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The American in Paris is an Iranian in New York (Still & Again)

There have been two major iterations of this.

Maybe I’ll do more. We’ll see.

The second one happened in Paris in June 2010. It’s part of EpicaNova. There, one can find a lot.

Below, a write up of the first event associated with it, which I dubbed a ‘bassadiga’ (the type of event, that is).

{From the first The American in Paris is an Iranian in New York}

A Short Chronicle of the First Bassadiga of New York

(Put together from fragments written and others offered by the audience)

Make it moving, strange, funny, provocative, unnerving, funky, unsettling. The type of event you’re glad you went to and, dare one say, ten years, twenty years, thirty years from now, you can say you were part of. An avant-gardish type of event, if we allow for a moment that even if the ‘avant-garde’ is, well, on hiatus, avant-gard-ish gatherings are not – or maybe, a new avant-garde is always on the horizon. The first ever Bassadiga: call it: ‘The American in Paris is an Iranian in New York’.

The occasion: it’s the Persian new year (celebrated on the first day of spring), so let’s make it a medley of various texts. The Persian new year at the Janos Gat gallery on Madison Avenue in New York (in our calendar year 2007). No big celebration. No grand party, but subdued, almost sad, nostalgic, letting seep a bit of despair. Again, a medley: passages from the entire oeuvre: all the passages, on this day, at this hour, would deal with the ways, the multilingual ways the author has confronted the Iran thematic, and the panoply of issues relating to this life: cultural rupture, linguistic extravagance, formal innovation: from the use of Persian in the writings to Iranian ‘characters’ within the works to an impressionistic history of the Iranian revolution.

Not quite a play, not quite theatre, not even a performance, a… well, bassadiga. Hold an image that looks like a version of a younger self in front of the face (a ‘pancarte’ of sorts), begin the reading and immediately place the notion of identity and narrative construction within the parameters of the reading performance. Funny too, is how to make it all begin: with a lightness that only reinforces much of the seriousness and the poeticness of the texts – a first passage that ends with what is no doubt a grand peeving provocation of all Iranians (from the current residents of the country to the exiled and expatriate communities all over the world to the American children of their parents) — from the Tractatuus Philosophika-Poeticuus…

“I: was the one newborn in the margins: dangling on tears their screams the fate of us, far away from doom, but here the most wicked gloom I’ve seen…

I am the one now in the darkened cities and alleys where the ravaged ones walk hollering to the heavens unforgiving: I am the one whose portrait of glass is painted on the sidewalks of bazaars and the atrium of unreal Halls:

I am the child of the wallclimbers and flagbearers and chanters and rhymers and postercarrieres and fistraisers and killers and the killed…

I… am the child of the revolution!”

Agnes Berecz, one of the organizers of the event, does the introducing. And we tell of the special circumstances that had provoked this first-ever bassadiga. What the hell is a ‘bassadiga’ anyway? Here is a quick description: “A bassadiga is a short interventionist interlude with minimal props and readings meant to present to participants (through delicate cajoling and seducing of said audience) inroads into artistic and/or literary innovations and alternatives. The bassadiga consists of a brief mini-lecture and performative readings (and is open to the expansion of its own boundaries).”

Because there are nor resources and there is no time. Because one must incite and enlighten and do it in playful manners and in provocative manners and in ways that bring lightness, joy, reflection. Because people want to gather and listen and feel. Because they want to grow and gather and get together and go on. Because there can be one all the time. Because it is always enough, it’s enough, of the tales told and the choking and the same. Because it’s always possible, since so minimal, and because it’s part of a tradition of street theatre and communal gatherings and doingwith what you have. Because it’s necessary. Because it, truly, is enough. Because when you want to scream and tell and go, and must, but also know there is no real consequence, no winning, no result, the condition, of us, us all, just too, well, too impossible to overcome. The cry of expression, because of the need, and the joy/despair but profoundly affecting act, yet without ultimate change, or anything else. The cry: enough already! To what? To particular situations, but really, to it all: it all it all it all, multiplied by infinity. Bassadiga. Because? Because.

