This Might Not Be the Darkest Time of Your Life… or It Might!

Flocked brass/stone/wood/plastic, soil, steel utility cart
137 x 61 x 216 cm (54 x 24 x 85 inches)

In Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934), an American former sailor related his trip down the Yangtze Kiang in a stream-of-consciousness narration. Not unusual, it presented the Orient as an exotic locale, filled with visions of cruelty, terror, sublimity, hostility and barbaric splendor:

“…Hair falling out and teeth rotting away… I saw the dirty yellow mouth of the river… the sea of yellow faces… millions and millions of them hollowed out by famine, ravaged by disease… chewing the grass off the earth… And all the while China hanging over us like Fate itself. A China rotting away, crumbling to dust like a huge dinosaur, yet preserving to the very end the glamor, the enchantment, the mastery, the cruelty of her hoary legends.”

And yet there was the historical Romantic ambition of a white revisionist, that the studying of the Orient, a world eternally elsewhere, and its culture, impossible to be fully comprehended by the West, might cure the cancer of Western civilization:

“One never thinks of China, but it is there all the time on the tips of your fingers and it makes your nose itchy… because in everything Chinese there is wisdom and mystery and you can never grasp it with two hands or with your mind but you must let it rub off, let it stick to your fingers, let it slowly infiltrate your veins.”

In Orientalism, Edward Said famously identified the links between linguistics and anatomy, specifying that a learned Orientalist’s attitude was often “that of a scientist who surveyed a series of textual fragments.” It’s often not the Orient that’s given on the page, but “a truncated exaggeration” of it. Utilizing this canonical approach in its most literal sense, This Might Not Be the Darkest Time of Your Life… or It Might! culls textual objects from Miller’s texts. Restored textual fragments, framed by a scientific (and what Said would call celibate) structure, against what they initially represented, form a new reality. The previous imagination of the East becomes the material, and the East becomes a performed experience of the Western narrator himself in an almost comical way.