The first time I went to Washington, D.C. was on the edge of the summer when I was supposed to stop being a child. At least that’s what they said to us all at graduation from the eighth grade. My sister Phyllis graduated at the same time from high school. I don’t know what she was supposed to stop being. But as graduation presents for us both, the whole family took a Fourth of July trip to Washington, D.C., the fabled and famous capital of our country…

I learned later that Phyllis’s high school senior class trip had been to Washington, but the nuns had given her back her deposit in private, explaining to her that the class, all of whom were white, except Phyllis, would be staying in a hotel where Phyllis “would not be happy,” meaning, Daddy explained to her, also in private, that they did not rent rooms to Negroes. “We will take among-you to Washington, ourselves,” my father had avowed, “and not just for an overnight in some measly fleabag hotel.” American racism was a new and crushing reality that my parents
had to deal with every day of their lives once they came to this country. They handled it as a private woe… Like so many other vital pieces of information in my childhood, I was supposed to know without being told…

I spent the afternoon squinting up at monuments to freedom and past presidencies and democracy… Late that Washington afternoon my family and I walked back down Pennsylvania Avenue…Moved by our historical surroundings and the heat of the early evening, my father decreed yet another treat. He had a great sense of history, a flair for the quietly dramatic and the sense of specialness of an occasion and a trip.
"Shall we stop and have a little something to cool off, Lin?"

Two blocks away from our hotel, the family stopped for a dish of vanilla ice cream at a Breyer’s ice cream and soda fountain…The waitress moved along the line of us closer to my father and spoke again. “I said I kin give you to take out, but you can’t eat here. Sorry.”

My parents wouldn’t speak of this injustice, not because they had  contributed to it, but because they felt they should have anticipated it and avoided it. This made me even angrier. My fury was not going to be acknowledged by a like fury. Even my two sisters copied my parents’ pretense that nothing unusual and anti-american had occurred. I was left to write my angry letter to the president of the united states all by myself, although my father did promise I could type it out on the office typewriter
next week, after I showed it to him in my copybook diary.

The waitress was white, and the counter was white, and the ice cream I never ate in Washington, D. C. that summer I left childhood was white, and the white heat and the white pavement and the white stone monuments of my first Washington summer made me sick to my stomach for the whole rest of that trip and it wasn’t much of a graduation present after all.

From Zami by Audre Lorde

He felt more comfortable on the burnt-out star of the earth when he was unhappy; a glimpse of some strange and far away happiness aroused feelings of shame and anxiety in him - he wasn’t conscious of it, but what he really wanted was for the new world they were eternally building to resemble his own shattered life.

Andrey Platonov, The Foundation Pit

Andrey Platonov, The Foundation Pit, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Geoffrey Smith (London; Harvill Press, 1996), p. 73.


In Helsinki I saw Jana Funke speak about islands.

Hilda Doolittle (HD) and Bryher were lovers. They were obsessed with islands. They spent time together on physical islands and both wrote about islands. 


Bryher suggested that HD begin analysis with Freud. Their time in the consulting room was a different kind of island. A space and time apart but still diachronic - filled with ancient memories and the remnants of antiquity. Bits of Pompeii in red. HD spoke of stepping over swastikas like confetti strewn across the doorstep of Bergasse 19 but it would be a few more years before Freud would finally flee Vienna. 

The second stanza of her poem The Islands reads:

What can love of land give to me 
that you have not—
what do the tall Spartans know,
and gentler Attic folk?

What has Sparta and her women
more than this? 

What are the islands to me
if you are lost—

What is Naxos, Tinos, Andros,
and Delos, the clasp
of the white necklace?

She wonders if the islands might be strung together like pearls and drawn together.

Funke noted the similarity of Greek islands to Sappho’s fragments.





