note_14 On reading Agustin Fernandez Mallo’s Nocilla Trilogy in DXB’s Deportees’ Room

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DUBAI INTERNATIONAL (DXB) Connecting the World

As Nocilla Lab, the third part of Mallo’s Nocilla Trilogy is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK, I kick myself for not conjuring the time to review it or celebrate the Trilogy in critique. Also for not yet even trying to read Mallo’s more recent Trilogía de la guerra (Seix Barral, 2018) in its original, despite it appearing last summer. I’m buried, properly, in my own manuscript (RR) which is very close to completion. Horizons lift in 2019 and I will be writing shorter critical pieces, once more, amongst other things…

portada_trilogia-de-la-guerra_agustin-fernandez-mallo_201802071134Mallo’s Dream and Experience are as good as each other in the suggestive vitality of their fragmentary form. They possess rare degrees of necessity and are, in the best sense, a minor literature, which means that you’ve not been reading at all if you’ve not read them yet! Put aside the Jo(h)nathan-literature, knowing you’ll miss nothing if you return to it in the future. Nocilla Lab works towards graphic elements in my 2009 Punto de lecture edition, which I struggled to bring alive with my old (LA) Spanish…

I was (re-)reading Mallo en route to a Residency in Sharjah, January-February 2017, and resisting the serial, fragmentary, and fictive, as ways to make the book I would start writing when I returned home two months later (with further Porting residencies scheduled for Aug 2017 and Feb-Mar 2018). It was not that a series of fragmentary texts with rhythmic associations would not be a natural way for me to write my river (an actual river, more of which to come). Indeed, the fragments were there (bright, sexy, perfect. Too perfect) and voices were accumulating in my head and a growing folder of texts, but that it would have been too easy in this case and leave too much unwritten. My river required articulation, to be precise, hence my resort to prose and the term rivering…

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So I was trying to get fragmentary text-series out of my system, while preparing to write yet more of my own in the Porting series, of which Porting One was contracted originally for Sharjah. Below is a short passage that honours Mallo’s contribution to the field, which I only now see was not part of an 8000 word excerpt -confusingly titled Porting One (DXB)- published in the current issue of Di’van. That excerpt linked here and which I will post a pdf of in time, is less than half of the conventionally-speaking ‘unwieldy’ 20,000 word text in 40 segments further excerpted below.

So, here’s to a properly uncanny (necessarily forensic for future uses, including to re-stage the text which centres on a tree/species and works towards planting a forest in DXB itself) moment in the Deportees’ Room with Mallo:

 

Tales from the Deportees’ Room

Porting One (Sharjah) & Porting Two (DXB)

 

“… After the shutter releases men in their twenties fill the yard in dusty work gear with

Arabtec tags; younger, sober-faced or fizzing at our presence. They assemble in some

wonderment to ask questions, show us their accommodation, and share testimony about

their work on Saadiyat Island in conversational detail.

 

6.

I settle on a three-seater with an alcove to my left; pastel-patterned carpet, small book

case, and a sign on otherwise bare walls reading Men’s Mosque. A pair of potted plants

stand directly in front of me across a shiny, reflective floor. The floor reflects a brushed

aluminium waste bin, two metre-high brushed aluminium plant pots and a mesh-backed

office chair, pressed against a partitioning wall. To the left is a bent entrance, to the right

are rows of seats bunched unusually close together, making it difficult to sit behind the

first row. These elements are connected visually by two bands of reflective transparent

plastic designed to protect the partition ‘wall’ from greasy hair. Above it is the underside

of an escalator with stairs and the top of a signature mirror-tiled column.

 

I am not thinking about these banal embodiments of our shared worlds; I’m

reflecting less than the wall-strips and the mottled white marbled floor. I am wondering

if the tall plants in the metre-high pots are real, whether they are alive. Each is about a

metre and a half tall, with similar but varying shapes, colours, forms, imperfections and

browned tips, even suckers. What more perfect atrium than the bright vastness of Dubai

International’s Terminal 3?

