Novellas (1992-2004)

Novellas exemplifies Nagatani at his most experimental. Employing processes and materials that incorporate collage, Polaroid, three-dimensional miniatures, transfer materials, and waterless lithography, the artist worked through a myriad of personal interests and universal ideas. Like Chromatherapy, another series intricately tied to literature and predicated on the concept of a novella, these densely layered images reference ancient cultures and rituals, masks, signs, symbols, language, and Nagatani’s personal dreams and nightmares.

Maria Antonella Pelizzari - Novellas as Allegories of the Self

I have come to an end of this apologia for the novel as a vast net. Someone might object that the more the work tends toward the multiplication of possibilities, the further it departs from that unicum which is the self of the writer, his inner sincerity and the discovery of his own truth. But I would answer: Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.

Italo Calvino, “Multiplicity” (Six Memos for the Next Millennium, 1988)

A different kind of creative energy characterizes Nagatani’s Novellas in relationship to his comprehensive projects Nuclear Enchantment, the Japanese-American relocation camps, and Ryoichi’s excavations. Novellas are not grounded to specific geographies – albeit fictional ones – nor to a broad narrative that evolves around a theme, an historical investigation, or one character. Like short stories, these are fragmentary and pungent allegories that unravel, in groups of five pictures for each chapter, Nagatani’s own passions, memories, fears, and political commentaries, provoking both laughter and melancholia. The experience of writing short stories versus novels described by Haruki Murakami is comparable to Nagatani’s personal tales:

You can create a story out of the smallest details – an idea that springs up in your mind, a word, an image, whatever. In most cases, it’s like jazz improvisation, with the story taking me where it wants to... [as] a kind of experimental laboratory for me as a novelist (1).

Visual experiments that reveal the artist’s curiosity for all sorts of mediated images – among these, scientific illustrations, pictograms, advertisements, fashion photos, news photos, postcards, snapshots – Novellas convey the freedom and playfulness of a storyteller and collector of the ephemeral, who speaks about himself through the layers of cultural myths, enigmas, and fetish. How these stories are formed, and what type of archival material constitutes their seemingly random creations, will be the subject of this essay.

I saw the early stages of Novellas in 1992, when Nagatani had just started to collaborate with Jeff Ryan, a graduate from the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, on a group of five waterless lithographs. It was an exciting time, when Ryan was engaging artists (2) to experiment with the new process at his own printing shop, “21 steps:” the process consisted of a new and sophisticated type of lithography on silicone-surfaced and waterless plates – a faster, highly detailed medium, that transferred every little dot and lines onto a specially clay-coated rag paper. The layering effect was superb, and I believe it was the material quality of these objects that made me captive of their stories.

Overall in Nagatani’s work, and particularly in Novellas, the choice of the medium lives symbiotically with its image, and the wide range of surfaces and materials - waterless lithographs, color photographs of tableaux vivants, 20x24 Polaroid images with applied drawings, photo linens with Polaroid transfers, and a variety of hand-crafted collages – is an indication of the lively narrative content of this series. In particular, the quality of the waterless lithographs invites a “collage-like thinking” (3) and weaving that is in perfect tune with Nagatani’s own life and creative ideas. As he said in the past, “everything about me consists of a kind of layering” (4) - cultural, religious, geographical. The visual intricacy of the first chapter of Novellas is further confirmed by the titles in Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, and Native American, which add allegorical meanings to the images. The core issue of this first group is about the meaning and manifestation of the mask - sexual (Kairos), social (Katabasis), mythical (Dharmakaya), ritual (Viaticum), and ethnic (Canandaigua).

Kairos appropriates images of love and death to address the enigma of fate, “the right or opportune moment” when the mysterious Being we call God determines our life. The epigraph from Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask – a striking passage about the mystery of beauty that Mishima borrowed from The Brothers Karamazov – runs like an iridescent text over a sensual and tight grid of thirty kiss scenes in black and white and color, and is enmeshed with drawings made of the same silvery tone: in the center is the image of a skeleton holding hand with a male body; on top, the shapes of four skulls containing other shapes, and representing, from left to right, a smiling mask, two fingers crossed in a “good luck” gesture, a new-born baby held by an obstetrician, and a gun pointed towards the viewer. With such radical juxtapositions and the direct reference to Mishima’s confessional story - of an outcast boy who hides his homosexuality in post-war Japanese society - Nagatani gives us a hint about his own feelings of being an outsider as second generation Japanese-American, but also, indirectly, he reflects on AIDS in the early 1990s as the most daunting aspect of homosexual love, as the dark side of passion. “Beauty is not only terrifying but also mysterious…” - writes Dostojevski.

