arbitrary caption) Performance art complementing graphic art: the Malakulan dancer’s path (Gell, 1998)
Medium Gell, a performance drawing, 2015 The other day, I acquired a pair of Groucho glasses because of their resemblance to Alfred Gell. These glasses, with their nose and moustache built smartly into the frame, are already a universal reference. At a distance, the Gangnam Style masks, his cardboard faces, quickly appeared on the streets of London in 2012; which perhaps were the first symptom of ‘M’. Here are some materials that I propose as Medium Gell: Kojubu glasses (a.k.a Groucho Marx mask), a pack of 10 witch fingers, a body rendered in 2-dimensions, acrylic gel mediums, metaphoric GPS object, its local implications, Bluetooth, Siri’s answers (all of them), political traps, trap music and empty gestures (end of the list). A. Magic is in the props.
The Still Point at FAT RELIC Editor's Note, Francesca Brooks In early 2015 The Still Point were invited by FAT RELIC to host a Creative Exchange at the gallery in Lewisham. What followed was a month-long collaboration between artists from the Slade and PhD researchers from KCL and UCL, culminating in an exhibition and a series of live readings in April. The aim of the Creative Exchange was to encourage PhD students to engage with their research more creatively, whilst giving the artists the chance to see their work through new eyes. By blurring the boundaries and bending the rules, the event interrogated the notions of ‘art writing’ and of ‘academic style.’ The following work represents just one of the five collaborations. Polly Mitchell’s piece may read like a conventional academic paper but it also records an intricate toing and froing of ideas between artist and researcher. Polly’s reading responded to Maud Craigie’s video work, Blush, but Maud responded in kind: devising a live action piece in which anonymous volunteers positioned themselves amongst the FAT RELIC crowds, yawning and sniffing and twitching, sending a gestural Mexican wave throughout the audience. Polly’s work became more than a conference-style performance, it became performance art. The following piece should not be read as you sit in silence and isolation. Find the hubbub of a café or a busy tube carriage, read it over in a waiting room or in a crowd you can’t escape: but whatever you do make sure there are people about. This piece will intensify your sense of the world – let it attune you to the impulsive gestures and nervous tics of the people around you. Read more from the Creative Exchange at www.thestillpointjournal.com/category/fat-relic.
Yawn, 2015, live action performance at FAT RELIC, devised by Maud Craigie in response to Polly Mitchell. Photograph by Giulia Legora.
Constructing Intention: Communication & Profound Cognitive Impairment Words by Polly Mitchell In ordinary communicative situations people exhibit many unintentional behaviours which appear to serve a communicative purpose, or which are treated as communicative. Body language and orientation, tone of voice, choice of words and emphasis, all provide information about the thoughts, feelings and interests of a communicator. Entirely non-intentional gestures can also carry information. For example, behaviours such as yawning and blushing may be understood as carriers of social information at a sub-conscious level. Yawning is understood to function as a brain cooling mechanism. As such, contagious yawning is thought to have thermo-regulatory benefits by coordinating arousal in a group and enhancing overall group vigilance. Though not intentional, yawning appears to serve a communicative purpose: information about the ambient air temperature and likely body temperature of group members is passed around a group. Blushing – an even less well-understood phenomenon – seems to serve, at least in some cultural contexts, as a way of indicating awareness of and desire to conform to social norms; it plays a group-strengthening role and appeases aggression towards transgressive individuals.
Behaviours such as yawning and blushing may be understood as carriers of social information at a sub-conscious level.
Orthodox accounts of communication exclude such behaviours as communicative, because they understand communication as a matter of someone expressing an intentional act. The intended meaning is inferred by another person from this act and the context within which it occurred. Communication is understood to consist of the successful transfer of an intention from one person to another and a person’s intention is taken to be a discrete, propositional entity that can be correctly or incorrectly inferred from her expression of it. On such a model of communication, non-intentional acts such as yawning and blushing may be expressive, but not strictly communicative.
Blush, 2015, video installation at FAT RELIC, by Maud Craigie.
This understanding of communication in terms of intention sets alarm bells ringing in the context of people with ‘profound and multiple learning disabilities’ (PMLDs). People falling under this label tend to have more than one serious disability, such as severe autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy ormicrocephaly, resulting in profound cognitive impairment and learning difficulties. Often people with PMLDs will be preverbal, or have very limited use or comprehension of formal linguistic and graphical codes. They tend to exhibit extremely low comprehension of the communicative actions of others and have low or indeterminable awareness of their own intentions. Despite manifold difficulties in interpreting people with PMLDs, their actions and interactions are taken, by carers and health professionals, as communicative and often as intentional. However on the orthodox model of communication, their behaviour, exhibiting limited or absent intention, is essentially non-communicative. Communication and construction The orthodox model of communication, however, oversimplifies the interaction that occurs between individuals in a communicative context. Communication is better understood as a continuous process, where communication partners respond to and anticipate each other’s actions on an ongoing basis throughout an interaction. Communication partners do not strictly take turns and respond to each other with discrete actions. Rather they each continuously modify their behaviour and intentions throughout their interaction. 12
On this account, intention isn’t understood as inhering either in a particular utterance or gesture, nor as inhering in the audience’s attribution of intent. Rather, intent and meaning are found by interrogating the interaction between individuals in a specific context. Intentions are not understood as fully determinable entities, instead, intention is a social product which is constructed over the course of an interaction. When this model is applied to situations where the intentional states of one of the communication partners are indeterminable, their behaviour is understood as if intentional, and as if communicative. People with PMLDs do behave in ways which exhibit aspects of intentional behaviour and which appear to be directed purposefully at others, including responsive vocalisation, eye gaze, smiling and laughing, and facial expression, even if the meaning behind these behaviours is often unclear. This means the opportunity for interpretation of their behaviour as intentional is present.
Intent and meaning are found by interrogating the interaction between individuals in a specific context. Intentions are not understood as fully determinable entities... intention is a social product which is constructed over the course of an interaction.
