Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Hiroshima-Nagasaki Feature—Issue 56, August 2015)

Thom Donovan
Go Crazy

to the united states of america on the other side of this page

—Hannah Weiner

It is difficult if not impossible to represent the traumas of a culture that one feels a sense of belonging to. And it seems doubly impossible to gain access to a trauma that is not one’s own—that belongs or is appropriate to another. Hiroshima/Nagasaki continues to defy representation and psychic access to me, as a white American raised in the suburbs of San Francisco, California and Boston, Massachusetts. And yet mis/representations of the event remain significant for me and make up part of my memory and cultural orientation/indoctrination/interpellation. They are sentimented; they constitute, like a fossil record, layers of emotion and affect. Arguably, insofar as my grandfather was stationed in the Pacific, on a US naval ship during World War II, H/N represents a ‘primal scene’ of my family’s history. If we believe what I was taught in grammar school—and in probably every History Channel program I have ever chanced upon watching at my parents’ house—that the dropping of the bomb saved the lives of countless American and ‘allied’ military personnel by bringing the war to a close, then my grandfather and my family by extension were the beneficiaries of that event. It is not enough to say that I have a sense of guilt about this. More so, I feel a sense of culpability and unease that I do not ‘know’ the event, which is to say, that I have not studied it enough, that my understanding of it is inadequate, and that much of what I ‘grasp’ is mediated by popular films such as Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. The crimes of the United States are so extensive, it would seem that there is no accounting for them—that they are beyond both economy and law. There may only remain the hope for reparations, and to the extent that the USA feels it is owed anything by the rest of the world (where, ironically, the USA is in fact the largest debtor in the world) there can only be a ‘forgiving’ of debts. Perhaps there remains the hope, too, that as John Cage once wrote, the USA may eventually just be one among many nations (if one can continue to rest their faith in the perdurance of nations). Likely, the only way ‘out’ (to quote Frank Wilderson III quoting Fanon quoting Césaire) is to bring about “the end of the world,” which is to say, abandon all hope for a civilization that has produced the economy and social laws that obtain despite centuries of oppression and domination. All of my attempts to address H/N have been naïve ones (including, I realize, this one here). As an undergraduate, I used footage of the bomb’s dropping over H/N in a video to make reference to a generalized culture of war and accelerated perception (a la Paul Virilio). Intercut with footage of a strobe light becoming progressively more intense, the video, like Tony Conrad’s Flicker before it, invoked the subliminal effects of mass, televised media. Later, also in college, I joined an OMD [Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark] cover band and the only song we learned other than “Electricity” was “Enola Gay.” When I do karaoke, “Enola Gay” remains my go-to song, the cheerful combination of 80s drum machines and synthesizers and New Romantic vocals belying the song’s tragic content. “It’s 8:15 / and that’s the time that it’s always been / I got your message on the radio / Condition’s normal and we’re coming home.” Is kitsch the privileged means by which USAmericans access cultural disaster? Heriberto Yepez’s remarks about Charles Olson’s kitschification of Mayan culture seem relevant here: the way that American modernity is a continual process of “neomemory,” remembering in such a way that all is forgotten, if not forgiven; the way, also, that time becomes spatialized by Empire. How could a different relationship to time have somehow prevented that event, where atomic fission also involves a reduction of time to space and “relativity” necessitates a reification of duration? The anthropologist Johannes Fabian, in contrast, wrote of the “coevalness” of anthropologist and anthropological ‘subject’—an undergoing of others’ time senses and of physical places that constitutes the transformation of ‘self’ and ‘other’ in encounter. Similarly, I suspect George Oppen may have had in mind the irreducibility of duration to space or cultural identity when in “Of Being Numerous” he wrote, “We are not coeval / With a locality / But we imagine others are.” Throughout his work, the Lebanese artist and writer Jalal Toufic dwells upon the line in Hiroshima, Mon