Art Writing & Design












In a Manner of Speaking

- Read and performed alongside John Yau and Wayne Koestenbaum.














You are sometimes a first person and sometimes a third. That enemy of yours is faceless. It is genderless. It has no name, not even a slight shadow. It is a nonbeing. It is the space that separates you from yourself. You can’t touch it. It is made of nameless atomic particles. That enemy of yours is faceless. It is a nonbeing. But it is the ultimate presence. When you walk on the street, you go through it. You go through it with a lot of difficulties. It inhabits your chest: fights for its space among the toxic chemicals that have made it their home. But it is a nonbeing, so it doesn’t have to fight much. It says: I, too, am toxic.

You liked it. You liked its heavy presence. It was, as if, without it, you would not exist. You liked saying “I feel heavy,” or, even, “I don’t know why I’m angry.” It was charming, wearing this nonbeing as a rite of passage. Wearing your pain as a badge of honor: To say that you carry its heavy weight; to have the permission to narrate. To claim the share of this space. This nonbeing becomes the first person. The “I” in your stories: when you say, “I” am an Arab. This nonbeing follows your train of thought with anger. “I” know what it means to be Arab. “I” know that I am ashamed, for no apparent reason. “I” know what it feels like to be part of this self-destructive breed. But what of your language is Arab? What of your being is Arab? This nonbeing follows your train of thought with fear. It becomes the first person. “I” carry you into spaces too small for your being, and places too big for your nonbeing.

In the third person, the sea becomes her accolade. It is the space where her nonbeing can escape, only to re-enter shortly after.

She writes you, always on Sundays, always from a place too crowded with people. She says: “I have missed yet another deadline. I was too busy following the bloom of the Corpse Flower. It’s a plant native to western Indonesia. It blooms for a day or two once every ten years and smells like rotten meat. You must think I am crazy for virtually following a flower that blooms every ten years and has a corpse-like smell. I know. I won’t even be able to smell it. But isn’t it crazy that people line up by the hundreds at the New York Botanical Gardens to look at it, and, smell its repulsive aroma? It’s a wonder, really. Millions of such like flowers probably bloom in the Amazon rainforest, but this one, we can watch and track through a live-streaming website. It is too expensive for me to go to the Amazon, and, anyway, I am scared of the jungle.”

She is sometimes a first person and sometimes a third. The entity, which is not an entity, inhabits her nonbeing and takes over her body. It moves like it’s a planet on its own. Orbiting a solar system that is yet to be discovered.

That enemy of yours is faceless. It is genderless. It has no name, not even a slight shadow. It is a nonbeing. It is the space that separates you from yourself. It is an “I” that takes over your being and makes you retire, momentarily, a few times a day. “I” am trying to write a manifesto for The Museum of Failed History. It is not a real museum. It exists in the space of nonbeing that is the ultimate form of presence. “I” begin by attempting to define Failed History. Has history failed us or have we failed it? History is, after all, that which we create. The dictionary defines it as 1) the study of past events; 2) the whole series of past events connected with someone or something; 3) a continuous, typically chronological record of important events. “I” think the dictionary falls short. It is too big a word to be defined. It is a nonbeing that exudes all the states of being. Perhaps “I” better write a manifesto for The Museum of Failed Humanity. It seems to be fairly easy. It could start with “at least in heaven there’s food,” a title of a BBC report on attacks in Eastern Ghouta, which killed more than 300 civilians (mostly children) in Syria. “I” would ask: Who has the permission to narrate? Do “I”? The thumbnail picture that accompanies the article is that of a little girl, no more than six years of age, caught in a moment of utmost despair, in the millisecond prior to bursting into tears, blood smeared all over her face. “I” do not have the heart to tell her that there might not be a heaven. This nonbeing becomes the third person. She does not know what it means to be Arab. Everyone around her seems to know a thing or two, but she doesn’t. They tell her it is based on geography, but she doesn’t understand how an identity can be based on geography. She looks at a map of the world. She looks at the lines that section her world. She wonders why they need to exist. She asks the computer: “Is there a piece of land that is not a country?” The first article appears: “Unclaimed lands are still there for the taking.” The largest unclaimed territory on Earth is in Antarctica. The western portion of the continent is a 620,000-square-mile collection of rock formations and glaciers. It is so remote that no nation has ever claimed it. It is undesired. Unwanted. Country-less.

In the third person, the sea becomes her accolade. It is the space that does not require of her a visa, a piece of paper stuck on a booklet whose inscriptions dictate where she can and cannot go. It is the space where her nonbeing can escape, only to re-enter shortly after.

So what of the oceans? Who has claimed them? And the seas? Who do they belong to? Do they belong to the bodies that inhabit them, the coral reefs, species that might never be discovered? The decomposing flesh of children? Remnants of plastic water bottles? The empty bags of chips floating on its surface, destined to never disintegrate? A lost flip-flop?

That enemy of yours is faceless. It comes in the form of a feeling, suspended in mid-air somewhere between grief and ecstasy. It is a feeling you cannot touch. It is the joy of carrying your pain like a badge of honor. It is to say, “I have seen things. I have been in the presence of this and that, I have the permission to narrate, and I know what it feels like to be in despair.”

In the midst of the night, and in the third person, the sea becomes her accolade. There is a flickering light reflected off of the aluminum insides of a bag of chips, floating undetermined, over bodies and waste. Floating undetermined. But she doesn’t know that. What she knows is this: there is a flickering light that reflects the moonbeam, and it’s magic. It’s silence in its most intangible form. It’s the nonbeing that she can never touch or hold or even name. It is the space where the “I” does not exist, nor the “you,” (in a manner of speaking).


Marker
©saharkhraibani
New York, Beirut