Communication and inclusivity Choosing between two models of communication is perhaps not a matter of alighting on the â€˜correctâ€™ understanding of communication or intention, but rather considering the interactions and behaviours that we might want to count as communicative in a given social context. Individuals with PMLDs have very little control over their own environment and are unable to make decisions for themselves that people with normal functioning take for granted. Given this lack of active autonomy, attempted interpretation of the interests and desires of people with PMLDs seems to be an important way of respecting them as individuals. If someone tries to express that they have particular preferences, even if they are as simple as disliking orange juice or taking great pleasure in having their head stroked, striving to understand the meaning of their message, as well as treating their actions as communicative, is part of what it is to treat them with dignity, as independent persons, and to respect their interests and needs. To maintain that certain behaviours are not communicative leads to a static and limited understanding of communication, which has trouble explaining the fluidity and responsiveness of communicative interactions. Moreover, excluding certain behaviours as communicative excludes particular individuals as communicators. Understanding intention as constructed creates space for individuals whose intentional behaviour is limited to be included as contributing members of society.
Yawn, 2015, live action performance at FAT RELIC, devised by Maud Craigie in response to Polly Mitchell. Photograph by Giulia Legora.
A Walk Along Camden Lock Laura Silva Steady recurring steps of an aging couple wind passed you as if carried by the canal waters. Their conversation fails to penetrate the crisp air and all you perceive are the comforting acoustics of a discussion not intended for you. The ducks are equally disinterested in you as their glistening white floats away aimlessly bringing out other points in the scenery from which all light is being relentlessly redelivered to you. The embedded houses and their white garden furniture. One stool has resigned itself to imbalance on account of a weeping willow's root. The top of the tree attempts an eternal dive into its reflection but its legs counter the action, leaving it a static sculpture of a heaving dancer. In the boats that line the canal float immeasurable universes of serene impudence. I dare not impose. The steaming kettle on the boat porch is not mine to know.
'Drawings & Poems'
Flair Donglai SHI (施东来)
Death of Hair A lot of hair has been cut off. The young hairdresser said he could see some floating clouds dying there.
My granny told me,
That's time flowing into nowhere. 17
Family 1 Granny always said, there were thirteen flavourings of happiness in her kitchen: Mint, pepper, mustard, ginger, curry, Chinese red pepper, olive, Aniseed, fennel, purple perilla, plantain, dried orange peel, And my naughty hands screwing all those over. With all of these mixed up, there was always some unexpected savour produced. Granny called that, Childhood. 2 Grandpaâ€™s teapot, Has never been filled. It was a philosopher. You pour water in, and then you pour tea out. My memory was the tealeaves in the pot. Every time bathing with the water, it became weaker and. Sweeter. 3 Mama had a candy jar. It gave birth to lots of candy every Friday night. In Mamaâ€™s candy jar, I was the smallest one. 4 My cousin had an innate ability. She could tell, Which kind of flower is edible, Which kind of flower is fragrant, Which kind of flower you can use to make a song. She taught me, How to tell our fortune by flowers. We even used the long stiff branch of almond tree to make vows. She said she would one day finally marry that celebrity she liked. 5 My family is a bottle of wine, Brandy or whisky I guess. Slizzarding me into my drunken memory.
Imagine: Outside Words by Naomi Lawson Jacobs Artwork by Matthew T Shaw One: The Inner Temple “I do not have authorisation to give discounts on room rates,” the church man says. The phone line carries silence, as if through a cracked-open door. “Maybe I should explain,” I say to his brick-wall disavowal. But which word is the key that will let me in? We are the Outsiders. We use wheelchairs and British Sign Language. We need ramps and quiet rooms and hearing aid loops. We need you to open the door. “I’m researching Christianity and disability.” I hear the words tumble out, cringe at their strangeness. “I am trying to do emancipatory research with disabled Christians. Socially responsible research. Fully accessible research.” What I do not say: I need an accessible room. You have one, and I can’t afford it. The key sticks in the lock, does not turn. “My participants have – we have been excluded from churches. I want to find out how churches can make things better.” I want them to open the doors.
The church man moves in front of the Great Gate. “I do not have authorisation to give discounts on room rates,” he says. Two: Great Institutions I sit outside the huge glass door. Waiting for someone to let me in to my own university. Once I’m finally in, I will struggle up to the postgraduate office, grappling with doors and lifts and layouts in a building that was not made for me. I will force my disorderly body to fit, awkwardly, into the academic order. But first I have to wait to be let in. Inside, acceptable bodies with appropriate speech and anodyne thoughts. They do not wait for permission. They do not have to ask for doors to be opened, for broken lifts to be fixed, for chairs to be moved, for rooms to be changed, for academic extensions to be given, for concessions to be made. Their shapes already fit inside the Great Institutions, in spaces that were made for bodies like theirs. They turn their gaze upon my offensive form, taking notes. Considering whether I could ever fit, could ever make it
inside on my own. No – I am the subject, not the object, I try to protest. I am a researcher. I am an Insider. They can’t hear me through the huge glass door. Three: Together, Outside We crowd into the upper room. Wheelchairs and interpreters and support workers packed into every corner. I wriggle in the hard chair, breathing hot, stale air. Broken notes from an old piano slide under the door. At the window, an autistic boy takes the frame apart, looking for ways out – ways in. We know this corner, this Other space. This is where they put us, together and separate. The outer rooms; the upper rooms. We are not to approach the inner temple, the Holy of Holies. Really, I’m supposed to be objective. I’m supposed to ask the questions, to represent the great institutions, from my privileged university seat. An Insider. But this is the open secret: we all know that we know each Other. Outsiders, together. And there is one more secret, the one you forgot when you locked us all in the upper room. Together, Outsiders can break in. One day we will burst out into the grand lecture theatres, the landscaped courtyards, the fire of Pentecost scorching our edges, lighting up our objectionable, prophetic forms. Crying for change from the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. Authentic bodies crashing into the inner rooms of the temple, turning over tables as we go. Breaking into the locked offices, spilling secrets. Carrying each
other through the doors (or through the roof). Levelling the steps to the altar. Tearing down the strongholds with resistance and imagination. But not yet. For now, we are still out here, at the threshold, in the upper rooms. We are still waiting. We could keep waiting, for a Coming, for a prophet with the key. But as we talk about the experiences of being shut out – as I make standard fieldnotes about non-standard people and write acceptable words about unacceptable situations – I wonder if we have become too accustomed to waiting. If we are too used to the upper rooms. If we no longer know how to be our own messiahs. Together, can we occupy the inner spaces?
