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

Brass, stone, wood, plastic, soil, steel utility cart. 2019.
137 x 61 x 200 cm

In Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934), which centers on Miller’s life in Paris as a struggling writer, one particular passage is dominated by the stream-of-consciousness narration of Collin, a friend of Miller’s. A former sailor who amassed a fortune in his bootlegging days, Collin relates his trip down the Yangtze Kiang to a sick Miller, hoping to cheer him up.

Not unusual, the passage presents the Orient as an exotic locale, filled with visions of promise, cruelty, pleasure, terror, sublimity, hostility and barbaric splendor:

“…with 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 in Miller’s writing is 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 identifies the links between linguistics and anatomy, specifying that “both linguists and anatomists purport to be speaking about matters not directly obtainable or observable in nature.” A learned Orientalist’s attitude was often “that of a scientist who surveyed a series of textual fragments”, and it is not the Orient that’s given on the page, but “a truncated exaggeration” of it, guided by a systematic body of texts and scholarly tradition. Utilizing this technique in its most literal sense, This Might Not Be the Darkest Time of Your Life… or It Might! culls textual objects from Miller’s passage. These restored textual fragments, framed by a scientific (and what Said would call celibate) structure typically found in laboratories, 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.