Amour incanted by Lui [Him]: “You have seen nothing.” To see nothing, for Toufic, is to bear witness to a condition of withdrawal by which the event overwhelms our capacity to represent or make sense of it, and through which the culture is transformed paradigmatically “past” the disaster (Toufic speaks of H/N as one instance of what he calls “the withdrawal of tradition past a surpassing disaster”). Notwithstanding the difficult work of historicizing the event and working to preserve the testimony of the victims, to “see nothing” as a negative condition of witness and remembrance is one of the few ethical responses that remain in relation to the event. Yet, Toufic provides us with another way of encountering the event, which is through what he calls the “undeath” experienced by psychotics and schizophrenics. After Kurosawa’s Dreams, he invokes Van Gogh’s perception of crows in his painting “Wheatfield with Crows” as an eruption of a realm in which one “dies before dying.” In Van Gogh’s “overhearing” and “overpainting” of those birds via “green screen” technology—his clairvoyance of them via a cinematic technology that removes the actor from location—the painter seemingly becomes coeval with the event invoked throughout Kurosawa’s film. Temporal distance is abrogated or overcome by the timeless time of dying before death. Elsewhere, Toufic refers to this coevalness in terms of what he calls the “collaboration” with events. All collaboration is untimely; it is out of time, or of a time that cannot be reduced to space or history, whereof the rifts and fissures of historical accounts will not become sutured or foreclosed. In his poem “To Elsie,” William Carlos Williams wrote prophetically that, “The pure products of America / go crazy.” By this I believe he meant that one is forced to ‘go insane’ in the US as a result of its histories of violence and the continual violence by which it governs the world through the complementary ideologies of isolationism and exception (and the content of his fugal poem, which takes as its wandering scene the genocide of Native Americans, the objectification of poor Whites, and the ravishing of a feminized landscape, bears out this fact). Curiously, at the end of Williams’ poem, no witness remains—“No one / to witness / and adjust, no one to drive the car”—not even Melville’s Jobian Ishmael buoyed on Queequeg’s coffin exclaiming, “and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” Williams’ closing lines look forward to Robert Creeley’s predicament in his most famous poem, “I Know a Man,” where it also becomes unclear who’s driving this thing and one begins to suspect that the telos of American Modernism is the automatization of human motion and decision-making: i.e., auto-pilot. Does Gertrude Stein’s prioritization of motion (the car moving) over the origin of motion (the car engine) in her “Lectures in America” likewise anticipate a form of democracy whose apotheosis is governance through Drones? Williams and Creeley were both insane by others’ accounts, but were they crazy enough—where “nearly crazy” is still not crazy (Stein: “A white hunter is nearly crazy.”)? Notwithstanding revolutionary organizing, and the efforts of those who would insist upon reparations, perhaps the most effective way that USAmericans can address the many crimes of its government—a government that will soon cease to exist; that will only exist in name, subsumed by global financial interests—is by going crazy. Or, rather, by exceeding the limitations imposed upon pure products who remain nearly crazy, thus maintaining their immunity to social death (Wilderson) and undeath (Toufic). Insanity, in this sense, conditions a commons where self/other, living/dead, oppressor/victim, master/slave can become disalienated non-dialectically and where “diagnosis” and “treatment” become inextricable through enactment, undergoing, and non-reciprocal de/worlding. It is an exodus, one of the few exoduses left, from the logic of state violence and the state’s founding genocides, which, by extension, H/N would appear not merely an ‘act of war’ between nations but the logical extension of the maintenance of hegemony through supreme forms of violence. I am reminded here of Hannah Weiner, who in her 1984 “clairstyle” book, Spoke (a book arguably conditioned by her schizophrenia), copies an 1868 treaty between the US government and the Laramie Indian Tribe. Collaborating with the socially dead (a genocided Native American tribe) she recalls broken treaties conjuring an unfounded national sovereignty. In doing so, she also recalls an uncanny relationship between the socially dead and the crazy: that by becoming coeval they recall each other.