Imani Jacqueline Brown & Kenneth Pietrobono (Part 2 of 3)

Between You and Me

Imani Jacqueline Brown & Kenneth Pietrobono (Part 2 of 3)

By Imani Jacqueline Brown, Kenneth Pietrobono July 25, 2018

Between You and Me is a series of dialogic exchanges between artists and their collaborators and peers to materialize the countless conversations, musings, and debates that are often invisible, yet play a significant role in the generative space of art-making.

This column is funded by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, a private family foundation dedicated to enhancing quality of life by championing and sustaining the arts, promoting early childhood literacy, and supporting research to cure chronic disease.


Portions of this text are part of an artwork, A Structural Crisis in an Emotional Landscape (2017/2018) by Kenneth Pietrobono, in which its author(s) Imani Jacqueline Brown and Pietrobono agreed, for compensation, to refrain from using the following words: Capital / Capitalist / Capitalism, Fascist / Fascism, Neoliberal / Neoliberalism, Populist / Populism, Political / Politics, Divide / Division / Divisive, Establishment, Global / Globalizing / Globalization, Nation / National / Nationalism, Media, Government, Conservative / Conservatism, Liberal / Liberalism, Party / Partisan / Partisanship, Country / Countries, Right, Left / Leftist, Progressive, -phobic, Republican/Republic, Democrat / Democratic / Democracy, America / American, Elite / Elitism, Sexist, White, Black, Resist / Resistance. At the discretion of the author(s), the quotes of others are not affected by removal but strikethrough. Additional exceptions and variations have been negotiated by Brown for the use of “White” and “Black.”

Continued from Part 1.

May 19, 2018

From: Kenneth Pietrobono
To: Imani Jacqueline Brown


I just have to give a toast for prismatic ages and resolutions to not have the answers. I think if there was ever a time to be radically unsure, it's now.

So glad you’re up for the word project! I’ll start applying it in letters as well. What three words will you keep? Any of the words jump out to you as problematic in general? (“Problematic,” a word for another removal list.) It was really difficult landing on a final list of thirty. I’m not necessarily saying the terms are false, I just think they oversimplify incredibly complex concepts and don’t give us much room for structural action, including dialogue among dissimilar people—a deeply lost necessity of statecraft (a clunky word substitution, but let’s go with it). I hope this isn’t too biting, but I wrote a set of definitions of what I mean by the phrase A Structural Crisis in an Emotional Landscape and the dynamics I’m hoping to address:

  1. A state in which logic is separate and distinct from emotional reality;
  2. A condition in which the structural needs of a time or group are out of sync with the emotional responses that inform its dialogue and material responses to those needs;
  3. A system in which structural remedies are withheld and emotional responses of individuals are manipulated to restrict the group from achieving structural change; an age of no remedy;
  4. A crisis in which the primacy of the individual centers the emotional needs of a single life span as equivalent to the arc of time in which structures function;
  5. A belief system which falsely equates emotional response with long-lasting, meaningful effect on embedded structures and conversely holds that structural logic will have bearing on emotional reality;
  6. A phrase and artwork by Kenneth Pietrobono.

So if you have any thoughts on it, I am happy to answer and will offer some more musings as we go. Now, to reflect on your amazing network of thoughts and add to the dialogue...

I’m glad agnotology resonates, and thanks for the reminder of They Live. It's been a minute since I’ve thought of those glasses and a simpler time when dystopia was so campy! I have to give a shoutout to Danya Glabau who introduced me to agnotology. She was my instructor for a Michel Foucault course I took with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. Ever since that class—and introduction to the study of willful ignorance—I feel like endless light bulbs are flashing in my mind, but the ones that blind you after each surge. Also, I must confess I am abhorrently contributing money to the Bezos slush fund (to name myself in this cycle of willful ignorance). So out of curiosity, where did you order the book?