That means: there can be many more, many more bassadigas: everywhere and always, many more…

Next up: a rollicky fragment from the “insidiously hilarious and very discomforting Drive-by Cannibalism in the Baroque Tradition”: read, with much passion and verve, a passage towards the end of the book where one particular character of Iranian heritage – a fellow by the name of Rey Irani – has basically won (‘stolen’ is the word) an American suburban revolution, consolidated power, and now is having his inner visions of grandeur, triumph and parades down suburban streets. Launched into the passionate and absurd visions of the grotesque character, and hand soon, after, to the audience, the same image that had appeared on the earlier pancarte, without the solid support, prompting nervous smiles and anxious moments from folks who surely were wondering what was in store:

“O O, O O, O O, O Great Emperor Rey, you time has come, do not be fooled by lonely loserish naysayers, put them in their place, where they belong, where they deserve to be, you are the new leader of this revolution, teal it, what the heck, revolutions are made to be stolen, like everything else. March on and don’t give a hoot about nothin’, it’ll all be yours, although you’re still wondering how it all kind of just fell in your lap! You’re due buddy, your peoples are due, look at it that way…”

As the reading continues, they audience finds out organically enough, as the reading crescendo clearly indicates that the audience now is to hold aloft the images as the shouts of the delusional Irani’s inner voice thunders in turn:

“Go Rey go.

Come now peoples let’s all chant: a one, a two, and:

Go – Rey!

Go – Rey!

Go – Rey!”

Go Rey! Go Rey! Quite the spectacle, with the full force of satire and an effective illustration of the absurdities reigning in the political spheres, the gallery’s audience all in mock parade-form raising fist-like and with gusto the picture of the youngish author as the chant repeatedly went up: Go Rey, Go Rey, Go Rey…

Quick segueway, without intermission, to a segment from the Tractatuus dealing with life after the bombs…

“After the bombs, tongues tied, tongues now mine, I smashed the idols and the idol-makers, I sang the hymn of vagabonds and saluted thesilence of wanderers: happily in ecstasy, while I dashed and chanced into the allerys on the dunes, after the bombs,

And with the night and with daws, with the flints of the moon and lamps all, tongues tamed, tongues in ruin, how to go on…”

and then…

Then comes what folks do call, happily, the “most stunning moment”: right after “tongues in ruin”, Amanda Beattie suddenly starts reading in French in a normal, hushed tone, while walking about and through the audience, holding in one hand the reading material and in another, in front of her face, the now famed pancarte with the sketch of the author plastered upon. No sooner has she begun that Mariela Perez-Batista begins doing the same, reading this time, again in a normal speaking voice, in English, weaving through the audience and walking up real close to the faces and the ears and the eyes of the gallery-goers and then away. Wait ten seconds and go: join them in this strange and unnerving dance, this readance, in Farsi. There we are, thirty seconds in: three readers, three voices, three languages circulating in the gallery, a cacophony and a musical at once, unsettling and strangely comforting: all texts from the multilingual L’opera minora. (The texts are not translations of each other but interweaving fragments from the book.) Proceed to go very close to the audience, to the faces, looking straight into their (our!) eyes, reading and moving on. The whole ritual lasts perhaps three minutes but three revealing, or perhaps revelatory, minutes. Suddenly, one’s relationship to language is made utterly transparent, a bevy of philosophical and perceptual problematics coming immediately to the fore that one may never even have known existed. The readers, in their approaches and departures, are at one moment intimate sharers of tales, at the next anonymous wanderers reciting from an unknown dictionary. Every parameter of the reading and listening experience is placed on fragile ground: from the distance of the reader’s mouth to one’s ears and eyes, to the tones and timbers of their voices, the nature of their gazes, the expressions on their faces, not to mention the fact that the various languages would have various meanings,  and not,  based on the listener’s experience and life situation. One even anticipates, desires, fears, each reader’s next move, becoming in turn an unexpectant yet passive actor on a very strange stage! Language transcended. The author of these texts showing all of the anxiousness and the fragmentation at the core of his experience and his work, all communicated emphatically, in an inescapable way. The author crucified in a sense, his mind in nakedness visible, unbearable and moving at once. An unsettling episode that nevertheless becomes a beautiful and transformative experience, in a humorous and yet moving tableau. The episode ends like so: I, alone, raise my voice (literally, metaphorically), in the very native tongue I use no more for literary expression:  reading alone, softly, in Persian,

Sedaye mara mishenavi?… To sedaye mara mishenavi?…

A few moments more of this fragment, this same fragment, and then

“Can you hear me,” its translation, “can you hear me….”