‘Reveries about Language’ Mina Ray
I traverse the territory of language the way I traverse the desert Listening to the sounds of silence Contemplating the void Searching for the blue, brilliant star my face caressed by the wind my body shaped by the effortless movement of sand dunes I glide
on the multiple lines of time
I smooth out the curvatures of the temporal fabric I rearrange the infinite spaces of deep red velvet And I fall Into the embrace of the letter “U” lost somewhere in my quest My dreams are haunted by the emotional resonance of words, images écume L’écume se languissant sur les vagues paraît telle une dentelle fine...
imperceptibly He stands behind her and touches her naked shoulder almost
vision I am but a fleeting vision at the corner of your eye dancing The city receives her, enfolds her in its soft feathers
petals Watching thoughts unfold like petals
amber and jasmine
breathing in the scents of amber and jasmine And whilst I play linguistic games the Language weaves its own threads, it weaves the masculine the feminine the neutral Sometimes, I run behind my language Sometimes, my language runs in front of me in front - behind - behind - in front It is a mad race for Time, only one survivor at the finish We never run together, my language and I I surrender to its deadly embrace Mine is an acrobatic dance on the wire of space-time my body moves with the rhythm of the pulsations
memories rewritten sensations impressed, reflected in the mirror of my mind In the spaces of metonymy and metaphor And I fall again into the arms of the sound â€œU â€?, forgotten in my quest daydreaming
‘Sanjarenje o jeziku’ Mina Ray Prelazim prostranstvom jezika poput šetača koji prolazi kroz pustinju Osluškujem zvukove tišine Razmišljam o praznini U traganju za plavom, blistavom zvijezdom Vjetar miluje moje lice, Moje tijelo oblikuje se
pokretima pješčanih dina
po višestrukim crtama vremena Glačam Iskrivljene zvjezdane tkanine Nanovo uređujem Beskrajne prostore tamnocrvenog baršuna I padam negdje
U zagrljaj slova “O” izgubljenog
u toku mojih traganja
Emocionalna dimenzija riječi, slika
écume L’écume se languissant sur les vagues paraît telle une dentelle fine...
Morska pjena lijeno se odmara, podrhtava Na valovima Poput čipke
imperceptibly He stands behind her and touches her naked shoulder almost
On stoji iza nje i sasvim lagano dodirne njezino golo rame
vision I am but a fleeting vision at the corner of your eye dancing
Ja sam vizija koja titra i nestaje na rubu tvog oka
The city receives her, enfolds her in its soft feathers
Grad ju prihvaća, umotava u svoje meko perje
petals watching thoughts unfold like petals
ambre et jasmin respirant les parfums d’ambre et de jasmin
promatrajući rastvaranje misli poput latica
udišući mirise jantara i jasmina
Dok se igram lingvističkih igara
Jezik plete vlastito vlakno, niže niti muškog ženskog srednjeg roda Katkad trčim za jezikom Katkad, jezik za mnom trči ispred-iza-iza-ispred Luda trka za vremenom u kojoj samo jedno pobjeđuje Jezik i ja ne trčimo nikad zajedno U njegovom ubojitom zagrljaju izvodim akrobatski ples po užetu Vremena i Prostora moje tijelo savija se u ritmu Otkucaja života Na raskršću metonimije i metafore sjećanja se nanovo pišu osjećaji se utiskuju, odražavaju u ogledalu misli I
u zagrljaj zvuka “O” zaboravljenog u mojim lutanjima Sanjarenju
‘Rêveries autour de la langue’ Mina Ray
Je traverse le territoire des langues comme on traverserait un désert Je glisse
en écoutant les sons
créés dans le silence,
en quête de l’étoile bleue, brillante,
sur les traits multiples du temps je lisse les courbes du tissu temporel les espaces infinis velours rouge åfoncé Et je tombe dans les bras de la lettre “U” que dans mes quêtes j’ai oubliée
Mes rêves sont hantés
émotive des mots, des images
par la résonnance
écume L’écume se languissant sur les vagues paraît telle une dentelle fine...
imperceptibly He stands behind her and touches her naked shoulder almost imperceptibly imperceptiblement
Il se tient derrière elle et touche son épaule nue presque
vision I am but a fleeting vision at the corner of your eye dancing
Je ne suis qu’une vision brève dansant dans le coin de ton oeil plumes La ville l’envoûte dans ses plumes douces
The city receives her, enfolds her in its soft feathers petals watching thoughts unfold like petals
regardant les pensées s’ouvrir comme des pétales de fleur ambre et jasmin respirant les parfums d’ambre et de jasmin
Pendant que je joue à mes jeux linguistiques,
la Langue continue à tisser son tissu, elle tisse le masculin,
Quelquefois je galope derrière elle, derrière-devant devant-derrière
Quelquefois elle trottine derrière moi
La course est folle, il y a qu’un survivant,
il faut rattraper le Temps,
Ma langue et moi, nous ne courons jamais ensemble Je m’abandonne
à son étreinte mortelle, danse acrobatique sur le fil du Temps-Espace,
mon corps suit le mouvement des pulsations de la vie,
la mémoire se réécrit, les sensations s’impriment, reflétées dans le miroir de mon esprit, dans l’espace de la métaphore et de la métonymie
Je tombe de nouveau dans l’étreinte du son “U” que dans mes quêtes j’ai oublié, que dans mon oubli j’ai quêté Rêveries
The Women of Moscow: Conversations in the Archive Words by Polly Corrigan Artwork by Matthew T Shaw ‘Oh, to go to Moscow, to Moscow!’ Irina, in The Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov, 1900. 1. It is the first day of my trip to Moscow. I am standing in the Russian State Library – an imposing, square building, its grey columns resembling neatly lined books on a shelf. I first walked past it 20 years ago, but never dreamt that one day I would return as a student – that I would just turn up and ask for a reader’s ticket. The complications of applying for this ticket, this sacred oblong of plastic, nearly overwhelm me. I’ve been warned that although the Soviet Union is dead, Soviet bureaucracy is still flourishing. So, I fill in the form, writing carefully in each of the little boxes – my name, the name of my university – all in carefully practiced Cyrillic script. I hand the form to the stern woman standing in
the foyer. She waves me towards a line of little doors. I go through one, enter a tiny booth and sit down to have my photo taken. On the other side of the desk sits a woman with brown hair, wearing a pale green jumper. Pot plants that clearly date from the Soviet era, some a little brown at the edges, surround her. She focuses the digital camera on me and I try not to smile, wanting to look suitably grave. Click! She points me towards the door – I can go. After some minutes, my name is called and I enter the next room and collect the card from another woman, framed by her own collection of socialist greenery. Euphoria. The card is in my hand, and the picture makes me look thrillingly earnest. It is satisfyingly plastered with official-looking Cyrillic. I try to think who might be as excited as I am about my library card. No one immediately springs to mind. My excitement ebbs as I realise there is another hurdle to be surmounted before I can get near a book. The cloakroom. Behind a counter of marbleeffect formica, two women are working steadily, efficiently: placing bags in cubby-holes, hats on metal pegs. I
suddenly feel a rather immature desire to get this right without having to ask. I swing my rucksack on to the counter and pause, looking around for clues. In the British Library cloakroom, there is a brilliant infographic, explaining clearly what you can take in and what you can’t – a water bottle and a sandwich with a line through it, that kind of thing. My eyes flick upwards and scan from side to side. There is no infographic here, just the cold, grey stare of the coat-keepers. As I begin to panic my two years of Russian lessons melt away, I can’t remember the word for coat or bag or pen. I take the bare necessities from my bag – phone, notepad, pencil, purse – and leave everything else. I walk through the turnstile and I’m in. The whole experience has zapped my blood sugar and instead of going up the massive marble staircase to the books, I duck left and down the stairs, heading for the canteen. The canteen. Oh, behold this canteen. The tables and chairs are pale and flimsy. Walls the colour of weak tea. But the food is glorious. Small plastic hatches contain dillseasoned morsels. There are tiny plates of salad with sliced radish and tomato, square tureens of soup with bubbles of sour cream floating in them, freshly baked pirogi with cheese, dishes of meat, dishes of potato. The air is infused with dill, and a hint of pickle too.
