Tag: History

Articles

The Américas: Chapter the Second

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David Kipen

Before the hulking stranger on the floor of the pigeon shed recovered his wits, I got my first good look at him. He must have had to bend almost double to cross the doorsill, so tall he seemed. He looked Californian—black-haired, brown at the hands, red in the face, and badly sun-burnt around his thick, sugared beard. If I wanted to pursue newspapering, M. Vignes had said, I had better learn to notice details.

The man opened his eyes with a ready, well-worn smile, then groaned and sank back as his situation rushed in upon him. His eyes never left me.

The voice was raw, but he spoke English like an Englishman. “What are you,” he asked, “fourteen? Twelve?”

“I thought you were a burro,” I said. When interviewing, M. Vignes had also counseled, you ask the questions.

“Not a burro,” he said, “but close. I’m a reporter.”

“A reporter? Have I read anything of yours? Who do you work for?” I tried unsuccessfully to conceal my excitement. “The Californian? Noticioso de Ambos Mundos?” I paused in awe. “Reuters?”

“I’ve been fired from all of them. Twice by the same editor at Ambos Mundos. Now I’m with El Clamor Publico out of Madrid…?”

“We only get the papers that come through on the stage,” I admitted. “I don’t know that one.”

“I get that a lot. Madrid and I haven’t heard from each other in a while, anyway. But if I’ve been fired, nobody told me about it.”

“Are you here on a story?”

The journalist closed his eyes with an expression of great weariness, then opened them wide and looked over at La Jefa.

“I need to borrow your bird.”

“La Jefa? She’s not mine to borrow. Besides, nobody borrows a racing homer. Turn this one loose, she’ll make straight for Mexico City and never look back.”

Thoughtfully, not expecting much, the journalist reached for his hip. He barely registered his disappointment.

“It’s in a safe place,” I said.

“I need your bird,” he repeated. “I’ll bring her back if I have to walk both ways.”

“But Paul Reuter gave her to Monsieur Vignes himself!”

The journalist closed his eyes again. He looked tired of thinking. Then he reached into the other pocket.

“If that bastard Reuter were here,” he said, “he’d offer you this.”

Of a sudden, the palm of his outstretched hand brimmed with yellow dust. He poured it onto the deal table between us. It formed a small cone there. What remained of the candle made the pile glint, and his eyes with it.

“Is that—”

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

“I passed through Georgia in the thirties. I know.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Do you want some or don’t you?”

I loved M. Vignes, but my father owed him a fortune. Now it was my turn to think.

“I want something better,” I said at length.

“Oh, no,” he said

“I want to hear the story.”

 

Notes

This is part two of five from a new short story. See also part one, part three, part four, and part five.

Artwork by Jacquelyn Campaña.



David Kipen
is the founder of the nonprofit Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights, a lecturer on the UCLA faculty, and a Critic-at-Large of the LA Times. His Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters will be published Fall 2018 by Modern Library. The Américas will be his first novel, and he welcomes your kibitzing at kipend@gmail.com.

Copyright: © 2017 David Kipen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Articles

The Américas: Chapter the First

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David Kipen

A note to the reader: Only the most improbable parts of this story are true. Yes, for nine days in 1848, between the discovery of gold on the south fork of the American River and the signing in Mexico City of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico was the richest country in the world and didn’t know it. Yes, gold was discovered twice in California, once in the Sierra Nevada in 1848, but once six years before that in Placerita Canyon, near Santa Clarita. And yes, in the 1850s, the best journalist in Los Angeles was a teenager named Francisco P. Ramirez, in whose ink-blackened hands I leave you now…

…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…
— Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Los Angeles, late January, 1848

If I hadn’t burned a second candle to work on my newspaper that night, California might still belong to Mexico.

Under its glow, on the quadrille sheets that M. Vignes had vouchsafed me for the purpose, I traced out the titles of “ P-U-B-L-I-S-H-E-R,” “E-D-I-T-O-R-S” AND “S-T-A-F-F.” Across the page, modestly, I printed “F-R-A-N-C-I-S-C-O P-. R-A-M-I-R-E-Z” but once.

Months into my journalistic career, I still hadn’t decided for good whether to publish my newspaper in Spanish, as I’d been doing; in English, as I could do just as easily; in French, as M. Vignes might have liked; or all three, which would certainly fill up each number in a hurry. Ornate as I could make it, in my best freehand approximation of blackletter script, I had sketched in the most versatile placeholder I could think of: The Américas.

Now came the hard part. El Pueblo de los Angeles in those days didn’t have much news, except for all the murders. Hardly a week-end went by without a white man shot. If nobody was shooting any white men this week, someone was surely getting lynched for shooting one last week. Where was the news in that?

If they couldn’t find a white man’s killer to hang, even a Californian’s murderer would do. Next thing you know, there’d be necktie parties just for shooting an Indian. Pretty soon, it’d be news if a week went by without somebody kilt or strung up for it.

Hey…

And that’s how I got the idea. Carefully, with one large capital letter centered in each quartet of squares, I roughed out a headline: “NOBODY DIES IN BLOODY AFFRAY THIS WEEK.” A little long, but I could fix that later. I wasn’t altogether sure what an “AFFRAY” was, but I liked how it went with “BLOODY.”

It wasn’t literally true. Mr. Temple had challenged Sr. Sepulveda to an affair of honor just the day before. At the hour of truth, however, Temple repented his choice to shoot such a good customer, and so contented himself with killing Sepulveda’s second instead. Sepulveda insisted on satisfaction, but Temple’s own second ran away before it could be obtained.

So my best headline yet, “NOBODY DIES IN BLOODY AFFRAY THIS WEEK,” was also my first published lie. M. Vignes says every writer needs an editor to keep him honest, but I couldn’t afford one on my allowance. The question now was what to do next. That first lie opened up so many possibilities.

My candle hissed and flickered. Outside, the river whispered through the alders. The rio and the pueblo, the Sierra Madres to the north,— except for the snoring of a thousand souls and the occasional gunshot, all was quiet. With the moon gone, the night sky shone bright enough to read by.

Behind me, plump and fussy, each of M. Vignes’s famous pigeons dozed or burbled in their ranked cages, pecking greedily after some last leftover grains from dinner.

And then, outside the window, I heard it: a scraping sound, like an animal rooting among the grapevines. This had happened before. Last year a burro had escaped the corral and ripped out six of Father’s rows before we finally got him untangled. I knew I should go investigate, but I had few enough choreless hours for my newspaper without having to police vineyards for runaway livestock. It was probably just a covey of quail, come down to the river to drink.

My pen was thirsty too. I applied myself to my page.

No sooner had I re-dipped the quill than I heard it again, closer now. It was definitely a burro, probably the same one. My father should long since have sold the brute to M. Vignes, whose farmhands knew how to tie a knot that would hold, but Father could give a burro lessons in stubbornness.

I stepped outside and felt the cool breeze off the river. The burro was nowhere to be seen. In the distance, a lonesome coyote howled. A fish jumped, and I did too.

Neck prickling, I decided to make one quick circuit of the pigeon shed and return to my labors. I walked halfway round the shed to the small window in the back wall, opposite the door. Framed right there, I saw him, already inside—tall as a giant, wet black hair dripping down between desperate eyes, candleshadows from the taper on the table dancing wildly at his back. Then I watched dumbly as, with the same key I had idly left in the keyhole, he locked me out.

I wanted to run, to wake M. Vignes or even my father, but there was too much of value in the shed to turn my back on. Not only the next issue of The Américas, scarcely begun, but my first seven issues as well, still sitting unprinted under the desk, awaiting typesetting as soon as M. Vignes’s old Ramage press returned from its statewide rounds. Even more important were his prized racing homer pigeons, fluttering in consternation as, even now, the drenched figure drew himself up as if to loose them. From the pocket of his long duster, he withdrew a scrap of cigarette paper.

The pigeoncote took up most of a wall, four cages high and four across. Each bore the name of a different destination: the small, overworked birds for San Pedro, San Gabriel and San Fernando; the larger ones for settlements south as far as Loreto; one muy fuerte for Albuquerque; and, for La Ciudad de Mexico, proudest of all, La Jefa.

Most pigeons are even more moronic when they’re scared, but La Jefa now looked as intelligent as I’d ever seen her. She shrank from the man’s approach as he reached straight for her padlock and yanked.

The hasp held. Implacable, the man replaced the scrap of paper in his pocket and drew a revolver from his sideholster, ready to hammer the lock free. Squawking, audible even from this side of the window, La Jefa squeezed herself against the mesh at the back of her cage.

As if remorseful for contemplating violence against such a defenseless creature, the man paused. Then, slowly as an automaton in a belltower clock, he turned his weapon toward me.

Our eyes met. The man indicated the padlock and gestured meaningfully at me with the revolver.

Not knowing how else to pantomime it, I tapped my forehead.

