The text was inspired by an encounter with a diorama in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2009
A MOVEMENT WITHIN THE CURSED SPACE OF THE MEMBERSHIP IDEA
Something like thick fog creeps out of my eyes, ears, mouth, and nostrils. Leaking out of me in clouds. Clouds through which I see nothing. I persuade myself to observe without focus or goal. Looking for nothing. I’m floating in fog. I feel lost and as a human lost I respond with anxiety. Thanks to what I’ve experienced so far, I can understand this anxiousness as part of a pattern I’ve learned. I translate the impulse to run or hide into curiosity, a driving pull to explore the unknown—not to get to know it but to try to un-know more. I try to have no clue of my past, no memory informing what I think and feel in my forsakenness.
I hear a voice coming over the radio telling me to collect a mirror and a wire, an apple, batteries, a light bulb, duct tape and at least 50 cm of a thread of some kind and return with all of it to the radio. The voice tells me how to combine and arrange these things to build a sort of apparatus with a screen on which I’m supposed to see the body to which the voice is speaking. The voice speaks feverish and produces images of what is visible only to the feverish. I remember to have been named. I remember to have been called names. I see numbers of ghosts. And I see countless schemes.
With my look into the mirror-screen, I see my body. A glimpse of a whole and unified image in clearly contoured, continuous form. A visual observation that is incongruent to the sense I have of this ever-changing mass of pleasures and pains, awake and tired indifferences, with a weight too great to carry at times and not heavy enough to keep me from being blown away at others. My body’s material and sensual diversity with its vast and miniscule hills and dells, dry plains, and wet holes, desires, and boredoms, virtuosities and dysfunctions lack the coherence and integrity of its mirror image. The body’s shape I see forms the morphological matrix seemingly making it necessary to learn an idea of belonging and identity. Belonging to a species, race, gender, class and family. Identifying with similarities. For a moment it feels right, necessary and even good to be able to identify myself, to possibly be identified by others. But when my actual many-layered complex and instable body crashes into its flat image misunderstandings are unavoidable. The mechanisms of recognition propose affiliation, separation, and territories with inclusions and exclusions. In short, my self-recognition is an inadvertent part of my own entrapment. Trapped in my own prison of identification I start to understand that the thing in the mirror is the beginning of all the spooks I saw in my fever. My image is the limit of my own potential multiplicity and self-determination. My image is one cogwheel in a cultural setting I would like to call from now on the cursed space of the membership idea.
To escape my own conspiracy with the mirror I have to let go of detecting my own trace, lose interest in making myself known, even to myself. I have to let go of my self-description to make space for self-invention. Until now my self-descriptions are based on a language that delineates the differences between me and others, me and my parts, me and all that has ever influenced me, made me who and where I am right now, between me and the things that have transformed into me. Language that creates, defines, isolates and normalizes could once—I was still a child—be destroyed by language itself. It was destroyed by cutting it up, by dropping parts, by mixing and by the invention of new elements. Nonsense attacked the empire of naming. And then, since nonsense is inextricably bound to sense, this nonsense simply pointed back at the normalizing institution of naming and fed its power. The language I have to use to create non-constricting ideas of myself is a language that is fragmentary, flux, instable, unacceptable. I have to reorganize the language used to work against my momentariness. Transforming the language I describe myself with is vitally important for a bigger necessary transformation of what the mirror wants me to see as the natural order of things. I need a language in which I can perceive bodies—human and non-human—the way they are and not the way I was told to see them. To escape my own mad mirror conspiracy I have to let go of naming. After a period of renaming myself in decreasing intervals, re-appropriating monster, fagot, man, idiot, looser and others, I’ll try non-naming for now.
As one of many refusing a name I’m starting to move across the borders and territories created by names. And when I say I, I mean the sum of my multiplicities and all the other multiplicities of all the other bodies—human and non-human—that I will become. And when I say we I’m not declaring a membership by an unsolicited inclusion of others into my narrative. I use we as a place-maker, an opening, a proposition for a joint movement where we are not necessarily moving together but all of us are moving at the same time.