Three hundred years of “New Orleans.” I’m really glad you brought this up because more and more I think control of time is a key dynamic of maintained ignorance. I have no proof of this so it is just wild thinking or perhaps my own ignorance. I’ll try to explain what I mean by “control of time” with an example. Seigniorage first came into my world via David Graeber. On one overly simplified hand, it is the literal profit a sovereign makes when they print money. When the Fed prints a dollar, and it costs two cents to produce the dollar, the newly added ninety-eight cents in the ledgers is the “seigniorage.” On the other hand, it is the power and advantage to even do this. Seigniorage names this privilege of the sovereign to both decide what currency is and most importantly, set the terms of that currency. This is what gives the sovereign power to suspend its own rules for a specific time and purpose (i.e. to bailout banks or take on more debt, set states of exception, etc.) while simultaneously reinforcing those rules at the citizen level with no exception. In this 1797 satirical illustration—a little over one hundred years after the creation of the Bank of England and the year of the Bank Restriction Act which removed the obligation of the Bank of England to offer gold for banknotes—Midas sits on the Bank of England and “transmutes” gold into banknotes and coinage; effectively turning gold into debt and futures. The lock around his neck reads: “Power of Securing Public Credit” and the key reads: “Key of Public Property.” A portion of the inscription at the bottom reads: “The great Midas, having dedicated himself to Bacchus, obtained from that Deity, the Power of changing all he Touched…”

James Gillray. Midas, transmuting all, into paper, 1797; hand-colored etching. Courtesy of the British Museum. Special thanks to William Stewart for bringing this to my attention.

We see this power to “change all that [is] touched” in the way colonization and particularly land ownership is articulated and exerted. Controlling options to predetermine outcomes (the land in Palm Springs as example), being able to set the time frames of those options, when and who they apply to, becomes an exponential “home court advantage”—delaying the Agua Caliente tribe’s claims for 50 years as a clear illustration. By the time their claims were enforced, the contours of development were already set and controlled by elected officials and the railroad companies. I bring all this up because the ability to control the conceptual frame and its time-frame, like the three hundred year timeline of “New Orleans,” deciding what is past and present and future becomes its own power similar to seigniorage where all slopes are bent in favor of those making the rules.

Kenneth Pietrobono. Institutions Series: Untitled (Smithsonian Museum of American History, Information Desk), 2015; Chromogenic print; 20 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Vacuum domicilium, as you bring up, and the argument that certain uses of land justify ownership is a perfect example where concept and time control plays a key role. An early law of the United States codifies a settler regulation from 1662 establishing that all citizens purchasing land must do so through the state and cannot purchase land directly from Native Americans. In a well-cited case, Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823), two citizens claim to own the same piece of land; one originating from the state, the other originating from a purchase from the Piankeshaw tribe. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans do not have authority of the land, including the ability to sell it. Now for some degrading excerpts of “enlightenment” thinking (colonial domination in full gear):

“It is unnecessary to show, that they are not citizens in the ordinary sense of that term, since they are destitute of the most essential rights which belong to that character. They are of that class who are said by jurists not to be citizens, but perpetual inhabitants with diminutive rights. The statutes of Virginia, and of all the other colonies, and of the United States, treat them as an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens...”

(i.e. Native Americans are not citizens because they are inferior.)

“The measure of property acquired by occupancy is determined, according to the law of nature, by the extent of men’s wants, and their capacity of using it to supply them. It is a violation of the rights of others to exclude them from the use of what we do not want, and they have occasion for. Upon this principle the North American Indians could have acquired no proprietary interest in the vast tracts of territory which they wandered over; and their right to the lands on which they hunted, could not be considered as superior to that which as acquired to the sea by fishing in it.”

(i.e. We want to extract all value from the land and have the ambition to do so. It is immoral to deny someone their wants if you are not using what they want and if you really owned the land you’d be using it this way too. This is total Winthrop territory as you mention in your letter.)

“According to every theory of property, the Indians had no individual rights to land; nor had they any collectively, or in their national capacity; for the lands occupied by each tribe were not used by them in such a manner as to prevent their being appropriated by a people of cultivators. All the proprietary rights of civilized nations on this continent are founded on this principle. The right derived from discovery and conquest, can rest on no other basis; and all existing titles depend on the fundamental title of the crown by discovery.”

