01 February 2013

Top 40 : Engine Empire

'Also, the new observatory's been ransacked for its myths,
the telescope shattered to a million bifocals,'

Year end lists are an odd sort of summation. A way to mark off the end of a cycle. A start of a new one.  They are a lens to judge the past.

Coldfront has put together a list of their Top 40 books of poetry for 2012. I've read 5 of them. At number one is Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong.

Hong's book is a new Waste Land. A sort of attempt to explain the present with the past. Specifically the past of humanities need for overextending.

The book is divided into three sections, each detailing a part of 'boomtown' culture. The first seemingly set in the American west. The second in a fictional town in China. The final section is set in the future, in a land ruled by interconnectedness.

I cannot hep but think about the American Dust Bowl. I have just come off of reading two books on the subject. The idea that man could change the world to fit his ideals, that the world would then turn on man. It seems to be having a bit of a moment.

'...we
don't need our heirloom
mouths.'

Is it because the last of that generation, the one that saw two world wars, a depression, a Dust Bowl, a Holocaust, is dying off? That this moment of time is passing from immediacy into history into a thing in a book?

We are afraid of our future. I am. I am sure you are too.

We are at an impasse on nuclear arms, religion, science, economy, labor. We cannot see the next thing beyond the current one.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin
We have killed the future so we don't have to face our past.

'The voice of Gregory Peck booms: Honey Suckle.'

Recently there has been a string of people posting photos of themselves posing seductively at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Marc Adelman has been collecting them and showing them.

His work centers around photos gay men have been posting on the dating/sex finding app Grindr.

'Xiao, bring me my napkin,
my thumb is smudged with the horizon.'

Many questions arise. Why take photos there? Why use that photo on what is essentially a sex finding app?

Is this disrespectful? Even anti-Semitic?

I think this is an example of the 'tourist effect'. When people snap narcissistic photos of themselves seeing things of 'import'. In front of the World Trade Center work site. At the side of the Grand Canyon. These are the same impulse. To say 'I was there. I saw this thing.'

In seeing it I have proven myself to be a part of a larger collection of humanity. Or. 'This photo of me looks good, don't you want to fuck me?'

We forget everything easily.

At one point in her book, Hong reveals an outdoor amphitheatre that has filled with a glacier. The king has hired her and others to chip away at it. To reclaim his building.

Once something has been lost to time, can it be reclaimed?

I don't think the Holocaust has been lost to time, yet. But there is that question of when. At what point does something pass. Whether it turns to myth, legend, or just vanishes. At what point does it become a thing in a book waiting to turn to dust?

At what point do we?

These are the questions Hong raises. She is concerned not with where we are going, but what we did to get there. What we forgot along the way. And who we lost.

'Then one night I don't know why I swallowed it.

And this is what I saw.'