Tolerance, Translation, and Ecstacy

A Future

“God brought things into being in order that the divine goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because the divine goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, God produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting in one in the representation of divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifest and divided; and hence the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature whatever.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1:47:1

“…all suprahistorical kinship of languages rests in the intention underlying each language as a whole—an intention, however, which no single language can attain by itself but which is realized only by the totality of their intentions supplementing each other: pure language.”
Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”

In this passage from the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas insists that the “whole” of creation “participates in the divine goodness more perfectly” than any “single creature whatever.” The partiality of creation is not a flaw since “goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifest and divided.” The potential amorality of this proposition is precluded by both an appeal to recto ratio, which follows “eternal law,” and the formal—not manifest—models for behavior exemplified by certain members of the animal kingdom. Nonetheless, Aquinas, an apologist for Christian ethics during an age of increased intolerance by the church and laity toward ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, cannot completely ignore the philosophical foundations for tolerance in regard to the hierarchical and egalitarian map of creation. Already implicit in the comparatives “more perfectly” and “better,” degrees (but also kinds) of goodness can be attributed to and discerned in certain types of animal and human behavior. And because the good, qualitatively and quantitatively, is apparently immutable, if not omnipotent, certain types of animal and human behavior—specifically, animal and human sexuality—can be dismissed less as intrinsically evil than as abusive, the consequence of corrupted “natures,” already implied by “degrees” of the good in humans and animals. Only recto ratio is both “natural” and incorruptible. Thus, Aquinas’s concept of “human nature” suggests a bifurcated and graduated scale of goodness: uncorrupted good (recto ratio) and corrupted goods (e.g., postlapsarian heterosexual acts “redeemed” by monogamous constraints). Consequently, heterosexual promiscuity, consequence of an already corrupted good, serves as a formal condition for an analysis of homosexual acts, which can only be condemned, within this comparative and logical method, on the basis of their being more corrupt than heterosexual promiscuity. While the latter can hypothetically promote the good via procreation, however illegitimate, homosexual acts, even if monogamous, cannot serve as a form of procreation, thus precluding the promotion of the good. Theologically, the monogamous foreclosure of the good is more abusive than the promiscuous promotion of the good; philosophically, however, homosexual monogamy is a “better” alternative than heterosexual promiscuity since, for the state, political and social order is of the utmost concern. This alternative would seem to follow from Aquinas’s repeated concern for the welfare of orphans and single mothers, a concern both humane in general and philosophical in particular (i.e., the social and political disorder embodied in the categories “orphan” and “single mother”). However, Aquinas explicitly condemns homosexual acts as “more” sinful than heterosexual promiscuity; here, the theologian trumps the philosopher. Thus, Aquinas’s discourse on homosexuality is, in effect, both a concession to and a rejection of popular sentiment of the period insofar as two views of the subject may be gleaned from his remarks, one explicit (homosexual acts are sinful because they do not promote the good), one implicit (homosexual acts do not promote social disorder via illegitimate children and single mothers).

However problematic such formulations presented for Aquinas and other medieval Christian scholars, the human predicament—both animal and divine—implicitly called for moderation in all spheres of life. And if moderation in behavior was not exactly a homology for tolerance in belief, it certainly seemed to logically preclude certain kinds of intolerance. For unlike the scholarly concern with degrees of goodness, types of sin, and the consequent relation between behavior and belief, intolerance elides the problem of belief and hypostatizes behavior, conflating and treating both as one. Observation orients reason, and the consequences of erecting knowledge on the basis of what can be observed by the naked or prostheticized eye constitutes in toto what we might, for convenience’s sake, simply call the history of Western modernity, understood as positivism, up to the 19th century.

Despite the power this orientation continues to hold over various spheres of Western cultures, the concern with belief, with motivation, has never been entirely conflated with, or successfully linked to, behavior. Moreover, as the divide between belief and behavior widened during the partial secularization of Western states, mechanistic metaphors for the body and mind gave way to the return of, and fascination with, doppelgangers, doubles, and twins, facilitating the development of psychology as a field of scientific investigation, a development which posed a particular threat to the hegemony philosophy and theology had heretofore enjoyed in all matters related to human belief and behavior. Consequently, and increasingly, the problem of how to ascertain the nature of the relation between “inner” and “outer” spheres—in short, the problem of other minds vis-a-vis the origin of human society—became a problem of translation, literally and figuratively. To the degree translation depends on reconciling “inner” meaning with “outer” rhetoric, inner “thought” with outer “act,” it presupposes the possibility, if not inevitability, of inaccuracies and mistakes. Our willingness to read and accept in good faith not only translated works but also all modes of oral and written communication depends on certain degrees of tolerance. It would not be going too far to say that translation, given its foundation in the possibility of inaccuracy and mistake, presupposes tolerance, not only for a putative addresser but also for both the addressee and the medium. As we know, the inability to tolerate inaccuracies and mistakes can paralyze oneself during, say, the dissertation process, during the writing of an academic book, or during the writing of an essay for a class. Outside the academic division, however, the tolerance for inaccuracies and mistakes tends to drop significantly (which is not to minimize or erase the history of academic intolerance even within the spectral realm of “ideas”), presumably because the stakes in the “real world” are perceived to be greater than those in the ivory tower. And because the stakes are perceived to be so great, inaccuracies and mistakes tend to get conflated into the theologically overloaded term, error.

Even though the word error never appears as such in “The Task of the Translator,” Walter Benjamin’s presuppositions and elisions in his essay demonstrate that errors of translation presuppose the possibility of a final translation. Indeed, one can easily imagine the Tower of Babel looming behind Benjamin’s rhetoric as an allegory for the condition for the possibility of translation. The relationship he establishes between an original work and its translation is homologous to the relationship Aquinas establishes between divine good and created goods. Dispelling the philological superstition that the “kinship” of world languages implies their “likeness” to one another, Benjamin insists that kinship resides only in the separate and different “intentions” of languages. Collectively, these intentions comprise “pure language.” Since languages are constantly disappearing, altering, or coming into being, any given language can only gesture toward the pure language from which it derives. Thus, “… any translation of a work originating in a specific stage of linguistic history represents, in regard to a specific aspect of its content, translation into all other languages.”1 However, “bad” translations attempt to reproduce the “meaning” of the original language. In doing so, bad translations render themselves superfluous clones in relation to the original languages. On the other hand, “good” translations reproduce the “intention” of the original language and, in doing so, “echo” the intended effect or signification of the original. This “echo” constitutes what Benjamin calls the “afterlife” of the original. I need to stress that the life and afterlife of the original work are not metaphors for Benjamin; he means life and afterlife in their most literal senses. Thus, Benjamin’s use of “intention” refers less to the “motive” of a biological creature than it does to a living force of necessity within language itself. The consequences of this linguistic animism are numerous. As his reading of Marx, for example, demonstrates, the hermeneutics of interpretation retains, for Benjamin, its theological sense of unveiling or uncovering. Thus, “bad” translations are no longer simply “bad.” They perforce constitute the error of occultation, simulacra that perform a kind of identity theft, gesturing neither to pure language nor to the original. Here, error is always a mode of mimicry which, like ventriloquism, collapses time and space. Unlike “good” translations that uphold the rigorous distinctions between themselves and the originals, bad translations literally confuse things, conflate differences, erasing specific histories and cultures. Bad translations are thus a mode of intolerance, an inability or unwillingness to accept, in general, differentiation.

Benjamin’s intolerance for the intolerance that bad translations enact is founded on his general concern for the erasure of cultures and histories by modernity. Thus he treats translation the way he treats mechanical reproduction: a necessity that is itself an index of historical change as political progress and cultural decline. This narrative of simultaneous ascent and descent orients Benjamin’s entire theory of translation. Bad translations are errant translations because they betray the afterlife of an original language that has either died, however extant, or has disappeared into oblivion. Otherwise, there is no reason a bad translation, having aborted the afterlife of the original, cannot itself be translated with reference to the original language. But even if the original language has vanished from history, leaving only a bad translation as its stillborn afterlife, cannot that bad translation still be translated? And if translated well, that is, as an echo of the intention of the original bad translation, is that not a good translation? However “bad” the afterlife of the original bad translation, or even the afterlife of the original itself, either or both may be redeemed in the future by a “good” translation. In short, Benjamin’s failure to consider the implicit radicality in innumerable, promiscuous translations of a translation or original betrays his attachment to, his nostalgia for, the original, extant, dead or vanished. Yet his own analysis of the impassable temporal barrier between the original and its translation entails the most radical modes of tolerance since no one can ever say when the “best,” much less the “”last,” translation of a translation or an original will occur. Benjamin arrests this promiscuous indeterminacy at the end of his essay when he offers “Holy Scripture” as the template for all translation: pure language as the beginning and end of all languages.

Not only does Benjamin rein in the potentially promiscuous afterlife of an original. He also limits the originals that qualify for translation when he writes that only “certain works” have the “essential feature” of “translatability.” Although we might presume that bad translations would be among those works that don’t measure up for translation, this enigmatic qualification is never spelled out. At this point in the essay we find ourselves amidst the occult, perhaps because “translatability” is less an “essential feature” of “certain works” than the product of historical forces fused into a mode of necessity for a future reader no author or work can ever foresee or predetermine. In other words, just as all creation partakes of the good and collectively mimics the divine good, an implication Aquinas must circumvent by appealing to the necessity of corruptibility, so too all “originals,” because they partake of pure language, are theoretically translatable. Indeed, for Aquinas and Benjamin, we must translate ad infinitum, not in spite but because of the risk of error, for it is only through the transformations translation performs on an original that its error-free afterlife is even possible. That error-free future afterlife is only possible because the original’s birth is simultaneously its separation from God, from pure language. The original is born in error, and just as original sin must be translated into a good toward the divine good, so too the sin of the original must be translated into its afterlife toward pure language. For both, then, translation demands tolerance and intolerance. Intolerance must expel, bracket or neutralize error because it presupposes narration toward the social, the cultural or the political, good, a towarding always, however, vulnerable to error. At the same time this vulnerability to error demands tolerance at each moment and point along its trajectory toward the good since error, the original condition, is inescapable. Translation is indebted to tolerance and intolerance—tolerance for the possibility, intolerance for the manifestation, of error.

