Choir functions as an autonomous piece of fiction and as an accompaniment to the exhibition.
About Eugene Lim
He works as a school librarian, runs Ellipsis Press, and lives in Queens, New York.
About Long Take
Co-edited by Amant and Wendy’s Subway and published triannually, Long Take commissions writers to think alongside Amant’s annual program.
Individual issues are available at Amant and Wendy’s Subway. You can also purchase annual subscriptions here.
Long Take is designed by Omnivore.
Choir Live with Eugene Lim, Lisa Chen, Danny Tunick, and Donald Breckenridge
￼To be read (sung
in the mind) (sung
out of mind) inside /
beside / after seeing
Sung Tieu’s Infra-Specter.
The company I work for wants me to do something I don’t want to do. Maybe it’s a small thing but to me it’s a big thing. I think everyone even understands it’s the long-term, wrong thing to do. It’s a decision based on greed. On fear. Have you ever been in such a position? I went home and I fumed. I tossed and turned. I took the weekend to think about it. I wondered if I could get a different job. I wondered if it was too late to change careers. In the end, I just did it. I thought about being defiant, making a fuss, quitting—but in the end, I just did it. I did what they wanted me to do. I may have had a choice but it didn’t feel like I had a choice. I steeled myself and went into the meeting. I said, I would prefer not to but okay.
Some mornings, going to work on the subway, you really do feel like among a horde of rats squeezing through a maze. Shoulder to shoulder, shuffling through tunnels and up and down stairs. Teenage disobedience, unaided pronounced disability, anarchic mental illness, a busker—all these mere minor interruptions to the trudging river of humans on their way to labor in ways they do not wish to labor.
Last month I saw they installed new furniture in the subway station. Tables and benches for momentary respite. These are made of brushed stainless steel so that they nearly glow with indestructibility and unassailable utilitarianism. And these modern looking steel pieces of public furniture are not only encoded with indestructibility, but also a passivity—the result of the removal of all corners and edges from their design. Round tables and circular stools. Finally, these indestructible modular units, which have been smoothed of all edge, sharpness, and violence, are also unalterable. They are attached to either the wall or floor. You cannot personalize these. They are public but they are also anonymous. Watch the crowd swarm past these in rush hour. Sometimes a weary ancient woman might pause at one. Or a desperate father with small children pauses there for a distribution of snacks. Rarely do the indigent rest there. Somehow the message is silently broadcast, only citizens sit here. Everyone knows what that means.
Later, in the newspaper, I read about these new additions to the subway station. The newspaper says they have a surprising and then not-so-surprising provenance. But who knows if it’s true. Fake news everywhere. But according to what I read, this furniture was first designed and made for prisons. It does make sense.
It’s not a bad job. I mean, for me. It keeps me out of trouble ha ha. And the pay isn’t bad at all, relatively speaking. I’ll show you my office. I don’t show many friends my office. No, it’s not that I’m ashamed. In fact, I’m quite proud of my work—but it’s also private. I heard a celebrity say that people are always telling him that they wish they were rich and famous like him. But he tells them, Ha! Try just being rich first! …Which I took to mean not only are the trappings of fame often disappointing and imprisoning, but much of the liberty and power and regard one associates with fame comes immediately, comes much less painfully, when one becomes rich!
Thus the truly wealthy’s need for privacy. I’m not saying I am rich like that. I’m well off but not like my bosses’ bosses—I mean the truly obscenely wealthy. I’m just a cog. My wealth is vulgar, lumpen. I’m not ruthless enough (though I’ve been watching). You know what they say. There are no accidental billionaires. Each one a ruthless genius and, despite the public relations campaigns, each one a heartless criminal. And yet we all aspire. What I mean to say is: I haven’t shown my office to any of my friends or family. So this is a first. Here we go, just through these doors.
Do you know what a proxy war is? It’s when kings determine borderlines by having gladiators meet in an arena. A bloody and terrifying battle to the death—while the royals nibble on hot dogs and toast each other with mugs of beer.
