Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano
I went to the Bookmark Bookstore here in Oakland to see the poets Akande X, Melissa Mack and David Brazil read. Each piece read that night featured synchronicities and looping formats: Akande’s characters kept dying at the exact same time early in the morning, Melissa read in a rhythm that kept rising and returning to itself, and, it was January twentieth, a date that David kept weaving his own piece. He jumped from memory to mythology to narration and back again, always finding some way to construct and cross these bridges. No matter how disparate the subjects, no matter how distant the memory, there was a way to link them; a sense of the divine, if you look for it. And that divine thread drew parallels from the Women’s March to recalling a friend’s death the year before to the Wannsee Conference, which also happened to take place on January twentieth, though that January twentieth was in 1942 in Germany when Nazi leaders met with the German government to demand cooperation in what they called the Final Solution, what we call the Holocaust.
David kept going and the text kept circling in on itself and repeating names and revisiting references. Near the end, he passed out postcards from an event he had attended the night before at the Berkeley Art Museum for the Way Bay show. The postcard, which I have now in front of me, is white with black text in the middle written by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha from her book, Dictee, and reads:
Why resurrect it all now. From the Past. History, the old wound. The past emotions all over again. To confess to relive the same folly. To name it now as not to repeat history in oblivion. To extract each fragment by each fragment from the word from the image from another word another image the reply that will not repeat in oblivion,
David tells us to send the postcard to an address we know by heart, the first one that comes to mind. Bradley leans over and asks which address it was that I knew by heart and that came to my mind and I said my dad’s, and he said he remembered his dad’s address, too. I didn’t mean to make this Freudian, but what I intended to point out is the continual unfolding of links, of common occurrences that emanated from David’s reading that night and beyond. How the fact that both Bradley and I thought of our father made me also think of the idea I have, of some archetype of Father, not totally Oedipal like in Freud’s world, but Oedipal enough that I’m talking about challenging the Father. And I’m also thinking of my own father as a kind of Father with his white skin and his money and his tax loopholes and his words, “you will be okay, no, listen, you are going to be okay, though,” after Trump was elected, his admission others might not be okay and it won’t matter to him—he would probably hate this postcard with its hinting at change, hinting at atrocities and oppression that we must remember, we must keep right at the surface so the possibility never escapes our imagination, so we stay vigilant. This becoming familiar with the darkness is called shadow work. (Well, technically, Freud would have called it “resolving the defenses,” but I’m hesitant to label anything in this arena as resolved, as if you can just finish one day, because then we run the risk of slowing down or stopping the work altogether, and so I use Jung’s term instead, although I have critiques for Jung as well. But we all have a shadow.)
I’ve been reading Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano. A mirror can show you everything and everyone if you just tilt it right. But only so much everything and only so much everyone. Mirrors have edges, and Galeano’s book is hundreds of pages of brief portraits squared off from each other—separated by titles and line breaks and new paragraphs. Each portrait is contained, and generally in chronological order, though within that generally chronological order each fragment is followed by a fragment that is loosely related, if only by glimpse, advance, ambience. Glimpses of genesis mythologies; glimpses of fears; glimpses of modern technology; glimpses of Fidel Castro leading to glimpses of fists held high leading to glimpses of Muhammed Ali. It’s almost everyone, but mostly the almost everyone that not everyone knows about because they fell, or were pushed off, the edges of most history books. In Galeano’s declaration to include everyone, almost, we see the hugeness of Galeano’s attempt, how exhausting, breathless, how it necessarily falls short. Reading, we become aware of the frame, the edges, where the everyone falls off, stops short. Like looking out the window of a train, I want to arch my neck to see what else is there. In a section called, “Parthenon and After,” Galeano writes:
The Parthenon was left in ruins. While the sculptures that Lord Elgin took were broken and remain so, they speak to us about what they once were: that tunic is just a piece of marble, but in its folds sway the body of a woman or a goddess, that knee walks on in the absent leg, that torso, decapitated, bears an invisible head, that bristling mane conveys the missing horse in full whinny, and those galloping legs how it thunders on.
In the little there is, lies all that way.
And this book, Mirrors, is a broken piece of a Parthenon, the temple of almost everyone—broken by telling, line breaks, framing. Still, triumphantly I feel, some sense of whole is hinted at. I want you to remember how Theresa Hak Kyung Cha wrote of resurrection.
I went to school in San Francisco today where I’m studying Somatic Psychotherapy. Psychodynamics was my first class and bringing Freud out of the shadow (think of resurrection), we broke off into small groups and talked about his topographical model of analysis—like looking down on a landscape from above and seeing the changes in elevation, but the landscape is your psyche—and how, through the practice of free association, a client digs through their thoughts and their reactions and their drives and their desires and their defenses and their transferences (think of resurrection) until they find some kind of gem of old wounding and yes, I see it now, it all clicks and this is why I am the way I am, this is why I do the things I do. But before you think this is where the answer lies, listen: the important part isn’t realizing that old painful spot—it’s in all the dirt that painful spot is buried under. To speak topographically, all that dirt on top of that gem might be as big as a mountain. But in encountering and keeping in mind the defenses, while it doesn’t directly get rid of them, it brings awareness. Through awareness, through bringing what was before unconscious up to the surface (think again of resurrection) we have a chance to work with it.
And this digging doesn’t only happen on the individual level. This digging and these shadows also exist for families and for countries and for the whole world—the stories we repeat for better or for worse, the things we won’t look at or the things some of us are only starting to look at or the things many have been demanding more people finally look at. And I hope you’re still thinking of Cha’s words on resurrection, because with her words in mind I want to pair them with Galeano’s words about the myth of Echo, who “suffered the worst of all punishments: she was deprived of her own voice. Ever since, unable to speak, she can only repeat. Nowadays, that curse is looked on as a virtue.”
So I ask you what would be virtuous to repeat? What in your life needs such repeating? What can you say out loud? What needs to be brought to the surface? What do you repeat to yourself, to your friends, to your neighbors? And what images, stories, figures are you framing and setting apart with your own focus? Does it break them? Is the resurrection for examination or for reverence? Can it be both? Because to resurrect is to bring back to life and to be alive is to be dynamic and able to change, and because these questions I am asking you, these are all mirrors, too.–Jennifer Williams