Zoning in, zoning out
Note: When I first met Edgar and Jose-Luis in Chicago some six years ago, and then again two years later, it seemed like we had known each other forever. Three nerdy, studious, politically minded Cali blokes far from home (they in Chicago, me in New Orleans) couldn’t talk fast enough to connect the dots between us historically, philosophically, politically, and poetically. And since meeting them, the range of accomplished publications they’ve both produced presented me with rich materials from which I felt I could engage them both — at the same time. I proposed we try a writing trialogue in which the three of us would bring forth our most current, rawest thoughts on what might be the next great poetic tasks of our epoch.
This trialogue ranges widely over issues of metapolitical poetics of this hemisphere. It is a concerted look into what a workaround of US-centric poetics might look like, how to imagine paths into a larger and deeper plane from which to think, speak, and be. My decidedly historical materialist outlook, always on the lookout to “sharpen the contradictions,” is uniquely counterbalanced and contrasted by Edgar’s deep understanding of Mesoamerican dimensions of story, language, and understanding of time. Jose-Luis’s lines of thought split “open veins” (see Eduardo Galeano) at every turn, keeping us in a frenetic present tense but with an eye towards futural tenses that are just now emerging. He right away launches us into what it might be like to think from an “Atlantean” perspective, “new compass points for creation myths about the undiscovered continent” where “entanglements, miasma, clouds of speech-acts, word clouds masquerading as people, the dreaded algorithm that measures our footsteps on daily runs with a phone watch strapped to our wrist” might constitute “nuevo puntos de observación” in which a radical alterity might arise. And so, the three of us hack away at “Atlantean” while heaping a dozen or so new stepping-stones to the notion of The Zone, an infrareality (“from Panama to Alaska”) that might act as a metapolitical horizon to our poetics. — Rodrigo Toscano
Jose-Luis Moctezuma: Ikniutin, amigos, homies: let’s start with creation myths. Edgar wrote a children’s story about Atlantis, and he recently wrote two riveting texts on the Popol Vuh (the K’iche’ Maya story of creation that provocatively situates creation in colonial crisis), one a mirror/mirroring epic poem and the other a book-long commentary, and I might start our thread here by asking about “mythistory” (a term which ethnopoetics scholar Dennis Tedlock would often invoke, and which Edgar also cites in his work, to reference those moments when myth and history interact as equals in the creation of historical consciousness) and its conceptual relationship to uncharted territories, to Atlantis, to holographic statehoods like “Aztlan,” to “Coatlicue states,” peripheries and boundary zones that four-dimensionally we sometimes only see the shadows of, poetically speaking. “Chronotopologies” is a term that comes to mind, albeit in a different sense than its coiner, Charles Muses, had in mind. Rodrigo, I’m thinking of a recent interview in MAKE Magazine with Cristian Gomez Olivares and what you call “political terrains that are largely uncharted”:
I believe that living in a condition of split consciousness, say, between a Latin American consciousness contrasted against an Anglo (or African or Asian or whatever) “American” perspective, casts momentary flashes of light onto political terrains that are largely uncharted. I’d even say that it’s those terrains that afford us fresh vantage points from which to see, sense, something entirely else. I mean, look at the terrible situation that we’re in right now, globally. People are reverting to nationalisms of all kinds.
“Nuevo puntos de observación” (“fresh vantage points”) in which a radical alterity arises? New compass points for creation myths about the undiscovered continent? What is this continent (let’s call it momentarily “Atlantis”), what is this alterity (let’s call it “Atlantean”), and are they tied to anything concrete or graspable in our present stew of things? (Entanglements, miasma, clouds of speech-acts, word clouds masquerading as people, the dreaded algorithm that measures our footsteps on daily runs with a phone watch strapped to our wrist, etc.)
Edgar, we worked on nahualismo before (and perhaps we are never not working on nahualismo), and in your children’s tale I see the dolphin-nagual as representative of the uncharted territory, Atlantis. This radical alterity we call nahualismo, nagualism, “algo completamente otro” (“something entirely else”) is a refutation of the petty stability of systems and nationalisms and ethnocentrisms. In Plato’s Critius, and in the Timaeus, Atlantis arises from oppositionality, a war game of oppositions — and I’m also thinking of Montaigne’s essay on cannibals, on the beginnings of anthropological relativism, on the colonialist construction of Caliban as a counternarrative for, equally, the narcissism of Eurocentric knowledge and the (equally narcissistic) self-regard of Eurocentric subjectivity, abridging Caliban’s own pathway to enunciative self-knowledge — but perhaps we can rethink all this under a different lens, the creation myth as a “seeing device” (ilb’al, as it’s called in the Popol Vuh), an apparatus for new formal logics in our ways of writing. Do we still have creation myths, and what are they? Is there a way in which they are not, as Rodrigo points out about Latinx poetix in the interview with Olivares, “¿insistiendo en la poesía de identidad étnica?” (“doubling down on ethnic identity poetry?”)
