I would first like to thank everyone who was involved with “To Receive is Never Neutral: towards an ethics of reception” which took place in the Classics Department of the
University of Bristol 7-8th September 2011. A thanks and an excitement about where all
the talks and thoughts are going next (particularly developing links and sharing ideas with research already underway around the Erotics of Reception!) [more of which to
follow in the future].
This, however, is my (tentative) expression of what I will take away, or seize, or cling on desperately to, from the workshop discussions (I think I only know how to cling on desperately). This is also a response to Ika Willis’s wonderfully stimulating keynote and responses, but, this remains what it is: a messy and fragile acknowledge of myself.
The whole project began through a not knowing, a not knowing of terms, not being clear of the meaning of the words: ethics, reception and how should they be placed alongside each other– ethics of/and/with/in/etc reception. So it began out of my desire for clarification of the terms I use to orientate my relationship with words, times, places, people, bodies, and other etcs.
A lot of the papers expressed concerns with a certain dis-orientation; of negotiating traumas and fraught positions—whether the disorienting trauma of a lightning bolt on a location shoot, writing the traumas of martyrdom, Greg Garrard’s keynote focusing on disgust, nausea, abjection and the space between animal/human and others, or the fraught traumas of just recognising your position in relation to another.
in disorientation the space of ethics (and reception?). I remain unsure (because disorientation makes my nauseous, and hurts…), but something about that space—an openness of disorientation, of not knowing, that thinking, the space to think again, otherwise, again, the finding of compass points, steadiness, emerges: I need messy disorientation to give space for some sort of nourishment, like touch, or theory, or poetry (bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Lucretius… know this well, perhaps).
What Ika brings out, alongside Sarah Wood’s fantastic opening keynote (and not just because it was all birds, and play, and Phaedrus), for me at least, is that giving-ness of dis-orientation: a not-being-clear as a site that gives the reader a position to speak and love, and read, her own space, with you.
But the desire for clarity: for being clear with what I mean I still cling to. And I think of some of the clearest things that I’ve been faced with: the clarity of hospitals, of diagnosis: when it is in the clear words of medical-speak (all numbers, time-frames, codes, short sentences (no adjectives, brackets, smiles), and where long words, even if you don’t know what they mean, are all too clear). And in that place of clarity any action becomes removed from interaction, from thoughts of something or someone else, from doing or being (with) anything else: I move around unthinking down one corridor, one road, one decision. The clarity of the sanitary, the clean. Spaces to think are closed off, and it is an open door, a window, a fresh-air-desire to not-know clearly, to think otherwise about something, anything, else, that I now want to cling to (and can’t).
And all this, all this un-thought-thinking, reminds me of something that I had forgotten through all the time and planning and energy of it all: the words of the poet of reception who told me to let go and remember that I didn’t fall in love “just to hang on to life so you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you” [Personism: a manifesto]:
In typing those words (that name) that I do know by my heart (my head forgot them—not enough space!), my need to cling on desperately loosens, a space emerges between my sore and bleeding fingers, I feel them move again, as they let go.
And it is that giving space between my fingers and the words, the air and resistance, time and space breathing, together, and the words ethics/reception (their contact, resistance, breath) emerge at this point of openness, and non-de-finition: I go with what I have left open and fragile, and giving:
I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart–
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.