In evoking the possible and the manifest, we have returned to Aquinas and the problem of condition and behavior: sexuality and sexual acts. His dilemma is also a problem of translation, not only how to apply moral norms to animal behavior and translate animal behavior into normative mores, but also how to translate scholastic insights into canon law while calibrating canon law vis-à-vis scholarly research. It is not mere coincidence that medieval interest in the challenges of translation in its specific and general modes coincides with the obsession with “error” in all its permutations (rhetorical, grammatical, moral, social, theological, etc.), permutations often seen not as homologies but as linked to one another in a causal chain. In relation to these necessarily incomplete but potent concepts of translation and error, which led to calls for both tolerance (for example, Aquinas’ attempt to synthesize Aristotelian philosophy and Catholic theology) and intolerance (for example, the Inquisition), I want to uphold the radicality implicit in Aquinas’ insight regarding the intrinsic, if modulated, goodness suffusing what he calls creation, a radicality which exceeds its theological origins and parameters. In other words, Aquinas’ rhetoric on legitimate procreation as always oriented toward the future determined by the good opens up the possibility of retaining and affirming what this theological move must displace: an illegitimate future no longer necessarily determined by the good, an illegitimate future “for” which radical modes of toleration—not faith—will have been the offspring of an equally radical ethos. This illegitimate future is homologous with Benjamin’s “bad” translations.

At first glance, this emphasis on the future of illegitimacy, an illegitimate future, hardly seems radical since the recuperation of illegitimacy for legitimate ends is a central motif in theological narratives. One might hear variations on this thesis on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday in a house of worship. Yet it is precisely the radicalism within this narrative that accounts for its rise and suppression as various “heresies.” Because this radicalism is prior to its recuperation at the “end” of the narrative, it is also the a priori condition for the narrative as such. Put another way, it is precisely when the possibility of the illegitimate everywhere present and yet always to come as the legitimate—in short, the narrative of recuperation—appears on the horizon of Western history that tolerance enters the rhetoric of politicians, theologians and philosophers as a way to manage, by liberal accommodation, its potentially disruptive effects. This is why tolerance gives rise to, and the uses of toleration arise from, the Enlightenment as religious pluralism even as cultural differences initiate the identity politics of Western modernity.

In the most general sense, then, the concept of tolerance is inseparable from crisis management, itself a kind of translation. At least as early as the Edict of Toleration (311 A.D.) issued by Galerius, Roman magistrates, having failed to exterminate the Christian pestilence, deployed Latin magnanimity as legal and ethical cover for a kind of Cold War détente: “wherefore, for our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the republic may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may continue to live securely in their homes.” While it is true that almost all the pre-Enlightenment discussions of tolerance concerned the possibility, desirability, or limits of religious dissent. Political dissent increasingly became a concern of Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Hume, Locke and Kant. Ten years ago the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was amended by a short statement on “Tolerance and Diversity: A Vision for the 21st Century,” signed by Mary Robinson and Nelson Mandela less than a week before September 11, 2001. I need remind only some of you that Xavier’s president, Michael Graham, issued a similar call for tolerance when he, in the context of the April 2001 riot in Cincinnati, chose “diversity” as the inaugural theme for the first Academic Day, held on September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks on that Tuesday morning occurred three months to the day after the execution of Timothy McVeigh, architect of what had been, six years earlier, the most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil. South of the border, exactly twenty-eight years earlier, on September 11, 1973, Chilean president Salvador Allende committed “suicide” during a military coup widely believed to have been orchestrated, in part, by the CIA. In linking the literary-philosophical histories of tolerance in the West with these traumatic consequences of intolerance that occurred on a specific date, thus conjuring up the “uncanny” in both its psychoanalytic and political modes, I am pointing toward a problem of translation—for example, between signification and rhetoric—as a problem of knowledge. And the problem of knowledge is, here, a problem of temporality, how we envision what is to come: the future as fulfillment of prophecy punctuated by significant dates read as signs, or a future as the unknown, the indeterminate, the impossible which never arrives. This second interpretation is implicit in Aquinas’s vision of a universe whose every part is not only “necessary” but also “good” even if the rhetoric and explicit thesis of the Summa Theologiae endorses only the first interpretation. This first interpretation, like Galerius’ edict, is a mode of what I will call liberal tolerance.

What are some of the presumptions of liberal tolerance as traditionally understood? First, prior to the Enlightenment, religion, like politics, is a public concern however private its tenets or practices. Thus Galerius issues a public decree permitting Christians to practice their faith “in their homes.” Moreover, the sphere of politics within the West presupposes some degree of secularization: hence the church-state alliance. A second presumption of liberal tolerance is that the religious or political entity being tolerated is a quantitative or qualitative minority: the former generally applies to political groups, the latter to religious groups. Finally, while liberal tolerance presupposes a conflict between political or religious belief systems, those being tolerated are generally presumed to be in error (religious minorities) or simply mistaken (political groups). Given the above, I will not have recourse to what I call “soft” tolerance, that “I’m Okay-You’re Okay” drivel so American in its circumvention of conflict based on real, intractable differences.

So let me approach the issue from a perspective alluded to above: the problem of tolerance as a problem of knowledge and temporality. If the conundrum of tolerance is due to problems of knowledge and temporality, then the subjunctive mood, the conditional voice, might very well be the articulation of more radical modes of tolerance: I might be okay, you might be okay.  Might could be understood here as a future possibility unlimited by present probabilities, a future until—not for—the “end” of time. Here, then, radical tolerance presupposes an ideal norm which is not a world of tolerable beliefs and creeds but rather an interminable suspending of belief, poised among stereotypes and clichés, which is to say, between fundamentalism and ecumenicalism. It is a twilight zone which must—I repeat, must—appear as indifference even though this mode of tolerance is radically differential since it affirms the temporal limits between “now” and “then,” to say nothing of “here” and “there.” This mode of tolerance is not deferred belief, a moment of suspension in anticipation of signs—for example, dates—that signal the advent of the apocalypse, the advent or return of a messianic era, religious or political. And though this mode of radical tolerance is the creed of the agnostic, it remains haunted by a spectral Gnosticism, a determinate theism. However distant from belief, however far “away” or “thrown,” this mode of tolerance remains in orbit around history, which is to say, around belief, around intolerance. Not that belief and intolerance are synonyms but that belief is the condition for the possibility of both intolerance and liberal tolerance. Radical tolerance, however, is mercurial, agnostic, though it never escapes the centripetal pull of belief and intolerance. Radical tolerance offers no predicates for evaluating belief, past, present or future, it cannot judge. Radical tolerance thus mimics the cynic, though it is far from cynicism. Given the above, radical tolerance is often understood as somehow worse than intolerance, prejudice, and bigotry since those beliefs, however fueled by fear or paranoia, at least seem more “alive,” more passionate, more “real,” than the steady-state humdrum of indifference falsely but understandably associated with radical tolerance. Because radical tolerance, strictly speaking, cannot be disambiguated, it can never be the foundation of an ethos, of a relationship to others, be they animal, mineral or flora—even though, like all modes of tolerance and intolerance, it is absolutely inconceivable without ethics. Thus radical tolerance can easily be mistaken for a kind of bad faith, a bad translation of ethical and moral responsibility. It must embrace this risk.

What, then, is radical tolerance? It is first and last a philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic relationship to a future always to come. To put it in quasi-theological terms, it is the promulgation and defense of the good everywhere present but yet to come. It can be glimpsed in the most ordinary of relationships, that which, for example, imbues a parent with the unconditional care of its offspring, however conditioned by subjective and objective interests. It is the mode of tolerance Aquinas displays when he maintains the distinction between philosophy and theology (for example, the universe as possibly infinite vs. the universe as necessarily finite) even if, in the end, both disciplines remain supervened by teleology. Radical tolerance is unending patience, unqualified love.

Consider the ecstatic aestheticism of the 19th c. British Romantic poet John Keats, an aestheticism encapsulated in what he called negative capability. Negative capability goes beyond all concepts of the good, beyond, that is, teleology in general. In a letter to his brothers, Keats, who admired Shakespeare as the quintessential “Man of Achievement,” proffers negative capability as the sine qua non of “genius”: “At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” In another letter Keats suggests that this quality distinguishes the poet from the philosopher because it renders the former simultaneously poetic and unpoetic: “poetical character… has no self—it is everything and nothing—it has no character and enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—it has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the camelion Poet… A Poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity, he is continually filling some other body.” Keats’s evacuation of the poetical “self” is Aquinas’s creation writ human. Keats’s rhetoric encompasses Aquinas’ good in an aesthetic of creativity which supervenes both creation and procreation. Yet because the poet is also “the most unpoetical of anything in existence,” Keats’s poet is also Benjamin’s translator who, “outside facing the wooded ridge,” is dragged into “the language forest.” Benjamin distinguishes “The Task of the Translator” from that of the poet whose “intention is spontaneous, primary, graphic” while “that of the translator is derivative, ultimate, ideational.” The radical receptivity and ceaseless movement at the center of negative capability calls into question the rigidity of these demarcations. For Keats, the poet may be as much a translator as he is a creator; he stands both outside and in the middle of the language forest as he mimics the translator shuttling back and forth between languages.

The issue here is not whether Keats himself ever lived up to his standards, how well he did or did not read Shakespeare. The “state of mind” implicit in his rhetoric entails tolerance in its most radical, and I would say, agonistic forms of doubt and uncertainty, especially in the face of implacable knowledge: September 11th, for example, whatever the year. Implicit in Keats’s negative capability, implicit in Aquinas’s creation, in Benjamin’s pure language, tolerance is radically ateleological. It presupposes no eventual resolution of doubt and conflict into absolute knowledge or social and cultural harmony. It presupposes no determinate scientific, religious, or political ends.

But if one is not seeking knowledge or understanding, why then inhabit others? Why invoke the ecstatic? Why a leap if not a leap of faith? For Keats, aesthetic pleasure, the pleasures of forms, various and different, is the beginning and end of this pursuit. The intrinsic pleasures of inhabiting, however imaginatively, multiple manifolds are central to Keats’s sense of the purpose, the end, if you will, of negative capability. What does any of this have to do with radical tolerance? Is there an aesthetic of ecstasy at the core of these modes of tolerance?

There is a tension in the terms Keats uses in these letters, specifically between the “Man of Achievement” and negative capability. The former seems to be premised on an active agent creating and forging objects while the latter appears to demand passivity, a refusal of agency. Indeed, in the two letters I cited above, Keats delineates these two strains of his thinking when he affirms those capable of “being in uncertainties, doubts, Mysteries, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” as well as those “continually filling some other body.” In these separate tendencies we see Keats’s radical fusion of perception and imagination in the service of the ecstatic. Still, were we to translate Keats’s entire project into a mode of civility founded on an ethos, it would appear to depend less on the decidedly non-ecstatic notion of liberal tolerance, traditionally understood, than it would on a kind of radical pseudo- or faux-sympathy. This is neither pre-20th century sympathy, which depends on a transcendental moral sense, nor 20th-21st century sympathy understood as an affective or ethical faculty. Radical tolerance cannot be boxed in by the absolute. To circumvent the universal/accidental dialectics of theology and philosophy, it must fall short of the absolute while remaining a step ahead of mere contingency, open to a future it cannot orient in advance. That is, radical modes of tolerance will always be subject to intolerance and—not but—will never become a form of intolerance only to the extent they remain open to a future no matter what happens before “then”—which, like the last translation, never arrives.

