And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Multitude; for we are many."
«You are fucking, yes. But you are not fucking somebody, you are just fucking. … You are fucking a faceless whirlwind of bodies, a nebula of agencies. And yet, you wouldn’t even be able to find yourself in there.»
I do not know much about the history of darkrooms. I do not know their origins, how they emerged and sprung, or their genealogy. But I have been told a story about them, a story that circulates around the queer environments of my city, there where the night starts late and ends early, and where unknown bodies roam the streets looking for fun, pleasure and punishment. What I know, then, is in no way a history of the darkroom but a militant mnemonic, whose function is to recover the presence of alterity in a growingly assimilated space.
They say that darkrooms were safe harbours, places where one could go in search of sanctuary. They say that all streets were violent, that ‘public’ meant ‘threatening’ and that the silent brutality of each day could always become physical at night, groups of defiant young men or just the occasional passer, who confronted with a failure in masculinity would ‘teach us a lesson not to forget’. And they say that, in such a maze of dangers, there were a few rooms hard to reach, hidden from the common site, their location unknown for anyone other than those who they wanted to be found by; a room behind a street, behind an alley, behind a bar, behind a door, behind the light, a backroom, a darkroom.
There, far from the gaze of power, in absolute darkness, lascivity ran free. It was a sanctuary, no doubt. Full of randiness and cocks and avidity, but a sanctuary nonetheless. And there, without knowing, you would find every man, every fag, no matter race or class or clothes, no matter the size of biceps or of waist; there you would find them all, and you’d do so without seeing them.
You see, I don’t know if this is true, I don’t have the numbers, stats or references to show it; maybe I don’t even have the people to retell the story, and this was just the way I lived and remembered what I had been told. But maybe none of that matters: darkrooms where sanctuaries. Before the ‘Gay Liberation’, before ‘LGBT’, before the ‘fight for diversity and equality’, before ‘queer’, before AIDS, even before we were sayable, darkrooms were sanctuaries.
I can’t remember when it was, the first time that I went to a darkroom that is. Somehow time folds upon itself, I find it to have been at the exact same moment the story I just told you was being told to me. Of course it wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter either.
You go into a bar. You go through a narrow corridor; there are red lights; there are a couple of guys leaning against the wall; there is a TV suspended on one of the corners playing gay porn non stop; there is the frame of a door and inside this frame you can only see darkness.
You hesitate. You decide to go in; and you cross the frame. Now you can’t see anything. Somehow noise stopped at the entrance, and only remote moans of the porn movies can be heard from the outside. New sounds emerge. It’s the sounds of bodies moving, of bodies touching each other; the sound of raw pleasure and moans a world of difference apart from the ones you could hear, not even a minute ago, coming from a bright suspended screen. You start moving through the darkness. You have now started to realize that you lost your vision; you just haven’t realized yet how much that means. You start moving and you feel bodies, you go into bodies, you rub into them. You try to avoid it, your hands moving in front of your body, trying to predict each encounter. But you can’t; there are just too many travelling, transient bodies.
A hand stretches in your direction, it tries to touch you, you shake it away. You realize, for the first time, that losing your vision was not just a matter of having to compensate with other senses: something felt radically different when you refused that hand.
As you enter the swirl of bodies more hands search you, and your hands start to search as well. Sometimes they are refused, sometimes accepted. But when you are refused you don’t feel rejected, and when you refuse you don’t feel you could be inflicting pain, hurting someone. A shield that protected you, one that shook off the possibility of abandonment and the presence of solitude, crumbled into pieces and dissipated in the air: it was, all of the sudden, profoundly useless.
You are starting to understand now. It wasn’t just your vision you lost: you lost a bit of your identity, a bit of your identifiability, and how free it feels! Your Self has been dissipated, as your shield, in the midst of swirling bodies, through the heavy, warm, moaning airs.
You are fucking, yes. But you are not fucking somebody, you are just fucking. In that room, with you, you can find body-parts, you can find wills, pleasures, perversions and anguishes. But you cannot find people, you cannot find individuals. You are fucking a faceless whirlwind of bodies, a nebula of agencies. And yet, you wouldn’t even be able to find yourself in there.
Diderot wrote somewhere that if you wanted to paint a blind man you couldn’t just paint ‘a full man’ and then take away his vision. His body is different – he said – his spine, the way he curves his back. His hands are different – he said – as is the way his arms reach forward. You can’t make a blind man by taking away the sight from a ‘full’ one, the same way you wouldn’t make a ‘full man’ if you gave sight to a blind.
His body’s different – he said, and so is his world and his knowledge – I add. His condition isn’t minor, more than it is other.
The gradual emptiness of the room marks the end of the night. In that room of darkness, bodies seem to know when the sun is rising. The space itself leaves, and all it is left now is a dirty room and the promise of what will be there again.
And I find myself there; in awe and wrongness. I am again myself, and my blindness was taken away from me.