Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A mutant text (written for Curious magazine)

The owner of The Flood

by Oscar Santillan

God is the one who took our limbs, fingers, toes and nails apart, but forgot he did it.

Mr. Stickgold established that memory is the link between dreams and actual life; dreams are the stage where our characters and actions furiously meet: the hyperreal space that blends flesh and time into life. But the blended memory only makes sense if the awakening is possible.

On the eighth day He tried to wake but He could not, actually He has not. Since then, we are still captured in the eighth day, in His dream. There is no Plan anymore, and mystic practices cannot reach the almighty solitude of His endless wandering.

The alarm clock must be made out of whispers. Its sound must be the same as dust embracing a windowpane.


Dust is well known to be the epidermical matter that wraps human absence. But in order to exist, it needs light. Just recently, in the nineteenth century, mankind took it into account, when cinema was invented. In between the projector and the screen -through the darkness- floats this pristine body of light and dust, the movie.

For decades, Ecuadorians have been looking for the reels of �Atahualpa�s Treasure�, the first film ever made in the country. The only remnant of its 1924 release is a newspaper advertisement. In order to take control over the entire Tawantinsuyu kingdom, Atahualpa battled against his stupid brother Huascar. The Incan civil war was full of inventive forms of torture: the defeated Huascar armies were forced to eat their chiefs� hearts; wombs were carefully cleaned out; trickles from thin, calm necks becoming leaking horizons; and wind rehearsing the way it sounds when caressing all things.

Atahualpa was taken prisoner by the incoming Spanish conquistadors, who demanded that the king fill an entire room with gold to release him. But the Incan general entrusted to bring the ransom was notified en route of Atahualpa�s assassination. After being baptized into the Catholic faith by his captors and receiving the Christian name of Juan Santos, he was gracefully offered two choices: being strangled or burned. The king died as a coward, under an unknown name and an unknown religion.

The general threw the treasure into the lake and fought the invaders back. Once captured and tortured, he was asked about the location of the golden load.

It is in a corner on the mountain.

Neither the movie nor the corner has been ever found.

The general�s name was Rumi�ahui, and he knew that the best way to expose the mundane origin of the bearded invaders was to behead those alien animals that most Incas believed to be divine: horses.

Horses have been imagined as elongations of human bodies: statements of desire and frustration (the ungoverned conscience of the lost object). Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Giant show horses as manifest flesh where humans place their latent frustrations. Major Penderton, in the first film, and Luz, in the second, both brutally injure a horse owned by one they hate in order to unleash their emotional demands. Yet the wounds arouse our pity for the cowardly aggressor. Since the true wish in both cases is to murder � a wife or a sister-in-law� we are confronted with an old and persistent idea: if something is unbearable to us and unacceptable for our society � like the necessity of homicide � we are allowed to divert it onto nature: atonement through animal sacrifice remains of paramount importance to our imagery. Those wounds are a reminder of our constant lack of self-control: trembling maps. But crimes of passion are always a mistake, and the reason is quite simple: they restore no power to the murderer.

While setting up the room where she is planning to kill her husband, the woman confesses to her accomplice, �My only regret is that he�ll never know that I killed him.� The film is Diabolique.

If it is possible to recall the most beautiful death ever, it might be that of Bernardo Jaramillo, a heterodox communist running for President of Colombia. One morning in 1990, at the airport with his wife, Bernardo was shot several times by a paramilitary. Then serenely he sought for his partner�s gaze.

Hug me; those motherfuckers have killed me.

In The Misfits, old cowboy Gay Langland, his friend Guido, and a feckless stranger, Perce, go to a barren field to capture wild horses. Roslyn �a woman in a romantic relationship with Gay� also takes part in the trip. The night before the chase, she learns that the fate of the horses is not to be ridden, but to become meat. She is the only who sees the fatuity of men�s actions. Roslyn is still young. She looks naked; you can see her generous tits bouncing into her blouse, her blonde hair lightly petting her neck, her blessing voice like blessed sex. The men, expecting to find a herd of horses, find just six, a family. They are the father, the mother, the little child, the three adolescents. One by one each is lassoed and put down. Except for the colt that stands next to his mother as she lies tied up on the ground. Capturing the horses feeds Gay�s male fantasy of freedom and power, but it turns him into a monster in Roslyn eyes.

Later that night, the younger cowboy Perce helps Roslyn to free the horses. But in an attempt to reassert his authority, Gay, the old cowboy, immediately looks to capture back the alpha horse by himself: his redemption is capturing his own image reflected in the horse. And he does so. He regains his humanity just as he frees the defeated horse.

