HIDDEN IN PLAINSITE/SIGHT/CITE: AN ANARKEYOLOGY
I have been working for the last few years on a number of inter-related projects across a variety of media: short stories, prosepoems, essays, Visual and Sound Poetry. The two pieces shared here present several of the major elements of my project, my interests, researches and, quite literally, "findings," as I have a profound belief in the Found, everywhere around and among us, hidden in plain site/sight/cite. In both my written and Visual/Sound work, I make a great deal of use of found objects, letterings, forms, phrases--just as the characters--the one fictional, the other historical--in the pieces here--both make use of the Found in creating the series of impersonations, anonymities, "playing of parts," camouflages and vanishings which they see as creating "writing at a distance" and as a kind of "writing of the No"--a refusal to put writing into "one's own words," but instead to find ways in which writing exists via other means. In this sense, what is emphasized is not the creation of a product, but the presentation in time and space of the action of the writer's activity camouflaged, disguised as being that done as/with "some one else." In a sense, this means that all these works of mine are very much collaborations among myself and the materials. out of which a Third emerges---Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs called their collaborative works THE THIRD MIND, from the line in Eliot, taken in turn from the diaries of the Shackleton expedition re: "the Third who walks beside us." Rimbaud wrote "I is an Other;" the sculptor/essayist Robert Smithson wrote of "the artist's glance" being capable of producing works as great as anything "imprisoned" in an object. All my works have been concerned with finding ways in which one is pointing towo/ards language beyond/outside language yet which still "speaks" and "writes" while hoping to convey this desire for a communication outside language . . .
My writing emerges from my years of working in Visual and Sound Poetry, Mail Art and Collage, RubBEings and spray painted clay impressions. In a sense, I emerged into writing from a deliberate Outside--of a way of finding ways of writing not considered writing except under the rubrics of "Visual Poetry," "Sound Poetry," and "Asemic Writing." I hope to tell the reader a bit about my work in these areas and how it led to my writing pieces such as those included here. (I should note that there are many more "El Colonel" stories on line, as well as several other essays dealing with the "unreadable," the reception of the Guantanamo poets, and other writings deemed to be or concerned with the "outsider" in form.)
Since childhood this dream has haunted me--before I learned to "read" in the conventional sense, I was convinced that every single object, every single being around me was speaking, writing, its own language. Each tree was a multiplicity of voices and signs as was each sky, each cloud, each stone, each gesture, each shift in the wind or tone in a person's voice. I was obsessed by the movements of light especially. When I first learned to read, it was an incredible shock to find that the alphabet contained only 26 letters! At first this was an immense disappointment--until I I began to discover the incredible immensity of forms by which each letter could be made--not only in differing fonts, but in different handwritings. Suddenly multiplicity was restored! Each mark made, each sign created on paper became incredibly alive and mysterious. The page itself became a kind of topography of site/sight/cite, a very real physical and temporal space in which all manner of occurrences were/are taking place continually. One could consider this space, the page, as unique unto itself, or, at the same time, as a form of mapping, of continually pointing back to spaces, times, sites/sights/cites in the world, the imagination, dream, memories voluntary and involuntary . . . in a sense what existed on the page was simultaneously concrete and continually vanishing, mutating, hiding in plain site/sight/cite . . .just as the writings found all around one are . . . at once writing and erasing themselves . . . (often, I found, thought, to evade the enforced erasures not only by Nature &Time, but those by humans especially--to destroy, to hide, to distort, to wipe out, topography which tells history . . .)
