To shanghai: drugging, tricking, bribing, pushing, pulling guns – doing whatever it takes – to press into service of flows of accelerating global capital, of supply chain management, of just-in-time manufacturing
and delivery, of big data and surveillance, of us by ourselves.…
David Perry’s Expat Taxes is the first in a planned series of French (Concession) Press projects emerging from (and merging with) Shanghai, the world’s largest port and third-largest urban agglomeration, home to over 30 million people and counting.
Setting forth from the pre-war Art Deco apartment[*] in the former French Concession that he and his expatriated family have called home for over a decade, Perry’s poems seek engagement abroad in the megacity before returning home to thumbtack points of volatile entanglement to messy palimpsest maps: entanglements of cultures, languages, belief systems, people, economies, identities, “East” and “West.”
Disjunctive and elusive, Perry compels us to keep up with his moving meditation, his wily jump cuts…. [C]harged, feverish meditations written in the wave/particle light of our current digitized reality. Memory and language, both personal and collective, create the selves we’re constantly calling into question, submerged as we are in the confusion that ensues when we try to figure it all out. But don’t worry, Perry gifts us these essential instructions: “Stop. Sit down. Relax. Think. Witness/ unlimited growth in all directions” so that we remember “All possibility to the point of extinction/ is consciousness…”
Alternately celebrated and cursed by Chinese and foreigners alike for its reputation as a cosmopolitan entrepôt, in English Shanghai speaks for itself, quite uniquely among cities, as a verb: “to shanghai.”
Departing from the meaning of to shanghai as the kidnapping of victims into the oceangoing trade of the 19th century, Expat Taxes seeks to push the verb to shanghai into the 21st century as a generalized, ongoing globalized condition or state, the state of being subject – captive, willing or not – to vast flows of capital and trade, data and systems, goods and services, waste and pollution.
Expat Taxes features a version of the long poem, “Hello 2015” (sections of which appear here in The Brooklyn Rail) set alongside a collection of shorter lyrics written over Perry’s past decade of residence in Shanghai.
…[Perry’s] phenomenal investigations unfurl with a physical dailiness that haunts sensation, and flip the lids again and again. Words, as he says, “want us to do things / That we can’t do with them”—or, in his hands, without them, either.
–Alan Bernheimer on Range Finder
Planned future French (Concession) Press[†] volumes include Block and Metro. The former will focus on a single block and its immediate environs in the former French Concession; the latter sets out to traverse the city’s sprawl by enacting and making record of randomized engagements with the world’s longest Metro system (364 stations and counting).
Part peripatetic, subtle, yet quite cerebral, complexity, part humorous, and anecdote-laden travelogue, part meditation on place, simultaneously of the text and the empirical world, David Perry’s Knowledge Follows is an all together dynamic assemblage of precisely deployed, lineated stanzas, interspersed with bits of narrative prose. Loosely documenting a trip to Chiapas (in Mexico), though in the more Objectivist sense of specificity of focus, Perry’s dexterous and attentive writing renders time itself an almost palpable entity….
–Noah Eli Gordon
[*] The building stands opposite the site of the old French Concession greyhound track and Jazz Age Canidrome Ball Room. The track served the Japanese as a drilling ground during the occupation of Shanghai, the Red Guards as a struggle session stage during the Cultural Revolution, and in the 1980s and ’90s it was home to one of the world’s largest open-air flower markets. The flower market has been cleared out and the historic buildings leveled to build “Culture Square,” which features a hi-tech theater designed to stage Broadway-style musicals.
[†] The city and its people were themselves shanghaied, of course — by the British with their opium and gunboats, closely followed by the French and the Americans (and Germans and Japanese and so on), all of whom wrenched territorial concessions from the waning Qing.
The press name is intended to put critical pressure on the history of Shanghai and China’s engagement with aggressively expansionist 19th and 20th century imperial power. The bracketing of “(Concession)” marks this temporal, cultural and geopolitical flux, conflict and tension. In other words, read “former” in the presence of the parentheses: “the former French Concession.”