No Self stands alone. Behind it stretches an immense chain of physical and – as a special class within the whole – mental events, to which it belongs as a reacting member and which it carries on. Through the condition at any moment of its somatic, especially its cerebral system, and through education, and tradition, by word, by writing, by monument, by manners, by a way of life, by a newly shaped environment… by so much that a thousand words would not exhaust it, by all that, I say, the Self is not so much linked with what happened to its ancestors, it is not so much the product, and merely the product, of all that, but rather, in the strictest sense of the word, the SAME THING as all that: the strict, direct continuation of it, just as the Self aged fifty is the continuation of the Self aged forty.
Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and depths; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought…
Holy Ghost Panel, Horseshoe Canyon, UT Image by Katherine McDaniel
What happens when one gets lost in the desert with no way home?
The spoken word is very powerful, as are natural sounds: the sound of breath, of footsteps, of rain and wind. Mirage invites you to step into a world of distortion and hallucination, where one sound becomes another and images morph into something more. What waits within the desert canyon?
Synkroniciti is excited to unveil its first video project, a three minute video poem by Katherine McDaniel called Mirage. Video poetry is a relatively new and exciting genre that adds visual and auditory elements to the experience of reading a poem or hearing it recited. I hope you enjoy watching Mirage as much as I enjoyed making it.
A complete stranger has the capacity to alter the life of another irrevocably. This domino effect has the capacity to change the course of an entire world. That is what life is; a chain reaction of individuals colliding with others and influencing their lives without realizing it. A decision that seems miniscule to you, may be monumental to the fate of the world.
― J.D. Stroube, Caged by Damnation
Some jails in the US have attempted to reinstate the chain gang. Do you think this is a viable option?
Here is a trailer for Xackery Irving’s American Chain Gangs. I recommend watching the film to see the complexity of the situation and the dangers we face as a society.
Jails in Alabama and Arizona resurrected the chain gang at the end of the 20th century. Although it is not exactly the same practice that was so widespread and cruel that it became taboo fifty years earlier, it still has unresolved issues and terrible connotations. Alabama has dropped their program because of lawsuits over human rights. Arizona continues it.
Years ago, to be on a chain gang meant that you stayed chained to your neighbors until your sentence was over or you died. If you needed to relieve yourself, if you were sick or sleeping, you remained chained. It was also associated with the last vestiges of slavery, as many chain gangs were comprised of African Americans, escaped slaves or free men that were often there on trumped up charges or out of self-defense.
Today the chains are put on when prisoners go on work detail, and they can be removed in certain situations. No one can say that the conditions are comparable, but what are the effects of the practice? What marks does it leave on prisoners, on guards, and on society?
How do people survive horrible experiences? In Beloved, Toni Morrison gives an illustration of resilience and how fragile it is.
When good hearted Paul D. appears on Sethe’s porch one day in 1873 neither has any idea how his arrival will shake their lives and their Ohio community. It isn’t that he carries a secret. It is that he is unaware of the truth that everyone else knows. His coming will awaken that truth, opening old wounds that will either heal or kill.
Paul D. and Sethe are both former slaves who escaped from a farm called Sweet Home after it was passed on to relatives of the original owners. Mr. and Mrs. Garner had been atypical slave owners who allowed their slaves to learn to read and write, to carry guns and to speak their own opinions. This left their small group of slaves easy prey to the racism and prejudice of the new owners, who felt obliged to punish them for “privileges” to which they had become accustomed. Paul D. and Sethe are the last alive and are free after years of hardship… at least they appear so.
When Paul D. arrives, Sethe is in a bad situation: she lives alone, isolated from the community, in a house inhabited by her youngest daughter, Denver, a teenager, and the ghost of her dead baby girl, who bumps and stomps around the house. Her mother-in-law is long dead, her husband never made it back from Sweet Home, and her two boys have run away. She and her house reek of death and despair, but Paul D. is drawn to this beautiful woman that he desired so many years ago and he is unwilling to see it. Unspoken truth looms over them, sowing discontent.
In Alabama, where Paul D. was in prison, he was part of a chain gang. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, prisoners were put on the chain for the duration of their sentence. They couldn’t relieve themselves or sleep without being chained to the next man. These men were escaped slaves or captured free men and many were there on trumped up charges, for stealing in order to eat, for assault or killing in self-defense. Through incredible teamwork, Paul D.’s entire unit escaped one night in a heavy rainstorm and were freed by Cherokee Indians who sympathized with the prisoners and removed their chains. He became a free man, although he feels that he doesn’t know how to be one.
Sethe was never chained in the way Paul D. was, although she spent some time in prison. Instead, her chains exist in her mind and are every bit as real as his leg irons. She has withdrawn from everyone who might help her remove them, isolating herself from the world around her and thus verifying and accepting the judgments of her neighbors and of her former captors. She has nourished accusing memories and remained stoic and silent.
Beloved stirs up deep emotions. How much can a human being take? It also encourages us to reach out to each other, to try and understand and help those who have horror in their past. The chains required are chains of love and acceptance, not chains of punishment.
What can you do with bicycle chain? Plenty. The human body is elegantly depicted in Seo Young Deok’s exhibition Dystopia. Then, enjoy Nirit Levav and her whimsical dogs, a favorite here at Synkroniciti.