The bleak substance of Kairos is recurrent throughout the five waterless lithographs. Katabasis – the Greek word that explains the experience of Orpheus descending to the underworld – investigates the process of acculturation and consequent loss of identity so many populations go through as they step into a foreign country. This cultural transformation is illustrated with different typologies of photographic portraits – commercial studio portraits in the early 1900s, portraits by photographers of the twentieth-century, and fashion shots – which suggest how the convention of the pose and of clothing bring different cultural groups into one global formula. Nagatani reflects on his own past as he includes a portrait of his father and older brothers: three Japanese children initiated to American culture in the 1920s, wearing similar shorts and hats, deprived of their individuality. Beside them is a found photograph of two women, black and Hispanic, in traditional Western clothing, appearing similar social persona in a studio set-up. The anonymous portraits of three races plunged into the costumes of North American culture are juxtaposed to iconic photographs of social outcasts (taken by Diane Arbus, August Sander, Richard Avedon, Jacob Riis, and Jeffrey Silverthone) and, at the bottom, glamorous fashion shots. The artist’s line drawing of people parting and drinking, across the top of the composition, represents the anonymous faces of those who “belong” to society. In the middle of the image, Nagatani sketches the contours of three cows being dissected, as a metaphor of consumer culture fragmenting the individual body into a series of usable or even edible fetish. Such dehumanizing and violent transformation is part of the history of descent from one culture to another, from an individual’s face to a social mask.

Canandaigua, referring to the town in NY State where the Iroquois treaty was signed in 1794, addresses similar issues of (forced) cultural assimilation of Native-American populations. The mask, in this case, is that of history – the treacherous history that granted land to the Iroquois, but never followed up with its promise. The subject of exploitation of Native American land has been very relevant for Nagatani, particularly since his move to New Mexico, in 1987. In this piece, unlike the episodic vignettes of Nuclear Enchantment, he chooses a blatant symbolism: faces of Native American Chiefs are scratched and entombed underneath figures of American wealth and entertainment - the World Trade Center (!) and a party crowd - while a cocoa advertisement branded in Dorchester, Massachusetts presents a racist message in its global motto: “Little Indian, Sioux or Crow, Little Frosty Eskimo, Little Turk or Japanese, O’ don’t you wish that you were me?” Three male figures (Nagatani himself, Jeff Ryan, and the dealer Richard Levy) turn towards the Native American ghosts, covering their eyes, ears, mouth, in the gesture that says “I do not see, I do not hear, I do not speak Evil,” restating what American history has done to these populations.

Nagatani shows a recurrent attraction in this group of Novellas towards ancient rituals and civilizations, opposing them to contemporary North American practices as vulgar, shallow, and aggressive. In Viaticum, he reproduces cave drawings that visualize female and male initiation - becoming a woman through menstruation, growing from boy to warrior – revealing an interest for the study of Robert Bly, Iron John: a Book about Man and overall, for the mythopoetic movement. In Dharmakaya, he copies a section of The Book of the Dead – the instructions for the afterlife in ancient Egypt – and layers this text, like a lacy and delicate blanket, with the symbolic mask of death in the West - the face of a man subjected to radiation therapy, looking at us through a head restraint (5). Western society seems to have lost touch with the rituals that connect to the primary experience of death: a juggler tosses around African, Japanese, and Western masks, having fun with the absurdity of our modern condition.

In comparison with these multi-layered images, the second chapter of Novellas shows Nagatani’s self-portraits as installations about his dreams, nightmares, and objects of affection. Each of them has a distinct color palette that activates different emotions in the viewer (passion, sadness, envy, loss) in a similar way in which the earlier Chromotherapy series associated the color of a painted room with the artist’s inner life. The directorial mode of these pictures follows the same strategies used in the Polaroid installations and in Nuclear Enchantment: figures and props float in space against painted or collaged backdrops, creating a mise-en-scene for the photographer. The influence of South-American literature, that Nagatani claims so important for Novellas, becomes very clear in this group, and the titles, all in Spanish, restate this parallel reading.

In the prologue to his short stories Strange Pilgrims, Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes a state of mind that recalls Nagatani’s creative freedom during the sabbatical year when this group was produced:

I did not have to ask myself where life ended and imagination began. Then the writing became so fluid that I sometimes felt as if I were writing for the sheer pleasure of telling a story, which may be the human condition that most resembles levitation. (6)

