TGA–little interlude, or why this project is causing me trouble

31 03 2010

You mustn’t hide too well.  You mustn’t be too good at the game

Sitting inside of this project of mine.  My Dossier is disarranged!

If I pulled a sheet at random, what image would I find?

The Title Page.  (And that means?–

I am

The Fool)

I might have lied to you, pulled another image.  But what’s the use?

in the black of an eye

The image I wanted was of a bat held in the hands of a man. Translucent wings.

in the heat of the act

(I held bats in Costa Rica. We caught them in mistnets

they were tiny and astonished me)

a crack in the ice

Here I am in this project.  Inside a fissure (loud).

no sign of the ships

And here is what I learned about Tierra del Fuego.

Come down

And here is what I learned about Gunther Plüschow

Call down

But what I am really learning is

Acheronta movebo

I have listed in my mind, for organization and research purposes, the different components of The Golden Archipelago.

They are : islands, bats, caracaras,

Bikini Atoll, bombs

Tierra del Fuego, Queensland,




Germany ……And I’m off track again.  Please forgive me for my distraction.

Other echoes

inhabit the garden

But is part of the point this sort of distraction? Or maybe not distraction.  More like convergences and new meanings.

All time is unreedemable

I am addicted to a queer bath of biology and history and literature and pinlights of understanding.  Inside of The Golden Archipelago and the Dossier, for example, is the floating, the moving through insecure and vanishing and watery worlds of time past and time present.

Thus, in your mind

But to what purpose

But, and therein lies the rub, I feel a tremendous, and unforeseen, anxiety in association with wandering through this particular piece of work.

Footfalls echo in the memory

I want to finish.  I am stuck.

Down the passage which we did not take

These are the things this project is not:

It is not a research paper, or review.  For these I could gather in existent resources and marshal my own analytic skills to cover the topic thoroughly.  Feeling comfortable that I analyzed the data and scoured available information and, essentially, covered my ass.

It is not a dalliance in someone’s fixed work.  For this, like my recent diving into Moby Dick and splashing around with my own little store of biological information, I can marshal information and forge into new realms knowing Herman Melville won’t be telling it differently except from the grave.

It is not my own thing.  It is not the same as my other things, all these projects I am slowly working through that are actually mine. That are waiting for me to finish this self imposed assignment.  My own things that are mine 100% whether good or crappy.

Towards the door we never opened

This is what this project is:

It is an attempt to parse through clues that are both personal and not personal to someone else.  It is an attempt to break open a living work and in doing so, because of the nature of the work, my own emotional response, the ideas and objects the music and images bring up should be part of the project.

do you accept this, dear reader?

The problem for me is that I do not accept this.

I drift away, while you

Stay and shine in your beauty

Shearwater is currently touring and interviews with Jonathan Meiberg are emerging regularly  (two recent ones are here and here).  What this means is that I will write things that are not necessarily truly part of Meiberg’s vision for the work and then, perhaps, the truth will come out in an interview, or a live show, or I’ll just figure something else out or or or or and

this is what frightens me.

Had a chosen another album, for example, Shearwater’s Palo Santo (about Nico) or perhaps…oh, I don’t know what…but anyway, it would be somewhat fixed in time, no longer organically changing and I would be able to push and pull to my heart’s content without this strange anxiety.

you’re so much alone in this lovely world

All this is to say…I will lie by accident and tell you untruths and please forgive me now.

you cannot know

I will finish this project, because that is what I do, and then move on.

the escape

isn’t an option for us

as it is for the birds

The next posts will be the continuance and completion of this project.  Therein I will ask

What is the animal being gutted?

What were you doing in the archives?

Where may I find my bat, in flight and resting?

And the volcanoes?

And yet the birds the birds the caracaras

And the sea.  How I miss her.

Thus while she spoke, she cut the fatal hair:

The struggling soul was loos’d, and life dissolv’d in air.


quotes are from Jean Baudrillard, Ingborg Bachman, T. S. Eliot, Friedrich Hölderlin, Shearwater, Virgil


TGA–Tierra del Fuego and Darwin

24 03 2010





I admit this, I am having some trouble with this project–I am running afield.  I am wasting time.

I do not know enough.