(i.e. We are cultivators and you are not. You didn’t stop us. If this was in fact your land, you would have stopped us. Everything we know rests on this idea, and it is too late. The time to alter the course of events has closed.)

It is important to note that later interpretations of this case actually supported the argument for tribal land protections for Native Americans. But, to mirror your sentiment—I’m impressed. The self-reinforcing arguments and circular rhetoric—it's amazing how much language and maintenance it takes to be “rational” about genocide, dehumanization and theft. (Reading through the article you linked for “thirty-two degrees of negritude” and just now taking note that the court case it first references, a woman identifying as white seeking to remove “colored” from her birth certificate, was only thirty-three years ago!) Granted, we can quote just about anything and be revolted (I can open the newspaper for that), but what I find so interesting in these statements is the way concepts like “discovery,” “sovereign,” “powers,” and “property” become very slippery, moving from describing claim over a place to describing the place itself. In this lens, a place becomes illegible unless someone owns it—absence of this kind of ownership before is what makes it “discoverable.” To use your words, “empty and therefore open to European occupation.” What we see in the court case language is the process of emptying out what existed prior, nullifying its claims and exerting a (as you frame it) willful ignorance as “agent of colonial domination.” Interestingly, the phrase vacuum domicilium is an invented legal term—a developed tool—simply Latin for “empty dwelling” or “empty place of residence.” A shout out to William Stewart, a colleague I’ve been working with on some parallel research who shared with me this excerpt from historian Paul Corcoran:

The origins of vacuum domicilium have been sweepingly attributed to ancient Roman law, Justinian’s Digest and Corpus juris civilis, Grotius and the Natural Law school, and even to Thomas More’s Utopia. Published in 1516, Utopia is variously invoked as if it is a treatise extending Roman law into international law; an influential text either tracing or driving English imperial policy or, bizarrely, a proposed model for British colonialism. Far from being a work of satire and a scathing critique of European monarchy, law, and culture, it is proposed as evidence of More’s advocacy of “the justice of expansion.” Yet vacuum domicilium does not appear in any of these Latin sources, either in their Latin originals or common English translations. Nor can the term be found in legal dictionaries.”1

While the invented legal concept is imagined as a noun—empty dwelling—it would be more accurate as a verb, a passive past participle in which an action is exerted on a passive subject—emptied dwelling—a conceptual tool clearing the claims of others by the sheer craft of who is able to conceive of it, exert it and when.2

We see this in the New Orleans tricentennial. New Orleans is a real place, in geologic time, beyond human use and certainly beyond its “founding” in 1718. “Three hundred years” is not the marking of the “place,” but marks the exertion of dominion over it expressed in this incredibly narrow way, legible and legitimating to a very specific power structure that gets to choose at which point claims begin and claims end. So when I hear the word “resilience” I share your unease. I hear resilience applied not to the survival of a physical place and its inhabitants but only to the dominion of a physical place and those who hold it—a much smaller group of interests who have every advantage and resource in their favor to maintain that dominance. But, as you correctly question, dominance over what? Once the seas rise and extraction is simply unprofitable and simply too deadly, what is there? This is where your distinction of “culture of resistance” as opposed to resilience really helps us understand the need to call back knowledge sets that are outside of this dominion (made so either by force, by choice, by necessity, by conquer, by death, by erasure, by the tools of domination, etc.) and strive for alternatives that aren’t propping up what we have now but offer alternatives that help us program and prioritize reparation; alternatives that depower the active “emptying” function of ownership and build systems where previous claims and obligations can be restored and facilitated. Some brief poking around the internet and there are already conferences and think tanks trying to expand our laws, concepts of property, risk and liability to OUTER SPACE, so I’m both eager to mobilize new structures but also cynically identify with the likelihood of forced acceptance of what already feels too metastasized to undo—”the star of empire” indeed, to reference that painful painting of the railroad moving west and bringing with it control and ownership of the future. Once articulated, can we go back? How do we account for all the erasure enmeshed in the conception and maintenance of property?

