[NetBehaviour] book question

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Mon Feb 17 00:27:51 CET 2020

hello Max and all:

thanks for response. your beautiful reflections, on the metaphor of the doors, made me go back and wonder about what i had read.
and why I mentioned the "black doors". 

I now reread reread the sections I had marked for myself and my theatre students,. And the doors are not black.
what happened?  when I went back to Mohsim Hamid's Exit West, i figured that i was probably confused, in my memory, by the black plastic bags
at the windows, hung up by Nadia (see my transcription below); but more interestingly, Hamid refers to contemporary art, and I may well have associated the
'black' doors with Rothko's black paintings.  In January, back in Houston, I went to the Rothko Chapel, as I do every year (on its walls are fourteen black color-hued paintings by Mark Rothko, the shape of the building is an octagon) – except that this time it was hollowed out, gutted, under renovation, all paintings gone.

 I sneaked in and photographed the empty walls.....

Please read the excerpt below. .

Black doors  						[Exit West, by Moshin Hamid, pp.68ff]

One’s relationship to windows now changed in the city. A window was the border through which death was most likely to come. Windows could not stop even the most flagging round of ammunition: any spot indoors with a view of the outside was a spot potentially in the crossfire. Moreover the pane of a window could itself become shrapnel so easily, shattered by a nearby blast, and everyone had heard of someone or other who had bled out after being lacerated by shards of flying glass.

Many windows were broken already, and the prudent thing would have been to remove those that remained, but it was winter and the nights were cold, and without gas and electricity, both of which were in increasingly short supply, windows served to take some of the edge off the chill, and so people left them in place.

Saeed and his family rearranged their furniture instead.  They placed bookshelves full of books flush against the windows in their bedrooms, blocking the glass from sight but allowing light to creep in around the edges, and they leaned Saeed’s bed over the tall windows in their sitting room, mattress and all, upright, at an angle, so that the bed’s feet rested on the lintel. Saeed slept on three rugs on the floor, which he told his parents suited bi back.

Nadia taped the inside of her windows with beige packing tape, the sort normally used to seal cardboard boxes, and hammered heavy-duty rubbish bags into place over them, pounding nails into the window frames. When she had had enough electricity to charge her backup battery, she would lounge around and listen to her records in the light of a single bare bulb. The harsh sounds of the fighting muffled somewhat by her music, and she would then glance at her windows and think that they looked a bit like amorphous black works of contemporary art. 

The effect doors had on people altered as well. Rumours had begun to circulate that doors could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumours to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

Nadia and Saeed, too, discussed these rumours and dismissed them. But every morning, when she woke, Nadia looked over at the front door, and at the doors of her bathroom, her closet, her terrace. Every morning, in his room, Saeed did much the same. All their doors remained simple doors, on/off switches in the flow between two adjacent places, binarily either open or closed, but each of their doors, regarded thus with a twinge of irrational possibility, became partially animate as well, an object with a subtle power to mock, to mock the desires of those who desired to go far away, whispering silently from its door frame that such dreams were the dreams of fools. 

Without work there was no impediment to Saeed and Nadia meeting during the day except for the fighting, but that impediment was a serious one. The few remaining local channels still on the air were saying that the war was going well but the international ones were saying that it was going badly indeed, adding to an unprecedented flow of migrants that was hitting the rich countries, who were building walls and fences and strengthening their borders, but seemingly to unsatisfactory effect. 

The militants had their own pirate radio station, featuring a smooth-voiced announcer with a deep and unnervingly sexy voice, who spoke slowly and deliberately, and claimed in a decelerated but almost rap-like cadence that the fall of the city was imminent. 


funerals were smaller and more rushed affairs in those days, because of the fighting. Some families had no choice but to bury their dead in a courtyard or at the sheltered margin of a road, it being impossible to reach a proper graveyard, and so impromptu burial grounds grew up, one extinguished body attracting others, in much the same way that the arrival of one squatter on a disused patch of government land can give rise to an entire slum.  


From: Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com>
Sent: 16 February 2020 00:54
To: Johannes Birringer; NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
Subject: Re: book question

Hi Johannes,

My book club was also very intrigued by the door image, which at one point in the novel was described as pure darkness, "the heart of darkness." Then somehow we morphed into a discussion of whether Nadia's robe was a door.  After some wrangling a few said yes, it too was a door.

I had an image of nested spheres rotating on various axes, doors alinging to open briefly then closing, leading to others a la the garden of forking paths.  The group was talking over a rather marvelous carpet at the time, of Persian design it seemed to me and very delicate, filigreed, such involutions of tracery.

It made me wonder, is the book a door, even a labyrinth?  Is the world, language, time?  So many choices, some forward some back, but time still irrevocable in what occurred to me as its "ambiguous benevolence."

I haven't read the second half of the book yet, looking forward!

All best,


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>
Sent: Saturday, February 15, 2020 4:45 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] book question


Ahmed Saadawi’s hallucinatory novel Frankenstein in Baghdad, and Mohsim Hamid's Exit West,
i have to say I was impressed and mesmerized reading these novels
The "Exit West" intrigued me much, as I started to read it during what was called the "refugee crisis" in Europe,
basically a large wave of migration, partly caused by the sectarian and military conflict in Syria, well, refugees
were all over, and when I tried to imagine what it must be like to live in a war torn land, or city, i got captivated by Hamid's story of
the two young people who come to imagine fleeing. the image that I told my theatre students to explore and work with
was Hamid's metaphor of the black door.  This door idea is wonderful, a rumor spreads in the city that people are seeing black doors
, or door frames, and when you walk through them, you exit, so to speak, and you end up in a very different place, california,
miami, stockholm, berlin.......  What a strange and interesting magical realist image.

Johannes Birringer

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: 13 February 2020 18:02
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
Cc: Max Herman
Subject: [NetBehaviour] book question

Has anyone read Exit West?  It was the last selection in my local book club and pretty interesting from the standpoint of networks I think.

I've only read half of it so far though.  🙂
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