Since I began by linking this radical mode of tolerance to Aquinas’s sense of divine totality as absolutely and relatively good and to Benjamin’s theory of translation supervened by pure language, I cannot claim that radical tolerance is some kind of exorbitant loophole that allows one to completely escape the theological grounds that orient, for example, Aquinas’ interpretations of human sexuality vis-a-vis “nature” or Benjamin’s distinctions between “bad” and “good” translations. Although the future, by definition, never arrives, radical tolerance would still seem to be dependent on the hope for social or cultural goods, however deferred. How long, then, is long enough? How much must we tolerate before we decide enough is enough and become intolerant with, as we say, a clear conscience? Is the difference between liberal and radical tolerance merely a matter of dates and eternity? Again: radical tolerance cannot answer to a date—September 11, 1973 or September 11, 2001. To do so, to limit it to a date or dates, is to concede in advance that what was once deemed tolerance was, in fact, the hedging of bets, the most traditional and liberal enactment of this term: I’m Okay-You’re Okay until. Not even all-out war can justify the shift from radical tolerance to liberal tolerance, much less intolerance since, within just the brief history of the 20th century, allies became enemies became allies became enemies and so forth, illustrating that not even nationalist or cultural enmity that leads to the slaughter of thousands or millions is sufficient as the limit-case of tolerance. Little wonder, then, that to the extent ideology falters against the expediency of politics as usual or the bulwark of economic utilitarianism which renders cultural differences and social conflicts impotent, if not moot, radical tolerance stands toe-to-toe with intolerance only on the contested fields of religious belief and human sexuality. And as we know, the former supervenes the latter with various degrees of tolerance, tolerance until, since what is at stake is the—not a—future.

Sexuality and religion are of universal concern because they together justify “life” and war “now” and/or “later.” For example, revenge is mine, saith the Lord, and so peaceful co-existence “now” is possible. Conversely, I come not to bring peace but to divide brother from brother; war must be waged until the end of time. Both positions, pacifist and militant, entail procreation as the end of sexuality. As long as we continue to repopulate the planet, we can continue to kill or be killed in the name of a father. And in order to assure the “right” kinds of procreation, sexuality must be patrolled by every institution of human society. Thus the universal taboo against incest, for example, is inextricable from the accretion of power in every imaginable form: social, political, cultural, etc. It explains why, as one example among many, homosexual practices are tolerated in Greek and Roman antiquity as well as in many indigenous cultures so long as they do not interfere with—indeed, functions as practice for—the reproduction of heteronormative power. The critical function of women, of mothers, of female sexuality, is obvious here. Some biologists tell us that promiscuity is hardwired into males as a kind of instinct for self-preservation. Hence girls and women that refuse to serve the community, the family, the state, etc. represent the highest form of threat, not to human existence per se, but to patrilineal hegemony. This is why the problem of heterosexual promiscuity and homosexual relations are so often linked in Christian, Judaic, and Islamic traditions. Aside from problems of lineage and survival, human sexuality raises the specter of choice and consent in relation to custom and law, one reason the medievalists in particular were concerned with, fascinated by, both bestiaries and bestiality. I said above that radical tolerance cannot answer to dates, to war as vengeance or provocation. Tolerance, however radical, does answer to choice and consent because, in the end, tolerance melds choice and consent: one chooses, consents to, a future one, by definition, will never live to see. This is why those difficult questions delineated above might answer to, could answer to, the problem of choice and consent. But in normal parlance the problem of choice and consent is generally tied to religion and human sexuality. Having dealt with the former to some extent, let’s consider what might be understood as the very limit of all modes of tolerance, a sexual practice mentioned in the Summa Theologiae: bestiality.

Strictly speaking, within the parameters of U.S. law, bestiality is rape since no animal can consent to sexual relations with a human being. But since the law presupposes not just sentience but also the ability to “reason” for participants in a sexual relation, voluntary or not, one might well wonder if an animal could be raped. Consent, in American jurisprudence, implies sentience, and sentience, applicable to animals and humans, is a necessary but insufficient condition for consent. Only human adolescents—after a determined age—can make “reasonable” choices. In this context bestiality, as a form of intra-species sexual trespassing, serves as the limit-case, the endpoint, of that spectrum of tolerable sexual practices since no animal, no matter how old, can make reasonable choices, can consent to sexual relations with a human being. At the other end, so to speak, of this spectrum is sado-masochism, precisely because it too conjures up that ghostly concept of “consent.” I qualify consent with these nebulous terms—conjure, ghost—because, in truth, we still do not know what “reasonable choice” or “consent” might mean in the context of these specific sexual practices. In other words, the moment we choose a radical mode of tolerance we recognize it is we, not “them,” who may be mistaken, may be, one day, in error. Thus, unlike the choice to be intolerant or liberally tolerant, the choice to be radically tolerant can only be made, never justified. The unknown future can never serve as a predicate for the present. Or vice versa. On the other hand, intolerance, like liberal tolerance, can always be justified; its future is known, preconceived, if never assured. Thus intolerance is literally a pre-emptive strike, a refusal of translation (and the risk of error it entails). Liberal tolerance is détente, a peace treaty, a willingness to translate and thus assume the risk of mistake, perhaps even of error. Radical tolerance remains open to peace and to war and is willing to not only translate but also be translated into the good, a good, or no good, an afterlife indefinitely deferred. Only on this condition is radical tolerance not, in the end, a veil for radical intolerance.

In the possible absence, then, of either an absolute or contingent good, why endorse radical tolerance? What good could possibly come of it if no good, however hoped for, can ever arrive once and for all time? The only answer to this question is another question, a cliché laden with radical possibility: who—or what—knows? One will have had to open oneself to the ecstatic pleasures of the universe as it unfolds within the purview of our modes of knowledge, however partial, however partisan. In invoking the future anterior, I want to designate the impossible “time” to which radical tolerance belongs, a time both “then” (past) and “then” (future) but still at odds with the timelessness of religious eschatology or philosophical teleology. One will have had to—the tense of negative capability. One will have had to—not for the sake of knowledge per se but for the sake of an aesthetic ecstasy. Nailed to an ethos, radical tolerance will have turned ecstatically toward the blank face of what I have been calling a future.

Which is to also say, a future everywhere present but yet to come. Which is to say, the canny but radical experiences of many teachers every day. These are teachers who teach their disciplines because they love them, find pleasure in them, and if they have faith, religious or secular, it is a faith without an object, without an end in sight. Sufficient to the day would be the pleasures thereof. Regardless of the rhetoric of any academy, secular or religious, or any discipline, vocational or liberal, students, in the best of cases, in the most tolerant of environments, experience a toleration so radical, so ateleological, that they—along with parents and legislators—often find it intolerable. That is to say, they refuse the responsibility of translation, which can take a lifetime to accomplish. For academics, at our most tolerant, teach with incomplete knowledge, indefinite ends. Worse, say some, though better, I say, we do not always know what we are saying, how or if we are being heard and, most importantly, what results from the things we say in and outside the classroom. Not even our students know what they are learning, and when they do it is rarely what we believe we are teaching. Like it or not, everything we say and do remains open to a future we—students, parents, and legislators—can never know, can never determine, a future that may have already—who or what knows?—exceeded the human adventure.

Other September 11 events: This year on September 11, India will mark the 105th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi launching the modern nonviolent resistance movement. On September 11, 1990, Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was assassinated in Guatemala City after being stalked for two weeks prior to her death by a U.S.-backed military death squad in retaliation for her work to expose and document the destruction of rural indigenous communities by U.S.-backed state forces and allied paramilitary groups. On September 11, 1993, in the midst of the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti, Antoine Izméry was dragged out of a church by coup forces and murdered in broad daylight. He had been commemorating a massacre of parishioners at the Saint-Jean Bosco Church that had occurred five years earlier on September 11, 1988.


1. Important differences aside, this idea of translation resonates with Bakhtin’s relationship between heteroglossia and dialogics and Saussure’s langue and parole distinctions. Fred Evans’ notion of a “multivoiced” world is another version of this concept.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Brian Davies and Brian Leftow (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations: Essays and Reflection, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1969).

Fred Evans, “The Clamour of Voices: Neda, Barack and Social Philosophy,” forthcoming in Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy, 2013.

Graphic Scores



The Rova Sax Quartet:
Bruce Ackley – soprano sax
Steve Adams – alto sax
Larry Ochs – tenor sax
Jon Raskin – baritone sax

Recorded by Eli Crews at New Improved Recording, Oakland, CA on Sept. 5-6, 2008.

Mixed by Eli Crews, Steve Adams and Jon Raskin at New Improved Recording, Oakland, CA on Oct. 29 and Nov. 17, 2008.

Graphic Score 29


Steve Adams – alto sax and electronics

Recorded by Myles Boisen at Guerrila Euphonics, Oakland, CA on August 18, 2008

Mixed by Myles Boisen and Steve Adams at the Headless Buddha Lab, Oakland CA, on August 30, 2008

© Metalanguage Music 2005, all rights reserved





N Ear Flowers Re Fre/nd: A Poets’ Play


Johan Gottschalk Wallerious: Swedish chemist, mineralogist
Someone said: singer, poet, desire, child, brute, amateur
Else: Else, historical, machinic
Coltrane: philosopher
I Am (in Brooklyn, (in Berlin: a body, a vector in space, a given place
Siri: Siri
Heriberto Yepez: Heriberto Yepez
Charlotte Wolff: scientist, radical sexologist, chirologist, philosopher, wearer of men’s clothes, psychologist of gesture, lesbian identified
Via Alev Ersan: via the writer Alev Ersan, on Facebook
Public Space: Public Space
Sheena Easton: Sheena Easton
It: It
June Jordan: June Jordan
Fassbinder: Fassbinder
Minor Appearances: Orgy, Aristotle


Johan Gottschalk Wallerious:
Else requires someone else
Someone said, to become someone else
Requires someone else
Electrically, unmeasured
Other-ness, someone said
An Allotrope of Else
Someone said, A Loosening Ampersand
Throbbing with amperes
& a bromo blue
Citi sign, someone said
Electrically To Become Someone
Else requires some structured bonds
Someone said, more & more
In a less fixed phosphorous
Someone said, Ore.

Desiring machines
some other means.

Someone said:
Sheena Easton
for example. She
Sheena Easton
is a machine
Sheena Easton
desiring some
other means.
Bromo blue. 
Watermelon red.
Wallerious serious.
I love that color.