Again and again, when I would try to convey something of the time that ended with May 1945, its consequences would impose themselves on me. Across the experiences already soaked with death, there would superimpose itself a future coloured shrilly, and once again filled with torture, destruction and murder. It would again and again seem as though all earlier hopes would be brought to nothing by lost or forgotten intentions. And even if it did not turn out as we hoped, nothing would be changed about those hopes themselves. The hopes would remain. Utopia would be necessary. Even later on those hopes would flame up again countless times, smothered by the superior enemy and ever newly reawakened. And the realm of hopes would become greater than it was in our time, and would be extended to all the continents of the globe. The poorly repressed discontent would grow and the drive to contradict and to resist would not be lamed. Just as the past was unchangeable, so those hopes would remain unchangeable, and they – which we once, when young, burningly experienced – would be honoured by our rememoration of them.

Peter Weiss Die Ӓsthetik des Widerstands (East Berlin; Henschelverlag, Kunst und Gesellschaft, 1987), vol. 3, pp. 274-275, cited in Frederic Jameson, ‘Foreword: A Monument to Radical Instants’, Weiss, The Aesthetics of Resistance, vol.1, trans. by Joachim Neugroschel (Durham, NC; Duke University Press, 2005) pp.vii-xlix

With Blue Drinking Horns

Mural, Kimerioni, Sergei Sudeikin, 1919, foyer of Rustaveli Theatre, Tbilisi

With Blue Drinking Horns

ტიციან ტაბიძე - T’itsian T’abidze

Modernist art is a child of the city. It was raised on the breath of a drunken Goliath. Not nymphs but wandering musicians sang lullabies over its crib. Nature did not offer it her breast to feed on. It was raised on the mist and flickering gaslight of the black city. From the very outset, therefore, it was accompanied by the sorrowful memory of a primitive, carefree life. By the light of the city’s electric lamps it could glimpse the longed-for past. Faith is dead, but without it life is impossible. So begins the creation of myth: its creators appear at the looted altar of sacrifice.

The old patriarchal structure is disintegrating. The Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren in his book Les Villages Illusoires mourned the death of the old world. The city rules. In the terminology of the new futurists, contemporary culture is an enormous city: London, New York, Hamburg, where smokestacks are taller than temples, where automobiles rush rabidly around, and rows of zeppelins gather for flight. There is no time now to look back: the cult of the minute is now king. The consciousness of the poet, weighed down by the steel-gray city, has erupted into a new, unknown song…

A sketch of the Kimerioni, Lado Gudiashvili, Giorgi Leonidze Literary Museum.

Georgian people love a mask. Symbolism is precisely the philosophy of this mask, and for this reason symbolism, in Georgia, is a necessity.

Our soil is ready for modernism…

Was our revolution a true revolution, when there have been fundamental changes in the soul of the nation, when the soul of the nation has been shaken to its core? As of yet nothing has been said about this. The old habits of the censor weigh heavily on this subject. With the Revolution of 1905, the nation’s soul endured an exceptional test of endurance. Here, for the first time, the ephemeral nature of the revolution was made evident from the national perspective. And so, one of the revolutionary participants, who insisted on singing a song after a terrible catastrophe that directly impacted him, publicly professes his sin. Since the revolution all attempts at reviving the nation’s soul, and all acts of protest against bondage are considered a betrayal of democracy. Georgian society poured all its ardent soul and fanaticism into the revolution, and would not break its covenant with it even as all the ships were burning…

Mikhailovsky (Voronstov) Bridge, Tbilisi, Georgia

Fragments from the text From Blue Drinking Horns by T’itsian T’abidze published as part of a great section called ‘Introducing Georgian Modernism’ in Modernism/Modernity Volume 21, Number 1, January 2014

MAID OF STONE - Madam Death! Madam Death!



“Men say that there are two unrepresentable things: death and the feminine sex,” declares Hélène Cixous in ‘The Laugh of Medusa’. Cixous does not want to destroy femininity but to unleash it. The femininity she describes is fragile, diffuse, diaphanous, quivering, excessive, surging, dispersed – “a moving, limitlessly changing ensemble, a cosmos tirelessly traversed by Eros, an immense astral space”. But isn’t this a strangely familiar (un)representation?

“In the beginning are our differences” – Cixous proclaims but she couples heterogeneity to homogeneity, femininity to masculinity, maintaining a binary understanding of difference that is neatly gendered.

