Ethos

(What follows is an excerpt from a larger ongoing piece of writing)



I am a learner1 from East Palo Alto, CA.2

Learning as a thing one does in interdisciplinary, interspecies, and interstellar communion.


At the top of 2019, I sat down to google docs and a series of handwritten notes to draft yet another artist statement. The goal: write something that captured everything I had done, everything I was about to do, everything I know I want to do, and everything I don’t even know I want to say. And to do so with such tidy precision that the artist statement will have utility well into the future.

This was a speculative mathematical task - to solve for not yet known things. But, I dove in with the unencumbered eagerness. I would slay non-specificity, predict the future, and create a self-perpetuating sentence that would always hold the language to articulate my current art practice.

After twenty-four months with no end in sight, the artist statement had grown into a sprawling embodied essaything that stretched across my ISCP studio walls. I had arrived not where I’d expected. I had written/drawn about the myth of comprehensiveness, or maybe the seduction of closure - finishedness. In essence, I said that I create work about what is borne from surrendering to the impossibility of completion.



On Thursday, January 14, 2021, 8:14PM, I was doomscrolling and came across a poem. I screenshot the text. It was Lucille Clifton’s 1974 poem, i am not done yet (1974).

I texted the poem to a few friends and jokingly said, “this is my artist statement.” No one disagreed, partially, I believe, because they were tired of hearing about this phantom statement, and maybe because they trusted that Lucille Clifton was a better articulator that I might ever be. I tucked the poem away. I returned. I kept thinking about the word “yeast,” and I needed to do something about it. As it transitioned from a casual interest into a hyper-focused spiral, I read about yeast. Clifton, a poet, is also a bit of a magician, and certainly a scientist: she does so much with the word “yeast” and the assertion: “as possible as yeast.”

Her sublime use of the word yeast made me think about a physics question: can a container hold more than its volume? Or to put it in terms of language, can a word carry/labor in ways that seem beyond its capacity? We often talk about “freighted language,” but in this case, I want to know more about the physics of language. How much meaning can a word hold?




We often think of words as having capacities or parameters defined by etymology, previous use, context, etc. However, I believe poets know that they are always stretching words to hold more than what was previously thought imaginable.

So yes, I am enamored by her use of the word “yeast,” but more so by her range.


When they ask what I do, I will tell them that I am “as possible as yeast.” This is the self-perpetuating line I was searching for. Thank you, Lucille Clifton, for the reminder that we must commit to the possibility, not necessarily the known. Indeed, I, too, “am not done yet”.


In the spirit of “i am not done yet,” I have not had a website for several years. When I returned to the task, I began to think about what I wanted this space to do.

An autocorrect moment3 reminded me that the website I was building was a bit like forest.

A website that like a forest is also a leaky4, living5 ecosystem6: a perpetually unfinished index of my sprawling practice.7 As Clifton reminds us, “i continue to continue.”


My inquiries are ecological.

I create networks of iterative and provisional projects. I speak to an aliveness, or what Katherine McKittrick call as "black Atlantic livingness"; what Christina Sharpe advises us to do, which is “think and imagine laterally across a series of relations in the hold, in multiple Black everydays of the wake”; how Alexis Pauline Gumbs invites us to “[l]et this text be as alive as you are alive.”; Fred Moten’s suggestion of “the openness of the work, its internal sociality as well as the social relations of its own production...this refusal to coalesce, this differential resistance to enclosure…”; and of course Octavia Estelle Butler’s offer of the “primitive hypertext.” A living.


This website does not attempt the impossible (and undesirable) labor of gathering the “wayward” bits of my practice into a tidy narrative.8


Instead, this website is a sincere invitation to explore a casual representation of processes, projects, and proposals. This is an invitation to wander through a series of unfinished utterances.

It is to say, “I can’t be A comprehensive sentence.”



To be concerned about living is to be a learner invested in the poetics, politics, and pleasures of the unfinished, or the still coming into being. To be enchanted by the now, the here, but also the imminency that Clifton points at.



And I think about this imminency in the context of Black vernaculars related to time and measurement.



My favorite black unit of measurement is “finna.” I was finna do x or y. It is anticipatory. It is a two-syllable articulation of imminence.

Having lived in South Africa on and off, I grew fond of the time measurement, “now now” which is an intentionally vague and relative time measurement that indicates an imminence, a possibility.



And of course, my favorite vernacular of imminence, the infamous Insha'Allah. I heard this growing up so much. Insha'Allah literally means “if God wills it.” While it indicates divine imminence, we Muslims sometimes use it to politely say no.