The women behind this counter don’t mind that I mutely point at their delicious fare, they are pink-cheeked with oven warmth and they almost seem to be smiling. I sit down with my soup, my cup of tea, my cheesy pie and my radish salad. 2. Two days later and I’m back in the library trying to get some real work done. But progress is slow. I can’t find what I need, I’ve ordered the same book twice; I’m wasting these precious hours and have picked off the skin down the side of my right thumb-nail with nerves. I gaze up at the massive oil painting of Lenin on the reading room wall, hoping for inspiration. He sits at his desk. His face is almost obscured in shadow, but his eyebrows are pulled forwards in deep concentration. The skin of his cheek is pushed up a little where it rests on his palm. His work seems to be going well, for the time being. I decide to stretch my legs, and head once again for the kindly atmosphere of the canteen. By the lift an older woman is waiting and she turns to me as I approach and starts to speak in Russian. In my rubbish Russian, I start to say something
apologetic. Her smile is instantaneous. She asks me where I am from, what I think of Moscow, other questions that I am not entirely certain about. The blue gloom of my reading-room despair is now mixed with crimson embarrassment at my dreadful language skills, leaving a sludgy purple feeling in my stomach. I’m nodding away, answering with a monosyllable here, a finger signal there, and trying not to be distracted by the grey strands of a moustache that sit on her top lip. She asks me what I am researching and, haltingly, I tell her. Her face sparkles with excitement, and she starts to explain that she knows someone at the library – Tatyana – an expert on this very topic. She takes my notebook to write down Tatyana’s full name and how to find her office. She tells me that she likes my research topic, that it will be a fascinating project, adding that with three more months in Moscow my Russian will be perfect. I’m leaving in two days.
3. The last day: the blue sky arches over Moscow. It would surely be a crime to go to the library on a day like this. Instead, I hop on the Metro to Krasnopresnenskaya station, to make a pilgrimage of sorts. Anton Chekhov’s house is a short walk from the station. The streets are sunlight and tranquility. I walk past couples and young families, people hanging out in cafes and little play-parks. And here, set back from the main road, is Chekhov’s tiny garden, and the entrance to his house. In the foyer there are five women, all of whom work here. I am the only visitor to be found in the whole place. As they chat, I buy my ticket and head into the first room. The women turn, making negative murmuring sounds. I back away, and see that they are gesturing towards the cloakroom. I step towards it and the murmurs become assenting. But oh, confusion – there is no one actually working in the cloakroom, despite the numerous members of staff in the room. More gestures from the group. It seems I am
just to go in, and hang up my own coat. I tiptoe towards the pegs, terrified. But they are smiling – yes, I am doing the right thing. Coat duly stowed, I enter the neat little rooms of Chekhov and his family: tiny beds with tidy blankets, gas lamps, embroidery on the chair, a desk, photographs. All is order, decency, solidity. The house is completely silent except for the creak of the wooden stairs under my feet. As I reach the top, I can hear whispering. I turn to my left and into the bedroom. I can still hear the whispering, but the room is empty. Around another corner is a tiny little ante-room, and in it stands a woman, eyes closed, lips moving almost silently. I act natural and pretend not to notice. It is only when she crosses herself that I realise she is praying. And it suddenly dawns on me, it is Easter Saturday in the Russian Orthodox calendar. I start to back out of the room fearing that I am interrupting too intimate a scene. The praying woman, however, opens her eyes. It turns out she is another employee of the museum. She tells
me, a little crossly, that I haven’t seen everything in the room, and proceeds to lead me around the play posters, the photograph of Chekhov getting an earful from Tolstoy, the glass cases containing tiny ephemera from the life of a writer. We slowly walk round together, her head cocked to see my response to it all. I find myself more curious about my guide, her face both kind and serious, than I am about the faded theatre bills. Like the other women in the museum, her hair is grey and her clothes are simple, but her passion for the life of this longdead writer is so real and – once she judges that I have spent sufficient time on Chekhov – she is a generous listener as well. Perhaps it is the calm here, but it is easy to chat to her, and we talk of Easter and processions and cathedrals. As I step out into Chekhov’s garden once again, I wonder if I am taking an atom’s worth of his spirit with me. No, I think, and nor would I want to. It is the women of Moscow – from the cloakrooms, canteens, libraries and museums – with their quiet patience and unfussy dedication to their work, whose spirit I wish to arm myself with, for whatever should lie ahead.
