Where Here Is Elsewhere

Where Here Is Elsewhere

The landscape of your word is the world’s landscape. But its frontier is open.

Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

The thought of ‘belonging’ presents a rather overwhelming set of questions and differing approaches. One might ask what belonging means in terms of how human beings inhabit their world. What are the material conditions of belonging? What does it mean not to belong, especially considering the material realities of peoples deprived of the means of being ‘at home’ in place, language, or culture? In considering art, a further complexity arises concerning, on the one hand, where or how art belongs in the world and, on the other, the paradoxical nature of the creative process—that is, that the work takes place only in the creative self’s loss of subjectivity to what Blanchot calls an ‘essential solitude’, an exile from the world.2 How then to balance these approaches?

A critical debate is now under way on the relation of art to the sociopolitical sphere. These discussions on what is variously described as ‘relational aesthetics’3 or ‘dialogical aesthetics’4 are important insofar as there is a pressing need for a reconciliation of the aesthetic, the social, and the ethical in ways that may at least form the conditions of possibility for a new thought of the political. To my mind, however, this issue is not first posed from the experience of technological revolutions or activist politics, but from the experience of cultural dislocation, in which relations are never equal, and the political is already inscribed in the aesthetic. Since the seminal work of cultural critics such as Edward Said and Stuart Hall in the late 1970s, an impressive body of postcolonial commentary has shown that, for the diasporan subject dislocated from his or her place of origin and the indigenous person dispossessed by colonial occupation, hard-won citizenship rights do not imply cultural belonging to national identity or the prevailing symbolic order; cultural identity is often imposed by forces outside the self, and the psychosocial dimensions of identification become fraught with ambivalence and contradiction. Roots are already rhizomatic and multilingual; the self is already doubly or even multiply inscribed with the other. ‘Here’ is also ‘elsewhere’. It is therefore from the artistic practices of the dislocated subject that this commentary derives.

An ‘Unhomely’ World?

A delicate balance exists between the human desire for security in roots and the desire for autonomy, especially when unjust rules and laws create ‘unfreedom’ and ‘home’ ceases to be ‘homely’. Perhaps recognition of a malaise in the social sphere produced by the globalised world economy—with its utilitarianism, instrumental reason, and dispiriting drive to commodify all aspects of life—underlies the increase in fundamentalisms (‘foundationalisms’ insofar as they seek to solve crises in nostalgic visions of past community) and the return in art to less individualistic and more collective concerns. One might ask, however, how far the meaning of belonging as ‘possession’, ‘property’, or ‘attribute’ (in English, ‘belongings’ are ‘private property’) is still limited by the horizon of Cartesian subjectivism, whose legacy is the sacrifice of community and solidarity to an acquisitive, self-interested individualism. Does the West, with its citizenship and passport securely in its pocket, and capitalism’s virtual territorialisation of everywhere, too facilely speak of globalisation as the transcendence or dissolution of borders and determinate identities? The world is now hostage to a neoliberal (or neoconservative?) form of democracy that more than ever gives precedence to individualistic rights (of property) at the expense of collective welfare, aiming through the commodity system to establish a compliant citizenry. It has long been argued, however, that unrestrained capitalist accumulation only ‘works’ by simultaneously sustaining a vast disparity of wealth between the site of consumption and the site of production, or worse, by precluding certain sites from competing in the ‘free’ market system altogether. This economic differential is only one facet of a system of inclusion and exclusion that betrays its own democratic principles.5 Such a neo-imperialist system is clearly not sustainable indefinitely, if only because the ‘collateral damage’ (to use one of its most popular military euphemisms) is the morally insupportable production worldwide of unprecedented numbers of ‘noncitizens’—anonymously referred to as ‘economic migrants’, ‘political refugees’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘detainees’, ‘sans papiers’—dislocated by war, poverty, disease, and corporate ecological irresponsibility, unwelcome everywhere and excluded from all subjective, political, juridical, and cultural representation. They are deprived not only of the right to ‘belong’, but also of the equal right not to ‘belong’.

