Slowmix is an online multimedia mixtape series, consisting of things I like or find interesting. It’s performative, but not in the way I associate with social media, more like when you want to impress someone you care about. It’s partly ‘do you see how cool I am?’, but equally, trying to get closer by sharing something small and personally significant. Each mix has a name, which doesn’t indicate a theme, just a vibe.
This week I made you a slowmix called SPARRING with: Susan Sontag, John Berger, Ole Kiatoneway, Boonlai Sor Thanikul, Common Malayan Wildflowers, Miharu Koshi album covers and podcasts about masculinity.
To Tell A Story
This electric conversation between Susan Sontag and John Berger took place in 1983. Both were renowned writers of fiction and essays. They had quite alot to say about visual culture, which makes them interesting to artists. Sontag wrote On Photography, and Berger is most famous for the TV mini-series Ways of Seeing.
Here, they face-off about storytelling, the moral responsibilities of the author, and the effects of new technologies on art. It’s the exact opposite of a hot take – a timeless conversation. As in, useful and energizing no matter what decade you tune in. Yes, there will be decades after this one, and in some small way, this video reinstates that crucial reality.
The way they talk to each other is thrilling, almost erotic. The quality of their eye contact! It’s like an instructional video on how to listen, pay attention, respond and disagree – remedial class for those of us with internet- induced communication damage. Outside the reactive spaces of social media, differences and disagreements are not bullets, but seeds that burst forth, scattering the ground with possibilities.
The Black Pearl vs The Iron Twin
This is a match between Ole Kiatoneway “The Black Pearl from Andaman Sea” (blue corner) and Boonlai Sor Thanikul “The Iron Twin” (red corner), narrated in English by Phet-tho of Sitjaopho Muaythai. [Update: unfortunately the narrated video was removed, but I’ve replaced it with the original fight video with commentary in Thai]. Both were master technicians of Golden Age era muay thai during the 80s to mid-90s.
In my mind, this Ole-Boonlai fight will always be paired with the Sontag-Berger conversation. Their poise, grace and skill, embodied as total presence in the face of each other, makes my heart race. They help me name a thing I aim for, and search for in fighting when I don’t encounter enough of it in art: not virality, but virility.
Names, or how do we know what we know?
Here is what Common Malayan Wildflowers has to say about its use of names:
The scientific or Latin name of each plant is given immediately after the common English name, because the Latin names do not vary from place to place as the common names tend to do. For this reason it is recommneded that the Latin names should be used in preference to English or Malay names even though they may be more difficult to memorize. Many Malayan plants do not have well known or long established English names. Malay names are often very well known but they are usually given only to plants which are locally of some economic importance, such as food or medicinal plants, or to plants with some magical significance.
The book was published by Longmans in 1961 (i.e. four years after Malaya’s independence from British rule, 2 years before the formation of Malaysia and 6 years before Singapore separated from Malaysia) under their Malayan Nature Handbooks series. It’s written by M.R. Henderson and illustrated by Juraimi Samsuri. There’s no additional information about the author or artist.
How do we know what we know?
A scientist friend recently told me about a species of shellfish that’s been consumed locally since the late 1800s, but has yet to be described by science, i.e. yet to receive a Latin name. I can’t say more at this point, because the ‘discovery’ of any ‘new’ species is a major scientific event and I don’t want to scoop my friend.
I know many of the plants in Common Malayan Wildflowers by sight, and I love the book most for its beautiful, homely botanical colour paintings. The names, however, disturb the order of my world. For example, it lists ketumbar jawa as ‘Stinking Shareweed (Eryngium foetidum)’ whose ‘leaves when bruised give off a strong smell like that associated with stink-bugs’, whereas I know it to be a delicious and fragrant edible similar in taste to coriander. Another example: I noticed a plant with fleshy leaves and pink flowers growing in the garden this year, and identified it on Google as Surinam spinach. The book calls it ‘Sea Purslane (Sesuvium portulucastrum)’ and gelang laut, because it’s ‘found always near the sea, both on sand and in tidal mud’.
There are many ways to know a thing, to order and organize the world.
I want to know who else Youtube recommended Miharu Koshi’s Swing Slow (1996) album to. It’s a great downtempo album.
Parallelisme (1984) I didn’t enjoy so much. The *look* on this album cover, however… I sent it to Boon, who’s been cutting my hair for over a decade. He got excited, and that became my first post-lockdown haircut.
Maybe I will try out all her album cover looks.
The man in me is killin’ me
I had a dream about hunting down an enemy. I was in a room, searching for them. There was a large oval mirror in front of me. I looked into it and as the view panned left in my dream, I saw reflected in it a man sitting to one side, at the back of the room. He was tall and heavyset, wearing a white shirt and long pants, and glasses. He had slightly wavy grey hair. I had never seen this face before but I can remember it even now. I realized with a shock that I was the hunted, not the hunter. He stood up. The urge to run was overwhelming, but I knew I had to face him. I turned around. He held a large knife, and stabbed me in the chest with it.
These podcasts are about men and I found them illuminating. Good medicine if you need it.