Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Ocean Vuong - Art for Our Lives on Fire

That Urgent Open Bandwidth

On August 28, 2014, The Rumpus published an essay by Ocean Vuong: The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation

Death Waking Us Up to Living

Ocean Vuong's uncle died by his own actions on New Year's Eve 2013. This death of a loved one opens into an exploration of the importance of art to share our pain and help us live.

"I wish I could've found a way to share ... with him ..., to have the courage to communicate on that urgent and open bandwidth. That we could have trusted each other with our frailties knowing that, as humans, we are, at our best, partially broken."

On the rituals of death: "the sounds of the Lotus Sutra ... its deep droning rises from our collective despair." "the dead can still be nourished by our offerings and goodwill"

On the illusion of safety in a fire escape: "That one can indeed escape the fire, and still perish through the means of that escape." 

On the potency of walking, and opening to our perceptions, to further thought and deepen experience: "something about movement that helps me think."

Art, Our Most Necessary Communications (and the fire escape as architecture and metaphor)

I speak of poetry only because it is the medium that I am most intimate with. But what I mean to say is that all art, if willing, can create the space for our most necessary communications. 
I want to believe that there are things we can say without language. And I think this is the space the fire escape occupies, a space unbounded by the genre or the physical limitations of the artist's tools. A space of pure potential, of possibility, where our desires, our strange and myriad ecstasies can, however brief, remain amorphous and resist the decay actualized by the rational world.

... it has become more and more difficult for us to say aloud, to one another: I am hurt. I am scared. What happens now?, the poem, like the fire escape, as feeble and thin as it is, has become my most concentrated architecture of resistance. A place where I can be as honest as I need to be - because the fire has already begun in my home, swallowing my most valuable possessions - and even my loved ones. 
My uncle is gone. I will never know exactly why. But I still have my body and with it these words, hammered into a structure just wide enough to hold the weight of my living. I want to use it to talk about my obsessions and fears, my odd and idiosyncratic joys. I want to leave the party through the window and find my uncle standing on a piece of iron shaped into visible desperation, which must also be (how can it not?) the beginning of visible hope. I want to stay there until the building burns down. I want to love more than death can harm. And I want to tell you this often: That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night - we can live. And we will.

Ocean Vuong

The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation (2014)

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