DIASPORIC INTIMATIONS (A FRIENDLY CONVERSATION)

In the late twentieth century, millions of people find themselves displaced from their birthplace, living in voluntary or involuntary exile. Their intimate experiences occur against a foreign background. They are aware of the foreign stage set whether they like it or not…Inability to return home is both a personal tragedy and an enabling force. This doesn’t mean that there is no nostalgia for the homeland, only that this kind of nostalgia precludes restoration of the past…I will speak about something that might seem paradoxical – a “disapsoric intimacy” that is not opposed to uprootedness and defamiliarization but is constituted by it. Diasporic intimacy can be approached only through indirection and intimation, through stories and secrets. It is spoken in a foreign language that reveals the inadequacies of translation. Diasporic intimacy does not promise an unmediated emotional fusion, but only a precarious affection – no less deep, yet aware of its transience. In contrast to the utopian images of intimacy as transparency, authenticity and ultimate belonging, diasporic intimacy is dystopic by definition; it is rooted in the suspicion of a single home, in shared longing without belonging. It thrives on the hope of the possibilities of human understanding and survival, of unpredictable chance encounters, but this hope is not utopian. Diasporic intimacy is haunted by the images of home and homeland, yet it also discloses some of the furtive pleasures of exile.

– Svetlana Boyn, The Future of Nostalgia

“Any kind of intimacy requires a strong framework of memory, right? No matter how transient or precarious that relationship remains. So what happens to those relationships when you’re attempting to forget, as you claim you are?”

“Well frameworks of memory and intimacy are nothing but tentative abroad, that’s for sure. And I’ve lost plenty. You left your camera in that cab in Seoul and didn’t even try to get it back, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as what can be lost. Sometimes these kinds of mnemonic frameworks, when you’re on a plane, they parachute casually down between the tectonic plates, you watch them go. Some are never anything but unnamable and can never be translated where you wind up. The rest are beaten into submission on that mediocrely-tuned brass snare of mine.”

“And who leaves whom?”

“Usually it seems that – sure, I’ve done a lot of exiting and losing – but more often those framework objects, they just up and leave the foreign one day, you know? It’s an annual theme, ‘so long, so long.’ And there’s rarely not a national border at play. They’re called by fear of regret, preordained familial guilt, moments when there’s little left to wait for. Another one just left this past Thursday, actually.”

DP, BS, JW, JT, SM, AG, AP, AR, CF, SG, GW, CL, ER

“Well can these frameworks be grounded in something other than flesh and bone? In text, for instance? Text is easy, no matter the lack of comprehension, blatant ignoring or, on the other hand, undeserved attention. But whether it’s a fixed number of characters, initials flashing round your skull, or author names standing in for those who’ve left or not yet arrived – like that time you bought The Pleasure of the Text on a snowy Sunday in Pittsburgh in hope it’d offer some congeniality – can any of that be sufficient? Or is a written framework just too thin or digressive to begin with?”

“That’s been said plenty – the failure repeated, the poorest of imitations; the endless writing, endless reading, endless writing about reading; you read this, you post this quote, you take it all very seriously; there’s too much text, we need no more, etc. Ultimately, you know, the only text worth producing is the kind you’ll forget. And your friends’ names become only email addresses, rarely to be written out in full again.”

“Let’s leave all that for a second. This diasporic intimacy, can that guard against nostalgia? I would think it depends on the mix of remembering and forgetting that the intimacy is constructed with.”

“Well it’s not even memory that constitutes the power of those diasporic frameworks. It’s the tactics of forgetting – these lethatechnics you hear about but which are hard to get a grip on. Those have proven the strongest stops on nostalgic paralysis, on the doomed pursuit of restoration, day in day out.”

“Really? I know you don’t like ice cream as much as your typical Krakowian, but aren’t there other local pleasures to pursue?”

“Sure. Just saying that, even forgetting is a pleasure – furtive, as Boym points out, but always resonant. It just depends on how much and how well you can wield it. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind, for example – that’s forgetting as utilitarian pleasure. But you have to keep it balanced and choose your objects carefully, after a lot of mnemonic processing. You have to be really, really careful, in the end. Cause it’s distasteful and inevitable to an extent, and for sure it often describes the ones who stayed behind, how they communicate or, more often, do not. But unless you stay on the move every two years or so max, you become one who stayed behind, and that same tactic can be used with you – for sure it already has! The cycle never ends. And the supposed equilibrium that results from leaving and left? For that to be any use, it must be tipped a little more towards forgetting than memory.”

