Reading: John Baily — War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale

John Baily — War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale
John Baily — War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale

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LADA — All The Books I Looked At

I’m doing this as a memory. I went to LADA, spent the afternoon in their Study Room, trawled hundreds of books and pulled out a few, spent minutes or tens of looking and reading. Also a memory. I am reminded of my own history in biographies or documents of people and groups I think of only infrequently, which at one time were all I thought of. Or others I know about and have never read, or have circulated around me, or are entirely new. The books are arranged chronologically, in the order they were purchased in. Of all the possible arrangements, this is my favourite. It tells you something about the book that it doesn’t and can’t tell you itself.

These are the books I looked at and read a little of. In chronological order — mine going from first to last, and LADA’s going backwards in time from most recently acquired to about halfway through their collection. Some I like; others I don’t. I am still wondering what they tell me about me.

  • Pina Bausch — The Biography, Marion Meyer (trans: Penny Black)
  • my body, the buddhist, Deborah Hay
  • Precarious Lives — Waiting and Hope in Iran, Shahram Khosravi
  • A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, Coco Fusco
  • Integration Impossible? The Politics of Migration in the Artwork of Tanja Ostojić, Pamela Allara and Manuela Bojadzijev
  • Guerilla Aspies — A Neurotypical Society Infiltration Manual, Paul Wady
  • Leigh Bowery — The Life And Times Of An Icon, Sue Tilley
  • Black Artists In British Art, A History Since The 1950s, Eddie Chambers
  • Test Dept: Total State Machine, eds. Alexei Monroe and Peter Webb
  • Tania Bruguera: On the Political Imaginary, Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Gerardo Mosquera, Helaine Posner
  • Thee Psychick Bible : Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orrige and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
  • Jan Fabre: Stigmata. Actions & Performances 1976-2013, Germano Celant
  • Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader, eds. Patrick Keilty and Rebecca Dean
  • Femininity, Time and Feminist Art, Clare Johnson
  • The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium, Eleanor Heartney, Helaine Posner, Nancy Princenthal, Sue Scott
  • The Shit of God: Diamanda Galás, Diamanda Galás and Clive Barker
  • Jan Fabre: I Am A Mistake. seven works for the theatre, ed. Frank Hentschker
  • Female Masculinity, Jack Halberstam
  • Trans(per)forming Nina Arsenault: An Unreasonable Body of Work, ed. Judith Rudakoff
  • That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, ed. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
  • Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s, Lydia Yee and Philip Ursprung
  • Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain, Imogen Tyler
  • Are We There Yet? Study Room Guide on Live Art and Feminism, Live Art Development Agency
  • The Incorrigibles, Perspectives on Disability Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries, eds. Adrian Plant and Tanya Raabe-Webber
  • Queer Dramaturgies: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer, eds. Alyson Campbell and Stephen Farrier
LADA — All The Books I Looked At
LADA — All The Books I Looked At

Unbefristet

Yesterday, Tuesday, up hours before dawn without much sleep anyway, on my bike in freezing fog, through Kreuzberg, Hallesches Tor, up Wilhelmstraße by Brandenburger Tor, crossing the Spree, Luisenstraße, Invalidenstraße, skirting Berlin Hauptbahnhof, through the construction along Heidestraße, onto Friedrich-Kraus-Ufer and into the Ausländerbehörde.

Marie, my lawyer the last some years arrives shortly after I do. We sit in the E1 waiting room on wooden benches racked with anxious others waiting for their number to chime. Half an hour after my appointment time we’re still waiting. Marie goes in search, moving through the building in ways I alone never could. This is why I have a lawyer, or from her perspective, why she is assisting me.

It’s slightly over two years since I began the grind towards permanent residency in Germany, or an Aufenthaltstitel with unbefristet Niederlassungserlaubnis as it’s called. Two years of acquiring documents, more documents, back and forths, hitting walls and dead ends, being navigated through the system by late-night emails and phone calls from Marie, seeing the system tighten and close up the grey areas, the older ways of living in Berlin increasingly proscribed and delineated. Months of silence as my application was lost, the Behörde in chaos, Berlin city elections, new regulations, having to repeat collecting all those documents to fill in the gaps for those six months, the date of my current residency permit expiry drawing near then passing, more letters from Marie to them, more weeks and days and hours of collecting and changing and updating documents, filling in those gaps.

And finally a stack of paper about 2cm high fulfilling the requirements to be accepted as a permanent resident. There were lot of nights not sleeping these last weeks, and drinking the edge off this. Marie more than once telling me it was going to be ok; me preparing for the worst, pragmatic about outcomes for those who fall into those grey areas. Every time I’ve walked through the Ausländerbehörde, sat in those waiting rooms, I’ve seen that same anxious pragmatism on the faces of people, alone, in pairs, small groups, families. I’ve done it alone every time but this, and there’s no way the outcome would have been positive without Marie.

