I started taking notes for short reviews of Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas and Craig Santos Perez’ first two books but they spiraled out of control. These are the notes in a semi-coherent fashion. I would love to talk to more people about these books. Or you could publish the finished essay when I plug up all the holes. That would be nice.
“The Anxiety of Era Has to Do Fundamentally With Space”
The world is searchable, physical space is constantly being mapped and remapped and this data given convenient handles. Here there is a commensurate fascination and anxiety in regard to the tools of these processes. Google Earth as interesting, Google Maps and Global Positioning Systems as handy—no, suddenly necessary tools, ways of knowing. They commodify direction / route. They create a universal language of going—one that circumvents the need to solicit or consult others and prevents engagement with the textural depths of landmarks and encourages engagement with the lettered sign or simply the voice of command. Places are tagged, tattoed with meta-data, are placed in taxonomies of value and utility which, if anything, normalize (the United States Supreme Court currently gets 4 out 5 stars!). Let’s not mention pole to pole satellite surveillance, finger of God like drone strikes or the domestic use of drones.
One finds oneself increasingly in command of a comprehensive visual knowledge of space, a supreme competence in the technology of routing, of going through this organized space. This, when examined, is by necessity. We are workers in an economy spurred by fluidity of capital, commodities, and you, labor. We need flexible, evolving maps because the location of the next carrot is constantly shifting and we refuse to not imagine the stick at our backsides.
In this fluidity we refuse a fixed sense of “home,” are bereft of it, depending.
I’ll never do my hipster symbology (first entries—Bears! Pirates! Kittens!). But let me do one entry here: “The Pirate.” The pirate—the motley crew in motley dress—embodies a valuation of the ruggedly cosmopolitan. In imaging oneself as a pirate, one’s own itinerancy is transfigured in the mind’s eye into a floating deviance, one in direct opposition to the prevailing economy and the powers which work for its smooth functioning. One becomes the point of exchange between white and black economies. And what pirate isn’t fascinated by a map? Being of no home, being bereft, one must know the contours of coasts, the movements of tides, the commonest routes when all space is know but none is possessed.
Hence Juliane Assange is turned into a counter-cultural hero in his pirating of knowledge from diplomatic, military, corporate galleons and dumping of it into the more neutral global economy of information / digital marketplace of ideas. Bravo. Yet I fear the romanticism of his radically itinerant way of being in the world, the romantic myth that in and of itself to freely float is a virtue. But perhaps he represents through his self-professed nomadic life style, autodidacticism and uncredentialed authority, something else—a cipher for the less accessible, handled, organizable person we want to become. A clearing away or rebooting of self and identity.
Which begins with its forceful linkage of the sea and its sailors with the deviance. Though for Genet one only liberates oneself—delivers oneself to the freedom of navigating currents—by committing a crime of the same magnitude as murder in that it results in proscription within those defined territories of law.
This brings me to Craig Santos Perez and Blake Butler’s works which also gesture toward a comprehensive reformulation of identity as commensurate with a radical reorientation of the self to their home space .
What I think draws people to both works is their undeniable scope. Their assertion in the turbulence of not an I or thing but of place, a people, and language. In tandem, suggest the utter dissolution of existing ways of knowing the land (of pathfinding) and point to alternative ways of knowing and being. from Un/Incorporated Territory and Scorch Atlas erect barricades within the superheated circulatory systems of a globalization that is unmistakably driven by the imperatives of global capital.