Kenneth Pietrobono. Easement (Vermont 1), 2016; relationship. Courtesy of the Artist.

You ask how agnotology is rooted in time and link it to past era’s of enlightenment, imperialism, and our present time. I would only add that it extends into the future. Your quote from Adam Curtis sums this up (and thanks for the reminder to revisit HyperNormalisation)—“no one has any idea of a different, or better, kind of future.” I would argue that this ‘not knowing’ is maintained; another form of dominance that keeps us from remedy. I’m reading a book, Left-Wing Melancholia by Enzo Traverso, and he works with a quote from the Mexican Zapatistas:

As the Mexican Zapatistas say, they walk ‘putting one foot in the past and the other in the future’ (poniendo un pié en el pasado y otro en el futuro). This is an interesting attempt to preserve—through memory—a hope in the future without falling into the fatal illusions of teleology.3

The book is in fact a complete engagement with this feeling that all our feet are tied and I definitely recommend it. He argues that the failures of revolution and experiments of the 19th and 20th centuries have constrained us, without viable “utopic imagination,” to orient solely around memory, loss and victimhood—all feet in the past. “The obsession with the past that is shaping our time results from this eclipse of utopias: a world without utopias inevitably looks back.” I can’t help but identify with this and re-reading, I wonder if this risk of falling into “fatal illusions of teleology” is connected to this word removal experiment. Teleology4—another one of the those terms I have to look up several times and still only have moments of understanding—perhaps gives us too much belief in finality, that we know the function and dynamics of the world as if they were unbending natural laws. The words listed for removal certainly reinforce this conviction of certainty and that is exactly what I am hoping to deprogram. What if our use of these words actually reifies the very things we are most desperate to change? I’m actually becoming convinced that things like “the public” and “profit” actually don’t exist, at least in our conception of them (a whole other set of letters to discuss that). So I join you in this call for radical uncertainty.  

Funnily, Traverso actually discusses “Bohemia” and café culture and I just have to share since you bring up Occupy Wall Street days:

If the Bohemian looks for the crowd, it is not in order to be absorbed by it, but to hide in it, to inhabit it as a protective cover, to be inspired by it, to ‘use’ it as a source of aesthetic experience...Bohemia is experienced by its followers as a space of freedom wrenched from the much more prosaic surrounding reality and as an anticipation of the liberation to come. It is a place haunted by hope, where plans for the future are being constantly worked out (literarily, artisically, and politcally). Its members display an irreducible dissatisfaction toward the present, totally lacking possibilities of compromise.

And Marx has some words on the naïveté and “utopian impatience” of Bohemia in the essay Les conspirateurs:

It need scarcely be added that these conspirators do not confine themselves to the general organising of the revolutionary proletariat. It is precisely their business to anticipate the process of revolutionary development, to bring it artificially to crisis-point, to launch a revolution on the spur of the moment, without the conditions for a revolution. For them the only condition for revolution is the adequate preparation of their conspiracy. They are the alchemists of the revolution and are characterised by exactly the same chaotic thinking and blinkered obsessions as the alchemists of old. (emphasis added)

(And I thought I was judgy!) I think we need to disidentify from the essentialism here but just to note this struggle to articulate and make space for the future is not new and perhaps exhaustingly keeps our feet tied. I think it's important to distinguish between the performance of revolution and Revolution, but how do you know which is which? Don’t you need the prior to get to the latter? I’m up for these questions, but...let me get some popcorn first.

Despite the cynicism and moments of jest, I join you in every question you’ve listed in your letter and the call to know ourselves to the root. I’m reading Fanon for the first time now (shout out to my Abrons Book Club cohorts—we have read twenty-four books in four years!) and will add Artaud to my list. I unfortunately have deep fears about this age of Orange Clown Shit and how close (or not close) to its end we are. Even bigger fears for banks and high finance and remaining oil and fangs in the throat of the future, but I’ll save that for anon. Looking forward to your next letter and let’s be sure to meet up at a coffee shop next time we see each other and really unpack the prototype of post-commons aesthetics!

