Tisa Bryant's book, Unexplained Presence. This book, a collection of cultural criticisms and peeks of fiction woven together has changed the way I view films. Here's what the San Francisco Bay Guardian had to say about it:
Investigating the symbolic construction of identity and myth from the angle of art, Tisa Bryant's Unexplained Presence takes up "black presences in European literature, visual art, and film." Fusing criticism, film theory, and fiction with a keenly poetic ear, Bryant reenters cultural artifacts to open up these symbolically loaded but structurally silenced or backgrounded characters and motifs. Her stories trace the ways in which black subjectivity is distributed or denied within pictures and plots, between viewers and artworks and artists, and in acts of conversation and debate, of queer identification or refusal to see. What is most remarkable is how Bryant transforms these elisions into acts of imagination, restoring or reconfiguring partially glimpsed subjects via fleet and surprising sentences that traverse the distance between representation and meaning.
The language of "unexplained presence" entered my vocabulary - both conceptually and literally - about two years ago when Tisa first started talking about her book. Here's an excerpt to illustrate both from her piece, "In Melville's Jungle":
"The gait of the predator measured in matte fashion. Precise gray two-piece suite, brieff gloss on black leather lace-up shoes, his hand raching up in signature style to hone the edge of his brim. He's sharp, this samouri, a tiger in his solitude. Camouflaged by surfaces, masked by color palette. He lies on the bed in his shirt sleeves, ankles crossed, cupping a hot Gauloises. The walls, sheets, floor, the caged bird singing contentedly, all complement in cool earth tones before the indirect glare of white light obscuring the outer landscape, filling the window frame like a blank movie screen. The only motion we see is a snaky cloud of smoke rising from white shirtsleeves into white light toward a black-shadowed ceiling.
Young Jean-Pierre Grumbach watched White Shadows in the South Seas, listened to the first words ever heard in film: "Civilization. Civilization," and decided that he too would adventure in the human landscape and create worlds."
Add to this that Unexplained Presence was published by Leon Works Press: a press for experimental fiction and new narratives and that Leon Works is run by the brilliant Renee Gladman, author of Juice and The Activist and her new book: Newcomer Can't Swim. Evie Shockley writes:
Imagine yourself in a world in which you have to know who you are to know where you are—or is it the other way around? Welcome to Renee Gladman's Newcomer Can't Swim, a textural world that configures issues of personal agency and social relations in geographical terms. Gladman confronts us with a landscape that is constantly shifts and morphs, sometimes within the space of a sentence. Brilliantly astute witty challenging, Newcomer Can't Swim reenvisions the dangers of living, as Stevie Wonder would say, "just enough for the city."
Uh huh. I also heard that Robbie McCauley's coming to Austin on February 21st at the Off Center, to perform her piece, "Sugar" as part of the Throws Like a Girl Theatre Festival. "Sugar" examines McCauley’s struggle with diabetes as connected to slavery, war, work, romance and food. I want to see the artist who has so inspired Daniel Alexander Jones and Sharon Bridgforth. I can't wait.
Also in Austin will be Wole Soyinka's play "Death and the King's Horseman", showcased by Pro Arts Collective, February 13 - 24th at the Mary Moody Northern Theatre. And down on the Gulf Coast, the Lake Jackson Museum is hosting an exhibit on enslaved Africans in Latin America. I might have to go to the sea.
More to follow. For now, I'm off to do what I'm here to do.