Bewitched Migrants

Patrick D. Flores

Soulnessless is announced on Terre Thaemlitz’s website as the WORLD’S LONGEST ALBUM IN HISTORY & WORLD’S FIRST FULL LENGTH MP3 ALBUM. It includes thirty-two hours of audio materials, eighty minutes of video materials, 150 pages of text, and is distributed through a 16GB microSDHC card by Comatonse Recordings, Thaemlitz’s label. According to its author, as published on the website, “Soulnessless could be summarized as an attempted deconstruction of soul music. More precisely, a deconstruction of notions of spirituality, meditation, superstition, and religiosity perpetuated through audio marketplaces that insist upon judging audio in relation to ‘authenticity’ and ‘soul’. And like Lovebomb/愛の爆弾, this album approaches its central theme from a variety of vectors—in this case, the various tenuous points of connection being gender, electronic audio production and spirituality.” A complex, restless endeavor with multiple ramifications and a viral distribution scheme that defeats the all-digital, Soulnessless performs and displaces multiple ranges of critical hybridity. For this issue, we have chosen to address, through the sensitive words of Patrick Duarte, the chosen specific question of disjunction and haunting that is at play in “Canto II”. Read more at http://www.comatonse.com/writings/2012_soulnessless.html

The Editors

Traffic With the Devil, 2013.

A telling scene in the work of Terre Thaemlitz’s “Canto II — Traffic with the Devil” of the Soulnessless project gathers the mileage of drifters, and at the same time, frames a catachresis. The deported Philippine worker flies home on board a plane and upon descent, the country is glimpsed through the window. The vessel and the voyager, who does not appear on screen though is indirectly present as the one peering into or even the one hovering alongside the aircraft, condense as winged figures that intercut with an excerpt of a popular horror film depicting the flight of the manananggal. The latter is the viscera sucker of local lower mythology whose body splits at the waist so that the torso can morph into a bat and search for prey until daybreak when it must return to its truncated corpus. In this relay of images, the Philippine migrant, earlier alienated from native land, is severed from work in Japan and comes back to the tropical archipelago; the vampire, on the other hand, roams the realm for fetus and reunites with human life and limb with only the waxing moon as witness. For this enigmatic body not to cohere any longer, salt must be poured into the fissure—this thing out of joint.

The film runs like an allegory of documentation even as it eludes the typical language of the documentary. It turns to text (instructions, billboards, quotations) that cuts across the image and barely resorts to sound. In doing so, it sustains the tension between documentation and disappearance. This is the first moment of the thesis: that the legal regime of immigration in Japan and its apparatus of surveillance have rendered those without official documentation ghostly, a condition to be replicated within the undocumented self who verisimilarly experiences haunting. This is the structure of feeling of migrancy: bewitching, prone to the phantasmatic. The reinscription of this haunting across public and private sites threatens the norms that govern aliens and their rights to settle. The horror—and the terror—stems from this ubiquity as well as from the agency of the manananggal, the alluring woman/predator (played in the film by a dusky soft-porn star) or the heroic overseas Filipino worker, to inhabit both domestic and civic spaces. Thus, intense surveillance becomes necessary to ensure both intense dematerialization and the dissipation of intense proximities. It is at the intersection of folklore and film that this subjectivity is harnessed, technologies that are conveniently instrumentalized by the rituals of the state and the artifice of representation, but also keen to spin mutations, as evidenced by the plural versions of myth and the multiple sequels of the film Shake, Rattle, & Roll (1984)1 from which certain sequences are culled.

The second moment comes in the comparison between the material situation of the Philippine worker and a character in folklore, which becomes visible, or visual, through the cinema. Otherwise, it would remain merely oral in the same way that the worker would remain occult. This presence in the cinema complicates the absence of the worker, who is rearticulated through theory, statistics, and montage. The abovementioned popular film trilogy proves to be a salient point of comparison. This procedure of comparison is inherently spectral because it tempts equivalence, an enchantment of affinities, or of semblances, as the Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal would phrase it in his 1887 novel Noli Me Tangere.2 This is largely brought about by a trick of the eye or malikmata, which conjures double, quick-change, polytropic vision.

The third moment may be gleaned in the anthropological project of the filmmaker when he visits the town of the deportees in Davao, south of Manila in the island of Mindanao. There, he tries to investigate the hauntings, a process that is corrupted by informants who have misled his ethnographic subjects into believing their interviews would give them visas to Japan. In this situation, the documentation falls apart but its allegory thickens because it finally implicates the spectacle or palabas that is contrived so that things could properly “appear” for the sake of another chance at flight. The fact that the interviewees had concealed negative conditions in Japan just so that they could return to their zone of ghostliness means that they have internalized this haunting as a tactic of survival or diskarte. At this point, the fulcrum shifts: the torso of the dismembered worker transfers to Japan, the land of the rising sun, thus confounding further the spectrality of both ethnic subjectivity and global migration. It might be instructive to invoke Jacques Derrida at this point to make sense of this constellation: that the cinema is a fray of phantoms3 and that these phantoms are “vectors of an affective engagement with the visceral implications of the factory, the plantation, the market, the mine.”4 This, finally, is the traffic of affective labor, which because Legion, is diabolical: bedeviling.

In the final passages of the film, the bewitched migrants finally appear, albeit somewhat in a blur, with the hardcore politics of globality ending in soft focus. They are sheer, speaking of stress and arrest, comfort and freedom, detention, insecurity, trauma. The hazy image and sound forces the viewer to strain in order to figure out what is transpiring, and to discern in the elliptical testimony the repetition of the split: “pronounced, announced, the witch accounts for this splitting within one. It names the foreign within oneself as the effect of an alien force hidden under the guise of one’s neighbors…”5 It is this visceral experience of migrants acting out their biopolitics that feeds into the experience of the viscera of the witch/worker heaving, stirring, roiling (fleshed out amusingly through Third World prosthetics)—that sanguine time when lives are lain bare and the salt of the earth finally changes its state.

  • 1. The most reprised horror film in Philippine cinema, with fourteen sequels to date, was first released through Athena Productions in 1984 but since 1990 has been produced by Regal Entertainment, a dominant production in the 1980s in the Philippines. It is structured as a trilogy, with multiple personnel and without common thematic and stylistic orientation. Except for one, all titles opened on Christmas Day for the Metro Manila Film Festival.
  • 2. It was originally written in Spanish in Berlin. The title is translated as Touch Me Not, a phrase pronounced by Jesus in the Gospel of St. John. It is also known in some translations as The Social Cancer and The Lost Eden. It speaks of colonial life in the Philippines under Spanish rule. It was influential in shaping the Philippine Revolution in 1896, the year Rizal was executed.
  • 3. See Mark Lewis and Andre Payne. 1988. “The Ghost Dance: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” In Public (Fall), 60–74.
  • 4. ean and John Comaroff. 2002. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millennial Capitalism,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (4), 796.
  • 5. James Siegel, Naming the Witch (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 220.