The skies above are clouded from all the fog that is ascending from our midst. Vaporized memory and projection. Clouds are their own real things. Winds are rising. Winds generated by the pulsating multiplicity in every individual moving. Winds are their own real things. Maps are no longer mistaken for the territories, now that territories are dissolved by collective motion. Traveling is the beginning of a movement whose outcome will be to give the least profit to anyone. Sharing is the beginning of a movement whose outcome is the loss of power. A shared vibration hovers above the blanket of clouds. In the falling dark this vibration can be vision. I hum knowing that humming organizes bodies—human and non-human—into horizontally moving swarms. Humming is the carpet on which we advance, transfer, rest. The membership ideas try to reinforce the concept of normal and nation but the sound of all of our humming muffles their screaming advertisements
I never had to prove to be worthy of a proper name. I was given the membership by default because I was born a white male. The commission to decide over names and status sits in the cursed spaces of the membership idea. I was still a child long before I met other bodies—human or non-human—who were called names to keep them in certain places when I started to be called names I couldn’t relate to. I was told I had no place because I was not behaving like what I was named as and it was then that I started to learn about the cursed space of the membership idea.
One of the dynamics that made the membership idea grow for the last many thousand years is the fact that each member is driven by the desire to imitate fellow members by mimesis. Desiring sameness is one of its main ingredients. Desiring the same is the next one. One member’s desire becomes all members’ desires. The things that are desired are not desired for their worth or beauty or sustenance but because they are desired by the other members. These things can become a matter of envy and competition, which easily further develop into outright enmity. The significance of non-members as part of the membership idea became obvious to me because unlike things, which are mostly possessed individually, members can share their disdain, revulsion and hatred for non-members. Thanks to the non-members, members can mimic the others’ hatred and can unify as kinship, nation, identity, army, authentic group. After following the idea that one has to enter the arena in which a majority discusses their issues, to become part of the discussion and to be finally granted membership and its benefits, I understood that entering the arena, learning the languages and attitudes of the permanent members will enforce the arena’s idea of leading culture and therefore stabilize the idea of the non-member. Trying to fit in and pass—temporarily appearing to be something that I actually am not—I discovered to be contra productive in this context. After begging for visibility, recognition and freedom, fighting sometimes peacefully and at other times with the necessary violence, I lost hope and voice and faith time after time. Around the world, countless lives have been destroyed because they were othered by the membership. Continents and cultures have been concurred, land has been destroyed and inhabitants have been enslaved, raped and swept away. Political opponents, free thinkers, queers, women and other bodies—human and non-human—were burned at the stake or starved to death under forced labor by the cursed space of the membership idea.
I’ve realized that accepting any name made me a part of the foundations of all membership ideas, a collective reality fuelled by mainly unconscious and unacknowledged desires of those seeking membership. Now I have to act against my own complicity. This time I don’t want to become a member. And when I say I, I mean the sum of my multiplicities and all the other multiplicities of all the other bodies—human and non-human—that have been given or have been called names against their will. I’m learning from the cloud and the wind. Moving carefully slow I will not trample others. I will not march. Neither will I start a revolution. Revolution is a word in the language of the membership-idea. Even if it describes a turnover from low to high, out from under, to overcome, it uses the language of top and bottom. Revolution is an idea related to power. No revolution in history has ever gotten rid of the membership idea itself. For me, it is time to be nameless and without a place of origin. Time to be free of genesis. My dissipation shall cause disturbance within the membership-idea because members use me to describe themselves. As a result, the members lose their self-images if they can’t compare it to their image of the non-members.
The society of members, well armed and equipped to protect their territories against infiltration and penetration, doesn’t know how to react to my disappearance. They will have to create new non-members within their own ranks to regain and maintain their identity. Since the membership idea is built on exclusion the number of members will dwindle with increasing velocity. It won’t take too much time for the arena members to erase each other and for the headquarters of naming to become constellations of crumbled bricks, ruins on an open field lit by all the suns and moons. It might take some hundred years. It might take forever. I might make it happen tomorrow. I’ll try to be movement and event. I’ll try to be not human and not tied to the rules of human-centrism, I’ll try not to be animal, neither obliged to follow those rules. Not being insider nor outsider, neither female nor male, not child or parent I’ll try to be both, individual and in the collective something outside of my total control. Fantastical, persuadable, instable, fluctuating, inconsequent imaginary. I’ll try to be a different idea of presence, relationships, and responsibility.
Now I pull apart the receiver construction and with it the voice from the radio. I use the batteries for my flashlight, for I will wake through the night. I’m still feverish, excited and weak. I will eat the apple later. The wire and thread I keep. I have no use for a light bulb since there is no electricity except in the air. I can ignore the mirror. It turned blind.
Parts of an early version of this text were used in a commissioned performance called You Didn’t See Me from 2010, shown at Ausland in Berlin as part of Tanz im August. (Video stills, Ulrike Melzwig)