I first read Johannes Göransson’s Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate (Tarpaulin Sky, 2011), on a rickety train moving westward from South Bend, Indiana, to Chicago during the recent blizzard. The ride, which usually takes 2.5 hours or so, stretched into a nearly 4 hour-long, thunder-snow tour of rust belt America. This is not a review. This is a context.
As we chugged through locales such as Michigan City, Indiana, and Gary, I set my reading of this book on repeat. The book, itself a hybrid form somewhere between or among the categories of poetry, prose, essay, theatre production, and instruction manual, is also an exercise in engaging with the fluidity of self. Riding the train in such conditions, one identifies with the character of THE PASSENGER who states, acts, or otherwise embodies the following words in its opening salvo:
I was admitted. I had to answer questions. Are you gay? Are
you a terrorist? Are you a communist? I answered No to all the
questions. After a while I started noticing that the questions had
changed. What do insects have to do with cinema? Can you hear
me? Are we underwater? Can I kick you in the face? Why do
your spasms look infantile? Do you know how to break a radio?
But I kept answering No. Because that’s what I wanted to hear
myself say with that bag over my face
and also is embodied by THE NATIVES who “ask these questions of the most beautiful people they can find in a mall”:
1. What is your favorite building?
2. Would you ever consider tattooing an image of that building
on your body?
3. If so, where would the tattoo be located on your body?
4. If not, why not?
5. What is your favorite musical instrument?
6. What is your favorite body part?
7. Have you ever had bleeder’s disease?
8. Do you ever have nightmares? If so, please describe them.
The train, after all, makes passengers and natives of all of us. It is both a method of transit which facilitates a sense of voyeurism in us (as we gaze from our cars into the rusted steelworks and other monuments to failed industry) and roots us via rail firmly to the earth we cover. In these two early passages, we see methods of interrogation playing out. Göransson routinely juxtaposes seemingly benign interrogations with decidedly more sinister ones. Ultimately, this is not a review of trains. This is review of a book wherein characters (many of whom inhabit a position in familial hierarchies) such as FATHER VOICE-OVER, FATHER INSECT, THE VIRGIN FATHER, LITTLE AMERICAN GIRL, THE OIL DAUGHTER, MOTHER EMPIRE, A CHEERING NATION, FATHER LITERATURE, THE GENIUS CHILDREN, and many others blur the lines between person, system, spectacle, and image of the image. There is much in the absolute inability of this production to be realized in physical terms and space which leads us to see a relationship to an Artaudian Theatre of Cruelty being played out. There are masks and intricate costumes aplenty, from the infamous sacks worn by Guantanamo detainees seen in the earlier passage being worn by THE PASSENGER, to the recurring “Pussy” costume fabricated “from Charlotte Bronte’s gauzes”(42). There are dresses made from looted items, prison-style clothes, black and polished bodies, cowboy costumes, skins charred from suicide bombings, heaps of dead horses, birds bursting from bodies, wounds, basketball jerseys on androgynous children, kissing faces and murder victims, exoskeletons, audience members in whiteface, and many more get ups. The costumes sometimes act/exist as characters in and of themselves, and sometimes they are affixed to bodies which are keen on morphing and wrecking any attempt at stability or a false sense of character development. What develops is the spectacle. It is a pile up of sequined things and fleshy things.
The audience is often implicated. After all, torture and interrogation is not borne out of individual will and action alone.
Outside of Gary, Indiana, hometown of Michael Jackson and boarded up high-rises, fellow rider Daniel Borzutzky assisted two Spanish tourists in finding and booking a hotel. We were THE NATIVES, asking questions. I scrawled a rather rudimentary street map containing a cross-section of downtown Chicago. We were coming back from a multi-day reading and discussion surrounding (and involving) Chilean poet and activist, Raúl Zurita. Zurita was THE PASSENGER as he awaited his plane at the South Bend Regional Airport. But Zurita was also THE PASSENGER in 1970’s Chile under the Pinochet regime. He was also a native if not expressly THE NATIVES. We leak between these categories.
Pageantry of interrogation.
Pageantry of mall culture.
Pageantry of sex.
Pageantry of cinema.
Pageantry of politics.
Pageantry of high school proms.
Pageantry of theory.
Pageantry of shimmer.
In Georgia, the Wolf Man ran Gallery Furniture until his death in 2004. His sideburns were a thing to be mythologized.
In the Wolf Man, there is no way to peaceably return to one’s natal place.
In the Pageant, the WOLF MAN is both “commodified” and commodifying.
In the Pageant, Göransson’s daughter, Sinead, dances with the hare-head. Egyptology, Uncle Remus tales, and other fluid rituals abound. Amongst the actions, directions, and images which accrete continuously, one begins to internalize this theatre. We begin to feel much as Göransson, himself, does toward the natives in his NOTE ON THE PRODUCTION: “Sometimes I feel a certain tenderness towards the Natives. Other times I want to stab them in their plug-ugly faces”.
There is, we find, a hairline (in every sense of that word) between mangling and stroking. This book pulls that trigger, uproots follicles in the fall-line of hair and skin, and is the crack in our exhaust manifold which detains us during emissions noxious and otherwise.
You can purchase Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate now from Tarpaulin Sky.
Ryan Downey lives in Chicago with his historian wife and his growing clan of orange cats, but he is originally from the Dirty.