Rodrigo Toscano: Órale compañeros. Let’s go. The way I am hearing “mythistory” is metapolitics. Take “Aztlan,” for example, from the late ̓60s to early ̓80s (when Aztlan, or the origin place of the so-called Aztecs, referred, for many people, to a Chicano nationhood that was narrowly racial and patriarchal); this “holographic statehood” reached some level of operability for a realpolitik. I mean to say, it was a formative myth for some “Mexican American” folks who went on to later diddle with or actually torque the levers of power. But I want to jump-cut now to the motherlode of all mythistory/metapolitics moment of our epoch. Do you two remember the dynamo that was the Italian poet and master confabulator of “states,” Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938)? This bloke was the poet who whipped up the mythscape (and attendant ritual practices, i.e., the “Roman salute”) of an expanding imperial Italy. This protofascist “seer,” along with his protoblackshirts (long before Mussolini’s march on Rome), invaded Fiume (a former small town on the shores of what is now Croatia) and founded the “Italian Regency of Carnaro” with himself as Duce (the constitution made “music” the fundamental principle of the “state,” was corporatist in nature, and enabled the daily shit beating out of any dissenters). Without this magical bard, there’s no Mussolini (by Mussolini’s own account), and no backdrop for Hitler and his juvenile performance art of the early ̓20s. All this is to say that these “imagined peripheries and boundary zones” count for a fuck-ton. If metapolitics is the seedbed of realpolitik, poetics is the mulch of metapolitics. And how many poets in the US right now look at it that way? I’d say not many. Most US poets begin with themselves (their personhood, their identity) as the sole conduit of meaning-making. But the problem with that deficit of a larger vision is that if one doesn’t chalk out a geopsychic speculative poetics (from the ground up), someone else will do it for you. Another thing you said, Jose-Luis, about an “undiscovered continent” acting as a liminal space from which to imagine a place momentarily free of nation-state machine thought — to conserve that space as a functioning ontology — I find that quite alluring and potentially very operational. And as far as “creation myths,” I think that in our epoch, the ability (and desire and aim) to toggle furiously between cultural “mythistories” and hard science (please let’s not be Western chauvinists and call it “Euroscience”) might be fundamentally necessary for the construction of a protoglobalist “Atlantis” of the future, but by way of Autarkic Super Zones (our Zone being from Panama to Alaska?). And the ratio of that toggling (an accounting of that) is where we might get to know our relative positions as materialists or idealists. Though the only border that might actually count soon is the ozone. Still, I don’t think we can get to “global” in one leap. (Capital is more than happy to provide the ride.) OK. So, here, early in this trialogue, we’ve uncorked a barrelful of terms. Let’s maybe drill down substantially more. Here’s a prompt: compas, convince me that the Popol Vuh (which you, Edgar, have given us fresh new insight into), is somehow presently operational to a change-the-world politics.
Edgar Garcia: Hi, friends — thanks for the conversation and the constellation of topics. There are already more terms in play than may be needed to start talking. I’m hearing two questions that form something like a Gramscian inflection point: where we are now and why we are doing what we are doing. Those two questions are: Why not creation stories? And, hence: Why poetry? Atlantis has somehow trickled into the conversation and I think that is my doing. I am interested in Atlantis as a sort of creation story that is simultaneously a story of catastrophe — a genesis that doubles back on itself as apocalypse. In that regard, it may be the only creation story that counts for much of anything these days, as we head deeper into climate crisis, ensuing migration crisis (as more of Earth becomes uninhabitable), and the resulting social pressure on our political systems to think in terms of enfranchised migrancy — to consider the human presence of migrant lives. Those human movements are happening, and it is up to us to imagine the worlds in which such movement can signify horizons and not hells, social formations and not population crises (yes, we must do it, or they will do it for us — the evil ones, the deathly ones). It is the most pressing question of the present moment.
It is also the easiest question to misconstrue in terms of nation, state, identity, and community. We are pressed to imagine some way of relating outside our normal frameworks of belonging, the quickly available ones. The pressure to push out of that is because some terrible new thing awaits its birth — as Yeats might have said. I’m certain you feel it. I can tell that you do by the very excess of terms with which you both have tried to describe it. We don’t have its name because it’s only now being born, cresting as it were, while also carrying its five hundred years of mnemonic historicity. “The Americas” doesn’t quite name it, for obvious reasons. We might as well name this new thing after its father, some highborn but root-bruised Tarquin. No, it just won’t do. Now, while locusts a-wing multiply, and thick be their posterity, to whom shall we turn for our great reckoning? We are still coming to understand how the shift away from exhibition value for our art objects (who even wants to be seen these days?) pinpoints a new stage in how we see. I for one have become fascinated by the materiality of paint — its dynamic relation to light, minerals, vegetable matter, and human movement (my body as I move it to create what was erstwhile called the scene of crime that is the painting). We no longer need crime scenes — we need no more detention centers, material enclosures, physical abatements, immigrant holding cells. We need invisible movement — freedom and rights to move physically and intellectually. That’s tremendously aspirational, and perhaps only highlights how borders get animated with their legitimate and somewhat necessary ritualistic power, but it’s how I feel.
