June 3, 2020
Post 2: ~x~x~x~ Beware the Barbed Wire ~x~x~x~

Before we go on with the R.A.W. PostLibrary opening, it is necessary to stop and look more closely at the fences (and other kinds of boundaries) that enclose. Hidden dangers abide here, and latent violence, and pastoral erasures that have to be attended to with care. Not every opening is a good thing, after all; some make tears and wounds. Some leave scars, whether or not we recognize them as such.

What needs to be said here, before we go on to the next phase of the PostLibrary’s opening and the welcoming of Jill and Fox to a Secretome exploration, is this:

“Beware the barbed wire.”

Home is where the unknown is, yes; and the “Welcome to the Secretome” score aims to be a creative method for respectfully exploring and un/mapping vital depths, complexities, and temporal layers of ecological mystery in places. But before entering any earthly ecologies to seek secret “treasures,” we also need to attend to the ways that any place we encounter (and the range of possible experiences within it) are shaped by specific histories and cultures and their erasures and scars, some of which we can try to better recognize, attend, and seek to care for in more equitable ways.

Inevitably, questions of individual land-holdings, concepts and acts of public and private property, are significant for any exploration of what Common Ground might or might not encompass. And so too with “Welcome to the Secretome”: for all its attention to elusive sub-visible ecologies, the whole of the Secretome performance takes place within frames of visibly marked and supposedly “owned” space—even as we aim to recognize every place’s ecological and temporal porosities. But it must also be recognized that for some species, humans included, fences enact real material boundaries that affect flows and lives (some much more than others) in ways that matter. Given the placement of the R.A.W. PostLibrary, this may need to be the first post of many that addresses the fences—and what they do and don’t really contain.

For all the love and wonder we might find in matrices of tall seeding grasses and grazing muzzles, pond-edge mud and birdsong, this stay-at-home season of deadly human pandemic, rawly-exposed and relentless racial violence in the bones of so-called American culture, and rippling global extinctions must also reckon, as much as possible, with less-visible dangers, privileges, and responsibilities that twist through acts of land-holding and home-making. Dwelling at the fence lines in their various stages of functional holding and quiet decomposition, we might seek to reconnoiter the rims and possible spaces-between. But first we must beware the barbed wire.


This first “fence” post could hold a mini-dissertation on the historical enclosure of the commons, on land-grabbing political and colonial forces stretched taut in the fencing-off of the so-called West by manifest destiny and brutal Anglo-American savagery and extraction and Native genocide. Plenty has been said on this. And there is plenty left to say, in dead and living languages.

But this first fence post, in the stay-at-home PostLibrary mode of R.A.W. living-art-research, begins with more of a personal reckoning. The fences I have to address are these that criss-cross the roughly three-acre lot and dwelling we presently graze and lay claim to (via the intervention on paper and digits of a New-York-based mortgage company), in a neighborhood settlement called “Marys River Estates,” slightly west of a town called Philomath, in a state called Oregon since 1859, in a nation called . . . never mind. This quiet wooded-foothills neighborhood of large-lot, single-family dwellings is mapped onto the historical Chepenefu territory of the Kalapuya; but I am ashamed to say I don’t know that history of this land very deeply. Knowing this buried history is not required in order to be a home-owner here. It’s not part of the neighborhood HOA or county regulations that dictate certain rules about what a “family unit” can or cannot do with a plot of property. You are not required to sign a notorized promissory document saying you will honor the past/future ecologies of who is and/or has been here, human and/or otherwise—just many pages that say you will pay the bank. Not to say it’s either a free-for-all or a fascist state—just that some lives are welcomed more than others, of course. Some are in, some are out: on paper, anyway. But not just. . . .

So back to the fences, then, which perform a number of significant roles: holding certain bodies in, keeping certain bodies out, marking territorial boundaries, maybe ripping open little holes in bigger bodies that try to trespass or push too hard from one side or the other. Most every story I’ve ever lived has fences running all through it. For that matter, I’ve strung up many fences on my own, binding lines around small plots of lorded land with whatever material was affordable and available: digging deep postholes the length of my arm and then some, to sink heavy corner-posts and then close the gaps between them with warped wooden slats or hogwire; or banging in metal t-posts and suggesting enclosure to those we hope to contain--with electric tape or baling twine, ropes, hulking dead cars and crooked gates, crumbled stone and creek edges, or thorny thickets and sweat, spit, and crossed fingers. I’ve resurrected long-overgrown and half-buried fences, in hopes they would safely hold beloved bodies again.

