parallax background

a brief layover
(cary grant with his pants down)


Chris Campanioni

Images courtesy of the author


During the credits, a green screen struck with blue grids dissolves into a city street, as seen from the reflection on glass windows, from a skyscraper. As if to say: there is always something that leaks out of the virtual. As if to say: with time, everything that melts will melt, and everything melts.

(The series of names, splashed across the building’s windows and presented in VistaVision, looks like an ad from the future.)

I once read that 75 percent of all movies set in New York City were actually filmed in LA. I am including myself here, my own life.

In the fifth grade I befriended a shy blond boy like me, who, like me, was born in Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. We used to go down to S’s basement when his parents weren’t home and clear off the space, turn up the stereo. He had all the Billboard Top 25s from 1980 on. My favorite was 1985, because it was the year I was born. As if everything that ever exists exists at birth, or right after. We would turn up the music higher and dance. We were in the music video; the music video was inside us.

I like to think that all these chunks of language were just waiting, hanging around on my hard drive, my phone’s storage, waiting for me to handle them, waiting to be assembled into another text, to enter into another life. All I had to do is look for them, to seek them out, which is to say: to remember things, to be reminded of what’s already been written, what’s already been felt.

At the auction, the auctioneer begins by asking: What’s your pleasure? Then he says: How much to start?

It occurs to me that I haven’t yet addressed the film from which this text’s title comes.

The setting of North by Northwest shifts, without pause, without designation, from New York City to the California coast, Manhattan’s Grand Central Station morphing into a car chase along the Pacific Ocean in the very next scene: north/west. Location, like time zones, is nothing if not tenuous, exchangeable. Here I am, dust ball of the middle of the country, waiting to be picked up on a dirt road surrounded by unsown crops and cornstalks, by a Greyhound bus, leaning near a sign that says INDIANA.

E explains the mix-ups as a matter of form. Erroneous directions: She says, Maybe I copied them down wrong.

All quotation is documentation, but also: all documen¬tation is quotation. In a new light, surrounded by a different combination of words, sentences that have been retrieved so as to be reconceived, every voice harnesses a charge that is both artifactual and relational: permission to invite the past into the nascent awareness of its re-deployment.

Aimé Césaire produces an “African” language in French. To be more specific, Césaire can only produce a language capable of communicating a collective heritage of Africa by employing the language of empire. To exceed the borders of the colonist, one may have to appropriate the colonizing language and the discourse of colonialism, to encode and re-assemble, to return to the nation, if only to re-invent it.

If to copy out is to capture the trace of an earlier work and also transform it, then the reader’s marginal notes can be understood as a literal sub-text—a peripheral palimpsest, made possible only through the interactions between writer and reader, an inscribing that flattens the time and space between each actor in the text, which is not timeless so much as nascent and belated—dated, and also momentary. We read so as to re-read, and with each reading, we confront the text as an experience of emerging. And what emerges is the joy of creation to which readers can participate. No longer can we say authors ghost their readers, but readers, too, ghost the persons they are reading. Here, the future ghosts the past; the moment of spatial-temporal trespass performs as a reprise, in which every sampling of the before changes all the other records or recordings around it. The be-for, the after.

So much beauty in showing the stutter of a source code when it duplicates, transfers, disperses across different media.

I am interested in limits the way I aspire toward edges; to lean in, bend down, make room for another or trespass zones that have been otherwise marked as “forbidden.” This is what is at stake in any discussion of mobility.

Before Négritude, there was “pre-Négritude”: an enthusiastic interest in African art among white male European painters. Negroes, Césaire says, had to be made fashionable in France by Picasso, Vlaminck, Braque … before the collective black consciousness could come into focus.

Mr. Thornhill begins answering as Mr. Kaplan. R accepts identification as G, because everyone mistakes R for G, until R mistakes himself for G.

(What happens to R, when G displaces him?)

When a character moves off screen, André Bazin writes, we accept the fact he is out of sight, but he continues to exist in his own capacity at some other place in the décor which is hidden from us. There are no wings to the screen.

(For a single moment, over a dinner of trout on a moving train, G briefly becomes J.)

Sometime later, E asks G to meet her in Drawing Room E. A real room on the train or a self-reflexive invitation to extract another’s essence, or to be inhaled? To meet me in my compartment, to access my interior, at will.

“The car’s waiting outside. You will walk between us … we will laugh in the car.”

At the airport, there are only two lines:
Orient Airlines

How do we organize if we do not have dignity?