Walking everyday among all the "literal" signs one sees all around one--the writings raised or incised in sidewalks, sewer covers, on dumpsters, tires, pipes, telephone poles, plaques, bits and pieces of crashed cars, debris of all sorts lying in the streets--I began collecting the pieces small enough to carry home and spray painting them and printing them on to paper. Oh how I dreamed, though, of being able to paint the much larger pieces, which I could not carry home with me--especially things like plaques, just for one example, mounted in stones weighing tons! Or gorgeous huge truck tires! Of course, they--the paintings with letterings I did make-- came out "backwards." One could create an incredible array of effects using these "fragmeants" as I called them, yet I was haunted by the desire to have the letterings read also "frontwo/ards"--until one day, out of the blue, it hit me--rubbings! or what I began to call rubBEings as I found them to be just that--BEings. I ran to the nearest art supply store I had noticed in the area, and, gesturing like a madman, tried to convey what I wanted to do the rather taken aback salesclerk--for a moment I thought he would call for the manager or a cop---I could not recall the term used for this kind of copying, nor what what kind of tool to use to make them the way I had had the vision of doing so. Finally the clerk deciphered my frantic gestures and stuttering, breathless speech enough to grasp what I wanted to do and showed me charcoal--no, no I said--much too soft!! Then I saw them--lumber crayons!! As crazy as it sounds it was one of the great moments in my life. I grabbed a crayon, paid for it and shot out the door. Immediately I found a flood of materials stretching all down the street and set to work--rubBEing fragmeants of words, distortions of letters, creating arrangements with these in a cheap 6" by 9" notebook from the drugstore. Now I could work on objects of any size--all the sites/sights/cites too large to carry home--and with these and the ones I could carry home, I could now make the lettering "frontwo/ards"--that is, if I wanted, select or create my own readable phrases--and arrange these among forms and fragmeants--
For some years I worked nearly every day, under all sorts of conditions--in below zero temperatures, in the most brazen heat, in high winds, in snow and rain, sheltering the paper with my body--knowing it would take me years to reach some point at which I would sense a breakthrough had been made, from making "copies" to finding "something else"--something else which would emerge from the collaboration of the material pushing on one side of the paper and myself, via the crayon, pushing on the paper from the other side. Where our touches met--this created that "Third Mind--or--this is where "I is an Other" emerged . . . finally, after a couple of years of working nearly every day, like a miracle, I could feel it--I had crossed the line! My ancient dream was beginning to be realized--that of achieving an anonymity, a vanishing with the materials, into this "hidden in plain site/sight/cite" language everywhere around one--and yet--at the same time the anonymous was being merged with, there emerged this Third, this Other, this Someone Else--who was also in some mysterious way one's most hidden, private being . . . itself hidden in plain site/sight/cite even to oneself--a moment of uncanny recognition occurred---
Being self taught, techniques which are "obvious" to others. learned early in life, aren't arrived at by myself except in an almost idiotic way, as with the sudden "out of the blue" vision of the rubBEings coming to me. So it was that a few years later, while walking down an alleyway collecting more found objects to work with, I found some thrown away small clumps of children's Play-Dough. Again, it was as though I had been hit by lightning--this time it was the realization that I could use clay to make impressions of letterings, numbers, forms, just as I did with the rubBEings--and then spray paint these--and so have the words, letters, etc--come out "forwo/ards." This opened up incredible horizons for me, as it had with the rubBEings--again--the experience of using the found materials to make "arrangemeants"--at first just words, letterings, asemic languages--poetry--then--with time--adding collaged elements--rubBEings and/or torn paper images, or images I had made transfers of using various chemicals.
Working with the "outcast," literally "cast out" in many cases, materials, the "overlooked" and "found hidden in plain site/sight/cite" elements of the city, one is finding fragmeants of a multiplicity of voices, languages telling of its quotidian history and mapping a kind of raw topology. Traces of the effects of Time appear--weathering, flows of sand, dust, dirt, rust, water, wind--and of fire, bulldozers, dump trucks, construction and destruction materials shaping and reshaping differing areas of the city, making some disappear as others rise from their ruins . . . sometimes wanted, other times enforced, dictated by economy, fashion, greed, wars . . . everything that has happened is inscribed in some form, including erasures, vanishings, the anonymous as well as the named and known. A palimpsest emerges in which one finds oneself involved in what I call "Anarkeyology." This sense of continual flux, flow, of particles, of energy made visible--as Heraclitus writes: "The most beautiful world is a heap of rubble tossed down at random/in confusion" (the last words change depending on the translator).
