aesthetics, ali, anxiety, berlin, Birdman, Eric Hobsbawm, Film, Gothic, histories, juan goytisolo, masculinities, models, modern, norman mailer, performance, photo-essay, Photography, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, walter benjamin
It all starts with nervous jaunty awakenings to a morning overcast with expectations and possibilities and probabilities. out the door double key-turn descending four flights out large wooden door into hof and the first taste of the day like a kinda wave, a slow introduction and double wooden doors again, maybe the polite friendly ‘hallo’ ‘danke’ ‘bitte’ to a neighbour and finally the day embraces like the perforation of a boundary striking through neurotic inertias.
And so descend further into the brightly lit passages of the underground past the russian accordionist racking off a classic waltz and the sullen crusties right onto the platform dodging the pillars and motley crew of waifs dossing around, squinting to work-out how many frustrating minutes you gotta wait for the next u-bahn and then ur in and ur looking for the perfect seat hopefully not next to anyone strange and facing forwards ofcourse with a space for ur companion nearby wondering about people’s days at this strange hour….
A break at alex; brezeltime pure Bayern and off to kotti’s krass khaos for brunch mmm breads and spreads and cheese and eggs and pepper pukka with the strange but oh so necessary unsocial eating of the alienated cold/buildings spiring above for massification but well the wall fell so let the ahistorical grovelling identities fester
Spinning red and blue and purple refracted onto our proxies mirrored avatars Princes and Queens and Madonnas pure 80s glitz-er. Undulating socialities. /Ufer/ And ur off down the canalbank, bustling fleamarket a distant memory of a sunnier shining less humble time of glorious furnishings and tat upcycled for fantastical metropolitan visions. Thank god for the cold eh
And in this setting you head centrally finding the East festooned with regalia of the latest Event – this one’s the Berlinale film festival – and enter the whirring coils of glitzy soviet bonanzas unsettling your stomache in grandiose strokes they call the film hall ready to watch one of Oscar nominees which caught your cos of its ‘foreign’ director – Birdman, that is.
And woosh the swooning begins and images glide across our screen – crisp hi def pure – and its funny, hell its funny. You laugh, a lot. Its theatre actually; performing its clichés to perfect entertainment from metropolitan glamour to risqué innuendos, tragic heroes and broken cultures, postdigital fashions to simulated postmodernism. Its postcrash bliss, hitchcockian to the core, super realist off beat modernist angularity, moody Barthes meets tweeting teens – it’s the twentieth century laid bare, its film at its most complete – it smells like golden-era Hollywood oh before the crass banality… and you attempt to dissect but run out of symbols to impart; lay down your thoughts billowing…
Berlin: a cold city, wanders the spirits of Hobsbawm and Isherwood amidst the Berlin Forst; twentieth century lives haunting the ruins ready for a recomposed deployment, a re-embodiment of a time forgot a time deeply filled with stories of a future of frictionous fictions cycling through hitches of the Pyrenees where Benjamin meets his mirror; Goytisolo clashing imperial languages, Hobsbawm’s stuck in Weimar 31-33 (aren’t we all really) and Auden fucked off corporeally with Christopher and Brecht and more off to the New World; Goodbye to Berlin; the old country withers under the invocations of St. George and dragons galore. Fassbinder as Franz Bieberkopf and behold Berlin Alexanderplatz 13 hours of glorious crumbling ‘80s theatre performing refractions those streaming Weimar ‘20s; decadent densities. Cos it all ends with a European trauma and a mint tea on futurist Moorish rooftops –Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Angst Essen Seele Auf / Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) – Juan Goytisolo, Count Julian (1970):
‘Penetrating deeper and deeper: wandering farther and farther into the quiet, cottony atmosphere, by way of the twisting turning paths of the urban labyrinth: as in the hall of trick mirrors at a fairground, unable to find the exit, laughing their heads off every time you take the wrong turn: paying to become an object of universal derision: finally managing to make your way out, amid scornful taunts and jeering laughter, with a rather sheepish, embarrassed look on your face: you spy Tariq walking just ahead of you and quicken your pace in order to catch up with him: dressed in his tiger-striped djellaba, his cat’s eye gleaming: the ends of his handlebar mustache curling up to a fine point: the streets are deserted now, the light from the street lamps make both of you cast giant shadows, thereby suddenly causing your own reality to appear precarious and threatened: isn’t the echo of your footfalls perhaps too loud?: dwellings are piled one atop the other like architectural scale models made of pasteboard, and the night sky dotted with clouds like a theatrical fly painted by an amateur: fake, fake: characters in a novel not yet written, both of you are mere fictions: doubt is your only certainty, yet you follow him, and will continue to follow him without a word of protest’
Bodies coloured with rusting
And the masculine performativities break crunch amidst the terrors of futures, Soviet Asiatic despotism crushing Mitteleuropa and the agony and ecstasy of the ruins – Walter Benjamin’s Westend schloss Charlottenburg monuments of a ruinous cold past, somehow ephemeral:
A trip to Goethe’s house. I cannot recall seeing rooms in dream. There was a line of whitewashed corridors, like in a school. Two elderly English lady visitors and a curator are the dream extras. The curator asks us to register in a visitors’ book that lay open on a window ledge at the far end of the passage. Stepping up to it and leafing through the pages, I find my name already entered in a large, ungainly childish hand.