The grim histories of colonialism demonstrate that cultural dislocation through slavery and dispossession sets in motion a catastrophic mutilation of communal identities and social structures inherited by subsequent generations as cultural alienation and memory of terror and fear of its return, for which racial or ethnic violence are its ever-pregnant signs. Dispossession is in extremis a deprivation of the will to imagine new possibilities of existence. It also deprives the body and its labour of providing the means of dwelling securely in the world with a sense of future continuity. Thus, to dispossess a people is to reduce them to the brutal subexistence of the inhuman, an alienation not only of labour but also of spirit. What therefore is needed is a thought of belonging that does not slide easily into autistic subjectivism, individualistic possession, and protectionist forms of territorialism, but that recuperates another more archaic meaning of proximity and unity capable of opening onto a more fluid, collective sense of being in the world with others where words like ‘welcome’, ‘hospitality’, ‘conviviality’, ‘sharing’, ‘caring’, ‘compassion’, and ‘empathy’ might seem less alien.

To reclaim will and agency takes a supreme effort. It means negotiating a passage out of the impasse of traumatic victimhood, between remembering and forgetting, that demands, to borrow Michel de Certeau’s phrase, a ‘capture of speech’—an act of speaking which is not yet a statement, but a revelation of possibilities as the first tentative step towards a reconfiguration of self with world.6 It is this struggle that Patrick Chamoiseau’s novel Texaco so eloquently traces, as Martinique’s creolised former slaves attempt to overcome the inertia of dispossession and ‘re-found’ their world. The narrator weeps in dismay ‘upon seeing how old the storytellers were and how their voices, isolated from the world, seemed to sink into the earth like a carême rain after which I trotted in vain’.7 He weeps at the dissolution of culture into autochthonous oblivion, a ‘sinking’ that can be rescued only by gathering up the remnants of existence into a new thought of dwelling. Thus, in retelling the founding of Texaco, City’s quartier of creolised languages and indistinct boundaries, he assumes the responsibility of witness in the sense described by Édouard Glissant: ‘Because historical time was stabilised in the void, the writer must contribute to restoring its tormented chronology, that is, to unveiling the fecund liveliness of a recommenced dialectic between Antillean nature and culture’.8

Texaco comes into existence as the thought of the Source, who is both oral storyteller and chronicler of history and she who reveals to her fractured neighbours the task of building homes in the face of the City authorities that would deny them. Thus building as founding and constructing is intimately linked to language. Here Texaco converges with the path of Heidegger’s thought: ‘Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build. . . . The real plight of dwelling does not lie merely in a shortage of houses . . . [but] that ‘mortals ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell’.9 Perhaps the Source, as the force that calls to and assembles these desolate souls bereft of origins into a commonality, figures creolised language itself. If so, one may say that to be ‘at home’ is first to be at home in language, from which the meaning of existence—or a meaningful existence—is made possible. Language, however, does not exist in a void: whoever speaks also listens and responds to its appeal as an experience shared with others.

Heidegger took issue with the Western metaphysical tradition because it sought the meaning to existence outside the world. By contrast, he insisted that humans can ‘know’ the world only through their engagement with it. Or rather, ‘world’ is what, through poetic intuitions, humans are capable of disclosing or creating in relation to the ever-transforming, untotalisable and hence never entirely knowable totality of what is. In effect, every moment is the origin of a singular configuration of world, and there are as many ‘worlds’, or as many origins of ‘world’, as there are thoughts to bring them into being, not all of them mutually compatible, as we well know. Nonetheless, there remains the ontological question of what is human existence, or Being, beyond the contingent texture of the world and through which we might sense a common ‘belonging’, a ‘commonality’ that is not simply that of ‘community’, bounded as it is by the constraints of religion, ethnicity, ideology and so forth. However, Jean-Luc Nancy rebukes even the later work of Heidegger for not paying sufficient attention to the ‘with’ of Being. For Nancy, there is no Being that is not a priori ‘being–with’, ‘being-in-common’, where ‘with’ is constitutive of Being; hence there is no meaning if meaning is not shared.10 The problem is how to hold on to one’s own ‘story’, or singularity, while simultaneously understanding it as constituted in a common humanity?

