Let us all feed the birds

By Jimmie Durham

Edited by David Liver

(misuse of punctuation and spelling is intentional) 

bene; a good place to start::: 

in my mind to not be reconciled means that i do not accept the way things are. 

in 1963 i began to write poetry seriously (and still see it as my main endeavor).  language is so stupid. so inadequate.  so enveloping.  first of all, it tells us that we cannot think without it (a ridiculous  idea). then it refuses our attempts to communicate,,, especially if i want to say something important to another person, “i love you”,  “stop doing that”,  “look at this”, etc.  it is impossible;;;; always misunderstood.  yet we cannot tolerate being alone; we need to communicate.   

poetry, for me, can break the stranglehold of language by using it against its own rules and strictures.  i hate language, but i try to use it.   to imagine that i am full of hatred,,,, yes i am. no i am not. i do not accept what is,,,, and i think people do not, we only pretend to. maybe this weirdity has led me to resist whatever is presented as what must be.  i mean, how is it that the human world has been run by men for the past half a million years and why should that continue?  why should one group of people act superior to another?  why should i accept stupidity? 

resistance and survival are probably the same thing, n’est ce pas?

 “to imagine that i am full of hatred,,,, yes i am. no i am not.  i do not accept what is,,,, and i think people do not, we only pretend to.”

in english the concept, if one exists, of “wheretofore” is truly esoteric,,, i have always loved that word, even though i am not exactly sure what it means;;; for me it is like the word “salubrious”, it connotes sophistication and education while having a pleasant sound. english speakers say (and of course, english writers write) ‘anywhere’ nowhere’ ‘somewhere’ ‘wherewithal’  ‘wherefore’,,, then they say that they do not know where  you are coming from when they mean that they don’t understand what you mean to say.

i like the way aliens say “buon giorno”::: ‘“greetings earthlings’”,.,  to use the word greetings as a greeting is silly but almost german; for bon appetit germans say mahlzeit, which means  lunchtime.  but in english [buon giorno] it is normally hello, which was originally a call to the fox hounds during a hunt.  they once said good morning, and i still do because of an influence of the italian “buon giorno” [since he lives in Naples]. but no cherokee would really say such a thing; we are worse than the americans;;;  normally  one says “osiyo”. (pronounced ‘sho’). but even that has no meaning;;; it is like the scandinavian “hej”.  “osda” (good) is pronounced “sda” with a very soft A.  so now then:;:; i have a theory about “osiyo”. i think the old american slang word “pshaw”  is a different pronunciation of the same word.  it was often used by early black blues singers as a musical expletive. the P in front is meant as a kind of plosive unpronounced hesitation, just like the O is in “oisyo”… the blues come from cherokee chants to make one’s enemy turn blue…. africans got it because so many  cherokee had bought into the american slave trade… (we fought also on the side of andrew jackson to defeat the creeks, destoying more than half of their population over slavery (since they were against it). isn’t history inspiring?

“i hate music because it, like language, is undeniable.”

on one level, every language has evolved as the culture that it is part of;;; so that the entire environment, political, social, natural, make the language.  so that every language is obviously of equal importance to humanity.

on the other hand, we each must translate, simultaneously,  what the other person is saying to us. and we always misunderstand.  if we did not, that would also be monstrous, horrible.  we would be machines. in school i was told that no 2 snowflakes are alike even though there are zillions of them. i thought, it would be frightening  to a point of terror if there were 2 alike.  no 2 of anything could possibly be alike.  what a horrible idea that there might be… american men, i am told, often say to a sexual partner, ‘what do you like?’, in the sense of sexual goings-on…. i always think that what one likes alone, or with one partner, probably would not be good with another. for it to be so would mean no communication. to say what one ‘likes’ is to imagine total privacy with an assistant. who would ‘perform’ without communication, only language.

it is astounding, miraculous and funny that we do communicate. and language itself, especially when we so desperately need to communicate with another person about some specific, and try so hard to use language ( which always promises us that it can do the job)::: 

“i decided early on to not accept the way things are. and at the same time i could see that i was helpless to do much.