And why poetry? Because it’s been telling us this very thing for as long as I can see. One of the most inspiring things about the Popol Vuh, is that it situates creation in the crisis of colonialism. Unlike the Book of Genesis, for instance, the Popol Vuh doesn’t make the world out of cosmic darkness. Its originary darkness is explicitly colonialism — “here in the times of the preaching of Christ, in Christendom,” its authors write in 1702, just before they say they will bring light out of the darkness, the sun from its hiding place, the world back into existence. What kind of creation story begins in the very context of its attempted subjugation (in this case, the deep crisis of colonial transplantation, exploitation, and outright genocide)? Quick answer: A creation story that sees apparent apocalypse as only one more stage in an older and outlasting process of the moving world, teaching us how to see its manifold movements. Atlantean indeed. It is not “change-the-world politics.” It is “change-of-world politics.” And there is tremendous propositional shift in that prepositional shift. It is what I call migrant horizons, but there are certainly many other ways we could describe it.
Toscano: “Change-of-world politics” — I thought about that a lot in the last week. It stands in stark contrast to “change-the-world politics.” I feel, at a gut level, that it makes “change-the-world” seem like nothing short of a trap, trap politics. It’s true, “change” is already afoot, but in protean movements — of thought, and social practices, that are as yet without name. That is, those/these movements are of the world-in-change. And if one is to be midnight honest, there’s no discursive promontory from which to stand on and proclaim a battle charge against the world-as-is. This is another reason why I think poetic practices are well-positioned to closely sort through the elements of metapolitics. Also, Edgar, your “migrant horizons” concept I read as a vibrant variation on Nomadism, that is, a propositional subaltern political subject that’s built around people on the move, globally, and the “national” shitstorms that follow, which involve, well, everybody. Yes. I see the Atlantean dimension now. It’s a workaround polis, in a way, though not a refutation of the potentiality of polis, but a necessary pause on thinking that polis is “self-evident” (for example, assuming that ethnos is always central to demos within polis). And you know, I wasn’t aware that the Popol Vuh’s “cosmic darkness” is grounded on the actual moment of the Spanish cultural-economic conquest. It reminds me of the neo-Sumerian poem cycles that attempted a similar mundus-to-cosmos “rectification” of the world while in the midst of civilizational downfall.
But China is what’s on tap, wouldn’t y’all say? Its growth, influence, its growing ability to shape the globe’s material-economic horizons now and in the future, is what should inform the “Americas.” We wish China well, right? I do! I sincerely do. Yet we have to get our act together in this hemisphere, resource-wise, labor-wise, thought-wise. The “American Century” (imperium) is on the decline. Everybody knows it, consciously or not. And by “American,” what’s to be understood here is minor Americans (“make America great again”). But mere anti-MAGA politics is a dead end. I feel we need a positive vision. We (Atlanteans?) need a Greater American poetics (from Panama to Alaska, “The Zone”) to add energy to metapolitics that, at the end of the day, have a chance at infusing into realpolitik. Now, we’re not brujos (warlocks) here, the three of us, but by not taking up the role of projective griots (are we not partially cultural Africansin The Zone, too?), we evacuate that vital space (Atlantis) for backward-looking golems to define our present “mythistory.” So, can we say, let one thousand Greater American Poets Bloom! While, realizing, that most of that bloom in the US will wake to the death-frost of minor “American” institutional poetics (with “oppositional” POC in tow). In this way, we very well might have three fronts to continuously engage — one, to broadly push back against all protofascist nativist poetic maneuvers; two, to challenge stillborn “POC” schmoes doing mop-up work for the imperium in decline; and three, to remain cheery, polite, and open towards multifarious poetics not having to do with any front or flank of this new haggle around The Zone, that is, the extensivity of the hemispheric potential of our cultural productions.
Moctezuma: I want to return to Rodrigo’s declaration that “if metapolitics is the seedbed of realpolitik, poetics is the mulch of metapolitics.” I read this as referencing the uniquely capitalist myopia of socially mediated rituals of self-manufacture, or an identity-grounded poetics that relies on template, boilerplate, or overly professionalized forms of marketing the margins of voice precisely by keeping the margins luridly activated through self-replicating (and unconsciously self-parodying) conduits which conveniently restrict the sociopolitical force of poetry to superficies of representational affect. A poetics in which the operative rhetoric is still, Americanistically, a song of the self, but one which remains an ornamental language that does not dent the system in place, only addresses it in a flowering dialect of affirmation and indignation. Self-ownership is a good thing, a necessary thing (and a soon-to-become-rare-and-unpatented thing), but in the current market logic, it’s also instantaneously suburbanized and easy to isolate and entangle in the business of distraction and energetic online quipping. I agree with you, Rodrigo, that such maneuverings in the nascent “Zone” we’re attempting to limn demarcate a “deficit of a larger vision” in which any opportunity for a “geopsychic speculative poetics (from the ground up)” is often delegated or outsourced to other entities, media outlets, “influencers,” and “verified account” gatekeepers who select what’s legible or operational in a gig economy for spiritual autonomy. If you’re not already in the echelons of brand awareness, ya estas jodido (“you’re already fucked”). The metapolitical is literalized here in an extrasensory framing of the self as meme or memetic mulch for duplication, splicing, and lots-of-laughs. More parergon, in short; more packaging and boxing of sleek-designed literary barrios and special-interest topics that win awards from time to time; the “death-frost of minor ‘American’ institutional poetics” neatly hallmarked in best-of-the-year lists that service holiday shopping ideas. Is there something beyond mere consensus-formation and establishment-shifting that produces actual models or machines for procedures of truth? Truth is a bullshit term, yes, but maybe there’s something to say about perspective and perspectivism that deserves greater scrutiny beyond the swiftly institutionalized and commercialized appendages of prefab identity formation? What readerships or publics are we addressing here, and will they “smash that like button”? The “normal frameworks of belonging” are also the normative methods of surveillance, census-keeping, and world-preserving that resist and do not want to change; as above, so below.