Unsentimental Journeys

James Joyce exiled himself from Dublin because he could find no place as a speaking subject under the conditions imposed by English colonial rule. His neologism ‘dislocution’ indicates the experience of dislocation in locution, that is, speech. Joyce sets the tone of betrayal, anguish, and contradiction inherent in this experience in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where Stephen, during his exchange with the English dean of studies, thinks, ‘The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. . . . My soul frets in the shadow of his language’.11 Joyce eventually ‘consoles’ this ‘unrest of spirit’ by a violation of ‘civilised’ language itself: Finnegans Wake—his ‘history of repression’12—is a mischievous subversion of English drawn through heteroglossia, Irish orality, and the scriptovisual labyrinths of the Book of Kells. The weapon of repression—language—is turned against itself.

Despite his errantry in Europe, Joyce never ceased to write through the experience and reflections of ‘home’: ‘For myself I always write about Dublin because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities in the world. In the particular is contained the universal’.13 For Joyce, belonging was indeed be-longing, a departure from which there was no hope of return, except through an ambivalent remembering, and in which writing was not to be the foundation of a new subjective ground for the writer, but, like Chamoiseau’s creolité, a re-founding of language itself through the inchoate sounds of speech—a listening and a speaking.

Joyce lightens the burden of repressive language in the homelessness of ‘two thinks at a time’,14 which is resonant in the work of Jimmie Durham. Durham, now multiply dislocated from his Cherokee origins, once said, ‘One of the most terrible aspects of our situation today is none of us feel that we are authentic. We do not feel that we are real Indians. But each of us carries this ”dark secret” in his heart, and we never speak about it. . . . For the most part we just feel guilty, and try to measure up to the white man’s definition of ourselves’.15 This was not, however, a position that Durham was content to inhabit. His Self-Portrait (1985) is a life-sized canvas cut out like a figure for target practice or a flayed skin. The body is inscribed with a doubled language—English and faux-Indian signs—and a doubled address—‘Hello, I’m Jimmie Durham . . . Mr Durham has stated that . . .’ While the work resembles its maker, it is not a representation of him, but a parodic mime of stereotypes of ‘authentic’ Indianness that reflect only the viewer’s projections of identity; indeed, it undermines any claim to fixed or authentic identity: If I am not who you think I am, then neither are you. Durham was embarked on a journey committed to challenging those forms of totalising knowledge that distort the true nature of human dwelling. When asked recently about his voluntary and nomadic exile, Durham replied, ‘It’s my ambition in life to become a homeless orphan. I don’t want to be at home’, where, for him, ‘home’ means, among other things, ‘secure knowledge’, ‘mastery’, ‘lack of doubt’16 – all those criteria fuel the American Dream, beneath which we find the rhetoric of racial supremacy.

Willie Doherty is an artist who works in and against the ‘unhomeliness’ of home. His work was forged in the crucible of sectarian violence and British military occupation in Northern Ireland, a territory whose inhabitants have been traumatically divided by conflicting national narratives and too often dependent for their legitimacy on a mythologised ‘foundational’ past which, in obscuring the sociopolitical realities of the present, cripples the possibility of transforming the future. By contrast, Doherty’s work addresses the dynamics of the present, especially how identity becomes fixed and encrypted in representations of place. It is through his interrogation of representation’s claims to ‘truth’ that what began as a critique of the paralysing misrepresentation, stigmatisation, and hence alienation of local community by news media and the state apparatus becomes a reflection upon a more universally felt incommensurability between lived experience and reality as it is constructed by the instrumental languages of power.