It was a dream from Nagatani’s youth that inspired “nacimiento,” or birth: the dream of falling into a black pool and coming out of it, transformed into a salmon. Here, the artist celebrates the act of creation as a metamorphosis of elements and natural beings, as he swims in a red sea of salmon fishes, symbols of immortality and fertility. Like a puppeteer of his own life, this lonely figure pulls the strings of his emotions and recollections, transforming them into objects for colorful fairy-tales. The visual horror-vacui of these saturated interiors, “the obsessive covering of objects with images,” can be interpreted as an attempt to “mitigate loneliness with the activity of filling a space, much as a prisoner records the passage of days with marks on a wall” (7). The transformation of the squalor of solitude into something physically improbable but imagistically possible – so frequent in magic realist literature - is visualized in the green-toned tableau of the artist playing a card solitary. This floating figure recalls the alienated existence of a fictional character like Jose’Arcadio Buendia in One hundred Years of Solitude, who “conceived a notion of space that allowed him to navigate across unknown sea, to visit uninhabited territories, and to establish relations with splendid beings without having to leave his study” (8). Nagatani looks at his double self in the process of levitating on the floor with his table and chair, becoming camouflaged with a fabricated landscape of tropical plants and carps. This tableau inscribes itself into a photographic tradition – from Oscar Gustav Rejlander to Jeff Wall – of the artist looking at his own double, playing with the notion of photography as a mirror image. Nagatani’s cardboard clone wears the same shirt and glasses, and has the same haircut: it is the reflection of his own creation, holding a card as if he was throwing a dice, gambling with his new fictional, and perhaps liberated, existence. The fish continues to be an allegorical prop in Nagatani’s work, but the context has changed from Nuclear Enchantment, where carp banners were hanging to celebrate the Japanese Children’s Day, and from the installation “Great Yellow Father” (1988), where the fish was a signal of chemical pollution.

By recycling objects and images, he reveals the allegorical nature of his work, based on interpretation and repetition of the same forms in different contexts. Craig Owens explains that “allegorical imagery is appropriated imagery; the allegorist does not invent images but confiscates them. He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter. And in his hands the image becomes something other” (9). The grid of kisses he had used in Kairos and Viaticum reappears in one of these self-portraits, as a reminder of love that once was. The kiss pattern is colored pink against bright red, creating a wallpaper-storyboard on how to keep a love-story alive. Nagatani is sitting at the right corner of this tableau, sadly holding a flame that can no longer send fire to burned out firecrackers. A bunch of roses on a table are withering and the figurine of an Indonesian sculpture flies away towards new stories. The kiss pattern reappears in a different chapter of Novellas where Polaroid transfers as well as drawings are layered onto Belgian photo linen, and where “the overall theme is about the dark side of love, irony, and negative emotional links” (10). In The Line French postcards (a large one in the center and smaller ones to the side) are layered onto the romantic kisses and tell the story of a man cheating a lady. Nagatani finds a visual vocabulary to explain that this man is telling a “fish story” by adding, literally, a series of carps beside the postcard.

Different tight grids appear in the “blues” tableau – another melancholic piece about the experience of waiting for a love letter - where the portrait of the artist wearing his traditional cap becomes part of a wallpaper full of effigies with blues and jazz musicians, and in the “Altar,” where a montage of Nagatani’s portraits (from newborn to artist) is floating in space, projected onto a chair, and dangerously exposed to flames rising from the ground. The elegiac substance of this image makes reference to the use that French artist Christian Boltanski has made of anonymous vernacular portrait photographs in monumental installations about photography, death, and memory. Unlike Boltanski, Nagatani digs into his own archive, recording a temporary installation about his own mortality and the fragility of his own memories.

The darkness of this tableau is even stronger in the series of Novellas shot with the 20x24 Polaroid camera in dark green tones. This is a radically different use of the large Polaroid technology from his work in the 1980s. The colors are very somber and the Polaroid pictures become like sketching pads onto which he further draws his own marks. These images reveal two steps, two layers, and two ideas, as Nagatani travels from Albuquerque to the Polaroid studio in Boston with his luggage full of objects, and comes back with sensitized surfaces onto which he draws or collages his personal notes. In Yume (physiognomy) he carries across the country portraits of high-school Japanese-American friends, sketching in his mind how these faces can be plunged into the Polaroid fibers. These are friends he still remembers, whose lives and deaths he has followed, and whose physiognomy he is trying to recompose as if in a dream. The faces are sunk inside a deep dark glow, framed by the horns of a ram, and these surfaces are covered, later on, with the black drawing (black on black, almost invisible) used in ancient Japanese physiognomy, reading portions of the face, like a quest for truth. This is the most cryptic and abstract series of Novellas. Significantly, they all present Japanese titles, as if Nagatani hinted to the enigma of his own culture. Yogen (prophecy) presents a grid of medieval sign language, while two hands are photographed in the sacrificial gesture of offering the letters of the alphabet. The drawing of a broken finger on top of these patterns emphasizes the difficulty of communication and translation between two languages. A similar impossibility intervenes in Sakkaku (illusion), where the artist’s muddy handprints touch a screen that is covering shimmering cactuses. I remember looking at this particular piece as a work in progress and feeling distressed about this gesture. It was as if a clumsy kid had ruined a beautiful surface, pretending that the real work of art was in his hands covered with mud or ketchup. But then again, rethinking about the uniqueness of that gesture – different for each Polaroid – and the direct physical experience of making that gesture, I realized that the message was, specifically, in that childish action paint of hands drawn to touch dangerous objects, and of a young soul attracted to beauty and illusion.

