Commentaries - October 2011
digital edition at Eclipse
Craig Dworkin, a.k.a. Eclipse, has just made available a page-for-page scan of Poetic Justice. Publilished in 1979 by Pod Books, the poems were written between 1975 and 1977, just after Parsing and before Shade (both on on Eclpise). I typed the book pages myself on my IBM Selecetic II typewriter, the same one we used for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (which too in on Eclipse). So the "Lift Off" tape used in the poem of that name was an element of this great typewriter.
Christian Bök: I would like to be a mad scientist in my basement designing a new brand of nerve gas that I could just spring on the population. And I am doing it through this kind of viral thing called language.
Scientist: None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.
The Xenotext: the translation of a poem into a specific gene sequence, which then gets inserted into the Deinococcus radiodurans bacterium; the bacterium responds by producing a viable protein, writes a poem in a fluorescent response.
C. Bök: The encoded text is a very short poem; a very masculine assertion about the aesthetic creation of life. The organism reads the poem, and writes in response a very melancholy, feminine - almost surreal in tone - poem about the aesthetic loss of life.
Giorgio Agamben: The total humanization of the animal coincides with a total animalization of man.
C. Bök: The organism doesn't get to do whatever it wants. I don't want the text to evolve: part of the project is to produce an enduring artefact.
The Xenotext: Decipherment, translation, mutation, encoding: co-dependent relationship between a letter and a codon in a genetic sequence; two encoded sonnets; “the milk of life” organismed into “any milk is rosy.”
C. Bök: I'm disappointed to think that poets aren't responding to science - which is probably the most important cultural activity we do as a species. I think scientific literacy is part of being culturally literate now, and this project is an attempt to respond intelligibly to that.
Scientist: But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers. So much has been done, more will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.
C. Bök: We can now transmit our own messages across stellar distances or apocal intervals by storing them durably within cells. We can harness such life, exploiting its power not only to recopy itself with few errors, but to modify itself for the better, all in the face of random change. We are now on the verge of writing truly alive books, perusable by ether minds around ether stars.
Scientist: I paused, examining and analyzing all the minutia of causation, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me. I succeeded in discovering, I became myself capable of bestowing. What had been the study of the wisest was now within my grasp. A new species would bless me as its creator and source.
C. Bök: Genetics has thus endowed biology with a possibly literary use, granting every geneticist the power to become a poet in the medium of life.
G. Agamben: Natural life itself and its well-being seem to appear as humanity’s last historical task. The traditional historical potentialities – poetry, religion, philosophy – have long since been transformed into cultural spectacles and private experiences, and have lost all historical efficacy. The only task that still seems to retain some seriousness is the assumption of the burden – and the “total management” – of biological life, that is of the very animality of man. Genome, global economy, and humanitarian ideology are the three united faces of this process in which posthistorical humanity seems to take on its own physiology as its last, impolitical mandate.
C. Bök: It’s all research and development.
Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (Northwestern University Press, 2001), and Eunoia (Coach House, 2001). He has created artificial languages for Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. Bök performs his poetry around the world and teaches at the University of Calgary.
This viral text was coded/quoted from the following sequenced sources: Christian Bök presenting at North of Invention, Kelley Writers House, Jan. 20-21, 2011. “Cryptic poetry written in a microbe's DNA” interview with Christian Bök by Jamie Condliffe, Newscientist.com, May 2011. “On Being Stubborn: Close Listening with Christian Bök” interview by Charles Bernstein, Jacket2, recorded on April 20, 2005, printed on April 21, 2011. The Open: Man and Animal, Giorgio Agamben (tr. Kevin Attell), Stanford University Press, 2004. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, Puffin Books/Penguin, 1994.
Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Ron Silliman’s tape for an unrealized transcript captures a wealth of improvisatory high-level thinking about particulars of contemporary American class structure and poetry. The result manifests a sustained thread about social formations in contemporary American poetry with strong relevance for the present. Near the end, a phone call is received from Ray DiPalma clarifying details about the group reading of their collectively authored LEGEND four days later.
Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, and Ron Silliman
Andrews’ apartment, New York City, March 10, 1981
Reading (from LEGEND, 1980):
“This has a veil …” (Andrews, Silliman, section 9)
“1794 Fall of Robespierre …” (Silliman, DiPalma, section 3)
“The sun is so …” (DiPalma, Andrews, Silliman, section 2)
“FLUKE JoY” (Silliman, Andrews, Bernstein, section 22)
An Incident in the Usual Daydream at the Foot of the Blighted Elm Overlooking a Small Town in Indian Summer (Silliman, Bernstein, DiPalma, section 23)
“And / much clouds spun …” (Bernstein, DiPalma, Andrews, Silliman, McCaffery, section 26)
Silliman begins the conversation with a provisional model of “fundamentally two major branches of poetry in the United States, one of which is that which I have heretofore called oppositional […] writing that sees itself consciously attached to some kind of social movement, whether it’s gay liberation, women’s lib, Denise Levertov’s anti-nuclear poems, that whole tendency.” The other branch is everything else, including “this other phenomena [in] which we are all participants […] so-called New American and so-called academic poetry movements […] the St. Mark’s School […] the little cluster of magazines that someone like John Taggart might publish in […] Robert Bly and the whole Midwestern Minnesota connection.” This broad schema is immediately challenged by Andrews who deflates self-evident oppositional efficacy in Silliman’s definition of oppositional: “some of what you could call movement poetry […] that adheres to a specific social movement is not involved with expressing opposition to the larger culture, the larger social structure which excludes those people [and] oppress[es] them. It’s actually articulating the positive qualities of life within that community which [are] crystalized out of that particular movement, so in that sense it’s not content-wise oppositional, it may be very positive, fluffy, soft, supportive, and pro-movement, pro-community.” Andrews contextualizes “oppositional” movement poetries in the totality of cultural values and states how poetries of “cultural hegemony […] so-called highbrow establishment culture” is similarly “a minority community defined by a set of values, defined by readership, defined by audience characteristics,” both within the United States and globally, as “in relation to other countries […] where immediately you see the minority status of high culture in the central imperial power” (the United States) “being defined specifically in relation to practically everything else going on in the world, which is seen as threatening.” Bernstein substantiates this by adding that it is “the very surgence of these minority poetries, minority movements, that allow[s] the definition of this other group, the hegemonic group,” that argues, for example, that “family values are deteriorating.” Andrews expands this to a profounder argument “that the function that culture serves for classes is to constitute and reconstitute them, to stabilize them, reform them, to give them resources in a particular situation of competition […] a much more fluid, combative situation in which classes are being formed and destroyed or hurt […] by these cultural activities.” For Andrews, this is hopeful for agency because “otherwise you just have this sense that […] we’re these little poets on the margin doing something, and the best we can hope for is that it’s going to relate to some already established group like the lesbian movement and we can speak to them, meanwhile the big boys are out there serving the dominant class as though its already set up […] [that] the cultural apparatus and hegemony is already set up […] pushing down on us and it seems very hopeless, but actually those classes are not formed […] [but] constantly in formation and we’re part of that struggle.”
The conversation shifts from cultural values to how forms and contents of social relations constitute social formations. Silliman distinguishes the “completely different role” of correspondence for writers living outside of San Francisco and New York City, the United States’ primary poetry concentrations, where there are “almost no other writers around for them to talk to” than it does “for me living in an urban area” (San Francisco) “with a lot of other writers around who I literally just run into on the street.” In the social form of face-to-face interactions in San Francisco and New York City, the role of face-to-face social graces in constituting social formations has to be acknowledged, as Silliman says “it depends whether or not the people involved can get beyond the social level, which often doesn’t happen […] [to] sit down and talk very aggressively about one another’s work in a very detailed way [….] [T]here are other people I know […] who seem to be unwilling to have a conversation beyond the level of, well, ‘How are the Giants doing?’” Andrews adds that intense face-to-face discussion “may be seen as threatening to community cohesion […] [which] may be enhanced by only having social kinds of personal conversations that don’t deal with work” and that a product of this politeness is that one might temporarily “be buoyed up by the scene but when your scene scattered based on your age group then you might stop [writing].” In complement to the focus on face-to-face social graces, Bernstein emphasizes an acknowledgement about how social antagonisms, not limited to face-to-face social relations, in “the very social facts about the nature of readings, of people feeling burned by other people […] [of] people hav[ing] long memories” can be as “formative […] as intrinsic aesthetic values.” He emphasizes this to attempt to reject social graces and antagonisms as the foundation for his own social formation with Andrews and Silliman: “The way the three of us met originally is not arbitrary, it does not have to do with personal feuds or bad blood or simply arbitrary happenstance, [it] has to do with the fact we have L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine […] with the qualities of the work and of the political context in which the three of us [work].” He acknowledges the fact that he and Andrews “both live in New York, that Bruce got a job here” but that the social formation is still not primarily circumscribed by the regional scene, by “who lives in what city… and who lives nearby.”