Ste eped on a beach Penny Newell
Steeeeped on a beach in a light grey two humans ccrrystallized llized a camera set up behind them step into the e three red
bliblips blbli rapturous light ra u light
glasson on banks glass the the front front banks smash smash victory child Napoleon victory child Napoleon stepping down as down businessas down as stepping business business drops an ice cream, down as business drops an glass on the front ice cream, glass banks on thesmash front victory child Napoleon stepping banks smash victory child down as business Napoleon stepping drops down an as ice cream, glass on the business drops an two victory ice cream, glass on the d victory
of love or of the sonic of two humans frozen to flesh naked bold-boned waking straight in-to the ocean unrewarded in that rash-remoteness, All fora aphoto photo for hope for for a bedroom wall
Photo by Freya Hunter Photograph by Freya Hunter.
The Last Door to Heaven, 2015 Reman Sadani
III – CLOSER TO WHAT YOU ARE AFTER an excerpt from Cool young poets talking about their art basically Xxxx Penny Newell
A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness.
I was standing in the radially at the waiting of a three-minutes’ long lately when the glassed-in pocket water-shudder went from nothing to a friend who was once a lover, light in the little house (terribly modern) this matter firstly blurred by the weekend coming, she asks me about poetry and I say nothing on the weekday evenings we watch films to quiet our minds. I have not stopped drinking. It is either water water water or these soap-scented glasses pulled from the pile we break across a soup or a beigel or something equally beige and blue to think : there may be four or five fields of spur between us, no I never make the mistake of thinking myself into permanence, the cycles, seven-month rounds of lovers becoming post-lovers passing radially, right so, right-so, right, so I tell the story of the knuckle and the circle in the sand and in spite of everything things accrue behind a frosted glass we all spend time alone just sort of laughing at the fact of the light so beautiful the time taken to pass through the scene to our eyes across the lovely shit-tip of you where we consider time ridiculous, from the corner you or we dress, from the corner where we close our eyes and forget all this stuff about me has become distinct and select : a wall poster by which i wish to identify myself, yet laughing at the yearly subtlety the room solemn unpoetic smallness around me the price, considerably, well this must be living, we say : and i accordingly have tried extending my ohm via yoga set on a matt set upon the floor where the radiator : trying chocolate at set hours hours for wine hours for Tinder : life is so peculiar when a hot pocket in the midst of the inside outside air makes you sudden and flush remember the girl who once was a lover, that text I
have no idea about this thing i simply have no idea you think facing death in a simple text on the basics of your soul. Dear eric, in preparation for this letter, i: read your novella read you on politics read you on language read you on why i write : bertolucci’s partner bruno’s long-lost italian nouvelle vague feature la sua giornata di gloria the essay form lacan’s life as poem perpetually writing the perpetual of living: i. rang the changes ii. towed the line iii. rough-shodded and stood the shoulder iv. to shoulder of the grist fish heeled by the lower-than order v. stood under a swanning moon vi. a millisecond acccurate feed vii. in the perpetual sua giornata di gloria nothing touches me of this any-more. I invented on the sand as elliptical circle sick in the open air on a station platform petals on the boughs living as plagiarisms on weekday nights we put our eyes on moving images packet the passing as invisible photons in the hope that this might all still be here in the morning, that this might all still be different in the morning, that we might one day be able to stop smoking and drinking, that this water water water or these soap-rich secondhand glasses might do something for the image, dear eric, dear sick human being, time has literally become a pop-practical synopsis. Literally : the brutality of it. ‘It was lately, and I was falling asleep.’ Underneath the lull of that scene I thought of Old Cotter and the bead black eyes rested around the unspoken idea. Apologies : the lack of poetic suspense earlier. Apologies : the scene and the sound of the answer. Apologies : Apologia, I have no idea tips speak to/a possible poet
I Feel Like Multiplying Words by Izabella Scott Like an apophenic, I begin to find Jill Kroesen everywhere. As I scour the archives of early video art she resurfaces again and again.
Photograph by Nathaniel Tileston.
Jill is a performer who appears, fearlessly, in a number of experimental performances from the 1970s; these are the early years of video art, deploying the same tools as television but seeking a vocabulary of its own. Jill pushed at the limits of performance, mixing biography, art criticism and pop culture, in scripts that can be read as early examples of fictocriticism.
Jill worked at the experimental NY arts venue, The Kitchen, in the late 1970s, where she hung out with Laurie Anderson and David van Tieghem, and performed her own works, some of which exist online as fragments. Perhaps most famously, she took a lead role in Robert Ashley’s video opera, Perfect Lives, a reinterpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in which Jill dons a series of eccentric costumes and outlandish hats, appearing as a shapeshifting character as she moves through the afterlife. But then around 1985, Jill disappears from the world of performance art. She falls off the map. I’ve sent emails, stuttering into the internet... to the Whitney Museum, who mentions Jill in an exhibition on NY Loft performances (2013); to an all-female band, Women’s Hour, who mention Jill’s extraordinary sets and costumes in a radio interview (2014). I send email after email, connecting infra-thin fragments into constellations that build up an iridescent portrait. And then, one day I find a reply from Jill in my inbox; ‘I have received a note from Greta Hartenstein at the Whitney about your interest in my work’, she writes, ‘I’d be happy to speak to you.’ And so the conversation begins to unfurl. Jill, it transpires, lives in a town called Rancho Mirage, a resort in the Southern Californian desert where she runs a small hotel. I’m curious to understand 38
what happened in the mid 1980s, why she veered away from the epicentre. I pour questions into emails, which she answers honestly but epigrammatically: this leaves me wanting more. ‘I stopped making art when a bunch of life events collided’, she tells me frankly, ‘Manhattan got expensive and my father stopped supporting me. I fell off a horse. My boyfriend left me. All these things happened at once, and so I moved on.’ So she adapted, found new company – working in special effects at HBO and Cinemax, and later managing the archives of the ballerina Gelsey Kirkland. Eventually she moved west. ‘You’re welcome to visit’, she offers, ‘I’ve got an archive that I’m just starting to organize. And the weather is great!’ To my delight, she sends me a parcel stuffed with scripts, photocopies of reviews from The Soho Weekly News, her drawings, a few typed discussions and even a student’s essay. ‘I was told it would be an experience to remember’, writes Ann Mary Masterson for a literature class, ‘and I was warned of Ms. Kroesen’s avant-garde style! But the production surpassed all of my expectations.’ I devour Jill’s scripts, which date from 1974-1983. All her works take the form of parodies, positioning themselves as faux-naïve recitals that entangle gossip with world politics, enmeshing public health policy with degrading comments thrust at her on the street.