“How’s that?”

“The remembering cannot subsume you. It’s got to be filtered, monitored. And forgetting becomes the gauge that lets you do this. Forgetting used through practice, method, technique. Not the other way around – memory does not gauge the forgetting. Because it envelopes memory, there’s more power in forgetting – power to shape memory, dismantle it, reject or sublimate it.”

“Isn’t out-of-sight-out-of-mind more a rather pathetic excuse than some kind of tactic? Even if you are just forgetting what was once remembered, rather than ‘forgetting’ what was never fully registered or observed.”

“It’s only an example that can be dropped and adopted again at will, reformulated, whatever. Let’s not think it’s a static solution or anything. And, again, it very much toes the line with guilt and-or laziness. And guilt plays such a big role in memory – constructing responsibilities, contriving duties…”

“That’s what I keep thinking. What about duty here, about putting time into the communication? What about valuing the textual output – all those emails about the relationship of god and capital gains on volatility, Nietzsche and post-1989 lingerie?”

“The ones that sparked so little reply, you mean? Well, that’s not the point. They were efforts put forth. There were desired ends – more exchange, dialogue, in-jokes – more mnemonic material, I guess. But the real ends were accepted eventually, not resented – they were forgotten. At least partially. But it’s almost like there has to be some kind of serious border in place to encourage those exchanges, some transcontinental span to overcome. The border gets to be too much, though, too difficult to send messages across. But you have to keep seeing the potential for such exchanges. And you just have to try not to be a jerk about it.”

“Exactly. But at the same time you can’t help but think – a tactic of forgetting? Why would I want to forget? Forget what? And that’s supposed to be good for me, even pleasurable? Isn’t it a pleasure so unexpected, you’re super suspicious of it from the get-go?”

“Yeah, well, the foreign and the forgetting go hand in hand. Always. But the forgetting we’re speaking of, it’s not based on shame or shirking responsibility or something. It’s based on the same privacy you want to expand through remembering. You have your ends in mind – you want to sleep better, spend more time on music, check out the city, be less hostile or resentful, whatever. And you want some degree of pleasure in evading your memories, in moving forward and accepting other mnemonic frameworks or material. So with a letatechnic or whatever you want to call it for reaching these ends, there is a refusal at work that is even more private, a letting go that is usually unregistered by anyone anywhere. If that’s the way you want to play it, that is. You don’t have to be all nebulous or secretive about it, but not being secretive about it is another story.”

“Maybe instead of ‘shared longing without belonging,’ like Boym identifies, there can be something like shared forgetting with privacy? Cause memory is rarely wholly private, right? Recollection is supported by all of these frameworks, especially when there is some dynamic of intimacy involved, however diasporic it might be. We’ve established that. But forgetting can be an intensely private affair. And in a way, the privacy of forgetting can lead to another form of belonging – you forget one set of frameworks in order to adopt or be open to adopting another, like you point out.”

“Forgetting can be so private, I would think, that it could even become the object of intimacy itself. At some point abroad, you become as intimate with your forgetting as with your memory. And that becomes less a ‘furtive pleasure of exile’ than a joyful potentiality.”