If it moves
it’s alive.
If it’s alive
this time
but not
moving it’s
If it’s alive
this time
and refusing
to mourn
or move it’s
this time
Netflix &

Someone said:
Until branded
as vernacular
speech acts, the band
in me
in every conversation
in them, yeah yeah yeah
a long-fingered tool
for climbing is, until branded
Elsewhere, a hand since
from wing or paw
whose thumbing
is the first machine,
whose thumbing
is this asks the / the
second machine

repeat the sentence
increasingly brutal
movement to dethrall.
Else’s hard intel stare.
Core. Else’s black substrate.
Core. Else under a chair lost.
Manufactured in
other country it
no longer exists
save for the objects
made in said
other country.

Someone said:
Old English thūma; related to Old Saxon
thūma, Old High German thūmo,
Old Norse thumall, thumb of a glove
from Latin tumēre, to swell.

Into armpit
or palm.

Yeah yeah yeah
As if homophony
Wasn’t the easiest
Hard drive. More
materially, Africa.
“The granary of Empire.”
1.08 billion palms
Holding high
Capacitance Coltan.
“The ore of Empire.”

Siri, where does Coltan come from?

Let me check that…
This might answer
your question: Collective information
for US births. Rank: 65th. Fraction:
1 in 318 people. Number: 6318 people per year.

Siri, what is Coltan.

Would you like me to search the web for “Cole train”?


Coltan, short for
Known industrially
As tantalite.

Someone said:
You touch the glass with yr machine.
You touch the machine with yr machine.
Glass architecture in a glass palm.
The one surfacing there, touching there.
The one swiping there, pinching there.
You touch the glass with your ear.
You make a call, out from that flesh there.

Desiring machines
by other means. In other
country. Siri,
what is the space
behind the knee?

What is Dancoe? Let me think…
Here’s what I found: Dana Holding Company (DAN)
Latest trades: DAN $20.95 NYE.

The popliteal space?

y informatio
n swells.

Sheena Easton:
Sheena Easton.



I Am (in Brooklyn:
I realize, and it is not without irony, that I tell stories. I tell a certain kind of story in response to which one reaction I have witnessed is repulsion a response perhaps to what is felt as my attack on the lush ground that ‘story’ is thought to occupy.

When I tell a story it is as though I am interrupting. The room. Something is always happening. For example a sudden repulsion that seems to augur logic. I trust the interruption. I want to tell you now, not later. It won’t matter anymore. It may never again matter. I…

I am (in Berlin:
Here is a story that comes after an attack. Or rather footage of an attack. What exactly is the story when there is an attack in a public space. What exactly is the story when women are not allowed in public space. Rather than footage what was in the machine was: a double story.

Let me explain.

There was the violence of the attack and violence of the machine recording the attack and the machines which transmitted the recording of the attack and the machines which downloaded the act with ease, with a swipe of a thumb, a gesture, automated. This was all after the fact. The story begins before this. What was in the machine was. The image bundles affect, which is duplicated, doubled, becomes story, gothic. I stood up in my apartment, gagged.

My story begins with a machine in a country nowhere near the country where the footage was taken. Let me explain. I am in a country which is a story that turns me inside out, violently, suddenly nowhere and nowhere nearly as the violence which a body holding a machine witnesses, nearly commits, let alone the body suffering the fact of attack. I broke into a sweat. No lush ground. No story. No nearly, nowhere. Refuse to let the image empty you. What was in the machine was. It’s telling.

Public Space:
A bromo
blue glow
to you
by Citi.

Charlotte Wolf:
Gesture of a Holding Recording Device
Gesture of a Hollow Recording Device
Gesture of a Holding Recording Device Just Above One’s Head
Gesture of a Holding Recording Device In Front of Your Head
Gesture of a Hollow Head That is Nonetheless Extremely Heavy
Gesture of a Holding Recording Device At One’s Side, Inconspicuously
Gestures and Gesticulations of Fingers as Eyes
Gesture of a Holding Recording Device Beyond One’s Head While Running Forward
Gesture of a Hollow Recording

g tellin
g make
s a dislocatio
n machin

I Am (in Brooklyn:
Insides without outsides.
Rudely formed viscera, unsheathed.
Precious, monstrous, starkly lush.

t and tundr
a guid
d ancien
t wor

Heriberto Yepez and Else (together):
The text will become the history of the loss of our body.
The loss will become the history of the text of our body.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
Stories are locative adverbs.
I don’t desire a visit.

Media visits
What upon us.

Someone said:
She. She was a visitor. She
Was a visitor. She was a
visitor. She was a visitor.

Two tents.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
This is an attempt at never visiting.
Press: “travel”
Lift: “migrate”

Charlotte Wolf:
Gesture of Pressing Against Travel
Gesture of Trying To Stay Put
Gesture of Failing the Gestures

Public Space:
Where you stand.
She is not a visitor.
Where you stand still.
Where you are (not) visited.

strange vibrations
marking these
leftover signals

Someone singing:
Tell me why is it so.
Don’t wanna let you go.

Okay. Hold o
n for jus
t a…!
This interrupte
d line wants t
o finish bu
t can’t. Th
e animal, ever
y time it trie
s to complet
e it, or disentangl
e itself eviscerate
s further int

Public Space:
Already? At the start
a space between
one or more sentences
gathered, a violence
by space.

Sheena Easton:
Sheena Easton.


Someone said:
IT makes more sense
IT holds as if it were a breath
IT the very moment
IT has nothing to project protect
IT becomes extreme weather

IT suggests terrible things happening
after near escape, off the page,
in this unfriendly helicopter sky.

Someone (singing):
Up up and away
my beautiful, my beautiful.
Up up and away
my beautiful, my beautiful.
Up up and away
and away, way up HIGH
my beautiful, my beautiful.

Heriberto Yepez:
We suspected
mimesis doubled
rendered violence
visibly redundant
& so we painted
cockpit windshields
on fallen drones.

Charlotte Wolf:
Gesture of Removing Drones from the Sphere of Metaphysics!
Gesture of Removing Drones from the Logic of Speculative Finance!

We would like to use your location.

Your thumbs know where the keys are.
It doesn’t take long to adjust.

Someone said:
Even if we are somewhere else.

As in a place other than where we desire
the footage to record our movements here.

Public Space:
A statue of a protester.
An archived space. An image
full of gestures. A public space
generating images. A public
full of gestures. An image
full of images. A film
of a still image of a protester. A film
of a still image of a
protester in public space
breaking allotropically
into a run, a fist or feint or
immanently adjacent
to image or film, the edge
in an image or screen or page
or square, an opening there
that is NOT a tear, a duct
at the base of a pear.

Heriberto Yepez:
Neo-remembering. Never mind for now: a 4 cornered body crossed by a three pointed star
tries to exceed its surface into the atmosphere by excreting.
It wants. IT historicizes herself anticipating the tragedy of submission, our sticky times.

Reaching down while getting up
subject to being fucked
by that broken head (god)
Rough and crumble over figure
Off the page IT leaves
Violent diaphanous
Fatherless imprint

IT can’t, and turns back up and
back into itself.

Heriberto Yépez:
Under power
Under powered
Under powdered

“Good upload man”


I Am (in Brooklyn:
Walking around
peacefully enough but
taken with a persistant
incurable want.
I am attempting to leave
the never born child

No, don’t cry ou
t with it! Don’
t make the imp-
recise deman
d: IT to
o wants t
o exis


I Am (in Brooklyn:
I cut off the head your encephalitic
squirming for you!
[humming tune of “Like a Virgin,”
spasmodic gestures approximating
dancing, sings]
Like an earthworm
Touched for the…

Stop tryin
g. To exis
t. Ther
e is onl
y squir
m o
e wa
o l

I Am (in Brooklyn:
Losing the want
Though it’s good to have somewhere clean to stay
Eat and Touch more than a square foot is better,
Especially nice for one to be
Map-able Find-able Bury-able

Public Space:
The houses poorly ventilated, overcrowded,
have no chimney. In Jalazone, a Palestinian refugee camp,
dampness is present in 72.5% of the houses,
50.5% have mold, 37% have leaks, and only 41.5% were
exposed to the sun. In Jalazone, 61% of the households
have 3-5 people to a room, while 16.5% of the households
have over 5 people to a room.



Via Alev Ersan:
“Dear friends, currently the mainstream global media is keeping an eye on Taksim, Istanbul. Thus, the police forces have backed off and they have remarkably scaled down the number of attacks against the protesters. However, in the meantime the police terror in Ankara as it is now is on a much larger scale compared to the very beginning of Istanbul attacks. Tear gas is relentlessly being thrown inside apartments, people are suppressed by plastic bullets, illegal custody, and physical assault. Things have escalated quickly and the scale of these attacks is rapidly increasing. We need to make benefit of social media once again to show the world what’s going on in Ankara right now. Here is a message from the people of Ankara: ‘We have supported the protesters of Istanbul from the beginning, and now it is your turn to support us and the rest of Turkey. This resistance is clearly not limited to Istanbul, it has taken over all of the country. The festive atmosphere in Istanbul is just a trick to fool global media and soothe off the masses. Nothing has been accomplished yet and things have just started actually.'”

Place. As smoke and mirror.

June Jordan:
[Watching television, or in a television frame]
We USAmericans, United Statesians, USonians: love our Arabs and Muslims in the form of democratic youth, so much we are willing to watch them be slaughtered, to watch our premieres meet in gilded frames.

Who controls the smoke controls the mirrors.
Who controls the mirrors is SMOKING.

What. Yo
u want m
e to say som
e thing abou
t globalizatio
n. Maybe on
e would wan
t it, if on
e hadn’t gotte
n it. To be know
n. Worl
d Recognitio

I Am (in Berlin:
It’s hot. I sign off all my emails with the phrase It’s hot here. The emails I receive from friends in Brooklyn end with same phrase. It’s hot here. The emails I receive from friends in Rio end with the same phrase. It’s hot here. The emails I receive from friends in Paris end with the same phrase. It’s hot here. The emails I receive from friends in Morocco end with the same phrase. It’s hot here. The emails I receive from friends in Sweden end with the same phrase. It’s hot here. It’s hot here and the windows are open. The windows of all the neighbors in the courtyard are open and we move around with few clothes, we move around slowly wearing few clothes. Nearly everyone sees everyone else in a Berlin hinterhof. Nearly everyone sees everyone else in apartment buildings that face other apartment buildings. There is rarely any sun in Berlin and rarely are curtains needed. The neighbor across from me moves slowly through the room. We have seen each other over the years numerous times through the curtainless windows. All the neighbors have seen each other numerous times. We move together slowly and we see each other.