The desacralization of mere community reproduction within a perspective of the totality of contending cultural values augments the agency for self-conscious political activity. Bernstein states that “it’s not sufficient to me just to write poetry, because poetry in and of itself is a genre […] even if it itself embodies or states various kinds of political views. I think it’s also necessary to talk and contextualize the work in other traditions of thinking and writing […] to make […] the connection […] [about] what your views are about the current political scene […] because nobody else is going to be able to do it in a way that we might do it.” Andrews complements Bernstein’s impulse to multi-genre self-agency by reclaiming the dearth of poetry institutions as an opportunity: “one of the interesting things to me is […] the large number of dimensions of the work which are in our hands because no one else is picking up on them. In other words, there’s not a gallery system, there’s not critics, a lot of the publishing is done by ourselves. You create your own audiences, in a sense; you don’t plug into a previously established apparatus if you want the work to even get out there.” Andrews also maintains the usefulness of intransigent multiplicity over legible simplicity for a poetic program: “what’s great about that term [Language poets] and the reason it self-destructs is that no one can define it [….] They probably know that if they were ever asked to define the term they’d be totally helpless.”
The LEGEND book and reading can be understood as expressions of such intransigent multiplicity: strategies for poetic communization. LEGEND consists of twenty-six sections in systematic compositional groups: five single-authored sections by each of the five authors, ten double-authored sections by every combination of the five authors, ten triple-authored sections by every combination of the five authors, and one section by all five authors. The recognizability of each author’s contributions is consistently effaced by the sublimation of subjectivity to each collaborative section’s unifying formal characteristics, which enables complementary group performance strategies. The book’s systematicity is reflected in the logic of the selections for the reading: two double-authored sections, three triple-authored sections, and the quintuple-authored section.
“This has a veil …” (Andrews, Silliman) consists of fifty sets of statements and creative translations. The regularity of the form grounds the variety of the translations’ riffs. Andrews and Silliman take turns with the roles of reading statements and translations and switch roles every ten sets.
“1794 Fall of Robespierre …” (Silliman, DiPalma) consists of ninety-nine unattributed biographical items indexed to dates ranging from 1066 to 1978. Most of the details are socially legible to be reattributed to historical subjects, such as the first item’s legibility for its relationship to the French Revolution. The opaque details, particularly private or vague, suggest the ultimately lossy transfer of the totality of biographical details, even those of highly legible subjects, through inscription to the historical archive. The piece also includes Silliman’s biographical details, which form a surrogate subject under development empowering a subject's agency toward potentially inscribing the immensity of the historical archive. DiPalma, Bernstein, Silliman, and Andrews take turns reading one item each in that repeating order.
“The sun is so …” (DiPalma, Andrews, Silliman) consists of one hundred five line units over four pages. DiPalma, Andrews, and Silliman take turns reading one line each on the first page, two lines each on the second page, three lines each on the third page, and four lines each on the fourth page in that repeating order.
“FLUKE JoY” (Silliman, Andrews, Bernstein) is a heterogeneous formal structure saturated with empty units signified by underscores. Andrews establishes rules for a collective improvisation by all four performers: “we just read it from […] top to bottom […] and you sort of decide ahead of time what phrases you want to read […] so when you get to that point, one or two or three people are going to read that phrase.” The underscores are realized as nonlinguistic buzzing sounds.
“An Incident in the Usual Daydream at the Foot of the Blighted Elm Overlooking a Small Town in Indian Summer” (Silliman, Bernstein, DiPalma) is a prose block of one hundred seventy sentences saturated with interrogatives over three pages. Bernstein, Silliman, and DiPalma read, in that repeating order, three sentences each on the first page, two sentences each on the second page and reverse their order after sentence eighty-six, halfway through the number of sentences, and one sentence each on the third page.
