27 Florence St.,
West Perth 6005
2 July 1998
So nice to open the letterbox and see your elegant handwriting on the front of a slim white envelope. I am accustomed to thinking of the mailman as a bearer of bad tidings, a messenger of economic doom.
Thank you for your thoughts on collaboration. But no mention of the weather in Brisbane! There are some conventions, Linda, that must be respected in our little epistolary fiction. Hence, I must report that the weather in Perth is cold and wet.
I have been pondering the genre of `the letter'. I wonder how our new found electracy confounds or at least adumbrates the encoded desire of reply that attaches itself to the mailman's missive. What happened to waiting? I am thinking of all those postcards I accessioned long ago in the W.A Museum, World War 1 forget-me-nots of longing and hope and fear, signed Elsie, or Mavis, or Doris, or Jessie. Remember the Thredbo disaster - all those people buried under the land slide? The vigil in front of the television? Port Authur. The spectacle of death and disaster can still make us wait, and watch. Perhaps this has something to do with accidents. We'll see.
You say `Someone, somewhere is holding their tongue'. Well it's certainly not me! Some silences have their rewards, though, as any child told a secret by their best friend can tell you. Here silence is a pact, and the sharing of the secret a gift, with the attendant reciprocities. I have been reading Cries Unheard, The Case of Mary Bell, by Geeta Sereny. Perhaps you have read it? Mary, ten, and Norma, twelve, were tried for the murder of two little boys in 1968. Mary was convicted, Norma was not. There is no doubt that the girls collaborated. But here reciprocity was not respected: someone had to be influencing someone else. There had to be force for there to be compliance. Sometimes justice is happier to dispense its sentences to the authorial `I'.
Mary and Norma (?) wrote a note, reproduced as a facsimile
in the back of the book -
murder Martin brown
fuck of you
Of course, I can always hide behind WE, can't I?
`I refuse to talk.'
These are two extremes of silence, two differentials of power. Two sides of the fence. Let us call one, torture - the other, politics. I am troubled at the mobilisation of these of these two extremes. I wonder at the expediency of introducing torture into this letter. I smell a rhetorical ploy. I apologise. But Linda, can we speak of war, of silence, of the ally and the enemy without recognising the gulf that separates these two instances of keeping ones mouth shut? More of this later.
The lie is a form of silence, isn't it? Holding one side of the tongue while the other prattles on. Intention is no guarantee of truth. It all depends on who you're talking to. Think of all those women on Freud's couch, babbling on about nothing in particular, clearing their throats, coughing lightly into linen handkerchiefs - 'Excuse me, Excuse me, I do go on,' while Herr Freud informed then of what they really meant. The non-dit. Keeping one's mouth shut is a form of being guilty, too. Never mind that he got it wrong! (poor Dora!)
When my mother thought my little brother was fibbing (a minor category of the lie, like white lies,) she would say - 'I can see a red light in your eye. There's that little red light again.' My brother would cry and say 'No Mummy, there's no red light', and rush off to the mirror in the bathroom. 'There's no red light,' he'd say. My mother would reply, 'Of course you can't see it, you turned it off didn't you, you naughty boy?'
(By terror I mean the efficiency gained by eliminating or threatening to eliminate, a player from the language game one shares with him -
Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition)
Sometimes you just can't win, can you?
I agree that we just don't have scandals in this country - not like the ones in the United States or Britain. Would we want to? I think not. Why are women's scandals always about getting our knickers in a knot? All those secrets whispered under the sheets. This is the function of gossip, surely, to break the weak seal - (Oh god, Linda, these hymenish metaphors are getting me down!)
I fear an inflation of the knickers here. Are we conflating the spy with the collaborator? The spy is deemed brave, the collaborator weak. Mata Hari, film noire - the flesh of women is notoriously weak. It must be contained. Realpolitik deems that relations between States ought to be cemented. The nuns understood this - the fickleness of females that is. 'Mortify yourself, Josephine,' they used to tell me in the Chapel when I broke out in hysterical giggles. I remember looking it up in the dictionary. 'To make oneself like death.' I was horrified. Well wouldn't you be? I think of the contemplative life, the vow of silence. I study the pale blue plaster folds and pleats of the Virgin's robes. (A statue seems a perfect model of silence, don't you think?) That Mary would have made a great courier in Wartime, an undercover agent - the perfect conduit.
Am I getting off the track? Sorry Linda, you know how I do go on. But I keep coming back to war.
You say that these girls, these collaborators revealed too much. Are we suggesting that transgression is an act that occurs without context? We can recuperate Christine and Monica and Paula, perhaps, perhaps, but is the act of revealing too much always a transgression of the dominant order? What if you collude with the dominant order? What if more is at stake than the length of your skirt, the cut of your dress, the shape of your individual desire? Specifically, literally, (and in the full realisation that it is another rhetorical ploy to police the gate between the literal and the metaphoric), is it an act of resistance to sell out the Resistance?