After all that preparation and waiting, the outcome is entirely dependant on the person sitting opposite. I’ve had a gruff old dragon lady of the ‘hard but fair’ school, a young woman of the Willkommenskultur type years before that word became common parlance in Germany. I’ve also had a young woman whose face could not conceal the disgust and physical discomfort at me, who explicitly turned that bigotry into an interpretation of the regulations to try and deny my residency renewal. This time, Marie said, “He’s new, he seems really positive.”

I barely see him. He’s young, friendly, we three sit in his office while I complete a German language test to prove I’m at least B2, all looking kind of bemused at each other, at the questions he’s reading to me and my answers. “Describe the room you’re sitting in.” “Well, there’s a big window, you can see the Spree out it, and Wedding on the other side, there’s some tables, a calendar on the wall … umm … some shelves, a computer, buncha chairs—” “Yeah, I think that’s enough, eh?”

More waiting. Marie runs off again. She’s carrying a pile of folders, I’m not the only one she’s cutting a path for here today. Then back into his office, collecting all those documents I’d handed over, collecting my passport. Marie hustles me down the hall, “Show me,” she says. “Nie wieder, Frances, nie wieder. You’ll never again have to come here.” And there beside that headshot I took on Monday, underneath my name, it says, “Gültig bis: unbefristet” and “Art des Titels: Niederlassungserlaubnis”.

It’s not a place for celebration. It’s a place for anxiety, fear, disillusionment, heartbreak. More than once I’ve gone through the process and been spat out with a Fiktionsbescheinigung, a temporary piece of paper because my application wasn’t complete to their satisfaction, a function of the idea or romance of living in Berlin as an artist and the increasing liminality of that within the bureaucratic system here. On the wall in the waiting room was a poster of a young, smiling woman wearing a hijab. Underneath it said, “Ich bin Berliner”. I’m not sure that was a comfort to the women in the room wearing hijab or coming from Middle Eastern countries—or born in Germany with the vagaries of citizenship here. Whatever celebration and relief I have, it’s tempered by knowing for others yesterday didn’t work out as they needed.

I rode along the Spree, into Wedding, stopping at Leopoldplatz for the small market, bought some excellent German bread, cheese, and some Hirschsalami, feeling weirdly like I belonged, stopping at Uferhallen to visit Dasniya for Tuesday morning Shibari. Which led to Tuesday afternoon eating of those supplies, along with glasses of gin. It was the morning after a wanker stole a truck and drove it into the Weihnachtsmarkt at Breitscheidplatz in West Berlin, killing 12 and injuring close to fifty.

Without Marie, my Tuesday and today would be very different. Without my friends here in Berlin and spread across Europe, likewise. Marie Ellersiek is the most excellent lawyer and I owe her so many bottles of wine. Dasniya Sommer and Katrin Sellerbeck supported and helped me in so many ways, and lamb curry will be cooked. There are many others, and thank you to you all.

Icke bin Berlina.

Reading: Seyla Benhabib — The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens

And that’s what you get to read when you commit to OK Cupid.

I’d never heard of Seyla Benhabib, who conveniently fits into my current reading direction: feminist theorists from the Middle East with or without an Islamic perspective writing on ethics, human rights, racism, all the hugely important stuff that is decidedly not easy to read. I noticed I’d been reading in this direction without much prompting in the last years, stuff like  Ruth Mandel’s Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany or Katherine Pratt Ewing’s Stolen Honor – Stigmatizing Muslim Men in Berlin, both notably excellent works, and that I felt more of an affinity to writing coming from this direction—a result of living in western Europe with all its inchoate fear of muslims and brown people and its unresolved 20th century—my upcoming reading list is packed with books like this.

This was one of the less expensive works by Benhabib, already ten years old, but all the more relevant as Europe staggers back into nationalism, racism, and colonialist meddling. I didn’t want to commit straight off to the multiple tens of euros stuff. Benhabib loves Hannah Arendt, which is all right by me. Arendt is the philosopher I would give up all the others for, all those ‘big guns’ as my philosophy professor called them, Habermas, Heidegger, even the (old) new wave of Deleuze and his constellation, all of them for Hannah, as thorny as she is. Just read The Life of the Mind.