“And / much clouds spun …” (Bernstein, DiPalma, Andrews, Silliman, McCaffery) is a heterogeneous formal structure saturated with quotations by theorists Rudolf Bahro, Walter Benjamin, Karl Marx, and Ferruccio Rossi-Landi. The four performers read it as a collective improvisation like “FLUKE JoY.”
“This has a veil …,” “1794 Fall of Robespierre …,” “The sun is so …,” and “An Incident in the Usual Daydream at the Foot of the Blighted Elm Overlooking a Small Town in Indian Summer”’s performances center language’s communization in the text, by how their homogeneous forms and the constraint of the physical page enable automated performance strategies. “FLUKE JoY”’s collective improvisation centers the language’s communization in the presence of performance, through the libidinal production of live interplay and nonlinguistic sound. “And / much clouds spun …”’s collective improvisation also centers language’s communization in presence through live interplay but simultaneously is conditioned by absence through the performance of language of others including the explicitly quoted theorists and the absent fifth composer, Steve McCaffrey. The essential element enabling language’s communization in performance is the effacement of the recognizability of each author’s contributions by the sublimation of subjectivity to unifying form.
The characteristics of “oppositional” poetries and social relations have significantly changed in the present, but remain concerns of primary importance, especially in the context of the recent resurgence of social movements, presently most significantly with the “Occupy” phenomenon which poetry has been and will undoubtedly continue to be written about, and the proliferation and easing of correspondence as constitutive of social formations by the internet while San Francisco and New York City remain the poetry centers of the United States. Andrews, Bernstein, DiPalma, and Silliman provide resources of thinking and poetic practice toward a perspective of the totality of contending cultural values for self-conscious political activity beyond mere community reproduction, even as paradigms of social formation have changed.
Next commentary: Henry Hills, MONEY, 1985.
Peter Minter on the exclusion of modern Aboriginal poetry
At a recent Australian Poetry symposium, Peter Minter showed the importance of a different kind of close reading, the material reading. A video of his talk can be seen below.
Minter points out the numerous Indigenous poets excluded from Australian Poetry Since 1788, a recent anthology (as well as pointing to some other exclusions). He frames the anthology itself as an editors' folly (the editors being Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray, who have made anthologies together before) and as kitsch. But while such terms are subjective, and arguments about the exclusions from anthologies - thought objective facts - seem to boil down to the subjective in the end: it is the ends, finally, that Minter takes issue with. Minter's presentation was a model criticism, in terms of disarming those in the audience who were included in the anthology (assuming any needed to be disarmed) — but the kicker is Minter's discovery that the endpapers (shown as the image for this post, above) are actually fauxboriginal themselves, a folly of settler curtainmaking from the 1950s: they are, if anything is, kitsch. They suggest an Aboriginal design, but merely serve to give a frisson of nativism to a settlement verse project.
Minter indicates that the anthology is fine as an editor's personal project, a kind of trousseau to show Captain Cook when he comes again; the problem is in its identification with 1788: the year that symbolises the beginning of the settlement aka the invasion of Australia. Though Australia as a nation began at Federation in 1901, it is 1788 that has been officially adopted as its beginning, and was celebrated as a bicentenary in 1988. The anthology is then, identified with the state. Such a premised anthology would seem to resemble Plato's Republic - what we might call a 'state of exclusion' - one that by identifying with the state renders what is excluded as poetry, and its own contents prosaic.
In referring to the Greek I don't mean to suggest an automatic default to Greece as the beginnings of our culture: Australian culture had a number of beginnings. Yet consider the word 'anthology' itself: it is a Greek-derived word, meaning a gathering of flowers (and therefore has no roots). It would seem, then, that state-identification aside (though such an identity belies a regard for poetry over identity), that this anthology is not concerned with native flowers - or roots. And not so much with Asian or queer flowers and roots either.
a review of a film to be aired in November 2011 on PBS
It happened that I screened Jonathan Silvers’s Elusive Justice just as I rewatched Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. I regularly teach a course on representations of the holocaust in literature and film; Spielberg’s melodramatic, reductive version of the Oskar Schindler story is one of the representations my students and I discuss. Spielberg knows exactly where he wants us to look, and indeed teaches us — forces us — to see the way he wants. We see the liquidation of the Cracow ghetto from Oskar’s point of view, omniscient, Olympian, commanding: from atop a hill (where he had been riding horses with his Polish mistress), a vantage enabling him and thus us to see everything at once. This view is distinct from that of the victim of the Aktion, who necessarily saw almost nothing except the chaotic and blindingly rapid-moving terror immediately in front of him or her. And to make certain that we see what we are supposed to, from the authoritative perspective we are simply given, Spielberg paints bright red (in a movie otherwise filmed in pseudo-documentary black and white) the coat of a little Jewish girl, so that we can follow her with our eyes, having no choice, and can identify with her innocence amid the guilt. It is supremely well intentioned, but nothing here is elusive. Schindler’s List marches straight toward the feelings it is designed to instigate in its viewers. There is no visual or thematic wandering. It is friendly toward sovereignty. It is about who has the power of life and death and its own flawless visual mode (strongly implying that it can after all be comprehended) makes no irony of that absolute power.
With whatever its flaws, I prefer Elusive Justice. It is the opposite of monocultural and didactic, even though it has a strong point of view. It proposes a problem and leaves us to work through it. Absent is the laser-like focus of many filmic representations of the holocaust, Schindler’s List being just one such. Elusive Justice indicates this from the very start. Behind spare credits, we watch a German street on a rainy day in 1960s-era footage made by a handheld camera held by someone whose shoes we see and whose irregular footsteps we hear. Jonathan Silvers has made a choice: he wants us to begin with elusive justice by seeing the camera-wielding pursuer himself. The film is implicated in its problems. There is little separation of subject and object. We are in it. Silvers himself — as we will see — is in it. His predecessors were in it, and he picks up the work where they left off. We know from the start that the opening footage was made by a stalker of war criminals in an earlier era. The grainy footage implies a chain of film-making witness. Silvers has no intention of standing above.
Very soon the camera lifts and we see a German burgher, doubtless on his way home from his 9-to-5 job. But he hides his face. His camera-wielding follower has nothing to say to him as he and we move rapidly yet uncertainly behind the man. One has a sense that this is a repeated scene. The pursued is elusive, and so is the point of the scene (bravo! I say) and so, to a great extent, are the motives and expected outcomes of the pursuer. From its first moments, Elusive Justice presents us with a multiplicity of explanations. And when it’s done it will have permitted us to hear diverse voices of vengeance-minded survivors and other witnesses. Its narration’s keynote line — “There are as many conceptions of justice as there are victims of crimes” — asserts that no one voice will define that conception. Many, indeed as many as there are minds contemplating it, will be required. Following that memorable line, a pause. And then the devastating caveat: “But there are criminals who evade judgment and there are crimes that defy comprehension.” This is said, by narrator Candace Bergen in a tone that is a mixture of neutral and ominous, as we literally do not quite know what we are seeing on the screen. It prepares us well for the perplexing range of vengeant options and explanations as to why most efforts at justice have failed and why so many (including Silvers himself) continue the pursuit.
Along the way, we meet members of the Nokim group, who either did or did not successfully poison several thousand demobilized SS men in an end-of-war internment camp. “The Germans poisoned us with gas,” Yehuda Maimon tells Silvers, “So what is so terrible that we want to pay them back in the same form?” Why, in such an assiduous documentary, can we not know the extent of Nokim’s success? Many reasons, and these must be included in the film rather than edited out in favor of a summary statement: the memories of Jewish plotters themselves, now aged, vary from person to person; the Americans never released the evidence they gathered; the necessarily secretive style of such people extends to this day. And we meet Benjamin Ferencz, whose need to gather evidence from the recently liberated camps has about it the fervor of the will to bear witness. Still in his twenties, he tried his first case at Nuremberg, in which 22 war criminals who supervised the infamous Einzatgruppen were charged with the murder of more than a million people. Ferencz tells Silvers that these trials were just a “sampling” of what could have been done. Why just a sampling? Why not more? This is an old topic, but here, in the voice of the diminutive but fierce Ferencz, it is given analysis freshly: there were economic reasons, for the Allies sought to rebuild Germany more avidly than to denazify it; there were of course political reasons, as the U.S.-Russian alliance, and coordinated efforts to prosecute war crimes, collapsed in favor of routinized “cold” mistrust. Ferencz’s tone is elusive: he is proud of the aggressive and successful young lawyer he was; he is haunted by the war criminals he could never prosecute; he is angry at the speed with which the genocide was left legally behind; he is an old man now, resigned and bemused. The movement across subtopics in this film suggests a comprehensive range, but, aptly, viewers will feel disoriented, in a gray area of ethical, legal, and psychological shadows cast as wide as Europe and indeed as wide as the postwar disapora.