“Exactly. Could these strains of forgetting even become objects of nostalgia, of restorative nostalgia? As if you want to get back to that place of earlier forgetting?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Although let’s not go too far. What you’re talking about could be just a parallel of forgetting – the kind obsession and total presence that is supposed to signify authenticity, but that’s not an automatic association. Considering an ‘authentic’ forgetting is hardly easy. But something that enables forgetting as a surprisingly useful by-product, something fun, more often than not, yes. Cause of course it’s easy to be nostalgic for pleasure, but you have to take it one step further to see the forgetting that was involved in that experience. What were you forgetting that day we sat drinking radlers, watching those mini-ramp skaters at Fabryka? Or when we saw Cleveland beat the Red Sox at Fenway? Cause obviously you can be nostalgic for that, but you can’t really be nostalgic for what you were not thinking about at the time, cause why would you want to be? You couldn’t even recall those mnemonic objects, what was forgotten, or any of those dynamics now if you tried – that’s the point. See, we’re really talking about a practice of forgetting – a lethatechnic that is specific enough to learn and repeat, the way to forget that you want to remember! So that more moments actually worth remembering can happen. That’s what you want to recall and be nostalgic for in some very personal though pragmatic way. Cause when you reach the specifics of your nostalgia – the context, who you were with, the weather, even – obviously that can’t be recreated. But the practice can – the mnemonic practice or the lethatechnic, you have to make that choice. And if you choose to concentrate on the forgetting, there actually is some degree of restoration involved. But it’s not a place that is being restored – it’s a method for challenging the need to belong to any place, for understanding that experience is not just a future bombardment of memory. So it’s not a memory palace you want to inhabit – it’s more like a mobile home in Nebraska and you don’t care if it’s in a tornado path or what, you’re just going to leave it behind for a while.”

“So you’d take the tornado-threatened trailer over a decked-out memory palace? Seems to me you would agree with this suspicion of a single home, then, like Boym mentions?”

“For sure. When you first feel that suspicion it seems unnatural, disrespectful even, to question that ground, allegiance, that need of comfort or whatever. But then you see it more and more in the shadowy discourse you share with other foreigners. There’s empathy, commiseration. Plenty of exasperation and complaining. There’s also excitement at the distance from where you grew up, etc. But one day that suspicion becomes the norm – you have done enough thinking on it, reading about it, even. You have come to see the fluid lines between emigration, expatriation, real and metaphysical exile. You think about alterity, destierro and destiempo, the connection of home and love. Cosmopolitanism utilizes strong threads of forgetting, and there’s the Slavic paradigm of exile, Janus, those essays by Miłosz and Wittlin. All the while the idea of a single home increasingly becomes an anomaly.”

“Or if you’re really feeling arrogant-slash-insecure, even something quaint.”

“Sure, sure. But once that suspicion of the single home becomes natural, it’s even sometimes like you have no interest in talking to others who speak your language. Even if they speak with a Rust Belt accent, maybe especially then! Cause, you know, you’re out, you hear them on the street, their vocal fry singeing the Old Town, ‘oh my god you guys,’ you know. You see their shoes and shorts and sizes and haircuts and Purell bottles. You can spot ‘em and hear ‘em from a mile away. Doesn’t matter if they’re tourists or how long they’ve been here, who wants to talk about travel or living abroad anymore? You become tired of relaying your stories yet again, that spiel of where you’ve been and how you wound up here.”

“Especially when they have that glint in their eye, which can seem way more tragic than an enabling force, yeah? Cause they have no idea how they’ll cope with that fading, after they’re all jaded and fed up, tired of the foreign altogether or of this particular foreign. After they’re tired of being asked for drobne by those horrid Kefirek cashiers, tired of all the broken vods bottles all over the place, people running into you on the sidewalks, that pedestrian ‘Slavic swerve.’ So how are they going to eventually cope with their mnemonic frameworks running weak? They’ll encounter a novice need to forget – forget any notion of home, forget everything irritating here, who’s in Malaysia and who’s in Chile and all those in New York. They have no idea they’ll have to deal with that when the glint in their eye’s still strong. But that becomes the only thing worth talking about at some point, you know? That’s the real enabling force. The diasporic intimacy Boym is positing, the real core of that? It’s forgetting. What can you share in forgetting.”

“Thus the lethatechnics.”

“So ok, what is it today?”

“What is what, today?”

“What are you trying to forget today? What do you want to use those for?”

“Oh, well, today it’s…the idea that you have to ‘catch up’ on yard work. The emptiness of hearing country music on a rainy day. Drinking beer in plastic cups. The horror of opłatki and Wigilia in general. Steel wool. Watching golf on tv. Those beat departure lounges at CAK. Being envious of an eighteen year-old kid’s university prospects. The Dostoevsky I haven’t read. That email from J about how I didn’t seem to like his girlfriend. That whole situation with, ‘why don’t I put this cigarette out on your eye,’ what a mess that was. That J might never read the Kapuściński book I gave him – he didn’t even put it on his Goodreads! How T smacks his lips while eating.  Some $2,000 chair J lets his dogs sleep on. How M shot a deer through the heart somewhere outside Philly and then ate the heart with his new wife and a little balsamic and ended up biting down on the slug, that was a wild email to get. That I missed my cousin’s wedding.”

