Dear Followers, Friends, fellow Workers:

I have just begun a new blog/zine called
Chirot Zero Zine A Heap of Rubble--
Anarkeyology of hand eye ear notations
the blog is more exusively concerned than this one with presenting essays, reviews (inc. "bad reviews") , Visual Poetry, Sound Poetry, Event Scores, Manifestos, Manifotofestos, rantin' & raving, rock'roll, music all sorts--by myself and others--if you are interested in being a contributor, please feel free to contact me at
as with this blog, the arts are investigated as a part of rather than apart from the historical, economic, political actualities of yesterday, today, & tomorrow
as with al my blogs--
contributions in any language are welcome

Free Leonard Peltier

Free Leonard Peltier
The government under pretext of security and progress, liberated us from our land, resources, culture, dignity and future. They violated every treaty they ever made with us. I use the word “liberated” loosely and sarcastically, in the same vein that I view the use of the words “collateral damage” when they kill innocent men, women and children. They describe people defending their homelands as terrorists, savages and hostiles . . . My words reach out to the non-Indian: Look now before it is too late—see what is being done to others in your name and see what destruction you sanction when you say nothing. --Leonard Peltier, Annual Message January 2004 (Leonard Peltier is now serving 31st year as an internationally recognized Political Prisoner of the United States Government)

Injustice Continues: Leonard Peltier Again Denied Parole

# Injustice continues: Leonard Peltier denied parole‎ - By Mahtowin A wave of outrage swept the progressive community worldwide at the news that Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier was denied parole on Aug. ... Workers World - 2 related articles » US denies parole to American Indian activist Leonard Peltier‎ - AFP - 312 related articles » # Free Leonard Peltier 2009 PRISON WRITINGS...My Life Is My Sun Dance Leonard Peltier © 1999. # Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance - by Leonard Peltier, Harvey Arden - 2000 - Biography & Autobiography - 272 pages Edited by Harvey Arden, with an Introduction by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, and a Preface by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. In 1977, Leonard Peltier... - # Leonard Peltier, American Indian Activist, Denied Parole And Won't ... Aug 21, 2009 ... BISMARCK, ND — American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, imprisoned since 1977 for the deaths of two FBI agents, has been denied parole ... - Cached - Similar - #

Gaza--War Crime: Collective Punishment of 1.5 Million Persons--Recognized as "The World's Largest Concentration Camp"

Number of Iraquis Killed Since USA 2003 Invasion began

Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death Estimator

US & International Personnel losses in Iraq &Afghanistan; Costs of the 2 Wars to US

Number of U.S. Military Personnel Sacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In America's War On Iraq: 4,667

Number Of International Occupation Force Troops Slaughtered In Afghanistan : 1,453


Cost of War in Iraq


Cost of War in Afghanistan

The cost in your community

flickr: DEATH FROM THIS WINDOW/DOORS OF GUANTANAMO--Essays, Links, Video-- US use of Torture

VISUAL POETRY/MAIL ART CALL Cracking World’s Walls & Codes Concrete & Virtual

Cracking World’s Walls & Codes Concrete & Virtual

No Sieges, Tortures, Starvation & Surveillance
Deadline/Fecha Limite: SinsLimite/ongoing
Size: No limit/Sin Limite
No Limit on Number of Works sent
No Limit on Number of Times New Works Are Sent
Documentation: on my blog
David Baptiste Chirot
740 N 29 #108
Milwaukee, WI 53208

Miss Universe Visits Guantanamo: 'A Loooot Of Fun!'

Miss Universe Visits Guantanamo: 'A Loooot Of Fun!'

The current 'Miss Universe' Dayana Mendoza (formerly Miss Venezuela) and 'Miss America' Crystal Stewart visited US troops stationed in Guantanamo Bay on March 20th, the New York Times reports. Here's Mendoza's account of the visit from her pageant blog last Friday. She says the trip "was a loooot of fun!"

This week, Guantánamo!!! It was an incredible experience...All the guys from the Army were amazing with us. We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting. We took a ride with the Marines around the land to see the division of Gitmo and Cuba while they were informed us with a little bit of history.

The water in Guantánamo Bay is soooo beautiful! It was unbelievable, we were able to enjoy it for at least an hour. We went to the glass beach, and realized the name of it comes from the little pieces of broken glass from hundred of years ago. It is pretty to see all the colors shining with the sun. That day we met a beautiful lady named Rebeca who does wonders with the glasses from the beach. She creates jewelry with it and of course I bought a necklace from her that will remind me of Guantánamo Bay :)

I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Haptic Visual Poetry of Rubbeings--in the cold--& snow--& wnd

Note: I willl try and write a note of varying length here each day.
Thatway one may chart the voyages thrugh te winter monthsof m work--

Today we had the first snows here in Milwaukee. Tmeperatures to drop near
zero--while i was out working i was inffomred it was 16 degrees. Winds have
blown for days signalling changes on the way--and today they
arrived--swirlng gusts of full flaked snow--drastics drop in the
Since I work by hand directly pressing paper to the material to be rubbed
wth one hand--and then holding lumber crayon in other hand--touch and
temperature play a large part in my daiily work outside. The cold wil be
soon affecting the ways i work--i will keep a log of thsee.
Through time the hands learn to see and the eyes learn to touch--i
examing mateirals as they arise for possible rubbing--things that may look
good to the eye do not work by hand and vice versa--one has to go back and
forth in using both hands and eyes to tel lif a given fence or telphone pole
or raised letterings on dumpsters may be of use. The same goes for any
surface in which there are cracks and knots and the swirled lines made by
circling knots--
One learns that what may look good to the eye when rubbed by touch is
nothing much at all--and one may feel by hand someting that seems to be of
great beauty--and then when rubbed by eye sight--it is nothing at all--just
a mess.
Rubbeings are a haptic form of work--touch plays such a role--that i
have of late done much work in the dark or near dark literally feeling my
way--since it gets dark earlier, I have grown used to working by dimmer and
dimmer lights, fading into darkness--this is a fascinating way to work--one
has to use the hands as eyes--and yet one also knows that what may feel good
to the touch is unpleasing to the eyes--so this working by touch--one begins
to learn just how deep an impresion or inccision in wood or other materials
made by--numerbsr and letters on telephone poles for example, burdened into
the wood--or raisesd letterings--and then from this to being able to read by
hand the heights of raised lines of wood--how high they may be before
making truly a good series/set of lines on the paper--slwosly but surely i
find thatiican btuch find what wil be pleasing to the eye--it takes time and
patience and much running of the hands over surfaces--that one cannot see.
I find this a purely haptic approach--and that my rubBEings do feel
to the touch differently in the almost invisble differences in the heights
of the crayon wax on top of the paper--or the areas in white where it is
One may read sublty by the touch the crayon wax on paper--and see with
the eyes--the shifts in heights and shades and weights of the hands and
crayon as it varies according to the raisings and lowerings of the
The making and touching/reading of rubBEings are a way to introuce
thehaptic element direclty into visual poetry--a visual poetry in which the
visual may be by touch--and the touch may be visual--- The haptic
element is important in what i work with daily--and is another means by
which to extend visual poetry from the word/paper into the world of
Concrete--materiality of the word--physicality of letters and
words on a page--these namres and phrases remain removed from the touch of
the world and are abstractions. In working with the haptic, one essays a
finding through the working of a ways in which all these mere phraseas may
truly be a part of the world and visual poetry a lived experience, one not
only on the page alone.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