In this respect, Edgar’s description of “change-of-world politics” and “migrant horizons” signals a welcome positionality in the language industry. Not just, more than just, poetry. A metapolitics of infinite creolization and migrant translanguaging. You mention China, Rodrigo, but China’s emerging imperium, for me personally, weirdly represents the abstract value of what it might mean for the Anglophone world to confront the necessity of learning another global language (if, for instance, we aren’t learning Nahuatl or K’iche’ in order to run a small business somewhere), to actually learn (or relearn) an imposed otherness, and for this change-of-world (change-of-imperium) to find itself secondary or tertiary in the algorhythms of self-languaging and data sovereignty, in the way our generation, and especially our grandparents’ and parents’ interlocking generations — and the ancestors whose names we fabricate under the planetary signs we happen to be embodied under — were first Spanished, and afterward Englished, into (here I borrow Edgar’s resonant phrase) a “root-bruised” existence, a radical alterity sundered by thresholds of nationspeak. The Zone is appropriately widened by a new metaenclosure involving a deepening Dialect of the Global in which national “firstness” and primacy is inherently absurd, unless it constitutes the skin and teeth of alternate futures still dormant in our seeing devices. (Here, I am evoking the purposiveness of Edgar’s visual triptych, a useful parergon for what migrant horizons are being invoked outside of the marketability of everything, something in search of cosmic darkness, “bright [darkness] increate.”)
I also want to repeat and affirm what Edgar says: “We need invisible movement — freedom of rights to move physically and intellectually.” I personally call this spectrality, becoming-spectral, not just a metamorphosis into ghost or nagual (not a ghost exactly, but an animal other that exists as a specter of the self until one day, after years of being haunted, you see the animal part of the so-called human reality), but to be of the color and data spectrum, in two senses of the term, the mobile spectrum, a wavelength that moves and switches light and color, and an information spectrum that encodes and algorithmizes. But I also think of spectrality as a strategy for ghosting the data-collecting and identity-segregating spectrum that tries to enclose you within the marketizable performances of the self. When the cameras see you, the trick might be that your hypervisibility blurs or refracts its range of vision, and then they don’t see you although you are there, because you are in fact disappearing — this might be a tributary force in poetry, the disappearance act, alchemies of invisibility — and the facial recognition technology collapses on itself, runs to ground, becomes, in fact, hypervisible to itself, and corrodes in the pool of its own speculation. The camera does not seek an identity for itself, after all; it must be absent or unacknowledged, thoroughly invisible, because it seeks instead to manufacture identities, generate stabilities of vision, and the poet deranges its field of vision precisely through a consummate in-visibility. If the theoretical Zone we’re cultivating in our trialogue is a continuum or spectrum of discrete values, can the poet be an agent of invisibility in the frequency spectrum that seeks to delimit their powers of expression into codified, heavily programmed languages?
Garcia: One of the greats we lost this year (in 2020) was novelist Rudolfo Anaya. Many people know him by his important work, Bless Me, Ultima. He also had a fantastic novelette travelogue called Chicano in China. There’s a wonderful quote from it that often comes to mind in these conversations, one certainly addressed to “raza” like himself: “Do not fear to dream of China.” It’s a twist away from the normative locations of Latinx literature, either as a subordinate category of US literary production or, even when amplified beyond a nation literature, as a subordinate category in a transatlantic Euro-American literary matrix that is often connoted when people say “hemispheric American literature” (i.e., when they say that and focus on the influence of surrealism in Latin America, the magical transmutation of realism in the hands of the midcentury novelists, the impact of Pound in surprising places, etc., etc.). One point of resistance to that, of course, is the network of Indigenous cultures and trans-Indigenous contact points that make up this hemisphere in its Indigenous, Latinx, and Latin American intellectual matrices. But another one — that is, the one Anaya is pointing to in that quote and that book — is the transpacific zone as both as a source of connection and problematizing. A recurrent mytheme for that book is the great migration across the Bering Strait that was once believed to be the source of the Indigenous populating of the American hemisphere (hence linking Asia and the Americas). I say once believed because the science no longer supports that easy answer alone — we now have evidence of cultural diffusion far into South America long before the Last Glacial Maximum allowed the bridge that connected North America and North Asia to emerge around twenty thousand years ago. That is, it used to be thought that the Clovis culture was the first cultural complex in the Americas (ca. fifteen thousand to thirteen thousand years ago) but now there is evidence that human occupation in the Americas began as early as thirty-three thousand years ago (for instance, the Chiquihuite Cave in Mexico and very old sites in Brazil at Serra da Capivara and other nearby sites in Piauí). We also now have evidence of ancient seafaring transpacific movement (material and genetic evidence of Polynesian and Aboriginal Australian movements across); and, just as importantly, there are plenty of stories that insist there was no such migration to the Americas, that is, that the original people of the Americas have origins here, sprouting directly from the land here like maize, squash, quinoa, tomato, pawpaw, pinto bean, or blueberry.