How different is the case of Folco, the lonely kid in White Mane. The wild horse becomes his deep friend, not his mirror, but his equal. Together they run away from ranchers who try to capture the horse, and the chase ends at the beach on the edge of the ocean. Cornered, Folco rides with his friend into the sea. They disappear in the abyss of death. As his body becomes heavier, Folco understands that the world is just another place.

In my first year of elementary school I found my first best friend. Memories about him are very fuzzy; I remember neither his name nor his face, only his voice asking me if I wanted to share food that his mother had put in a greasy paperbag for him and a couple of dull images of us wandering into the undergrowth, where other kids had claimed that nuns were buried. In class we used to sit next to each other, but once, right after recess, he raised his hand and asked the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom.

He never came back.

I don�t know if I was sad, but after a few weeks I carefully started performing some of his characteristic gestures as my own. That was my opportunity to steal without stealing, and I was very conscious that I was a craven thing taking something that was not mine in the midst of collective oblivion. I never returned them.

In 1940 � it has been said that the exact date was March 2, 1940� the Direzione Generale per la Cinema, made up of heads of Mussolini�s regime, started its collaboration with the CONRA, the political police. To the public, the official mission of the Direzione was to champion fascist films as well as clean up and retouch scripts of their film industry. Their undercover aim was something a little bigger however: they were to exalt Italian cinema to the world�s rapture by dethroning Hollywood.

Dr. Alessandro Costa was the scientist leading the team that dealt with what seemed an insurmountable obstacle to their goal: Color. Upon The Wizard of Oz�s premiere, just one year before, color film became an instant condition for commercial success. Since creating their own color film technology would take years, and war against the US felt so imminent, Mr. Costa came up with a different method: he would extract the colors from American reels and inject them into black and white Italian films.

After several months and spending millions, on the evening of March 11, 1942, they finally succeeded at isolating and extracting color from an American film. (In a rare short interview for Cahiers du Cinema, Mr. Costa claimed they actually used The Wizard of Oz for the experiment.) The team watched as the color slipped away from the movie source, making it a pale and fuzzy projection, completely useless. There were three colors, each carefully poured into its own mold in an attempt to keep the strains separate and as pure as possible. As the team of scientists cheered, their army was being defeated on the Russian front.

The following day, the team came upon a tragic realization: overconfidence in their own process. The molds had not been properly tested and so overnight the colors had eroded the walls; running away, never to be found. With no budget to redo the experiment, and having been furiously accused of professional irresponsibility by the officials, the team was dissolved and the members barely saved themselves from execution. In fact, about a week after the accident, the CONRA unveiled the existence of the team to the public, exposing them as traitors to the nationalist cause. They were forbidden to talk to the press and their existence sank into obscurity.

The consequences were terrible for everyone but particularly to Mr. Costa, who would never go back to his scientific station, even after the war and the regime were over. After his death, his daughter �a leftist flutist exiled in the US� published her father�s memoirs, hoping for recognition of his legacy. Impossible: the few Italians who remembered the incident and lamented the outcome of the war were hurt. The academy abroad reduced him to an irresponsible fascist collaborator, and dismissed his achievement as an irrelevant one. Despite all of Miss Costa�s efforts�including an emotional preface describing the years of suffering her family endured�the first and only edition of the book (gracefully entitled �Shattered Suns and Sons�) hardly sold and was rarely quoted afterward.

One of the few people interested in the scientist�s life has been the writer Orlando Moretti. According to his accounts, after Mr. Costa was expelled, he spent most of his time at home, training his dog to whistle. In this version, the scientist had successfully trained the dog to blow, and it eventually produced some chords. Supposedly, Mr. Costa kept this a secret, fearing the academy would make fun of him. He also loved his pet too much to expose it to any possible media attention. His daughter has disclaimed the story as a mean-spirited joke, and has explained that the dog didn't even bark that much.

It is to be wondered if our friendship with other species is really reciprocal. Pretty often the edges of communication are contradictory and harmful. If you ever see the photograph, The Hug, in which a chimpanzee and a young woman, Lucy and Janice, embrace, you calmly realize that there are unspoken boundaries more profound than sacred verses, that the image of a hug between a chimpanzee and a woman is more compelling than the empty arms of a man on the cross.

Agnes Ozman has been documented as the first person who ever spoke in tongues in United States history. The Outpouring happened on January 1st, 1900. Some time later, she married Philemon M. LaBerge, a Minister of the Assemblies of God. Countless times he tried to leave her because of recurrent dreams in which an angel with an ice horn blooming from his forehead revealed that all of Agnes� deep feelings were devoted to God alone: there was nothing left for him. After waking from one of these dreams, the man jotted down on a piece of paper something he would carry in his wallet for years:

Love is always strong enough to defeat the afflictions of life, but never strong enough to overcome the pain it causes to us.

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