In the more recent groups of Novellas, Nagatani looks at the impact of media on our world, dealing with a more collective dimension about representation as simulacrum. He appears as a virtual persona and narrator in each picture, shaking hands with President Clinton, in a digital manipulation that cost only $5 in Washington, D.C. The covers of the Weekly World News are the centerpieces (photographed with the 20x24 Polaroid camera) for an elaborate reflection on the make-belief effect of photography as proof and evidence. This is the world of shared fantasies that permeate North-American culture. Images reflect mythologies, imperialistic power, fundamentalism, and collective terror – perceptions that, sadly, are still current today.

Historic photographs surround the “Spectacular Proof” about humans living on Mars. To the right of this news is a picture of Wernher von Braun, the famous rocket scientist who served the Nazis during World War II and developed the V–2 ballistic missiles. After the war, this man served the U.S. Army, becoming director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle that would propel Americans to the Moon. Colorful rocket stickers surround the news, adding a playful dimension to the paradigmatic male fantasy about conquering space that permeates the Sci-Fi literature from Jules Verne to H.G.Wells. The “Miraculous Photo” of Jesus appearing in the desert forms an interesting allegory about “Desert Storm Operation,” the propaganda of religious crusades (with drawings of medieval knights at the bottom), and the possession of new colonies. Furthermore, Jesus’ photograph is a snapshot taken by U.S. Marines, a “proof” of the new kind of point-and-shoot photojournalism that has been so effective with the recent stories of Abu Ghraib. An exotic photograph of a Somalian woman wearing traditional costumes and jewelry is collaged beside the face of Jesus, and a poster advertising the screening of “Latuko, the primitive man” reiterates the quest for authenticity that permeates Western society and imperialism, from the founding of National Geographic to the creation of ethnographic museums (11). Latuko is exemplary of this story and collective hysteria about primitivism: a technicolor documentary film made in 1952 in the equatorial Sudan by an official expedition of the American Museum of Natural History, it provoked a huge scandal when it was first screened in a newsreel theater in New Jersey due to the representation of nudity of the Latuko tribe, recorded during their daily life and ceremonies. These layers of stories are woven together onto the Polaroid surface, questioning with dark humor what constitutes a truthful representation of “Otherness.”

The “Terrifying Photo” is a commentary on the social imaginary and superstition concerning Evil: the artist draws with thick red paint an image of witches making a pot of magical fluid, and at the bottom, a black snake, symbolic of Satan. In the center, the “real photograph” of Satan enmeshed into the vapors of Hurricane Andrew conveys absolute visual terror, reminding us about the tendentious media coverage of more recent hurricane catastrophes.

This media critique is heightened in the most recent group of Novellas, which are mixed-media objects combining dense collages of pictures from glamour magazines, cartoons, and one recruitment poster from Life (1943) with 3-D miniature figurines fabricated for hobby train set ups by the German company Prieser. Collecting this minuscule world with a spirit that resembles that of Ryoichi’s playful models, Nagatani lines up the figurines like a child who is building up stories. “The toy - Susan Stewart explains – is the physical embodiment of the fiction: it is a device for fantasy, a point of beginning for narrative… [it] presents a projection of the world of everyday life; this real world is miniaturized or giganticized in such a way as to test the relation between materiality and meaning” (12).

The core or meaning of these narratives is based on the superficiality of physical appearance – both male and female - and the attraction towards power and violence. While the figurines perform like happy little people doing their gym and going to work, or form scores of penis-shaped missiles against a mountain of flesh, the collages above them present dismembered body parts that appear grotesque, scatological, and monstrous. Looking at these jam-packed surfaces, one is reminded of Bosch’s damnation scenes, Hannah Hoch’s aggressive commentaries, and Cindy Sherman’s grotesque prostheses. Even more appropriately, the influence of Nagatani’s mentor and friend, Robert Heinecken, is pervasive in these cut-and-pasted tableaux that use images of flesh as metaphors of chaos and violence. One thinks of the famous “Periodicals” series where gruesome photographs from Vietnam were layered onto glamour ads, but also of Heinecken’s Shiva variations as colorful palimpsests about sex and consumerism. The comparison here goes beyond the obvious appropriation of mass-media imagery, investigating these artists’ playfulness and experimentation with photography and imagination, “credibility and deception” (13).

Such a fine balance between the world seen and imagined defines Nagatani’s Novellas, as he gathers symbols from his personal archive as well as from picture magazines and codified histories of photography, transforming them into short fictions about the mask, the lover, the gambler, the outsider, the mourner, the dreamer, the child, the puppeteer…, and inviting his viewers/readers to discern all the layers, play with the fragments, and retrace the process of forming his short stories about the Self.