In any case, Anaya’s book is a tremendous effort to conceptualize Latinidad or even Americanidad as a type of world literature that does not then reaffirm the one world of Eurocentric literary and economic production, but looks instead toward the Pacific. There’s a similar move in Salish Kootenai scholar, anthropologist, and BIA bureaucrat D’arcy McNickel’s They Came Here First, subtitled “the Epic of the American Indian,” which begins with a stunning story of migrants troubled over the dream and necessity of migration. There are those among them who feel a vision of what is possible by migration, but there are also those among them who sense the danger, risk, and terrific uncertainty involved in migrating. These are extended kin networks, and there is much strain on the networks about whether to go and, in going, how to do so (or for how long to keep going). It’s only midway through the lengthy, gorgeously written opening that you learn these people are those ancient migrants who crossed the Bering bridge in pursuit of large game, and who hence spread in various subsidiary family and tribal lines to all parts of the American continent. It may be that some people did come that way, but certainly not all the people, and likely not the first ones. But, in any case, you see what I am saying here: we have resources for reconceptualizing hemispheric origins and the metapolitics (to take your term, Rodrigo) that emerge from such ideas of origination. I get the sense that McNickel wanted to get the social atmosphere of migration right — calling the world of those first ones “a world of rumors” — of rumors of a new world and even of a new worlding made possible by the effort of the quest. He may be wrong about how the Americas were first populated (he is writing in the 1940s), but he is spot-on about the feelings that make migration stories necessary: the speculation and change-of-world poiesis. In my reading, that is the great lesson from the migration stories of the Americas — ancient and contemporary. Another one that comes to mind, without much comment attached, is Gerald Vizenor’s Griever: An American Monkey King in China — and, suddenly, the writings of Craig Santos Perez, too.
Aside from that, I found it fascinating also that you each describe speculation in distinctly material terms, with your mention of golems, naguals, and even spectrals or ghosts of some kind. I’ve been wondering why these creature types keep coming up in your responses. And I think it has to do with the idea of the egregore, or something like that. For those that don’t know, the egregore is a concept that comes out of the Enochian magical tradition (i.e., John Dee and Edward Kelley, Elizabethan court magicians), and it is a kind of being that is created by the collective intention of a people. So you might think of the egregore as something like a zeitgeist, meme, or, as some people have done, a corporation and even money itself. In the idea of the egregore the “meta” of metapolitics becomes more than meta and indeed takes on a physical dimension in its material influence on actual situations and events. It becomes an influencer in The Zone. It can be construed in Hegelian ways, I suppose, but only if you can imagine Hegelian world spirit without world historical destiny and instead, something like vying spirits of time and locale in constant conjuration, alternation, and contestation. These are the spirit beings that arise in our actions but that are largely autonomous from our personal selves, reaching from and into the direction in which The Zone is going. I don’t know much about golems, but regarding naguals (aka wayeb in Yucatec Mayan), there is a necessary link between human and animal, and one might think of that link as the point of interpenetration between that which we control and that which we do not; between the personal self and the impersonal, animal forces that transit through dreams, inspiration, underworlds, otherworlds, deep time, Earth’s turning body, and indeed the collective madness of the humans who find themselves struggling to stay balanced on the Earth’s knee as she turns.
Toscano: And when humanity slips off that kind knee, it too often rolls into the gutters of prideful certainty, rots, and dreams up doctrines to ascend back onto that knee. And such metaphysical “descension” and “ascension” happen simultaneously (you grasp onto one, the other’s already ungrasping you). But while that saga plays itself out — if one remains very alert, there are “naguals” (incommensurable messaging) that clue us into local or regional or national or extranational egregores. And those “word clouds masquerading as people” (Jose-Luis), must rain down, one day or another. I’ve never thought about history or society in quite that way. Thank you both, for such an elegant framing of our current predicament!
Edgar, I’m captivated by your “migrant horizons” as coupled to Jose-Luis’s “metapolitics of infinite creolization and migrant translanguaging.” It strikes me that “infinite creolization” is the final hammerblow to ethnostate think. But that “blow” would mean that it has to land everywhere. Take a “Brit,” for instance. If you dig deep there, you’ll find a confluence of tribal interactions over time that make for a transitory indigeneity. That is, who’s not “native”? And indeed, who’s not a migratory entity? In the past, present, and future. And this is not to confuse that proposition with outright imperial colonization, as was the case with the European incursion into the Americas. Caveat notwithstanding, I’ll venture this quadratic postulation:
Originary is Migratory
Migratory is Originary
And societies are snapshots along the way. Could be thirty years, could be one thousand years. In this sense, calendric time can bugger off (though keen observation of the heavens has been quite a jolly thing to do). Brothers, I return to this: humanity’s in quite the pickle now. We’re trying to bring the human globe together, while not erasing or disempowering our regional, local realities. This vision remains a distant one, but, curiously, a poetic-proximate one at the same time. And that poesis I’d call a technology, recalling how Jerome Rothenberg named poets as Technicians of the Sacred. But not only of the “sacred,” by now, but perhaps we can expand that definition to Technicians of the Cross-Continental Indigenous Funkdom. So, all the egregores, metawhatevers, todo ese rollo (“all that rigamarole”), strike me still as starward-facing dances. That is, we still seem destined to face the mysterium tremendum to get to hard ground, our psychic fingernails encrusted with the tough mud we’ve transpersonally slogged through for millennia, inch by inch. Now, if only poets would stop relegating themselves to being mere adjuncts to discursive politics and would keep an eye on the possibility of also becoming proto-metapolitical griots of the present-future (yeah, we need new tenses). So, next time I get an impulse to write poetry, I might well ask, is humanity crawling out of its gutter once again to intone another round of mud-splattered verses as sacrificial offering to the unnamed egregores du jour?