(i did everything i could to make sure that everyone around me had food, even the tadpoles in rain pools which would die when the water dried up.

sometimes i would add water to the pool until they became frogs).”

anyway, other animals are able to use body language to a degree almost unbelievable.  and could speak with us much more if we would  observe more, with the desire to communicate, to comprehend. instead, scientists continue to test them on their ability to speak our language.

there is a magical stone that you can talk to. it will then talk to another person, saying what you had said to it. its name is musical, poetical but no one uses it any more,,, i guess because we have no time for such stuff. it is combilene tantalon, and is in every mobile phone.

And there is the very sensitive europium::: like europe itself, europium hardly exists.  sodium exists but does not like to.;; it always wants to form alliances. so that it is not noticed. And hafnium tends to burst into flame if you leave it on the table.   this year mercury and i have the same number, 80.  i have some of it in berlin because i once did an artwork with it. the work broke in the gallery. don’t know what happened to that mercury but i still have some left….  not very useful… maybe that is also my condition. funny.

all of life is funny, because it is so serious and unfunny.  no death is at the right moment, no death is funny.  in the morning you put on your shoes, intending to eat breakfast.  but then you are struck dead instead.  that is really funny. or maybe you intend to tell your lover something vital, find that it is too late. died a few minutes ago…   the fact that we cannot reconcile ourselves to death is really funny. 

a friend of mine worries about death all of the time, he is afraid of it. i say,  don’t worry,,, you are going to die:::.

as a child i was kind of a fanatic;  i saw animals in nature all around me, some were small, turtles, frogs, snakes, birds,, others were rabbits, racoons, dogs and cats, possums, etc. all were always hungry, always being fearful of being eaten, always full of ailments.  if a large turtle was wounded in a fight with another turtle. the wound would have maggots, and lead to a horrible death. and yet. everyone lived life without pause or  timidity.

i decided early on to not accept the way things are. and at the same time i could see that i was helpless to do much. (i did everything i could to make sure that everyone around me had food, even the tadpoles in rain pools which would die when the water dried up. sometimes i would add water to the pool until they became frogs).


i don’t want to be reconciled;;; when i say i hate music people often imagine that i mean i do not listen to it.  but of course i do, it is what humans do. 

i hate music because it, like language, is undeniable. if i hear a military marching band i am ready to march along and join the killing. if i hear Peter Tosh or Toots & the Maytals i cannot help but move. BUT i have always really disliked film because i knew it first in movie theaters, where it COMES AT YOU, WAVES ONTO YOU  with music, low lights, no distractions (in my life i depend on distractions). only later in life i saw a miraculous film, ZOOT SUIT, and began to have a different idea of cinema and how it is,  away from hollywood.

i am really serious about not being reconciled::: so that i do not accept that we american indians from both continents have been defeated. i want  the invading nation-states and their settler colonies (the american nation-states). to completely disappear.  and all other nations-states also.  but my work towards that aim is not of the type that i imagine some great revolution.,.. or even much change in my lifetime.   and i have no clear plan or ideas of how the world will be managed afterwards. (except that part of that is the end of rule by men).

soon i will write 3  connected lectures for  a project at the serpentine gallery in london. i will talk about how we do not change until we are forced to. that does not mean physical force by some tough guys but climate change, etc. i will also talk about how we have never been in such a situation as now, even though many people talk about how times have been very bad in the past and we pull through to get better on the other side.  it is not true this time because so many of us have already become extinct. where “us” must include all of life. we are all one family. 

