One of the more curious features of those who would inhabit Desert Islands is, as Deleuze writes, were they sufficiently separate and creative, they “would give the island only a dynamic image of itself, a consciousness of the movement which produced the island, such that through them the island would in the end become conscious of itself as deserted and unpeopled. The island would be only the dream of humans, and humans, the pure consciousness of the island.” Strict, geographic apportionment should thus not limit our imagination as to where such places might appear. We can perhaps now discover Desert Islands even in the most landlocked of spaces, pushing against all sorts of treacherous borders, highways, and pipelines; a space “ready to begin the world anew” with the assistance of an uncommon brand of creative humanity.
Today, South Dakota: she is a desert island, at once a land-body, and a political body, or body-politic. The tectonic tremblings as she pushes forward out of her mytho-geologic womb can be felt at a great distance, and the people who are her consciousness have brazenly disregarded every bureaucratic advance to territorialize and subdue them. With each attempt to ward them off, they press deeper into the Earth’s crust so as to imbue the entirety of its surface with a depth that it cannot contain. We attest here and now to the desecration that has caused her suffering, and it warrants and elicits in us a response of justifiable and abiding anger that far transcends the durational contingency of this single event. A quantity of 210,000 objects—be they gallons of oil, bodies, or fidget spinners—affectively reverberates beyond its own capacity, well into those sets and frequencies that are most imaginative, speculative, and nonsensical. Contrasting the means by which sense is perpetually referential, dependent on past and future series of signification for its ‘sense,’ DAPL is a nonsensical event par excellence in that its sense is established only by way of its self-referentiality, and thus it resists any and all linearized appropriation within the signifier-signified timeline of history. An event such as this interferes with our political compass and demands us to tread forth with a newfound attentiveness to the land and its landmarks, with no true-north on which to rely.
What is declared an ‘isolated incident’ should be otherwise understood as symptomatic of a deeper recklessness inherent to the system of energy production itself. Understood as such, these incidents do not represent a failure of “fail-safe’s” per se, but rather highlight the inescapable effects of the logic of "successful"capitalist production. These symptoms in one sense are the other of the logic of capital, yet they are still fully accounted for in its ledgers. Let us not be misled to think the possibility for such events are left unthought; they are only disavowed. Indeed, the so-called ‘necessary-risk’ that the profiteers are undoubtedly due to profess belies the fact that the whole of capitalistic ideology is dependent on these inefficiencies, slippages, and hiccups of all types. Paid clean-up crews are put on stand-by to effect a speedy ‘damage control’ for no other apparent reason than to encourage a complacency that lulls to sleep the better ‘ethic of care’ whose purpose is to remove from view any glimpse of a shadow, to stuff the alarm bells full of oil-soaked rags.
To be infuriated by DAPL is not enough. Resistance appears today as simply another variable to account for in any robust risk analysis. These relative and localized deterritorializations are but inconvenient detours to the opportunistic capitalist. Still, rather than retreating into either quietude or dull analysis, we raise the significance of and point to the singularity of this injustice, and aim to rethink the very ground upon which the issue is situated.
Deleuze writes of the desert island that it should not be mistaken as ‘actual’, but instead as primarily existing in an imaginary and mythological register. Similarly, the essence of this wounding caused by DAPL should not be understood as the consequence of any actual damage caused by the recent oil spill (which is not to deny such damage). Here, could it be that its mythical status might prove more politically efficacious than its actual one? The seemingly absurd suggestion is not intended to supplant or even re-prioritize the reality of one register over another, or to escape into an other-worldliness, but rather to enter even more deeply into this one; to self-administer a psychoactive medicine that might enter the blood-stream, bringing about an altered-state whereby our senses are reconfigured such that we see how these two registers, mythical and actual, are eternally held together. Within this altered state, the actual ecological damage caused by the leakage is itself a spilling-over of capital's excess surplus value - but what is first material, then becomes immaterial – into its potent mythic form where this spilling-over becomes the excessive and vertiginous desire for life and planetary justice by the land’s inhabitants which have become its very consciousness. Within this endless productive flux, this desire once again takes on its material form.
If water is indeed life, then our desire must be both to affirm this life, and to point toward and beyond the passing away of that which guarantees its perpetual contamination. This land has not ceased to cry out. Is it only now that its consciousness is publicly maimed that we might hear it?
Collaboratively authored with Matt Baker.