Charlotte Wolf:
Gesture of Sight
Gesture of Sight Among Other Gestures
Gesture of a Body Next Door Felt in the Wood of the Floorboards
Gestures Conditioned by Distinctions Between Public and Private Space

I Am (in Berlin:
The other is there, right across the air, the hinterhof. The crows on rooftops throw their voices into it and revel in the echo—hopping sideways, gleefully! Nearly deranged! As all crows are, all over the world, perhaps because for them there is no—

Charlotte Wolff:
Gesture of Delirious Harley-Rider-ish Sound in Order to Break Free From.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
Hearing from the front and back. I look to the harbor and hear the ocean. I look to ocean and hear the helicopters. Rhomb lines for airplane. Just Above My Head. I smell jet fuel. Craving.

Charlotte Wolff:
Gestures of Crows for Whom All Space is Public Space.

Heriberto Yepez:
Crow Gestus: Gesture of making big USAmerican noise without sound.

Beep. Double
Beep. Beep double
Beep. Double

I Am (in Berlin):
It’s hot here. The windows are open. Waist high. Last night a voice in the courtyard cried out, a pleasure so complete the pitch of it was genderless and everyone, in all the windows, was turned on, although the lights stayed off. Squares of open air. An image open, emptied. Architecturally intimacy occurs. We have seen each other but not recognized each other. We have not recognized that we have seen each other but we know this recognition exists, unrecognized, when we meet each other in the treppenhaus, the stairways. Here there is also air between our bodies, but less.

Ja Ja Ja
in Agnst Essen
Seele Auf
I wanted most all of it shot in courtyards
and stairways
and doorways
leading to hallways—

Charlotte Wolf:
Architectures of Recognition Gestures
Gestures of Public Touching
Overcrowding Gestures
Orgy Gesture

June Jordan:
Western expansion camps. Refugee cramps.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
between a
door and a
front door

where Ali
and Emmi
meet in a doorway
a transitional…

June Jordan:
But not provisional
structure the outside
Impositional architectures
Racing bodies
Merging bodies
Orgy bodies
The rooftops

l ai

The internet?

Someone said:
Orgies, intafadas and riots!
They must take place
In physical space.

If a staircase, then

Someone said:
Right. Carefully.
There is no
tyranny of
recognition, no
way to erase
the final
between bodies.

Step by step.
Full of objects
Of outwardness.

Via Alev Ersan:
A space however
Small for politics.
A failed anagram.
An ark.

June Jordan:
Camp #1


When you look up ‘gestures of location’ on Google you are directed into an Apple development site on Gesture Recognizers. Gesture Recognizers interpret touches to determine whether they correspond to a specific gesture, such as a swipe, pinch, or rotation. If they recognize their assigned gesture, they send an action message to a target object.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
They look more forgotten each time I see them. There is a man I feel like I am friends with. He must be Jewish or Arab or Armenian does it matter which? Wait…we were at “A Gesture of Location” or Gestures of Location or. I don’t know his name but I have known him for all the years that I have lived in my neighborhood. Those years a teenager between us: 17 or 18…year old teenager trans person yesterday hacked to death. My unnamed friend in Brooklyn is a cortortionist. He can bend the back of his neck so that his head is at 90 degrees.

Maybe that is not so hard.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
I watched him like this for 10 years. Because he sat on my stoop. I could tell he liked me, felt kinship with me. Maybe this means he is Jewish or just relieved to not be put out to the dogs. One day after ten years he looked at me and he was standing up straight. I smiled at him until he recognized me. Today I saw him on the train. We nodded to each other. When he got off the train he went back to being hunched over, in 90 degrees.

Gestures feel real
she read, but only
when her
hand opened,
when finger and
thumb separating
widened image
to text.

A relatio
n that i
s neithe
r one no
r two.

Someone said:
Flow, from one to each’s other.
Shift, from thinking to knowing.

Sheena Easton:
Sheena Easton.

Recognition is as augury for catastrophic
A beautiful contraction, a perfect

Someone said:
Recognition denied or disabled.
Unclear weather. I recognize this.
Thunder precedes. Like this.
Flow. Shift. From cathexis to

Heriberto Yepez:
Uninstalling the blind
Stupid trilogy. Anti-
Oedipal yes, but
Let’s goes further,
Condemns the binary
And the 4 winds.

The last episode brought closure and still managed to stay open-ended.

June Jordan:
“Beach Camp”


I Am (in Berlin:
Something someone said about a partial way of looking.
Lines, electrodes, an anti-reflective coating it alone.
Tap to zoom in on king.

I am (in Berlin) holding an object, an iPhone, the screen of which functions by sensing anything having a dielectric different from air. A kind of death, or experience of death, the sudden fact that difference is gone. I was in the air when my father died. I was high up, 30,000 feet, 35,000. I was in the air and my route in the air was figured by, ironically, “ground speed.” The screen on the back of the seat in front of me was roughly the size of the head resting against the seat. Flight status map. Africa a tan desert. Iceland, white. The Labrador Sea: a kind of rippled digital basin. Dimension on a low-res flat screen seems always like sand to be collapsing. “Local time at origin.” The places we travel to in order to leave them. A head winds. Distances: the minute you have a destination you arrive. I am (in Berlin) trying to locate where my body was when my father died, since where we were when a thing happened was the memory of the thing that happened. I arrived when I found out in New York, and got home, and turned on my iPhone with a swipe of my thumb, reading the email which was written by my mother from a coast across from the coast where I had arrived, which is not where my father died. That was my thought at that time in the narrative, where was I at that time in the narrative, now that I am (in Berlin) recalling this. Without location narrative posits it, sentence by sentence. Above somewhere named Gaspe. Somewhere above No. Only later on a phone with a circuit containing a mineral named by a Swedish chemist and mined in the Congo did a message arrive from another sentence, which was opened solely with the movement of a sentence, its intimate muscles, which are the only muscles in a sentence that move the sentence. Conflict minerals us. Somewhere above Dingwall. The sentence across a page vibrates. You could say a gesture also involves when it is finished dying. Else this high capacitance in a small volume, a river over time finds its way into a circuit small enough to allow live streaming. It won’t take long to adjust. Somewhere above Riviere-de-la-Chaloupe, Baie-du-Renard, Cap-aux-Meules. Airlines always use butt-ugly fonts. I remember that sentence, thinking that. This is a view from seat 42A, from a sentence folded in a seat among other sentences on an Irish airline with a Gaelic name somewhere above Dingwall, which is nowhere near Ireland.

Charlotte Wolff:
Gestarchitecture of Invisible Strings.
Gestarchitecture of Immigration.

I Am (in Berlin:
The flight attendants on either aisle end at take off, at the origin, synchronized. One hand positioned over a face and another behind the head. Jerk to release oxygen. During the prerecorded preflight safety instructions my lips moved with the recording. I am always from the start attendant. Invisibly the machine we become we are synced to. Always, from the start, he said again, narratively. Your thumb suddenly white, like Iceland. Else this high capacitance for an electrical charge, a circuit small enough to resist breathing. The body which is not a sentence in a ritual reduced to ashes, mailed to other bodies who stand there, holding them in a posture that, like any fixed position, grief included, interrupts gesture, freezes it, violently, he said again.

Charlotte Wolff:
Living Gesture of Poses Opposed to Any Fixed Posture.

I Am (in Berlin:
The email recorded the passing of a circuit small enough to prevent grieving.

June Jordan:
Beit Jibrim

I Am (in Berlin:
The use of the word is proof that literal affirmation neutralizes dissent: economy class. The space between bodies, increasingly infinitesimal. Within inches of every sense an ad. If we are intensely mindful in such a space not to touch anyone, even at the elbows, it is because discomfort stemming from enforced proximity extinguishes any notion the larger sentence might be, with such touch, suddenly countered, changed.

e the minut
e you hav
e a destinatio
n you arriv

I Am (in Berlin:
Willingly move beyond this sentence in solidarity.

an ethics
appears. Avant
Vanguard. All
investments subject
also to read as if
risk, both to hold
what we know as fragile
and to have that,
brokered, ingestured
with windshield,
bad porn, visibility
broken global shatterproof
materials this
common form
to struggles, despite
borders, and the
archives border
beyond a sweetness
the sunlit fur
on the backs of
bees, hidden there
it will win us
over it will
soften us with us

I am slurring in a soft warehouse.

Heriberto Yepez:
What is a repeat—a repetition that is not conservative, conservatizing, that bleeds new life—how to name it—close to that falling storm. Sheena Easton, save us.

Sheena Easton:
Sheena Easton.

June Jordan:

I Am (in Berlin:
Sentences willingly in solidarity move beyond this.

I Am (in Brooklyn:
(spasmodically dancing again)
But the Spring…is physical, it is
difficulty, not death. Broken
trees lost branches. Cold air at my bottom
while breasts hot, humid. Slow magnolias
Bright necessity alive—shortened, stumped.
Pushing force of
collective energy out
must make
side branches.

(Outside, glorious illusion)

A Collaborative Experiment in Discomfortable Writing


Original lines:

Virginia Lucas: Afuera la ilusión gloriosa cometa reventando el viento / diciendo en sacudidas; afuera la libertad

Rachel Levitsky: At the boundary / where they meet. // Rooms lost and stolen / dirty under the desk.

Improvised interpreted poem:

glorious illusion
a comet exploding
in the wind
shaken things—
out with liberty!
—lost things
under the desk.
Today I want
to feel. Today
I want to kill.
Outside. Outside
the prisoners
against the wall.
The repeated wall.
The wall
of repeated
action. The wall.
I want to get rid
of education.
I want to get rid
of bad manners.
a wall. Today
I would like for us
to share
that thing
that is
to flee.

This improvised discomfortable text-generating experiment is based on a repeating, spiraling practice of collaborative interpretation and addition, for which we invented a few key constraints to guide us. We began with one text fragment in Spanish, chosen by one of us without the other’s knowledge: in this instance, by Uruguayan poet and queer studies innovator, Virginia Lucas. This text was immediately interpreted into English by the listener, who then added one text fragment in English—in this instance, by New York poet and recuperative strategist, Rachel Levitsky. After the reading and initial interpretation of each of our “found” texts, every time one of us “interpreted,” we added a line or two of our own devising, for a total of five sets of improvised “interpretations.” Our rules were that we had to take new notes on a new sheet of paper or cover our old notes every time we were interpreting (to avoid simply transferring notes and/or memorizing text blocks) and that we could return to the same original text by Lucas or Levitsky if we wanted to include more lines of theirs rather than improvised lines of our own.

