things overheard, overheard

Yesterday I wrote to a senior peer. Someone I wish who would consider mentoring me. I came on too strong. Will he like how much I know about him? The idea I shared should interest him, but perhaps he will wonder how I know what should interest him. It could seem weird.

Things are overheard and then there are things overheard, overheard. What I mean is that when an item is third-hand it starts to become diffuse … a game of ‘telephone’ that is simply life. Eavesdropping is escapism, and sometimes more. The 2015 Australian film, Holding the Man is hard to watch. It is a lovely film. The guy with manic depressive disorder reminds the viewer that it is a superpower that enhances memory.

Well, that is my aspiration for his character’s remark.

Page Six is not necessarily about being in the discussion but witnessing it from a distance. Indeed, professional ‘overhearing’ is a vocation for some. However, insertion is also possible. One can simply join a discussion … over time. And in that way — that insertion — become a part of something … a particular moment in history, a bubble of time. Sometimes it is instructional and others only performative.

Louis Farrakhan had not spoken in Nashville since I moved there. I would have known about it. It must have been a special occasion for him to come to that church and preach. I was aware of the microcosm, the militancy of his disciples who had gathered on the block, around the church. Did they pat me down? I don’t remember. I remember feeling perhaps that I deserved to be in the satellite room, where I couldn’t quite see him. No, more that others should be able to see him. I do know where I overheard his voice. Close to Fisk’s campus. So when I heard it again in Bed-Stuy years later, sometimes late into the night, from the TV in the shoppe beside the brisket counter near my bedroom window on Herkimer at the intersection of Nostrand. I knew who it was.

Seeking instruction is somewhat deeper than the curiosity of performing attendance I admit. I know that over the years I have become more than just curious. I know that I am opinionated.

There were 16 Senegalese men who came to a point 100 miles off the coast of New York in a 16 foot catamaran during winter. This is true. The year is unimportant, but I can tell you it was before the 2008 Dakar Biennial and after the 2005 FESPACO. I was teaching a class at The New School and the students helped me to complete the project, making a newspaper — abstracted somewhat — about the men. I can’t remember if students ever went to the prison with me, however.

I’m talking about this ‘overhearing’ and its utility in case you’ve lost me.

I don’t know how I knew that the 16 Senegalese men were in the Elisabeth, New Jersey detention centre, nor how I knew that a church group visited them every Monday evening taking a bus from Lower Manhattan. But I knew. I knew how to join that process. I grew up in church.

Memory and overhearing are related.

I don’t know how I knew how to find the mother of one of the four in Dakar. Nor how I knew that he did not want her to know that he was in prison … only that he was ok. Safe.

If memory serves, 12 of the 16 Senegalese men were immediately deported. Four remained. I must have met each one of them. After we entered the visiting room, and they were behind four different glass panels, we — the volunteers — would chat a little to one of the guys and then swap. I spoke French at the time. I seem to remember. It was easier for me. I could even make a very bizarre joke in Wolof. Here, I will make it for you:

I ‘found’ a very independent film — on DVD — called ‘Nanga Death’ in Ougadougou for the Rwanda film festival in 2005. The joke is that West Africans — in my experience — like karate and kung fu films. Played on TVs on streets outside bars. This is not a joke, but my experience. Expanded into nostalgia. To say the name of the film is funny to a Senegalese young man though; he gets the wordplay off of the Wolof greeting — Nanga Def — and smiles.

It was not a joke. It was serious.

Dakar 2008: I don’t know how I remember that it would be special, but I do remember the way you looked at each other at Youssou Ndour’s club, Thiossane. I hope love is still yours, Blaire and Mounir. Hey, Magazine man … you looked at me hard that night at the jazz club. I caught it, and so did my ex-wife. She brought it up years later. It was a part of her revelation when I came out. Maliq was there too.

Instruction is me wanting to be closer to you. To know something. Mr. Diawara that happened a little for us. Thank you for letting me audit some Kiswahili classes for free. I came to see your film in Dakar. You pulled me into your conversation with Frantz Fanon’s daughter. You gave her my newspaper. She wrote her email on my programme. An autograph. Perhaps I was a prop for your conversation, something to talk about. I loved your film. I continue to consider modernist architecture. You wear a hat nicely.

I read that Bob Wilson is making The Hat Makes the Man at the Max Ernst Museum. I will write him today. Or tomorrow. I once took a tour of his Watermill Center and when our guide, Sherry alluded to the prison toilet in his bedroom, a reference to some time in the slammer. I asked why you had been in prison. You took pot on a airplane she said. That’s not so serious.

To remember that I overheard, overheard something is where I draw the line. For example, I can muster only a faint context: Bamako. October 2015. Someone must have been talking about difficult cultural figures. You came up, Simon. But I would overhear myself mispronouncing your name the next day — first hand — when I approached you by the pool. You let me speak. Accepted a lunch invitation. I admire you because of what I know of you, and what you must know.

Leopold Senghor.

But for sure, I only overheard, overheard the next bit. In some meeting one of you said something about the corruption of the art world. One pointed to gun money used for the biennial pavilion and the other pointed to the brother and family ties. Because it is overheard, overheard, I will not say your names. If it happened it must have been delightful to witness. To learn regional political economies from. I bet you like the postcard made to spoof your brother’s need for help. I imagine it allows something to be said without you having to say it.

Delphine Diallo was in Bamako. I had not seen here since the time period when she gave us the cover photo for the 2008 newspaper. It had been at least five years.

I wrote to you to ask if the rumor of Nabokov not really reading your book could be related to the Diederichsen essay “Meine Herkunft habe ich mir selbst ausgedacht” [My Origins? I Made Them Up] even by default. In retrospect it seems like a ‘petty betrayal’, but actually I copied him too, hoping — perhaps naively — we’d start talking about it all together. I think that was a part of my original curiosity, anyway. I don’t know him, but I overheard him take us around his Wein show.

I copied you. The question I asked you both — a survey — is the question I begin with: How do I know what I know of you? And subsequently who are you to me?

Only one of the 16 Senegalese men was granted political asylum and allowed to stay in the US. I never knew on what grounds his lawyer argued this claim, and therefore do not remember. I only remember talking to him through the glass with the old-timey handset cradled between my ear and shoulder. The coiled handset cord reminded me of a public phone booth’s hardware. You would not want a prison toilet in your next home, would you? It would not be a part of your forward story.

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