The "Anarkeyology" of history and topology, of construction and destruction happening in time--led to a series of pieces of my own--(I tend to work in series, many of them ongoing for years at a time)--as well as Mail Art/Visual Poetry Calls dealing first with the Israeli War On Lebanon, then one dedicated to Walls everywhere, inspired by the Israeli Wall round Gaza but including the American/Israeli assisted Wall at the Mexican border, walled communities the world round . . . the whole concept of Walls--my personal series was called "Screaming Walls"--later I did an other prolonged series of work called "Death from this Window"--in which each piece included "window frame" framing images against a background of asemic writing or one simply of variously colored spray paints mixed with chalk dust. "Screaming Wall employed these words incised into broken boards by myself with various tools and knives and spray painted in all manner of colors of paints, often mixed with other elements--dirt, blood, dust, sand, chalk dust etc. A sub-series of the "Death from this Window" is a series devoted to images from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, many of the images and words used cut out and copied from a two volume French language edition of the Warren Report as well as other books on the event in various languages. (The phrase itself is a slightly abbreviated version of a headline in a LIFE magazine article on the subject, above a photo of the "sniper's window.")
While these series are directly historical at first, they begin to develop an ever more mysterious language of their own, as the phrases themselves begin to haunt the artist. "Screaming Walls," "Death from this Window" alternate between horror and at times a strange beauty--a beauty born of the materials themselves. The contradictions and paradoxes this raised led me to read and study an ever widening group of books, of writers on subjects in fiction and non-fiction both such as poetry & fascism, poetry &anarchism, terrorism, torture, surveillance, assassination, codes, the languages involved in these by governments and historians, poets and professors, politicians and propagandists. It led me to the writing of many great contemporary and recent writers--poets, novelists, historians. These led in turn to the sudden appearance, as first a face, then a voice, of El Colonel, and the discovery, for me, of Felix Feneon and his life and works. Since these beings--one fictional, one historical, share many of the same concerns regarding writing, I have paired these pieces here. In a sense, like a number of writers in France, Spain and Latin America--as well as their predecessors from all over the world, many of them (some fictional, most historical) discussed in Enrique Villa Matas' brilliant BARTLEBY AND CO. --these are "writers of the No"--writers who refuse, at some point to write entirely--or, as in Feneon and El Colonel's cases, also are in search of ways of "writing at a distance."
I have compiled a series of “Notebooks” “by” El Colonel—some of them simply direct copies of various articles dealing with the subjects noted above others his own jottings, thoughts, asides, fragments, marginalia etc as well as written a number of unpublished pieces not yet sent anywhere. In a sense, these are to create a kind of body of non-work, that is, unpublished works, non-existent texts . . . even in the published pieces, as in the one included here, his writing is “not yet” published, but exists both as thoughts, inner mono- and dia-logue, and, above all, as his actions. In some stories, it is only by his actions being observed by others that one is aware that he is NOT in a dream, a dream, a ghost . . .his involvement with writing is so intense, so alive, that he is continually writing, yet all the while never setting a word to paper. One has the sense at times that he is like a “sleeper,” awaiting that mysterious sign which will set him into action, triggering him, not into an act of violence, but into one of writing . . .
In both these pieces, I hope to have opened more questions, more mysteries, more paradoxes, contradictions—and celebrated them!--for the reader regarding writing—its findings, its refusals, its ineffable multiplicities, particles, flows, disguises, all its hidden in plain site/sight/cite Anarkeyologies . . . ever ongoing . . .everywhere . . .
David Baptiste Chirot is an amazing litterateur, artist, reader and critic. Born in Lafayette, Indiana, he grew up in Vermont and also lived in Gottingen, Germany, Arles & Paris, France, Wroclaw, Poland, Hastveda, Sweden, Boston and Milwaukee. Since 1997, Chirot has contributed essays, visual & sound poetry, performance scores, prose poetry, poetry and book reviews in 70+ different print and online journals in USA, Brazil, England, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, Chile, Australia, Yugoslavia, Italy, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Turkey, Japan, Holland, Belgium, Uruguay and India.