In a dream I saw myself in Goethe’s study. It bore no resemblance to the one in Weimar. Above all it was tiny and had only one window. Opposite the window stood the desk, narrow end to the wall. Seated at the desk, pen in hand, was the writer, well on in years. I was standing to one side when he stopped writing and presented me with a small vessel, an antique vase. I turned it over in my hands. It was dreadfully hot in the room. Goethe stood up and together we went next door, where a long table had been laid for my kin. I sat down beside Goethe at the right-hand end. When the meal was over he rose to his feet laboriously and with a gesture I begged leave to assist him. As I touched his elbow I was moved to tears.’
Footworks comparable to Mailer’s handiwork on famed 1975 Rumble in the Jungle, the spectacle’s our future, the despots our reality, Mobutu/Ali/Hitler authentic aestheticians and the angularity of Berlin’s Judisches Museum stands empty– emptied margins ruinous buildings that swallow figures – figures as fixtures quietly living the new days in the café away from rupturous events. Mailer expounds:
‘Now the separate conversations had come together into one and he talked with the same muscular love of rhetoric that a politician has when he is giving his campaign speech and knows it is a good one. So Ali was at last in full oration. “If I win,” said Ali, “I’m going to be the Black Kissinger. It’s full glory, but its tiresome. Every time I visit a place, I got to go by the school, the old folks’ home. I’m not just a fighter, I’m a world figure to these people” – it was as if he had to keep saying it the way Foreman had to hit a heavy bag, as if the sinews of his will would steel by the force of this oral conditioning. The question was forever growing. Was he still a kid from Louisville talking, talking through the afternoon, and for all anyone knew through the night, talking through the ungovernable anxiety of a youth seized by history to enter the dynamos of history? Or was he in full process of becoming that most unique phenomenon, a twentieth century prophet, and so the anger and the fear of his voice was that he could not teach, could not convince, could not convince? Had any of the reporters made a face when he spoke of himself as the Black Kissinger? Now, as if to forestall derision, he clowned. “When you visit all these folks in these strange lands, you got to eat. That’s not so easy. In American they offer you a drink. A fighter can turn down a drink. Here, you got to eat. They’re hurt if you don’t eat. It’s an honour to be loved by so many people, but it’s hell, man.”’
Ruptures are the past.
And the ruptures need to be told and told again.
Histories lineages genealogies need to be written, with honesty, through the textualities of our present – biding time as reinventions occur underfoot amidst secular crises and postcolonial fundamentalisms. Unhinged masculinities as the lathi strikes saffron vermillion structurally unsound ahistorical torpor and difference is neologised and identified and categorised into compendiums of paper-thin ‘theory’ entangled in the invocations of community.
We never were critical. We never were modern. And yet here we are waiting for boxing’s last hurrah with the eternally famed Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown.
Maybe we’ll find the beginnings of some answers writhing in our fantasies; whilst we keep up with the Kardashians; whiling away the hours.
 Juan Goytisolo, Count Julian (Serpent’s Tail, 1974) trans. Helen Lane, p. 73
 Walter Benjamin, “One-way Street” (1928), One-way Street and other Writings (Penguin, 2009) trans. J. A. Underwood, p. 48-49
 Norman Mailer, The Fight (Penguin, 1991) p. 78-79
[Images produced by Kashif and Anuka]