Before articulation is exportation. Before redefinition is fetishization. Before I reclaimed myself, on my own terms, I needed to be seen as a curiosity, to be exoticized and eroticized. I want to remember to say that the opposite of the poetic isn’t the prosaic but the stereotype, to the extent that it reminds us that absence is the first condition of all representation; that the challenge (our challenge?) is to assume every representation without being limited to it and limited by it.

What is the difference between leaving at the same time and leaving together? What is the difference between not having a bed and not having a home, not having a future and not having a past?

In Havana, on December 7, 1969, Julio García Espinosa said that it is no longer a matter of replacing one school with another, one “ism” with another, poetry with anti-poetry, but of truly letting a thousand different flowers bloom. “Art,” he said, “will not disappear into nothingness; it will disappear into everything.”

(I was sweating and loved how the lighting was at this waterfall.)

Curiosity is a desire to know and an interest leading to a future inquiry. A curiosity can also be one that arouses interest, especially for uncommon or exotic characteristics. Curiosity, from Latin cūriōsus: careful, inquisitive, from cura: meaning help, care.

That it is neither impossible nor new to produce culture outside capital is worth repeating. Césaire speaks of the moment when he realized the pre-colonial cultures of Africa and Asia were not just ante-capitalist but also anti-capitalist. “They were communal societies,” he writes, “never societies of the many for the few. … They were democratic societies, always. They were cooperative societies, fraternal societies. I make a systematic defense of the societies destroyed by imperialism. They were the fact, they did not pretend to be the idea … They kept hope intact.”

It makes me feel like I’m living, sort of, M says, as he looks up from the collection of scripts laid out on the bed and directs his gaze to the viewer. Cuz it’s kind of magical, you know?

The camera is like a giant tongue. (You can almost hear the slurping.)

A common method of disconcerting codebreakers is to mix in with the legitimate message a message that cannot be decoded; a non-significant message, a mere assemblage of characters.

And anyway, if the text is to remain, shouldn’t the text remain in flux? What would happen, for instance, if we were to include an excerpt from Kim Kardashian West’s best-selling anthology of Instagram selfies? In the 512-page edition of Selfish, re-published in 2016, we learn that photos are memories to me. As soon as I see an image, all of the details of the day or moment come alive …

In his 1969 essay, García Espinosa hypothesizes an “imperfect cinema,” in which the evolution of technology would eventually create the conditions for the democratization of art production, or maybe, more specifically, unless I’m reading this wrong, the merging of spectatorship and filming.

If everyone made films, then life would become itself a movie, or rather: movies would become indistinguishable from life. When this happened, I began to inhabit my life, to attend to my life, with the same curiosity and awe as the viewer, who can only watch from afar, with one exception: I knew that the fantasy was no longer (would never again) be separated by a screen.

A way to frame both figures in the same shot, head-on, each one facing the other, is to position a mirror in the background. One person faces the viewer, their back turned to the reflected image of the person whom they are facing, who faces us.

(In this way, seeing and not seeing can coincide.)

“It’s going to be a long night,” I said. “And I don’t particularly like the book I’ve started.”

The text as decoy. But also as coy, showing reluctance to make a definite commitment; marked by artful playfulness.

In a world of infinite reproduction and infinite reproducibility, the neoliberal extension of the market to all domains of experience, the commodity that remains most attractive (and most scarce) is not pleasure, but presence. But how to reproduce presence when souls remain tethered to bodies? The trick is not to reproduce presence but to manufacture absence.

(Managing one’s own absenteeism is an arduous task.)

We could say in this economy of appearances that capitalism doesn’t just sell presence but omnipresence, the relentless desire—no, requirement—of being everywhere all at once. We could say that our phones and our bodies have switched places; that our phones are no longer accessories or attachments; that our bodies are in fact the inert receptacles feigning presence in public. We already know we each have data doubles; what’s perhaps less rehearsed is the fact that we each have body doubles, or rather, that our bodies perform as decoys, presenting us in person so that we might escape elsewhere.

(Despite playing him for over half the movie, R finds out G doesn’t exist.)

remember the book doesn’t end
in publication but begins here / here
is the archive & the act of archiving

The moment an archive turns from a site of excavation into a site of ex(-)citation (a site of construction) is the moment that time contracts: belatedness passes into becomingness. A related question: can disturbing the origin provoke other points of departure? I am drawn to unbeginning as a possible scenario—a strategy of possibility—for everyday life. I return, and in the interval, I’ve removed the first three pages of this sequence.

(527 non-words, all of them tantalizing; I give thanks, to be in the presence of that negative act; for sudden dispersal; to leave no leftovers.)