The instability of place understood as ‘home’ but experienced as a space of uncertainty and transience is expressed through Doherty’s mise-en-scène: those interstitial spaces in the city and its environs that have become, in the popular imagination, the sites of clandestine or violent acts—anonymous roadsides, dark alleys, derelict buildings, and urban waste grounds. Doherty’s camera moves like a forensic eye over these opaque urban surfaces, mapping the detritus of a disquieting scene in which the viewer is also compelled to search for traces of meaning that might restore sense to an entropic collapse of order. In this body of work, the shadowy face of the everyday merges with the familiar ‘noirish’ elements of cinema where Everyman is caught in the impotent stasis of the nightmare. In accompanying ‘interior monologues’, the positions of self and other—or potential victim and perpetrator of violence—become ambivalently entangled. Most unnerving is Non-Specific Threat (2004), a 360-degree tracking shot around the head of a thuggish looking man standing in a derelict interior with lighting that renders the background strangely dislocated from the figure. The monologue is couched in the threatening but ambiguous language of fundamentalist violence—‘I am invisible. . . . I am unknowable. . . . There will be no water . . . no electricity . . . no TV . . . no computers. . . . You create me. . . . I am beyond reason. . . . I am your victim. . . . I am your desires’, and so forth—that unravels presumptions of determinate meaning. If the world is experienced as ‘unhomely’, it is partly due to the way we populate it with unseen and threatening ‘others’ that are ungraspable precisely because, in all likelihood, they are phantoms conjured by an increasingly paranoid public imagination fuelled by state interests and a complicit media.

Through Tears and Wounds

Doherty’s work reminds us that to represent is to efface the thing represented while artfully producing the illusion that we possesses it or have control of its meaning. This is to master otherness by turning it into the order of the same. Here, we become caught in the contradiction between an instrumental language of power that coerces us into accepting its representations as or of reality and poetics as a play with the inherent indeterminacy of language and its potential to disrupt normative perspectives of the world. Thus, to lose sight of the poetic dimension of language and assume the transparent communicability of words and images typical of mass media is to conceal the fact that representation is an imaginary construction. It is precisely to forestall the rupture in meaning threatened by the unassimilable that representation installs in us the illusion of a coherent, autonomous subjectivity. How, however, might art enable us to pre-empt the objective knowing of representation and realise the empathetic understanding of what Nancy calls ‘being singular plural’?

In contrast to instrumentalised visions of reality that prioritise information or the explanation of what is already apparent, one might take Nancy’s (post-Heideggerian) view that art is a ‘birth of a world’, of a ‘singular origin’, where origin means ‘not from which the world comes, but the coming of each presence of the world, each time singular’.17 Art represents ‘nothing’, but makes evident the presence of a hitherto unsaid, and perhaps unsayable, ‘truth’ that does not precede the singular event of art but arises from it. Thus, unlike representation, art does not affirm existing meanings, but as Adorno says of Beckett’s plays, it ‘puts meaning on trial’.18 In this way, the viewing subject is disarmed of its certitude and compelled to negotiate with difference – its own and others’.

Durham’s Not Lothar Baumgarten’s Cherokee (1990) is a modest work on paper. It shows no more than the fragments of two juxtaposed scripts photocopied onto fine art paper: one is a few mutilated lines of Cherokee script (torn from a copy of a letter written in the 1880s), the other is the artist’s handwritten transcription of a text referring to Cherokees published in the Finnish language. Both texts are at the outer limit of linguistic familiarity and decipherablility, and one might imagine at first that their opacity signals an insistence on the untranslatability of difference in the face of the persistent attempt of the same to co-opt it.

Not Lothar Baumgarten’s Cherokee was a riposte to German artist Lothar Baumgarten’s The Tongue of the Cherokee (1985–88), which seemed suspiciously to reflect a neoliberalist assumption of the right to ‘speak for’ the ‘other’.19 This work was installed in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, where each letter of the Cherokee syllabary, elegantly engraved in glass, was isolated and trapped in the structural grid of the ceiling. Thus frozen like prehistoric flies in amber and divorced from their potential as writing (i.e., their organisation into a thought), the letters (like indigenous peoples within the fantasmic imagination of white America) were removed to a non-historical past and an inaccessible, quasi-transcendental space (a reading somewhat aggravated by a temporary floor installation by Alan McCollum which consisted of casts of dinosaur bones.) By contrast, Durham’s work acknowledges the material life of language, albeit partially mutilated, standing metaphorically for the contemporary reality of indigenous peoples.