You cannot know

What this has to do with The Golden Archipelago.  There are, of course, the explicit references to Tierra del Fuego–Plüschow, of whom I’ve written, and the glorious caracaras of whom I’ll write–but also the repeated sound of empire, of superimposition of culture, of loss of displacement, of

the clouds of another life

The fires of the Yaghans inspired Magellen’s name Tierra del Fuego.  And the Yaghans were some of the people Charles Darwin encountered on his voyage on the Beagle.

the hidden life/of the empire

that dreams of us

Charles Darwin is, of course, of central importance in my primary field, evolutionary biology.  His writings are deep and transcend his time.  Except when they don’t.

I believe, in this extreme part of South America, man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world

I believe that Darwin’s theory can (and must, if one is rigorously consistent) be interpreted to produce a vision of all life absent of hierarchy;free from the constructs of good and better

But I am quite possibly excessively naive.

Never saw more miserable creatures; stunted in growth,faces daubed with white paint & quite naked.

Darwin was, of course, completely encapsulated by his own era’s racism and sexism but I cannot help cringing when I read these notes.  They are notes I keep near me to remind myself of the relationship between the cultural and the scientific.

it’s not even past

The Beagle itself would never have sailed with Darwin aboard but for the misguided 19th European idea that human culture was progressive and that, for example, Anglican Christian British civilization was the pinnacle.

This is Night–now–but we are not dreaming

The voyage of the Beagle that Darwin wrote about and that inspired his theory of natural selection, was undertaken so that Captain Robert Fitzroy could return those Yaghans of Tierra del Fuego he had taken

as hostages for the loss of a boat, which had been stolen, to the great jeopardy of a party employed in the survey; and some of these natives, as well as a child whom he bought for a pearl-button, he took with him to England, determining to educate them and instruct them in religion at his own expense.

The original number of hostages was four, but one 20 year old Yamana man, Boat Memory, his original name unknown, died of smallpox after making the journey to Plymouth.

at his own expense

This is a list of the others:

El’leparu renamed York Minster:  a man from the Alacaluf tribe,  (about 26 at the time of his capture)

Yok’cushly renamed Fuegia Basket: a Yaghan girl (about 10 or 11 when captured; 12 when returned)

Orundellico renamed Jemmy Button:  the Yaghan boy traded for a button (about 14 when captured).

is what the body becomes

in the bellow aloud

These are details–at Anglican school, in uniforms, they sing hymms, meet the royals.

until the memory dies

But something doesn’t work out; while Jemmy Button and Fuegia Basket take to the new life like children are want to.  York Minster does not.  He is

determined to marry Fuegia Basket

in other words, he is raping the twelve year old

and a forever life

is an infinite lie

hung wide

And FitzRoy decides to take them back, calling for a naturalist to join him (so he is less alone on the journey).

the second deadened her way completely, throwing her off the wind; and the third great sea, taking her right a-beam, turned her so far over, that all the lee bulwark, from the cat-head to the stern davit, was two or three feet under water

In these rough waters they returned to the region of Jemmy Button’s capture.

Our Fuegian companions seemed to be much elated at the certainty of being so near their own country; and the boy [Jemmy Button] was never tired of telling us how excellent his land was—how glad his friends would be to see him—and how well they would treat us in return for our kindness to him.

But Jemmy had forgotten his language and his family turned their back on him.

blast away the bearings of his life

In the end, Fuegia Basket was killed, or perhaps became a prostitute on shore, or maybe lived to a ripe old age.    York Minster, said by Button to have stolen everything his family owned, vanished into history.  Jemmy Button is met periodically over the next three decades by visiting missionaries–at one point, he and his family are accused of leading a massacre.   While he never returns to England, Jemmy Button remembers much of his English and teaches some to the local people.  In 1866 one of his sons travels to England under the auspices of yet another Anglican missionary.

till his eyes are wild

Quotes are by Shearwater, Charles Darwin, Robert FitzRoy, Emily Dickinson, Guillaume Apollinaire, Friedrich Hölderlin, William Faulkner

TGA–Gunther Plüschow Pt 2

20 03 2010,_Gunther_Pl%C3%BCschow.jpg/220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-11141,_Gunther_Pl%C3%BCschow.jpg

We are contemplating what has not been seen by the human eye!

That delicious, sensational experience when first feasting your eyes on which,

from the creation of the world,

had always remained a mystery,

always covered,

and always forbidden to the human view.