“in my mind categories can be helpful but are usually harmful because we come to  think of them as reality.”

i wish i was a thin black guy, ethiopian or sudanesse.  just when i would wear beautiful african clothes.  (not all the time because it would be too much sad trouble). i have seen white men wearing such clothes and they look ridiculous.   although Marlon Brando in sayonara looked pretty good in japanese clothes, and before the war, japanese men often wore traditional clothes with western-style hats and looked excellent.   i look scottish (our most famous chief, john ross, almost 200 years ago, was pure scottish, not a drop of native american blood,,, even though spilled on the ground all blood looks the same). i look completely inauthentic in a business suit, and think everyone knows that i am just dressing up.

in our neighborhood in berlin there is a korean baptist church. a friend tells me that now most people in south korea are baptist christian.  they do not look like the baptists i knew as a child, nor act like them (although they do act weird). i think they may be fake baptists, as most baptists in louisiana would surely agree.

but music is the most extraordinary,,, flamenco in spain is known to be pure spanish.  yet flamenco means flemish. spain ruled flanders for a long time, i lived there for two years and tried to imagine what dances the spanish interpreted. then i saw it in the north, the germanic part of the country, and then even in germany,,, as schuhplattler type of dance.  typically germanic, not graceful or easy.   

George Washington kept a diary as a young man and wrote in it that working as a land surveyor (!). he was invited to cherokee villages, where people danced continuously.  knowing how unimaginative our dancing is now, i must assume that in those days we knew how to dance and then with all of the genocide, could not maintain it.  but the way we dance now “american indian” dance, is known worldwide.  part of that is  of a style called fancy dance, which is always done for competitions and is completely invented as a tourist attraction in oklahoma.  when i was younger, old people would complain about such dancing, saying that it was  “not the way we do it”.there is an accusation/observation about  ‘gypsy’, roma, music that it does not really exist; only borrowings and appropriations from what  they hear and pick up as they travel around.  that they have no music of their own.   excellent!  to have no music of your own, but only what other people are doing. exactly the way i learned language!

in my mind categories can be helpful but are usually harmful because we come to  think of them as reality.

“it is justice we need, and liberation from our oppression by us.”

i mean categories seem necessary but i bet they are only to the degree that we simultaneously deny them as we use them. many people now look for identity,,, and want to keep it against someone else. 

it is justice we need, and liberation from our oppression by us.

no matter what the subject under discussion, whatever discourse,  the current situation changes the ways we have been normally thinking….  when we try to think about appropriation now, it is not possible to discuss the problems of power structures and who participates now, and how, in them, nor the ideas of good work vs sloppy work nor anything useful.  

so MANY PEOPLE are in every single non-discourse, always without any possibility of really participating;;; no actual voice, no possible influence. when we all have fewer rights and more  “freedom”. in other words, extreme alienation disguised as autonomy.  i mean, everyone is crazy now. 

for me the problem growing in size and complexity is about society itself;:;:;

when europe sent its troublesome extra people to the americas (a 300 hundred years program that diffused so many ideas of possible changes), those people were free only to be more of what they were not allowed to be at home,; i mean within the strictures of being set down by the systems in place. they were not at all free to become nice or smart or thoughtful; free only to act, as best they could imagine, like the bosses back home.  among the monstrosities of that were the ideas of “personal”, monetary “success”.  So, over years art became more tied to that practice, so that by the time Picasso came along europe itself had already taken its settler idea of fame, success  and money.

after the 2nd world war some american artists began to play with the concepts of art, but only in the tight framework of eurocentric commercial art itself.  so that now, when one reads the news or watches any news media, one reads about how much money some artist or actor or singer makes. that is the only criterion for “success”, in a world where every day money takes a stronger role.  

as that develops, the population grows and those with extra money multiply so much that all of the northern hemisphere seems like the world’s bourgeoisie.  

so then, that being the framework, i see that systems of categories have become too big and too commercial to be viable.

i mean really,,, there are very many people with little idea of what anything might mean for us all, maintained by fame and money.  much talk about nothing over and over.  so much access to so much trite silliness passed off as culture. so many stupid books and so many people to read them celebratorily.

yet we are social animals. i do not mean that we have a fondness for sociality, i mean that is our biology. like having 2 legs or opposable thumbs. everything we do we do socially.  therefore.  suppose i retire and read a book in private.  what book? not one of mine. why do i read it? to be in discourse with “someone” whether i admit that or approve of that or not.we cannot withdraw from society, and we cannot take part in society.  it is  like a double koan [a sort of irrational enigma that we install in our mind and let mature until the evidence appears], what is the sound of 3 hands pretending to clap?