I could see in his staring eyes that my import was clear: He had the key to the shed, but only I knew where to find the key to the cage. It was a standoff.

Maybe here I might mention that I hate standoffs. Playing at pistolero, I’ve always found them silly. If you could shoot me and I could shoot you, we should shoot each other instanter, not hesitate like two Frenchmen approaching the same threshold.

My adversary in the pigeon shed must have hated standoffs, too. He lowered his weapon, unlocked the door and motioned for me to come around. Then, he fainted.


Notes

This is part one of a five part short story. See also part two, part three, part four, and part five.

Artwork by Jacquelyn Campaña.



David Kipen
is the founder of the nonprofit Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights, a lecturer on the UCLA faculty, and a Critic-at-Large of the LA Times. His Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters will be published Fall 2018 by Modern Library. The Américas will be his first novel, and he welcomes your kibitzing at kipend@gmail.com.

Copyright: © 2017 David Kipen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Articles

California Dreaming? The Integration of Immigrants into American Society

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Kevin R. Johnson

Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are unquestionably members of our communities across the United States. Currently, roughly eleven million undocumented immigrants live and work in this country.[1] Employers demand their labor, and immigrants want the work. Nonetheless, the people of United States have long been ambivalent about immigrants. Even in California, now viewed as a pro-immigrant bastion, more attention historically was given to reduce the immigrant population rather than to facilitate the integration of immigrants into American social life.

Consider one stunning example. California voters in 1994 by a 2-1 margin passed an immigration milestone, Proposition 187,[2] known by its supporters as the “Save our State” initiative. The initiative would have banned undocumented students from public schools, required police to report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, and denied undocumented immigrants access to nearly every state public benefit programs. The California legislature subsequently passed a series of laws of the same ilk, including a particularly noxious one that prohibited the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants (even though there was no evidence of any safety or security problems with the state’s long history of licensing—and safety-testing—undocumented drivers).

With its widely publicized Proposition 187, California unfortunately proved to be a trendsetter for the nation. Following the initiative’s lead, Congress’ 1996 welfare reform legislation stripped many legal immigrants of federal public benefits.[3] More than a decade later, a number of other states, including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, passed tough immigration enforcement laws that were, in important respects, similar to Proposition 187.[4]

As Bob Dylan famously said: the times, they are a changing’. Indeed, we are witnessing nothing less than a sea change in state and local policy directed at immigrants in the United States and California again is at the forefront. However, the current trajectory in sub-federal immigration policy—pro-immigrant integration, not pro-immigration enforcement—is dramatically different than it was in the heyday of Proposition 187. Ironically enough, the nation has President Donald Trump, an immigration hawk like no other, to thank.


California’s Changed Responses to Immigrants

Responding to Trump: California Seeks to Promote Immigrant Integration

As promised in the 2016 campaign, President Trump from his first days in office pursued aggressive immigration enforcement measures, ranging from executive orders banning travel from predominantly Muslim nations to mass deportations to announcing steps toward building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border and threats of even greater enforcement efforts. Those steps provoked an immediate and inspired response from many state and local governments—and especially from California. Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, led the opposition to the Trump administration’s call for ever-greater immigration enforcement. The resistance has been fueled in no small part by the growing awareness among California lawmakers of the need for increased legal protections for immigrants, among the state’s most vulnerable residents, from the Trump immigration onslaught. The reaction is rooted in notions of fundamental fairness and the firm belief that the aggressive immigration enforcement agenda embraced by the Trump administration threatens to tear families apart, harm communities, and sow widespread human misery, all in the name of “enforcing the law.”

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The reaction is rooted in notions of fundamental fairness and the firm belief that the aggressive immigration enforcement agenda embraced by the Trump administration threatens to tear families apart, harm communities, and sow widespread human misery, all in the name of “enforcing the law.”

Abandoning the punitive approach toward immigrants exemplified by Proposition 187, California for more than a decade has been at the forefront of taking steps to more fully integrate undocumented immigrant residents into the social fabric. Consider just a few contemporary examples. In 2001, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 540, a path-breaking law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state fees at California community colleges and universities.[5] This law, which represents a meaningful step toward greater educational access for all residents, commenced a trend among the states. Several years later, the legislature went further and passed the California DREAM Act, which made undocumented college students eligible for state scholarships to help them pay for their education.[6]

Not limiting its efforts to higher education, the California legislature took a number of other steps to promote the integration of the state’s immigrant population. Seeking to facilitate the trust of immigrants in local police officers (who, in turn, need the cooperation of immigrants, and all members of the community, to most effectively protect the public safety), the legislature in 2013 passed the TRUST Act,[7] which restricts state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Among other things, it prohibits the detention of immigrants longer than required by law so that federal officers can, if they so desire, take the noncitizens into custody. The TRUST Act represented a response to the U.S. government’s hyper-aggressive Secure Communities program,[8] which greatly expanded the criminal justice removal pipeline for immigrants who had minor (as well serious) brushes with the law and directly resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people a year. In addition, after considerable debate and years of grassroots activism, the California legislature restored driver’s license eligibility for undocumented immigrants,[9] a significant practical step toward allowing undocumented immigrants to participate more fully in economic and social life, reducing fears of removal due to something as mundane and ordinary as operating a motor vehicle. Showing just how far the state had come from the dark days of Proposition 187, the California Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that a California law allowed undocumented immigrants to be licensed to practice law.[10]

In response to the Trump administration’s strident immigration enforcement agenda, the California legislature is active about taking steps to restrict state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Indeed, the legislature sought nothing less than to declare California to be a “sanctuary state,” a bill (SB 54) that Governor Jerry Brown signed 5 October 2017, which takes effect January 2018.[11]

Other state and local efforts to facilitate the integration of immigrants into civil society, which are wholly consistent with federal law, might include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. Pursuing additional policies that encourage the cooperation of immigrants with criminal law enforcement authorities;
  2. Ensuring adequate access to English-as-second-language programs so that immigrants are better able to acquire English language skills and better assimilate into U.S. society;
  3. Providing that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are generally eligible for state and local licenses necessary to engage in certain professions and occupations (from building contractors to hair dressers) and more fully participate in the American economy; and
  4. Making noncitizens eligible for public benefits programs that are part of the economic safety net for other residents.

Recent years have seen the emergence of tensions between the federal, state, and local governments about immigration enforcement and immigration policy. While state and local governments increasingly seek to protect their immigrant residents, President Trump has disparaged many of those state and local efforts as “sanctuary” policies that undermine the enforcement of U.S. immigration law. His administration has gone so far as to threaten to eliminate federal funding to “sanctuary cities.”

We should not forget that state and local governments play important roles in ensuring the inclusion of all residents, including immigrants. Such efforts include steps by state and local governments to promote immigrant integration. State and local measures that move us toward a society in which immigrants are full members of the community, not marginalized peoples living in the shadows, deserve support and encouragement. The Trump administration unfortunately attacks, disparages, and derides those laws and policies.

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Why California’s Immigration Turnaround?—The Response to Proposition 187

One might wonder on the issue of immigration policy from 1994 to 2017 what explains the stark political turnaround in California. The short answer is that Proposition 187 changed everything.

First of all, passage of the anti-immigrant milestone spurred a generation of engaged political activism. In Proposition 187’s wake, naturalization rates for immigrants spiked and hundreds of thousands of immigrants became newly-minted U.S. citizens (and part of the electorate). In turn, increasing numbers of Latina/o citizens voted, including recently naturalized ones. Not surprisingly, the number of Latina/o elected to the California legislature grew significantly and Republican legislators slowly but surely dwindled in numbers. The legislature’s racial and political composition changed with the election of increasing numbers of Latina/os and Democrats came to dominate the legislature. In fact, California Pete Wilson, who won re-election largely due to his ardent support for Proposition 187, was later effectively exiled, as it were, from California politics, having forever alienated the growing Latina/o electorate.

When all was said and done Proposition 187 dramatically changed the trajectory of California law and policy toward immigrants, as well as the state’s entire political landscape. One can only wonder whether President Trump’s immigration enforcement priorities might ultimately result in a similar political reaction on a national scale.


Providing Counsel to Immigrants Facing Removal

The specter of greatly increased removal efforts by the Trump administration has provoked great fear in immigrant communities. The “Trump effect” has led states and local governments to adopt laws and policies that protect immigrant members of communities and promote their integration. Some state and local governments have looked to provide the most fundamental protection for immigrants resisting removal—ensuring access to legal representation.

Having campaigned on a platform that included tough immigration enforcement, Donald Trump did not surprise most Americans when soon after his inauguration he announced aggressive immigration enforcement measures, including four executive orders on immigration in his first three months in office. States have taken a number of measures intended to moderate the adverse impacts of those tough policies. More are under consideration, including proposals to provide greater access to counsel to immigrants facing removal from the United States.