“Wait wait wait, he ate the heart of a deer he shot? Raw or something?”

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7 thoughts on “DIASPORIC INTIMATIONS (A FRIENDLY CONVERSATION)

  1. Jeff says:

    Reblogged this on Recent Items and commented:
    I enjoyed this post about memory so much, as well as the discussion the followed on from it, that I thought I’d reblog it. It’s a long and fruitful reading for anyone interested in the political implications of technology recording more and more about our lives. This issue, one that we’re only starting to grapple with, is clearly one that will grow in relevance to anyone using online creative tools. Zoltán’s (dense and highly literary) examinations into an ‘art of forgetting’ will surely and correspondingly grow in importance if this human experience gets short-circuited by technologies (not to mention the customs and laws that might adapt to them).
    Be warned that the comments start at the third comment and then return to the first one from the bottom. Don’t ask me why: I just work here!

  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for the tip about “Infinite Conversation,” I’ll check some of it out. Haven’t read any Blanchot at all in fact, but have been wanting to after coming across scattered references online and in Lars Iyer’s novels. The form itself makes it worth investigating.

    I love Boym’s book and her investigation of reflective nostalgia and the commercialization thereof. It was even more meaningful reading it in Krakow, with all of its particular historical layers. An interest in nostalgia and the function of forgetting therein can get so complicated – I appreciate your reference to an almost engineering approach – that it will be awhile until I can really flesh out in writing the particular dynamics that cross my mind on all these topics.

    For instance, I’ve been thinking about your original point more, on the forgetting of old mnemonic frameworks that enables new ones to come forth, how this reflects the logic of late capital. This is such a momentous direction spurring off the dialectic of memory/forgetting – how to begin considering the mnemonic factors balanced or cancelled out in such an angle, and is it possible/desirable to frame the forgetting inherent in capitalism as ever ethical or “good”? And with the potential for naturalizing such balancing acts, new frameworks, and large-scale infrastructures – what are there overt parallels between brain circuitry in regards to memory, the “second brain” you mention in regards to technology, and the market? Sounds like I might need to read some Deleuze!

    Researching memory technologies for people with dementia sounds intense and like it could be extremely rewarding. I see the link to your “Quick-Start Guide to Memory Recording…” and I’ll have to check that out. I’ve only come across life-blogging a couple of times – almost seems too immediately overwhelming to get a grasp of it as a phenomenon.

    Was the nostalgia from gamers/developers you encountered for your novel more aesthetic/graphic-based or more in regards to the games’ concepts/narratives? The graphics from those NES games I mentioned still resonate heavily with me in terms of a kind of delimited aesthetic horizon of excitement, possibility, and comfort.

    And your next book, are there strains of memory/forgetting involved?

    As for Miłosz and Wittlin, I would recommend both authors, but more highly the former. For interactions of exile and memory, Miłosz’s essay collections “To Begin Where I Am” (which includes “Notes on Exile” amongst many other heavy gems) and “Visions from San Francisco Bay” (great sections on nature, European views of America, and 1960s/Berkeley counter-culture and Marxism) are both fantastic.

    • Jeff says:

      Ah, Lars. I was a proof-reader on his second book on Blanchot. I absorbed a lot of the socio-political outlook of European philosophy and literature from Lars (he was one of my tutors when I was an undergrad). Doing an MA at Durham drove me away from his mystic tendencies and towards more accessible prose. As much as I still appreciate European thought, I do find its stylistic opacity akin to the study of dead languages that the elites indulged in at the end of the 19th century. You just have to be happy with that narrowness. Lars’s novels are great fun though.