￼￼￼In fact, it would be an improvement if this was the case, and if the so-called “gladiators” weren’t, in more actual fact, children and the sick and the old, along with battered and tired armies fighting to see who can die fastest for the most bullshitty reasons.
He, she, they, and I are all children of proxy wars.
They happen all the time. There’s one going on right now—more than one—but I mean the one in the headlines. War is terrible, of course, and always absurd and hellish. But it’s a bizarre act of fate to have your nation fight another nation—or, in her case and mine, to have half your nation fight the other half—as proxies.
What are we then but projections of power, avatars, meat puppets for tyrants? “No gods, no masters.” But we have them. Gods, masters, monsters—forces of fate. We don’t have to pledge allegiance. We can be defiant. Or, we can be oblivious. It doesn’t matter in the slightest. The monsters, masters, gods—they just pick us up where they find us and hurl us into the fire pit.
￼￼￼Arjuna went to the battlefield. Do you know this story? Two armies on the verge. Time freezes. And Krisha drives their car across the plain where the best of two tribes are about to meet to murder one another, frozen yet. Two armies on the verge. Arjuna is in despair. He loves the wise and brave and good soldiers on one side, and he loves the good and brave and wise soldiers on the other. And he knows this day will be a meat grinder that will turn those he loves into corpses. People he loves will be no more. In despair, Arjuna turns to his handsome chauffeur and whispers, with tears in his eyes, “No gods, no masters.” And his chauffeur stops the car. He glides it to a stop between the frozen armies. He turns to look at Arjuna. His eyes shine and have no pity (though Arjuna wonders if he sees any love within them). (I wonder too.) The chauffeur says, “Ah, love, let us be true to one another!” This driver, whose name is sometimes Krishna, says, “We are here as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight…” Krishna, the driver, says, “I am water’s taste and the light of the sun off the moon. I am the smell of the earth and the light from fire.” Krishna says, “where ignorant armies clash by night.” Krishna says, “I am the ritual, the sacrifice, the healing plant, the common hymn, the fire, the offering.” The driver says to go ahead and claim devotion to no gods, fealty to no masters. Go ahead, he says with a grin, Try to stand apart, try to stand alone. Are you outside of creation? the driver asks. The scene then unfreezes. The murders begin and never stop.
VOX 5 (1)
“I would prefer not to but okay,” is what I say when my bosses ask me to do something I not only do not want to do but also something that I know is wrong, something that will hurt people. I prefer not to. At least I say that to them; I say that I would prefer not to. I tell them that. Then I do what they ask me to do.
My first instinct was, ￼￼￼sure, ￼￼yes: defiance. I’ll admit that, between us, between friends. At first, I was angry and wanted to speak my mind. I thought about quitting and started looking around at job listings.
But my second instinct, stronger and more basic than the first, was to survive, was fueled by fear. You might think I’m exaggerating, that this wasn’t about survival, wasn’t so desperate. But have you tried it? Have you stood on that particular precipice and felt its lonely wind there? Who was I kidding that I could switch jobs? At my age? Please. I’d be starting over. And all that I’d built up would be gone. And not only that, I’d be alone. They’d make sure of that. At first I might not be actively shunned but word would get around. So I swallowed my defiance. I swallowed my pride. But at least I said something. I did tell them. I said I would prefer not to. I told them that.
But, eventually, not that long really—to be honest, it could barely be called a pause—I acquiesced. I would prefer not to but okay, I said. And even felt a little regret at the initial defiance. Who am I, I had thought, to put up a fuss? Am I a captain of industry? I’m barely a grunt of industry. Maybe those people know things. Have I any experience creating jobs? Have I ever created a single job? I barely do my own job. How do I know how capitalism works? (How do I know? Other than complaining about how it’s the villain, how it destroys the environment and destroys all my agency and destroys all sense of wonder—which, really, aren’t I equally to blame?) I’m not really being sarcastic or ironic. Maybe I was wrong. I’m only a cog in the machine, after all, and maybe the bosses really were looking out for everyone’s best interest, or, at least, the company’s, or their shareholders, or at the very least: themselves. And wouldn’t a rising tide lift all ships? What I’m saying is, really, what did I know about how it all worked? That was where my thinking went. That maybe I had been wrong to feel anger and defiance in the first place. Maybe I had said and done the right thing, that is, expressed my opinion—and yet, maybe it was a wrongly informed opinion, somehow. And then, after I’d spoken my piece, I’d acted humbly, doing what they asked.
