Diamanda Galás: The Politics of Disquiet
EDWARD BATCHELDER: One of the things that I thought was interesting about the Defixiones CD—at least the version of it that I’ve heard—is that for a project that relates, as you’ve said, to the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides under the Turks in the ’10s and ’20s, you’ve chosen texts from all over the world.
DIAMANDA GALÁS: Yes.
EDWARD BATCHELDER: You have a text by César Vallejo. You have a text by Paul Celan. You have texts by Armenian, Assyrian, and Turkish poets as well. There is obviously a deeper thread that links this than merely the topical issue of the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Assyrians; can you talk a little about that?
DIAMANDA GALÁS: The subject in common is that of being a person who is invisible to much of the population. For example, the genocide of the Armenians, the Greeks, and the Assyrians is something considered inconsequential to the major powers. So people try to cover it up because it just gets in the way of the more important, let’s say, business activities between the United States, Turkey, and Israel. Nobody wants to discuss it. So this is something that is buried constantly.
This is also very related to the idea of these poets in exile, whose texts I used, and obviously to Siamanto, the Armenian martyr and poet who wrote about the burning of the Armenian women in the desert by the Turkish soldiers. But it also relates to César Vallejo because he writes about being a poet in Peru and being somebody that nobody had any respect for, an unknown. He was writing to some degree about being a mestizo there. He was writing about being a person who had no identity there, but he was also writing about being a great poet and no one being able to recognize anything that he was talking about. So he writes this poem and describes himself as these kinds of animals, the most wretched of the earth, a person who is undistinguished in any way and wakes up in a little room, looks at himself in a mirror, and wants to blow his head off. Actually, so many of the poets that I work with did commit suicide or were people who were constantly on the move because they were treated like outlaws. Celan was not able to escape the tragedy that his parents experienced. Even with the amount of cathartic writing that these people did, it was still something that stayed in the brain—this feeling of isolation that is like a potential bullet in the brain.
EDWARD BATCHELDER: With Defixiones, and also to a certain extent your AIDS work, it also struck me that it might be possible to say that the work is less about the specific tragedy, atrocity, or whatever you want to call both AIDS and the genocide, than it is about the way in which the culture responds to it. In other words, there’s the issue of AIDS, which is in a sense kind of a medical and social issue, and then there’s the issue of how the government and people at large feel about it. There’s the issue of the atrocities that went on under Turkey in the ’20s, and there’s also the issue of how Turkey and the United States, and Israel to a certain extent, are reacting to it. It’s the machinery that again stifles the voice, keeps people in isolation even after that original catastrophe has taken place. If there is any political focus in your work, it seems to be addressing that issue rather than the original atrocity.
DIAMANDA GALÁS: Well, I think all of the above, in other words, both. These voices are often stifled that you’re talking about, but often they’re not even heard. They’re often very loud voices, but they’re not heard. They’re not told to be quiet, they’re just simply not reviewed, they’re not in the press, they’re not written about, and they’re not published. There were many authors that were published that have been objectionable and have set up—I mean since the classic French literature—with their publishing house a kind of blasphemic receipt from the press to use it to con people into buying the book, you know, to get a lot of press. There has been a kind of manipulation, let’s say, of the public and the press, and then the liberal press. We’ve seen a lot of this crap, but they’re still published.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who are not published because they’re really saying something that people really don’t want to hear, and people are afraid to write anything about them—afraid to write anything negative, positive, or anything. That’s the position of a lot of the people I’m talking about in the Armenian, Assyrian, and the Acheulean genocide because of the relationship between, let’s say, Turkey and America, the relationship between Turkey, Israel, and America, and the providing of arms to both, and because of these very incestuous relationships. So, a lot of journalists who consider themselves to be pro-Israel or whatever, they’re not going to write anything against the Turks, or they’re not going to write anything against Israel, they’re not going to think of themselves, they’re not going to write anything. They’re not even going to discuss the issue except to tell the Armenians what they always tell them: “Don’t you think you should get over it?”
And my answer to that is, okay, what do you mean by that? I had everything taken from me, I had my property taken, my graves were dug up and my ancestors were buried in a hole. I don’t even know where to find the bodies to bury them properly—I mean these were mass graves. We certainly understand the meaning of mass graves from other holocausts. But this one should be anonymous! And this one should be unremembered. So, what are these people supposed to do? In the state of disgrace and invisibility are they supposed to go to old folks homes where they can comfortably lose their minds? Are they supposed to drink themselves to death? What are they supposed to do as people who are just human receptacles of nothing, and who are not heard? I don’t know. There is an expression that my friend Michael Flanagan and a friend of his, John St. James, used when addressing the AIDS epidemic: death by media. Which is that most of the media was responsible for actually killing people with AIDS, making them commit suicide, giving them a sense of despair. And with hepatitis, I must say, because the articles you read in the newspapers are just so not where the state of medical practice is now, it’s very discouraging. This kind of reception in the media that tells people to shut up and that their pain is of no importance to anyone is the kind of thing that can drive a person completely crazy. That means a number of things, but with no will to live, you know, there are very few options.