Maria Antonella Pelizzari


1) Haruki Murakami, Introduction to Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. 24 stories, New York: Knopf, 2006

2) Mary Carroll Nelson, “Printer Leaves Water Behind In Technique,” Albuquerque Journal, January 5, 1992. Among the artists who worked with Jeff Ryan are Tom Barrow, Miguel Gandert, and Lorna Simpson.

3) Clinton Adams, “Conceptually loaded. A Conversation with Patrick Nagatani,” in Linda Tyler and Barry Walker, eds., Hot Off the Press, Albuquerque: Tamarind Institute, 1994, p.101

4) Artist’s words transcribed in Eugenia Parry Janis, Nuclear Enchantment, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1991, p.27

5) This figure recalls plate 33 in Nuclear Enchantment.

6) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Prologue to Strange Pilgrims, New York: Knopf, 1993, p.xii.

7) Leigh Anne Langwell, “Patrick Nagatani,” in Uncommon Traits. Re/locating Asia, Buffalo, CEPA Gallery, 1997, Part I, p.3

8) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, New York, Harper Collins, 1991, p.4.

9) Craig Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism” in Beyond Recognition. Representation, Power, and Culture, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992, p.54

10) Conversation I had with Nagatani on June 1st, 2007.

11) On these issues about authenticity and primitivism see James Clifford, “Histories of the Tribal and the Modern”, in The Predicament of Culture. Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, Harvard University Press, 1988, pp. 189-214.

12) Susan Stewart, On Longing. Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Duke University Press, 1993, pp.56-57

13) Robert Heinecken, “Manipulative Photography,” Contemporary Photographer, vol.5, no.4, 1967.

Patrick Nagatani on Novellas

The Novellas work constitutes over 30 pieces made from 1992 to 1997. The work ranges from waterless lithographs to chromogenic prints to Polaroid 20X24 ER Land Prints to Belgium photo linen with applied mixed media.

The following quotes are sources for my statement for this work.

Florentino always kept the notebook in which his father wrote love poems, some of them inspired by Transito Ariza, its pages decorated with drawings of broken hearts. Two things surprised him. One was the character of his father's handwriting, identical to his own although he had chosen his because it was the one he liked best of the many he saw in the manual. The other was finding a sentence that he thought he had composed but that his father had written in the notebook long before he was born: The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.

It was a meditation on life, love, old age, death: ideas that had often fluttered around her head like nocturnal birds but dissolved into a trickle of feathers when she tried to catch hold of them. There they were, precise, simple, just as she would have liked to say them, and once again she grieved that her husband was not alive to discuss them with her as they used to discuss certain events of the day before going to sleep.

Katabasis - ancient Greek

The mark of Descent, whether undertaken consciously or unconsciously, is a newly arrived-at lowliness, associated with water and soul, as height is associated with spirit. "Water prefers low places." The lowliness happens particularly to men who are initially high, lucky, elevated.

When "katabasis" happens, a man no longer feels like a special person. He is not. One day he is in college, being fed and housed- often on someone else's money- protected by brick walls men long dead have built, and the next day he is homeless, walking the streets, looking for some way to get a meal and a bed. People know immediately when you are falling or have fallen: doormen turn their backs, waiters sneer, no one holds the subway car door for you.

Iron John - A Book About Men, Robert Bly

Kairos - Greek

One day, perhaps in August, he takes off his turban or tarboosh. He reveals to the sky inadvertently and only for a moment the gold head of hair. The princess does not see the head itself. In a gorgeous display of the storyteller's wit, worthy of Shakespeare, sunlight bounces off the gold head, then up to the wall of the second-floor chamber.
The Swedes call these spots of light moving on a wall a "suncat." How beautiful it is for the sun to be allowed to take part in her first glimpse of the young man, for whom this meeting will be fateful. The Princess meets the man with gold hair, but the gold head also meets the sun. The golden hair has been inactive up to now, something to be kept hidden. Now it does something. The young man senses that he is being seen and replaces the cap, but it is too late. This moment was the kairos, as the Greeks called it, exactly the right moment for what was lying hidden in one's fate to be revealed.

Iron John - A Book About Men, Robert Bly


There exists a type of phenomenon, even more mysterious than telepathy or precognition, which has puzzled man since the dawn of mythology: the seemingly accidental meeting of two unrelated causal chains in a coincidental event which appears both highly improbable and highly significant. Arthur Koestler

Synchronicity - Science, Myth, and the Trickster, Allan Combs and Mark Holland

Silent Resonance

The marvelous and mysterious which is peculiar to night may also the remarkable silence that may intervene in the midst of the liveliest conversations; it was said, at such times, that Hermes had entered the room...