Looking again at Not Lothar Baumgarten’s Cherokee, we find that what separates but also unites the two scripts is the diagonal tear of the paper; in an unsettling, sensual way, I am drawn irresistibly to the tear, not as an image but as an imagined gesture. It is a gesture that stages difference as a reciprocal movement between one writing and another. In this way, the work performs the relation between self and other as it is mediated through language. What appears to be ‘communicated’ is the pain of a communicability approached only through the incommunicable: the only certain relation to be established amongst us is the aporia of non-relation. ‘Human beings’, as Bataille commented, ‘are never united with each other except through tears and wounds’.20

In 7th November (2001), Steve McQueen presents a large-scale slide projection, showing the shaved crown of a man’s head bearing a wide scar, accompanied by a recorded narration. How the man came by the scar is not the subject of his story, but it is the focus of visual attention and a sign of what is engraved on his memory: the split second on the day when he became accidentally responsible for his brother’s death. Woven through the narrative of this traumatic event are reflections on the act of telling itself, as the narrator appeals to the listener’s understanding of his actions and feelings. His narration, in effect, is not about the event as such, but about self-transformation. The work induces an inexpressible anguish, deriving neither from the facts of the story, nor from what it might say about gun culture in the community. Rather, the teller’s struggle to make sense of senselessness touches our own experience of a deeply felt aporia in human existence.

What is this aporia? Commentaries point out that the enormity of a human catastrophe is impossible for those who were not present to encompass in everyday experience except as a void of meaning, putting in crisis both representation and the authority of the survivors’ testimony. One can only witness the absence of witness. As Giorgio Agamben notes, the aporia of ‘Auschwitz’ is the very aporia of historical knowledge: ‘a non-coincidence between facts and truth, verification and comprehension’21—an impasse at whose heart lies the mutual silence between experience as lived and its inadequate representation. It is to this ‘mutual silence’ that McQueen’s and Durham’s work would seem to bear witness.

For Agamben, Auschwitz produced a ‘limit situation’ in which the human crossed the threshold into the inhuman, exemplified by those prisoners described as ‘walking corpses’, whose extreme state of trauma left them incapable of experiencing or witnessing anything whatsoever, even death. This takes us back to the past and present conditions of dispossession. Like the ‘walking corpses’, the dispossessed self is rendered ‘inhuman’ insofar as it has been rendered speechless: it no longer dwells, and in this sense it cannot bear witness to its own subjectivity. Nonetheless, for Agamben, the act of testifying is essential, for it reveals what is at stake in being human—that the lack of speech is the implicit condition upon which the human founds a place from which to speak, from which to become a subject. As Texaco shows, writing as an act of witnessing is the visible trace of the transformation from non-sense to sense, impasse to passage, inhuman to speaking subject. Thus the art of the dislocated subject is never a representation of catastrophe, but a witnessing of this fragile passage between speaking and not being able to speak that is the shared ‘solitude’ of being and the common ground of humanity.

The Play of the World

Heidegger took Western industrialised civilisation to task for having lost sight of the ‘unity of the fourfold’: earth, sky, divinities, and mortals, each of which retains its own being while reflecting and gathering the others in a ‘mirror-play of the world’.22 He speaks of poetic creation as the taking measure of this entire dimension of existence, and if the West now dwells ‘unpoetically’ it may be the consequence of its succumbing to a ‘curious excess of frantic measuring and calculating’.23

