“In Mona Hatoum’s film Measures of Distance, the artist reads out letters from her mother, while on screen, photographs of her mother’s nakedness loom too close, overlaid with the Arabic text of the handwritten letters and murmurings of their recorded conversations. Sound, image, and text merge, unable to distinguish themselves from the mother’s body, obscured by the very closeness of the camera. ‘I do not know what you mean when you talk about the gap between us,’ says the mother through the voice of the artist who translates her Arabic into English, and I find myself returning to this moment whenever I am unsure of my writing, which is to say, myself. Here it is, the gap—despite the distilled pixels, the recorded voices. In this space, the very inarticulateness of language, the unknowability of the other.
I write to get so close to the body that I can no longer see its outline. I write so I can step back until my language pangs against my mother’s. Until the clashing of Chinese and English cracks open their fallibility. Hatoum’s English translates, holding together the body, the murmuring, the handwriting, and yet, her voice unglues it all too—I write to try and give up what I know.”
—JinJin Xu, author of There Is Still Singing in the Afterlife (Radix Media, 2020)
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