Video / 19 January 2022

The City - Constantine P. Cavafy - Matt Mullins

Brave New Literatures Festival

For me, Cavafy’s poem is about the idea that “Wherever you go, there you are,” by which I mean people carry their personal issues and problems with them, regardless of any “changes in scenery” that they hope will resolve their dissonance. The set-up is call and response. The speaker of the poem, Cavafy, is quoting then cutting the addressee of the poem deeply, but it’s also possible that the Cavafy is actually disassociating, inventing a self, and therefore quoting and commenting on his own feelings about his own life, and so in reality is cutting himself to the quick. Either way, the message is the same: Your angst will get you nowhere, literally and figuratively. You’re stuck with you due to your outlook, and your pipe dreaming for a new start and fresh slate is something you’ll never follow up on, and something that would make no difference even if you actually did choose to pursue it (as I said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”). One day you will…one day. But that day’s never going to come, and all you’re ever going to do is gripe while you spin your wheels.

I wanted this feeling of being trapped by one’s choices combined with false, wishful thinking to inhabit the videopoem. That’s why it’s one long shot with an almost imperceptibly slow dolly in. That’s why it’s filled with bad habits and failed dreams and sighing traffic and a burning paper boat that is the ship to nowhere but going down the drain. That’s why there’s text on screen instead of voice over—to leave room for the quietly grinding throb and chord strikes of the score and the inhabited silence of the bather’s thoughts and soft splashing as he drinks and smokes and sniffs his way to an escape that will lead him right back to where he is – trapped in his own little circle of the sea of his own making watching the idea of his escape going up in flames. Trapped, as the poet says, because, “As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner / you’ve wasted the whole world.”

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