Unlike the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel to criminal defendants, the U.S immigration laws fail to ensure that immigrants, legal and undocumented, have an attorney in removal proceedings, which are classified as civil in nature.[12] Similar to the movement in the twentieth century to ensure that indigent criminal defendants are provided with attorneys, an organized movement has emerged to ensure legal representation for all immigrants facing removal from the United States.

Guaranteed representation for immigrants facing removal is only fair. As the Supreme Court has emphasized, a deportation hearing can “result in the loss of all that makes life worth living.”[13] That alone suggests the great need for guaranteed representation for immigrants facing deportation. Moreover, the nature of the U.S. immigration laws, which are rivaled for complexity only by the Internal Revenue Code, makes an attorney essential. In addition, the vast majority of immigrants, due to language and culture differences, cannot reasonably be expected to fully comprehend the many nuances, legal and otherwise, of the removal process.

The bottom line is that, absent legal representation, an immigrant facing removal faces nearly insurmountable odds in staving off deportation. Not surprisingly, the available evidence in fact demonstrates that represented immigrants successfully resist removal at much higher rates than unrepresented immigrants.[14]

Scholars for years have argued for guaranteeing counsel to immigrants facing removal from the United States.[15] In direct response to the Trump administration’s tough immigration stances, state and local governments in growing numbers are beginning to allocate funds for attorneys to represent immigrants facing removal.[16] For example, the California budget approved in 2017 provides $15 million to help secure counsel for immigrants facing deportation.[17]

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One Model: The University of California’s Immigrant Legal Services Center

For several years running, the Obama administration set records by removing some 400,000 immigrants a year. Young undocumented immigrants were among the immigrants caught in the crossfire.

To begin addressing pressing immigrant student needs, the University of California (UC) in 2015 created a form of student services never before seen in higher education.[18] In establishing the UC Undocumented Legal Services Center (later renamed the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center),[19] the University demonstrated how it can serve all students—including immigrants—and the greater community of the state of California.

Created by UC President Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who was responsible for enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws, the Immigrant Legal Services Center serves the unique legal needs of undocumented students and their parents. Housed at the UC Davis School of Law, home of a well-established Immigration Law Clinic[20] as well as a group of influential immigration law scholars, the Center provides legal services to undocumented students and their families on the UC campuses at Irvine, Merced, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. (The only other UC campus, UC Berkeley, has its own legal assistance program for immigrants.)

One critically important feature of the center’s representation warrants explanation. The idea behind extending services to the parents of undocumented UC students involves a well-researched common sense phenomenon: students are in a significantly better position to succeed academically if they do not fear that their parents are at risk of removal.

The Center has plenty of potential clients, with more coming in with every new entering class. Several hundred undocumented students are enrolled at each of the campuses of the University of California system. Many of them are from Mexico or Central America. However, the University has undocumented students literally from around the world, including Asia, Africa, and Europe.

The efforts of the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center immeasurably benefit undocumented students and their families. Many of the students are eligible for relief under the U.S. immigration laws that stabilize their daily lives and, as a result, help to improve their academic success.

At the time that the Center was founded, attorneys expected to focus on assisting students with applications for relief under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was originally created in 2012 and dismantled by President Trump in 2017.[21] However, the legal work proved to be much more varied than initially anticipated. Some students and their family members are eligible for immigrant visas as well as citizenship. They need legal help to identify the potential ways of regularizing their immigration status and to navigate the complex, and often lengthy, bureaucratic process. Many students understandably want to regularize their immigration status so they are able to come and go from the United States and thus can participate in study abroad programs just like many other college students do. Some students are eligible for various forms of relief from removal under the U.S. immigration laws but need legal assistance to identify and collect the information necessary to make their case.


The Quest for Justice for All (Including Immigrants)

As with the efforts to provide legal representation, state and local governments must focus on how to best address the needs of all residents, including immigrants, and strive to ensure that immigrants are treated as full members of society. One important way to do so is provide attorneys to represent immigrants facing removal from the United States. As has been discussed, state and local governments are making efforts to do so. California has been at the forefront of the movement but the state of New York and many cities, including Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C., as well as Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, have already taken steps to assisting immigrant residents secure representation.

Through measures to help ensure counsel for all immigrants facing deportation, we see public support for a more procedurally fair and legitimate system—and one consistent with the ideal of “justice for all.” Through providing legal representation and taking other measures to protect immigrant residents, state and local governments are pursuing their proper role of facilitating the integration of immigrants into civil society. In the past, popular immigration enforcement laws, such as Proposition 187 and Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 that the Supreme Court invalidated in large part,[22] which made state and local police central to immigrant enforcement, had the opposite effect. Far from promoting immigrant integration, these laws have de-stabilized immigrant communities and marginalized, not integrated, significant numbers of state and local residents.

Through measures to help ensure counsel for all immigrants facing deportation, we see public support for a more procedurally fair and legitimate system—and one consistent with the ideal of “justice for all.”

Lawyers unquestionably can help to protect the rights of immigrants. Other state and local immigrant integration measures can as well. In pursuing such measures, California hopefully can provide guidance to the nation and encourage other state and local governments to pursue immigrant integration strategies.

In the long run, however, state and local governments can only do so much to reduce the harsh impacts of the U.S. immigration laws on immigrants. Fundamental change to those laws is necessary to bring full justice to immigrants. To that end, Congress at some point must overhaul the antiquated Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which was forged at the height of the Cold War and is not well-suited to addressing the nation’s 21st century immigration needs. In such comprehensive reform efforts, the labor needs of the United States and the precarious status of undocumented immigrants living here will need to be addressed.

 

Notes

[1] Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, “Overall Number of U.S. Unauthorized Immigrants Holds Steady Since 2009,” Pew Research Center, 20 September 2016, available at http://www.pewhispanic.org/2016/09/20/overall-number-of-u-s-unauthorized-immigrants-holds-steady-since-2009/.

[2] California Proposition 187, Illegal Aliens Ineligible for Public Benefits (1994), Ballotpedia, available at https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_187,Illegal_Aliens_Ineligible_for_Public_Benefits(1994).

[3] Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105.

[4] The immigration enforcement laws of these other states suffered the same fate as Proposition 187: the courts struck them down. See, for example Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012); United States v. South Carolina, 720 F.3d 518 (4th Cir. 2013); United States v. Alabama, 691 F.3d 1269 (11th Cir. 2012); Georgia Latino Alliance v. Human Rights v. Deal, 691 F.3d 1250 (11th Cir. 2012).

[5] California Assembly Bill 540, Cal. Legis. 2000-01 (codified at Cal. Ed. Code § 68130.5).

[6] California Assembly Bills 130, 131, Cal. Legis. 2010-11.

[7] California Assembly Bill 4, 2013 Cal. Stat 4650 (codified at Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 7282-7282.5).

[8] Due to state and local resistance to the impacts of Secure Communities, President Obama discontinued that program in November 2014; President Trump, however, reactivated it in January 2017. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secure Communities, available http://www.ice.gov/secure-communities.

[9] AB-60 Driver’s License in California, DMV.ORG, available at https://perma.cc/U9VN-9JMR.

[10] In re Garcia, 58 Cal. 4th 440 (2014).

[11] Jasmine Ulloa, “California becomes ‘sanctuary state’ in rebuke of Trump immigration policy,” Los Angeles Times, 5 October 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-brown-california-sanctuary-state-bill-20171005-story.html.

[12] Immigration and Nationality Act § 292, 8 U.S.C. § 1362 (providing that noncitizens can be represented in removal proceedings “at no expense to the Government”).

[13] Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135, 147 (1945) (citation omitted) (emphasis added).

[14] Ingrid V. Eagly and Steven Shafer, “A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 164 (2015): 1.

[15] See, for example, Kevin R. Johnson, “An Immigration Gideon for Lawful Permanent Residents,” Yale Law Journal 122 (2013): 2394; Mark Nofieri, “Cascading Constitutional Deprivation: The Right to Be Appointed Counsel for Mandatorily Detained Immigrants Pending Removal Proceedings,” Michigan Journal of Race and Law 18 (2012): 63

[16] Jennifer M. Chacón, “Privatized Immigration Enforcement,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 52 (2017): 1, 6 (noting that “some states and localities with large numbers of noncitizen residents have begun to provide funding for immigrant representation”).

[17] Katy Murphy, “California Budget Deal Includes Deportation Defense Fund for Undocumented Immigrants,” San Jose Mercury, 16 June 2017, http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/06/16/california-budget-deal-includes-deportation-defense-for-undocumented-immigrants/.

[18] Kevin R. Johnson, “New UC Center Serves a Most Vulnerable Student Population: A New Trend in Higher Education?” Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, 14 December 2015, p. 24.

[19] UC Immigrant Legal Services Center, available at https://law.ucdavis.edu/ucimm/.