I've sent emails, stuttering into the internet... connecting infrathin fragments into constellations that build up an iridescent portrait.
Jill studied at Mills Centre for Contemporary Music in Oakland, which in those days was directed (and radicalised) by Bob Ashley, an ambitious composer who expanded ‘opera’ into something spoken and vernacular, located in the supermarket,the living room and on television. Based at Mills throughout the 70s, Bob enticed a group of artists to gather at the college, an extended family that included the composer Terry Riley, jazz pianist “Blue” Gene Tyranny who collaborated with Jill and Bob in Perfect Lives, the writer Kathy Acker, and new-music pioneer Peter Gordon – all of whom ended up in NY together during the early 80s. Jill studied the harpsichord and the blues, and began to write her own plays and performances. ‘Bob’s gift was attention’, she recalls, ‘he brought together thinkers, inventors, artists, and it all worked around his charisma, his desire to break conventions.’
In her first play, written in 1974 and titled Fay Shism Began in the Home, Jill plays an androgynous character, Fay, who like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando shifts gender, morphing before the audience’s eye – and Jill first fills her bodice with stuffing, later using the same material to pad-out her crotch. Fay Shism is about power relations: the masochistic forces that belie relationships, a kind of fascism in the home, and as the political and personal bleed together Jill reveals violence at the centre, a garden variety of chauvinism. There’s an immediate voice-as-style in Jill’s work that grows outwards from this script, structuring each subsequent work as a fable laced with innuendo and convulsing with a brutality that’s just below the surface. In another play from 39
By Nathaniel Tileston.
1979, The Lowell Jerkman Story, Jill’s writing is smutty and lickerish and witty all at once, as she croons the Penis Envy Blues,
ooo sometimes I envy you men / You get taken seriously when you talk, You don’t get raped when you walk / I’m going to be a man someday, get a dildo and call myself Jay / Stick it all the way into you, Oh boy do I want to...
Graduating from Mills in 1974, Jill moved to New York, helping out with screenings at The Kitchen, touring with Perfect Lives across Europe, and performing her own work. Sifting through the extracts that remain of her performances, I become absorbed by a polemic fable written in the early 80s called Excuse Me I Feel Like Multiplying, which encapsulates so much of her artistic project. In it, Cold War negotiations (the SALT armament talks, which culminated in 1979) are remodeled as the drama of soap opera, in which the superpowers are personified as bickering, frivolous typecasts. Jill as the USSR, sits inside a cage made from stretched foamcoare, facing the USA, embodied as a fading cowboy with toy Pistols and a rancher’s hat. A malicious debate ensues between the superpowers regarding an undeveloped country, known between them as Raw Material, personified as a boyfriend they squabble over; and finally all three are ravaged by The Virus, a woman adorned with an oversupply of small balloons pinned to her body. On one level, Jill reduces superpower politics to the mechanics of the playground, the trading of toys and insults; and yet on another level, it’s about the body – power represented as bodies that shiver with infection, reduced to the same state of vulnerability. It’s The Virus that intrigues me the most, perhaps because I’ve been thinking about the productive possibilities of negative states like falling, failure or disease. I’m intrigued by this Virus who, like the superpowers, feels like multiplying too, and I read The Virus as a negative state that’s full of potential: not multiplying biologically, but instead expanding in a distinctly feminal dispersion – to sprinkle and strew and sow the unprocessed self. This is what Jill did so spontaneously: oversharing, being vulnerable, revealing the intimate. Thirty years later, and Jill’s work is resurfacing: it’s being dug up and re-mapped. A 2013 show at The Whitney called Rituals of Rented Island looked at object theatre and loft performance in 70s Manhattan, and featured Jill’s work alongside Yvonne Rainer, Vito Acconci and other notable figures of the era. Since Jill’s body was always entangled with her work, it’s not surprising that she finds herself impelled back to the centre, stirred into motion. Like the Agave Americana, a desert aloe that flowers every 30 years. ‘Since my inclusion in the Whitney show, I’ve been working on a new piece’, she tells me, ‘suddenly it feels like the time again.’
The photograph on page 38 and the celluloid scans on pages 40 - 41 show Jill Kroesen, Excuse Me I Feel Like Multiplying, at the Customs House, New York, 1979, all taken by Nathaniel Tileston. With thanks to to Jill and Nathaniel for giving their permission to use these images.