What is North (by North/West) but a repeating narrative of white supremacy and its deployment for political, economic, and cultural imperialism?

How do we know it’s not a fake? R asks, no longer playing at playing G. R’s outbursts cause an uproar at the auction. A woman beside R turns his way. She says: Well, one thing we know: you’re no fake.

[suggest:] a strategy for changing the meaning of texts (words, signs, media) through creating spaces where languages and cultures are not only related to each other but entangled: nothing gets replaced, only altered via the coexistence of presences, voices, stories.

Any subset of a set considered without regard to order within the subset.

If this is still less a book than a dance then maybe what I’m saying now or trying to say is that there is more than one way to dance.

Interested in our attempt to catch what Charles Mingus called “rotary perception,” where you imagine a circle around the beat, and you play the notes anywhere around the beat.

I see that girl run on the street facing my house, F writes me, and I marvel at her. Today, I realized she runs on the backroad I take toward home. It was a thrill to see her run up close, and she gave thanks as she passed by because she knew I didn’t want to be in her way or ruin her stride, and it meant so much to me that she said thank you, because I would have understood if she had to control her breathing.

(I, too, love this giving thanks for breath, for pause, for [body] control—but only briefly—for breathing.)

The pulse is inside you; it is important only to remember the beat.

The first thing I remember about New York City is the smell, at least at a certain time: five-six-seven-eight … the smell of a city which was really the smell of people, of bodies, of bodies passing bodies, prickly and sharp, which was so much more profound, more haunting than anything I ever smelled in suburban New Jersey, where J and S moved, where everything seemed to have the same scent, where everything and everybody smelled alike.

I had written that the city felt as if it were an open road, a feeling I felt whenever we’d return, to visit I, my babcia, but it was more like a street corner, la esquina, a junction for pleasure, an edge for cruising or crossing, recursively.

When I was young, I didn’t realize the effect of words, the effect of a single word. I didn’t realize that every word and feeling was finding its own home within me, to be relived in another place, at another time, again and again, or at least until my senses dissolve, at least until the home in which this soul abides dissolves.

(This sequence is 9 minutes and 45 seconds long, and it contains 133 editorial cuts.)

Those words, those feelings … I sometimes feel as if these words and feelings will be mine forever.

I like to say that B was my first translator, even though she’s never translated anything I’ve written.

For a while, the only French I knew was: Je ne suis pas un personnage mais je me promène dans votre livre.

I never thought where I’d be, I never thought where life would take me, or how I’d make a living; how I’d make a life. When I was younger, I only knew that I wanted to try as many things as I could, pick them up, try them on. I only knew I wanted to re-imagine everything. I never got bored of that. I would never get bored of that. I was the child of two migrants after all, two people who learned to live by imagining the possibilities of something else.

You could be anyone, I thought. Anyone, anyone.

I’m not a character but I’ll amble about in your book.

Years ago, B tells me, she used to sit at home with her anneanne, translating episodes of the North American soap operas I appeared in, repeating me, or at least the lines I’d been given, in Turkish.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to merge myself into the current of the city. It takes practice. It takes sacrifice, too. To become a mirror as vast as the crowd around me, reflecting every gesture with the flickering grace of an image when it moves and multiplies. If I could do that, I could do anything. But how could I do that without giving something else up? How could I do that without all the time losing myself?

I knew the lines; I knew the lines and I didn’t know the lines or at least how to deliver them; I couldn’t relate to them, I couldn’t bear my own relation to the lines I was meant to deliver and had delivered and would deliver tomorrow and yet could not deliver.

(To write is to produce a video diary.)

Like Wim Wenders, who goes to Tokyo to pay homage to filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu, and ends up creating a film out of his notes, his itinerary of images, his correspondence with the dead Japanese director, with whom he can only communicate in translation: by speaking with all the other persons involved in Ozu’s films—cameramen, actors, crew members.

In the film, Wenders doesn’t use subtitles; during interviews, he narrates, in English, over his respondent’s answers, in Japanese. The staging of “original” and translation melt. Who speaks? I like not knowing; the conflation of subjects, bodies, languages; the sonic beauty (discord) of hearing two voices at the same time, speaking slightly out of synch. I am interested in works of art that masquerade as reader’s notebooks, because the most intimate thing I can ever know about you is what turns you on; what you’ve been thinking about, and with whom, and for how long, and how you got there (got here).

Someone once asked me how I feel about the oscillation of my own body across the written word and the visual image. Does it, M asked, invoke a sense of abjection or celebration?