My love is a fence-builder, too, and we have made many kinds of fences together. In various forms our fences, and the gates that swing between them, have held different R.A.W. homes together, year after year. When you live within a family herd of big-bodied herbivores (and let’s not forget the barky canines) as we do, it is both a privilege and a necessity to live inside of fences, to maintain careful control over (at least some of) their entrances and exits. Lives can depend on fences holding; we’ve been reminded of this in terrible ways, at times. On dark roads in the dead of night.

Luckily, the donkeys tend to respect our fences (with memorable exceptions); horses and mules mostly, sometimes . . . depending on who it is and what’s on the other side. Princess and Waffle (some cows we once lived among on a rented farmstead in Orland) . . . not so much; but the leaning fences still held them in and determined their fates, however much they gave ‘em hell to reach the sweeter grasses beyond. And, historically speaking, that tough distinction of bovine hides is what brings us back to the old barbed-wire we find here and now. And as it happens, these twisted little knots of relation and violent assertion also mark essential territory for the R.A.W. PostLibrary’s reckonings.

When we laid claim (via the bank) to this three-acre home-plot in 2014, an old three-strand barbed-wire fence was standing crooked, loose, and tangled on the front edge of the property by a ditch that runs along the gravel road. Rusty barbed-wire is no good for anything but ripping skin and giving a body tetanus, really. It is dangerous to tender equine flesh (we’ve got scars from Carnesville to prove it), and anyway the old roadside fence was no longer intact enough to hold any body. It made sense to just remove it entirely; but somehow the old barbed-wire summoned an aesthetic intuition that said we should leave it standing, albeit several feet outside a new and safer wooden-post and hog-wire fence running inside the gnarly old apple trees, primroses, and hawthorns along the roadside. I had a sense that the old fence was a testament, somehow, to an otherwise hidden history. A kind of scar on the land with its own stories to tell—or not. And so we kept it. And so it has stood, a crooked line of rotten leaning posts and tangled strands of rusty barbed wire along the front edge of the R.A.W. ass pasture, twisting along the turning gravel road. For years we have ignored it, as one tends to do with whatever does not demand our immediate attention.

Now, I see why it has to stand: for a specific PostLibrary reckoning. It is easy to forget violent histories, on bright spring and summer mornings as the herd (whose ancestors came ashore with conquistadors) grazes on seeding grasses (most of which came the same way) in a seemingly “timeless” and peaceful, pastoral way. It’s easy to be dazzled by the airy ripples of migratory blue-green swallows, looping and diving around the barnyard and the receding man-made pond that used to be full of tadpoles at this time of year. And to forget, if you ever knew it, that even those grasses growing now on this soil are mostly hitchhikers, who came to this continent along with the crashing colonial waves that so radically reshaped local naturecultures, not so very long ago.

I don’t know the stories of that old barbed-wire fence, nor whose bodies it was supposed to keep in or out; but I do remember in my own body many other stories about fences like this one, some bloodier than others. So I also know that active contemplation of this barbed-wire fence—and the other old and overgrown fences that mark supposed edges of property—must be part of a living-art-research practice around this fence-borne PostLibrary. If the R.A.W. PostLibrary aims to be a platform for stories we don’t recognize—both because they flow through sub-visible ecologies and also because they are constantly overwritten and eclipsed by more dominant cultural narratives—then the PL must attend to the fence-lines, as more or less visibly marked cuts and boundaries (both inclusive and exclusive) and imposed grids and holdings (land and otherwise) that we might otherwise take for granted. Meanwhile, we can also observe that the fences are transformed in different ways, as they are variously ignored or incorporated into other kinds of lives in unforeseen ways.

And so, alongside and surrounding the gentler exploratory opening practice that is the Secretome, the PostLibrary also proposes to host a different (inversely-related) living-art-research performance that explores its pricklier edges. This is a new, as-yet-nameless project, just emerging here in the intensive time-flows of this stay-at-home residency. It will take shape through performance/research exploration and time-spent with the old fences at the porous edges of the R.A.W. home-place.

At the same time, and importantly for the PostLibrary, I am keeping in mind that such boundary cuts are not just material but also semiotic, carried on through human tongues and stories we absorb and pass on. This is one piece of the PostLibrary’s resistance to conventional codex printed-ink-and-paper books at this stage (and its special beef with Pulp Westerns, so to speak): because the hidden assumptions of their narratives (never mind the omissions) can be so full of unseen barbed-wire that they can cut a body’s tongue to smithereens.

So the emerging inhabitation of the local R.A.W. fence-lines and edges, barbed and otherwise, is another way of searching for new kinds of “untold” stories, both inside the framed grounds-in-common and also in edgy spaces-between, where taken-for-granted categories, names, holdings, and plots might be more porous than we (can) think. 


At the next post, we will resume with the PostLibrary opening and welcome Jill R. Baker and Fox to the R.A.W. Secretome, for adventures past and future. . . .