With a hug to you and your brilliance,


Kenneth Pietrobono. Untitled (Uncertainty), from Terms and Conditions (On Wanting), 2016; Chromogenic print;12 x 18 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

May 23, 2018

From: Imani Jacqueline Brown
To: Kenneth Pietrobono

Hello my dear. I love your mind and this whole experiment. So, the words I’ve chosen to keep are: Colonial/ism, Corporate/ism, and Race/ism. I’ve chosen these three for ideological reasons—I see them as the central pillars of our structural crisis. I believe it is important that we say these words out loud, almost like a mantra, so that all the world can know the names of these gods that have created this unholy illusion of the world. I love this challenge because I see it as a way to wean my language of bad habits: Since childhood, I’ve been anxious over referring to the United States as “America” as though we were the only place of note on two continents. From here on out, when referring to the geographic area and land, “America” will be referred to by its true name, “Turtle Island.” When referring to the sovereign constituted State power or the Dream that is marketed as “America,” the entity will be represented by “_______.” In addition, I’ve chosen Race, a construct that doesn’t actually exist but was invented as a tool of oppression. Yes Race/ism wouldn’t survive without the binary extremes of “white” and “Black;”5 these words also mean nothing and everything, are equally unreal/all-too-real. “Race” and “Black” and “white” are kindred ghouls, so I’m going to rebel a bit and refuse to ditch “Black” and “white.” Instead, from here on out I’m going to strike those two words as a way of emphasizing that they perhaps need to be (ideally, ultimately) eliminated in their racialized form from our vocabularies because they are simplistic, harmful constraints to put around human diversity, but that we are a long way off from the luxury of removing them and thus we should interrogate them. Within quotes, I’ll strike all 30 words in your list since the authors didn’t make a conscious decision to take or leave them.

Blights Out. The Living Glossary: Auction, 2016-18. Courtesy of the Artists. answer to your first and easiest question, I bought the books from the publisher! Isn’t it funny, us trying to remember how things used to be before Amazon? How did we acquire things? Once upon a time, we would purchase goods directly from the manufacturer. It takes longer, but the week or two between ordering and receiving adds a sweet mystery to life and by the time your item arrives, it feels like a gift. It’s so weird how much stuff I’ve taken to purchasing from Amazon—books, yes, but also shoes and vitamins and underwear. I have friends who have even ordered crystals from Amazon! It’s truly incredible how some new developments have this effect of edging out the memory of what preceded it. Amazon’s hegemony has a whitewashing effect on the mind in a way that seems so normal in the context of the long history of the financialization of currency and the erasure of other ways of organizing markets and exchange (Thanks to David Graeber for his canonical work in Debt: The First 5,000 Years). We have so easily and willingly given ourselves up to Amazon as our Corporate Overlord even though we know that the company’s labor practices are less reflective of cutting edge 21st century business as so many of our cities seem to think and more in the weird soon-to-be-obsolete technological greyzone between 20th century sweatshops and the rise of a robotic labor force. What kind of healing could crystals from such a place possibly catalyze?

I say all this because I’ve been wondering lately how we could ever really “heal” or “fix” _______, a State—a vision, really—conceived by a bunch of people who not only committed, rationalized, and codified genocide, who not only owned slaves and institutionalized racialized slavery, but who, once they decided that slavery was immoral (in part because it was “despotic” and in part because they felt it made white people lazy6), spent an extraordinary, inordinate amount of ink and paper to muse that Black people were demonstrably inferior to whites for a good number of social and moral reasons, but not least of all because Black people’s skin can’t blush like white people’s. I shit you not:

It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave [after emancipation]? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race. — To these objections, which are political, may be added others, which are physical and moral. The first difference which strikes us is that of color. — Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the color of the blood, the color of the bile, or from some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Orangutan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, if thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?”

— Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), 144-151.

And that’s just an excerpt; this long, dribbling racist rant runs ON and ON. Even Benjamin Franklin, often considered the best, most generous, equitable, and intelligent of all the founding fathers, was equally obsessed with preventing racial mixing:

Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionally very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? Why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

— Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc. (1751).