I know the photograph you cite. I think of stripes, the Star of David, but then realise this conflation is obscene. I risk placing the victim alongside the perpetrator. PPP, and I arrive at the Washington Museum of the Holocaust, where I search for your photograph. I type 'women and collaboration', and I am immediately delivered a series of images. They come into focus slowly, and they are terrible. Mass graves of naked women precede and follow the gaunt faces of collaborators. I am uneasy. I want a frame for these images. I want their story. I want to know the journey that they have made to arrive on my screen. I read that one photo lay for years in the bottom drawer of an old man's wardrobe, fingered in the dead of night, scratching scratching at the body while it slept. Taken to work to show to mates. (Some secrets cannot be sustained). Or I picture a dark archive in a Former State. Imagine the labour of people who care, ferreting away at bureaucratic boundaries. Lists, files, names of the dead. I want that labour to be acknowledged. I want the weight of a heavy book. I want the historical moment to be inscribed into that photo. (Nostalgia? Benjamin's aura, Barthes' Punctum?) I want a trace of what is lost. I want the impossible.
http://www.ushmm.org/access.htm - search `women and collaboration'
Has speed effaced the history of these photographs?
"For the dead and the living we must bear witness."
This is the Motto of the Museum. I go to Bookmark the results of my search, but realise I am in Microsoft OS 8, so I have no choice but to mark them as "Favorites". They are not favourites, it is disgusting to call them favorites, but I recognise in that terminology the pincer-like optimism of corporations, the whirling of the Entertainment megalopolis. I think of choice, of individual agency, of the function of citation in this environment in which an interesting link might make all the difference, summoning up the real to authenticate my position. I don't like it, but then there's no getting down without getting dirty, is there now girls?
Somewhere I was reading about Jewish literature on the Holocaust. The role of technology. It was an academic site, perhaps a link from Voice of the Shuttle? It's so hard to keep track of where you have been, isn't it? I was offered the opportunity of listening and viewing a scene from Speilberg's Schindler's List. CLICK HERE. The point of the link? To authenticate? To act as the Real? I declined the invitation.
Memory. Now there's a big one. I wonder if the Museum is the agent of forgetfulness? The Net? A double-agent?
Here's a quote from Lewis Mumford, writing in 1938. I realise I am straying from the epistolary from, so I have slipped him between quotations, as if it were something I heard from someone else, like gossip -
And then he said, 'The city must not be condemned to serve the specialised purposes of the museum. If the city is to escape being a confused rubbish heap, the function of preservation and storage must be taken over by the museum. The very meaning of the museum of art and social history is that it is able to detach the memorials of life from the culture that originally supported them. By confining the function of preservation to the museum, we thus release space in the rest of the city for the fresh uses of the living....What cannot be kept in existence in material form, we may now measure, photograph, in still and moving pictures, record in sound, and summarise in books and paper...'
(Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities, London, Martin Secker and Warburg, 1938, p.436)
I was left pondering the year this was written, the events already unfolding, the figure of the `nomad' that Mumford celebrates, travelling light, unencumbered by their belongings, and wondered just exactly what a `radical maladaption' might be.
You ask, how does she, the figure in the photograph, differ from Paula or Monica?
How. How. I cannot approach this question. Or at least, I cannot do it justice in this letter. I want to say, power, power, it is about power, about hate, about something that has been called absolute by some, relative by others. I fear the analogy will not hold. I wonder if they should all be cited in the same sentence. But then Metaphor means, after all, transportation. Trains. I think of Jorge Semprun's The Long Voyage, about impossible destinations. I worry about milking metaphor for a living; beware the inflatable trope and all that. (Judge not, my friend whispers, pointing to the gaunt face). Yes, yes, I know that was war, and some think it is still is; I know that it was a matter of survival, might still be, but, but -
Is my transgression to be applauded, celebrated, when it leads straight to the death of others?
Ah, these women, these collaborators, I want to cauterise their historical range, bring us back to writing. But those links are insistent little buggers. I submerge myself in the liquid screen, and like so many crayfish buried in a watery cavern they go click click click. It's so clever, being connected. I am transported again. I imagine being bound, tortured, and then of course I must say that I cannot imagine it. It is unimaginable outside of a fantasy of holding out for the brothers and the sisters. The fantasy of being the one who would hold her tongue.
But would I? But this is not collaboration. It is silence. Again I am off the topic.
Would we do anything, (well would we?) to hold on to life? Is death worse than life? (Lyotard) In the aptly titled thriller,Transgressions, by Sarah Dunant, the central character comes to believe that her space, her home, is being transgressed in her absence by a stranger. She tells the police, but she cannot make herself believed. One night she wakes up and finds a man in her room, intent upon raping her. She negotiates her way around this rape, but there is no avoiding it. Or is there? She makes the man make love to her. In this way she lives. She survives. She uses her wily ways to make him see her face. Take me, she might say, ravish me. As long as it is not rape. He kisses her tenderly, she kisses him. Oh its a page turner, that is true, but after all those pages, and the resolution of the narrative, after turning the very last page, you cannot help wondering if this is another story that could never be truly resolved. Closure has its price.
You know that game you played, about dropping the letter - yes I did play it. Was it a skipping game? Derrida would like it. Do you think they play it in France?
I like your idea of accidents. Can they become techniques? Automatic writing? Machine writing? Technologies for generating text? Random encounters. I have to think about this more. Next letter?
My friend Deborah had an accident recently. She is the Course Controller for Creative Writing, in which I am a casual tutor - casual by status, not by temperament, let me assure you. A student of mine in the Course drove into the back of her car. Both of them were unhurt, but the boy in question might not write again.
That's my accident story. I have more, but maybe another time. I have to transplant the vegetables from the panniers or else they will die. You see, letters are supposed to deal in the private and the mundane. I hope I have not disappointed!
I'm watching the mailbox!