Thursday, March 22, 2012

Q: What is Ban? [Rowland Saifi]


Ban is a mixture of dog shit and bitumen (ash) scraped off the soles of running shoes: Puma, Reebok, Adidas.  Looping the city, Ban is an orbital of smoke.  To summarize, she is the parts of something re-mixed as air: integral, rigid air, circa 1972-1979.  She's a girl. A black girl in an era when, in solidarity, Caribbean and Asian Brits self-defined as black.  A black (brown) girl encountered in the earliest hour of a race riot, or what will become one by nightfall.  April 23rd, 1979: by morning, anti-racism campaigner, Blair Peach, will be dead.  It is, in this sense, a real day; though Ban is unreal.  She's both dead and never-living: the part, that is, of life that is never given: an existence.  What, for example, is born in England, but is never, not even on a cloudy day, English?  Under what conditions is a birth not recognized as a birth?  Answer: Ban.  And from Agamben's Homo Sacer, the accompanying concern of sovereignty and sacrifice: the capacity for a banished person to be murdered.  To step beyond the boundary of the city, in medieval Europe, was to stop living, a marker of which was murder: how can a person be killed when they are "already dead"?  And from Ban: "banlieues." (The former hunting grounds of King Henry VIII.  Earth-mounds.  Oaks split into several parts by a late-century lightning storm.)  These suburbs are, in places, leafy and industrial; the Nestle factory spools a milky, lilac effluent into the Grand Union canal that runs between Hayes and Southall.  Ban is ten.  Ban is nine.  Ban in eight.  Ban is a girl walking home from school just as a protest starts to escalate; the National Front have decided to hold their annual meeting in the council hall of a neighborhood with an almost entirely immigrant -- Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican -- community.  Pausing at the corner of the Uxbridge Road, she hears something: the far-off sound of breaking glass.  Is it coming from her home or is it coming from the street's distant clamor?  Faced with these two sources of a sound she instinctively links to violence, the potential of violent acts, Ban lies down.  At first, she's frozen, then folds to the ground.  This is syntax.  From Agamben, I derive the new idea that by doing so, she is exerting sovereignty over herself: she is sacrificing herself.  Is she?  Ban lies down on the sidewalk next to the ivy.  I narrate that, and this writing is the bulk of my activity between September 2010 and February 2012.  I narrate a person's decision to lie down forever on the ground, in the rain, in England.  As even more time passes, as the image or instinct to form this image desiccates, as Ban herself becomes a kind of particulate matter, I place tiny mirrors in the ivy behind her body.  I think about the cyclical and artificial light that falls upon her in turns.  Or perhaps the mirrors deflect evil.  Perhaps they protect her from a horde of boys in laced-up Doc Martens, or perhaps they illuminate -- in strings of weak light -- the part of the scene when these boys, finally, arrive.  I don't know.  This is the part of Ban -- a novel of the race riot -- my first formal attempt at an anti-colonial literature -- that still continues.  In March, I am going to London, to lie down in the place I am from, where this work is set: on the street I am from.  In the rain.  Next to the ivy.  As I did, for Schizophrene, on the border of Pakistan and India: the two Punjabs.  Nobody sees someone do this.  I want to feel it in my body -- the root cause.