[20] For a discussion of the creation of the clinic and its pedagogical and social justice goals, see Kevin R. Johnson and Amagda Pérez, “Clinical Legal Education and the U.C. Davis Immigration Law Clinic: Putting Theory into Practice and Practice into Theory,” SMU Law Review 51(1998): 1423.

[21] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), available at https://www.usic.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca.

[22] Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012).


Kevin R. Johnson
is Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest, Law and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Davis School of Law. Quoted regularly by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other national and international news outlets, he studied at Harvard Law School where he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. His book, Immigration Law and the US-Mexico Border (2011), received the Latino Literacy Now’s International Latino Book Awards award for Best Reference Book, and he blogs at ImmigrationProf and as a regular contributor on immigration on SCOTUSblog.

Copyright: © 2017 Kevin R. Johnson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Articles

Regarding the Documents

Capital Boom_v2lead

Jason S. Sexton

We were all undocumented once, if you like to think of things this way. With no paper, none to be possessed, owned, or laid claim to so as to build upon, capitalist-style. Of course, this erstwhile situation assumes that agency (the stuff giving evidence that one has a will), cognition, and personal resolve have something to do with the matter of being documented or not; yet they don’t really, or they didn’t then, once upon a time.

The powerful forces operating on us were bigger than us, than our parents, than any state government. Our once undocumented state, however, once suggested something about the integrity of our humanity and life; like it is now, our lives were contingent, derivative by nature—life from life, and sometimes from love, even though we had no papers. But in today’s debate, life, especially the barest kind,[1] doesn’t factor into the conversation, nor does love. The humanity doesn’t matter, nor do the stories, nor the lives. Just proper documents.  

What is a document? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English term comes from a combination of Old French document, denoting “lesson, written evidence” from the 12th–13th c., and the Latin noun documentum, meaning “lesson, proof, instance, specimen,” or else a written instrument, a charter, or an official paper in medieval Latin. The Latin verb docēre, meaning “to teach,” suggests something of a didactic function inherent in the term, whatever relationship the term might have to a similar-sounding dokimazō[2] from the ancient Greek, or perhaps even dikaioō, suggesting a legal cause of doing or showing justice, related to a favorable verdict or vindication.[3]

In the English usage, which has come down largely into the U.S. consciousness today, the term ‘document’ signifies teaching, instruction, warning, or else, “An instruction, a piece of instruction, a lesson; an admonition, a warning.” These definitions give way to a use with no less commanding function, but with an increasingly penal potential: “That which serves to show, point out, or prove something; evidence, proof,” often taking the subordinate clause—a document of birth, a document of citizenship, of acceptance, etc. without which one simply cannot show, point out, or otherwise prove what might be needed to support his/her status for personal well-being.

The noun is also used for “Something written, inscribed, etc., which furnishes evidence or information upon any subject, as a manuscript, title-deed, tomb-stone, coin, picture, etc., and specifically, “The bill of lading and policy of insurance handed over as collateral security for a foreign bill of exchange.”[4] The definition in English increasingly points out transaction and property, and thus with regard to persons: propertied people, or people as property, belonging somewhat and in some way to whatever entity issued a person their essential documents.

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Again, once upon a time it was not so—there were no documents of this kind to be spoken of in the ancient world. The rhythms and ordered systems of reality were different. The inception of these things, like writing in the history of civilization, came in sometime around 3,200 B.C. with the Sumerian society, which had increased to such size that a new methods of accounting appeared to better dictate relationships in the ancient world, organizing what sociologists today would call class or estate. Rulers in the early states were seen as ‘parents’ of their subjects, and this practice of writing or documenting things “emerged first as a way of accounting and power.”[5] Knowledge of things could be stored more accurately than with earlier forms of oral transmission, in turn giving way to writing systems. The first of these to emerge in Mesoamerica (c. 600 B.C.) came from Southern Mexico.[6] Bureaucracy mounted through the process, especially as the divide of social classes increased with the scribal and ruling elite at the top and everyone else at the bottom—i.e., those who owed things.[7] Yet before this, once upon a time, there was no state agency’s orderly account of things denoting with some finality what was owed or given, nor a written debt to someone or something. The earliest writing arose with this, though, on documents that established code or law.

If the above notion were all there were, then everyone is both documented and undocumented in various ways. We owe things, and are all owed things in this complicated bureaucratic system of states and state-governed bodies. But the state is not only comprised of people collectively as a body politic; the systems are also created by the people and, perhaps in our wildest dreams, even somehow for the people. Moreover, in a fundamental sense, the state simply is people and a way of people existing together.

But the state is not only comprised of people collectively as a body politic; the systems are also created by the people and, perhaps in our wildest dreams, even somehow for the people.

On a basic level, then, there are always things that we don’t belong to: particular clubs, or institutions, or organizations, or parties; sometimes this is designated by individual agency and choice, other times these things are chosen for individuals who have little to no choice in the matter. Everyone doesn’t have every particular document, and are thus left excluded from certain things, generally reflecting class and segregation, as well as religion and race.[8] Documents are an important way of denoting this, which can also be imprisoning, excluding, or else including in different categories.

But when do humans become ‘illegal’ or ‘outlawed’? It depends.

These things really are a moving target that we’re trying to highlight with the intellectual underpinnings of what we’re trying to discuss in addressing the issue of “Undocumented California,” and the manifold arbitrary inconsistencies that our government and culture use to legitimate dominant ideologies and institutions.

The Library of Congress has continued to use the term “illegal aliens” and “alien detention centers.” The term “illegal aliens” is also used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, especially in the recent statement from acting director Tom Homan in response to California’s SB54, declaring California a sanctuary state.[9] But to declare individuals here illegally is not a matter that California’s governing authorities are quick to choose. Labeling and name-calling is something we’d rather leave to what our parents gave us. Immigration of any kind is always a great risk, taken with great hope, and great dreams—dreams that Californians value deeply as part of their identity. Illegal, then, is not a term we will use for Californians who choose to make their lives here.[10]

Who would we be, should we create a kind of second-class citizen for a human being who is present in all astonishing wonder and humanness? Who would we be to create the underclass, and be happy with it, reinforcing the notion with media that underpins our identity (legal?) even if it disregards that of others?

The Associated Press recently gave a glimpse of a possible change in tone in a piece they published referring to, “undocumented citizens,”[11] a designation fitting enough for those committed to contributing to our shared society and common good. The term used, however, was rescinded the very next day.[12] The matter seemed to have not been entirely different from a hyper-sensitivity that the previous executive administration had together with Congress for very carefully enacting things like DACA in 2012, the cessation of which was announced by the Trump administration 5 October 2017. Both moves, however, in two different ways (from Trump and Obama administrations) showcase state power over residential subjects. Yet amid all changes that keep things consistently governmentally-controlled, with provisions doled out arbitrarily from year to year, this does not mean that cultural revolution and change cannot happen to renew our outlook.

None of this minimizes the potential existential crisis manifested in fear, destruction, loss, and seizure. One without proper documentation at any point today may be tossed swiftly to the margins, disrupting scores of lives. This is all part of the design and part of the larger story, none of which can be understood apart from the law, which in turn cannot be understood apart from worldview (or, suggestively, operative theology).[13]

America the beautiful, the chosen, the exceptional—this vision fuels what we do with the different subjects of the U.S., most of whom will be punished at some point and in one way or another.[14] The U.S. issues papers throughout this process to those con papeles as opposed to those sin papeles.[15] This, too, is about power. The U.S. is not the only democracy that does this. But in this case, continuing capitalist style, the world’s elite can come anytime, especially to the coveted California: pay cash for a house, immigrate anytime. Their money will secure the documents needed.

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But for those embodying any sense of the Statue of Liberty’s unfulfilled calling: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”[16]—these aren’t really in with making America great again.[17] But if they aren’t, then nothing is. And even yet, if America is that place of “an established culture painfully adapting itself to a new environment, and being constantly checked, confused, challenged, and overcome by new immigrations,” then in California, America’s America, to the Statue of Liberty’s call our motto is not merely “yes” and “amen”; but is always “only more so.”[18]

We cannot pretend that this in extremis version of America that California has embodied hasn’t involved the penal documentation of the ‘other,’ which also has always been part of our narrative.[19] The carceral undocumented are trapped in county systems, or banished to the penitentiary, or vanished into Adelanto, our private immigration detention center. For the carceral undocumented, punishment inflicted suggests the need of discipline, whatever the half-hearted determination might be from the official verdict of whether or not they truly belong. In Spanish, the rendering of Michel Foucault’s Serveiller et punir is given as not “discipline” and “punishment” as his chosen term for the English translation, but rather as Vigilar (“keep an eye on”) y castigar.