staring inbetween 0/O zero /infinity---Hands' Movements and Moments--Motifs

After many adventures and abraisions and absurdities and ---well, much
else--at last am moved into new domicle and able to begin to bring field
reports of activities, ideas, methods, madnesses, motifs, movements,
moments--the lives of eyes and hands and legs among the ceaseless profusion
of materials and sites-- a good deal of what i work with is often a
handful at best of questions/wonderings, motifs and series and obsessions.
To be honest i keep cutting out long chunks of these notes because i
think --wel they are too long--!!!--better to cut the chase--
one thing i can say is that i am finding ever more a very great
difference not only in a way of seeing/making but of being as well, in
Picasso's saying "I do not seek, I find."
This seemingly simple assertion by our man Pablo is i find ever
more profoundly engagng in thoughts, work and life as i find them out for
myself--and become aware how for most people it is the opposite.
That slowly becomes one's understanding in part --and does
indeed help much--
>I also think often of Olson's "i have learned the simplest
things/last"--last having three meanings at once--yet it is true, the
simple--it may come last, but it lasts--so when one finds anything simple,
this is one to live with--it wil last --and last and last--the rubBEings
teach me this--they have been with me through everything, everywhere, in
everytime when there seemed nothing, a big nothing-prison--they were
there--they are here--
What i am trying to say also is--don't expect much of me or
this blog. I can share basic simple daily things and references but that is
about it. The rest one can find many many elsewheres, so my advice is to
go to them.
As Dorothy Day put it, there isn't time to sit around talking
about it, there is too much to be done.
Some of these ideas and activities may be found in this resending
of a note i wrote to the spidertangle list. There was a discussion going on
re staring as at Nick Piombino's fait accompli blog there is an interview
with Nicos Vassilakis regarding this. I present what i wrote because i
think it may help to show some ways that i see and work differently. I am
not arguing one way is better than another etc--i am just trying to present
a different way.
here is what i wrote (30/10/05)
forgive me, but i find what is said abt staring in the interview to be
>the construction of another form of heirarchy--lists of things to do with
>how it behaves what it turns into sounds like a way of control just as much
>as as the control purported to be changed--
> i understand the form of staring advocated and one finds this as a
>child very swiflty with texts--
> there is another way to stare at a text
> you stare long enough and what do you see?
> just another prison
> the pieces may be rearranged and furniture moved abt and things
>to pieces but in the end we have the same prison because this is also a
>method of control--it advocates a linear progression of texts in to more
>texts with a viisual arrangement along the way-
> when you are confined and there are barely any texts
>other than the ones on the walls which all tell you the same thing DO
>NOT--one stares and stares and one wants to see thorugh this wall this
>prison of texts built up in immense archtectonics of texts until texts ring
>in the ears to be sure-
> it is like the sound of the sea in a shell--and in the cell it is
>sound of the prison--
> one stares and one is told not to stare
>"don't you know it's rude to stare"
> another DO NOT
>what one hopes is to no longer have any of this be there-
> no surface no games no confinement of
>alphabet--words--sentences in all the meaning of the word-
> one stares and hopes to see through a wall --a woman a
>mountain a tree a bird homecookiing playground streets houses-fire escapes
>windmoving hair--eyes that dance---anything but the burden of shakling
>no matter how one stares at them they always rearrange to spell the the
> forgive me but the tenor of the statements is --sounds like--another
>hiearchy--staring is better than such and such--and when we stare we do
>this--and this happens--and it creates--it 's nice linear projection and i
>do understand the attraction--yet because of this linearity there is
>form of confinement--
> one thing leads staright to another--just like the original
>is a programmed element to it-
> "the names change but the game remains the same"
> i have been thinking a good deal on what this means
>Picasso said: "I do not seek, i find".
>and here staring seems to be a form of seeking--hence the lineraity and and
>the programmed elements--
>seeking has a goal--a path--maybe a master/earth goddess--
>seeking as in this staring becomes another form of production--
>and also has a built in belief in heirarchies-
>is more pure than others--
>i am truly only at the very edge of the dirty dusty road in the foothills
>with this
>also dirty/clean--
>the clean--purity and efficeny--tightly controled--
>dirty--who are we?--
>i come back in dirt on pants and my hands mixed with lumber crayon spray
>good old dirt--
>"someone has to do the dirty work"
>finding is a different way of being i am begining to find--(!)-
> it is very interesting and i deeply appreciate the knowledge and
>insightss of all the replies also
>with burroughs/gyson --and what happened to this
> back in the day --and i am sure today --when you took acid or other
>hallucinogens, people wd always tell or remind you--DO NOT stare at
>something too long--Medusa-- . . .
>don't stare at the sun
> one accepts it there is not enough time to be able --esp when working
>means wlaking and long hours or short ones even --the time is less--for
>texts--and one has to work and study dailly the motif-
> the motif for me -i have to have a taphonic approach to tihis
> taphonomy is the study of things in there present state
> worn cracked weather beatn telephonepoles rusting machinery fences
>splitting and fraying--layers of dust of an afternoon on a large plastic
>trash holder--its insignias marking numbers-
> staring has something to do with time--like doing time--you have time
>to stare-another intentiaanly takes the time to stare-it's a privilege for
>some and a prison for others
> "but those who lay the foundations are forced to descend into the
> believe me this is not at all against the method of staring here,
>what was said--is just to present a different point of view, a different
>of being--
> attention--attention and care--with these one is set to work--
> i can stare at texts and they just aren't there--what i see is
>else in the imagination--or reveries staring into it--my god! one hopes not
>to turn into Narcisussus!--better turn away!--
>"he stared long and hard at that animal before he decided not to kill it"--
> to stare at texts--the focus beams light and burns a hole in the fabric
>of texts
> burns a hole into the Other--
> beyond, outside--any of those elements of text--
> to leave them behind a jumbled heap or neat clean package
> i was wondering also about expression in visual poetry
>is there expression?
> i mean as in expresionsim--
> or ornette coleman saying "it's not about notes it's about
> if one keeps working with the pieces of the stared at texts--is one
>still involved with notes?--notes only?--
> pausing much going slow--time to stare at what is right by me
>here on desk--STRAIT LINE "Making Our Mark Around the world"
>and --man they sure are!:
> ' WARNING: Red, yellow & flourescent
>chalks are permanent colors. There is no known way to remove them. Blue
>chalk may be permanent in porous mateirals . . . '
> Yes thse permanent chalaks--no known way to be rid of
>making their mark in the world--
> staring at the words i feel an intense sense of hilarity--"no
>known way to remove them"--"making our mark around the world"--
> hey--why not make MY mark aorund this world
>here--permanently!! you can see where the mind goes with texts--
> it's a nice form too--this is chalk for use on highways
>mainly--a workman at a construction site being done gave it to me no more
>use for it--marking lines around the perimeters--to--mark where roads will
>also i was thinking STRAIT LINE--strait is the gate--strait jacket--and
> staring strait or staight--
> the more one stares the more one is aware of the
> used one feels it with the eyes--and the colors black and yellow on the
>bottom cylindrical container and topped by red top with nozzle--it has a
>happy form--its road dusty surfaces--everything written three times
> when i stare--there are so many avenues to go--myriads--one can
>stare at the text the way laid out and get sensations, feelings-one can
>the vacant junkie stare--no affect--the person staring off into the
> i like that one--i stare and stare and what is there--
> staring into distances--
> uncanny and unknown-
> no particiles at all of words --text--
> the distances of the spaces in
> hidden in plain sight--
> staring i find myself
>looking into the distances in the spaces in between--
> there is a
>great difference between the calculated self consicous stare-
> and the stare of astonishment--or fear--the
>stare at the sudden apparition of things--the stare a child has--
> there is the stare when all heads turned to
>stare--this can be the organized stare of the parade watching--or stare of
> the best staring one has often with a text is
>staring at it and not seeing it all--but things in the
>imagination--memory--"she was staring at nothing. what was it her eyes
> i think this consious stare where it is
>self consciouly staring is like a controlled laboratory experiment-there
>isnt really a freedom--
> working with the attention, with the found--a
>is into it--into the text and into the spaces in between --nothing is
>sought after--nothing expected--what approaches--uncanny recognitions--one
>stares in surprise--"it is new to me yet not unnkown"--
> often one stares at a text and sees nothing at
>what is in the mind's eye is focusing attention inward while the eyes stare
>unseeing--the text may be frozen--or the eyes moving smoothly--sliding
>over those rigid forms--no care for their meanings--
> is there or what is there--a relationship between this blank
>staring--with the mind absent from the text the eyes see-and the staring at
>the spaces in bwteen--
> both have to do with an absence--
> the absence of the text
> stare into the Os in DO
>NOT--into the absence--
> O as zero & infinity-
> s
>o it is in the spaces inbetween one may go through that which is hidden in
>plain sight into absence--
> the text is gone--
> now we may begin . . .

