The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction
by Djeff Babcock and Aryan Kaganof
Outside the landscape was shifting with complex shadows and light. A week went by like this, with endless vodka rituals, with herring and rye bread, with swimming in lakes, with bright sunsets and swaying apple trees. Here it seemed to me that everything was a ritual to open up pure communication- a wild communication of the soul. What was important for me, and what was disappearing from the face of the western world, was the integrity of the spirit. All that was left in the West was a mockery, pathetic when held up to the light.
I thought about these things and watched the noble face of the old man by the light of the fire. The greatest effect of modernisation, I continued to observe, was the result of body-capitalism: the confiscation of the blood. In this way the individual lost his own sovereignty and inheritance.
At the end of this week was the final all-night vodka ritual. The next day was gray. When it came to the time of departure everyone suddenly became concerned about my welfare. As we approached Riga the driver decided that he wanted to go to a banya. The banya was an ancient exotic ritual which bordered on masochism. Red hot stones which carefully rip away the layers of the world. It was here that men of all different backgrounds could meet as equals, all of society and its laws are suspended temporarily in this sweat lodge. There was a mix of criminals (with their huge tattoos), businessmen (with their lack of charisma), workers (with their muscles) and Mafia types (with their big golden chains).
They said the ritual was developed to move the blood, and it included self-flagellation with birch and oak branches. They would all of a sudden start whipping themselves into a frenzy, the branches burning like flames in the ultra hot sauna.
When we were finished the three of us were totally broken, left in a kind of daze where it was even difficult to utter a single word. Of course we finished the ritual with a large glass of vodka.
Later that night I was walking down the Caka iela, past the prostitutes, and I felt my hunger grow. I needed to fuck again, to touch and be touched. But then suddenly it all became a weird mix, a kind of cultural nausea, as it always does in this fucked-up society. It happened when I came across an old woman in utter poverty living in the streets. Her face black with soot, she paced in circles trying to keep warm.
In the morning I went out to my favourite cafe, which could barely be called a cafe, lacking any of the charm necessary to function under the illusion of commerce. My God, how could anyone drag themselves here each morning and then go to work in some dreary shit-hole afterwards? It was a terrible day, raining endlessly. I walked through all of it. I went to the open market which was a swamp, I especially liked the wooden houses, appearing as if they had suddenly come out of the set of some cowboy film. The Jugendstijl gates, the huge piercing faces mounted on the sides of buildings, staring down like guardians of the past. The hand painted cinema posters. The shops which were open all night. It rained all night long, through all of it. I walked until I couldn’t walk anymore, and then I had to walk back.
While I was walking down the street the next day a Latvian grabbed me wildly and asked me, “Quick, do you have an aim in life?” It was a good question, because most people don’t. I answered instantly. “To write poetry and to find someone to love.”
During the nights I would walk the streets of the old town, listening to Latvian rock music. I was drinking bottles of beer on the street corners, but of course I would never meet a girl on the street. Girls want to meet guys with money, the guys in the bars.
Here there was no history as it is known in the west. Here history was always entangled with mystery and inexplicable events. Stories of astrological clock-makers going blind, monks that were bricked up alive behind church walls, black cats and so forth were blended in with historical data. This was the case to such an extent that a so-called factual history of causes and effects would now be impossible to reconstruct.
The toilet in my apartment was the most brutal I had ever witnessed. The pipes were all held together with wet scotch tape and the walls seemed like they had been painted with shit.
One thing that can be said about me to make me more comprehensible is that I was irreverent. But this irreverence was based upon a severe and crystallised reverence, much like an anarchist is not someone who is lawless (as many claim), but is someone who is so full of internal laws that he cannot obey the laws of others. The only person that can follow the laws of society is someone who, in fact, carries no sacred laws within.
Another thing. Whereas most people were condemned to either guilt (for what they did do), or regrets (for what they didn’t do), I was carefully guiding myself between both sides of this dichotomy.
So let’s get back to this withered branch of a story.
In the morning I spent a few hours drawing and staying warm in the Russian orthodox cathedral. As I left the cathedral there was a little old man playing his accordion on the bridge, singing and yelping like a beaten doggie.
I had breakfast in a dreadfully cheerful creperie in the city centre. Nothing could be more depressing. It’s when you are alone in the world that the world opens itself for what it really is. I longed for my industrial cafeteria that I normally went to. Does this seem negative? I wasn’t one for cheap solutions. I believed I had to eat this unbelievable shit of love in order to get rid of it. One of the reasons why this world was such an intercontinental mess was that it never tried to really solve its problems, but merely bandage them over as easy as possible. In this sense many people eat without shitting. They just look the other way and try to forget, and the shit just builds up inside them.
Some had accused me of a lack of will and said that I was indecisive, because I left most decisions up to others. But in reality I wasn’t afraid of making decisions. It was just that I actually couldn’t care less about 95 % of what this world had to offer. What difference did it make to me what bar I went to, or what kind of tea I drank? In the scope of my life these were all insignificant details. For me all that was important was a good glass of wine, fucking, someone intelligent to share a few words with, a cigarette once in awhile, and my creativity.
But when something approached the arena of my self-styled ethics, I never budged. And if someone tried to persuade me to leave myself, they would find it was as difficult as pulling a tooth.
In the evening I went with several Russians to the sea. It was glowing crystal blue. I took my shoes off and walked into the cold waters, a large black dog splashing circles all about me.
I returned back to Riga in the night, but something special happened to me for a moment. I met a girl named Beta. It was a chance meeting and only lasted a few minutes, but I recognised her immediately (in the poetic sense). Her dark shiny eyes, her wild bleached hair. She couldn’t speak any English, which kept our contact almost childlike.
She took me by the hand, and she laid her head on my lap. We laughed together, and I realised that I loved her, even if just for a moment. A spark in the endless cold night of my existence.
But why was I so attracted to these mad types, so bright in such a dark way? Another girl where everything would obviously be temporary, everything impossible to build upon.
Although I had a side which was undoubtedly rational, I was still drawn in my heart to mystery. That was why I would never fit into any system and why I felt such a connection to these crazy types. But why was I unable to find anyone like himself, who was able to clutch both these sides at once, without falling off into either one? And there was something else I realised with Beta. That something inside me yearned for this world of no language, a world beyond any steady form. That was probably why I was travelling at the moment. To reach the magical properties of travelling.
I felt that language simplified communication while it damaged the transmitter. In one way it was perfect. In another way it was a perfect disaster.
The windows of the staircase in my apartment in Riga were so blackened by coal dust that even the brightest sunlight allowed only a dim gold-brown circle of an image to filter through. It was like looking out into the last century.
Let us think about tears for a moment. The three months I had lived in Latvia were filled with tears. Whenever anyone spoke to me about some problem in their life the tears would be unleashed. At these moments I felt I understood how much suffering there was in this world. And this awareness was perhaps even accelerated by the stony urban environment of Riga, where all emotions seemed to have a tendency to ricochet rather than disperse. But I had felt good about the advent of this almost constant stream of tears. It felt like tears were pouring out of my eyes from all corners of existence. It was a world of tears.