“in my mind truth and lies are not different sides of the same coin. they are the same.  and they are not useful as a way to be in the process of knowing the world.”

i wrote some texts about the books of Moses, the story of Moses…. i love it because it is so complex, so strange and so familiar.  there is no moral to take from it and no lessons. yet it is so moral, so instructive also… if, like the christians, we took it as truth it would be monstrous in every way.  yet there is not a word of lies in it. and no truth and no moral…. something much more important to us. like all stories, it is  a compendium of many stories from many places, but retold, redone, reinterpreted.

all of our science is stories. but now usually presented as truth. lies and truth are not opposites.  but we should learn to recognise lies more.

for me the essential question is why should we assume the concept of questions is essential?  in  my mind it is related to truth.  related to religion,  and therefore to inquisitions;;;  being  ‘put to the question’.  but if we do not ask questions how would we learn anything?.,.,..  “shut up and try to learn something”.

in my mind truth and lies are not different sides of the same coin. they are the same.  and they are not useful as a way to be in the process of knowing the world.

now, X is a racist. Y is a reactionary nationalist..  that is not true. not a lie either; a non-sequitur.  if someone says that  stupid old Z is the son of a god it seems to me that my position should be someplace else.  singing, perhaps.  If the person wants to force me to confess his truth,  perhaps a better song is needed,,,  but i am not sure of that, and have no plan, no program. that is not the same as indecisiveness nor inaction;  simply a different place.

the world has really been taken over by a mentality that sets up ideas of investigation and curiosity necessarily leading to answers, solutions, reasons and understanding. as though these were not only desirable but possible and central to life.

“If one is not supposed to stop and smell the flowers I will stop longer. Only children and old people are allowed to stop and feed the birds. Let us all feed the birds, then.”

i want change. but if cherokees became free from colonization i would immediately want to try to force us to  actively admit  our role in the slaughter of creeks and the enslavement of africans. 

when the state began to exist so did state religion, and therefore heresy.  the christian inquisition was about question-and-answer::: we say “putting someone to question”. that is making them confess.  so now as a consequence of it we must all look each other in the eye (a weird phenomenon in most of the world) and we always need the answer, we need to find the solution::: we need to ask the right questions. the purpose of science then becomes unscientific, it becomes a “search”, a question; to find the truth, and the  “what is to be done?”  then needs an answer (which must be false)  and “what do you mean” becomes a debate. many things can be done. so, shut up with the questions (i don’t mean you i mean us)

some days i think the world is so complexly bad that i cannot continue.  but then i need to piss or to eat lunch, and after a while some other distraction occurs and before i know it life has gone on. then the next day i think the world is so good there is no limit to what i can do. then i need to piss or maybe eat lunch, which turns out to be  nasty… and suddenly life has moved on.  then i wake up feeling that i am silly, influenced by every breeze or my bladder.  but maybe i write a poem and maybe i think that someone will read it someday and be encouraged.

that must be the condition of life, even for a racoon or donkey.  very funny. very tragic. 

So then, that being the framework, resistance and refusal to be reconciled are just common sense for survival. If one is not supposed to stop and smell the flowers I will stop longer. You know, only children and old people are allowed to stop and feed the birds. Let us all feed the birds, then. 


“This morning was really difficult:  we were woken by a loud noise at 4am on the terrace. I opened the window and a VERY LARGE flock of fruit bats (called ‘flying foxes’)  flew into the house.  About 70 000, more or less.

Not knowing what to do, i offered them coffee more or less from desperation; i knew i did not have enough  coffee for that many guests even if they were smallish guests, much less bat cups or sugar (although probably not all of them would have wanted sugar; some most likely would have preferred honey). It seems they wanted nothing more than to hang out awhile, and just as i tried to arrange coat hangers and other devices we heard a strong knock on the front door.It was the police, of course, demanding to know if we were sheltering any vicunas. some neighbor, it seems, had reported seeing about 47 vicunas at our door. We said of course not but would they like a cup of coffee. It was a squad of about ten or twelve police people in full armor, so in fact i knew i did not have that much coffee, not to mention police cups or sugar”.