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The Commission

(excerpts)

Greg Nissan








TOUR

My commission includes a few vacation days, which ones my commissioners won’t say. DIP YOUR TOE INTO THE DAY’S WATER TO SEE IF IT SCREAMS LEISURE, NOW! As is customary with any commission, I was sent away from my native conurbation to a similar but far-off city. Here the custom is to keep a toilet brush on hand so that house guests may polish the porcelain themselves before returning to the dinner party. This, I am commissioned to observe, is the continental style. For the most part, the anthropological motivations for sending me away are clear: to turn my tongue from a pointer finger into salted meat. It is thus ensured that I will not question my training. Perhaps I’ll even be scared to say, you have given me too little change for my bill, and leave the café nursing a studied dumbness.

The problem of such displacement is most acute on public holidays. When Angry Boys Day hops the ocean to find me, I incline towards working my commission. DON’T APPEAR INDULGENT, INJECTING SUNDAYS INTO THE REGULATED VEINS OF THE WORK WEEK. But during the holidays of my post, such as Gurgleschein, I tend towards working on my commission. DO NOT DON THE FLORAL ROBES OF A TRADITION YOU HAVE ONLY SEEN IN SHOP WINDOWS.

In lieu of celebration, I indulge everyday a 2% slackening of interest. A long-exposure holiday is hard to enjoy, dispensing with its intended goal—to shift the balance, to find the windows all window box. Leisure now affords the same stress as my commission. I rehearse my script, prep the banquet. Eagerly I await rejection in the form of a weather warning or an unreturned message. I stretch a sip of beer across every breath, which dulls inebriation’s hard edge.

My commissioners are quite satisfied with my relationship to free time. They’ve suggested I label it me time. But I suspect that is my choice to make.






TOUR

Occasionally I am tasked with the night shift. And though my commissioners dispensed with stipends years ago, I feel the studied closure of night is enough to justify another shift. I am told to handle the night like porn, that it is best to scroll through a grid of thumbnails, never stopping on one, to simulate desire’s rendering ledge. Dispense with an object, look upon the metered streetlights, a grid of choices freed from choosing, analgesic. Watching from the train all the elm trees slatted into axial extensions, I agree: porn is best enjoyed at a regimented distance.

What I’m to do at night is a bit tenuous. As I understand it, I’ve been commissioned to stand under entranceways and canvas the names on the buzzer. My commissioners insist we have no choice but to court donors, to rename the fins of the public ceiling fan in the lobby, which generates enough weather to make the city bearable in a repeatable fashion. My commissioners compose these architectural analogies in a modal manner, mostly disposing of prior hardnesses for the next archi-chemical palette. Over time I’ve learned to chart the deviation in their allegorical permutations as the actual image, rather than keep track of a skin which is both stone and liquid.

A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE CITY IS LIKE TIGHTENING SCREWS IN A LIQUID FIELD. Mixed signals are a way, I assume, to keep me from confusing cobblestones with tombs or bakeries with weather. The city is a leather whose original animal appears to be the future creature the city slips onto. I don’t mean to sound bombastic. I am encouraged to make mistakes. Pain is the provenance of artists, I once narrated to the doctor, the whirr of the heart monitor swallowing the T in paint. Walking through the peripheral district, where car dealerships stutter in glass across from epileptic stucco, this much becomes clear: I’m nothing, but nothing’s not me. Thus I’ve been given fingers. To turn on the heating.







TOUR

After walking around my neighborhood, which in itself provided many details, I realized I would not be able to perform my commission without a shower. A film of grease—authorized phrase—had collected on my skin, decreasing my rate of porosity. I walked and saw the apartment building with its brick silos and aqua fluting. But the thickness of my skin prevented any deeper activity on my part. Those were the bricks I hated, pre-differentiated in color. Which choose a motley surface by force. To forego how bricks wear differently. Into a constellation of soot and sunlight unique on every unit. These bricks—saran-wrapped plurality—never suited me. The shower. I needed it.

Or else a small narrative ending would erupt, which didn’t explain the lurch in my gut but merely offered the pleasure of closure. Horizon. “Her car behind mine, and mine in front of hers, we drove to where the clouds peel off into advertisement, so we could write to our landlord in silence.” Nothing like this occurred. We did, thankfully, skulk the periphery of such a closure, contented instead to the five-story houses, which had all the ugh of an ending without the preciousness of you. You had turned your back, like St. Jerome in the Sears catalogue, and were pleased to find yourself ensconced in lucid concrete. Looking away, I mean.