      Some memory technologies are very useful for people with dementia and brain injuries. What’s of concern is their increasing ubiquity in everyday usage. Evgeny Morozov has written on the way that the life-recording aspects to technology start as an option, a benefit, but eventually become a necessity, a situation of no choice. Your unwillingness to join in and give information out about yourself becomes something to be suspicious about. What have you got to ‘hide’? For example: if you haven’t got a mobile phone these days, you’re a prime suspect for terrorism. Memory recording effectively raises the surveillance society that the Stasi had to impose through violence. Deeply ironic, given the politics that drive globalised digital infrastructure.

      What you ask about my books has prompted me to write a better About page on my blog. For my next book, memory will only play a part in the sense that my own creative involvements over the years raise subjects to research and write about.

      I’ll look into Milosz when I’m in my old Uni’s library next week. I shall watch your blog closely. I’m considering reblogging your post here – do you mind if I do? Our dialogue has come out in reverse chronological order, which is disconcerting, but I suppose it can be read from the bottom.

      • “Your unwillingness to join in and give information out about yourself becomes something to be suspicious about. What have you got to ‘hide’?”

        Yes, the force behind Facebook’s apparent abhorrence of undocumented solitude/private pursuits and Google’s “if you have something you don’t want anyone to know yada yada yada…” I’m for whatever backlash there is against even being on FB. So many are aghast when I say I have never been on FB, which is amusing (perhaps doubly amusing since I have an FB share button on this blog – no escape!).

        As for life-blogging, that that could be a widely popular trend in the future is a little frightening but probably not that far off. Like you mention, all kinds of tendencies are strengthened through such a practice towards the confluence of institutional surveillance and the citizenry – people providing all the data necessary just through the sheer force of button-clicking addiction, obsessive photo taking as proof of experience (i.e., existence), gadget fondling, and ever-cheaper and more voluminous storage. If memory is ever fully equated with surveillance (I think what was portrayed on that episode of “Black Mirror” called “The Entire History of You” sheds some light on this equation), one is then no longer concerned about the NSA or CCTV or whatever, one is concerned and maybe even trying to evade memory itself. Cause at that point, there are such widespread implications of guilt (like with the surveillance society built by the Stasi, as you pointed out), memory comes to purely signify guilt, and the American “see something say something” social mantra becomes “see something and since it is no doubt recorded, someone will say something eventually, don’t worry.” Paranoia and even trauma eventually mutate into something entirely normalized…

        Yes, please feel free to reblog my post if you’d like, that’d be great! As for the comments it didn’t look like there was a reply available (unless I was overlooking something), that’s why I started another initial thread. Could be a WordPress oversight as to what form/length comments could take!

  3. Jeff says:

    ‘you forget one set of frameworks in order to adopt or be open to adopting another’

    Sometimes I wonder if this is the logic of late capital? Disembeddedness is one of the cornerstones of modernism. Is it really a choice anymore? I wrote about Boym in a passage in my novel, and it rather touches on this phenomenon:

    ‘Boym studies how different people imagine the countries they’ve emigrated from. […] The lost homeland that is increasingly experienced today is in the mobile homes we make of gadgets. Everybody is displaced by the pace of technology. It makes emigrés out of us all. No sooner do we put together what seems a homely place to be from what’s available to us than we face its irrelevance.’

    (of course, I was writing in respect of nostalgia, history and technology here).

    Your format is very Infinite Conversation btw.

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for reading and for your comment.

      I totally agree that’s at work in the type of forgetting I’m considering here. And that really ratchets up the dynamics at work as far as a potential ethics of forgetting!

      While the overlapping of real with metaphysical exile (Miłosz’s “Land of Ulro” deals with that very well) and metaphoric exile is certainly nothing new, I see the increasing monetization of space (and often of mnemonic space) involving a flipside of forgetting in which we travel more widely and interact with the market and with technology more desperately (e.g., your point about the investment of home in gadgets). Our awareness of this seems to get more vivid and nerve-wracking day by day to the point that the whole package begins to seem inevitable (like you said, is it even really a choice anymore?).

      The kind of forgetting I’m interested in takes these modes of displacement/exile to the point of seeming natural/inevitable only when both the displacement and the forgetting involved (as an art, practice) can be used fortuitously or ethically. But dealing with negative/paralyzing objects in mnemonic frameworks requires a lot of sifting through other frameworks/institutions/narratives for connections, and capitalism can in some ways be the largest and most domineering of these other connective frameworks to deal with (along with the media, probably). So large, in fact, that it can be difficult to find an angle in and out.

