Symposium on Territory

ImageI traveled to Naropa University early last week to participate in this discussion with Craig Santos Perez, Kass Fleisher, and Juliana Spahr on territory. I was thrilled by the invitation back in the winter, since territory is one of the primary things I think through in a broad vein of my work. How is a space overwritten and transformed for us by the various, contentious, and overlapping histories and interests that render it visible to us? How do we participate in and move through these terrains?

The first night was the panel discussion, at which the four of us gave statements. I presented first on my relationship to KOREA as a diasporic subject. Juliana detailed the spaces she has written from/about/to across her body of work and some of her thoughts about her authorial decisions. Craig offered a rich historical framework for thinking about incorporation and the organization of spaces from a federal standpoint. Kass presented a spatialized framework for how different regions of the brain house and communicate trauma.

The second day, we each held workshops. I was very interested to see our various teaching styles at work. Our workshops were only 45 minutes long. I had struggled in my preparations for this workshop…it seemed short for me to get into a solid writing exercise, and I didn’t want to lecture. Without any shared texts or contexts for discussion, I worried that a dialogue might be too shallowly construed. I ended up deciding to treat this like an opening foray, an introduction to a type of writing practice.

I had asked my genius friend Sha LaBare if I could develop something from the ecography writing practice he designed, and he was incredibly kind and sent me some helpful materials that I pared down for the workshop attendees. I designed a parallel writing mode for the class, a terragraphy, which I introduced. My second book, Underground National, is a terragraphy (in hindsight).

During the evening, we each read. I was originally slated to read second, but there was a last moment switch, and so I opened the evening again.

I was introduced by one of the most generous statements by Angel Dominguez, a former UC Santa Cruz student now at Naropa. I remembered him from when I was in Santa Cruz a year ago. I have my eyes on him.

I felt stifled by the podium. I wanted to look into everyone’s eyes, but a spotlight made me feel as though I were speaking to a warm ocean churning softly in the distance. Am I alone? I felt my attention strive to reach out across the full span of the space, how it constantly collapsed back into my own body, the warm bright honey light on my eyelashes.

Kass read next. She shared from some notes. It was a free-style monologue describing in some detail a traumatic event that happened to her. She was agitated, upset. I mirrored these sentiments. I felt anxious, nervous, alarmed by her presentation. She was in a state of peril. She kept speaking. Several people left. I didn’t understand what had happened to us all. It was messy. The room was filled with an electric charge afterwards.

Bhanu rose with lightning eyes. They mirrored the alarm of what had just happened, streamed it back into a course of events.

Juliana read after a short break. She described her participation in several occupy actions in the Bay Area–actions that she brought her child to. Her work constantly reflected back upon her actions, narrated them with a flat-lined factuality.

Craig closed the evening with three pieces, two of which will appear in his forthcoming book. He drank a full glass of water. He was charming, he ventriloquized history, he cracked jokes. He glowed with good health. He described spam, it’s colonial and military arcs.

I learned a lot from my visit. I learned that I do not fare well in dry environments. I had a troubling dream my first night there. A friend was dying after having elected to transform their body’s interior into honeycomb. Everyone kept telling me it was too difficult to save them. There was nothing to be done. I felt without hope and small, crying before my friend’s seeping body.

I haven’t been able to sleep the night through since I’ve been back. Something is being set loose in me, maybe calving. I am restless. The other night, Rae Armanteout described restlessness as the impatience for what you don’t know will happen.

I saw how a community conversation could be infiltrated, filled up by one person’s preoccupations. I saw systems and histories break open to me but continue in their same courses. I saw myself blinded and speaking out of a body that limits my view.

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