After a shower, I hung my towel in the living room, and proceeded to groom my cash box. Without curtains, I censored myself through cupping. A canapé for my neighbors. Not embarrassment but deference. Then began the dressing, a circular list. I did this. I did this. So it was finished. The advent of caffeine had given the objects of my apartment a quasi-musical duration—sounding, as it were. A note held and not thanks to motion. The commotion that two gingerbread crumbs on the table caused could almost be called psychosis. It was not an urge to clean them, but a gawking recognition of their small yet sounded impact on the table, calling the candle’s position into question. I scraped them into my hand, and left off my commission to dispose of them. I will say the list includes sensation.

Now that I had pruned the world of artifice, and bartered my dryness to remove this uncommunicative film from my skin, I was ready to undertake my commission.





DELETE TOURISTS
FROM YOUR
TRAVEL PHOTOS



change the time scale
take a picture of the earth over hundreds of millions of years
File > Scripts > Statistics > watch the mountains disappear
what this trick removes is not tourists per se but people; it is the problematic relations of these people it does not dare to name
in another photo posted on the page, weekenders have been cleared from a charming Japanese hamlet, but a WATERMARK blocks the street
remove the tourists
add soft copyright 
there is a death drive in wanting the world unobstructed
not to say you have to love the tourists
change the time scale, remove what doesn’t change: the monuments
we are left with an ouroboros of tourists
that which we are which we do not want to see
are these images not records of visits
but what we extract in spite of them
look at the stairs of the temple in the amended photo
as one user points outthey were diagonal, but flatten after the removal
the boulder on the right magically turns into a wall
PurplePickel writes: “Nice! Now do you have another “““life hack””” for restoring the damage done to a heavily degraded image because it has been reposted so many times OP?”
does the watermark serve only when the image circulates
is there a man enjoying his private, annihilated image, free of attribution
I took screenshots
many mock: why would you want this, when a stock photo isn’t your trip? “Why bother watching fantasy movies?” 1Maple replies, “What if you want a picture of the thing you traveled to see, and not a photo of a bunch of strangers”
a bunch of strangers
das-Ding-you-traveled-to-see
how can we untie these things
when you belong to this bunch
gathered around this thing
you traveled to see
why did you travel to see it?
did you see it in an image?
not to say you have to love the tourists
bladebosa: this again…
In Daguerre’s famous ‘Boulevard du Temple’, a man is caught, blurred on the street corner
exposure time: ten minutes
he was on his way to the photograph
is he on his way out?
the operative slogan and contradiction of tourism: let us efface tourism for you
does tourism then share an address with poetry
stand in line to be you, then let somebody else?
but an annihilated one
stand in line to obliterate the conditions of your presence, here among the weather charging entry
then fall back into the crowd, convinced you stand apart
can poetry be the wide end of the funnel and this the bottleneck
Daguerre’s man was having his shoes shined 
why else would he have been there long enough
why else
bunch of strangers
took you long enough
take an algorithm and remove in my writing what changes
will you find some Doric poem?
or an order of complete effacement, as syntax is change of the same
AkwardInmate: “I’ll make it simpler, just go on Google images, type the location you have been to, and choose one you like”
the indented comment threads begin to look like flattened steps
ptemple to AwkwardInmate:

Stupidest answer ever.
Where do you think these photos came from?

Philip

Philip is lightly mocked for signing his name
1ptomtom: (these photos come from Philip)
verystickypastry: Philip signs his comment, like a grandma on Facebook
Philip
who insists this stock photo is unique
and signed his name to prove it
you were on your way to the internet
are you on your way out?
let us ask if Philip has a point
bunch of strangers
that even a stock image is, in fact, generated
let us ask if Philip is perhaps confusing this generation with authorship
Philip
mud-tug: tried itit works!
mud-tug posts a picture of the Manhattan skyline, but the World Trade Center has been removed
a clear enough joke
but something else is striking in mud-tug’s photo
he removed the boats
but not the wake
he excised the white foam, but not the darker swirls, changing so frequently their change renders stasis
you cannot remove such monuments to ephemerality
recurring powerfully
clouds are always reappearing
as are buildings in New York
where do I see this acropolis from
the steps peeling off toward me
               



 




Greg Nissan is a poet and translator living in Berlin, with writing in BOMB, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly and Frieze. His chapbook, The City Is Lush With /Obstructed Views, is forthcoming from DoubleCross Press in 2019. He is currently translating Ann Cotten’s Banned! An epic poem.

The header image compares two surviving photographs of the “Boulevard du Temple” from the 1800s taken at two different times of day: the morning and the evening. The morning photograph (left) is considered to be the earliest surviving photograph of people, by Louis Daguerre (Paris, 1838). Daguerre accidentally captured a man getting his shoes shined; he is possibly the first person to ever be caught on camera.










2019



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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.

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2019
Marker