This photograph is of Gunther Plüschow and his son taken in January 1931, the year of his final flight over Tierra del Fuego.

wir werden gutes Wetter dort haben/

we will have good weather there

Plüschow died in that flight, in Lago Argentina, as did his assistant, Ernest Dreblow.  While Plüschow’s parachute failed him, Dreblow survived the plane crash only to die from exposure.

as the body dies/what is left of the heart/burns white

Plüschow was a modern explorer at the tail-end of exploration–with those modern tools, the ability to take to the air and to record images.  In particular, with respect to photography, he was like Peter Hesselbach who wandered the other end of the world (click here) at nearly the same time.

over ancient fields

over islands

Though Hesselbach died under different circumstances.

the slope and the rise

of the mainland

While Plüschow, like other explorers, recorded his voyage textually in several books, the importance of recording his explorations visually for others to see is made manifest by the fact that there was a darkroom installed on his ship, the Feuerland.  Therefore, even now we have to some fascimile of what Plüschow actually saw (in so far as that is what photographs record); indeed, in Shearwater’s Dossier are photos of Plüschow, of the Feuerland.

unfamiliar shapes/through the atmosphere

The connection between The Golden Archipelago and Plüschow is most clearly the Feuerland, the darkroom-carrying-ship he commissioned in 1928 both to carry him from Busum, Germany to Tierra Del Fuego and to serve as a base for his flights of exploration,.  Some of her plans are incorporated into the Dossier, and Meiberg, perhaps, unless I am misleading you, spent time on the Feuerberg.

Something good there was

This is not unlikely, as Plüschow sold the Feuerland in 1929 to pay for his return to Germany, leaving her in Tierra del Fuego for the next 60 plus years.  The Feuerland, renamed the Penelope by the landowner/farmer who purchased her, was used for the next many decades for a variety of purposes, including that of moving people (and critters) from one place to another in the waters in and around Tierra del Fuego.  Only recently did she return to Germany (read here).

Life’s more hidden

Plüschow also took films.  One image in the Dossier is of a ship in an apparently iceberg bound, rock strewn, inlet. Below the image is an arrow pointing to the vessel with the question “is that the boat,” written nearby.  This photo could be a still from one of Plüshow’s movies (which you can watch, here).

the frozen lakes

moors in the darkened bays

It was in 1927 that Plüschow sailed the Feuerland to Tierra de Fuego– journey that took 279 days.  Once there, he first explored the region by ship; then he took to the air, becoming the first person to fly over Tierra del Fuego–without communication, without forecasts, without support from land, in a region of startling beauty and intense weather.

The atmosphere, likewise, in this climate, where gale succeeds gale, with rain, hail, and sleet, seems blacker than anywhere else.

File:Perito Moreno Glacier Patagonia Argentina Luca Galuzzi 2005.JPG

In his plane, Plüschow explored the Paine Region, the Perito Moreno Glacier

Unlike Darwin a hundred years before, who despite the revolution of his theories and his wide-spanning intellect, saw no further in terms of race (and gender) than those of his day:

I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilised man

Plüschow saw both beauty and warmth in the people of Tierra del Fuego.

something good there was

In how you gazed

Plüschow seems to have had a sort of generosity of spirit, though I may be romanticizing him.  I have certainly not read enough of his work (a pathetic excuse).

you’re so much alone in this lovely world,

And, as for opening up new vistas–bringing the beauty back to western Europeans.

You always claim, my darling, but as for that,

You cannot know…

I wonder about that.   What do most of us do with such images?

wherever men can look

Such imaginings?  Do we allow them to open us up?  Or do most of us, of limited imaginations, inscribe our own selves upon them?

at the ocean


Or perhaps, a little of both.


quotes are from Gunther Plüschow, Friedrich Hölderlin, Shearwater, Charles Darwin,

The Golden Archipelago (TGA)–Gunther Plüschow Pt 1

18 03 2010

In a way, all of the stories emerging from The Golden Archipelago  are ancient.

that nothing which has ever happened is to be given as lost to history.

I start with  story about Gunther Plüschow and his ship, the Feuerland, because it has a concreteness about it, being solidified in his own narratives.

I have not even been in the fields,

nor lain my fill in the soft foam,

and here you come blowing, cold wind

Plüschow makes his appearance in the Dossier both through his ship, the Feuerland, which, unless I am reading the translation of an interview incorrectly, Meiberg lived on for a time.  The Dossier includes images of Plüschow, the Feuerberg, and excerpts from his books.