I should like to conclude by mentioning two works that express this poetic ‘measuring’. The first is Steve McQueen’s installation Once Upon a Time (2003), which presents a free-hanging screen for image projection with a soundtrack. The 116 images are those launched into space by NASA in 1977 aboard the Voyager II space probe (presumably still hurtling through the universe) with the hope of communicating to life forms beyond our solar system what life on Earth is like. NASA’s image sequence is constructed loosely around the human narrative of birth, life, and death, but otherwise shows an idealised view of the worlds of nature and culture more reminiscent of old National Geographic magazines than any reality, from which all signs of religion, poverty, conflict, and disease have been expunged. Although patently lacking ‘truth’, the slow fading in and out of these estranged images is hypnotically and emotionally affective, invoking the pathos of human desire’s betrayal by representation. Like the image sequence, the soundtrack also speaks of the desire for communication with the quasi-divine nonhuman. It is of voices ‘speaking in tongues’, a glossolalia commonly associated with Pentecostal churches and thought to express communication with the spirit world, or ‘angels’. On one level, then, the work may be read as a critique of the absurd strivings of religious and secular metaphysics.

Curiously, however, a rhythmic poetics emerges from the repetitive incantation of vocables; it is as if it were language despite its indecipherability, such that, like Durham’s Not Lothar Baumgarten’s Cherokee, it conveys communicability without communication, ‘truth’ in its very absence of truth. Like the angel, Voyager is a ‘messenger’ whose message is that what mediates between the human and the inhuman is language. Listening through rhythm and breath, breath as ‘spirit’ or the ‘presencing’ of being beyond any thought of a subject, are consistent elements in McQueen’s recent work. They are the kind of ‘measuring’ of which Heidegger speaks, now implicitly drawn in Once Upon a Time as the distance between human and alien or angelmeasuring not as quantification, but as an intuition of the entire dimension of human existence between ‘earth’ and ‘universe’, the finite and the infinite, the knowable and the unknowable.

In a recent collaborative work, Cuando la fe mueve montañas (When Faith Moves Mountains, April 2002), Francis Alÿs assembled 500 volunteers using shovels to displace by some 10 centimetres a 500-metre-long sand dune overlooking Ventanilla, a pueblo joven (shantytown) on the barren outskirts of Lima.24 The project asked, What can be the relevance of a poetic act in the context of sustained political and economic crisis in countries like Peru, where the dislocation of people and the coming into being of Ventanilla and other towns like it is but one of its consequences—a symptom in fact of a fundamental void of meaning in the structure of polity to which the entire play on displacement in the work alludes? Few commentators would dispute that on the face of it, Cuando la fe mueve montañas was a ludic, if not ludicrous, gesture. A huge deployment of voluntary labour with nothing to show for it—on site, at least—except some tracks in the sand, sooner or later to be obscured by the forces of wind and gravity. Like McQueen’s Once Upon a Time, it lays bare the Sisyphean absurdity of the human condition, caught between utopian aspiration and frail endeavour in the larger space–time schema of the world. Its very play of grounded and groundlessness, materiality and immateriality conjures up that abyssal gap between the burden of everyday existence and the weightlessness of the imagination, where the sheer gravity of existence in most regions of the world lends art at times an air of the frivolous. What eventually emerges as ludicrous and meaningless, however, is not Alÿs’s poetic gesture, but what it discloses of the geopolitical context that frames it. It is precisely at this moment of disclosure—when habitual structures of reality are shown to no longer make sense—that one can rethink the aesthetic, the ethical, and the political as not inherently irreconcilable categories of experience, but the intimate conditions of human dwelling. Alÿs’s imagination mobilises space, human labour, a spiritually liberating thought, and sand—an organically inert material that provides little sustenance for life, but which is nonetheless a basic ingredient for building foundations, that is, culture. Thus, the allegorical meaning of the work is clear: through poetic thought, the human can re-imagine and reconfigure its being in the world.

