SWERVE

 

a journal of arts, ethics, and ecology

This project began as a conversation on the porch of the farmhouse at Denniston Hill. It was the morning after Okwui Okpokwasili and her partner, Peter Born, had showcased an excerpt of her “Poor People’s TV Room.” Okwui, artist and Denniston Hill co-founder Paul Pfeiffer, the historian and curator Adrienne Edwards, the poet and photographer Tim Gerken, and myself were finishing breakfast and watching the trees shimmer in the late August air. Somewhere in the house, the artists Julie Mehretu and Jessica Rankin were making breakfast for their sons, Cade and Haile. If one looked carefully, the leaves gave the faintest indication of autumn’s approach. It felt as if everything were part of a single great perennial movement. We were musing on professional responsibilities and social obligations and noting the interconnectedness of our own creative and research trajectories. The conversation began idly enough, as a recounting of shared acquaintances and histories, and then moved from the clubby atmosphere of a professional encounter into a broader discussion. José Esteban Muñoz’ name had come up quite a few times over the last few days: a shared link across performance studies, queer futurity, and utopianism. Adrienne had been a student of José’s, and she mentioned a poem that he had insisted she read.

Written over 2000 years ago, Lucretius’ Dererum natura or On the nature of things, was a meditation on the ideas of a Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who lived over 200 years before him.  The poem describes a world with no limits in either space or time, where the grandest things are made of the smallest, atoms. These tiny particles are the building blocks of all that exists, linking the one and the infinite.[1] While falling through the void, they are sometimes subject to a slight, unpredictable swerve or clinamen that produces unforeseen trajectories. There are strong parallels between Lucretius’ poem and Vedic thinking, and indeed Carvaka, the Vedic philosophy of materialism, is often considered a precursor of Epicureanism.[2] While modern science has made these ideas common place, Lucretius’ poem is still relevant today because of the way it links the experience of reality with the world that our senses mask: the imperceptible particles that move in an infinite void, coming together to form compounds and universes and then falling apart as these universes and the compounds in them dissolve. Lucretius is one in a long line of poets, philosophers, artists, and writers who have demonstrated that the duality of nature and her laws is not irreconcilable and that our experience of nature can lead us to a deeper understanding of her secrets.

Swerve is intended as a forum for the exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries in order to better understand “the stuff of the universe,” the infinite number of bodies, ideas, and desires moving randomly through space, colliding, cohabiting, forming complex structures only to break apart again, in an endless process of arising and passing away. We chose the name because of its multiple resonances and the idea that a chance encounter, like the ones that happen every moment at Denniston Hill, might produce not only a life-changing event, but the knowledge that the universe itself is made up of these random interactions. At this critical historical juncture, the lessons of Lucretius and the swerve are even more important to grasp. They suggest that beyond a politics based purely on the senses and emotional affect lies a deeper understanding of the universe based on the critical development of our faculties and the swerve.

--Lawrence Chua

 

[1] Stephen Greenblatt, the Swerve: How the world became modern (New York: Norton, 2011), 280.

[2] A.K. Sinha, “Traces of Materialism in Early Vedic Thought,” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 75:1/4 (1994), 235-241.

 

araya Rasdjarmrearnsook by paul pfeiffer