Travels with Biren: WWII Through the Eyes of an Indian Doctor Words by Diya Gupta Artwork by Adam Bernard Clarke Holmes ‘The best moments... are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’ Hector, in The History Boys, Alan Bennett, 2004 How do I understand and reconstruct the experience of people long since dead? The question gnaws at me at odd moments of the day – while reading in bed, making a pot of tea, looking out over the Thames from my train, or navigating the alley-ways of the Maughan library. I have no personal experience of a conflict situation, let alone a warzone, and yet here I am, at King’s College London, researching Indian experiences in the Second World War. What did it mean to be hungry enough to participate in a global war for livelihood; to enlist because this war signified a job opportunity; to be made into a prisoner; to be transported across the world to strange lands; to not know how long for; and how it would all end? And all this when the battle for independence from the British Raj was at its sharpest in undivided India? I grew up in India and no one there ever spoke of the Second World War as anything other than the white man’s war, fought thousands of miles away. Hot on the heels of the Allied victory, Britain lost
its Raj, and the nation-states of India and Pakistan emerged in 1947, amidst the tumult of a collapsing empire and the communal violence of Partition. Lost somewhere between the pages of decolonisation and nationalism lies the fact that two-and-a-half million people from undivided India fought in the Second World War as part of the British Indian Army. This formed the largest volunteer army in the world – a staggering statistic. How, then, to unpick it and find the fragile threads with which to weave together narratives of these volunteers’ lives? It was on my second visit to the Imperial War Museum in London, where archives on British and Commonwealth conflicts are stored, that I uncovered Biren’s story. There were no memoirs or private papers related to his life, but there was an interview in the sound archive, recorded some 20 years ago. The notes available on Biren were cryptic. Captain Birendranath Mazumdar. A doctor from Calcutta. Imprisoned by the Germans in the Second World War, but escaped. I put the headphones on. A voice crackled in my ears. ‘I joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in September 1939, and was posted as a general medical officer at the 17th Base Hospital at Etaples in France.’ Though this voice was hoarse and quavering with age, the intonations and accent of the English Biren spoke were unmistakably Bengali, the major Indian 43
language spoken in Calcutta. I instantly recognised, too, the Bengali slippages in his English diction – often, to emphasise a point, or when he became excitable – an instinctive ‘hyan, hyan’, a ‘yes, yes’ in Bengali, would interrupt the flow of English. It is a trait of speaking that still characterises many Bengalis, including me. Calcutta is my hometown too. It was oddly endearing: here was an officer of the British Indian Army, who had died nearly 20 years ago, speaking about his experiences as a young man in the 1940s, and yet it took only two Bengali words to affirm the strength of our linguistic and cultural bonds. There is something peculiarly evocative about the recorded human voice. The sonic marker of a human life, it carries incredible force. Wearing headphones and listening to Biren speak not only shut out the sights and sounds of the Imperial War Museum, it made him inhabit my mind for the next three hours. The cadence of his voice imposed a rhythmic beat and movement on to the war statistics I had read about; the numbers
were jostling each other, like a noisy thronging crowd; they had been breathed into life through sound and were metamorphosing into people. A non-combatant, Biren was transformed into a prisoner-of-war enroute from Etaples to Boulogne with a convoy of ambulances. He was commanded to turn back by a German lieutenant, who informed him that he, Biren, would not be reaching Boulogne: France had capitulated to German forces. How ominous a pronouncement that must have been. ‘I had nothing to eat, nothing to drink, and had to walk. I had to ask for permission to go to the toilet.’ So began the daily discomforts, the lived realities of the prisoner-of-war experience. I found myself wondering at Biren’s powers of resistance. He certainly portrayed himself as a stubborn and self-willed man, not complying with German authorities on a regular basis, and often openly disagreeing with German officers by telling them that he did not have enough supplies to treat patients with. He remembered in particular the camp in the
German town of Marienberg, with memories of Russian prisoners with gunshot wounds and amputated legs repeatedly asking him for assistance. But he could not help them. Shuttled between 17 prisoner-of-war camps and kept in solitary confinement, Biren was eventually incarcerated at the highsecurity officers’ camp at Colditz Castle, in the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich, for being especially intractable.
As I listened to Biren, I thought of how we might recall an experience as grueling as becoming a prisoner of war. Surely our memories would centre on our personal deprivations, physical suffering and everyday material discomforts. But Biren’s recollections only touched upon his living conditions in these camps. He remembered, instead, being shocked at the behaviour of fellow prisoners. The Red Cross had distributed food parcels to them, but no one would share his food with newcomers: ‘I had read so many books of the First World War and the camaraderie there, which was of first-class importance... it was absolutely missing here.’ Remembering surviving on paltry German rations – soup, black coffee and bread – Biren reflected: ‘It was funny for me. I was the only easterner there, and they were all Englishmen, Dutch and others... they had the food but they wouldn’t share it... I couldn’t believe my eyes.’ It marked the beginning, I felt, of his disillusionment with the perceived liberal and progressive values of the West.
shut. I was, to say the least, miserable and lost.’ He asked the sentry in German where he was; the sentry put his fingers to his ears and remained silent, leaving the prisoner in complete darkness in his cell. As I listened, I tried to recreate this situation imaginatively – a historical space where the fundamental human instinct of responding to another’s distress was purposefully obliterated by the conditions of war. The sentry had to stop himself physically from hearing the question, in case his latent humanity made him disobey orders. This was as much a psychological incarceration for Biren as the physically forbidding boundary walls of the castle.
There is something peculiarly evocative about the recorded human voice. The sonic marker of a human life, it carries incredible force.
Colditz Castle, functioning as a highsecurity officers’ prison during the war, was revealed to be Biren’s destination only once he was incarcerated there. ‘All I heard was the click of the key as the door
The only non-white prisoner in Colditz, Biren described his uneasy relationship here with other British officers. Military and colonial hierarchies were firmly entrenched, even among those who were meant to be on the same side: Biren was made to salute a senior British officer every time they spoke as they both ‘belonged to the King’s army,’ and instructed not to fraternise with the Germans, who, as the British suspected, kept trying to lure him into defecting. India was beginning to wage its own war against the Raj with the rise of the Indian National Army, led by Subhas Chandra Bose, and a small group of Indian soldiers had already joined Hitler’s forces in Germany. It was hard to interpret what Biren made of this. He remained, everywhere, that strange anomaly – an Indian and yet a British Army Officer in uniform. Questions about his identity and motivation never stopped. And yet he evinced no political opinion, other than the fact that he opposed the Raj: ‘I was 45
one of those who disliked British rule in India because I had seen in my country the oppression of the British.’ But he refused, time and again, to defect. His steadfastness, I came to believe, revealed a complex negotiation of political and personal identities within the simultaneous and shifting landscape of motivation among colonised people.
Biren refused to join the Indian National Army, but this did not mean he had no nationalist feelings, nor does it signify that he had imperialist sympathies. Despite being accused of being a German spy, and despite the considerably more comfortable life he could have led by defecting – he chose to remain an Indian officer imprisoned at Colditz. Biren believed in adhering to his oath of loyalty to the Empire, but above all, by not capitulating to German or Indian persuasion, he claimed the right to his own agency. He volunteered to join the British Indian Army out of choice, and he chose not to leave it.
Compasses, money and other valuable escape items were being smuggled into Colditz through food parcels, but surely Biren had not expected that he was going to receive any such help, queried the senior officer. Biren responded: ‘I expected it, sir.’ He then told the senior officer that he was determined to escape some day, saluted him, and walked out of the room. The escape route from Colditz devised by Biren involved staging a five-weeklong hunger strike; the British officers called it ‘doing a Gandhi.’ When word finally arrived that he was to be moved to a different camp, Biren was given some money, with instructions to insert this up his backside. (Remembering the action caused him to chuckle – the public mention of certain bodily parts, it seems, never loses its humorous edge.)
In the course of listening to this narrative for three hours, Biren had rapidly assembled himself in my mind’s eye.