      But I am interested too in thinking about the degree to which the market can be forgotten. What practices/experiences would make this forgetting possible? In what ways are travel/moving and technology involved positively/successfully? Or, how dangerously close do such practices come to enabling the late capitalism’s acceptance as natural/unchangeable? Does forgetting have to equal acceptance/passivity when it intersects with the market? I would like to think that if forgetting can be wielded effectively, the consequences of certain market mechanisms and alienation etc. can somehow be mediated or dismantled. Of course, it all depends on the objects/frameworks that are being forgotten and with what reasons/aims in mind.

      To consider these mnemonic frameworks open to dismissal as well as new interactions, practices, rituals, celebrations, etc. in very personal ways that counter the effects of guilt, routine, resentment, and anomie; to outline a personal practice that can encourage one to overcome the tyranny of capital-infused/materially-guided memory – I wonder how possible this is. But it seems to me that part of an art of forgetting should involve overcoming the fatigue of deprecatory self-analysis and the sense of being bogged down by market mechanisms.

      Interesting that you used Boym in your novel. I see that your book is about gaming/developers/business in the 80s? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about specific Nintendo games I played as a kid – Excite Bike, Ducktales, Rygar, River City Ransom…those images and narratives keep flickering away as desires for seeing the world nowadays!

      How else does your book reflect this nostalgia that grates along personal lines and this logic of capital you identify? Would you consider a nostalgia for earlier modes of technology as difficult to evade as it is to motivate restoration? Do you think there was more forgetting (of social/political objects, personal narratives, the market, etc.) enabled by the technology/games of the 80s than by now, or has the hype always been overpowering?

      I haven’t read “Infinite Conversation,” but with these topics what more can there be – all that comes up in memory when trying to discuss/think about forgetting!

      • Jeff says:

        It’s a while since I read Infinite Conversation, but I recall being in rapture at it. The many dialogues go to and fro without stating who speaks. The interlocutors are anonymous voices that keep the conversation directed on the content, and the result is a work whose status is ambiguous as regards to literature and philosophy. This could be said of all texts, but the book reveals this quality in a way that’s normally hidden, denied, taken for granted, and so on. There’s plenty of it available to read online in Google books.

        I admire the optimism in your response to the problem you state about the dominance of capitalism:
        ‘I would like to think that if forgetting can be wielded effectively, the consequences of certain market mechanisms and alienation etc. can somehow be mediated or dismantled. Of course, it all depends on the objects/frameworks that are being forgotten and with what reasons/aims in mind.’

        It fits with Boym’s discussion of the reflective uses of nostalgia, which you seem to be interrogating in respect of its ‘how’, much like an engineer might.

        A good question as to whether the earlier technologies better enabled forgetting. Current technologies are increasingly spoken of in ‘second brain’ terms. This, of course, links in with global capital because of the large-scale infrastructure involved. The naturalisation you’re concerned about is exactly what happens in the process that technologists like to cloak with active sounding words like ‘uptake’ and ‘acceptance’, which could also be seen as highly passive, especially as more and more activities go online and remove the non-digital entry points. I’ve even been involved in this process with a min-research project into memory technologies for people with dementia (I might add the link to my site). For some people, there are clear benefits, but the consequences seem to have a runaway character to them. There’s a clip-on camera coming out later this year that allows for cloud-based life-blogging – the privacy issues, if it takes off, could be very thorny.

        My novel was written after that research project. I wrote it to get the experience of the games industry out of my head, so I suppose it was a work of forgetting. There are many chapters that deviate from standard dramatic scenes, as with the extract above. I ended up writing about nostalgia partly at my surprise at the highly nostalgic lives that the gamers I conversed with in social media seemed to live. I’m a similar age to them, and I find myself drawn back to past events through an interest in examining them afresh, so the repetitive and often rosy aspects to their view of the past rather disturbed and interested me.

        Do recommend something for me to read: those essays by Miłosz and Wittlin perhaps? Which ones are these?

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