M had been reading Barthes’ “World of Wrestling” and the unspeakable heap was on each of our minds, whether it were flesh or something underneath it, like the vertical pressure solicited by a bowed head, the attraction of giving up all authority, if one were asked, if one had the choice. Maybe I’m remembering this wrong—what M said, what Barthes wrote. Maybe the transcription is buried, huddled in the same unspeakable heap that produced its discovery as an event, a thing that occurred or did it. Maybe I want “abjection” and “celebration” to be reciprocal and synonymous. People enjoy wrestling because they want to receive representations, to feed on images, not for lack of the real thing but to better taste it through absence and intensified presence. Maybe we need both.

In another version of this interview, I want to remain cloudy, indistinct, unintelligible, for fear that everything I say about anything I’ve written will fix the words on the page, and it’s less a desire not to explain my work than a fear of making the work explainable to me; I’d rather retain that lack of clarity that resembles the moment consciousness stopped for language, when I thought to write it down. Every transcription depends on timing, and here I also mean flow. I’m afraid of figuration. Maybe that’s why I began working as a model. To destroy my representation through semiotic excess. The blur of repetition and dispersal.

And I knew enough to know that I would be created by the hands and the eyes—especially the eyes—of all the people I’d never meet. What I didn’t know. What I could never guess was that I would create them too, that they would turn to me and turn in me. And I would turn too. The worst thing was not that I did not belong but that I no longer belonged to myself. Imagine that. But I didn’t have to imagine it anymore, any longer.

(Forgetting for a moment or just disbelieving—I was young then; I was unknown even to myself—that every pose begins as a trick and ends as a fact.)

J and S teach me English from an early age, because it was the same language that was forced upon them, forced in them, when they each arrived, across different bodies. It takes so much practice. And you may never get it right, the way S asks me today what it is I mean when I read this back to her; the way I can’t sometimes articulate a thought, when I’m asked to, in public. What it is I mean, what I am trying to say. What it sounds like; should sound like. It takes practice. And I know that practice means repetition, performance, mimicry; and I know that assimilation is my greatest pose.

Mimicry, though, is never an exercise of exact repetition; never an act of unconditional homage. In the course of all communication there exists a gap, a discrepancy between what is said and what is heard. When the colonial discourse is imitated in this manner, it becomes itself rendered “hybrid”; thus, the colonized can subvert the terms of colonization by rehearsing it in their own voice, a moment where language, enunciation, and subjectivity become intertwined: to say what cannot be said, or rather; to make words say other than what they mean.

[i.e. language’s oft-theorized constitutive indeterminacy is here on literal display]

Everything you don’t see before the pose solidifies, to be degraded in gelatin, all the trying on and trying out, all the dips of movement in the face and the practiced tilt of a certain expression; everything but everything that repeats, I said again, silently, to myself, which means I repeated it too, I am repeating myself—everything that repeats becomes a fact.

“Whenever I see a film,” he told me, “I dissolve myself in it, to such an extent that I reach the bottom. I fade out.”

(And to make a trick of one’s own is to solidify it within the body.)

The humming in the air was back to normal now. It was a comforting sound, like the heat of a radiator, or the faint buzzing of a mobile alert that reminds you where you are or where you couldn’t be. Everything is safe and everything is in its own place and you are privy to every movement.

I remember sitting in the backseat, staring so intensely out the window at everything we passed, everything we were about to or would never; the outlines of other buildings rising from the background; the people inside them. Maybe not even seeing what I was looking so intensely at, the way it is now. Even then, I was writing. I did not know it, but I was.

Some dots, streaks, and black frames with numbers ran through the projector. Figures on the screen evaporated slowly, as though they were made of sugar and dissolving into water. A few uncut frames flicked by, scarred with dashes and white spots, and then there was another caption.

Sheriff, lend me your gun. I want to do a little missionary work.”

I stopped what I was doing as though frozen; it was as if the projector had jammed and left me fixed in that single frame, motionless.


Oh, well a cut is nothing. One cut of film, Hitchcock says, is like a piece of mosaic. To me, pure film, pure cinema is pieces of film assembled. Any individual piece is nothing. But a combination of them creates an idea.


Chris Campanioni

Chris Campanioni is the author of A and B and Also Nothing (Otis Books | Seismicity Editions, 2020), a re-writing of Henry James’s The American and Gertrude Stein’s "Americans," which merges theory, fiction, and autobiography. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets College Prize and an International Latino Book Award. Recent work has appeared in BOMB, Catapult, Denver Quarterly, American Poetry Review, and Nat. Brut, and has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

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