When surveilled or punished, it’s not as though forms of documentation are not involved. We document everything. While great political figures receive exile, especially the white collared ones, the less significant players are swiftly discarded. In the vigilant, punitive surveillance of the carceral state, humans were written-out with documents of exclusion, but not without punishment for having the wrong kind of documents or else none at all, relegating them for banishment. To where, it didn’t much matter, so much of which is arbitrary, affirming again ultimate state power and control, and stability for the state and its shareholders, which can be both symbolically and psychologically reinforced with a stronger, ever increasing, larger, higher, bigger border wall.[20]

That’s not how the truest Californians roll, though. We chart a different course, collecting and affirming the world, open to far more possibilities than the world has yet seen.

How do we reenvision our California selves then, both with the undocumented, and also simultaneously as the undocumented? And what is ‘undocumented’ in the contemporary moment? This is difficult to discern. We know California’s response has not been shy to these questions, but neither are we univocal with a position. Largely in opposition to the Washington administration, our Legislature, institutional, and civic leaders have uttered many words to the effect of protection and affirmation. Have they? Will they? These things in the contemporary moment should be understood as noble, ambitious, but still aspirational, part of a dream. But dreams are worth living into, and developing, especially when looking honestly and discovering the troubling reality that the world is indeed quite troubled. For those with some modest means, will, and desire to do something about it, dreaming may be essential for survival.

The term ‘undocumented’ is quite possibly a cheap concession that, while humbly admitting “need” (need for proper documents?), also concedes: “We don’t have documents needed to remain, to abide, to be/exist.” But this is a declaration humans must not be able to make of humans. To unwrite a person, to erase, negate, subtract, to deny life—this ought not be done. It happens, and may be something, but is certainly not of California—a state of mind as much as anything—where the dreamers remain, belong, until the end of time.

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It happens, and may be something, but is certainly not of California—a state of mind as much as anything—where the dreamers remain, belong, until the end of time.

Our overall position only makes sense in light of what’s possible, or at least plausible, and what we have done before to build ourselves up amid great challenges. There’s nothing new under the sun. And dreaming does not mean aspiring to a utopian society. California is surely not that, nor will it ever be. [Perhaps in fifty years Mexico may beat California to this.] But California can be a place of solidarity, mutuality, respect, dignity, and healing. We can work together, believe in each other, and re-recognize our shared humanity of wealthy and poor, and the poor in spirit—blessed as they are. And are those who mourn, and the meek, and those who hunger and thirst to be righteous (to have papers), who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.

Californians—we hope, we believe, we assert, we confront, and we fight—but we don’t fear, even if disinherited. We’re not going to fall for rhetoric that divides families, disrupts classrooms, invades workspaces. And we can take the nation’s undocumented, the poor, the disinherited. Deport them to California, Joe Mathews argues.[21] And more so.

Californians, we ourselves often forget our stories, and those of others around us—we know that more of the point is found looking to the future. Amnesia is often tacitly prescribed upon arrival. But we have memory, identity, presence, and know what it means to be human, documented or not. We know, or at least we’re trying to find time to breathe and reorient ourselves to figure out what it means in this moment to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly.

Perhaps the undocumented are the greatest examples of humility, and the very best of what the American (and Californian) disposition could dream to be. Maybe perceived as hiding in the shadows, laying low in order to not be found out, deported, sometimes self-deported,[22] or else going underground, under the radar, opting not to remain in an official governmental capacity. Yet they are also activists—they are mothers, fathers, children—they are like us, but of course are second or perhaps third or fourth class citizens. But whenever did one’s official status constitute what’s real? What’s prescribed as ‘official’ does not constitute how life, culture, and love is ever made—the true, enriching stuff that makes life worth living. That stuff is hard to document in any proper sense, however we might try; but that’s what matters most, and is most needed right now.


Notes

  • With gratitude to Miroslava Chávez-García, Susan Straight, and Abel Fernando Vallejo Galindo, an undocumented Californian, for comments on an earlier draft of this essay.

[1] Luke Bretherton refers to this as “life excluded from participation in and the protection of the rule of law,” Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 220. See also Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005).

[2] Meaning, “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine”; or “to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing, prove, approve.” William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 255.

[3] Ibid., 249.

[4] Quotations are taken from “document, n,” OED Online, June 2017, Oxford University Press, http://www.oed.com.lib-proxy.fullerton.edu/view/Entry/56328?result=1&rskey=EkUMvF& (accessed 5 October 2017).

[5] David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 275.

[6] Ibid., 277.

[7] Robert Tignor, Jeremy Adelman, Peter Brown, et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Vol. 1: Beginnings through the Fifteenth Century (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014), 55.

[8] Kevin Starr identified this as a perpetual tension in California life, historically and into the present, noting particular operative racial, ethnic, and religious covenants of exclusion, as well as the long-seated enmities that various immigrant groups to California held against each other, highlighting especially the American dilemma of race as equally a California problem, although perhaps even more so. Kevin Starr, California: A History (New York: Random House, 2005), 308.

[9] For the deeply irresponsible “Statement from ICE Acting Director Tom Homan on California Sanctuary Law,” see https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDHSICE/bulletins/1bbc85f.

[10] Note that Senate Bill 54 does not use the terms ‘illegal’ or ‘alien’ in its entire text: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB54.

[11] Ryan Saavedra, “Associated Press Now Refers To Illegal Aliens As ‘Undocumented Citizens’,” The Daily Wire, 7 September 2017, http://www.dailywire.com/news/20784/associated-press-now-refers-illegal-aliens-ryan-saavedra.

[12] “Associated Press Now Refers To Illegal Aliens As ‘Undocumented Citizens’,” 8 September 2017, https://www.apnews.com/14392ccadac64851a2c23bcbaeea4c39/Mayor:-Chicago-students-welcome-as-Trump-ending-DACA-program.

[13] See Hiroshi Motomura, Immigration Outside the Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 4-5 on complexity of terms and significance of understanding these things in relation to law. See also pp. 19-55.

[14] See Marc Morjé Howard, Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[15] Jen Hofer, “Under the Radar and Off the Charts: Undocumentation in Los Angeles,” in Patricia Wakida, ed., Latitudes: An Angeleno’s Atlas (Berkeley: Heyday Books), 161.

[16] See https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm.

[17] See dust-up with erstwhile California resident, Steven Miller, in Liz Stark, “White House policy adviser downplays Statue of Liberty’s famous poem,” CNN, 3 August 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/02/politics/emma-lazarus-poem-statue-of-liberty/index.html.

[18] Wallace Stegner, “California: The Experimental Story,” Saturday Review, 23 September 1967, 28.

[19] Some native indigenous Californians were documented somewhat with names for tribes that became common, or with new names for captured individuals or those baptized or brought into missions. But early accounts of the turbulent and chaotic years of genocidal violence against Californian Indians left poor documentation not only as to name but also to tribal identity. See Benjamin Madley, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 (Newhaven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 15. And for details listing the numbers of how many were murdered during this time period, see Appendices 1-6, pp. 363-550.

[20] See reasons why unauthorized migration benefits the U.S. government, Motomura, Immigration Outside the Law, 52-55.

[21] Joe Mathews, “Legal residency for California’s undocumented,” Zócalo’s Connecting California, 7 September 2017, http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/zocalos-connecting-california/legal-residency-for-californias-undocumented.

[22] Brittny Mejia, “Leaving America: With shaky job prospects and Trump promising crackdowns, immigrants return to Mexico with U.S.-born children,” Los Angeles Times, 19 September 2017, http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-ln-dual-citizenship-20170808-htmlstory.html.


Jason S. Sexton
is visiting fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Religion, and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. He teaches at California State University, Fullerton, where he serves as Pollak Library Faculty Fellow. He is the Editor of Boom California. For more information, please visit www.jasonssexton.com.

Copyright: © 2017 Jason S. Sexton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Interviews

Revisiting L.A.’s Floodpath: A Boom Interview with Jon Wilkman

Jon Wilkman


Editor’s note
: Over the past seven years, Boom has focused much of its attention on water in California. In 2013, commemorating the centenary of the Los Angeles aqueduct’s opening on 5 November 1913, our previous editor Jon Christensen and others spent some time reflecting on water and L.A. And so it’s no surprise that we’ve come back to it now. California’s life will be forever intertwined with the innovative use of water for its existence, which is perhaps as relevant for Los Angeles as anywhere. Here we sit down with Jon Wilkman, the author of Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016), which received the Historical Society of Southern California’s Martin Ridge Award for Best Book of California History after 1848, and was also an Amazon 2016 Nonfiction Book of the Year.


Boom:
You published a book recently, Floodpath, which has been optioned for a television mini-series by Joel Silver Productions. You also gave a recent talk on this at the Mechanics’ Institute in San Francisco, and earlier this year published an article in Southern California Quarterly.[1] What brought you to this subject of water in California history in the first place? And specifically in Los Angeles?