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Friday, October 28, 2005

FIRST COLD: its effects on hands and materials

FIRST COLD: its effects on hands and materials

First cold is coming here in Milwaukee--cold air--means that working with
things outdoors as i do, the objects and surfaces i am making rubBEings and
clay impressions of are also cold--cold to the touch. The hands feel cold,
the materials cold.
I usually carry along varying amounts of clay to make impressions
of raised letterings and of various objects too large to cart back home or
lug to sites whre i can work without dmaging property or plant life. I
spray piant the clay one or many colors and then press paper down onto the
painted clay--then pull the paper of fand see the letters/words/forms in all
thier painted glory.
(I also do them in black when want a good dirty or a very
clean effect on the page--dirty meaning that the areas around the letterings
are smudged and torn and non-liinear--that is, the letters and forms are
more intensely apprehended as shapes, forms in themselves and not words
only. The clean effects are made by using clay strips that are not much
wider or longer than the letters/words/froms. When painted and pressed onto
paper they have a relatively neat look to them and the letter/word/form is
(I use the terms "dirty" and "clean" as this distinction has
been made for some time regarding two differing ways of presenting the
materials. I'm not sure i particularly care for the terms, but they are the
ones in common usuage.)
In the cold, the clay is less malleable and i have to press and
pull much harder on it to get it into the right lengths for the word or
objects i wish to cover and make the impressions of.
Banging with my fist on a siirp of clay to lengthen and widen it,
brought back memories of working in summer. When warm, the clay begins to
stick to surfaces, like chewing gum does. One hot day i was so excited
about a certain plaque i wanted to make impressions from, that i didn't take
proper note of the heat. The plaque was a black metal--and was like a Black
Hole in space, absorbing all the light and heat it possibly could. I applied
the clay and watched it begin to smear and slide and slither about my
fingers and palm as i pressed down. I went to pull the clay off and it was
like pulling taffy. It just stretched and stretched into colorful bands.
Some children playing nearby came over and watched with laughter.
The first cold also brings back memories which will be used to
plan ahead for the winter. How long can one stand it, making rubBEings in
ice, cold and snow? It varies with all sorts of factors--if one is working
in shaodw or sunlight, which direction and speed the wind is coming, what
sorts ofmaterials one is working on. Metal of course gets the coldest--next
comes rock, cement, etc--wood is quite cold and hard also.
Usually i work until my hands start to get numb or burn, the
burn before they plunge into an icy pain. I don't mind it as long as i was
able to get some good rubBEings or clay impressions.
For now, the air is only a bit nippy at night--but since i
often work well past sunset i notice it already. It's a good feeling
actually--i'm happy to be working away outdoors feeling these changes come.
Every change brings a joy because one's attention with the
hands and the materials is being continually developed. I love working
outdoors because the physical awareness i feel is teaching continually the
hands and eyes and ears esp an ever greater sensitivity with small changes,
small shifts of light, wind, heat/cold, hardness or melt of materials. This
joy & awareness i hope in some small ways finds its way into the works made.
They are thanks for being participant in al this that is happening,
continually. Notations of the continually changing . . .
"The basis of art is change in the universe."--Basho

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Tuesday 25 --Wednesday 26 October 2005

"I will write down my thoughts here as they come and in a perhaps not
aimless confusion. This is the true order and it will always show my aim
by its very disorder.
"I should be honoring my subject too much if I treated it in order,
since I am trying to show that it is incapable of it."
--Blaise Pascal, PENSEES 532, Scepticism.

"The most beautfiul world is a heap of rubble tossed down in
confusion (or:' heap of rubbish piled up at random', alt. version)."
--Heraclitus, Fragment

"I do not seek, i find."
--Pablo Picasso

Welcome to all who, passing by, stop for a moment here. Hopefully,
conversation shared, looking & listening--uncanny recognitions, celebrations
of the found. Sitting in quiet. I walk & work a good deal outdoors, so this
site may well be pretty much field notes & snatches of songs, sights &
sounds & signs among rubble.
As i work with found materials, there is no great pre-plan or
sought-for-goal i work with or can offer. My hope is to share materials &
methods, which may be of interest and use.
Working with the found, what may be "new " to me may be something
anachronistic, out-of-date, ancient, of yesterday, or of a moment for anyone
else. It may also be brand new: just-out journals, works,
events--whatever one comes across to be shared.
"A poem can be made of anything" (W C Williams) "A poet
regards everything, each street corner, each encounter . . . as material for
use." (V. Mayakovsky)
(The poet as stealer of fire--or a junk collector--or both at
once . . .)

My deepest thanks to Jim Leftwich and Jukka Kervinen for, out
of the blue, creating this blog to present my works and notes. I hope I may
give thanks for their immense generosity by bringing things truly of
interest & use, with "the care and the attention" (C. Olson) which are found
with and in all things.

Visual Poetry & la vie en rose.

Waiting for the bus at 29th & Wisconsin, in the West Central
City where i have lived the last three years.
A stocky dark skinned woman moving at an adamant speed towards
me through the ragged traffic. She pulled up beside me panting a bit, her
face split open in an immense smile and her eyes shining madly, glistening
with a dancing light. I offered her a cigarette to keep her hands busy
while she gathered herself together, straightening her jacket, adjusting her
hat, pulling at her handbag.
Years ago in Quebec i noticed that in so many small places one
went into--bars, eating places, etc--the diamond shapes of wall ceiling and
floor patterns were an alternating pink and black. I remembered my aunt
Merence ("may-ronsse") as a child had a fascination with pink. Her hair was
pink, her glassses' frames, her immensely finned Chevrolet, the bar in her
house and the house itself. (My grandfather told me he was sure she only
dreamed pink dreams. When i was older and knew what it meant i told him
--'elle vit la vie en rose'--she lives the life in rose colors--rather than
she sees it in rose.)--Once her husband had died, there was a continual
pink explosion. If one looked into the dimness of the bar area, however,
there were still the pink and black diamonds on ceiling walls and floor.
Even in the pinkness, there still had to be Quebecois pink and black.
The woman talking with me had very beautiful black skin--and she
had painted herself pink. Pink circles huge around the eyes, pink eyelids,
pink lipstick, pink blush on the cheeks. Pink nail polish, pink open toed
lattice heels and pink handbag. A pink plastic belt. Her hat had pink
designs in a bright blue field.
"It's my birthday, my birthday," she kept repeating. "Want to
celebrate with me? Got time before work? Just a quick party. We can go
around the corner." She made a small gesture with her hands--meaning
smoking crack cocaine - and said--"i got some rocks".
The bus came and i watched her through the spotty windows
approach another man.
Visual poetry isn't of the page and mind alone.
It's a way of life.
Pink and black--since childhood--some colors of it.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005


------, originally uploaded by david-bc.


------, originally uploaded by david-bc.


------, originally uploaded by david-bc.


------, originally uploaded by david-bc.


------, originally uploaded by david-bc.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


------, originally uploaded by david-bc.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

UNREADABILITY On the Road from Alexia to Zaum

UNREADABILITY On the Road from Alexia to Zaum

for Lou & his secret autobiographies

Unreadable Incapable of being read; illegible; not worth


New Expanded Webster's Dictionary (1988)

Unreadable 1 Too dull or difficult to read 2 Illegible

3 Of a facial expression, a remark, etc;

inscrutable, uninterpretable.