While this experiment is grounded in interpretation techniques, it differs significantly from professional interpreting and in fact violates many of the central guidelines of the practice. In our professional lives, we would never perform live interpretations of poetry—it’s just impossible. Rather, if a speaker is going to read a poem as part of their presentation, we request that they provide a translation of that material to us in advance. Additionally, in almost all instances of interpretation, we’d be aware of the context of the speaker’s comments, which would usually follow a basic logic and create a fairly legible linear narrative; context and logic are turned upside down when we oblige ourselves to interpret improvised lines that may or may not have some relationship (often neither logical nor linear) to the preceding lines. Finally, in our practice as interpreters, we would never, ever embellish or improvise based on what we are interpreting—quite the contrary, we would do our very best to transmit the message as directly as possible, and as closely to what we heard as possible, with no omissions and no additions.

We broke key rules of interpreting. We invented new constraints for the experiment. The process was eminently discomfortable. And the result: a discomfortable text.

We are the ones in question

An experiment in CALLING TO SITE by Lyn Hejinian and Christopher Patrick Miller

A Note on Procedure: What follows is an experiment in call and response.  The basic constraints were that one of us could ask the other a question and the other would respond in five lines followed by another question.  The impetus was to have the opportunity to ask and respond to questions at once intimate and expansive that don’t seem accessible in ordinary conversation,  perhaps because it seems too much to ask of another.  To remain in the question, we found, is a difficult process and often leads us to places, attitudes, or styles of discourse where, some time later, we don’t recognize the person who troubled to speak and be present there.

Does your place of birth suit your imagination of yourself?

My stone, my stanza, my heap of salvage metal. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. We sank beneath your wisdom like a stone. The way I would walk around the edge of our property, or what I thought was our property, trying the gaps and recombinations the weight of a certain person may cause. Whatever I was born into, I always had the sense that it was falling apart, that birth was falling apart with the people who willed it into being, and now I call that birth New England and describe its various qualities of superstition, reticent candor, and narrowed vigilance from the stranger who visits, who is always visiting, for longer than he may have been willing to admit at the outset.

Do you find the personal wherever, or whenever, you resist it?

The personal was what I was educated to become, myself, albeit nameless, as a personal person, though not my own. We have and get had, and acceding to that is a social bargain I personally can’t ascribe to. As of when, you ask (or might ask)—you, a person, particular and unique and known to me with a pronounced name—when did I resist it, but that assumes that I do. “I” could be anyone’s, anyone—the sort of thing John Wayne might say, though not of a river crossing or mules. The interiorization of self-reflection is a political, social, thing.

What is required for you to feel that you are somewhere?

Lamps seem the closest thing we get to living with apostrophe, vital animations we come home to, watch others approach, and reach to quiet when our bodies would love something other than this day. I mention this about lamps and apostrophe because they are a mere coincidence—light and the things it lights occurring together—which is the shortest definition I can manage for home. How we feel light is another question and gets us into the fray of skin, memory, entropy, time travel, etc. Driving up the dark road we may be surprised so few people are home at 7pm on a Tuesday evening and then maybe we realize that the power is probably out on the road and that we are confident the sun must rise tomorrow so everyone is new to the habits they have waiting in the form of furniture and music and food. Feeling this one is our home, feeling for a switch, our bodies hum with the decadent rhythms of hope and explanation.

Has there ever been a moment when you have doubted the continuity of who you are?

I don’t see how anyone who has consciousness of history, or consciousness of being a participant in the eventfulness of reality, can avoid experiencing him- or herself as becoming, at key junctures, markedly and perhaps lastingly discontinuous with whom he or she had been. Indeed, according to Whitehead’s metaphysics, we (along with all other real things) are each a sequence of events, and different at each site of our eventfulness. The real question is, how does one feel for the switch, the event-shift switch, which is not connected to a lamp, but to circuits of the brain, the mind, the social, the senses. I switch to a different language, and to a different sensorium.

The language of poetry is a language of metamorphosis. If so, what can or do you, as yourself, believe in?

Belief is looking into the multiple faces or stomachs of doubt as they surface recurrently, like objects you thought were drifting in someone else’s ocean, with some errant race of alligators, but float back and show us the swollen bellies of their numbers, cluttering the coasts. We learn how to talk to them, to instruct them, and to strain them from the waters and then, in turning, mistake this process for some personalization of such doubts and the waters as safe for swimming. Leviathan into a behemoth, mermaids into priests or professors. Isn’t it funny too how well crowded our coasts are, how we set up overlooking the oceans in houses that, like Nietzsche’s gay real estate, draw as much color from the monster of the sea as they do from the shifting cataclysms and buckles of land. I myself have never lived in such a house, only visited them, and often dream of the discarded lives revolving in the oceanic vortices of garbage and such privileged vantages of faith.

Can one visit a friend, a home, or a place, that one believes in and still address it as a doubt?

I believe in almost everything that exists in the present and almost nothing in the future. I’m rampantly gullible, but everything projects its own doubt forward and into its path. The significant events in the life of the perceptions unfold as experiences of belief or of doubt, but doubt isn’t the same as disbelief; doubt doesn’t negate belief (though it does make fun of gullibility), it isn’t even a failure of belief. Doubt expands belief into its ramifications. During the visit you ask me to imagine (to “a friend, a home, or a place”), belief and doubt are bound together in the fact that the visited scene has the holding power that we call temporality.

Do you ever feel that you are being visited by ideas?

In fact, by which I mean in bone the being of spirit is, that is the only way I feel by way of ideas: visited, alongside, with, inaccessible in part. Cora Diamond has this notion of companionable thinking, a thinking with or alongside something (in her case with “animal life” that is not antagonistic or at variance from human life) that may still be sought as company because its consumption or reproduction lies outside of reasonable bounds. We seem to believe that ideas are much more easily reproduced, made self-identical. Listening to a program this morning where economists were anthropomorphizing the market all over the place, even describing its “psychology,” and spinning prognostications from Ben Bernanke and the Fed Reserve’s recent announcement to stop buying assets, I was struck by how ideas like inflation or cash reserves are for them not companionable figurations/ideas but markers of how their expertise is generative of their realities, the reality they take everyone else’s necessities to be dictated by. As Marx taught me, I do not just believe in a different premise for social reality, but I believe that being social enables me to be visited by ideas from other forms of life, realms of necessity, and tremors in the voices that would declare them.

Given your gullibility, a quality I think we share, do you ever worry that you (and I) lose (y)our ability, at times, to sort the concretions of the present from the seductions of endless indeterminacy?

Why make a distinction between the “concretions of the present” and the “seductions of endless indeterminacy”? Aren’t the former the very sources and terms of the latter? This may be precisely what the Federal Reserve and the other makers and mongers of monetary policy don’t understand—or won’t: that the present is the site at which history presents the future as what might be, and as what might be beyond determination. All the present is is things changing, shifting position, becoming and ceasing to be eventful, etc., but also with the peculiar characteristic that, despite its momentariness, nothing of or in the present disappears, no true negation of event is possible, whatever happens will never not ever have happened, etc.; all closures are illusory, all compensation is futile—or am I being gullible? Well—no need to answer that question—more pressing is the awareness that one would have to be gullible indeed to believe that yielding to the seductions of endless indeterminacy is entirely distinct from a death wish. W.J.T. Mitchell (in What do Pictures Want?) says that the term totem, derived from Ojibway, properly means “a relative of mine,” and with that in mind, I ask you this, my real question:

Insofar as you undertake “companionable thinking,” are there terms/images of thought that are totemic for you?

Maybe the strongest totem for me, what I have been calling lately my tendency toward a community-effect, is the collective pronoun: we. And maybe there is a death wish lurking in this social positivism, what Lee Edelman-via-Freud might call a drive that leads us to act the unraveling of normative reproducibility of nature by a non-reproducible discontinuity, an impersonal rift in the archive, that can also lead to disastrous moments of shared desire amidst linguistic and representational ruin. But this too seems a fetish of non-reproducibility and non-normative response, a denial that we don’t act beneficially, for ourselves and others, as we “ought” to act all the time, sometimes knowing full well such a normativity is provisional at best. What seems to me lacking in so many accounts of the turns to a productive confusion, shifting revaluations of the present, and truth-as-suspension of coercive and exploitative social mechanisms (these being examples of what “indeterminacy” is sometimes a short-hand for) is an account for how such revolutionary potential enables direct responses to our varied, but shared, histories. The fact that I so often rediscover my totem, “we,” signifies for me both a desire and a failure to not explode indeterminacy but apply it, set it to work, so that elaborate compacts like trust can have a more definite speech.

If we were to end here, how would I know where I began and you ended?



People on Sunday (1930)

Now they really are involved, drinking
Coffee with the elms behind them. The trick
To wet the coiled paper slowly so the day
Expands like a writhing insect
As trash is swept up and the resultant street
Hosed down, not everyone is free to brag
In the black and white sunshine.
It gets in the eyes of the mechanic during his
Rotations of the left front wheel
Spinning like the crowds around a monument.
Okay, fine, but what about tomorrow?
Done. The rest is knitting outdoors
Or no, she was petting a struggling cat
That from a distance looked to be
Complacent wool while she stood there.
Barge after barge follows this mistake
Along the major river she considers
While getting ready, starting with her nails,
But maybe she doesn’t want to go out
Yet, ambivalence of lying back down
With one’s shoes still on. Jacket off,
He’s proud of his surroundings, the two
Bottles on a table by a single glass.
Amazingly, they are in the same apartment
Reading parts of a single paper
By the inadvertent clock of a faucet
Leaking. It’s not even Sunday yet
Nor are they actors, but it’s time to change

Clothes, sweep the face with a lathered brush
By a wall with photographs of film stars on it.
You use a scissors, I’ll use razor and soap
And for some reason we’ll both go to work
Destroying their faces after having gone
To great lengths to collect and mount them.
It’s a prelude to going out in our best
Or will they, maybe an argument about
How she’s chosen to wear her hat first,
A bit of a scene in which more photographs
Get destroyed. Or forget photos actually,
We can play cards now that there are two men
Present and she’ll have to watch
Sunday punish her without access to its images
Of smoke from a chimneystack, a man asleep
On a park bench, collective living
Pursued in a single bed. Only now
Is it Sunday. He wakes first and washes up,
Tries to rouse her somewhat roughly
But she is not yet there in the way he is
So he leaves a note by the cards and glasses
On the table at which he’d sat with the other
Man and goes. There are so many like him
Outside, and monuments, arches to be
Passed through in a car, and of course
The bridges, the smoke. That which can’t be
Passed through or under can still be passed by,
Advertisements on the sides of apartments,
Windows, trains, and trees. They’re all going
To the same unrevealed place, half an arrow.
Shy in the best friend role, she looks down
Suddenly interested in tree-filtered light
On pavement. You go on, I must make
A phone call, walk down these endless stairs,
Buy a postcard, order a drink, pair off as
The whims of the atmosphere demand,
Carry a suitcase through the park
To its less populated places. In fact,
That’s what my silent phone call is about,
That and whether she’s even gotten out
Of bed or whether her shoes are still
Unoccupied. It turns out you can walk
All the way to a beach, where you’d take them off
Again to become the postcard of a bather
If no one saw you undress and change.
Now the suitcase makes sense, but not
That kind, it seems to be a portable
Device for playing music, music to change to
With clouds as inspiration. This is
Working out, there are definite foregrounds
And backgrounds, each composed
Then dissolving or stopping abruptly