Der sturm der letzen tage hat endlich nach gelassen mein Heines Schiff das den Stolzen Namen Feuerland

What I like about the Dossier and the album are also that which makes them hard to interpret confidently—they have spaces for one to make his/her own connections but are based on one person’s direct experience.

intervals of reflection.

In a recent interview, Meiberg likened this to being a scientist, because there is no roadmap for research.

I do, however, know there is Meiberg’s back story of which I only have little bits–and as I’m insisting on exploring on my own, some of what I say here will not be true.

a mass of data to fill the homogeneous, empty time.

At the time  Gunther Plüschow lived, flew, sailed and made his amazing escapes, and became enamored of Tierra del Fuego, the empires of Europe were violently imploding.  This was the beginning of the 20th century.  This was when the boundaries and forces that direct our current lives were laid down. Plüschow was born in 1886, a year after my great grandfather.  In the written recollections of neither of these German-born-men, do the machinations behind, or the horror of, the Great War, appear.  The Great War is referred to, indeed, Plüschow fought in it.  But they are concerned with other matters–matters having to do with the sea beneath and the stars.

our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption

our godhead, history, has ordered for us a grave from which there’s no resurrection

I start with Plüschow, in Tsingtao, in WWI, because The Golden Archipelago is about empire, and the construction of place, and people, out of the relics of our historical memories–memories of empires that crumbled–under the feet of Plüschow, though he was too light on the ground to be affected.  He was connected to something other than the fatherland.

There is something in The Golden Archipelago about redemption–or I see it there.  Even in all of the sadness the album manifests.  As a descendant of empire-builders and a citizen of a nation that, at times, wants to consider herself an empire, I want redemption.

File:Cheshire Regiment trench Somme 1916.jpg

I am the Continual-Thought-Of-Dying

Plüschow died in an airplane accident in Lago, Argentina, in 1931.

Walter Benjamin, born 6 years after Plüschow, in Berlin in 1892, died, by suicide, at the Franco-Spanish border in 1940.

My great-grandfather, born in Germany the year before Plüschow, and also a member of the German navy, died in a rest home, in California–his own memory exiled.

The Kaiser  died in exile in the Netherlands in 1941 and Hitler in his bunker in 1945.

During  the war, the Great War, millions died in the trenches.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry disappeared in the air over the Mediterranean in 1944.  And Charles Lindbergh died in 1974, in a little house in Hana, Maui.  A house I stayed in several times as a child.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea

But I digress.

As I said above, Plüschow fought in the German Marine Corps as the sole German naval aviator over Tsingtao, the German (rented) possession in China against the British and Japanese.  He was part of the German’s concentrated force in the area.

as the Kaiser said:  it would shame me more to surrender Tsingtao to the Japanese than Berlin to the Russians

Of course, Tsingtao did fall, in November, to the combined British and Japanese forces.  Plüschow was called back to Germany with important papers, the rest of Germany’s military in Tsingtao surrended and was moved to Japanese POW camps.

Plüschow himself landed in mainland China and was interred. He escaped, boarded a ship for San Franscisco, traveled overland to New York, boarded a steamer for Italy and, on this steamer, though disguised as a Swiss citizen, he was captured by the British in February 15, 1915.

He became the first and last person ever to escape from Donington Hall.

And he wrote about his escape and his service in China in his first of a handful of books, Escape from Donington Hall.

throw your empire’s


All of this, all the above, is the prelude to his journey to Tierra del Fuego–where, we presume, his heart had flown many years before, when he saw the postcard that would hold him captive to what seemed to many at the time one sort of end of the earth.


quotes are by Walter Benjamin, Charles Reznikoff, Shearwater, Gunther Plüschow, Ingborg Bachman, Charles Lindberg (though not necessarily in that order).

Exploring The Golden Archipelago–Explanation, Motivations, Disclaimer and Confession

12 03 2010

let the audience rise/let them file through the halls/still assured in their lives/until the sky shudders open/impossibly wide/and the room glows in the sudden light/and they are gone/

There is a thing [something there is that doesn’t] that cannot let go–once captured I keep digging.

they are gone for life

It might be a photograph, a sculpture, a piece of music, a film–whatever it is, I worry it until I  am satisfied or, rather, not feeling that constant itch, constant discomfort.

the waking world

Better for me than sitting and listening, than simply staring, is sifting through.  Looking for the radial lines, so to speak, that are the weft and the warp, the piercing, of any real art.  Done with the knowledge, and the fear, that once I tug at any piece of art, its shape for me is changed forever.

the good of mankind and to end all world wars

It is because I want to know those meridians and their intersections that I am subjecting Shearwater’s new album The Golden Archipelago and the co-created Dossier to my own scrutiny.  In some ways the album, with its beautiful but allusive lyrics, and the Dossier, with its carefully arranged photos, notes and excerpts, openly ask for digging.