Wilkman: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, not too far from the ruins of the St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, fifty miles north of downtown L.A. and northeast of Santa Clarita. But like many Americans, Californians, and even Angelenos, I had never heard of the disaster that killed well over 400 people. In the fourth grade I built a Spanish mission model, but there had been no classroom mention of the St. Francis Dam when I graduated from North Hollywood High School. As an elementary school kid, heading north on family vacations, we passed the Cascades, the concrete chute that disgorges water from the Owens Valley. When I asked what it was I was told, “That’s where our water comes from.” After college in the Midwest and the beginning of a career as a documentary filmmaker in New York, when I returned to Los Angeles in 1978 I rediscovered my home town, and especially its often overlooked and underappreciated history. I was hooked. While developing a public television series, “The Los Angeles History Project,” I ran across Man-Made Disaster: The Story of the St. Francis Dam, a 1963 book by Ventura County historian, Charles Outland. That set me and my late wife Nancy on a 25-year-long quest to document and tell the story of the St. Francis Dam in a modern context. As early as 1990, we began to videotape interviews with eyewitness and survivors. Some of them are included in Floodpath, and can be seen in a short film I made to promote the book.[2]


Boom:
Most people who are not historians may probably know the name Mulholland from the 2001 David Lynch film, Mulholland Drive; many Angelenos will have even driven the winding road with the same name. But who was William Mullholland and why does he matter today?

Wilkman: There would be no modern Los Angeles without William Mulholland. Some City of the Angels bashers might say no modern L.A. wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but Mulholland’s life and legacy are larger than life and Shakespearean in their rise and fall. An Irish immigrant to Los Angeles, he started as a ditch-digger in 1878, became a self-taught engineer, and in 1913 was responsible for the completion of the 233-mile-long Owens River Aqueduct, at the time, the longest in the world. With this great achievement, and others afterward, came legendary status and over confidence that led to the misjudgments that caused the failure of the St. Francis Dam. To me, his biography is filled with insights into the growth of Los Angeles, and even the United States, and warnings and lessons that have never been more relevant.

Dirt_via_Flickr user John Davey

Dirt via Flickr user John Davey.


Boom
: The leading L.A. writer David Ulin wrote a piece in Boom a few years ago, under the same title as Mullholland’s infamous phrase, “There it is! Take it!” highlighting both something of a wild ambition as well as an exploitation, what some have referred to as L.A.’s Original Sin. But could you tell us what the innovation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct meant for Los Angeles at the time when it opened? What did it also mean for California and the world?

Wilkman: To get to your question in a roundabout fashion, aside from a widespread lack of knowledge about the full extent of Los Angeles history, there’s a long tradition of “noir L.A.,” which I believe originated in a 1920s east-coast-based belief that Los Angeles was somehow an unjustified urban aberration, built on fraud and shallow values—certainly not a “real” city like New York, Boston, or even San Francisco, where hucksterism and chicanery were considered colorful, not foundationally sinister.  Frankly, I think it’s time to give L.A. noir a long vacation, if not a trip to a rest home.  Good, bad, and otherwise, the history of Los Angeles is too fascinating, influential, and important to be summed up in a popular novel and movie genre. To make a fresh start, I can’t think of any better story for a deep dive than the tragedy of the St. Francis Dam.

Frankly, I think it’s time to give L.A. noir a long vacation, if not a trip to a rest home.  Good, bad, and otherwise, the history of Los Angeles is too fascinating, influential, and important to be summed up in a popular novel and movie genre.

“There it is! Take it!” is often cited as the short speech that encapsulates a legacy of quasi-criminal usurpation that’s the history of water in Los Angeles—as you say, L.A.’s “Original Sin.” The facts, as they tend to be, are multi-faceted. Mulholland’s five words occurred at the end of a longer less punchy oration, interrupted when water from the Aqueduct began to flow, and eager Angelenos rushed to dip tin cups into the city’s man-made river. The classic film noir, Chinatown, draws upon the mix of truth, half-truths, and conspiracy theories that followed. The business insiders who hugely profited by early investments in the San Fernando Valley had lots of power and influence, but at the time funding for the Aqueduct wasn’t assured, and unlike the plotting of Chinatown, they didn’t have to con other Angelenos by dumping water to fake a drought (something Mulholland would have never allowed). As we know from recent history, droughts were regular and real and the vast majority of the city’s citizens believed more water could benefit everyone in Southern California, as it ultimately did. Former city engineer and mayor Fred Eaton, representing Los Angeles as well as himself, indeed used surreptitious tactics to conceal his true intentions when he convinced Owens Valley farmers and ranchers to sell land with access to the Owens River. Even if the water was purchased, sometimes at inflated prices, not “stolen,” it was an unprecedented transfer of resources from one region to another in an era of small town localism. In the context of the Progressive politics of the day, with the backing of President Theodore Roosevelt, the acquisition was justified as providing “the greatest good to the greatest number.” But for the residents of the Owens Valley, the results had damaging and long-term ecological and economic consequences. They fought back with a water war that continues to this day. In the process, Valley activists repeatedly dynamited the Aqueduct, then, and even now, seen as a heroic act of defiance, although others might consider it terrorism. For Los Angeles, with water available beyond the elusive Los Angeles River, nearby independent communities were willing to be annexed to greater L.A., quenching thirst and irrigating crops. As a result, the city grew from forty-three square miles in 1913 to 442 by 1930. Combined with opportunities for trade, made possible by a new man-made harbor, which opened in San Pedro in 1907, by 1920 Los Angeles was poised to become the preeminent economic center of California, and eventually an important world capital.


Boom:
Obviously, the dam no longer exists, and your book and recent article accounts for these things in some detail, but can you briefly tell us what happened with the tragedy on 12 March 1928.

Wilkman: Construction of the 200 feet-tall arched concrete St. Francis Dam was officially completed on 4 May 1926. Over the next nearly two years, as the reservoir was slowly filled, cracks and leaks appeared. At first they weren’t a source of concern because such fissures are common with concrete dams as they cure and settle. When they happen they are patched with caulk. Despite this, on the morning of 12 March 1928, St. Francis Dam watchman Tony Harnischfeger was especially anxious when he discovered leaking water that appeared to be filled with soil, a sign the foundations of the dam might be dissolving. He called his boss, William Mulholland, who, joined by his assistant, Harvey Van Norman, drove from Los Angeles to investigate. When Mulholland examined the leak, he said he saw it running clear. It became filled with soil only after it encountered construction debris lower down. Convinced the dam was safe, Mulholland and Van Norman returned to Los Angeles. Only hours later, shortly before midnight, with no warning the St. Francis Dam collapsed catastrophically. In forty-five minutes the St. Francis Reservoir was empty and 12.4 billion gallons of water were rushing west through San Francisquito Canyon and the Santa Clara River Valley toward the Pacific Ocean, 54 miles away. In between, thousands of people in towns like Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula were sound asleep. With downed telephone lines, it would take more than an hour before warnings were issued. To some, they never came. Well over four hundred died.


Boom:
What did that disaster mean at the time, for Mulholland, for Los Angeles, and California?

Wilkman: Mulholland was obviously devastated by the collapse of the dam he’d built in San Francisquito Canyon. He never really recovered, personally or professionally. Although he refused to accept independent engineering accusations of inadequate safety measures and faulty decision-making, probably believing a dynamite attack was to blame, he nevertheless took full responsibility. “If there was an error of human judgment, I was the human,” he said, adding, “The only ones I envy about this thing are those who are dead. “Aside from the tragic loss of life, the St. Francis Dam disaster couldn’t have come at a worse time for the future of water infrastructure in California and the American West. Plans for Boulder (Hoover) Dam were caught in a Congressional crossfire between those who believed in private enterprise and advocates of government support for new dams and hydroelectric projects. The failure of a city-built concrete dam near Los Angeles seemed to confirm that public agencies weren’t up to the task. In the end, a compromise between public and private interests allowed for the construction a series of dams that transformed the American West and Southeast. To put the matter behind as soon as possible, Los Angeles, without acknowledging blame, rapidly made restitution for loss of life and property damage. Most important, California established a dam safety regulation and review system that became a model for other states, and even countries overseas.

St. Francis Dam wing dike, The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company via Flickr

St. Francis Dam wing dike, courtesy of The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company via Flickr.


Boom:
Knowing what he knew after the disaster, what do you think Mulholland could have done differently? If he knew and had today’s technology, what would be different with what he did?

Wilkman: There were plenty things Mulholland could have done at the time. To start, building the dam in a less treacherous geological environment. I don’t think Mulholland’s culpability can be excused by a lack of modern technology. The latest explanations blame a massive landslide as the initial cause of the failure, a situation some have said couldn’t be discerned by geologists in the 1920s. In fact, after the collapse, ancient landslides at the dam site were clearly identified in 1928 by a Stanford geologist. Mulholland’s failing was hubris. He believed he knew best and didn’t consult others. Even if he included the latest safety measures in his design, most engineers believe the geology of St. Francisquito Canyon doomed the St. Francis Dam. Too often, though, the disaster is treated as an anomaly—the work of a self-trained engineer and arrogant old man. However, despite generations of university-educated engineers and computer-aided design, dams can still fail, and do. Most often, though, it isn’t a matter of faulty design, but a failure to anticipate and respond effectively to worst-case scenarios and especially inadequate maintenance.