Above, just to be clear, are Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin arguing that yes, slavery must end, but that Black people born in _______ needed to thereafter be deported to a new colony in Africa (Liberia) because they would either forever remember and resent the indignities perpetuated by the white race or, equally troublesome, would have children with white folks, thereby muddying the precious rosy complexion of the Anglo-Saxons. And their opinions are valid because such prejudice, they say, is natural.

Also... secretions?

But this curious classification of racial difference, and even contemplations on ‘secretions’, has a lineage. In 1767, Swedish botanist Carlus Linnaeus published the tenth edition of Systemae Naturae, a seminal (my wild card omission while we’re ditching words) text well known for its classification and nomenclature of plants and animals. Nothing is spoken today of Linnaeus’ role in pioneering the classification of human beings:

Americanus: reddish, choleric, and erect; hair—black, straight, thick; wide nostrils, scanty beard; obstinate, merry, free; paints himself with fine red lines; regulated by customs.

Asiaticus: sallow, melancholy, stiff; black hair, dark eyes; severe, haughty, avaricious; covered with loose garments; ruled by opinions.

Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; hair—black, frizzled; skin—silky; nose—flat; lips—tumid; women without shame, they lactate profusely; crafty, indolent, negligent; anoints himself with grease; governed by caprice.

Europeans: white, sanguine, muscular; hair—long, flowing; eyes—blue; gentle, acute, inventive; covers himself with close vestments; governed by laws.7

Linneaus, darling of the Enlightenment, was thus a pioneer in seeding the notion that separate races of humans were not only real, hard and fast distinctions, but that they constituted distinct, “natural” “species” or “varieties” of Homo sapiens.

Of course the end game of such belief and rhetoric is eugenics. In my research for Blights Out, I’ve stumbled into a treasure trove of horror in American Breeders Magazine (founded 1910), which casually sprinkles a taste of the eradication of “unfit” human populations among essays concerning cattle hybrids and breeding fattier corn.8 I recommend you peruse that link and also warn you against doing so.

I first caught wind of these distasteful proclivities among _______’s Founding Fathers from a website, now defunct, called In the months after the election of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Donald Trump, I spent a bit of time in the deepest, dankest bowels of internet content, trying to understand what made this new “Alt-Right” so special, and I found Richard Spencer’s website, which self-identifies as the “intellectual hub of the Alt-Right”. The rhetoric of Trump and his ilk has sent well-meaning white _______s into a frenzy; they insist that the Founding Fathers would never abide by the anti-migrant and white supremacist vitriol of today’s civic leaders. Well, one essay on used primary sources to counter this reading of _______ with evidence, like that shared above, that the Founding Fathers were explicit in their determination that _______ be a Brave New White World. “Our side” has such trouble admitting when the “other side” has a point, but I’m going to insist that we give them their due here. _______ was never intended as a mixed race union. From its beginning, _______nization has been a process of using law, policy, covenant, and custom to fertilize, prune, and shape the hedge that keeps brown people off the white folks’ lawn. Also, lol cuz their lawns are also killing us all.

Oil access canals carve up the wetlands and lead to land loss in southeast Louisiana. Image courtesy Google Earth.

You say, and I agree with you, that “three hundred years is not a marking of a place, but the dominion of that place.” But what if it is also, quite literally, the marking of a place? Place is irreparably altered by markings in time; through action, place becomes something new entirely. Our land, our minds, and our bodies bear the scars of the Earth-shattering theories and actions of the last three hundred (+) years. I’m struck by one particular word in the language of Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. 543—“wants”:

The measure of property acquired by occupancy is determined, according to the law of nature, by the extent of men’s wants, and their capacity of using it to supply them.