Colditz did not remain Biren’s prison forever. His escape was one of the most remarkable that I had heard of, even for Colditz where audacious escapes were attempted every year. I learnt that the art of attempting to escape from prison also had its attendant military and colonial hierarchies. Biren needed permission to escape, and was told to speak to his British senior officer first – the same one who required a salute each time they met. In this ritual of applying for permission, Biren pointedly remembered to salute and formally made his request. ‘I can still remember to this day his laugh,’ recollected Biren. ‘“You escaping from here – with your brown skin!”’ 46
Transferred to an Indian prisonerof-war camp, Biren conspired with two Indian officers to escape from a train. They were captured by the Gestapo, who gave him a final chance to join the German forces; he was flogged ten strokes on his back when he refused. It was the trio’s second attempt to escape that proved successful. Biren remembered the quiet words of encouragement spoken to him by his companions during their escape, a constant refrain of support: ‘“Doctor sahab, shabaash, shabaash.”’ (Well done, doctor, well done.) But he also recalled clearly his annoyance at having to pay the French Resistance 2,000 francs for a safe passage to the Swiss border.
It is these ruptures and interruptions in the narrative that make me particularly fascinated by Biren. In the public memory of the Second World War, his experience is atypical – no one thinks of an Indian doctor’s life as a prisoner-of-war in 1940s Europe. Biren’s narrative undercuts our conventional remembrance of this war; his own memory of events becomes a testament to asymmetrical power relations within the Allied forces themselves, entrenched through many years of colonial rule.
In the course of listening to this narrative for three hours, Biren had rapidly assembled himself in my mind’s eye. The textbook story of ‘the good war’, where Allied forces defeat the Nazis and in which non-European volunteers are almost entirely ignored, had crumbled in the face of the complex and grim realities of his lived experience. The battle colours had changed for me: the Second World War no longer remained the white man’s war, culturally and geographically distant.
Biren may be an officer in the British Indian Army, but he is never white enough for British officers. And yet he feels able to resist both German and British figures of authority. What Biren chooses not to forget is especially interesting. His narrative is framed by the prisoner-of-war experience, but never becomes a litany of hardships faced in these circumstances. He remembers the pain of being flogged by the Gestapo, but recalls far more vividly how his British senior officer laughed when he announced his desire to escape from Colditz. The memory of this laugh seems to have seared him more than ten strokes of the Gestapo whip.
Biren’s voice, then, became the transformative portal for me to understand the Second World War in new and complex, and enduringly personal ways. I had heard Biren’s fear, felt his pain, re-lived his sense of outrage and injustice. I had been the listener, the vicarious sojourner, the ghostly third who walked always beside him. Eliding space and time, the dead and the living, Biren’s hand had come out and taken mine.
The Still Point Journal Issue #1 Contributors All submissions underwent a process of blind peer-review: the result is a journal which represents institutions across London, with a truly interdisciplinary focus. Special thanks go to the LAHP and the AHRC for making the printed journal possible, all of our contributors, as well as to everyone who has supported us; including Sarah Boulton, Jill Kroesen, Giulia Legora, Giulia Mari, Dala Nasser, Ruth Padel, Sophie Peacock, Declan Ryan, Maxima Smith, Mircea Teleaga, Nathaniel Tileston, and everyone at FAT RELIC, amongst many others. Fran Allfrey is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching Anglo-Saxon things and contemporary creative and cultural practices. @francheskyia Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani (‘Mina Ray’) is a Visiting Researcher at the University of Westminster. She began writing multilingual poetry in 2014.
Adam Bernard Clarke Holmes, a freelance artist, studied Graphic Design at Leeds College of Art & Design, and at Sheffield Hallam University. Polly Corrigan is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching the relationship between the Soviet security services and novelists in the 1930s.
Maud Craigie is studying on the Fine Art Media MA at the Slade. She is interested in how people present themselves to the world.
Polly Gregson, a writer and illustrator, is currently studying for an MA in Critical Writing at the RCA.
Diya Gupta is a PhD student at King’s College London, looking at the Indian soldier in the Second World War. www.diyagupta.co.uk Naomi Lawson Jacobs is a PhD student at SOAS, University of London, where she is researching disability and Christian churches.
Emily Lazerwitz is an artist who thoroughly enjoys making things impossible to read. She is currently studying for her MFA in Fine Art Media at the Slade. www.emilylazerwitz.com
Christian Melby is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching British invasion scares between 1870 and 1914.
Polly Mitchell is a second year philosophy PhD student at UCL; she works on the measurement of healthrelated quality of life.
James Morland is an English Literature PhD student at King’s College London, researching the interactions with Lucretius and Epicureanism in eighteenth-century poetry. Penny Newell is based at King’s College London, where she is currently working on a literary studies thesis about clouds.
A graduate of the Slade, Jane Yoonjeong Rhee is currently in residency in Paju, just south of the 38th-parallel (DMZ), where she is working with performance as a stage for making. Reman Sadani is a student at the Slade, her work engages with performances & films. She is currently examining postmodern conflict & the political agency of bellydance.
Izabella Scott is a writer & editor, currently completing an MA at the RCA. Her research interests include 1970s video opera & early fictocriticism.
Matthew T. Shaw, a University of Westminster graduate, is an illustrator, designer, painter, maker, thinker, scrawler and sculptor. www.matthewtshaw.com
Flair Donglai SHI (施东来) is a graduate student in World Literatures at the University of Oxford. He just completed an MA in Comparative Literature at UCL.
Laura Silva is a PhD student in Philosophy at UCL, she is writing her thesis on the philosophy of emotion.
Cover art & artwork for ‘Reveries about Language’ & ‘Walk Along Camden Lock’, and design for ‘Motor Sensory Cortex’, ‘Death of Hair’ & ‘Family’ by Emily Lazerwitz. Layout, and doodles pages 48-49, by Fran Allfrey. Set in Palatino, Canter, and ConcursoItalian BTN, with other fonts drawn by Emily Lazerwitz.
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ISSN 2397-0731 (Print) ISSN 2397-074X (Online)
See lines 64-68 of 'Burnt Norton' from T.S Eliot's Four Quartets
See lines 64-68 of 'Burnt Norton' from T.S Eliot's Four Quartets
The Still Point is a new literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers from institutions across London: featuring poetry, prose and v...
Published on Nov 3, 2015
The Still Point is a new literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers from institutions across London: featuring poetry, prose and v...