The Homeric Gods, Walter Otto

Synchronicity and Myth

The first function of a mythology is to waken and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of this finally inscrutable universe, whether understood in Michelangelo's way as an effect of the will or an anthropomorphic creator, or in the way of our modern physical scientists- and of many of the leading Oriental religious and philosophical systems- as the continuously created dynamic display of an absolutely transcendent, yet universally immanent, mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which is the ground at once of the whole spectacle and of oneself.

The Way of the Animal Powers, Volume I, Joseph Campbell

There are things which you have said to me which I do not like. They were not sweet like sugar, but bitter like gourds. You said that you wanted to put us upon a reservation, to build us houses and to make us Medicine lodges. I do not want them.

I was born on the prairie, where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures, and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there, and not within walls. I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived over in that country. I lived my fathers before me, and like them I lived happily.

When I was at Washington, the Great Father told me that all the Comanche land was ours, and that no one should hinder us in living upon it. So why do you ask us to leave the rivers, and the sun, and the wind, and live in houses? Do not ask us to give up the buffalo for the sheep. The young men have heard talk of this and it has made them sad and angry. Do not speak of it any more. I love to carry out the talk I get from the Great Father. When I get goods and presents, I and my people feel glad since it shows that he holds us in his eye. If the Texans had kept out of my country, there might have been peace. But that which you now say we must live on is too small.

The Texans have taken away the places where the grass grew the thickest and the timber was the best. Had we kept that, we might have done this thing you ask. But it is too late. The white man has the country which we loved and we only wish to wander on the prairie until we die. Any good thing you say to me shall not be forgotten. I shall carry it as near to my heart as my children and it shall be as often on my tongue as the name of the Great Spirit. I want no blood upon my land to stain the grass. I want it all clear and pure, and I wish it so, that all who go through among my people may find peace when they come in, and leave it when they go out.

Medicine Lodge Council of 1867, Ten Bears, a Comanche chief

When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight it is called murder. When a white army battles Indians and wins it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre and bigger armies are raised. If the Indian flees before the advance of such armies, when he tries to return he finds that white men are living where he lived. If he tries to fight off such armies, he is killed and the land is taken anyway. When an Indian is killed it is a great loss which leaves a gap in our people and a sorrow in our heart; when a white is killed, three or four others step up to take his place and there is no end to it. The white man seeks to conquer nature, to bend it to his will and to use it wastefully until it is all gone and then he simply moves on, leaving the waste behind him and looking for new places to take. The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land.

Chiksika, elder brother of Tecumseh, to Tecumseh, March 19, 1779

Canandaigua Treaty of 1794

In 1794 at Canandaigua a treaty was signed between President Washington's Indian agent, Colonel Timothy Pickering, and the chiefs of the Six Nations Confederacy. It recognized the Iroquois as a sovereign nation and guaranteed that the United States would never encroach upon what was left of Iroquois territories in western and central New York. The treaty was never honored, despite persistent complaints to the United States government by Iroquois chiefs. Recently an original copy of the treaty was discovered by confederacy chiefs in a forgotten safe-deposit box. They argue that the document is conclusive proof of the legitimacy of their claim to the lands in question.

Millennium - Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World, David Maybury-Lewis

For me this was the first love in my life. And, if such a blunt way of speaking be forgiven, it was clearly a love closely connected with desires of the flesh.

I began looking forward impatiently to summer, or at least to summer's beginning. Surely, I thought, summer will bring with it an opportunity to see his naked body. Also, I cherished deeply within me a still more shamefaced desire. This was to see that "big thing" of his.

Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima

...Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it never has and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Within beauty both shores meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I'm not a cultivated man, brother, but I've thought a lot about this. Truly there are mysteries without end! Too many riddles weigh man down on earth. We guess them as we can, and come out of the water dry. Beauty! I cannot bear the thought that a man of noble heart and lofty mind sets out with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What's still more awful is that the man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and in the bottom of his heart he may still be on fire, sincerely on fire, with longing for the beautiful ideal, just as in the days of his youthful innocence. Yes, man's heart is wide, too wide indeed. I'd have it narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! But what the intellect regards as shameful often appears splendidly beautiful to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, most men find their beauty in Sodom. Did you know this secret? The dreadful thing is that beauty is not only terrifying but also mysterious. God and the Devil are fighting there, and their battlefield is the heart of man. But a man's heart wants to speak only of its own ache. Listen, now I'll tell you what it says...

The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevski

...Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. the scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.

The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler

Each individual is born into a culture, and its orientations and basic beliefs shape him and remain deeply rooted in his personality all of his life. If he moves into a new culture with other orientations and basic beliefs, the two versions of reality are dissonant within him. Even after he is a firmly functioning member of the new culture, the orientations of his beginnings still influence him.

As it is with an individual, so it is with a field of knowledge. The sources from which a field grew remain within it as a shadow skeleton, and they partly define for it what is real and what is true, what is sense and what is nonsense- in short, what is the basic shape or essence of reality. When the field develops so that new data contradict these old beliefs, a basic conflict develops in the field of knowledge. There is great difficulty and struggle in recognizing, organizing, and solving the new problems presented by the conflict of the new data and the old beliefs and basic orientations. In the struggle confusions arise, and there is a loss of communication among many of the students of the field of knowledge....

