Sunday, October 31, 2010

I Do Mind Dying*

old Amtrak Station; old playground...

Now nearly "done" with this book I've been writing, Hospitalogy, which is to say, given that I am, for now, "done" with western doctors (till I collapse or change my mind), I've begun, perhaps accidentally, perhaps fallen into, a manuscript that employs rather messy formal "grafts" to write thru various pasts and futures of my hometown, Detroit. The primary graft is Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, which I saw for the first time in Detroit in 2007. This isn't an accidental pairing so much as it occurred to me in a really vivid way the last time I saw the picture (at Bard College, screened by fellow L&T faculty Marie Regan), that a) the political-social world of 70s Watts district (post-riots) has great affinity, as depicted, with current-Detroit, which is a 1970s Detroit, which again is the future American city. A city that exists as a future for, eg, Chicago. This became especially apparent when during class discussions of the film, students wanted to discuss the film as an ethnography (a common first impulse), and yet would say things that I found particularly telling, namely that "back then" things were pretty bleak. Now, I take the film to be both bleak and not, but I also take Watts of the 70s, and Burnett's focusing in on labor and economy here help facilitate this, to look much like parts of many cities in the U.S. (and of course elsewhere), especially those "post-industrial" towns of the midwest. That is, the film looks, to me anyway, very current. And b) Burnett's formalism--lyrical, highly structured in relation to its famously troubled music, the neo-Dada/European filmic conventions--lends itself to a jagged, kaleidoscopic textual form (oscillation, eg, between poetry & essay, one interrupting or negating the other, or their mixing or lying as parallel, like train tracks...), one that shapes the specific sites of past and present Detroit in a way that might (not to say I'll accomplish this mind you) intervene in such a deeply metaphorical, but also very real, disjointed, and segregated, topography. A topography pocked with holes, blindspots, lacks both real and allegorical of market magic. I wrote a novel years ago--it's shit, and so it's never gone anyplace--that tried to move between the experiential / familial, and Solnit's (among other very good) sociological-historical accounts of this post-67 "arcadia." 

NOW: I write this because partly what I'm interested in FROM YOU, DEAR READER, is CORRESPONDENCE--EMAIL OR BLOG POST--responding to the simple prompt: WHAT DOES THE TERM "DETROIT" CONJURE UP FOR YOU? WHAT DOES IT CALL TO MIND? Real experiences, imagined musings, whatever--please send. Backchannel or here. I'm leaving the prompt as open/simple as possible, and I'd like, if this goes according to plan, to see how such correspondence could be used (with permission), if at all. An experiment for now. THANKS!
*Highly recommended: I Do Mind Dying: Detroit, A Study in Urban Revolution -- 1970? 71?

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