Monday, 14 September 2009


In Winnipeg, it's way more fun for us to cross the city using only its back lanes. The city possesses a vast network of these unofficial streets, a fine grid-like work of narrow unspoken-of byways that hold a charm all of their own. They are not even allowed on city maps, but the populace knows all about them and uses them more than legitimate streets.


It's inside these black arteries where the real Winnipeg is found, where memories most plausibly come alive. The network of these lanes suggests the grid of a secret city laid right on top of the known one. Lanes with names remembered only by word of mouth lie on top of streets named after the politicians and land developers. The lanes are illicit things, best not discussed - shameful. They receive the breech ends of the houses, the side of the home not meant for polite company. They are the weedy landscapes of shameful abandonment, the conduits of refuse removal. Here we strew what we no longer want to acknowledge, and everything, most notably the Winnipeg special - a mattress bent over with fatal stains - is quickly covered up by the forgetfulness of our snow.”

(from the film “My Winnipeg” by Guy Maddin)

In “My Winnipeg”, Guy Maddin presents a historical and emotional account of Winnipeg, a town in the middle of Canada. He invites us on a journey through familial and civic events wrapped up in architectural information of the town. We visit sports arenas, department stores and even a three-floor swimming pool complex where the pools are segregated by gender and depth. In a sense Winnipeg mirrors and reflects the psycho geography of the maker along with his convictions concerning this town.

The secret back lanes, these black arteries offer us a glimpse into our own selves, assisting us in understanding how secrets work and what they might mean to us.

Secrets reside in the domain of simulated forgetfulness. They are the things we willfully forget; an artificial oblivion of some sort. They are also things we choose to distance from clear view.

These events or sentiments, which persist to exist in the domain of privacy, are to be considered precious. In our times of instantaneous social technologies (such as the Internet), we are encouraged, if not held hostage, to a constant unveiling of personal and private information. The dividing line between public and private is an elusive one, therefore one is asked to position this line according to personal preferences or convictions. Secrets lend themselves in creating communities, shared mental or physical spaces where things that are to be held in privacy are highlighted and thus invite socialization, perhaps resulting in personal development and a sense of solidarity.

In interpersonal relationships, secrets occupy even a murkier space, where they are considered dangerous, threatening or even playful. They demand and employ seduction. The invitation to a secret is always a thrill; it is an invitation to unexamined territories. The path to such territories consists of obstacles through unmapped lanes. It requires endurance. When one comes face to face with a secret, then a process of disintegration and disillusionment is underway; well, sort of. A revealed secret provides us with information, which enriches prior knowledge on a certain topic and offers us with some form of awareness. Nonetheless, it can also fragment some issues, creating a sub domain where what was known so far becomes subverted and acquires new meanings. In essence, the power of secrecy lies in the fact these things we keep from others and ourselves are never just what they are; from fetishes to silly private activities it is never what we do that makes it so interesting. A secret belongs to a symbolic order as its meaning stretches further from our singular identity. It aligns us with a symbolic, collective order; something which corresponds to the properties of secrets to create communities.

In love, secrets suggest an absence or lack of clarity. They are outside of what we present to each other but nevertheless make up for a part of who we actually are. And like everything else, secrets are neither good nor bad. Depending on the proprietor, the affected, content and context they presume their own flavor. We are usually inclined to view secrets as dark and harmful, probably because we are creatures who seek and appreciate clarity.

In Derek Jarman’s “Wittgenstein”, a film portrait of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the last scene shows us the philosopher dying whilst we listen to a story. The story here comes across as a counterpoint to the first excerpt from ‘My Winnipeg’, as it shares the appropriation of the landscape as something that corresponds to our inner workings

“It was once a young man who dreamed of reducing the world to pure logic. Because he was a very clever young man, he actually managed to do it. When he finished with his work, he stood back and admired it. It was beautiful. A world purged of imperfection and indeterminacy. Countless acres of gleaming ice stretching to the horizon. So, the clever young man looked the world around him he created and decided to explore it. He took one step forward and fell flat on his back. You see, he forgot about friction. The ice was smooth and level and stainless, but you couldn’t walk there. So the clever young man sat down and wept bitter tears. But as he grew into a wise old man he came to understand that roughness and ambiguity aren’t imperfections. They are what make the world turn. He wanted to run and dance. And the words and things scattered upon the ground, were all battered and tarnished and ambiguous. But the wise man saw that that was the way things worked. But something in him was still homesick for the ice, where everything was radiant and absolute and relentless. Though he’d come to like the idea of the rough ground, he couldn’t bring him self to live there. So now he was marooned between earth and ice; at home and neither. And this was the cause of all his grief.”

In the understanding that insofar we consider clarity as noble and desirable, it is the opposite of that with its seductive properties that always makes things turn. In the terms of social commentator Jean Baudrillard, the power of seduction and secrecy is that it can always reverse the process of production (of putting something in clear view), therefore rendering the symbolic more powerful than the real.

In other words, secrets describe a process of preservation, an enveloping of things to be covered in forgetful snow. Things to be cherished; at the same time they are a form of seduction, leading to a somewhat enlightened awareness.

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