Einstein's Space & Van Gogh's Sky - Physical Reality and Beyond, Lawrence Leshan & Henry Margenau

...the checkered, fateful adjustment of man to the outer world. This ceaseless shifting in man's relations to the impressions crowding in upon him from the surrounding world forms the starting point for all psychology on the grand scale, and no historical, cultural or artistic phenomenon is within reach of our understanding until it has been set in the perspective of this determining point of view.

Form in Gothic, W. Worringer

But it behooves us to be very careful, not to forget that we are dealing only with analogies, and that is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to drag them out of the region where they originated and have matured.

Sigmund Freud

Fragments from the Ancient Notebooks

One day a story will arrive in your town. There will always be disagreement over direction- whether the story came from the southwest or the southeast. The story may arrive with a stranger, a traveler thrown out of his home country months ago. Or the story may be brought by an old friend, perhaps the parrot trader. But after you hear the story, you and the others prepare by the new moon to rise up against the slave masters.

Almanac of the Dead, Leslie Marmon Silko

Seese's dream

In the photographs you are smiling
taller than I have ever seen you
older than you were when I lost you.
The colors of the lawn and house behind are indistinct
milked to faded greens and browns.
I know I will never hold you again.

Almanac of the Dead, Leslie Marmon Silko

Turning Into the God Who Lighteneth the Darkness

MAKING THE TRANSFORMATION INTO THE GOD WHO LIGHTENETH THE TRANSFORMATION INTO THE GOD WHO LIGHTENETH THE DARKNESS. The Osiris the scribe of Ani, whose word is truth, saith: - I am the girdle of the garment of the god Nu, which giveth light, and shineth, and belongeth to his breast, the illuminer of the darkness, the uniter of the two Rehti deities, the dweller in my body, through the great spell of the words of my mouth. I rise up, but he who was coming after me hath fallen. He who was with him in the Valley of Abtu hath fallen. I rest. I remember him. The god Hu hath taken possession of me in my town. I found him there. I have carried away the darkness by my strength, I have filled the Eye of Ra when it was helpless, and when it came not on the festival of the fifteenth day. I have weighed Sut in the celestial houses against the Aged One who was with him. I have equipped Thoth in the House of the Moon-god, when the fefteenth day of the festival came not. I have taken possession of the Urrt Crown. Truth is in my body; turquoise and crystal are its months. My homestead is there among the lapis-lazuli, among the furrows thereof. I am Hem-Nu, the lightener of the drkness. I have come to lighten the darkness; it is light. I have lightened the darkness. I have overthrown the ashmiu-fiends. I have sung hymns to those who dwell in the darkness. I have made to stand up the weeping ones, whose faces were covered over; they were in a helpless state of misery. Look ye then upon me. I am Hem-Nu. I will not let you hear concerning it. I have lightened the darkness. I have come. I have made an end to the darkness which hath become light indeed.

Hieroglyphic transcript of the Papyrus of ANI, The Book of the Dead

Like surgery, the manual fine arts comprised useful human skills. In the Platonic and especially the Neoplatonic tradition, however, this mechanical adroitness was associated with subrational and opinionative faculties. Its deceptive domain was that of blurring sensory judgment and vagrant corporeal imagination. Nor did such sleights of hand require the high probing intellection demanded of any episteme or science. This is not to deny that antiquity occasionally valued the maker of pots or the fabricator of verses...The tactile analogy between surgery and the visual arts most pertinent for the eighteenth century, however, was not that of divine powers visible in accomplished skillfulness, but the moral activity of dissecting and cutting...As zones of morbidity, they corresponded to a new function of the studio as an admonitory museum of mortality, and to a new erudite critic curious to the point of cruelty. These philosophical investigators hunted for the unfathomable with uninhibited mental fingers. They ignored Augustine's authoritative dictum that the human body was an aesthetic unity...

Body Criticism - Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine, Barbara Maria Stafford

A depression always came over him when he came East like this, but the oldness and abandonment weren't the only reasons for it. He was a Midwesterner and he shared the prejudices of many Midwesterners against this region of the country. He didn't like the way everything gets more stratified here. The rich start looking richer and the poor start looking poorer. What was worse, they looked as though they thought this was the way things ought to be. They had settled for this. There was no sign it was going to change.

In a state like Minnesota or Wisconsin you can be poor and still feel some sense of dignity if you work hard and live fairly cleanly and you keep your eye on the future. But here in New York it seemed as if when you're poor you're just poor. And that means you're nobody. Really nobody. And if you're rich you're really somebody. And that fact seemed to explain ninety-five percent of everything else that went on in this region.