However, despite generations of university-educated engineers and computer-aided design, dams can still fail, and do. Most often, though, it isn’t a matter of faulty design, but a failure to anticipate and respond effectively to worst-case scenarios and especially inadequate maintenance.

Boom: This Spring and Summer our levees were tested with both the Delta levees and the canals. Kingsburg had flooding of a resort, along with the Delta’s Treasure Island, Van Sickle Island, among others. Much of California actually sits in flood zone areas. My hometown of Tracy does, in the Delta region. And while I knew that Tracy had its problems, I didn’t realize that one of them was its low-lying situation until Kevin Starr pointed it out to me. But add to this our dams that sit above many communities—Lake Isabella above Bakersfield, Oroville Dam, Folsom Lake, and many others. Our infrastructure is also in need of great repair. What do you think California needs in terms of its water infrastructure repair?

Wilkman: I am not an engineer, so can’t respond with specifics. As I indicated in my previous answer, regular and adequate maintenance is essential. That certainly appeared to be an issue with Oroville, along with some design weaknesses. Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state of dam infrastructure in America a grade of D+.  Yet even in the best of circumstances, unprecedented acts of nature can be overwhelming, as sadly proved recently in Texas and Florida. Preparation for the worst is always a good strategy, including avoiding construction in known flood plains, but sometimes even that isn’t enough when flooding, as it was in Houston, is the greatest in a thousand years.


Boom:
What do you think is the future of water in California? How do you envision us better reckoning with it and its power. Should we be more aggressive or more conservative toward it? In short, more technology, or more work with nature? And of course, there’s no indication that there will be any less people in California in the foreseeable future. What sort of things worry you about the future of California water infrastructure? And what sort of things should we as Californians and also our civic and governmental leaders be thinking about that we and they are not currently doing?

Wilkman: I read an interesting statistic while researching Floodpath. In 2015 Los Angeles consumed less water that the city did in 1970, and L.A.’s population was a million more. In the aftermath of the recent drought, I don’t know if that’s changed for worse or better, but it shows there can be hope if we adopt effective regulations and technologies, as well as enlightened lifestyle expectations. Again, I’m a filmmaker and historian, but from what I know, efforts to work with nature, not attempts to remake or ignore it, are what a lot of thoughtful engineers and social planners are thinking about. New technology, sure, but also conservation programs, including capturing what rain we get for local reuse or stored in natural aquifers, not just uncovered concrete-lined reservoirs. Establishing resource allocation policies that deal with urban and agricultural needs is obviously vital too. Certainly there’s no excuse for the citizens of California to be ill-informed about the challenges we face. No matter what some political leaders at the highest national level may believe, the effects of global warming are real and they’re not going to wait for the next election for us to act.

BOOM SLO-1


Notes

[1] Jon Wilkman, “Floodpath: The Forgotten History of the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster,” Southern California Quarterly 99 (2017): 71-88, http://scq.ucpress.edu/content/99/1/71.

[2] https://vimeo.com/153180111.

 

Jon Wilkman is a native of Los Angeles and graduate of Oberlin College. A documentary filmmaker and author, his films have won numerous national and international awards. Books include Picturing Los Angeles and Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America on the Making of Modern Los Angeles.  He is currently working on a new book, Screening Reality: How Real World Moviemakers Reimagined America.

Copyright: © 2017 Jon Wilkman. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

ArticlesPhotography/Art

What is a River in California?

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Highway Bridge, 2016, archival pigment print, 56 x 60 inches, Sayler/Morris. I-5 Bridge near the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers.*


Susannah Sayler
Edward Morris

What is a river? This is not a question we ask every day because it seems superfluous. Certainly, a river must be a flowing body of water of a certain size. Call it a river or a creek, but one way or another, flowing is the essential thing. Yet, what if a given river does not flow per se but is pushed and pulled mechanically? Or what if the flowing that defines a river is arrested and controlled through dams, canals and machine technology? What if the river no longer moves with inextricable desire towards a specific place like an ocean or a lake, but rather is widely dispersed into various uses? What if a river is wholly owned and apportioned the moment it comes out of the ground? Does all this change the essence of a river? Is it even still a river?

These speculative questions, for which the arts are particularly well suited, assume real significance in a state like present-day California that depends entirely on technological control of rivers for its prosperity and very survival. Seeing a river in California for what it is now—namely water-put-to-work—can abet a number of other vital inquiries, such as: if water in the state is essentially a resource or even a commodity, who owns it and how are these owners positioning themselves for the water shortages of the future due to climate change and population growth? How is the current regard for water connected to California’s murderous, colonial past,[1] and what can we gain from such an understanding? And/or how can California avoid its seemingly inevitable fate of privatized water markets, unreliable access to clean water for the poor and profound income inequality? Such questioning “prepares a free relationship” towards the issue, to quote Martin Heidegger. It reveals and opens. It renders something that appears universal, absolute and given—in this case our extractive attitude toward water and farming—as contingent and therefore mutable through political activism and civic engagement.

We make this particular connection to Heidegger despite all his baggage because he provides a number of indispensable analytic tools for perceiving what is really at stake with environmental issues, not to mention his inventive and evocative vocabulary. Further, an encounter with Heidegger’s investigation into the nature of rivers proved transformative to our own art-activist project Water Gold Soil. As artists working with the medium of landscape photography, we first looked towards what is visible in the land in order to represent the drought issue in California. A reading of Heidegger and other research then provoked us to consider what lies behind what can be seen. A key thought sits in Heidegger’s before-and-after comparison of the Rhine River found in “The Question Concerning Technology”:

The hydroelectric plant is set into the current of the Rhine. It sets the Rhine to supplying its hydraulic pressure, which then sets the turbines turning. This turning sets those machines in motion whose thrust sets going the electric current for which the long-distance power station and its network of cables are set up to dispatch electricity. In the context of the interlocking processes pertaining to the orderly disposition of electrical energy, even the Rhine itself appears to be something at our command. The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant…. What the river is now, namely, a water-power supplier, derives from the essence of the power station…. But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.[2]

Seeing the way “a river in the landscape” can actually be more fundamentally defined by its economic uses (power supplier, tourism and recreation site, irrigator) became the presiding impulse of our own project. Accordingly, we photographed the transition from the wilderness incarnation of this water flow in the Sierra Nevada to its first damming, and then on to its increasing subjection to rationalization and canalization, and finally to its dispersal in various end-uses, primarily agricultural. The most basic goal of the photography and the video we took was simply to reveal the “river” as economic rather than scenic—and by “river” here, we mean both our particular water flow and by extension all such “rivers” in California.

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Water Gold Soil: Report, Draft 2, Sayler/Morris, 2015, 2-channel video installation, 17 min, TULCA Art Festival, Galway, Ireland. Voiceover text: “From this point on the water does that flow. They pushed it along with pumps. They extracted it from the Delta, and moved it into two canals. One headed for the big cities and one headed to the desert farms. The water commodity.”

This may seem obvious, but the productiveness of this enterprise became evident when an environmental organization giving us an award requested that we put more images of “beauty” and “wildness” into an exhibition of our work. Indeed, the typical maneuver of photographers working on environmental issues is to show a particular landscape as pure and beautiful and therefore worthy of protecting, or else to show “damage” to the land caused by the impurities of pollution and industrialization. However, such obsession with purity, which has historically motivated the environmental movement in the United States, deadens an adequate response to issues like climate change or water rights in California. In both cases, sufficiently powerful animus and solidarity must derive from a heightened sense of both the dangers and opportunities. Urgency comes from care for and protection of life, social justice, empathy, economic opportunity and restoration of the sacred. Each  of these themes came together in Standing Rock.