New Shorter Oxford Dictionary Vol. 2 (1993)

"If it's not in writing it never happened."

Popular saying often found on signs in places of


"Even I can't read my own handwriting".

Popular expression.

(Insofar as nobody loves my dashes anyway, I'll

use regular punctuation for the new illiterate



If you ask a write-wright, a real writer, he'll

tell you that a word written in one particular

handwriting or set in a particular typeface is not

the same word written in different lettering.

V.Khlebikov & A. Kruchonykh "The Letter as Such"

I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing see

all. . . It is not words only that are emblematic; it

is things which are emblematic... The world is

emblematic.. .

R. W.Emerson,"Nature"

Alexia: A loss of the ability to read or understand

the written word . . . a complex visual disturbance

resulting from a disease in the visual association

areas at the back ofthe brain. From the Greek preface

"a" meaning "without"+"lexis", meaning "word"=

without word.

The horizons of (visible) unreadability are an arcing in the

mind's eye. From the unreadabilty of alexia's diseased back

brain area to the all-is-readability of the transparent eyeball

is a passage from the opaque to the omniscient. . . Unreadability

is also a form of enclosure of the readable, which is an elastic

area between the "too dull" and the "too difficult". It also in a

sense marks a failure: it is "illegible", it is "not worth


A transcendental ecstasy, a brain disease, a dullness,a

difficulty, a poorly written script, not of value. . . the

unreadable evades a standard written test... presents an

indeterminancy... a riddling Sphinx. . . on the road from a

complete inability and absence to an immediate apprehension and

plenitude . . .

It may signal an ineptitude or a deliberate evasion...

As an example, substitute "readings" for "meanings": in the


Not only do the words change meanings, but meanings vary

locally. A final glossary, therefore, cannot be made of

words whose intentions are fugitive (W.S.Burroughs,JUNKY).

Unreadability is a paradoxical situation: rather than

marking a terminus of readability, it opens up potentialities,

possibilites of reading and misreadings, creative and otherwise.

This may mean that the unreadable is simply a form of Rorsach

Test in which each subjectivity confronted with the unreadable

contributes a version of readability, or that on the other hand,

unreadability may be a form of concealment--a code known only to

those for whom it is intended to be read. A method of

control, secrecy, manipulation...

Unreadability is also a manifestation of an uncanny other.

It exists in the present moment to a would-be reader as the sign

that someone, somewhere, sometime experienced the moment in

which the text was/is/will be readable. The unreadable posits not

only a writer for whom the text was/is readable, but as well a

reader for whom, to whom it was/is/will be readable. An unknown

other is present in the unreadable--not only the writer whose

presence is inscribed--but an other reader--who received,

receives, will receive these signs. An uncanny other reader

haunts the would-be reader as much as the unknown/unknowable

unreadable writer. . .

. It is also possible for the unreadable to come into being even

to the writer in the process of writing,as each new action of

inscription leaves the previous behind--a trace vanishing into

the past to be picked up and given a possible mis/reading by an

other--a message in a bottle--a suicide note... a clue for a

hoped-for rescue. . . or a dreaded capture the writer's

writing becomes unreadable to the writer . . . and open to the

mis/readings of others ...

Indeterminacies and certitudes of others' reading one's own

writing-become-unreadable to oneself . . .

Paranoia or freedom of this:

"They are trying to make me forget my amnesia!"

cries Carl Solomon in transcribed taped conversation in his

MORE MISHAPS. . . or an exultant Herman Melville, writing to

Nathaniel Hawthorne in August 1851 as he finishes MOBY DICK:

Possibly, if you answer (this letter), and direct it to

Herman Melville, you will missend it--for the very fingers

that now guide this pen are not precisely the same that just

took it up and put it to paper. ..

The writer moving among unreadabilities and readabilities of

her/his own writings . . . probing truths and deceits, openings

through/in.. . and opacities of .. . standards . . . .

In the opening page of VANITY OF DULUOZ;the last book of

his published in his lifetime,Jack Kerouac announces that he will

dispense with his infamous dashes and instead use regulation

punctuation and standard sentence structure "for the new

illiterate generation" to read.

Kerouac opens up several interesting questions regarding

unreadability. One of his bases for writing ("silent meditation

going a hunded miles an hour") was to express "the unspeakable

visions of the individual". Silence, speed,the unspeakable--and

meditation, visions,specifically those of the individual.

Writing as vision--and visuality; a form of swift picture writing

more immediately apprehended than the speakable;the speed of

light being greater than that of sound ("Book-movie, the original

American form"). Kerouac is positing an almost direct telepathic

apprehension of an idiosyncratic writing of visions in a society

which has created illiterates in this regard through the

standardization of writing and speech. Standardization in this

sense does away with a reading of visions,of an individual

experience of them. It creates a new form of illiteracy--one that

can only read a very narrow set of approved signs--all in order,

to follow orders ... delivered in well crafted writing,structured

sentences. A norm of normalcy outside of which lies outlawry and

insanity, other forms of illiteracy which can be surveilled and


Of course, Kerouac's writing was lampooned and attacked--

hence the bitter notice in VANITY OF DULUOZ of his attempt to

conform. Truman Capote famously called it "typing,not writing"--

an interesting twist on Kerouac's individuality of writing in

that, by being typed, it conformed to a machine skill, whereas

"writing" presumably meant a much more highly trained,and elitist

skill practised only by acknowledged "master" craftspeople.

Kerouac often responded that "craft"for him meant "crafty"--

a form of lying:

What I find to be really "stupifying in its unreadability"

is this laborious and dreary lying called craft

and revision... sheer blockage of the mental spontaneous

process known 2,500 years ago as "The Seven Streams of

Swiftness" ("The First Word", in GOOD BLONDE & OTHERS).

Again, Kerouac brings up speed,"Swiftness" being a writing

in direct relation with the flow of the mind uninterfered and

uninterupted by the double damming of "the conventional English

sentence. . . so ironbound in its rules.. .that I couldn't

express myself through that form anymore" and its further

strangulation by revision.

Revision for Kerouac is an after the fact/act reworking,

rewording, repressing of the "spontaneous bop prosody" of "the

unspeakable visions of the individual". "Unspeakable', that

is, within standardized structures of "the conventional Englsih

sentence" which is the lying "craft" of a "labored out

sentence". (Like a prison term--"paying a debt to society".) The

slowing down remove and revisioning from the spontaneous produces

a "stultifying unreadability", a lying, accepted and hailed for

its being conventional.

Kerouac uses as examples of the direct spontaneous

expression of truth the Buddha's Surangama Sutra and the Gospel

of Mark 13:11. In both, what is first expressed is direct from

the "enlightening nature of Pure Mind Essence" and the Holy

Spirit. "First thought, best thought"as Allen Ginsberg phrased

this message in relation to writing.

Writing as "silent meditation going a hundred miles an hour"

moves from being solely a notation of the visual image before the

writer's mind's eye to one of sound also. Since the sounds are

from "unspeakble visions" they begin to become ever more

Pentecostal, extending and exploding phonemes beyond conventional

(or earthbound) meanings.

Kerouac sees this as going into an "orbit around (my) mind"

which can go too far outwo/ards even for him. Kerouac notes this

orbit needs still to be linked to one conventional aspect of

language: "to break through the barrier of language with WORDS".

The danger of going beyond words produces what even for him is

another form of unreadablity:

But I'd gone so far to the edges of language where the

babble of the subconcious begins, because words "come from

the Holy Ghost" first in the form of babble which suddenly

by its sound indicates the word truly intended ...I began to

rely too much on babble in my nervous race away from cantish

cliches. . . ended up ravingly enslaved to sounds, became

unclear and dull (my emphasis) as in my ultimate lit'ry

experiment Old Angel Midnight . . . There's a delicate

balancing point between bombast and babble ("First Words").

