PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSHUA SY
SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE:
Guest Blog Series on Craft (3)
JASON MAGABO PEREZ
I'm getting quite comfortable with numbered sections, which is to say, I've found an opening in form, a set of permissions perhaps, to let me do what I need to do without apology. Numbered sections, I think, signal that the text as a w/hole might be building toward something. Upward, sideways, into a future, into an end, a death. I'm not so sure. Numbered sections, I think, explicitly announce fragility, a mechanism for control, discipline, fragmentation, units of thinking, contingencies.
"The text," writes Barthes, "needs its own shadow: this shadow is a bit of ideology, a bit of representation, a bit of subject: ghosts, pockets, traces, necessary clouds: subversion must produce its own chiaroscuro."
I'd like to revisit the notion of discipline. I can't help but wonder if I'm reading Foucault correctly. Discipline, as I mentioned in the previous post months ago, is a technology of power. Discipline = regulation, regulatory power. In the recent film Straight Outta Compton (2015), we get to see both the threat & enactment of disciplinary power, of police power. When NWA decides to defy the Detroit Police Chief's warning & goes on to perform the hell out of "Fuck tha Police," we see discipline operate beyond its initial threat. NWA could've chumped out & not performed "Fuck tha Police," but they resisted the Detroit PD's tactics of control & performed the fuck out of "Fuck tha Police." NWA begins the song. Then: Gunshot sounds, which were, according to some reports, firecrackers set off by the police themselves. The crowd scatters. In the film, NWA is arrested in front of a crowd in some sort of loading dock. In other accounts, NWA is eventually met by the police at their hotel room. Whether we read this as radical or not is beside the point. Regardless, NWA pushes the limits of discipline here. But that push itself has its own limitations, which are set by discipline.
I'm in eighth grade & today we've been invited to wear our histories. Proudly. My mestizo homie says he's wearing cut-off jeans & slippers "like they do in the province." No offense, but this fool passes so he just looks like one of them privileged white kids who choose to run away, be anti-establishment & not comb their ratty hair. Others claim that their history is right here, right now. So, they wear baggy sweatpants with their poorly conceptualized tag names scribbled down one pant leg. I wear a T-shirt with a monkey-eating eagle on it. I bought it at the Filipino supermarket. I drape a folded Philippine flag over my shoulder. Toward the end of lunchtime, I lend my other homie, Gabriel, who is half Black & Filipino, my flag. Gabriel folds the flag as much as he can & hangs it from his back pocket. The principal, who is a Black woman, snatches the flag from Black & Filipino Gabriel. I cry. I try to retrieve my flag. The principal tells me that I let Gabriel display my history in such a disrespectful manner. Who & what is disciplining who & what here? Principal & student? Blackness & Filipino-ness? Patriotism & gangster swagger? Whiteness/colonialism & non-normative expression? It's not like I am staking my flag into someone else's soil & skull, or forcing people to make my language their own.
During one semester of ninth grade, I learn how to type on an electric typewriter—perhaps one of the most exhilarating moments of my academic career! No longer would I attempt to type with solely my two index fingers my 12-page discourse on indigenous Black people in the Philippines → sixth grade. Nor would I need to beg my mother to type out my scientific inquiries into stingrays or the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease called 'asthma' → fifth grade. I can finally type without taking my eyes off the paper. I feel I will go far in life. O, the music! One afternoon, Mr. Matt, the teacher, calls me back into class. He leads me to my workstation & says, "What's this?" Someone has punched the typewriter in the mouth & its little white keys are all over the floor. "Did you do this? Did you? Tell me. This is unacceptable." What kind of monster does Mr. Matt think I am? "No," I say. "Well," he says, "you were the last one on this machine. So, I'm sending you to detention. This is unacceptable. I expected better from you." This is the first & only time I am ever sent to detention.
These are not stories of oppression. I’m trying to distinguish between discipline & oppression, between crying about it & dying because of it.
I’ve come to a semi-conclusion: My foray into discipline has to do with my anxiety of knowing how to use English, grasping it, standing outside of its capacity to call me names, to call my mama names, its capacity to call you & me its own, its capacity to kill & let die.
“This is the oppressor’s language,” writes Adrienne Rich, “yet I need it to talk to you.”
From text to body, discipline facilitates an impossibility of forms & practices. So, then, again, what, I ask, of interdisciplinarity?
As I stated in the previous post, even interdisciplinarity might be violent & violating. Commenting on the notion of interdisciplinarity, filmmaker, writer & composer Trinh T. Minh-ha writes: "it is rare to see [interdisciplinarity] stretched to the limits, so that the fences between disciplines are pulled down." Should we bend or pull or stretch or completely dismantle & eat the fences of discipline? If we dismantle the fences of discipline, what does this enable us to do? Do we re-configure & recycle & reify those fences? Do we live more or die less?
Barthes mentions the ‘new object’ that emerges from interdisciplinary thinking & critique. A new object does not necessarily signify a new subject, a new us, a new you & I.
In the most abstract metaphorical terms, I keep banging my head against the limits of discipline. I live in the Matrix. I’m fearful that we can’t live outside of the matrices of ongoing colonial domination. I say this as it carries with it all kinds of contradictions, i.e. my position as first-world writer with health benefits & a near-empty checking account. In concrete terms: I’m seeking permissions, explanations for writing & making what I write & make. What keeps me from doing so comfortably & confidently?
Form & content, yes, are inseparable. Form & epistemology, too, are dialectical. Conventions of genre & form dictate how we read & our parameters of attention/intention.
I’ve been working on two separate manuscripts, one of ‘poetry,’ & one of ‘performance.’ They, in fact, do & want to be similar things/objects. I’ve happened again upon the work of Wayne Koestenbaum & have been introduced to the work of Maggie Nelson. Their numbered sections somehow have given me an opening, something to mimic. I ask, though, how is my adoration for these writers & their literary forms a symptom of racialized self-inferiority, a symptom of how white my bibliographies have always been. I read my first numbered-section story over a decade ago: Jose Garcia Villa’s “Untitled Story.” Perhaps I need to spend time inside of that story, that genealogy of story/English.
During an MFA workshop, a wonderfully talented white fiction writer professor characterized my stories as ‘herky-jerky.’ My ideas kept jumping & there wasn’t a flow from scene to scene. Today, here, recently, I use the numbered section to show the seams of my thinking. One day, I imagine I’ll have the courage to write my ‘herky-jerky’ paragraphs, sentence to sentence, breath to breath, in all of their paratactical impracticality. Today is not that day.
I recently taught an exercise to a summer seminar I led on the cultural politics of hip hop. I asked students to (dis-)articulate (i.e. to think about the connections & disconnections) between hip hop & some other theoretical domain, like space, race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, etc. I would like to leave you with an invitation to dialogue, an opportunity to consider your own practices:
How would you fill the space between these two concepts/ideas/things?
I’ll go first:
FORM epistemology: epistemic violence, freedom, unfreedom CONTENT
Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), 32.
Trinh T. Minh-ha, Framer Framed: Film Scripts and Interviews (New York: Routledge, 1992), 165.
Jason Magabo Perez is a writer and performance artist. His writings have appeared in TAYO, Witness, and Mission at Tenth. Perez has been commissioned by Kularts and funded by an NEA Challenge America Grant, and he has performed at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Asian American Theater Festival, and the International Conference of the Philippines. Currently, he lives in San Diego. www.jasonmagaboperez.com