Naturally, the print freak in me is intrigued by a new word: gapencillitin, a word from the Garifima people, an African-descended minority group quoted by Dwight Conquergood in an essay about Performance Studies called “Interventions and Radical Research.” Gapencillitin are the folks who always go around writing everything down. My father was a good example with his little pocket-notebooks and mechanical pencil (which doubled as an earwax excavator) noting what photos he took, the names of the people (sometimes misspelled), engineering and geological facts, and so on. It was a diary and an expense account. He rubberbanded the notebooks into chronological groups and stored them in a trunk. When he died, they all went straight to the dump.
Print, in its administrative and industrial aspect, is supposed to be separated from “literature” which is seen as an investigation of the soul, an invocation of the creative, a way of recording the wisdom of the ages and the heroism of the past. All very intransigent, ineffable, and transcendent. But distinctions and groupings are still the essence of the academic management of knowledge, and it’s usually rather late in life that the educated finally realize that they’ve been kept on a reservation. That there other bodies of knowledge recorded in human bodies, sung and told and painted. Now, of course, there are “metric” languages in computers that only a very few understand. And again still other bodies of knowledge that -- because they are taboo -- are far more powerful and life-controlling than any print, even the ones still intercepted at the borders of the country as obscene.
What do we do with all this stuff? I’m lucky that I’m investigating among professors who are absorbed in starting up the new academic year because they don’t have time to do much more than send me articles and I can’t absorb the contents very quickly in spite of having a background curiously appropriate for this kind of thinking. (Religion, anthropology, theatre.) It is a kind of thinking few are aware of -- sort of meta-thinking -- and (alas) I discover that if I try to explain to some people, they get angry. But I don’t intend to bundle it and store it for later discard.
It’s got to be woven into stories. My core story this time around is the life of Alvina Krause, but what it’s backing me into is heartbreak (broken love affairs), madness, struggle, post-modern thought (oh, cripes), forbidden territory, and other swamps and couloirs. I meet wannabes and has-beens, but all the time I want to get back to my own “bone chalice” -- meaning the deep meanings in my own skull. (“Performance art is liturgy for the unchurched.”) Yes, brain theory is one of my dependable guides, but it turns out that the whole body is the brain. All these years I ought to have been walking. Or dancing. It would have made me more intelligent. (Don’t say, “I told you so!”)
My yearning has always been to see things freshly, ambush them by strategy, throw back the curtain and see the core. I HAVE witnessed someone’s heart stilled for surgery. I HAVE seen Maria Tallchief, Cherokee, dance the Russian Firebird. So -- what about it? What do I do with that stuff?
The ministry training forces me to think about the state of the world and whether there is anything to be said about it, done about it. Most of the info we get is gathered by people born about 1980 or later. They know nothing, they are paid nothing, they have no crap detectors except their own suspicion, which is highly erratic. They are assigned, disciplined, and simply rewritten by editors who haven’t left their desks and their narrow lives since 1980. In no case is this more clear than that of the American Indian, but the complaint applies to just about everything. We NEVER get a balanced account of anything. And everyone who comes to the rez for the raw experience insists on seeing what they expect.
Now let’s look at the famous “middle-class” -- a mythical population of people said to be honest, hard-working, comfortable, family-valuing, gun-carrying, TV watching, tax-paying, regularly voting, doctor-obeying . . . We’re told this group of people is based on manufacturing incomes. Oh, and small family businesses like stores and farms. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a sit-com. Or maybe they were always doomed as soon as manufacturing changed. In nature the evolution of organisms is controlled by two things: drastic over-population putting pressure on those not well-equipped to survive so causing them to disappear, and constant shifts in the mega-conditions of survival, such as the economy, climate, disease, war, migration (kind of a domino effect when people try to survive). But we pretend that we don’t let the poor people and the marginal just die.
One way to survive is to form another layer of interconnectedness, in the way that the forbidding of alcohol consumption created an entire underworld that supported this illegal but desired substance. Once that network existed, it has gone on to support all sorts of illegal activity in “good-paying jobs.” Earlier it was the need to escape slavery that created an underground railroad. Something parallel happened to the money community: the need to hoard. One way to combat overpopulation in stricken countries is for them to sell the children, who are expendable anyway. The network for transporting, credentialing, concealing -- they’ve always been there since the days of slavery and picture-book wives.
The temptation is always to try to “engineer” the survival of those we consider desirable and deserving. “The War on Poverty” and all that. (We lost.) Or the creation of Israel. Scholarships for the deserving poor. We do this out of “compassion” we say, but college sophomores would say that we do it to make ourselves feel good. (Self-interest is almost always discovered about that age.)
It was in my self-interest and over the objections of my mother and my advisor that I took courses from Alvina Krause. Here I am again, though there’s supposed to be a division between what she was teaching and the present state of “Performing Arts” which is where I seem to be working. Actually, I think I’m standing next to a permeable membrane with one arm sticking through it. The one holding my pencil as though it were a torch. I think of Cocteau, Orpheus.