Benhabib also is fond of Kant, who I can’t really move past after reading all his racist “white people are the best” crap that I think is fundamentally responsible for the direction Europe has been on for the last 250 years). And she spends a lot of time on Rawls. Who I’ve never read. He’s a bit of a tool. He’s a nice, old, white, hetero man of the moral and political philosophy type who never exercised his empathy because he never needed to, and so those kind of questions which at best might be thought experiments to him, which are primary issues of survival and having a liveable life for the rest of us, never make it into his grand ideas.

Thus far, I went to read Benhabib and I’ve read plenty of Rawls. I suppose it’s necessary for her to clear the table—especially when Rawls and Kant left such a mess, though it reminds me of the unfortunate reflexive need of leftists to see the entire world through Marx’s beard. When she gets going though, wow is she sharp, and I’m kinda surprised I’d never heard of her until someone cruising me on OK Cupid said, “yo, read Benhabib!”. For her analysis of the failure of rights for refugees and obligations for nation states alone: a grim condemnation when read alongside the atrocity of refugees in Europe today.

Not easy or light reading here. Oh yeah, and she’s Turkish.

Seyla Benhabib — The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens
Seyla Benhabib — The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens

shooting them like rats, dogs

A truly disgusting start to yesterday was reading about climbers in Tibet on Cho Oyu watching the Chinese Army massacre a group of Tibetan Refugees who were trying to cross Nangpa La into Nepal. China claims the soldiers, firing for 15 minutes on the starving refugees were acting in self defense. Do you still feel like going to the Beijing Olympics?

Update:

From International Campaign for Tibet, via China Digital Times 中国数字时代 is video from a Romanian cameraman. The video clearly depicts that the Tibetans had their backs to the soldiers, were unarmed, and offered no resistance.

China tries to gag climbers who saw Tibet killings – Leonard Doyle

From the Independent:

Chinese diplomats in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu are tracking down and trying to silence hundreds of Western climbers and Sherpas who witnessed the killing of Tibetan refugees on the Nangpa La mountain pass last week.

This ominous development comes as fears grow for the safety of a group of Tibetan children, aged between six and 10, who were marched away after at least two refugees including a nun, were shot dead. [Full text]

Read a first person account from a Romanian climber who witnessed the killing. More information from climbers is available on Mounteverest.net, though some bloggers feel not enough climbers are coming forward to tell their story.

≈ For more on this story, see “Activist Group Says China Holding Tibetan Children” from VOA and a report from Phayul which includes eyewitness accounts of the incident. From VOA:

A Washington-based activist group says China is holding at least 10 children from a group of Tibetans who were fired on by Chinese security forces near the Tibetan border with Nepal last month.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the International Campaign for Tibet quotes a British mountain climber and several other witnesses who say they saw Chinese forces shoot at a group of about 70 Tibetans on Mount Cho Oyu September 30. The Tibetans are said to have been trying to flee into Nepal.

See also: This topic on the Web, via Google News.

This topic on the blogosphere, via Google Blog Search.

— China Digital Times 中国数字时代

body of the Tibetan nun, left in a snow path
body of the Tibetan nun, left in a snow path
Chinese officers with captured Tibetan children
Chinese officers with captured Tibetan children

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axis of evil

I’m considering applying for refugee status to the Belgium Consulate.

Howard winning the election again, gaining votes, and the emergence of Family First on an odious right-wing homophobic platform gives me no hope for this country.

The result means Howard and his private school gang of born-again christains can continue turning Tasmania into a clear-felled desert, and continue to preside over one of the poorest environmental records in the world. They also have a mandate to continue their evisceration of the pubilc health welfare and education systems, all of which constitute the bare essentials of any caring democracy.

The worst thing for me is that when I walk outside today, the majority of the people I look at will be people who share a similar view. I can’t live in a country of such selfish, parochial, and just plain nasty people.

When I first came to Australia, I would say that outside of South Africa, this had to be the most racist country in the world. This always provoked outrage and a stream of invective to prove otherwise. But after how many years now of a political party that prides itself on the same bigotry and hatred that undelies racism, this country has swung far into the territory it professes to abhor.

As for the future of the arts in Australia, it will only be more of the same. The government has sustained such a fierce and hostile attack on the arts during its terms, there is no reason to expect anything less than a continued savaging of what little remains. When the majority of young artists in a country intend to leave in the next couple of years, and the institutions which train them are in real danger of being unable to continue, this is a community in serious and immediate crisis caused by the very government which has just returned.

I have no hope for any future as an artist here, and am only thankful that I will be leaving on Thursday anyway. I’m not sure where I will go after my time in Taiwan until early next year, but it won’t be back to Australia. Until the Howard government falls, and Australia stops its vile addiction to the worst of the right-wing’s view of the world, I can’t and won’t live here.