Moctezuma: I’m stuck on — or floating on — Anaya’s incantatory quote: “One must not fear to dream of [other worlds].” As Sun Ra says, there are other worlds they have not told you of. The Pacific, for example, which has endured and resisted imposition and colonial framing, despite all the tactics and technics of naval intelligence, is intended to be dreamt of. The present-future tense of the Ocean, matrix of the migratory. I imagine a primary egregore might have been the one Melville devoted the first pages of Moby-Dick to, the etymological conjuration of the mythic, biblical Leviathan, the Hval (a sonic substrate of what you might call the whale but which is, in the substratum of sound, etymology, and poetry, the scandalously Scandinavian hval indeed). The sub-subchannels, frequencies of invisibility and limitless fluency, through which the Hval circuits and sounds its 40 Hz song. (Listen to the humpback whale speaking tongues somewhere near Maui, untranslatable except through a disassembling of our usual symbols and glottal stop-signs.) And Kamau Brathwaite might be invoking this in declaring that “the unity is sub-marine.” The Hval, representative of the Ocean or the oceanic (in the non-Freudian sense), might be a “present-future griot,” quite materially present, quite real in its weirdly phantasmatic or dedifferentiated embodiment — and yet still unearthly, suspended, oceanic in the sense of unmemeable (or unmemetic, that is, antievolutionary — in the Darwinian sense — conceptions of information) content; nature hanging in fluid as “Heraclitean fire.” The Hval is an instance of the sacred, an index of God in the sublunary vernacular, which poets were once quite good at netting and piecemealing into song without ever actually hunting it down or eating it — but perhaps the nagual’s anatomization has left us with parts and detritus and factoids, but very little sum. Hypervisibility has been a curse to certain animals, who have gone extinct in consequence. Like energy, they transform into other things, go unseen in forests of inattention.
But is the ocean an abstraction? Can we be grounded in dreaming fearlessly of the Pacific, the multitudinous shudder of waves, those inky depths in which vision and proprioception fail, but organisms accustomed to astronomical pressurization thrive? I’m not just speaking metaphorically of nations and statehoods, or of the Leviathan as an event horizon for our poetics, but about the possibility of returning to “ye olden myths” in a productive way (here, I am thinking of Rodrigo’s “egregores du jour”). On the one hand, I had signaled the doom and glamor of the digital ocean we swim in, the surveillance mesh in which we cultivate auras and shorthand fables with expiration dates under the semiosis of capital and markets; the pure speculation of futures-trading, the infernal egregore of Bitcoin, the gore-porn of zeros-and-ones; on the other hand, there is the actual ocean-element, the originary nonsite of creolization, where we can track the “change-of-world” in the Anthroposcenic sense, its cataclysmic rising, its massive islands of plastics, the actual literal temperature of the world losing its groundedness. Glissant writes that we can “imagine the disclosable aesthetics of a Chaos,” and it is in the disclosable aspects of chaos, an overstepping leap into the materiality of situations, that the shamanism addressed by a technology-of-the-sacred works best, an invitation to leap into an ocean of decolonial thought and survive the rupture, float upward in syllables of wreckage, swim in the undercurrents, regard one’s own death in the patterning of stars. In this respect, The Zone, however abstract, cannot be traveled to without an astrolabe. Not a system nor technique, but the thingliness of the local, the eminently finite, the potentially unresolvable chaotic agent. (Glissant’s “chaos-monde”?) To attempt an answer to Rodrigo’s question: we might need to imagine a technology for chaos that respects chaos for what it is, neither the opposite of the state nor the fetish-object of nationalist or anarchic violence (which emerges from a lust for the opposite of chaos: world-system, systems-theory, the latest lifestyle app, the privileged nihilism of boredom, etc.) — instead, a rhizomatic chaos of becoming. The lizard’s tail cut off, its momentary flourishing in the grass blades, its learning how to organize its gestures shortly thereafter, its eventual demise and calcification into symbol, into eikon. Is this travelling the sub-subchannels of speech, like the Hval, a disordered, fragmented speech that isn’t a private language but something else entirely?