In the summer of 2018, I published an artist book. It was not until the books crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sat on shelves, and went on to be purchased that we noticed some errors. It was immediately pulled off the shelf and I melted into a pool of anxiety. At the top of 2019, a new round of funding allowed me to reissue the book. We reissued a newly revised publication which swelled in form, content, and concept in late 2019. It had the same name, No New Theories, and I spoke publicly about this vulnerable revision process. I wanted to know that revision does not have to be a sneaky and private ritual, but a public ritual or relearning and ultimately surrender.



Now in 2021, I am working on yet another iteration of this text to build another layer of annotations. Why keep overwriting a text and revising? Because I consider the practice of publication to not be a process of sharing a final and unalterable object into the world, but rather a practice of offering a substrate for emendation, revision, call-and-response, iteration, and even complete undoing. Texts being unfixed and agile are living organisms in constant flux (of intended meaning, of interpretation, etc.). As such, texts are leaky and porous, living on through intertextual and interdependent relationships.


As I work through the third iteration of this book, I am thinking a lot about Umberto Eco, who, in his discussions of the “text as a lazy machinery,” also points us toward “inferential walks” and the "ghost chapters tentatively written by the reader.” No text is ever complete; it always to be revised by the author or the readers.

Revision is returning to the scene of presumed certainty. Revision is a recognition of the impossibility of comprehensive knowing.





Source: www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/08/06/ask-ethan-how-can-we-see-so-far-away-in-such-a-young-universe/?sh=7c9608021ddc


Revision is also an orientation toward leakiness: a refusal to close oneself off from the influence of past, present, or future learning. It is a ritual of being on the move, looking again, looking again again, talking back...Like a vibrating page - the words never settle.



If the words never settle and we are consistently engaged in acts of [un]learning, than that means I must stay attuned to generative and interdependent Black storytelling methodologies that nurture us in ways of reading, writing, speaking, listening, archiving, and knowing that challenge finality, enclosure, fixed meaning, and the death of capture.9


I want to tell a story in words, sounds, images, movement, rituals, diagrams, etc. And I need that story to be subject to change as I [un]learn. I want to offer leakiness as a liberatory technology--leakiness or the porous boundaries between rituals (syncretism); leakiness or the porous boundaries between bodies of text (intertextuality); leakiness or the porous boundaries between modes of communication (across language systems, across substrates, across species, across disciplines, across temporalities).

Leakiness is a politics of intimacy: an invitation to wander and wade in the wet; to touch and make anew what has not been made solid; to [un]know and [un]learn; to return to the scene of presumed certainty for revision.

Leakiness is a kind of interdisciplinarity, or a yearning to move, to be alive in many ways - to be without the grasp of a body of knowledge or a narrative arc. It is to be imminent in ways that exceed the predictability of a singular discipline.


In Dub: Finding Ceremony (2020), Alexis Pauline Gumbs reminds us of a conversation Sylvia Wynter has with Katherine Mckittrick:



This “alternative challenge” Wynter’s mentions here is what I am interested in. The challenge of telling a story of my ancestors in Northern California as a story of physics, invasive species, music, and more...and for this story to not be a sociological study, but something else unto itself. I often joke about genre fugitivity.


But genre fugitivity does not get to all of this. It is more about the challenge Wynter puts in front of us. This challenge brings me to  Jeunes Chercheurs (1972) where Roland Barthes offers us this:


Barthes is only saying what McKittrick has said in Diachronic loops/deadweight tonnage/bad made measure (2015).



Yes, “relational knowledges.” Relational knowledges that give us space to read laterally across disciplines and canons. Reading laterally to build networks between ways of knowing that have been long forbidden as kindred narratives, or nurture what Octavia Estelle Butler called “primitive hypertext”.



Butler, Octavia, and Samuel Delany. “Octavia Butler Samuel Delany.” Science Fiction-Media in Transition, August 29, 1998. Link



1.
I mean learning as a process of radical slowing down/deceleration in the context of almost compulsory acceleration under the current conditions; an attentiveness to a velocity that allows for a patient and nuanced reading; an engagement with curiosity, serendipity, improvisation, and tangents. Learning is a persistent reminder of the shifting ecologies of what it means to know something.







2.





3.








4.
when content + concept exceeds / outgrows / leaks out of / spills out of ... existing forms, find new forms? - or consider the content+concept to be ahead of even itself. form scurries behind your ideas. even the sentence as container is anachronistic










5 + 6.










7.

Morrison, Toni. Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature (1989)











8.




















9. Traces, Signs, and Symptoms of the Untranslatable.” E-Flux. E-Flux, April 2020.



































































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