Medusa turns men to stone. Freud claims her head is vaginal and the man’s metamorphosis is phallic – the stiffening of the body reassures the victim that he is still in possession of his penis – ‘you can’t kill me, bitch - I have a dick!’ But if we turn her transformative gaze on all human bodies perhaps it might kill these prescriptive gender norms stone dead.

Freud of all people might point the way.

(In Cixous’s rewriting of Dora the heroine dies in a hail of pearls)



In Female Masculinity (1998) Jack Halberstam discusses the stone butch as an abject figure, a failure of desire, castigated for embodying the ‘dysfunction of gender rigidity by taking her masculinity so seriously that she denies her female body.’ As with any transgressive mode of being in a world of brutally prescribed identities, the stone butch is formed ‘against a background of a certain amount of pain and discomfort…hardship and contradiction’. Smashed up against cold hard laws an indestructible self is constructed out of cold hard stone – ‘’granite butches’, the stones who will not melt and are impenetrable’. But even the hardest rocks break, erode, absorb or crack. Halberstam asks ‘If gender has become a battleground at this time, it is worth asking who fights the battles, who receives the wounds and bears the scars, who dies?’ The answer is unlikely to be the straight white cis men whose interests (and bodies) the institutional myrmidons of the family, private property and the state are structured to defend.



(Hannah Black suggested I talk about how women give birth and how birth might be thought in relation to death - she was completely right but these thoughts didn’t end up in the final piece)

Affirming the inorganic and brittle against the soft and reproductive is one response to a hard world that constantly threatens to violently thrust its way in. But pro-death here means taking the side of the living in a deadly world. If we are asking who receives the wounds then our answer must also include those who bear new life. In the cell, Freud claims, ‘death always coincides with reproduction.’ But this also applies to human life: we are born to die. Freud describes the death instincts as both ‘guardians of life’ and ‘myrmidons of death’, working tirelessly to ensure that the fragile organism does not die too soon. This also describes the role traditionally assigned to mothers, who psychoanalysts are often quick to castigate for their insufficiencies. She’s not ‘good enough’. Well, maybe she’s not the problem. 

The bodies that bring forth new life are necessarily porous. Birth is all about abjection- ‘a violent act of expulsion’ dependent on the interchange of fluids – semen, placenta, blood, milk. The maternal body knows no bounds, but no body is bound to another in perpetuity. The process of mummification – bearing sole responsibility for sustaining the life of a particular individual - is not identical with giving birth and it is here that the deathly social order reproduces itself.



Freud acknowledges the ‘instructive and interesting’ though ultimately ‘unclear’ contribution of Russian psychoanalyst (and infamous mistress of Jung) Sabina Spielrein to his understanding of the destructive impulses inherent in sexuality, in a footnote towards the end of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Although both Freud and Jung were rather churlish in their acknowledgment of Spielrein, emphasising the supposedly biographical neurotic content of her writing over its theoretical merits, the influence of her work on Freud’s essay is palpable. In ‘Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being’ (originally written in German and published in 1912) introduces some of the concepts that Freud eventually went on to elaborate in Beyond the Pleasure Principle eight years later. Spielrein asks why the most intensely pleasurable experiences are often accompanied by ‘a feeling of resistance, of anxiety, or disgust’. For Spielrein creation is always accompanied by destruction; sex is always accompanied by death. Not only is birth a violent and painful experience, but the act of conception is also a moment of self-annihilation. Although she accepts Freud’s understanding of pleasure and the necessary avoidance of unpleasure, she ventures beyond in her suggestion that ‘the personal psyche is governed by unconscious impulses that lie deeper and, in their demands, are unconcerned with our feeling reactions… In our depths, there is something that, as paradoxical as it may sound, wills self-injury.’ She conceives of a tension between collective and personal psyches, two antagonistic tendencies, the former of which desires transformation, while the latter ‘strives for self-preservation in its present form (inertia)’. Despite its name, what Spielrein calls the collective psyche has less in common with Jung’s conception of the collective unconscious as a trove of ancient archetypes, than it does with Freud’s reality principle: it is the outward-facing, social form of the psyche which keeps in check personal urges and impulses.