Garcia: I’d like to stay with and amplify an important point that Rodrigo makes before winding around to Jose’s response. It’s so key, as you say, Rodrigo, not to confuse migrant horizon with colonial expansivity; that is, “And this is not to confuse that proposition with outright imperial colonization, as was the case with the European incursion into the Americas.” In emphasizing the migrant horizons of the contemporary moment, it is crucial not to forget the real claims of Indigenous people to land rights and rights of place. A poetics of migrancy must not erase Native Americanity. That’s just not a pathway to the needed restitution and justice on this hemisphere or any hemisphere, for that matter — we must not erase a fundamental relation between indigenous people and land rights. Certainly, many indigenous creation stories involve some story of migration, and historically we might understand so many people as all migrants at some time or another, but that shouldn’t then let one equate European migration (i.e., invasion) with the inter-American migrations of the pre-Columbian times. I’m agreeing with you here but staying with the point for emphasis. And it’s important to emphasize because there are present and active native claims to land in the Americas that require our forceful support of their claim to native sovereignty. I don’t want that necessary and necessarily defensive position of Indigenous land rights to be lost in our enthusiasm for intellectual and ethical values of migrancy.
So while the Popol Vuh is a work of world literature, with its own sense of what makes up a world, and thus affecting what is the world of world literature; it has also been a key document cited in the “Declaration of Iximche” — the 1980 denunciation of the massacres in Guatemala that draws a straight line from the theft, brutality, and massacres of the warlord Pedro de Alvarado to contemporary theft, brutality, and massacres of Maya people in Guatemala under an economically exploitative political regime. Likewise, it appears in the communiques of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) such as the 1998 “Fifth Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle,” which explicitly connects Seven Macaw and his sons (villains in the Popol Vuh) to the contemporary neoliberal governance of Mexico and its police and law apparatuses, again citing the Popol Vuh as its evidence of an exploitative system emerging from colonialism. And still more recently in 2012, the political group called the “Abejas,” or “bees of Acteal,” who seek justice for the massacre in the Mexican city of Acteal in 1997, issued an urgent communique calling for the recognition that the military state and complicit supreme court of Mexico are present-day avatars of Seven Macaw’s sons. And they go so far as to compare Seven Macaw to the Mexican state, calling him (and it) “a lord of the underworld” that has been their source of suffering “since the time of the Spanish conquest.” So while such works as the Popol Vuh are world-bearing works with the full force of reckoning needed to rethink contemporary life in hemispheric, migrant, translingual environments, they’re also profoundly important to local struggles, situations, events, and schemes.
There is no easy resolution to this dichotomy, but then again, the Popol Vuh itself teaches us not to expect easy resolutions — to learn to live collaboratively and productively in the constant contradiction, the endless opposition, the nonsynthesizing (i.e., nonhybridizing) dialectic, dialectical irresolution, the open question of overlapping parts. And, yes, Rodrigo, it also proffers the idea that originary is migratory and migratory is originary, as the first human people of the Popol Vuh have to embark on a long walk before they figure out their peoplehood.
And that seems to me to loop back to the question of the animal part that Jose brings up. In the Popol Vuh the animal cry is actually quite frustrating for the creator gods because it does not have enough contradiction in it; it does not reflect their sense of a world in constant critical juncture — the crisis and the creativity that come out of that. Before they make humans these gods make the animals, but they are upset that the animals speak in perfect self-enclosed wholes. In other words, these are creators for whom creation must begin with a real sense of crisis, of emergency, of contradiction and critical tension. So after they make the animals who speak rather too perfectly, absorbed with the natural world as such, they keep trying with creation until they make the humans.
Whales are obviously global creatures, living migrant lives that traverse oceans the world over. But they are also astonishingly local creatures too. One of the surprising features of whale song is how it can be intergenerationally learned, so that whales who have never before been to a particular place will know the whale song that is sung there, presumably learned from an older family member. Whale song also travels far distances, through deep sound channels that can stretch from the southern Pacific Ocean up to its icy north. I guess these are further instances of a creature complex in its orientations both global, translingual, suboceanic, and ineluctably local — while also, importantly, historical. (Of this fact I think those Popol Vuh gods of creative criticality were being a little deceptive, breathing on our mirrored vision, as they might say.) Those deep sound channels have been disrupted by the loud noise that human ships make across the ocean. I wonder how their music has fared differently in these recent times of arrested movement, human quarantine, and the general quieting down of interhemispheric and transoceanic traffic? The ocean is not an abstraction. But I believe it certainly knows how to abstract.
Thinking to the other side of the Pacific (and this only reflects some of my own recent and rather limited reading and growing interest in the texture of Japanese representation of the natural world, and is not at all representative of any cultural totality), visual emblems of such material oceanic knowledge might be seen in the art of Hiroshige, Hokusai (of course, after which two generations of artists were too cautious to really represent the oceanic, excepting maybe Hasui, until …), and Miyazaki. And here we are doing what we do while the whales also go on in their physical and intellectual circuits.
Toscano: 1994 — egregore! Bellowing in our midst, still. That’s when the Zapatista Army went public with their first Lacandon Jungle declaration (January 1, 1994). It’s also the very same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. I had been working for about a year before with cross-border solidarity organizational efforts against that treaty. My work involved linking US trade unions to community groups along the Mexican side of the border. The border-facing colonias were already having to deal with what amounted to a mass (engineered) “migration” from southern agricultural regions. You see, in 1992, the Mexican congress, largely at the behest of Wall Street, passed legislation aimed at watering down Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution (guaranteeing the fundamental economic and cultural rights of the ejidos,the landholding community-owned collectives), and that opened the way for the privatization and commercialization of those lands. The abrogation of Article 27 not only rendered the peasants’ political gains (stemming from the Mexican Revolution of 1910–17) effectively moot, but it also herded and tenderized a shocked workforce that would itself be downscaled years later. Entonces, Ikniutin/homies, aquí estamos, hasta aquí llegamos.(“Here we are, this is as far as we’ve come.”) Trumpismo’s Ur-egregore is not the T-man itself but 1994 (with a boost from the 2008 financial crises). The dislocations and dispossession of workers on both sides of the sides of the border is (as we now say for lingering Covid symptoms) Long Haul.