(Bob Cobbing, the great English sound/visual/verbal poet,

performer, editor and publisher of Writers Forum who printed

the first complete version of OLD ANGEL MIDNIGHT told me

he considered this the greatest sound poem of the 20th


This brings Kerouac to the point (1967) he makes in VANITY

OF DULUOZ (also 1967); that his "Space Age" writing needs to make

a "retreat back towards" a more conventional readability for the

"new illiterate geneneration". (Ironically a generation that

Kerouac is always thought of as having a major influence on.)

. . . so many critics have laughed at me . . . never for

one moment calling me "sensitive" or artistically dignified

but an unlettered hoodlum . . . (now) I'm having to retreat

closer back to the bombast (empty abstraction) of this

world and make my meaning plainer, i.e. dimmer, but the

Space Age of the future won't bother with my "later" works

if any, or with these millions of other things written today

that sound alike ("First Words").

Notable in this retreat for Kerouac is that these "First

Words" are a rewrite--a revision--(January 1967) of his first

(June 1959) "Last Words" columns for the same Escapade

magazine.(Also reprinted in GOOD BLONDE & OTHERS.)

It's a sad twist on "the first shall be last, and the last


The 1959 column ends on a prophetic note that the new

writing by himself and many others that Kerouac is championing

will be, as he notes in "First Words", read for far longer than

his "later works".

Editors and writers have been engaged on a campaign of

systematic rejection of everything except the most

systematic manuscripts. In fact, the notebook should

come back, printed,and like in France the cheap paperback

editions of a writer's entire collected works,

notes, outcries and doodles-drawings and all. This would

institute a literature of facts of life and writing,

not of mere readability measurement (my emphasis). . .

the emergence of something better than the novel . . .

and something better than fanciful versification,

to be rejected as diarrhea of the mouth by critics for fifty

years but accepted and enjoyed as unabashed language

by readers (italics Kerouac's)("Last Words One").

In 1969, during the last months of his life, Kerouac's

vision has become even more pessimistic with regards to

unreadability. In a column for the Chicago Tribune Magazine of 28

September called "After Me, the Deluge" Kerouac writes of a

psychedelically affected form of consciousness akin to alexia:

. . . they would see to it. . . (that) no one in America

could address a simple envelope or keep a household budget

or a checkbook balanced (writing as a measurable value) or

for that matter legible(.) In fact, wouldn't it be better

if nobody at all could count change anymore and of course

forgot how to read . . . the better to haul the branle-cul

fools off to camps when used? (Documented as insane, of

course.) (Also collected in GOOD BLONDE & OTHERS)

Kerouac's "retreat closer back to bombast" to make his

meaning "dimmer" becomes a turning away from the "raving"

of his "enslavement to sounds" which became "unclear and dull"

is paralleled in this vision of illegibility and illiteracy

in the "pyschedelic multimedia. . .happenings" which are

to be used by the system "engaged on a campaign of sytematic

rejection of everything except the most systematic manuscripts."

These systematic documents are then used to document the

illegible and illiterate multimedia and happenings--not so far

removed from Kerouac's own "Book-movie" and the soundpoetry

"ravings" of OLD ANGEL MIDNIGHT--and proceed to put them all in

camps for the"insane".

Kerouac went up to the edge and at the end, wanted to hang

on to a sanity "closer back to bombast". (Closer back to earth

than the Space Age orbitings of his own mind.) Frightened by the

ravings of his "enslavement to sounds" he clung to the idea that

a breakthrough in language had to be made with "WORDS". In a

sense this is a turning away from the Holy Spirit, the Buddha's

sutra, not in terms of meanings but of sounds beyond meanings,

bounding beyond boundaries... in the last resort, to cling still

to readability as a guarantee of social stability, evading the

"camps" for the outlaws and insane . ..

What Kerouac didn't know was that this going beyond had

already been done in the Zaum activities of a number of Russian

Futurist poets. Zaum (pronounced ZA-oum)andmeaning"transrational"

or "beyonsense" (Paul Schmidt's translation) was a form of poetry

introduced in 1913 by the poets Victor Khlebnikov and Alexei


Gerald Janecek in the introduction to his THE LOOK OF

RUSSIAN LITERATURE notes that the period roughly extending from

the supressed Revolution of 1905 to the succesful one of October

1917 was also a time of intense debate over the much needed

overhaul of the Russian alphabet itself. Into this arena of the

instability and indeterminancy of the basic building blocks of

the written/readable the Zaumniki charged:

Why don't they (other writers,critics) just go ahead and

dress it (the word) up in prison clothes? You've seen the

letters of their words--strung out in straight lines with

shaved heads, resentful, each one just like the others--

gray, colorless--not letters at all, just stamped out marks.

And yet if you ask a write-wright, a real writer, he'll

tell you that a word written in one particular handwriting

or set in a particular typeface is totally distinct from

the same word in a different lettering (Khlebnikov and

Kruchonykh, "The Letter as Such", 1913).

This visual written shifting can be carried even further

than Melville's noted above: the writing does not even need to be

done by the writer--but is to be rewritten, written over again,

by an other. As for printing, this can also be done by hand:

using rubber stamping rather than a conventianal press.

Two circunstances obtain:

1. Our mood alters our handwriting as we write.

2. Our handwriting, distinctively altered by our mood,

conveys that mood independently of the words. We

must therefore consider the question of written signs--

visible, or simply palpable, that a blind man could

touch. It's clearly not necessary that the author

himself should be the one who writes a handwritten book;

indeed, it would probably be better for him to entrust

the task to an artist ("The Letter as Such").

Zaum can be seen as a visual letter-by-letter expression

of Kerouac's "spontaneous bop prosody", the very act of the

shaping of the letter conveying meanings beyond the word created.

Yet this would still be near the realm of what Keruac writes of

in "The Last Word One" column:

. . . the notebook should come back, printed, and like

in France the cheap paperback edition of a writer's

entire collected works, notes and outcries and

doodles-drawings and all.

Yet by having the handwriting being done by an other,

how does this not alter the original spontaneous handwritten

expression of a "beyonsense"?

In Kerouac, the spontaneous writing is "to be accepted and

enjoyed as unabashed language by readers". The energy transfer

of writing (to paraphrase Charles Olson's 1950 "Projective

Verse") in Zaum is not directly to the reader, but to the

artist/writer copier:

When a piece is copied over, by someone else or even

by the author himself, that person must reexperience

himself during the act of recopying, otherwise the

piece loses all the rightful magic that was conferred

upon it by handwriting at the moment of its creation,

in the "wild storm of inspiration"("The Letter as Such").

In Kerouac's spontaneous, swift writing,the image/sounds in

the writer's mind's eye/ear are to conveyed directly to the

reader. The writing is a conduit through which these pass from

"the unspeakable visions of the individual" to the "reader '

All the reader needs to do is read the writing in its own

"unabashed language" instead of "mere readability measurement".

Zaum goes much further: the reader needs to experience the

"beyonse" directly by recopying the writing itself--for it is not

the meaning that is to be conveyed, but "mood", emotion,

"beyonsense" of "the letters of their words--strung out in

straight lines with shaved heads".

Rather than being "ravingly enslaved to sounds" as Kerouac

sees himself as having become, Zaum posits the act, the

experience to oneself of handwriting--whether the original or

hand made copy-- as providing a freedom from the enslavement of

standardized language. Visuality, palpability (in the case of the

blind) and the sounding of these beyond the enslavement of words

goes further than that of Kerouac's "breaking through the barrier

of language with WORDS".

Many historians and critics (see Janecek's superb Zaum The

Transrational Poetry of Russian Futurism) have noted that

Kruchonykh was interested in and influenced by Russian

Pentecostal ritual practices resulting in Divinely inspired

"speaking in tongues". Kerouac found that this experiencing had

led him to writing "babble" that was "dull and unclear".

Unreadable in the dictionary definition. Since Zaum dispenses

with the dictionary as a prison camp, it is not confined by the

standard presentations of unreadability--it opens new dimensions

of readability beyond these. The emphases on the tactile,

the sonic and the visual open the outwa/rds of "beyonsense"

in new directions, backward, forward, upside down.

