Day 12 /// RESPONDING TO ELIZABETH POVINELLI - WINDJERRAMERU, THE STEALING C*NTS, BY STEPHEN MUECKE
Rereading the Country
I like this method, discussing a film before it is finished. Is this accelerationism? If so, it works. It accelerates envy: I want to make a film like this, being something of an ethnographer and working not too far away in the Kimberley region of North-West Australia. Povinelli and her colleagues, the Karrabing Film Collective, are in the Northern Territory, two days’ drive away.
Is it an ethnographic film? Possibly, it doesn’t really matter, better that it just be a film, albeit in an improvisational realist register, as she says. The Karrabing team combines its skills and starts to throw things into the composition: Kevin and Gavin ‘wanted to tell a story about finding two cartons of beer’ then corrupt police, corrupt miners… Corruption and pollution are the twin dystopic figures that organise this improvisation put together by people simply alert to what is going on around them—thus the realism of the text. ‘…corruption is irrevocably a geontology, says Povinelli, ‘the matter that forms as entities struggle to maintain or enhance their milieu in late liberalism.’(1)
Photograph: Cyril Hunter
Where I am it was Agent Orange at one stage. Here’s a photo of Cyril Hunter, now dead, along with many other young men who were employed to spray it as a herbicide in the bush, apparently not told about its dangers, or its Vietnam history. Someone decided to unload a cargo of unsellable Agent Orange on remote indigenous Australia where its use ‘didn’t matter,’ where precariously employed young men ‘need jobs’.
I define late liberal capitalism as ‘whatever you can get away with’. That’s what making a deal is, for the wheelers and dealers in the colonial industries of extraction, getting away with stuff. A handshake, a funds transfer and see you later. We are in the business of pulling stuff out of the ground and parleying it into finance. Any poisonous by-products are left lying around. I am chilled by sovereignty now entering a death space: “Hey, our grandfathers died her first, we can die here after.” That’s too fucking true.
But how does that work globally? The Northern Territory is like Mars compared to the Jupiter of ‘Middle America”, but the comparison is made here. If capitalism/corruption/pollution has no contours, how come it is extracting its value and depositing its poisons so precisely?
No doubt that complex is pretty invulnerable to critique, but at least the players in this drama are playing hard and playing now: ‘present action’ not vestiges of the anthropological past. Action: what kind of disruptive aesthetic has the power to occupy the attention (look as tempting a two cartons of beer) in the great global halls of affluence?
Stephen Muecke is author of Reading the Country: Introduction to Nomadology (with landscape painter Krim Benterrak) and a Professor of Writing at the University of New South Wales.
- She defines it in conversation with Mat Coleman and Kathryn Yusoff : ‘I coined the term “geontology” to indicate a disruption of a previous formation of power and an analytic placeholder for the formation of power we are living within and through. Geontology asks, How do we understand the current formation of power when the figures that emerge from its mechanisms are something like the animist, desert, and the terrorist rather than the masturbating child, the hysterical woman, the perverse adult and the Malthusian couple?’
Back to text.