The rest: dedicate it to a discussion of the title of the event, a digression on why I wish no more to refer to my work, as, well, ‘work’, but as my ‘stuff’ (to give all the glory back to the poor overused sememe ‘stuff’ and a better image of what the process and products actually aspire to: the poetics, the aesthetics, the politics) and a last fragment from Sil & anses:

Ainsi s’élance la nouvelle ère, l’an Un… Le spectacle. Le nouveau spectacle. Tous se rendent voir le poète sur son tabouret, à table avec ses feuilles et sa plume et son encrier. La gloire, enfin! La victoire! Triomphe final – et éternel! Le poète composant, écrivant: spectacle de la place publique! Tous les matins, l’on s’y rendra, tous les matins, on y assistera! Enfin! La justice pour tous! Liberté inégalée! Le poète écrivant dans la place publique! Le poète plus que poète nouveau créateur de mondes, créateur d’univers… Le voilà maintenant qui prend sa plume! Le voilà qui plonge sa plume dans l’encrier! Le voilà qui approche la plume encrée de la feuille blanche! Le voilà qui… Ah non – non! Il reconsidère, secoue la tête, fronce ses sourcils… Repose la plume… Désespoir? Pas encore… La foule patiente… Tranquillement… Sereinement… On a le temps, après tout, on a le temps…Quel spectacle! Le plus chéri, le plus inoubliable de toute l’histoire de l’humanité, de toute l’histoire de tous les êtres vivants de tous les temps, mais aussi, de tout hors-temps, puisque le temps et l’histoire, eux aussi sont abolis avec l’avènement de ce grand événement! Ce chant! Ce silence! Du clown sans cirque! Du mystique sans dieu! Destructeur des odes, des prières, des sonnets, des rubaï, de la trace même, puisqu’il composerait et abandonnerait au vent, ses œuvres! Le répondeur suprême! Et sa réponse magistrale, à tous les poètes de tous les temps! Dépassement ultime et final! Dépassement de son œuvre, inclue! Jusqu’à son propre assassinat (et pas suicide)! Il le fallait, et à ce moment! D’où l’écroulement à venir, l’écroulement psycho-sexuello-mystico-littéraire de Dépassement Absolu en Matière de Littérature. Tout aboli: les discours, les événements, les rituels: toute prophétie, toute prière, toute poétique même, oui, et toute plénitude et tout fragment: puisqu’il ne demeurait que ce spectacle, ce rituel, ce discours – cette prière, si des prières il en faut: tel tout chant du muezzin et tout glas, ce cri de rassemblement au silence. Ce chant, ce silence: Et un autre Silence/l’An Un s’élance/l’An Un s’élance/O Sil et Anses!

Read a paragraph in French, long enough to make the audience aware of the rhythms and musicality, cutting short just in time before the non-French speaking part of the audience becomes annoyed. The English version lasts, incredibly enough, through the coming of spring, and yes, the actual Persian new year!  – An event that truly was not planned! Uncannily enough, the passage is about nothing other than a new year of a new era ushered in by a poet: a poet who is applauded and lauded in a public square (yeah, right!) a prophet of sorts, but a prophet who rejects all prophets and prophecies, all rituals and ceremonies and who announces that “from this day forth, Year One has begun. And tomorrow too will be the first day of Year One… The final overcoming. Overcoming of his own body of work even, and the assassination (and not suicide) of his self. It had to be: at this moment even. All abolished: discourses and events and rituals: all prophecies and prayers, and even poetics, all plenitude and all fragments: for there was left only this spectacle, this ritual, this prayer if one must have them: this canto, this silence…”

Spending the Persian new year on Madison Avenue in New York in the gallery of Mr. Gat (a Hungarian), in the presence of a small enthusiastic crowd where an Iranian and his two fellow performers read in French and English and Persian: the kind of subdued thrill that is difficult to share and explain. And back to the sadness: the peculiar  aura of absence and isolation suggested and permeated though the limited props (the one prop, in fact: the image of a young version, either plastered unto a cardboard or not) and the minimalist ‘Haft-Seen’ get-up: for those not in the know: seven things, usually the same classical elements, starting with the letter ‘sin’ (not the vice), make up the tabletop of a Persian new year. Here, there are just a few, minimalist and a poor man’s version, more significant in a way…

Make it: joyful too, so that a definite happiness is derived from what one senses is a sincere attempt at fashioning a world, at challenging perceived ideas and conceptual frameworks, at building a sense of possibilities and, dare one say it, genuine freedom, for individuals as well as collectivities. More than all that though, make it so that one comes out of the evening refreshed, inspired and ready to go on (much of the crowd did go to a lounge afterward, a mini ‘After-Bassa’), and carry on. The first bassadiga in the history of humanity has gone quite well thank you! All of what one could have hoped for, and more important than anything else perhaps: It was Fun!