The unreadability of both Zaum and Kerouac for many is due

to an indeterminacy in regarding them as "primitve" or as

"intelligent" "real artists/writers" in terms of "craft". This

either/or is a refusal to accept the "both/and" opened in their

works. (A similar yet more immediately recognizable example is

the very sophisticated Art Brut made by Dubuffet.)

The "primitive" aspects of both Zaum and Kerouac led to both

being accused of "hooliganism". (The Zaumnikis' fellow Futurist

Mayakovsky extolled and lived this part to the full

prior to the 1917 Revolution. He had been imprisoned during the

1905 revolt. He literally had been enslaved, with shaved head--a

convict and outlaw--later a champion and figurative captive of

the new Soviet State.) As Kerouac noted, he was often described

as "an unlettered hoodlum".

Zaum presents another aspect of unreadability related to

Kerouac's. This is the question of speed. Kerouac emphasizes

speed in the act of writing as "silent meditation going a hundred

miles per hour". He notes both scribblings in notebooks (their

page size limits dictating, along with the image and the "babble"

their taking form as poems) and the use of the typewriter, which

is still determined partially as a handwriting, the skill and

speed of the typist coming into play.

The physical speed of writing is to match as best it can the

speeding mind and its flows. In Zaum, speed is produced in a

different, seemingly opposite manner. With its emphasis on the

handwritten, the recopying, the hand stamping of letterings and

its being by these limited in the number of editions produced

(compared to Kerouac's "16 originally-styled volumes. . .

translated into 16 languages in 42 countries") Zaum seems very

slow. Even its recognition outside of the Russia of its time has

been very slow in coming. (It was eventually suppressed by the

Soviets--imprisoned and unread in sealed off library collections,

or hidden fugitively in Kruchonyhk's apartment. Zaum editions

were even found suffed inside his sofa on his death.)

This slowness however conceals a paradoxical speed: that of

intuition and feeling. The indeterminate unreadability of Zaum

confronts the would-be reader and copier with a visuality that

"calls forth", cries out, via the sounding out of its particles.

Unloosed from the enslavement of the word, soundings bring a

physical recognition and performance that is immediate in its

feeling. (As Ornette Coleman said later of Free Jazz, "it's not

about notes, it's about feelings".) This emphasis on a

simulataneous "primitivism" and an unloosening of boundaries in

"beyonsense" is both a reconnecting with a pre-standardized

verbal environment and a gesturing, a pointing towards the

"beyond"("Za") of the future implicit in Russian Futurism.

This emphasis on the basic building blocks of visual letters

and feeling is also emphasized by the Suprematist painter Kazmir

Malevich. Malevich, Kruchonyhk, and the musician Matyushin

attended the "First All-Russian Congress of the Wordwrights of

the Future" on July 18-19, 1913 and there began to conceive the

production of the Futurist opera VICTORY OVER THE SUN presented

on December 3 and 5 of the same year. (Khlebnikov contributed a

Prologue to the piece.)

While the opera was in production the student actors were

on the verge of mutiny, claiming the words were incomprehensible.

Kruchonyhk asked Matyushin to "explain (them) the essence of the

incomprehenisble words". "They saw no sense and didn't want to

perform without understanding." Matyushin then explained:the

relationship of the incomprehnsible/unreadable to the changing of

words themselves, with links in the distant past and moving into

the future:

We don't always notice changes in language as we live

in our own time. The words and the language are constantly

changing. If the culture of a people is great and active,

then it tosses away outmoded words and creates new words

and word combinations (Janecek's ZAUM: 123).

This emphasis on the constant changing of language and words

is close to Burroughs' "therefore a glossary cannot be made of

words whose intentions are fugitive". Instead of hunting down the

fugitive meanings, Zaum proposes to accept their indeterminancies

and unreadabality (not being in a glossary or dictionary) and

explore these in terms of emotions, feelings.

Beginning with his sets for the opera, Malevich launched

into the Non-Objective emotionality of the basic forms and colors

of Suprematism. He sees these as related to the letters and

sounds of Zaum:

This was received as "incomprehensible", unreadable and,

for the artist,a sense of being a fugitive:

When, in the year 1913 . .. I took refuge in the square

form and exhibited a painting which consisted of

nothing more than a black square on a white field, the

critics,and along with them the public,sighed "Everything

which we loved is lost. We are in a desert . .. Before

us is nothing but a black square on a white bacckground.. .

The square seemed incomprehensible and dangerous. . .

No more "likeness of reality", no idealisttic images,

--nothing but a desert!

But this desert is filled with the spirit of non-

objective sensation which pervades everything.

Even I was gripped by a kind of timidity bordering

on fear. . .

But a blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity

drew me forth in to the "desert" where nothing is real but

feeling... and so feeling became the substance of my life.

This was no "empty square"which I had exhibited but

rather the feeling of non-objectivity ("Suprematism", 1927).

In Malevich, Zaum, Kerouac, the unreadable, the

incomprenhensible, the border-line insane (Kerouac's discharge

from the U.S.Navy declared him a "borderline personality") are a

simultaneous consciousness of being a fugitve from conditioned

standards of being, perception, soundings. feelings and also a

sense of being liberated. The question of unreadability

becomes by extension a questioning of the entire social

structuring of the individual. Zaum and Suprematism were

eventually suppressed by the Soviet State and one finds Kerouac

despite the 16 translations in 42 countries feeling he has to

"retreat backs towards bombast" out of fear of his going too far

out into "babble". Paradoxically, despite his fame, he feels

himself still on the borderlines of hooliganism, official

"borderline" insanity and unreadability. His visions windup with

camps and the enslavement to words made up of shaved heads. His

sense is that the orignal feeling creating his works has been

deliberately misread and turned into "a new illiterate

generation". Ironically and cruelly, their illiteracy will make

them easy prey to be locked up as insane hoodlums. Malevich and

Kruchonyhk found themselves living in a time and place where this

occured on a daily basis. To survive they became as fugitively

invisible as possible, The questioning implicit in unreadability

is a dangerous activity. And--a freeing one, if accepted and

worked with, even when driven "underground"--it carries within

itself the energy and conviction that sometime, somewhere by

someone it will be "unearthed" and hopefully its feeling will be

felt again.

Unreadability is not to be dictated and controlled by

a "readability measurement", it is not an area of exclusion,nor

an exclusive area, but one where contact exists beyond these:

"I is an other" as Rimbaud found. It is this uncanny other of I

that exists to be contacted in the unreadable.

Beginning with his sets for the opera, Malevich launched

into the Non-Objective emotionality of the basic forms and colors

of Suprematism, which he saw as related to the visual/sonic

letters of Zaum:

The letter is not a symbol for expressing things, but

a sonic note (not a musical one). . . (passing) from

letter to letter . . . more perfectly than from note

to note. . .

Arriving at the idea of sound, we obtained note letters

expressing masses. Perhaps in a composition of these

sound masses (former words) a new path will be found

. . . we tear the letter from a line, from a single

direction, and give it the possibility of free

movement. (Lines are needed in the world of bureacrats

and domestic correspondance.) (Like Kerouac's checkbooks;

readability connected with value.). . . we arrive at a

distribution of letter and sonic masses in space

similar to painterly Suprematism. These masses will

hang in space and will provide a possibility for

our consciousness to move farther and farther from earth

(ZAUM 201).

(Kerouac envisioning in "The First Word" spontaneous writing

as the flow of mind "in its spacetime continuum" as the

Space Age Prose/Poetry of astronauts. "It may be they won't

be reading anything else but spontaneous writing...")