We will go believing that everything is in the hands of God.

However, my own motivation, though colored by a desire to study the album (as with any interesting music) and to see through the allusions, is more personal.

I have enjoyed Shearwater’s previous albums–especially the first two in the trilogy to which The Golden Archipelago belongs (Palo Santo and Rook).  Certainly, these albums have spurred me to explorations.  But, at least until now, these explorations have been, like other albums I’ve listened to compulsively, private and kept inside my head.  This is to be a public, textual, exploration.

And here’s a disclaimer:  I am not a musician and will not be exploring explicitly the instrumentation and the mechanics of the music.  You can visit the many reviews (for example, BBC, Austinist, Pitchfork,  for this information).  Better yet, buy the album and go see the band live (they are currently about to tour the US and their energy, commitment to the music and clear connection to one another make Shearwater’s live shows pretty fantastic).

the world blooms

The album and Dossier most overtly reflect on Jonathan Meiburg’s (Shearwater’s lead singer and songwriter) year spent on a Thomas J. Watson fellowship studying “community life at the ends of the earth”  e.g.  Tierra del Fuego, Kowanyama in Queensland, the Chatham Islands and  Kimmirut in Baffin Island. [This album and prior work, also reflect his Master’s work on the biogeography of the straited caracara (a phenomenally cool bird, in fact, nearly as cool as California quail)].

lay the little bones

among the reeds

If you haven’t guessed by now, the album and the Dossier make me itch, at least in part, because they emerge out of a place of research and exploration. In the album and the Dossier the strands of an individual’s singular “research” (and I use this term with hesitation, because it does not encompass) experience becomes a realized piece of art in the world.  This piece of art–the music certainly, but also the Dossier, are the transcendence of the concretized nature of experiential geographical studies (including anthropology and biology) into that which manifests the physical, metaphysical and (as with all true studies of the diversity of humans and nonhumans) disappearing nature of the “in the world” experience of all of those others.

the hangman hangs on the gate,

the hammer sinks in the sea

Meiburg has said in recent interviews that the path of research does not satisfy an aspect of his experience in the way that art does–a getting at the mystical sense that the places he has visited across the world possess.  This expression is something as important as the collection and quantification of data (though not in direct opposition–here is something to remember for later).  For example, in the New York Times he says: “I pursued art further because it’s better equipped to answer some of the questions that science can’t.”

that all-pervading sense of exile

I understand this on a visceral level.  I am a capable scientist and can find joy in the studies.  But at the end of the day, the research is never enough, and never captures what is sheer ecstasy and despair in other places other organisms, moments and spaces where history, grief, and life intersect.

they have gone/they have gone from life


And, as they say often in yoga practice, at the level of the ego, I am fucking jealous.  I cannot simply listen to the album, look at the Dossier and put it away.   It is something realized in a way that I, to this point have been incapable of doing.

Indeed, something that is so realized I am neglecting my own work, what I might create and refine (though my talent always feels lacking always always), to try to trace the lines traversing this work.


I will, perchance, actually explore the work (rather than my own ego) in the next few posts.  We will see what time and energy allow (and children and chicken and parrots and cats and and).  But, here are things to whet your curiosity.  Directly, the album and Dossier  touch on the evacuation and exiled status of the residents of Bikini Atoll (1946), the Mitchell River Mission in Queensland Australia, Gunther Plüschow and the Feuerland, Isla de los Estados and the striated caracara. (Indirectly…or no where but in my mind…youll see…)

When one goes away,….

He must feed the fish his bread

and mix a drop of blood into the sea


quotes from Shearwater, Robert Frost, King Juda, Commodore Ben H. Wyatt, Jonathan Meiburg, Ingeborg Bachmann, Charles Simic

Los objectos del fuego–now at The Quail Diaries

5 03 2010

Just a little note about the objects and their beauty: