“Vanessa Place autopsy report” is an excerpt from the play Les Singes (The Monkeys) by Naomi Toth and Vanessa Place, set to a soundtrack by Estonian DJ Maria Minerva, and a video piece, “Traffic,” composed by Place. Les Singes was first performed in Silencio, David Lynch’s private club in Paris, a contemporary version of the eighteenth-century salon. Composed of three movements, Les Singes moves from carnival to monkey-mocking and -making to self-rendering to drinking to the poet’s demise.
In 2013, I was weary of everything I’d written. So I decided to murder my poems — specifically twenty-seven poetry collections published up to that point — in an attempt to find another way for creating poems. For this attempt, I also wanted to deepen my interrogation (and disruption) of English which had facilitated twentieth-century US colonialism in my birthland, the Philippines.
Four source-essays — by Anne Carson, Michel de Certeau, Amy Ireland, Cornelia Vismann — converge here in heavily edited form to delimit a terrain of extremity through their respective themes of gender, glossolalia, alienation, and war.
In his rightfully famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. recounts his confusion, refusal, and eventual acceptance of the label “extremist” from his critics. King notes that there are two tendencies of extremity: extremism for moral good and extremism for moral evil. And as he puts it in “Call to Conscience,” insofar as America is an extremist nation for moral evil per its actions in Vietnam, he and other antiwar protesters are morally compelled to be extremists for good.
The bureaucrat capitalist Rodrigo Duterte is establishing his dictatorship in the Philippines. In an alarming throwback to the Marcos dictatorship, he has put the south under martial law, and the number of human rights violations is mounting; the rest of the country is aggressively being militarized. Arriving in the wake of former President Benigno Aquino III’s antipeasant and antiworker regime, the Duterte regime wasted no time establishing itself as the opposition to Aquino’s haciendero elitism.
In the precolonial Philippines, the most comprehensive works of literature that capture the ways of living of respective indigenous communities were ethno-epics, from which novels and poetry draw themes that arbiters of taste shall essentially label “Filipino.” Whoever controls the mode of production most probably controls cultural institutions that — to some extent — possess relative autonomy.
Thousands of people in white started arriving in groups outside the building where Magpies, my self-publishing collective, was reading eulogies amid somber music, wreaths, candles, and donation envelopes in front of a small crowd in the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
I was thinking of the appearances of the toilet bowl in Philippine art or literature and risked easy desperation in concluding that there was nothing much to think of. The closest I could think of involve soft-porn movies where it is the bathroom at large, not the toilet bowl, which figures prominently. Pandering to the voyeuristic and buoying the audience’s anticipation of the superficially naked, bathroom scenes usually feature the female feigning innocence — she is aware of the performance; she knows she is being watched — as she bares herself.