Maybe he was just noticing it more because he'd been thinking about Indians. some of these differences are just urban-rural differences, and the East is more urban. But some of these differences reflected European values too. Every time he came this way he could feel the people getting more formal and impersonal and ...crafty. Exploitative. European. And petty too, and ungenerous.

Out West among the Indians it's a standing joke that the chief is the poorest man in the tribe. Every time somebody needs something he's the one they go to, and by the Indian code, "the generosity of the frontier," he has to help them....

It just got worse and worse around here. The rich got glitzier and glitzier and the poor got scuzzier and scuzzier until you finally got to New York City. Homeless crazies hovering over ventilator grates while billionaires are escorted past them to their limousines. With each some-how accepting this as natural.

Lila - An Inquiry Into Morals - Robert M. Pirsig

Man's chief difference from the brutes lies in the exuberant excess of his subjective propensities. His preeminence over them lies simply and solely in the number and in the fantastic and unnecessary character of his wants, physical, moral, aesthetic and intellectual. Had his whole life not been a quest for the superfluous, he would never have established himself so inexpungeably in the necessary. And from the consciousness of this, he should draw the lesson that his wants are to be trusted, that even when their gratification seems furthest off, the uneasiness they occasion is still the best guide of his life, and will lead him to issues entirely beyond his present powers of reckoning. Prune down his extravagances, sober him, and you undo him.

The Will to Believe, William James

The Wild Man doesn't come to full life through being "natural," going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing, and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.

Iron John - A Book About Men, Robert Bly

Body as Cosmos

Prior to the scientific revolution, Europeans felt a direct connection to the universe and its workings through the composition of their bodies. Throughout the Middle Ages, scientists and theologians alike considered the human body to be a microcosm - a micro-cosmos. Each portion of the body corresponded to other parts of the universe. This reflected the belief that since human beings were created in god's image, their bodies were models of the universe itself. Thus, characteristics of the planets and signs of the zodiac corresponded to the behaviour of particular organs. The sun ruled the heart, Mars the gall bladder; Aries, being hot, fiery and choleric accorded these characteristics to the head, while Pisces ruled the feet, the final sign of the zodiac calendar. Indeed, the body's cosmic unity was offered as the reason why dissecting corpses for medicine was forbidden - to dismember the body would be to mutilate the universe itself.

From S.K. Heninger, "The Human Microcosm," The Cosmographical Glass. David le Breton

I circle around-
I circle around
The boundaries of the earth,
The boundaries of the earth-
Wearing the long feathers I fly
Wearing the long feathers I fly.

The Ghost Dance

The ghost dance was a movement that arose among the Indians in the western United States in the late nineteenth century. It was an attempt to resurrect a native way of life that had been shattered by European expansion. The Indian prophets of the Ghost Dance laid down a moral code that was strictly pacifist. They promised that the dancers would communicate with the dead and receive information about the impending return of the ancestors and the liberation of the native peoples from white rule. In 1890, two hundred Sioux followers of the movement - men, women, and children - were slaughtered by United States troops at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Millennium - Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World, David Maybury Lewis

Love Sickness

The medieval world considered passionate love to be a form of sickness. Knights became so distraught over their unrequited love that they often couldn't get out of bed. This was considered humiliating since it meant a man had become enslaved by a woman - his social inferior. Worse still, in the eyes of parochial courtly society, he even began to act in a feminine manner- passive, weak, helpless, emotional.

It wasn't until the eleventh century that anyone suggested a real cure. Constantine the African earned the gratitude of learned men all over Europe when he translated a series of Arab medical texts into Latin. His book was called The Viaticum, and in it Europeans read that love was a sickness just like insomnia, frenzy, drunkenness, and epilepsy. The cure for love was to let loose the humors that had been blocked up inside - let off some sexual steam, as it were. The afflicted lover was instructed to have hot baths, seek out conversation, music, even love poetry. One of the more highly recommended cures was sexual intercourse, but never with the loved one - this would merely sink one deeper into the obsession. The best recourse was to seek out a prostitute's service and get the love out of your system, once and for all.

Based on information in Mary Frances Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages


Kurt Vonnegut

Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours.. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what is was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.

Quoted from Paul Valery, The Conquest of Qbiquity, Aesthetics

In the beginning of all things,
wisdom and knowledge were with the animals;
for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly
to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed
himself through the beasts, and that from them,
and from the stars and the sun and the moon,
man should learn. Tirawa
spoke to man through
his works.

Chief Letakots-Lesa of the Pawnee Tribe to Natalie Curtis, c. 1904

In 1613, when Galileo published the first telescopic observations of Saturn, word and drawing were as one. The stunning images, never seen before, were just another sentence element.

Saturn, a drawing, a work, a noun.

The wonderful becomes familiar and the familiar wonderful.

Envisioning Information, Edward R. Tufte