Although this work is tied into the economic structures of the art world, it nonetheless engages elements of what Certeau calls a ‘subterranean economy’, deemed worthless by the forces of commodification but decisive for the survival of human exchange25—hospitality, exchange of non-remunerative services, barter, oral dissemination, and fabulations that enter the collective imagination to link diverse constituencies. The imaginative freedom released by such artistic practices provides the conditions of possibility for a nascent political consciousness, where the political may be understood not simply as political discourse or the structures of power and the state, but as what grounds being-in-common in the separation and intimacy of world and thing. The threshold between separation and intimacy is pain—the rift that ‘tears asunder, it separates, yet so that at the same time, it draws everything to itself, gathers it to itself’.26 As Chamoiseau narrates, every Texaco—or Ventanilla—needs its myths and storytellers on which to found its belonging, but belonging is, as Heidegger states, ‘kindness’—kinship and affection: to ‘dwell poetically’ is to ‘keep kindness with our hearts’.27 From this standpoint, art’s origin and destiny no longer lies in the movement from and to an autonomous self, but in sustaining a poetic imagination capable of disclosing the ethos or common dwelling place of our humanity.

End notes

1. Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1997), p. 33.

2. Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Essential Solitude’, in The Space of Literature, tr. Ann Smock (Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press, 1982), pp. 21–34.

3. Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, tr. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods (Dijon, Les Presses du réel, 2002).

4. Grant Kester, ‘Conversation Pieces: The Role of Dialogue in Socially-Engaged Art’, Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, ed. Zoya Kocur and Simon Leung (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2004).

5. Article 2 of the Declaration of Human Rights states, ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’.

6. Michel de Certeau, The Capture of Speech and Other Political Writings, tr. Tom Conley (Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 11–24.

7. Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco, translated from the French and Creole by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov (New York, Vintage International, 1997), p. 389.

8. Édouard Glissant, quoted in ibid., p. 385.

9. Martin Heiddegger, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’, Poetry, Language, Thought, Albert Hofstadter (New York, Harper and Row, 1975), pp. 160–61.

10. Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, tr. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Byrne (Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 1–99.

11. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916; London, Penguin Popular Classics, 1996), p. 215.

12. Seamus Deane, ‘Introduction’, in James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939; London, Penguin Books, 1992), p. xii.

13. Ibid, p. xix.

14. Ibid, p. 583.

15. Jimmie Durham, Columbus Day: Poems, Stories and Drawings about American Indian Life and Death in the 1970s (Minneapolis, West End Press, 1983).

16. Jimmie Durham, in Jimmie Durham, Fondazione Antonio Ratti (Milan, Edizione Charta, 2004), pp. 123–5.

17. Nancy, Being Singular Plural, p. 14.

18. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, tr. Robert Hullot-Kentor (London, Athlone Press, 1997), p. 153.

19. The complaint is not that a white man might speak out about the colonial depredations suffered by indigenous peoples—which Baumgarten does not do, but rather, appears to aestheticise the native sign—but that the white voice speaking of the indigenous is more palatable and credible to hegemonic culture than the indigenous voice itself. That is, the privileged voice takes the place of and thereby dispossesses the voice of the other.

20. Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille, Betsy Wing (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, MIT Press, 1992), pp. 67–8.

21. Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York, Zone Books, 2002), p. 12.

22. Heidegger, ‘The Thing’, Poetry, Language, Thought, pp. 178–80. Heidegger’s ‘unity of the fourfold’ may be more ‘at home’ in Native American hermeneutics, where the ‘four corners of the world’ exist in mutual non-hierarchical relation, a ‘symbolic writing’ in which there can be no thought of an uninscribed ‘wilderness’. This is common sense (common-sense), not mysticism.

23. Heidegger, ‘ . . . Poetically Man Dwells . . . ’, in ibid., p. 228.

24. In collaboration with the Mexican art critic Cuauhtémoc Medina and filmmaker Rafael Ortega. The use of shovels and manual labour reflects the poverty of the ‘third world’ and would seem to be a pointed reminder of the tendency in U.S. land art of the 1970s to use expensive earth-moving machines.

25. Certeau, Capture of Speech, 93.

26. Heidegger, ‘Language’, in Poetry, Language, Thought, p. 204.

27. Heidegger, ‘Poetically Man Dwells’, pp. 228–9.

In Kamal Boullata (ed), Belonging and Globalisation, London: Saqi, 2008, pp 61-74. Republished from the catalogue of Sharjah Biennale, no 7, curated by Kamal Boullata, 2005, pp 74 – 81.