I had tasked us with thinking about grammar
I asked them:
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘grammar’?
Grammar is proper, is rules, is correction
Like when someone says,
“What did you say?”
And you already know,
the question is a means of correction
The insidious management of expression
is a reminder that, to some extent,
we make the world as we inhabit it
It is terrifying to think that I have something to do with this
And so sometimes still I must go back inside,
or maybe out—
I imagine myself in the desert, becoming inseparable from what is vast and arid
Lacking the perspiration of others
Antonio Gramsci asks,
“How many forms of grammar can there be?”
To which he responds,
This technology of social conformism, its daily impingements, is inescapable (necessary though??)
How does meaning accrue from within unruliness?
The becoming communicable (+ all that is withheld, because it is unknowable to us, beautiful)
“The number of 'immanent or spontaneous grammars' is incalculable…”
How she did it,
how she is doing that,
how we watched,
how we could—
“Rules prevent us from living. I go out in my pajamas, I’ve dispensed with fashion. I filmed all of my last film in pajamas. Today, I’m in my pajamas.” Chantal Akerman’s films transmit an intimate knowledge of beds. Horizontal gravitational forces. La Chambre: the camera pans slowly around a 1970s New York apartment. Chair with red upholstery, coffee cups and fruit, kettle on the stove, dresser, night table, the bed, her. Propped up, dull pink and olive blankets draping. Feet, knees, thighs, ass, stomach registered by folds of fabric as an indiscriminate mass. The camera circles the room. With each return, she remains. Cocks her head down, looks coyly into the camera. Rocks on her side. Caresses an apple. Bites into it. She stays in bed. (“nebulous figures which do not belong in the province of political economy”) What underpins the pleasure of this scene—a living erotics of social withdrawal—is also the pain of this dwelling, its durational pull. “I can breathe but stay in bed.” This is not politics. It is a form of a life.
“If you straight, you don’t need to be in the front. Period. If you don’t tip and you straight you don’t need to be in the front but don’t disrespect by moving out the way when somebody performing they show. Thank you.” I-Dallas directs the audience at one of the Shakedown parties, which I come to experience partially by way of Leilah Weinraub’s film, something like twenty years after the fact. Kris and I are watching from the kitchen table. Chicken cooking in juices and orange peels. Some will to knowledge must be destroyed, or at the very least released, for something else to emerge. The party generates its own internal means of regulation. “From the second you enter the room and pay to get in, I think that everyone in the club teaches you how to act in the club. There’s a certain set of rules for that space.” A choreography designed to out-do itself. Disintegration by way of sweat, proximity, motion, intoxication. Not in one night, but week-by-week, for years. “Egypt shows you how she wants you to interact with her.” The performers, through their performances, engender an ever becoming set of conditions for how to live (act, touch, feel, be+++) until it is no longer necessary to perform anything at all. “Being Egypt is a whole different element of life. It’s a whole different design on being a person.” Enveloped in the situation of her invention, activity (life?) commences yet again.
• The opening scene is drawn from a class I taught earlier this spring to a group of dance students at a university in Philadelphia. My proposition to the class was that grammar is not only a linguistic operation, but an analytic for thinking through relationships between performance practices and social life. They reluctantly entertained these ideas.
• The text that I reference by Antonio Gramsci is a short one, titled “How Many Forms of Grammar Can There Be?,” and was introduced to me by my friend Andrew Smyth. This text was included in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, written between 1929 and 1935.
• La Chambre is an eleven-minute film that Chantal Akerman made in 1972. I am really compelled by Akerman’s presence in her early films—in this one, as well as in Je tu il elle, her first feature length film from 1974. The first and third quote in this passage are Akerman’s words, as printed in “The Pajama Interview,” conducted by Nicole Brenez for the Lola Journal in 2012. The parenthetical quote embedded in this section comes from Karl Marx’s 1844 “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.” I came into contact with this text in a class with David Kazanjian in 2020. It is my favorite Marx passage I’ve read. Here is a little more of it: “Political economy therefore does not recognize the unoccupied worker, the working man in so far as he is outside this work relationship. The swindler, the cheat, the beggar, the unemployed, the starving, the destitute, and the criminal working man are figures which exist not for it, but only for other eyes—for the eyes of doctors, judges, grave-diggers, beadles, etc. Nebulous figures which do not belong within the province of political economy.”
• The final passage revolves around Shakedown, an experimental film by Leilah Weinraub that documents the party its title refers to. Shakedown was a weekly recurring, intentionally underground, Black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles in the early 2000s. The first quote comes directly from the film: in this scene, we hear I-Dallas and Ronnie-Ron make announcements to club attendees against the backdrop of a series of promotional fliers. The following two quotes come from an interview with Weinraub that was conducted by Mireille Miller-Young for UCTV in 2019. The final quote again comes from the film: in this scene, we see one of Aisha Ferguson’s performances at Shakedown as we hear her describing what it’s like to create the “fantasy of Egypt.”