You both summon the Pacific Ocean, which I haven’t been thinking of, even less dreaming about, these last two decades (being originally from San Diego), but I love the object-oriented ontological status that you give it. The Gulf of Mexico is what now continuously grounds me, speaks through me, here in La Nouvelle-Orléans. So I’ll speak from here (can’t likely otherwise). Talk about Atlantean! We’re already at twelve feet below sea level, and it’s projected to be an additional fourteen feet in just a few decades. Some of my wife’s family comes from towns down the delta that don’t exist anymore but in memories and old maps. But this is also the northernmost nexus of the Caribbean Cultural Complex, as well as the entry point to Turtle Island, this continent. So what amazes me about the way you both think is how you alchemize new tolerances for multiple worlds and thus change-of-worlds (Roberto Harrison’s poetics also comes readily to mind in this sense). You know, back in the late ̓80s, I was enthralled somewhere along those lines. I remember even studying the Kumeyaay language place names for most of the major landmarks in San Diego County/Condado de Tijuana. I knew well over a hundred such place names, what they meant, all the way to Ensenada, where my mother’s family hailed from. This perspective and reach for subalternity by way of a psychogeographic transpositioning did help me become a materialist in a rudimentary way, though not yet in a fully dialectical way. Just as I was having to contend with the noncreolization that was happening all around me, the persistent ethnic divisions all around (my high school had been a model of rank segregation), an internal hegira of potential “infinite creolization and migrant translanguaging” was calling out to me, though I was only murkily aware of it at the time. So, what happened? What happened was this, this, right here, right now, this nomadism sin fin,but one with a core civic refoundational task: to undercut Capitalism’s anarchotyrannical grip on Chronos. I became increasingly enflamed by the idea that to get to an effective metapolitics, or poetic relays into the heart of the matter — the uncoupling of Capitalist Time from Space would be needed. And there was indeed an ocean of poetries out there pointing to such a hunch. Very markedly, this meant that poetics would henceforth be prioritized over “explanations” of current epochs. I thought, and still think, that the quadrangularities of received discursive thought do as much harm as good. And by my employing the word “anarcho,” you might sense that I see atomization and hyperscrambling of personhood as the principal dynamic by which the system keeps its power — in the US, at least. Other systemic polar nodes (Russia, China) employ other methods.
But, at this point, it merits pointing out that the system (through “Big Tech”) has its own version of “infinite creolization and migrant translanguaging” for the purpose of unmooring peoples from their cultures and customs and redirecting those energies towards data strip-mining in order to expand markets. That’s why I agree with you, Jose-Luis, that “the thingliness of the local, the eminently finite, the potentially unresolvable chaotic agent” can be one of those poetic instantiating tasks (“relays”) that lends itself towards the construction of a metapolitics that both resists perpetual (“anarchic”) destabilization while embracing maximum fluidity in psychically crossing national and governmental borders, including the delusional borders of “race” itself. At the beginning of this trialogue, I asked you, Edgar, why the Popol Vuh has relevance for our day and age. And, more or less, the three of us have been weaving paths around that question. And by way of our shared nomadism, you were able to crystalize it like this: “the Popol Vuh itself teaches us not to expect easy resolutions — to learn to live collaboratively and productively in the constant contradiction, the endless opposition, the nonsynthesizing (i.e., nonhybridizing) dialectic, dialectical irresolution, the open question of overlapping parts.” And I find that hopeful in that “dialectical irresolution” can mean that neither the past nor the future are regnant over being-as-becoming; and yet, tenses, creolized tenses, one might say, like “present-future,” are afforded real play in imagining submarine concepts like The Zone. Perhaps we can now begin to surface more freely from the distortions of nation-state mythologies and radically reevaluate the time frames we’ve been relegated to living the last few hundred years. And to do this alongside peoples who’ve been here a long time is key, while at the same time paying close attention to those cultures that were stranded here voluntarily or involuntarily by the machinations of imperium. To speak in tenses as yet without names, to embrace perilous journeys towards forms of being on the cusp of becoming.
Garcia: And I’m sensing so many divergent paths on that journey. One path leads to the problematics of destabilization as regards metapolitics, politics, and poetics of the Americas. The issue comes back around to an affirmation you conjured early on, Rodrigo: “We (Atlanteans?) need a Greater American poetics (from Panama to Alaska, “The Zone”) to add energy to metapolitics that, at the end of the day, have a chance at infusing into realpolitik.” And maybe, in that very spirit, I want to add even more probative energy to that proclamation; that is to say, to end on an open note by which we three (I feel) are mutually inspired — that is, to keep the question open as wide as possible, a poetics of dialectical irresolution and prompting collaboration — as Jose says, starting and ending in the mirror of creation stories, that is, as it were, zoning in and zoning out.