Necessity is the Motherfucker of Invention

Necessity is the Motherfucker of Invention
When people plan to erect a large and lofty building,
they make the foundations all the deeper. But those
who lay the foundations are forced to descend into
the depths. --Saint Augustine
for Clemente PADIN and Luc FIERENS
with warmest Thanks to Gianni Simone and Lee Thorn
In KAIRAN 4, Gianni Simone generously published an
essay of mine called "Refuse/Refuse". This piece grew out of my
making Mail Art, Visual Poetry, poems and stories with materials
found in the streets. This "refuse" (trash) I used as a sign of
a stance to "refuse" (deny) the commercial aspects of the "art
world". The use of refuse was also a means to indicate and
establish a link between the streets I move among with those
my fellow workers in the Eternal Network live and move among, and
also the sites we share space in presenting works for the
Mail Art is GIVEN FREELY--and so are the materials found as
refuse. To refuse the labeling and treatment of found materials
as refuse is to refuse the classifications and hierarchies of the
"art world", the work of "product" and "consumption" It is also,
by being from the streets, a sign that one refuses as well the
labeling and classifying of people whom society has deemed as
"refuse": "street people", the poor, the homeless, all "those
Others" at once so public and so invisible. As Mail Art is a
sphere without boundaries, it is one without judgements on any
one and their creations. Mail Art is, via refuse, a refuge--a
site of guerilla activity that teaches that art is by and for and
with the people.
A favorite guiding line in my life since the age of sixteen
when I was living in the streets of Paris has been a quote from
Henry Miller, in the "14th Ward" section of his book BLACK
SPRING: "What is not in the open streets is false, derived that
is to say literature".
Ironically, my published essay on the importance of streets
arrived when I was barely allowed into the streets.
"Refuse/Refuse" was also, via the concepts of thrown away,
rejected trash, a refusal of Frank Jensen's ideas included in a
discussion/debate in KAIRAN 2. Jensen had asserted that Mail Art
must acquire "standards" that there is too much refuse clogging
up Mail Art qua "Art", like so much flotsam and jetsam choking a
dignified and important river. A river of commerce, "beauty" and
"a critical point of view"--i.e. validated by "experts" and
included in the vast mechanisms of institutions and bureaucracies
of the Cultural Sphere.
When "Refuse/Refuse" arrived in the mail, I was myself in an
institution, halfway through a ninety day locked in program in
the Genesis Behavioural Treatment Center. This is a large three
storey brick structure housing roughly eighty men beginning from
the age of 18. It was built in the 1940's as a Jewish Home for
the Elderly. At a later point, it was transformed into Mercy, a
Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program run by Catholic nuns. Later,
it was purchased by the Genesis organization, which runs various
facilities in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA area.
I was placed in Genesis by the County of Milwaukee, deemed
near death and incapable of taking care of myself in order to
survive. I had had a catastrophic relapse of substance abuse and
was taken into hospital clinically dead. After mediczl
treatment, I was sent to Genesis, in a borderline area of nice
homes mixed with drug houses. A block and a half away on North
Avenue was a very large ultra-modern Police Command and Control
Center filled with bureaucratic computers, files, documents and
surveillance equipments.
Most of the people in these rooms and halls of Genesis were
part of the Department of Corrections. They are not really there
for treatment per se--it is simply a step for them on their court
ordered way either in or out of the Federal and State Prisons.
It is for them just another way of "doing time".
During the first thirty days, one is not allowed to go out
unless to the courts or the hospital, accompanied always by an
escort. The next sixty days--for those not allowed to go to work--
one is allowed out on pass for six hours on Saturdays, based on
behaviour and accomplishment of all assigned tasks. If one
performs above standard, an extra six hours is allowed on
Sundays. Family visits are only allowed on the weekends, within
a four hour time frame, and only in the battered Chapel/Meeting
room. On return, one is searched --no food is allowed other than
hard candy and microwave popcorn. Sodas are allowed. Urine and
breathalyzer tests are also given while all bags and outward
clothing are subject to search. All visitors and their bags are
likewise searched. Despite all this, as among humans the world
over, there is still a lively black market, here in sodas,
cigarettes, snacks of all sorts.
During my first thirty days at Genesis I lived in a strange,
troubled, shadowy world. I found the architecture in my somewhat
hallucinated state to be Byzantine, garish, immense. I studied
carefully the neo-pyschedica anti-drug posters, the religious and
heroic paintings of Black Jesus and Black heroes and Saints.
There were also a few door signs that I gazed at, attentive to
their colors and letterings. In my dilapidated state, these
signs, images and letterings reminded me dimly that somewhere,
sometime I had myself made such things. Yet I could not piece
any of this together--it all seemed so distant, so lost . . . I
was on the other side of a barrier, through whose cracks at times
I caught a brief glimpse of an other world. . . .
Daily life was a long series of required groups, chores,
meetings, harangues. In between, and in the evenings, it was a
constant struggle for survival in a "world within the world" as
was called this street/prison/addict/criminal environment. At
first,being a newcomer and in such a dazed state, I was an easy
target for the practise of various cruelties. I determined to
show no fear or anger and with the help of a friend practised
some forms of quietening within. These were much needed as I
found myself well fueled by many of the same angers and
injustices as my fellows. I was often on the point of exploding
into violence. Slowly I gained respect for the calm handling of
many incendiary incidents--and also for my activities with
reading, writing, making art and daily hours of teaching and
tutoring in literacy.
In a real sense, the less there is to work with materially,
the more weight is given to skill with words, oral, rapped, the
dozens, preaching and written. And from this point, the desire
to learn these skills becomes very powerful.
This skill--literacy--was much needed as we had a lot of
written assignments and many (myself included) also received a
great many documents via the courts and social services, Through
this work I was able to contribute to our community in the "world
within the world".
At first my own reading, writing and making art pieces was
taken as a sign of aberration and rather worthless. Who cared
about any of this? Then after some time KAIRAN arrived and also
issues of Lee Thorn's journal FUCK, with street works of mine
that resembled in part the ones I was making inside the walls.
That these arrived via the mail indicated to my peers and myself
that Mail Art and Visual Poetry do indeed include all in the
Global Eternal Network. The "World" and the "world within a
world" are indeed linked via community/communication.
If a Killer or Poetic Pimp (my nicknames) could bepart of
this, then truly anybody could!
Miraculously, I had with me a few books and a large old
battered dictionary. With these I started a little library and
shared the dictionary around. From teaching and tutoring,
eventually I was sharing how to make Mail Art and Visual Poetry
with the most limited tools and materials, I feel this is the
attraction and power of Mail Art--it can be made anywhere, by
anyone, in any circumstances and sent out to be shared among
others, all over the world.
That Mail Art has no boundaries, no classifications, no
juries--this means a very great deal when one lives inside tight
boundaries, is classified and often on the way to being before a
jury. And in a real sense one already has been judged, to be here
in the first place.
Before the arrival of the journals however, I lived for
quite some time in a much different state. A few Mail Art calls
and catalogues had been ariving, forwarded from my old address,
as from a different planet. I looked at them stupidly--I mean
that I was stupified--it seemed beyond the pale that I might
respond to these in any way, or that I had ever done so. That was
all a lost world to me now, from which I had been hurtled by my
own actions and their consequences. Still the indominitable--if
dim--urge to make things began to take form and life within me. I
realized if not in the streets anymore, I was still in the
"street" world within our narrow corridors and samll rooms. I
realized I must find whatever materials existed in our
controlled and near barren environment and get back to work.
Among the few haphazard effects I had with me on entering
there were a stubby crayon and a plain 100 page 6 X 9 inch
notebook. I tried to make some rubbings of raised letterings on
door signs but to no avail--the crayon didn't work for these. I
do not recall how, but somehow I was able to get hold of my old
friend and tool-- a lumber crayon used by construction workers.
With my notebook and a few other scraps of paper I set to work on
what little I could find at first in the halls. On Fridays we on
the first floor were allowed to go into the labyrinthine basement
to do laundry, use the Medieval Torture Chamber weight room and a
pool room with a table that sloped badly to one side. In this
