In a Whisper by Adrian Rifkin* (translated by David Pickering)

(for A.Z. & A.M.)

"I had been warned that this would be an imaginary conversation. The stuff of dreams. At first he is all alone in front of us and tells endearing stories of war, of singers banned by his parents who were a tad too strict. Then another voice, the voice of a man, makes itself heard, picks up the cable and plugs in his own computer, telling stories that necessarily evoke the conqueror in all his glory, his guilt, his desire to transcend it all?
Wherein lies the imaginary? Could I have dreamed all this up—this empty stage in front of me? I would so much have liked Akram and Avi to reach common ground, to seize the future.
If I treat them with such familiarity it is because they wove a web of intimacy and mutual understanding around us—that of the strangely similar past of a filmmaker and a video artist, of the oppressor and the oppressed, of artists who have something to say in the laboratories of art. Except that, all things considered, they let me slip through the cracks of an unfinished conversation, all the more unfinished because I also recognize its themes in my self, intimately. Yet, there, in my very disappointment, dawned the possibility of their accord.
Only time will tell.
A dream, you say; but yes, the very fact that such an accord might be a question of self and not the vast globalization of a conflict, the unforgivable war of a State against Others. A dream indeed, penetrated by that fleeting sensuality of singers and freedom fighters, the hint of perfume hanging on Akram’s words.
Towards the end, I must surely have been dreaming. So much so that I found myself traveling, by car, over beautifully rugged, parched and unfamiliar terrain. And yet in the dream I remembered my grandmother telling me something about those lands in Lebanon, which she crossed through en route to a family weeding in Damascus around 1900. At that time the composer Gustav Mahler had not yet written his Song of the Earth, but in my dream I hear it resonating across this other land, so unlike the place where he flowed to his ultimate sorrow; too dry, too bright. “Du mein Freund,” not easy to cite a dream, but I cite it nonetheless: “Mir war auf dieser Welt das Gluck nicht hold.” My drifting, the story of a failed, unfinished friendship, leaves me alone and forsaken. “Heimat” and the blue mountain forever overwhelmed by loss, a missed opportunity, sighs repeated to the point of ensuing faintness.
“Ewig, ewig,” it will never happen.
A parenthetical dream (through all of this women were the subject, distant singers; the voices of all these women, singers or other artists, mingling with the heady odors of freedom fighters in sweaty uniforms give rise to a possible gay or polymorphic being as episteme. Along with the mutual recognition of these two men, our emancipation from imperialism and its animosities, comes sexual fantasy, a prior queering of my vision of that man who also calls himself an Arab, who mishandles me in the end with his “ewig, ewig” turning in the car, who makes me withdraw into the unquenched desires that the other one had tried so gently to awaken.)
Me, I could never allow myself the right to say I too am Arab, (maybe); and yet I do share his origins, albeit on the Egyptian side. But I do not believe in my ethnicity. Ethnically speaking I am an atheist, so I must remain British pure and simple, and my multiplicity will reside elsewhere. But in case I were to tell another that perhaps I too am Arab, what indeed would I say—in fact? That he is just an Arab but I am one “in addition to”; that if he is one I am two and contain more multiplicity than he? If need be, and as Sasson Somekh has already said with immense and moving strength, I can rightfully say that the world of my mother’s half of the family was decimated at the very moment the Nakba was taking place, so there are no longer Jewish-Arabs (as one people) and “one plus one” this “in addition to” is just a bad dream. We share the catastrophe, let’s say it aloud, outside of the dream, even outside of the Israel-Palestine couplet. A nightmare. Once the conversation was over, I told one of the two of my dream that the earth had been so poorly sung. And he answered me thus: “Oh, but that cannot mean anything. It was only the music that was on in the car, a random choice and nothing more.” Had I too missed everything in my slumber? Or had I been dreaming of two human beings missing each other when this “means nothing” transpired? Did their closeness at the table on stage, their sharing of the projection cable like an umbilical cord, mean they were really looking at each other, or simply deluding one another with this tremendous slip of the tongue? Could this “nothing more” possibly be the key to everything, to a misreading whose borders even the artist-being would not know how to cross?
I am not sleeping, but I am dreaming, sometimes of that other couple, Said-Barenboim. If Akram had wanted to make Avi’s acquaintance through his identity as filmmaker, which so filled him with wonder, what becomes of the id in their relationship? Is video a form of art or of mistrust, such as Akram felt at the moment that Avi embarks on his journey? A mistrust that will not be reciprocated because Avi is not listening to it while shooting. Not in my dream. He hears nothing. And he, Akram, does not pursue this nothing, in any case not to the breaking point. So this mistrust is of no consequence to their id; nor is the camera. With Said-Berenboim there is music for example or even musicians, the likes of Furtwängler or Beethoven. There are also rhythms, multiple ways of executing a performance, there is abundance, a vast id out of control. It is in that very place that politics, difference, their stories and possible futures, are sublimated.
Here I do not even dream of what is to come; neither the next political nor esthetic issue. What does it mean for two artists to overlook even a single one of these issues in the unfettered space of the imagination?
And these stories that we are told, of encounters at the Festival de Spolète, of strict and forbidding parents who kill and of whom these two are the involuntary heirs—what is their future in the finished object of the work, in the conversation’s imagination?
Imagination. Was that what they were lacking when they denuded themselves before our ears, or could it be I who, while dreaming, closed my eyes?"

A special edition of the Journal des Laboratoires entitled Earth of Endless Secrets was published for Akram Zaatari’s project, in April 2010.

Text published in Le Journal des Laboratoires sept-dec. 2010

* Adrian Rifkin is Professor of Art Writing at Goldsmiths College (University of London). He is the author of numerous articles on contemporary art and culture, as well as the theory of art and gay theory. Log onto to find out more.