1589 c/o Chantel Louise Tattoli

Whatever It Takes Is Said

In Africa, they accuse. You listened under their heat with their textiles leaning into you, so heady, so you could believe in this magick, too. Societal tension, it is handled by such sharp fingers that the pointing out of a fall guy—a witch—that’s the actual craft here.

The video you show is very bleary, but anyway, who wants to watch a person set on fire in HD? It’s like the camera filmed through its own tear-filled eye, and if anything, those who have not objected to watch will know it is really real because the industry only acts in perfect conditions. But this—that, a victim—is real. That person burned. Of all the questions to put to you, professor, the one you get oftenest is about the smell. And smell, implicated as it is in tasting, it must be that the thing they wonder about is the taste.

You tell them how deliciously human meat grills, as beef and fatty pork do together on the same grid. That blood, of course, is metallic. Skin crisps, looking and smelling of charcoal, and if they’ve leaned into a candle and singed those 60s-mod bangs they thought were what-a-good-idea, they know for sure that hair goes up smelling its sulfury way. Spinal fluid does land mustily floral on the palette. But—the smell of the human body burned, overall—it isn’t likeable. And it stays with, phantom as the formaldehyde from their dissections, how they smell it days later in the street and then kissing their great aunt’s cheek, their noses mistaken and wrinkled.

No different—this, what happened in your film—than historic burnings. The Burning Times in Europe were 1550-1650. In 1589, some 130 witches burned in the German town of Quedlinburg. In all—and the archival evidence is doubtful—perhaps a hundred thousand, 80 percent of whom were women. Some call it a holocaust, and it was. Gendercide. Woman-hunting. The old poor unprotected single women or widows, the non-church-goers who paid their way doing herbal medicine, they were easy. So much of it was economical—the redistribution of wealth that came with socio-cultural shifts, the regular threatening of status quo. Or if the crops failed, then some were pointed to.

Some would burn.

You look at the faces of students you’re losing. Today, you say, today, stomachs grumble in sub-Saharan Africa. And people hiss. Witch, witch. You’re a witch.