Starting up again as though continuous
And yes, she’s still in bed so you’ll have to
Enter the water without her, a splash of white
Where you just were. You, if you are still
The man on shore, help the other
Woman with her impossible suit and now
Your friendliness has a touch of eros to it,
You would wake her much less roughly
On that same part of the back of the shoulder
You targeted unsuccessfully this morning,
But this one’s already awake and away,
You share a single body with the water
And forget. Swimming from becomes
Swimming towards, a flirtation through
The awkwardness of the element, and walking
Down steps requires they be walked back up,
Agreeable fate they greet as though air
Were water and vision. Whose desire
Is this anyway and is it a cloud or the boat
Beneath the cloud, the blanket or the sand
Beneath that or the thermos and bottles, etc.
If he won’t move the other man will and if
He won’t serve them sausages the other
Does till everyone is restored—losing some
Is okay because there’s enough and it’s not
Ever lost—he cleans it off and eats it anyway.
Coughing and laughing, each can cause the other
But laughing may last longer in a moment
While coughing goes on intermittently for days
Like a group of boys in ties who take turns
Striking each other. Who’s next is more painful
Than the blows themselves, the same with goals
In sports or growing up into shame about
Your nakedness. Swimming the distance
From birth you’re now used to experiencing
As water or Sunday, those two girls at a window
Fringed by oak trees. The other method to fall
Asleep on a park bench so that while clothed
You have no sense you are, or your trust in others
A nakedness your clothes wear and for a second
We can lie back upon the grasses partly
Naked, taking liberties we won’t push too far.
We are as asleep as she who never left the bed,
Who sleeps for us all like a perfect actor.
Now the mid-afternoon when storefronts thrive,
Fountains rise a little higher, vision pans
Always to the left across construction sites,
Laundry hung out windows, public statues
(Men or animals) and even an obelisk
Crowds rotate around rather than confront
Their obvious destination. In time
It’s all sand, even the marble, so smile
While holding still whether naked or not,
Knowing or not, fat with discomfort
Or aware it’s a trap even when surprised

To know this. Those in front of a camera
Are missing in a saintly way, statues with lives.
Their smiles carry injury, their sadness a power
To adapt, say thank you to the worst of it,
Make a game of snatching its hat and running off
Throwing it till it lodges in one of the oaks.
This precipitates a whole other serious game
Of cooperation—at least three will be required
To spend time getting back the hat of only one,
An inefficiency permitted on Sunday,
The day groups form and learn from,
Deciding where within the frame to go next.
Before choosing a path touch your mouth
Looking sadly at the available options
Then take none at all except the space
Between young trees. Here you’ll meet him
For a second but keep going, there are better
Places to stop for what will happen, and act
Surprised, even discouraged, when he behaves
Predictably; you do too, and where you touch
Each other proof will bloom, you aren’t trees
Growing out of sand. Head back to the right,
You can’t go left forever; go up even, up and right
Then down to where he’s standing while you
Fake sleep and waking from it. He looks like
He’s getting ready for work, holds a pinecone
Like it’s an ancient tool. Others are similarly
Strewn through the instant’s overexposure,
Sprawled or walking, trudging down embankments
Or headed back to the starting point. It’s a huge park
Filled with time they are going to convene
Drowsily, close the musical briefcase, no, not yet,
First a kind of modular pairing-off known
As where are the others—it feels good to say
Finally, even if no answer is immediately
Forthcoming or has stopped to take something
Out of its shoe. The answer is they are here
One at time. That feels good too, slanted
Light to play a last song on the portable
While the final straggler makes her reluctant
Way across involuntary terrain
Over to the fact of the rest. She almost got lost
And that almost is crucial, with its being time
To return, the blue of the afternoon darker
Or deeper, a fight about to break out. Pleasures
Have to be shared, and the grimness thereof
When they’re about to fade. There are many
Others afterwards; they keep falling through
The speed of any one activity’s end
Into a paddleboat either sex can power

Without shame; it’s even enjoyable to move
From passenger to operator and back,
Thinking or doing, melancholy or magnanimous.
The four have forgotten about those who are not
In their boat but are surrounded all the same
By shoreline with unlimited populations
Maples by the water represent; the men
Start play-hitting her, taking fake turns
As they near the shore, and she is mad and happy,
An oar in their water. It’s time to remember, talk
Across greater distances, cooperate with strangers
Stranded nearby. We’ll go over there and retrieve
For them what they can’t get for themselves
Even if it makes us jealous of each other.
Sad to be connected to somebody by so little
So briefly, a note thrown in the water
Unfolds faster. Pedaling hard now they reach
A mooring that leads to others, to a structure
Of some kind where they will have to part
If not all have the money to go on, no, they can
Lend him the money to ensure they meet again.
And he is there, they’re four and one,
It’s still Sunday, full and orchestral if right
About to wane as well. The four become two
Men and two women thinking of the next
Sunday, and probably lying to each other
About this so their bodies will part for real.
One man breaks his cigarette in two to celebrate,
Gives half to the other man. They ride the tram
Like boys without jobs but even they are parted
By the numbers waiting on their buildings.
Back in the apartment the two bottles there
On the table and she still asleep in the bed
As though no time has passed, she refused it,
Nothing has happened but the empty beer.
It’s morning for her but not in the world
That can trade a night for another day
Simply by lifting an invisible hand.
Full morning already, fog in the park
Transported by the many coming off
That double bridge, determined again
To block out the thought of four million
Doing Monday likewise out of sight.
And the cabs that stop almost as often
As they start, bottles packed in crates
On the beds of passing trucks, the rhythm
Causes trivial forgetfulness, white sky.
She leaves her purchase behind in the shop
But it catches her up at the door.

Replacement Therapy


[Video loop, color, silent]

The Replacement Therapy project was conceived and executed during an artist residency at the Lou Harrison Straw Bale House in Joshua Tree. In the small courtyard that I had turned into my studio I used furniture and other household items to construct and then de-construct a large-scale ephemeral sculpture. As is the case with much of my other work, Replacement Therapy investigates ideas about “home.” The piece was inspired by the hormone-driven and at times comical urge to obsessively sort, group, arrange and especially re-arrange, a phenomenon that can occur during pregnancy, the menstrual cycle (PMS), or peri-menopause. The idea was to exhaust myself by using as many objects as possible, building from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling without having any pre-conceived plan. I would go inside, find an object—a chair for example—carry it to the courtyard, and then find “the right spot” for it. Every time I added an object, I took a photograph. Once the space was filled I reversed the process by picking “the right object,” removing it, and carrying it back to where I’d found it, once again photographing the altered sculpture step by step until the courtyard was empty again.

With the photographs I created a stop-motion video loop in which the process of construction and de-construction is repeated ad nauseam. The viewer experiences the artist’s arbitrary or intuitive choice and placement of each object either as a surprise or, alternatively, as a lack of control; it is a similarly obsessive and draining experience. The need to build is replaced by the (less satisfying) need to watch. What will the next object be? Where will it go? How much longer will this go on? Will it collapse? When? Why am I doing (watching) this? And: when will it (I) be done?


necessity, immensity, and crisis (many edges/seeing things)

There’s a more than critical criticism that’s like seeing things—a gift of having been given to love things and how things look and how and what things see. It’s not that you don’t see crisis—cell blocks made out of the general meadow, and all the luxurious destitution and ge(n)ocidal meanness, the theft of beauty and water, the policing of everyday people and their everyday chances. It’s just that all this always seems so small and contingent against the inescapable backdrop of constant escape—which is the other crisis, that is before the first crisis, calling it into being and question. The ones who stay in that running away study and celebrate its violently ludic authenticity, the historicity that sends us into the old-new division and collection of words and sets, passing on and through, as incessant staging and preparation. This necessity and immensity of the alternative surrounds and aerates the contained, contingent fixity of the standard.

The alternative, and the ones who stand (in) for it, can only be defended in what Mario Pedrosá calls its “experimental exercise,” which happens everyday, and in the recognition of its exercise, which is what I think Marx refers to when he speaks, in “Communism and Private Property,” of the everyday engagement in criticism that is an essential part of a communist way of life, and which sometimes he more than critically enacts when he engages in critique, in the elaboration of a general theory of crisis, and in the urgent address of specific instances of crisis. Questions concerning the theory and actuality of crisis are no less urgent now because crisis is always with us. Seeing things doesn’t hide the crisis that critique discloses; rather, it locates it more precisely, within a general tendency for upheaval that it constitutes. Seeing things, the alternative seeing of things, the seen and seeing alternative, which a certain deployment of crisis is meant to police, is the crisis of genuine disclosure and generative disruption.

The crisis of deprivation on a global scale is a function of policing that responds to a global ecologic of generation that regulative power brutally (mis)understands as a crisis of law. This is to say that crisis is not only a function of policing but that it has a policing function; it is also to say that crisis is ongoing, generative resistance to the regulation, the policing, that it generates. This poor description of the interplay of policing and crisis is trying reverently to disclose a reversal that already animates Policing the Crisis, the classic attendance of Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts to the range and force of the generative social and aesthetic upheaval of the alternative in England since World War II. Hall and his fellows analyze the ideological manufacture of crisis as a mode of interpretive regulation. The racialization of already extant criminal activity allows its epidermalized “novelty” to be interpreted as crisis. But the criminalization of that activity, in its relation to the normalization of modes of propriation whose brutality and scale dwarf any and every instance of “mugging,” is the real problem because, in the end, it was never about this or that instance or collection of instances of law breaking; it was, rather, about the social self-defense of jurisgenerative capacity of which mugging can be said to be a particular manifestation, noteworthy not because of its brutality or venality or degeneracy but only because its enactment of self-defense through (re)propriative acts are susceptible to a condition in which they reinforce the brutal axioms of ownership and exception.

Criticism, the capacity to see things in their branching and unfolding and generative differentiation, attends to generation while critique, as Marx deploys it, attends to the regulation and policing of generation and while degenerate critique, which seems to be deployed today almost everywhere in the normal human sciences, is driven by its own implicit claims of national identity or political subjectivity that have themselves been made subject to a force, and been understood by way of a logic, of degeneration implying a mystery of loss and of what was lost. Here’s where the neoliberal lament regarding “the crisis of democracy” (which was, according to Samuel Huntington and his fellows, a function of there being too much democracy) can be understood as the animating trace of certain folks, claiming to be on the left, whose lament of the current loss of “our democracy” is driven by nostalgic fantasies of a democracy that supposedly was held within the structure of, rather than resistance to, American exclusion. It’s not coincidence that this convenient repression of American exclusion is usually accompanied by an assertion of American exception which either takes the form of an invocation of “our” best intentions or, more pragmatically, as the assertion of a right to do just about anything in the name of national defense, whose complete detachment from imperial aggression is sanctioned by the serial invocation of crisis.