Shadows are a literal part of the visuality here, but of course they are also a major trope. Asher Ben-Natan and Tuvia Friedman chased down war criminals in Poland immediately after the war. Every day, Friedman remembers for Silvers, he and colleagues beat up between 15 and 20 former Nazis. He describes it as a “private effort to do what official institutions would not.” The dim light shed by Silvers’s cameras do not dissipate the shadows of Vatican seminaries and vaulted archives, as he goes after William Gowen who went after evidence of hundreds of Croatian war criminals funneled to Argentina through the Vatican’s power to provide out-of-bounds hiding places. Even the oft-told tale of the Mossad’s discovery of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina is given new complexity by the film’s attention to ambiguities in the plan, its ultimate legal intention, and the strangely alluring obscurity of the first Mossad photographs, taken with hidden cameras, of Eichmann — or it is Ricardo Klement, or Otto Eckman? — a conformist man blurred, turning rapidly away, blending into to the German émigré community which flourished there under Juan Peron. The very act of Israeli super-discernment — picking out Klement as from a police book of bad mugshots — is an extra-legal leap. Even the testimony of Ferencz, he who worked in the belly of the official prosecutorial beast, has the feel of the memory of an outsider, someone not quite doing what he was supposed to.
Silvers locates Alois Kaufman, a child survivor. The Nazis dubbed him a juvenile delinquent and sent him to a psychiatric hospital where he was to meet the fate of disabled children who were, through euthanasia, to be delivered from strains they put on society and from the opportunity to procreate. After the war, nurses, orderlies, and wardens were permitted to go into public service. Silvers documents Kaufman’s frustrated pursuit of these criminals. And apparently what we see at this point in Elusive Justice is the result of the director’s having forced or bamboozled his way into the institute’s archives, where we find hundreds of jarred pickled human brains, among them at least one that once filled the head of a child Alois Kaufman had befriended during his internment there. Not enough for Silvers. He then locates Heinrich Gross, former head of the murderous clinic, and interviews him for this film. His responses — typified by “If you were a staff member and refused to participate, you would be killed by the Nazis” — cast a further shadow. “No one took an interest in our story,” says Alois Kaufman. But Silvers’s very presence in this part of the film — we know he is there somewhere behind the camera; we know he is part of the hunt, interviewing Gross, breaking into forbidden spaces — is a good although once again ambiguous answer to Kaufman’s fears.
As it happens, my odd-seeming comparison of Spielberg and Silvers is particularly apt. A doomed girl in a red coat, whom we cannot ignore, makes an interesting reappearance. Gavriel Bach, deputy prosecutor in the Eichmann trial and later a member of the Israeli Supreme Court, is here not to affirm super-articulateness and clarity. As he elicited testimony from one of many witnesses to Nazi atrocities, a man tells of his separation from his 3-year-old daughter. She was wearing a red coat, and the man, in Israeli court with Bach standing in front of him, describes his final view of her: a red coat, moving further away, getting smaller and smaller. Bach had recently purchased for his own daughter, at two-and-a-half, a red coat. As live television cameras rolled, Bach went into deep memory, somehow co-temporaneous with his witness. The trauma of the merged “memory” “cut off my throat completely,” as he tells Silvers, and he was rendered speechless in court for three or four long minutes. Yes, Bach is an able and appropriate talking head for a film on this topic. That is no doubt why Silvers traveled to interview him in the first place. But the power of his appearance in Elusive Justice derives from the power of that inability to speak. If Spielberg’s girl in red indicates an aesthetic of insistent clarity, the capacity to see and say exactly what happened, Silvers’s film will become part of a powerful counterargument to that mode: to begin to know what happened, one must reckon with its essential elusiveness.
I am grateful to Sam Hughes and John Prendergast who commissioned this review for the Pennsylvania Gazette and will be publishing it there very soon.