area, I found many more materials, some few of which I was able
to take back to my room.
Thus began a great opening up of the world to me. By
working with so little, my eyes became more acutely aware of the
small, the minute in particles and particulars. The ears grew
more sensitive and conscious of sounds--the voices and language
of my companions and the few sounds that drifted in through the
windows. I heard a singing and saw a signing that emerged from
wall cracks and dust motes floating in space and time. I became
engaged, immersed, in the passage of light and its changing
shadows on walls, or its movements through thick clouds of dust
and cigarette smoke in the day room. Time began, by its very
concentration, its regimentation, to fragment and open up.
By learning to focus and be attentive, I found the world of
forms and sounds ever expanding in their expressiveness. There
were not only the few letterings available to me but fascinating
networks of cracks and grains. There were also the few markings
made on surfaces--some made by their having been roughly moved
and gouged by chance, others incised in wood by past inmates.
Where before I had found great energies and resources in the
natural and urban scapes available to one who walks in freedom, I
now found these in the landscapes of corridors and rooms, of
floors and walls, table tops and chair backs, in the
crenellations of shower stalls and battered tilings, The broken
down Venetian blinds became the lines of musical scores, and
their alternations of light and shadow a continual study.
At some point, I began to feel within myself a freedom I had
but barely glimpsed when free to roam the streets, when free to
use far more materials. I worked by tearing and gluing my
rubbings and rearranging them, or by making new arrangements
while rubbing the letterings and forms as I worked on site. I
became ever more involved with working with care and attention
not to letterings as words, but as fragments, syllables, single
letters and finding poems emerge from these.both visually and
I found languages, songs, images where before I had
experienced but an arid desert, a blank time, a constriction of
One day, a violent argument had broken out among some peers
with whom I worked on reading and writing. The bone of
contention was the most common word in the American language--
what is it? Some said, "the", some said "a". Absorbed in making
rubbings off of the broken, incised and scarred old organ in the
barren Chapel room where we met for groups and with visitors, I
was asked as the "poetic pimp" what this word might be. Focused
on the work at hand, I said the most inevitably,continually
heard word among us. "The most common word in American is
After a moment of stunned silence, a great sound of roaring
joy broke out. "Yeah, straight up, Motherfucker!" There is a
moment of paradoxical recognition when one realizes that in our
usages of language, a potentially powerful word may be reduced to
rubble by the battering of its abuse.
When KAIRAN and other journals, including Lee Thorn's FUCK,
began arriving, I was able to see what others in Mail Art and
Visual Poetry were doing. This was a very profound experience, to
find the ever ongoing community/communication of fellow workers
in the Eternal Network. It reminded me that even in Genesis, one
may be a part of this ongoing activity of seeing, hearing,
making, sharing. Mail Art is one which knows no boundaries, no
seperations between life and art.
More than ever, the activity of Mail Art struck me as a
profound and much needed one in this world of refuse on the one
hand and the highly priced and prized on the other. We live in
just such a world, with an ever more brutal divide of what is for
the rich and what is for the poor.
I realized that by practising and receiving Mail Art even in
the conditions of being institutionalized by the State and placed
at the bottom of hierarchies, I was able to find freedom in
refuse/refusal. That refusal was a choice to find even in the
times when at first I had been denied to make the rubbings and
ridiculed for it, that even with the most minimum efforts
allowed, one stil participated in community/communication.
Begining from the most minimal point, I found an ever growing
abundance of materials and freedom in working with them.
The circling back and forth of Mail Art in a humorously
ironic way also radically changed the view the officials and
counselors and my peers took of my acitivities. Seeing works of
mine and others arrive in KAIRAN and other journals and
catalogues,the work was suddenly validated. It took these signs
from around the world to make concrete the functions of the daily
Ironically, via recongition by others, one finds the esteem
of one's peers suddenly enhanced. By being a participant in the
community/communication of the Mail Art Network, in a sense one
becomes a new form of pariticpant in one's own community. The
difference with Mail Art is that since one does and gives it
freely, for free, for "nothing"--it opens up the idea that art is
not bound by cash values alone. Being a Mail Artist in one's
community opens for others new areas of freedom. The Mail Artist
indicates that one does not need to be "special" or "better
trained" or have works sold to be an "artitst. On the contrary
the Mail Artist demonstrates by action that anyone may be a Mail
Artist and participate in ever vaster spheres of
I think what really makes a difference with Mail Art is that
money is not involved. The free exchange of art and written and
sound works confronts one with the question: why do it? As
usually the aim of a person is to make money from their work,
their timeand effort. To suddenly be in the position to question
all this--one finds that one does it in a sense as a graffito on
a wall--"hello to you from me. I was here. I AM here, in this
marking. I am with YOU at this moment."
It is to give and share of one's presence as a present, a
gift freely given.
One can liken it to a postcard sent with a photo of where
one is, saying on the back: "Having a great time--thinking of
you" or "wishing you were here, too". Yet the image, the card,
can be made by one's self rather than purchased.
It is as simple as that.
Eventually I was asked to give a demonstration to 24
inmates. This consisted of presenting the minmal tools--lumber
crayon and paper--and the immediate use of what could be found in
the room to make rubbings of. By passing around calls,
catalogues, KAIRAN and showing that these works made in this
place could be shared with others around the world, it made
concrete the call and response activity of Mail Art on a daily
local level.
Something I would like to emphasize--and now was able to
live daily and share--is that though "Eternal" Mail Art is not
Transcendental. That is, I did not, even in moments of
contemptlation, meditation, I did not transcend my circumstances,
but made use of them, learned from them, was moved to share them.
On the streets I had learned that "Necessity is the Mother
of Invention". Now I knew that it was indeed the "Motherfucker
of Invention".
Again, by this making direct use of the immediate and freely
sharing in Mail Art, the "art" is not privatized, not made
privileged. One is not "aesthetisizing" experience, but making
concrete use of it, as it is, on its own terms. The "art/life
barrier" which troubles so many--does not exist. This to me is
one of the great freedoms Mail Art opens to anyone.
I am now seeking places to pass this on, in whatever
locations and to whomever I can. For starters I will be giving a
workshop at a Book Center in Milwaukee and am also doing with
fellow workers Clemente Padin, Lisa Boots and David Dellafloria a
project in each of our cities involving Mail Art election posters
orginally organized by Gianni Simone. I plan to find anyway I can
in my community to "show and tell" Mail Art in the community, and
bring more people into the communicty/communication of the
Eternal Network. This is a way to say Thank You to the community
of Mail Artists around the world for all that was given to me
in learning to live again from within "the world within in the
world" and the world outside.
Two Mail artists who have greatly inspired me as exemplars
of community/communication are Clemente Padin and Luc Fierens.
This brief essay is to thank them and to dedicate further efforts
in Mail Art to them and their examples.
The great American poet Emily Dickinson, a recluse, noted
the freedom of her art and life in writing "to close theeyes is
travel" and that books are boats which take us on voyages. She
also wrote of her poetry as "my letter to the world which never
answered me".
Mail Art is one's letter to the world--and one which the
world answers back. My experiences in "the world within the
world" brought this home to me very vividly and deeply. Wherever
and whomever we are, we are not alone.
In the debates swirling around Mail Art in a time when some
are advocating the use of "art world" standards, values, prices,
sales, official recognitions, I say again--"refuse/refuse".
Once the juried standards and all they entail are
introduced, Mail Art will become another form of privatization.
In order to be acceptable, conformity will displace freedom. When
this occurs, it is the necessity of pleasing others that exists,
and no longer the nececessity of invention with what is presneted
on site, which extends beyond any boundaries of the acceptable.
In Mail Art there are no such acceptable boundaries other
than the few chosen limits of size, theme, due date/ongoing--
And in using refuse to refuse any other limits, one is ever
free to make use of each ones' found necessity, the motherfucker
of invention!

--david-baptiste chirot

Saturday, September 03, 2005


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