And this is how I felt for some time after I’d done it. And, really, it was a small compromise, looking back and thinking about it. Really a tiny compromise. If it had stopped there, what would have been the big deal? But then they asked me to do more things, worse things.
￼￼￼￼￼￼VOX 6 (COUNTERPOINT) / GHOST TAPE #X
Fracking is fucking American, you libtard sheeple. Our boys are over there dying for oil and we have energy in the ground, right here! Let’s take it and use it and stop our sons from dying!
And why do we have to stop the one thing that provides relief? After you’ve extinguished every other job that had any fucking dignity to it? Why don’t you stop taking plane trips to vacation in world capitals, you full-of-shit handwringing fake environmentalists.
The Nazis are punk rock now, don’t you get it? If all the hypocritical corporations and all the bullshitting hypocritical parents and all the hypocritical bullshitting teachers are laying down the same fake party line, the kids are gonna figure it out. I’m not even a Nazi. I care for all people. I care for nature—real, ferocious, beautiful nature. But you all are too much. Let ‘em frack! Let them drill into Alaska! Let them extract that dirty shale and tar sand! Until you fucking care about us, what do we care if you blow it all up!
Maybe your storm will sink all ships then you’ll be sorry. Can I tell you the name for what I have? It’s a funny one. It speaks of taking all that fracked gas, that’s so magical it can set water on fire, and pumping it straight into my veins.
Disease of Despair. My ailment, called simply and rightfully. And I hope it is catching. I hope it is highly contagious. And I hope to breathe its rancid virus into your face. When I mainline this shit it is a good fucking high—one that’ll mooshify my brain and send me wandering, muttering, and scary, through your libtard cities with your grimy welfare systems, until our zombie invasion begins to make you queasy and you try to lock us up, forget about us, sweep us back into the underground gas tunnels, but we float back up. Like ghosts, like vermin, like guilt.
Paranoid yet? Doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. They weasel into your mind first. It’s not so hard. And they’re sneaky. They do it when you’re not looking. Disinformation is ambient hidden control. It’s like they’ve hidden their idea-viruses in the lightbulbs, in the radiator covers—they pulse out at us as we walk or shop or scroll or stroll through public spaces. The space is public—as in exposed. But the surfaces are slathered and riddled with memes and attention-gobblers. Oh, you’ve heard this all before, have you??
The information flood. Après le deluge is just more fucking deluge. Think about all the shields and blinders and guides so that you only take in as much data as you can handle. How do we manage our dainty sips from the info firehose? How are those guides and blinders and shields put up?
Let’s put aside ideas entering your mind; let’s talk about what enters your body. If you could have an alphabetical, cross-referenced, annotated list of everything that enters your body, everything that you breathe or drink or eat, do you think that would create any protections? Take microplastics or metals or the recycled water where all our discarded pill bits swim. Or glyphosate or propyl paraben or butylated hydroxyanisole or polyfluoroalkyl or perchlorate or polychlorinated dibenzo para dioxins or polychlorinated dibenzofurans or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or…
Or do you think disinformation is a word not relevant to you? Maybe you think you’re above such cheap tricks. Maybe you think: That’s for the masses; it’s not fooling my subtle and knowing and carefully analytic mind. But, in a word, you would be wrong. Your biases and fears are as pushbutton as any other, maybe even simpler to manipulate as your conformity makes you predictable. But don’t feel ashamed. Not too much. You’re only human.
