Then the doors closed behind us and we all stood on the steps. Kalan opened his suitcase, on the back of which was chalked: “Žižek’s Dead Child.” And began. His harmonica was so haunting and beautiful and dystonic; I felt so much pleasure. When the baby wanted milk, I poured the milk I was still holding over its face. It humped and gobbled the real milk. So I do know about being spied on. The FBI had me under surveillance for over 26 years. In my series of collages and paintings The FBI Files, originally exhibited in 2002–3 at PS1, I compiled that personal history into contemporary illustrated manuscripts. I combined many of the 786 pages received from the Freedom of Information Bureau with images from the years I was shadowed. Now the spying is all-inclusive. In my new drawing project, individual faces merge into the many. I am spying with line. Hopefully, the lines will add up to an abstract, textural exploration of individuals becoming an inclusive “all.” It is my way of updating my personal files with the current situation. I have tried to re-create the sense of utter instability and sheer insanity that I feel has so often permeated my years. I mean, Ed, a Russian mathematician, was heavily involved with a floral under-grid and vortical shredder on the board. I had the flu; he had infected tonsils. The library was a very special place with creamy blue walls and chandeliers and scary white men in paintings and hundreds of years old etchings of comets and Emily Dickinson’s sewing / writing desk upstairs, upon which I had so recently laid my head – almost touching – sideways – left ear to the wood. But these tragic acts of destruction did not mean that Maya literacy ended with the arrival of the Europeans. Soon after the Spanish conquest, literate members of the highland Maya nobility made a number of transcriptions of their Precolumbian books utilizing a modified Latin script in an effort to preserve what they could of their recorded history and culture before they could be destroyed or lost. By far the most important extant example of such a transcription is the Popol Vuh, composed by anonymous members of the Quiché-Maya aristocracy in Guatemala soon after the fall of their capital city to the Spanish conquerors. The authors of the manuscript described the text as an ilb’al (instrument of sight) by which the reader may “envision” the thoughts and actions of the gods and sacred ancestors from the beginning of time and into the future. The opening chapters of the Popol Vuh describe the creation of all things as if it were occurring in the immediate present, time folding back upon itself to transport the reader or auditor into the primordial waters of chaos at the very moment the first land emerged: THIS IS THE ACCOUNT of when all is still silent and placid. All is silent and calm. Hushed and empty is the womb of the sky … The face of the earth has not yet appeared. Alone lies the expanse of the sea, along with the womb of all the sky. There is not yet anything gathered together. All is at rest. Nothing stirs. In my own work, this emptiness-that-is-not-empty is part of the experience of a subject-position situated in many lineages. For example, my poem “Ah Kung in the Philippine Jungle, 1945” relates the experience of my paternal grandfather, a Hakka Taiwanese man who joins the Japanese Imperial forces and becomes lost on an island in the Philippines that falls to US forces. As a Japanese colonial subject, he is faced with the question of how to surrender himself to the Americans, who will see only his Japanese uniform. He decides to strip naked before approaching the camp. He must become “nothing” — his most vulnerable form, that of a simple, naked animal, stripped of all national symbols since he knows US soldiers will not be able to make fine distinctions. He must be “blank” in order to pass through the American racial-military gaze, but a blank so filled with history, so layered with colonial-imperial dynamics, that he cannot be anything other than himself. In our chai breaks, we spoke about silk worms. Mummy described a dress worn by Princess Diana, made from silk – that had been produced – from silk worms in a special greenhouse – just in time – for it to be stitched to her body before a public event. S. cleared the weeds around the mud buddha outline, which is still present / formed though dissolving off – having endured so many different kinds of weathers now. We wanted to analyze the decay. But began to repair the space a little bit. Then we poured the yellow sand over the form – and I swayed the dubba back and forth as I did that. So that it looked “Egyptian” at the end, S. said. Like it had been wrapped. “The mermaid’s lost her feet,” said S. Which is to say MY PAINTINGS ARE INVISIBLE is a poem for people who have gone missing. Made in Chongqing, China 2009-10, it was written onto a series of large semi-transparent sheets and hung up on washing lines through the city, in parks, building sites, and tea houses. Each poster has an 8-word verse, mixing ancient Chinese poems with lines from contemporary text artists. One side English, the other Chinese – they mingle calligraphies, meanings, histories. Principal artists