Untimely Death is Driven Out Beyond the Horizon

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“Antigone enters. Pesticides, eco-cide, a guiding conversation with Leslie Scalapino and the beloved dead. The drone poem and the brain-body of the dancer. Brenda Iijima gets at the horror of our capitalist daily: the nation as prison-industrial complex, flickering beneath an alluring scrim of chemically-bright lawns and Mountain Dew. Her poetry pierces the veil, and this dense, velvety and deeply charged writing is a timely call and warning: also a furnace of the imagination. It ‘plunges the brain into darkness where it doesn’t fester’.” 
-Lauren Levin



How do we find a cure for accident? Only by doing what we, homo sapiens, have been doing: shifting the grounds of standards, what counts, for example, as a “life span,” as “health,” as “pollution,” as “disease,” and so, as “purposeful,” and so forth. This is the no-man’s land in which Brenda Iijima has been working, has been writing from, for so many years. This zone exists “between” intention and coincidence only as a concept, an idea, an epoch that, as Foucault reminds us, can only be determined, its borders delineated, retrospectively.  To speak, to write, to struggle for, a future anterior, what will have been, is a necessary, and necessarily self-contradicting, enterprise, one that nonetheless is at the core of all morality, all ethics, all politics, a mash-up of intent and coincidence as contention. The conditional as if qualifies every as such that remains in communication with a given world and, for Iijima, a given planet.

What, then, is it to write, to speak, from a position of excommunication, coerced or voluntary? In this case one appears in the guise of communication, under the cover of genre (overture, dialogue, quatrain, quotation, inse(r)t), even gender (man, woman, transvestite, hermaphrodite, robot, etc.) in order to historicize history, to remind us of death (the good teacher) and remind us that we created death and thus what is “other” than death (for example, extinction). Phases on kill—red, “the age of culpability,” the Scarlet A stamped on our collective bodies. Red: the age of bloodlettings in two directions, ancient (“Decapitation is a symbolic form of killing that I understand…Intimate killing…no technology intervenes,”) and modern (“Mighty whirring/birds that are mechanical and drop bombs over civilians in far/off regions, they mimic dragonflies, they mimic dawn.”). Of course, one wants to say, per decapitation by sword or knife, these cutting instruments are modes of technology too, but why quibble when we know exactly what is meant? It is a version of that intimate scene in “Saving Private Ryan” when the German soldier, about to plunge a knife into the frightened, struggling, American soldier beneath him, whispers softly to him before ending his life.

But if, as the preceding suggests, death in war can be dignified, even glorious, how does this mesh with the ecological criticisms of the food industry? Deaths from fast food—an epidemic now in the rest of the industrialized world (see urban China)—are deemed, here and elsewhere, “untimely.” Hence, untimely may be read as a gesture “beyond” the horizon of the epoch of homo sapiens. In order to historicize this history, we must remember, a la “king Corn,” that widespread food shortages here, in the United States, and of course, still, in large swaths of the African and Asian continents, were, at least initially, the impetus for finding faster, more efficient, ways to grow and process foods (both animal and vegetable). This “reason” is, today, as Iijima notes, an “excuse” insofar as, thanks to globalization, the means to develop and nurture “slow” (that is, traditional) foods almost anywhere on the globe inhabited by humans is technically, if not politically, available, if not “free.”

Phases on stun–black gold (Texas tea), black bile, black fossil fuels for “A vehicular bubble.” Criticism of the individual car owner, of private property, leads to the black rage of the Occupy movements and, per ownership, the sanitized garden, privatized horticulture. We are reminded, per ecological networks, waste always returns: “The fossil fuels do speak.” Black anger subsides to phase blue, melancholy, disjunction: “Ideology and affect clash.” Distrust (“There are no facts that feel true”) collapses the distance between cognitive and non-cognitive ways of knowing. These modes of knowing do not suppose a romantic or nostalgic desire for a holistic past. After all, “History doesn’t prefer forests.” Here, Iijima recognizes one border of our epoch, and it is one that calls into question “our” desire to survive. As many have pointed out, the earth will survive humankind though we, as with every other global species, will certainly leave our mark on its habitability for what we recognize as carbon-based life. Moreover, as I have written elsewhere, the desire to preserve a future for humans may conflict with a desire to preserve the habitable regions of the planet, what radical eco-activists have deemed specie-ism. Iijima ends this section with a general acceptance of the ecological forces of the planet, noting the body of a woman that returns to the earth, “lacking formaldehyde.”  And we break—the longest section between phases (next up, violet), some forty pages of writing intertwining ecology, especially around forests, the Iraqi war, its supporters and betrayers, incarnated in the figure of Chelsea ne Bradley Manning. But the most important appearance here is the “voice” of Leslie Scalapino, in “dialogue” with Iijima from “beyond” the former’s, as we say, “untimely” death. Scalapino serves as a foil to psychology, psychoanalysis and, no doubt, to the world of conflict detailed throughout. These conversations have the feel of séances, of trance-induced monologues however much they appear otherwise. —on jolt—more we toward the lasting phase of green. Here, however, we remain in the shadows of the blue phase—interpellated in the various blood rituals of sacrifice (this section ends with a list of Federal Correctional Institutions). The turn to the undead, to the voices of those like Scalapino whose languages sought to circumvent blood by way of “Eastern” (e.g., Buddhist) pathways repeats, unwittingly, the Western “turn” during the19th c. to spiritualism, mysticism, a foreshadowing of the First World War and its confirmation that the illusion of “progress” was just that. As Jalal Toufic and others have noted, historical repetition enacts (or mimics?) a circular concept of time at odds with the narrative of humanism. Insofar as this narrative reinforces the subjugation of human females, its secular tangent underscores that of the major Western religions. Thus the female body becomes, here, in the figures of Scalapino, Notley and others, a potential “otherwise,” if not “out.” The dangers of matriarchy notwithstanding, the transformation of Bradley into Chelsea Manning, hermeticism into revelation (via Wikipedia, for example) is neither intentional nor coincidental.

But the multifaceted challenges facing the human species demand, in the end, a commons, another phase: violet. If no facts feel true, then cognition, the transcendental values of logic and rationalism, must be balanced with the affective orders. Thus the conversations between Iijima and Scalapino dominate this section as Iijima contemplates the political and ecological disasters that now pass for everyday life. In short, there are no more catastrophes, just the algorithms of “No Nature, not, not of nature, denaturalized/ or logic chunk brink cup tool.” Consequently, “These elementary school children will never hear the/expression ‘human nature.’ When they banned the word/’human’/a bell tolled/encryption.” Near the end, Iijima cannot avoid the “ugly” truth that the birth of a human child is a death sentence for a non-human species. Thus the criticism directly at currency (“There is absolutely no possibility of equality amongst peoples (and animals) if there is a system of value exchange that uses money as its gateway drug.”) whose necessity is a function of human population size and geopolitical distribution vis-à-vis the earth. The green phase thus projects the possibility of an ecofeminism that resonates, perhaps not so strangely, with the collective of women that appear “elsewhere” at the end of Toni Morrison’s Paradise. Would such a future require human adaptation of the phenomenon parthenogenesis, all female asexual reproduction? What would it mean to say that the survival of the human species requires the extinction of the human male? An untimely thought whose timeliness may have already arrived as a concept, an idea, if not (yet?) a story.

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