If men want a thing (or person or place), it has value. If men want a thing, it is theirs for the taking. This brings me to Adam Curtis’s epic series, The Century of the Self (2002), in which he explores Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays and his role in creating, on behalf of the corporate sector, our _______n culture of consumption wherein our wants give us a sense of self, identity, and freedom. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers is quoted in the film as saying: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old had been entirely consumed.” I love this article exploring signals of the Anthropocene from radiation to plastics to chicken bones. These emitted signals are the waste products of men’s voracious desires. Perhaps the author should consider adding the ideas, beliefs, and theories of the Enlightenment to their list of signals. Perhaps they ought to set the clock on the Anthropocene back to the time when the values of want-hungry extractivism were seeded as the law of all the land. Our stumble into the Anthropocene certainly represents the dawn of an age as transformative as the alleged birth of Jesus. Maybe, once extractivism loosens its grip on the world and we reshape our wants to desire life, we can reset the calendar and consecrate that space of time as Year Zero, the beginning of a new era.

Occupy Museums. Debt of 500 Artists Largely Owned by Five Nongovernmental Economic Super Powers, 2017. Courtesy of the Artists.

Regarding your musings on the financial dictatorship of banks...yeah that’s some harrowing stuff. I’m reminded of our Debtfair project through which we’ve examined the immense power that a small handful of financial institutions have over our financial horizons and we learned that BlackRock, Inc. and four other firms are majority owners of 80% of the debt of the five hundred artists who participated in the project. The dangers of the emergence of these asset management firms and vulture hedge funds as legitimized near-sovereign powers over other allegedly sovereign peoples is made explicitly clear in the cases of Argentina and Puerto Rico.

Imani Jacqueline Brown. From Here, I can see this era fade at the edges of my vision. Cahokia Mounds, Cahokia, Illinois, May 2018., 2018. From the series From Here, I can see this era fade at the edges of my vision. Courtesy of the Artist.

But, I guess when I say that this age must end, I mean that it must end as do all ages, eventually. Migration, water, the seasons, the planets in our solar system—everything in this world moves in cycles. Somehow, some time, everything inevitably finds balance. While visiting Mexico City this Spring, I had the immense joy of visiting the National Museum of Anthropology (highly recommended). So many eras, so many civilizations have ebbed and flowed across the geographic footprint of this one city, long before the Aztecs, which is where most of our history books start the clock. Across the Mississippi from St. Louis, MO, stand Cahokia Mounds, the oldest remaining architecture on Turtle Island outside of Mexico (thanks to Gavin Kroeber for the visit!). The contemporary space of the Mounds is rather odd—it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but not a federal historic site, so cars chug down a road between mounds and joggers pound up and down their steps; in this way, a mound is treated no differently from a natural hill. It is, of course, totally disrespectful, but standing there, staring out over the landscape, I had the uncanny sensation of being torn between two profound energies: sacred and mundane, past and future. Grounded on the marker of another era, another people, another place; looking out over a Mid-Western _______n vista blanketed with signals of structural ecological and social crisis. From Here, I felt I could see this era fade at the edges of my vision. In moments such as these, I feel an uncomfortable comfort in the knowledge that we are of this world and we, too, are perhaps blessed, perhaps doomed, to cycle, even if just down the drain.

Continued on Part 3.


  1. Paul Corcoran, “John Locke on Native Right, Colonial Possession, and the Concept of Vacuum domicilium,” The European Legacy, 23:3 (2018), 225-250.
  2. Latin translation for “emptied dwelling” is vacuatum domicilium. Special thanks to William Stewart for this translation.
  3. Enzo Traverso. Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory. New York: Columbia University Press (2016).
  4. Teleology, (from Greek telos, “end,” and logos, “reason”), explanation by reference to some purpose, end, goal, or function. Traditionally, it was also described as final causality, in contrast with explanation solely in terms of efficient causes (the origin of a change or a state of rest in something). Human conduct, insofar as it is rational, is generally explained with reference to ends or goals pursued or alleged to be pursued, and humans have often understood the behaviour of other things in nature on the basis of that analogy, either as of themselves pursuing ends or goals or as designed to fulfill a purpose devised by a mind that transcends nature.
  5. Editor's Note: Art Practical's in-house style capitalizes "Black" when refering to race, while leaving "white" lowercase. For an argument on this stylistic choice:
  6. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), 170.
  7. Audrey Smedley, Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview (2018).
  8. American Breeders Magazine, 142-146.

Comments ShowHide

Related Content