Sitting on my bed, 5:00 in the morning, the will to love forever grinds me down into driveway-or-street-dust; batters me down with mortar into the muddy poultice of condensed memory-paste. The day opens, and already I hear the minutes spattering over the ledges in my head. I do not know what to do with the only real question of Being: to be or not to be (to be at any price?) And so, the question of the meaning of loss has yet to be formulated. I can wake, shower, suit up, arrive on time, and swipe my card, thus clocking in, putting in work, refusing not to play while I am on my shift. But each day — coming and going, entering and exiting — bears no relation to the blow the event of death incites.
One cannot ever come back or come-to from it.
The death-event, final cutting of the nerves, of no longer being able to go back to the start, of drifting forever in the absolute effacement of second chances, of the eternal resting or cessation of all chances.
I have grown weary of reading it in news feeds and more recent paperless ticker-tapes of our digitally canonical info-parades. The sting of death has been subdued, though, lately, having been temporarily substituted by a numbness that will not let me go. At the same time, I feel that the recognition of the passing of David Bowie must be made, in public at least, as though the internet could provide any grounds for a political discourse about loving the presence of art and loving, in fidelity, those who produce it. Or, I feel responsible, as a producer and consumer of texts, for “saying a few things” about “him,” acting as though one could really do such things.
Right now: we have been scouring the e-books, looking on the inside or the outside of the seam, snapping free the hinge from its counter-structure. Going to the edges of periphery, horizons they will not stop fleeing us; reaching for traces of him, we need the concept of “exteriority,” right now to work for us, fight for us. We freeze the postures, we suffer from the phenomenon of craving those inward flares of creative flame flung outward. To isolate some artifact that will make us understand why David Bowie had to leave us rarely helps the movement toward acceptance and dignity.
One of the more famous creative gestures of our time is to de-familiarize the concepts we use to keep our everyday lives in check. To some, this is what we must do, since — clearly — we have been marked by moving past the disaster-zones of Post-Modernity. Trudging into the fields of indefatigable uncertainty, we might sink into an infrastructure whose foundations have been destroyed by detonation or natural causes; we no longer know what ails us. It is not a question of whether or not truth has been replaced by the compression of information. Where we live and who we are is already on its way or on the move, having abandoned us, evicted us, and we can no longer ignore reality. Absence is real as the breath in your lungs or the shadow at the edges of your vision, simply because you know it is not yours. Ruthless and cutthroat, the de-familiarization of the concepts we use to organize everyday living is here to stay. But with David Bowie, the familiar and the de-familiared move beyond the passivity through which we dismiss the strange and ugly; with David Bowie, the unfamiliar becomes familiar first and foremost, without ever feeling like one could say, “You cannot belong here anymore; you are done being here.” Welcoming, permissible, and even beautiful, after David Bowie, distant and illegible customs, if not alien ways or landings, are in proximity to us.
I have often asked myself why certain things work.
The song, “Breakers,” by Local Natives: why does the crooning in the background of the chorus work; why does it have that hallucinatory yet bodhisattva effect?
hoping to breathe in,
I know nothing’s wrong,
but I’m not convinced.
The Book of Nightmares, by Galway Kinnell: why do I find in this book the greatest love poem I have ever read, written by a father and sent to his daughter after she is born; how can the anxious and terrified voice that belongs to the father afraid of dying himself be the very answer to the dreadful and terrifying possibility that his own newborn daughter might perish alongside him during the outbreak of war so violent, it might cross the sea, invading American soil?
And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry,
this the nightmare you wake screaming from:
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.
More recently, my good friend, Reilly Cox, painted a depiction of a mutual co-worker. I stare at a digital photograph of this painting: who is this man standing there, and why does he look as though he might headline the next civilian resistance? Who is the subject and object of this painting? And why, conveyed in the palm of one of his hands, am I driven toward a new and radical desire for political change; he is holding a pineapple that has been severed at the top, as if to create the semblance of a skull that has been sawed open, if only to remove the priceless iridescent pulp of the body’s corporeal divinity. And brimming out of the cut: strewn streams of fireworks, mini-explosives, those little red things that pop when you light their fuses or that one string that ties them all together. If one goes off, they all do.
And they all do . . .
But why does David Bowie “work”?
Why does he matter and mean so much to us?
David Bowie: Potentiality and Actuality / Thought and Deed / Spirit and Flesh / Cultural Machinery and Specter of Productivity / Poetics of Fluency and Rigorous Articulation and Ultra-Articulator of Everyday Practices.
“John, I’m only dancing” —
Why do the images of him draw us in with the most subversive of gestures?
Because we cannot ignore his body no matter how hard we try.
His body: theatrical; active yet reflexive, staged yet critically and emotionally valid and moving beyond the significance of topical and transitory aesthetic trends; his body, his body of work, a lasting moment in the history of human civilization. The stage-inflected nuances that help him organize and mobilize his body remain everlasting and unfeigned. Situated on the foregrounds of public and global discourse, the importance of gender-fluidity is incessantly invoked each time the camera flashes, each pose raises the curtain on a lift that is visible. His song, as well, plays forward.
David Bowie’s presence, one that cannot be effaced, helps us accept ourselves, and the generous plenitude of his work cannot be put inside another limited or disincorporating frame.
A final note —
One of the most ground-breaking moments of my life happens when one of my mentors, Shelly Sanders, reminds me that we can see one another. I can see you and you can see me and we are not all just standing here, waiting to be heard.
David Bowie, though you do not know me, I can see you. And, I must say, Thank You. Thank you for being yourself. Thank you for giving us the permission to be ourselves.
— GPP —