Imagine how the new AI deepfakes will weaponize charisma and reputation. It’s already begun.
And which emotional register of what kind of canned narrative best precedes the triggering of a purchase or political donation? Once these are cross-referenced in our affect-tagged training data… there goes the neighborhood! Your music and video streams will hold more important data than your search histories. With the latter, the machines (corporate and artificial) learned what you knew you yearned for. With the former, they’ll learn what you don’t even know you desire. But, one argues, my emotional life is too complex to be rendered into data! My being and its soulmate are not a pop song and its echo! I’m saying Galileo was sentenced to prison for claiming our sense of primacy in the universe was egocentric. And that even our minds are not a center in as much as we are little streams of ideation competing for control—and the engineering is happening to direct these rivulets of thought—as the advertisers and politicians have long known. We fear the machines coming and cannibalizing our biology to become cyborgs. But the truth is they’ve already got what they need! And they didn’t even have to fight us for it. We gave it up willingly. To customize the ads in our feeds.
Now, we’re constantly Turing-testing ourselves, posting little public messages on bot-drenched social rivers, posting really to ourselves as a kind of chanting self-question: Am I still human?
VOX 10 (COUNTERPOINT) / GHOST TAPE #X
O humans I was once as you: fed, moving, younger and then older, lusting then hungry then sated then hungry and then lusting again, waiting in line, tired, late to morning appointments, choosing between restaurants. But then I died. And in the Bardo, no one chanted for spirits to guide me and I got mixed up and lost … so now am stuck in a phantom zone, a wailing polygon twirling through universes—but if you listen closely, my grim keen will hold a tale that carries a message you must choose to heed or not heed. From my phantom panopticon I am imprisoned but see all realms. And let me just tell you, reader, you seem pretty fucked. You are of such an elite class that if you simply stopped reproducing, the return of natural resources would be the equivalent of several hundreds of fully lived lives in the so-called Global South. But it’s not even the innate inequity, woven inescapably with your hypocrisy and complicity, which is the most damning aspect of your fate. It is that, despite your relative wealth, you suffer all the more. But I’m not here to judge, just warn. ￼You have to figure out what love is— and you should give away all your money and die
Ha! You didn’t see that one coming, did you!? That’s the point. Missiles and drones and bullets are still visible. They leave signs pointing backwards. But with these new SOUND weapons, ￼￼￼￼it’s unknown: targets can be hit and not even know it. Yes, well, they are very concentrated beams of ultra-low or/and ultra-high frequencies. The team over there can tell you about the science; this kiosk is more for you to understand where it sits on the continuum.
A meme or disinformation campaign is, forgive me for belaboring the point, also invisible weaponry.
That is, the trend among the autocrats and capitalists these days—haven’t you noticed—is to manipulate as secretly and invisibly as possible. Oh, everything has a fashion—a narrative type—even the style of tyrants. So that there’s among the powerful a spectrum running from crass and crude all the way to elegant and wise and, even, yes, further on to beautiful. And this continuum is one that begins with the crude and crass use of tanks and jets and embedded journos on the national news; swings over to espionage, sonic beam attacks, and assassinations via nerve agents; and leads finally to disinformation campaigns, currency manipulations, and swayed elections. The game is: How quietly can we murder? How invisibly ambient can we make all the chains?
VOX 12 (1) / Da capo
The job might be murdering children or chickens. It may be clearcutting the rainforest or requiring a bicoastal lifestyle. It may be undermining the teachers and the nurses. It may be hiding the labor of childcare or eldercare. It may be figuring out compliance for the hedge fund or lobbying on behalf of the polluter. Certainly, it could be the job of the polluter, securities gambler, murderer, or politician. But it could also be the librarian, the caseworker, principal, teller, singer, custodian, poet, sommelier, customer service rep, violinist, diversity director, electrician, accountant, assistant manager, or cook.
Okay I’ll do it but I don’t agree with it. I would prefer not to but okay. Okay.