When people respond to the suppression of the alternative—and Hall and his fellows brilliantly illuminate how state interpretation of the alternative as crisis is a fundamental element of that suppression—the word riot is deployed in order to augment that suppression; but when suppression of the alternative is more (im)properly understood as a response to the alternative it also becomes possible to understand that with regard to the insistent previousness of the alternative it is more accurate to say, over Sly Stone’s growl or Joe Strummer’s sneer, that there is, and already has been, a riot going on. This is about the anoriginary force of tumultuous derangement, a generative sociopoesis given in and as everyday sensuality. To rise to the defense of this sacred, ordinary, generative violence—to protect it from the ongoing murder—is often to risk a kind of appropriation of the very propriative force one seeks to combat with an otherwise animating fugitivity. Such uprising can take the form of burnin’ and lootin’ but, even more easily, such appropriation can take the form of a critical account of the justificatory causes of burnin’ and lootin’. Meanwhile, what always remains or, more precisely, what must be understood as the irreducible remainder that animates such physical acts as well as such critical accounts, are everyday and everynight things. It’s not about the looting of loot or the assault of persons who take shape as shops and wares, or about the insurgents’ loss of or exclusion from citizenship or belonging that supposedly makes the former inevitable; it is, rather, all about insurgence as the performative declaration of what we are and what we have and what we give. Put another way, the seemingly infinite production of crisis finds its limit in the infinite rehearsal of generative capacity, in the open field of a generative grammar, in the fecundity of a range of generative principles, all of which reveal the sclerotic constraints that are fostered by an empiricist attitude whose structuring force in the determination of Anglo-American intellectual identity can be traced back to a certain valorization of the grasp, and the philosophical nomination of the possessive individual to the office of manager of the enclosure, by way of the bloody fingerprints of a transcendental subject who is unable or unwilling to see things but who can neither let things go nor pass things on.

The riot that’s goin’ on is a party for self-defense. The question concerning its causes, its sources, shouldn’t be left to liberal or neoliberal pundits and prime ministers, even when their more or less racist and ageist elitism leads them to say, with a kind of ignorant and imprecise accuracy, that the causes are cultural. What they don’t mean is that culture is the imprecise word we give to regenerative resources of insurgent social life. There’s another way of living that exhausts imposed arrangements. It’s where and how people fight. When seemingly random and unorganized acts of self-defense erupt against the violence of the state and capital, the only important question is how to maintain their connection to the social field they are meant to defend. This is a question concerning the corrosive, reconstructive force of certain practices that Michael Herzfeld thinks of in terms of “cultural intimacy—the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality, the familiarity with the bases of power that may at one moment assure the disenfranchised a degree of creative irreverence and at the next moment reinforce the effectiveness of intimidation.” But what if we begin to consider, against the grain and over the edge of whatever combination of the critique of authenticity and the appeal to upright, paralytic sovereign recitations of the citizen consumer, that the social poetics Herzfeld is after is an undercommon intellectual project that begins to emerge precisely when the distinction between insiders and outsiders breaks down, when a certain kind of communal claim is made in a certain kind of walking down certain city streets, and when that claim is given in and as an active disruption of the nation-state, in and as a kind of masque in which the very habits of the damned are taken on and, thereby, altered in their free, constant and already given alteration. Meanwhile, we confront the emergence of new black acts—of the kind E. P. Thompson describes in Whigs and Hunters—now outlawing autonomous cybersocial organization for self-defense emerge under the self-regulating cover of the ones who internalize the embarrassment they refuse, the generativity non-citizens claim.

The notion that crisis lies in the ever more brutal interdiction of our capacity to represent or be represented by the normal is as seductive, in its way, as the notion that such interdiction is the necessary response to our incapacity for such representation. Their joint power is held in the fact that whether abnormality is a function of external imposition or of internal malady it can only be understood as pathological. Such power is put in its accidental place, however, by the ones who see, who imaginatively misunderstand, the crisis as our constant disruption of the normal, whose honor is given in and protected by its representations, with the ante-representational generativity that it spurns and craves. This is the crisis that is always with us; this is the crisis that must be policed not just by the lethal physical brutality of the state and capital but also by the equally deadly production of a discourse that serially asserts that the crisis that has befallen us must overwhelm the crisis that we are; that crisis follows rather than prompts our incorporative exclusion.

There’s a connection between poetry and violence that Amiri Baraka, among others, began to explore by way of these terms and which now needs to be re-explored in the full awareness that Baraka’s movement extended, rather than disavowed, that antinomian opening of the field that can be traced back through Charles Olson and Sun Ra, Emily Dickinson and Harriet Jacobs, Anne Hutchinson and Tituba, and beyond. The poetics of the open field, especially when performed in the narrow cell, was always tied to the sociopoetics of riot, of generative differentiation as a kind of self-care, of expropriative disruption as a kind of self-defense, of seeing things as a performed social theory of mind. Baraka took it out, and sometimes tried to take it home, which drove it through him and even further out, in the name of an enformant poetics, spreading the news and the new in the giving and taking of form, as lemons, and people, piled on steps, disarrayed inappropriately against every propriative and counter-propriative intention that claims to have put them there. We still enact, because we desire and cannot live without, the immense poetry of war, by which Wallace Stevens meant and didn’t mean a poetics of social pregnancy, the international, anti-national embarrassment of seeing things and making things. The poetics of the alternative is funereal and venereal, surviving in denotative self-defense and the righteous distortions it enacts in rough advent. There’s a This is England poetics, a Luv ‘n Haight poetics, miving without moving in and against the brutal smallness of imposed needs and nationalized histories with the kind of out lyricism that only comes from being constrained to be somewhere else, that will have already come from the other side to keep on going, that had already come with those of us who are the other things we see.



Silent Salute of Poetry

[excerpt] Silent Salute of Poetry [excerpt]

Translated by Koichiro Yamauchi and Steve Redford

March 11th. Shinchi Station. Its bare face was attacked by a tsunami.

Shinchi Station. Like other stations, it has carried lives, connected hearts, spun the time.

April 24th. The view toward Soma City is perfectly clear.  Have we seen such a blue sky since the quake? Since then, no.

Blue sky, have you forgotten all about the quake?

What lies deep in the blue sky?  The bottom of the warm ocean? The Blue brothers. The sky and ocean.

What grave face did the station put on to greet our lives? What gentle look did it give us when it guaranteed our departures and returns? What solemn expression did it have when it saw off the beginning and met the ending of each day? The station’s name was Shinchi Station.

Running like the wind across the springtime countryside and mountain fields. Because the plants, the flowers are sprouting, budding, the thin tips of twigs are inviting the season.  Feeling the breathing of storm, light, and clouds. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is resounding. I’m a speeding conductor.

What’s a silent salute?  What’s a silent salute of poetry? Whizzing over the mountain fields, over the countryside, across the bottom of the blue sky, my mind turns furiously. What’s the meaning of a silent salute? What does it mean for poetry to salute silently? The storm, the light and the clouds. A break in the clouds. A deer’s cry.

What does the bridge try to connect from this shore to that shore?  What does the bridge try to convey from this shore to that shore? What does the bridge try to bring from that shore to this shore? Crossing a bridge, crossing a bridge…

Chasing the light. Chasing the wolf-shaped light. Chasing the wind-shaped light. Chasing the road-shaped light.  Chasing the light shaped like you. The light shaped like the heart is dazzling. Chasing the light shaped like paddies and fields. Chasing the world-shaped light. Embracing (in my arms) the prayer-shaped light.  The spring blue sky.

Nobody’s here, an attendant-less platform. A nobody’s-here, attendant-less platform. Shinchi Station, a nobody’s-here, attendant-less platform.

The railroad track, ignoring the real rail, is bent. Where does it lead? Where does it return? The bent track is seeking an entirely different destination.

On an attendant-less platform, the silhouette of no man. Everyone stares at a destination. Going to Sendai? Iwaki? Everyone stares at a destination. All destinations are entirely different.

The track is winding around the station. Around the station, the track is winding. It’s the first time I’ve seen the track winding around the station.  A first-time spectacle. A white dragon.

A god, embodied in a train, passed by? A devil, embodied in a train, passed by?  The present, feverish moment passed by?  The destination of a lost track, the destination of a lost train, the destination of a lost wind. The wind blows fiercely.

The platform I never got off at.  Standing there now, I realized one thing. Stepping down, the wind in my face, the sound of the waves in my ears, I realized…

A tsunami has come.

A Blue Note record was on the platform at Shinchi Station. How many times was this Jazz record played, spun? How many times did you spin it, play it?

A tilting utility pole is saluting silently.

Did the station quit as a station? The station did quit as a station. The station, too, repents. The station, too, is full of regret. The station, too, has lost itself.

An electric fan has fallen over.  The wind is gone. A silent salute.

Good night.

Seat Assignment

Improvising with materials close at hand, Seat Assignment consists of photographs, video, and digital images all made while in flight using only a camera phone. The project began spontaneously on a flight in March 2010 and is ongoing. At present, over 2500 photographs and video, made on more than 40 different flights, constitute the raw material of my project.

While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror. The image evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. I decided to add more images made in this mode and a few months ago I decided to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight. I made several forays to the bathroom from my aisle seat, and by the time we landed I had a large group of new photographs entitled Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style. I was wearing a thin black scarf that I sometimes hung up on the wall behind me to create the deep black ground that is typical of these portraits. There is no special illumination in use other than the lavatory’s own lights and all the images are shot hand-held with the camera phone.

From the outset, I’ve been aware that what motivates Seat Assignment is the challenge of trying to make under circumstances that seemingly lack any richness or potential. Much of my work stems from the mundane and the everyday, and from my optimism that there is always more of interest around us than we think. What can I make under such constraints? Is there really always more than meets the eye? What kind of immensity can be born of necessity, within this framework? But the longer I work on Seat Assignment, the more I realize it’s also a response to the pairing of anxiety and wonderment that underpin the very experience of flying: one part of the mind swept away in the time travel fantasy of the situation (I can become 15th-century Flemish in a 21st-century lavatory as I teleport from coast to coast!), the other part thinking, as I take my seat, “These could be the 200 people that I’m going to die together with.” In that sense, this project is also born of necessity: making is a necessary response that keeps at bay too many thoughts of the immensity of what is beyond the plane, beyond the seat I sit in, and beyond myself.