 

The book I was reading on the way had been saved for this journey and rationed

for days leading into it. I can reach it, read it or try to read it without having deliberately

filled this very strange vacuum. I am merely reverting to where I was an hour and a half

ago. The second part of Agustin Fernandez Mallo’s Nocilla trilogy is in the outer pocket of

my carry-on book-baggage which has accompanied me around the world -including

through DXB twice before- only to ground to an indeterminate pause here now.

Nocilla Experience was published a few weeks ago in England and English and I

am nearing the end of the 112 fragments that it composes. Nocilla Dream is made of 113

fragments assembled along a desert route in rhythmic, or mathematically theorised,

relations which only pretend to serendipity. Fragments are numbered not titled; number

2 follows a short quotation and starts like this:

 

“Indeed, technically its name is U.S. Route 50. It’s in Nevada, and it’s the loneliest

highway in North America. Passing through semi-mountainous desert, it links Carson

City and the town of Ely. A highway in which, it ought to be stressed, there is precisely

nothing. Nothing. A 260-mile stretch with a brothel at each end. In conceptual terms,

only one thing along the entire route vaguely calls to mind the existence of humanity:

hundreds of pairs of shoes have been strung from the only poplar that grows there, the

only one that found water.”8

 

Number 6 completes the conceit;

 

“For those who live near to U.S. Route 50, the tree is proof that, even in the most

desolate spot on earth, there’s a life beyond … the body- and that the objects, though

disposed of, possess an intrinsic value aside from the function they were made to

serve.”9 I realise that I’ve been staring blankly at a different fragment for some time

when a man enters the Deportees’ Room to instruct two anxiously milling Thai

teenagers, who have just returned from showering and still have wet hair, that the flight

removing them to Bangkok is ready and that they have to leave immediately.

 

7.

08:14

“Also security threat. Fyi”

 

8.

Shaikh Sultan Saqr’s Rolla tree in Sharjah stood close to the desert-side walls of the old

port. A place where Shaikhs were seated and falcons perched, it was also a shelter for

visiting dhow crews in-between loading and unloading from the layers of boats along the

creekside and suqs. “That legacy,” wrote the Ugandan journalist (and Deportee10) in The

National…

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12

“Nearby, incidentally, and still under the tree’s protective awning “men, boys, girls

and infants … would hang ropes on the larger branches of the Rolla tree and the girls

would sit in two rows on the ropes; each girl would twist her fingers and feet in the rope

on which the girl opposite her was sitting and a swing would be made by eight girls. The

boys pushed it for them with great care. Sweets and almonds were on sale beneath the

tree”15 too, alongside the Shaikh, according to the memoirs of his successor.

Even at less than half the scale of Shaikh Sultan Saqr’s arboreal majlis, the

Deportees’ Room is large enough to stage something then. What?

 

13.

Thoughts return to fragment 101 of Mallo’s brilliant Nocilla Experience;

 

“Some men went to Woolsthorpe, which is in Lincolnshire, England, and climbed a fence

into the garden of Isaac Newton’s former home. They identified the apple tree (a Flower

of Kent variety) from which the apple fell, itself fenced in and indicated with a sign

calling it the most important tree in the world, and they took a small cutting. Back in the

laboratories of Bio Art & Co. they made a clone of it, and the replica is currently housed

in the Science Museum in Coruña, Galicia, Spain. Impossible to see it and avoid asking

one self: why was it this and not some other tree which, hundreds of years ago,

prompted Newton to ask why the apple fell when the moon did not?”16

 

14.

A series of images from my phone show the professor joshing with the Emirati taxi

driver over dhal and rice in a cafe below a digital clock sponsored by Rainbow milk,

reading 2:00 and 28°. On the neighbouring table the artists record testimony from two

migrant workers, as they prepare to take their employer to court in a week’s time. The

cafe is one in a short row which includes the hard-working tandoor of Al Hanmaniah

Bakery, a short walk from a Labour Camp…”

 

 

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