involved as calligraphers and translators: Wang Jun, Mao Yanyang, Xu Guang Fu, Dan Dan, Deng Chuan and Yan Yan. Thinking about the earthquake today in Nepal – objects, buildings, neighborhoods – Kathmandu effectively in ruins. More than a thousand dead. Eighteen climbers ditto on Everest. I am reminded of Prynne, his essay “No Universal Plan for a Good Life,” this having appeared in a Nepalese journal, Sahitya Ra Jeevan Darshan, 2010, and a relevant passage: The movement of contrary forces and strife in divided performance are the principle of dialectic in the process of nature and history: this too is not an abstract diagram, but is the testing-ground for struggle towards a justice that is man-made and only incompletely natural. The struggle corresponds intimately with human ethical instincts, towards the right and the fair; but these terms are relatively weak without dialectical underpinning, and for this the activity of social life must essentially be realised through directed political consciousness and commitment. Thus the hope for justice is a struggle for just practice. This. Labor camps of the Soviet Union, will we escape them? San Francisco earthquake 1989 or was it Northridge quake fire and water pouring out of jagged streets? With everything shaking how’s the epileptic supposed to get drunk down the boulevard without getting called puto? What’s a potato latke at a time like this? Chopstick (now) as hair ornament or nose piercing? Was it a cat that dug up the zucchini that Leonor planted yesterday? Where does the reflection of the burning city float in my iced tea? Yes, no, 50,000 mexicanos disappeared or 100,000? American money or american guns? Is it your duty to float in your bubble of consciousness like a goldfish or pop it? Who is that singing? Is this the Colombianization of everything? Five grapefruits from somewhere rolling around the table top like your body? Like your ideas? Like your eyeballs? The sunshine is hurting, the leaves are curling? If you had one question for the children of Gaza before they were blown apart, what would it be? Thank you for your business? Back then, what I really wanted was to overturn the social worker’s desk, to see him crushed, slumped on the floor, and then to run screaming and howling through my school’s hallways, throwing books and chairs and other hard-edged, heavy objects at the boys who called me faggot and pinned “kick me” signs on my back, the ones who, along with my homeroom teacher, had earlier held me down while I kicked and flailed and shrieked, which was what got me sent to the social worker in the first place. The next day the world was slow to appear, when it did, it was nasty. The crazy youngish man in the nylon winter coat, his greasy light brown hair poking up, he swayed faintly and uncertainly on the corner, shouted Oh yeah at the sight of the long-haired girl in tight sweats, bolted across the street after her, running with limbs flailing, suddenly boyish. She headed south, he halted at the corner, impulse used up. Was she an other? Was he an other? In the supermarket, a xeroxed sign advertised times of viewing for the cashier murdered by the man she dated for two weeks, then she broke up with him, then he knifed her to death. Also a co-worker. A poor brown young man ran after a rich white man, shouted, Take it off! The other: No, you left your cab! What? I don’t understand. The only way to compose this scene is on an iPod Touch generations-old that the de-skilled Geniuses @ Apple dismiss as “vintage” and that auto-corrects according to a cuneiform of algorithm (“yes we still have kings and queens and royal and presidential babies in this world but they’re not like ‘back then’ they were, right, though such a time I cannot remember for lack of the subscription required to burst university database paywalls — and Dairy Queen is not a Queen, it just owns a lot of market capital, on which the sun never rises.”), and memorialize not the flesh they cut but the founding fathers of manufactories of montage, meat, corn syrup, pharmaceuticals, and facts.
[Note: Sources: Bhanu Kapil, “Harvard/East Boston: Highlights”, Kenji Liu, quoted in Kapil’s “Friday Interview Series: Kenji Liu”, “Mud, Lava, Yellow Wool: An Index of Garden Practices”, at Reading Moten in the Cherry Orchard: A Blog of Daily Life and Forms, 24 & 26 Apr 015; JBR; Arnold Mesches, quoted in “American Uncanny: Arnold Mesches”, at Cultural Politics, vol. 11 no. 1; JBR; POPOL VUH: Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People (ed. and tr. Allen J. Christenson), at Mesoweb; JBR; “MY PAINTINGS ARE INVISIBLE”, at Arthur + Martha, 26 Apr 015; Richard Owens, and JH Prynne, quoted in Owens’ “Thinking about the earthquake today in Nepal”, at Damn the Caesars, 25 Apr 015; Sesshu Foster, “Joaquin Murieta Real or Myt Postcard”, at East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines, 26 Apr 015; Tim Jones-Yelvington, “‘All the Feels’ — Embodied Feeling & Threat Aesthetics in Jennifer Tamayo’s YOU DA ONE”, at Enclave, 25 Apr 015; Jake Pam Dick, “from 7 1-page excerpts from Lens (a translit)”, quoted in “15 Poems”, at frieze 164; Kevin Kvas, “Waiting for Louis Riel Day”, at Lemon Hound, 25 Apr 015]