Between Appropriation and Entrapment, the Refugee and the Ruin: Notes on the Uncanny and the Cartography of Absence in The Ballad of _______ B
by Ricky Varghese
Another description – a reductive signature, as such – for the term “appropriation”, and the terms of engagement and dis-engagement by which the term itself seems to operate, might be “entrapment”. This is what announces itself as both seemingly and paradigmatically as profoundly uncanny in how we might come to understand and underscore the origin story behind Francisco-Fernando Granados’s The Ballad of _______ B.
Let us take seriously, for the moment, Sigmund Freud’s formulation of the uncanny:
“[The] uncanny is that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar”
A young Granados agrees to an interview with the Vancouver Sun, for an article titled Climbing Mount Canada, about what it meant for him to leave behind one life in Guatemala to another, his then new home (and refuge) Canada. 11 years later, an adult Granados, now a working/practicing performance artist and an art school instructor discovers, by way of a friend of his who happens to be an ESL instructor, his interview lifted, appropriated as such, word-for-word and reduced to its utilitarian value in the context of the “Canadian Mosaic” unit in an ESL workbook.
The staging of the uncanny is suggestive here, if for nothing else then for the notion that returns, as such, are always already loaded experiences. Cartography is profoundly charged by such uncanny movements, not merely across geopolitical (from Guatemala to Canada) and textual spaces (from an interview to an ESL workbook) – and instances that command, nay demand, the necessary abstractions implicit in the task of spacing itself – but as well across temporalities between the past and the present, from the past to the present.
The gesture itself – lifting, moving, movement, the performative in the performance itself – leads us to believe fervently in the uncanny powers laden within the very task of appropriation, wherein appropriation re-stages itself as a complex practice of imagining the nation otherwise as a space for a network of new meanings to supposedly be made, where the figure of the refugee becomes the subject of both her/his own entrapment within and disengagement from her/his own subjectivity in relation to the nation-state – an entrapment and a disengagement within the logos of her/his own undoing and surreptitious remaking within the nation’s celebratory imagination, let us call it fantasy, of itself
Spacing and redistribution, in this ruinous site wherein the refugee is both subject and object, a fragment as such, then come to mark an important, dare I say even essential, set of ruptures in how the time of traumatic displacement and disengagement itself becomes constituted by the performance. Displacement – temporal, spatial, geopolitical – is rendered traumatic in the performative instance.
Discovery of how one articulation of the nation and his inheritance of it as a new piece of earth, a new cartographical space and spacing to claim as his own – by a young Granados – which then was restaged and repurposed in another context over a decade later to imagine the nation otherwise, announces precisely the extent to which the uncanny can be informed by the unsaid and the unspeakable nature of trauma. Here, as philosopher Rebecca Comay suggests ‘trauma marks a caesura in which the linear order of time is thrown out of sequence’ (Comay, 2011). Another theatrical staging of a narrative of troubled inheritances – Hamlet – referred to this as “time out of joint”.
What remains? Or, rather, how then to respond to this displacement that comes in the form of an appropriation and a subsequent scene of entrapment – this out-of-joint-ness of what it means to be both a subject and an object as perceived in the figure of the refugee that Granados both embodies, in one time, and (re-)stages, in another?
An initial response might be found in the nature of abstraction itself. Granados claims that a staging can only take place in the abstraction of embodied experience, in the abstraction that both spacing and redistribution promises in how he reorganizes the textual cartographies and exigencies that are built on and into the absences, on and into the absence of the figure itself. Temporally, a narrative was taken out of its context, restaged in another, and as such this disconnect can only be revealed as a staging of absence and the absent figure in the abstract. Abstraction, accordingly, to invoke Comay again, here echoing Hegel, “is the deadly capacity to cut into the continuum of being and bring existence to the point of unreality” (Comay, 2011).
This “deadly capacity” is, at once, both the “what remains” of the traumatic displacements that abound (temporal, spatial, geopolitical) in subject formation, here specifically that of the refugee. It is deadly precisely because much like the life that is being re-inscribed with new meanings and thus re-imagined, it also serves to undo any and all pretention we may have of how the subject might be preserved by the nation-state. Here, the subject is precisely unreal – or, rather, all too Real accordingly to the Lacanian/Zizekian formulation – as such, because the nation makes and remakes her/him into an object, and the subject’s unreality can only be reclaimed through the scene of an abstract performative re-rendering.
Ricky Varghese recently received his PhD through the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto. He, as well, holds an MA from the same department, and a BSW from York University and an MSW from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work. Being a Registered Social Worker with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, Ricky has a private clinical practice as a psychotherapist in downtown Toronto. He’s also a freelance writer interested in projects that bring together his various research and theoretical interests. Academically, his interests are in the fields of psychoanalysis and trauma studies, aesthetics and art criticism, the history of photography, HIV/AIDS and its representation, and porn studies.