The purity paradigm continues to grip the environmental community, but so long as it does it will jeopardize its efficacy. For such an interest in conservation, preservation, and beauty, tremendously understates the danger of our current ecological crisis and renders the ecological crisis the sole province of a privileged class. Here too Heidegger can be of some assistance, albeit with significant caveats. Heidegger’s description of the hydro-electric plant in the Rhine comes amid a larger discussion of what he identified as “the supreme danger” to mankind. This supreme danger presents itself to Heidegger first in the guise of “modern technology.” Modern technology for Heidegger differs from what precedes it in that “it puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored.” Heidegger terms this essential aspect of modern technology a “challenging forth,” which he contrasts with the gentler “bringing forth” (poiesis) of older technology. Poeisis, of course, is also the mode of the arts (i.e., poetry), the significance of which we explore below. In this connection, Heidegger contrasts the impact of a wooden bridge over the Rhine to that of the hydro-electric dam per the above quotation. The wooden bridge brings forth place, dwelling, cultivation of the land; whereas the dam challenges forth the river to yield energy that might in turn be used for industrial processes.[3]

To understand how this is not merely a nostalgic, wistful call for a return to a past primitivism, we must understand exactly what is so unreasonable about the demand Heidegger identifies that modern technology puts to nature. The danger here is not the loss of an attribute of the river we might call beautiful or the imposition of a stain on its purity that can ultimately be restored through effective advocacy; rather, the danger lies in the complete transformation in the nature of the river within a means-ends order. It has become, in Heidegger’s terminology, a “standing reserve.” The river is not alone. In a world dominated by modern technology, Heidegger writes:

Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a furthering ordering. Whatever is ordered about in this way has its own standing. We call it the standing reserve.[4]

Another way of saying this is that within the challenging forth of modern technology everything becomes a resource, or as Heidegger writes elsewhere “something is only through what it performs.”[5] Heidegger gives a couple of other examples besides the transformation of the river. He contrasts a windmill with coal power. Whereas with the windmill things “are left entirely to the wind’s blowing,” with coal “a tract of land is challenged in the hauling out” with the result that the “earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as mineral deposit.”[6] He also contrasts older farming techniques with industrial agriculture, emphasizing the lost values of care and maintenance, words which together we might call by a different name—sustainability.[7]

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Water Gold Soil: Report, Draft 2, Sayler/Morris, 2015, 2-channel video (still), 17 min. The pipes depicted here in the right channel of the video are part of infrastructure originally built to support gold mining by regulating flow in the South Fork of the American River. The same infrastructure was later re-purposed for irrigation agriculture and suburban development. Voiceover text: “Pipes followed as if demanded by logic itself…. But the pipes were kept hidden, tucked away. So that a faucet could appear like a stream.”

By this logic, in order to answer the question, “What is a river in California?,” we must first answer the question of specifically what that river is used for, what it performs. It is not enough simply to observe that it is technological in some generic sense. Of course, a given river in California might have various uses. (It is illuminating in this regard to examine Bureau of Reclamation spreadsheets showing just who owns each acre foot of water in each river.) Notice, however, how Heidegger articulates the usage of the river in terms of a system: the water moves the turbines, which moves machines that create the electrical current, which in turn moves along cables to be stored and distributed. The underlying logic of the challenging forth is that it is extracting and storing energy with the purpose to further something else, namely some industry.

We chose to follow a water flow toward its end use specifically in the industry of large-scale agriculture because this is the dominant industry governing much of California’s water infrastructure. Jay Lund, one of the leading experts on water in California and editor of the California Water Blog, describes the system of water management in California, as follows:

By 1980, a vast network of reservoirs, canals and exploited aquifers transformed California. This system was largely designed to support an agricultural economy envisioned in the latter 1800s, which greatly exceeded the gold mining economy it replaced.[8]

In this single concise quotation, you have all the elements of our project: Water, Gold, Soil. The “agricultural economy” (i.e. soil) is the descendant of the gold mining economy, and both were entirely dependent on water—agriculture for obvious reasons, and gold because not only was gold first found in the rivers, but water in the form of sluices and later water cannons was essential to mining operations.  As Norris Hundley writes of the gold mining industry in California: “they built hydraulic empires of dams, reservoirs, flumes, ditches, pipes and hoses. All this in turn required knowledge of advanced engineering principles, now introduced for the first time on a large scale in the West and later used to build other great public and private projects.”[9] In addition to the technological confidence and infrastructure, perhaps a more important legacy of the gold mining industry on the agriculture industry that supplanted it was the legal framework for how to regard ownership of a river in the first place. [10] In particular, the notion that one could claim a right to some water simply being the first to put it to some vaguely defined “beneficial use” originated in California with the Gold Rush. The havoc wrecked by the mixing of this “prior appropriation” right with other sorts of rights (namely riparian) has been well documented.

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Water Gold Soil: Report, Draft 2, Sayler/Morris, 2015, 2-channel video (still), 17 min. Voiceover text: “They first discovered Gold near this place on the American River, setting off a worldwide hysteria that has been treated comprehensively by Brandt and others.”

However, Lund leaves out half of the equation. The other major driver of water infrastructure development in California was, and continues to be, real estate development and speculation. This story has been comprehensively told in Norris Hundley’s The Great Thirst and elsewhere. In fact, a strong argument can be made that agriculture in California is itself simply real estate investment in disguise. With a Heideggerian flourish we might say (as we do in a video piece that is part of our project): “Water spread over land by wind and rain transforms ground to nutrient. Water spread over land by pipes transforms ground to real estate.” Many in addition to Hundley have recited this history,[11] which in broad brush strokes looks like this: the government wrests away land populated by Native Americans and grants it outright to large corporations, including railroads and oil companies; the companies market the land to settlers who begin to farm it and increase its value under lease agreements; the same large landowners then successfully lobby the government for massive, multi-billion-dollar water infrastructure projects, cynically invoking the Jeffersonian image of the small farmer (this includes the San Luis reservoir, which is the hub of the water flow in our Water Gold Soil project); the construction of these projects is granted under the agreement that the large landowners will sell off their land into smaller parcels to support small business and families; this sell-off is never done and the military-scale federal investment in infrastructure is thereby translated into direct real estate gains by the large owners. Studies have shown the deleterious effects of corporate farming on communities, as the owners of these lands get rich while the people working on them are mired in some of the country’s most dire poverty.[12] In the ultimate irony, many communities within these farming districts (known perversely as water districts) completely lack access to any water at all, or else are subjected to poisonous levels of pollution.[13]

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Water Gold Soil: Report, Draft 2, Sayler/Morris, 2015, 2-channel video (still), 17 min. Irrigation in Westlands Water District. Voiceover text: “Water spread over land by wind and clouds transforms ground to nutrient. Water spread over land by pipes transforms ground to real estate.”

Here we approach the crux of the argument and an identification both of what is valuable and vexing about Heidegger. For Heidegger, if the reduction of the natural world to a standing reserve is the danger, then the “supreme danger” is the reduction of humans themselves to the status of this standing reserve, as with the laborers of the Central Valley most obviously, but, in fact, as with all of us living within a world defined by modern technology. This reduction of nature, labor and all people to a standing reserve is a function not of technology itself but what Heidegger calls the essence of modern technology: enframing (Gestell). What sort of thing is enframing? One is tempted to call it a worldview, an orientation, a theory, a way of representing the world, or even an ideology, but Heidegger scrupulously avoids these sorts of epistemological terms—a fact that accounts for much of the difficulty of his text. For him, enframing is not simply a way of seeing things. It is itself generative as a mode of revealing the world, a mode of existence. Enframing reveals by ordering, framing, putting things into boxes.  Enframing alters what is actual, not just how we see the actual. Under the sway of enframing, objects, and ultimately human beings themselves, turn into a mere function of their instrumentality.

However, while enframing is not itself a way of seeing, it is, paradoxically, both the by-product of and the necessary condition of a way of seeing, which Heidegger calls out as “modern mathematical science.”[14] Perhaps a helpful way of understanding the enframing concept is to see it as that force within “modern mathematical science’s” way of seeing that is productive of being—the binding force between epistemology and ontology. “Modern science’s way of representing pursues and entraps nature as a calculable coherence of forces,” Heidegger writes, and this “theory of nature prepares the way not just for modern technology but for the essence of modern technology [i.e., enframing].” Heidegger emphasizes that this occurs at a particular time in history—that is to say, something else came before. With an ecological dynamic, culture, in all its myriad modes of representation (scientific, artistic, conversational, etc.) is produced by, and in turn, propagates this ontological enframing force. Heidegger lays down the marker between the Renaissance and the Middle Ages: “What actuality is in Durer’s picture ‘The Columbine’ is determined differently from what is actual in a medieval fresco.”[15] Indeed, there is something crucial about this transition. The creeping ooze of enframing spread over the entire world as we moved through the epochs labeled the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Modernity and indeed Post-Modernity (which, we understand as neo-liberalism by another name). The story of enframing’s creep is the story of colonialism, and it is also the story of our project in which documentation of a given “river” is both real and allegorical. Our assembly of images and words is representational of an actual water flow at a given point in time, but also of the broader historical trajectory of the Age of Extraction. California is an interesting case study in the epistemo-ontological creep of enframing because it is so compressed and so stark.

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Enframing II, Sayler/Morris, 2016, Archival pigment print with gold leaf, 20 x 24 inches. Appropriated image from United States Geological Society with permission.

Yet, in the final analysis we make quite different hay than Heidegger out of this recognition of enframing’s historicity. Heidegger’s primary concern throughout his work is Being, by which he means the essence of human existence. We will not follow him into these considerations, which are dense with thorns, except to say this overarching concern of Heidegger’s leads him to consider the “supreme danger” of enframing as bearing most importantly on man’s ability to continue to live as he essentially is—in all his aloneness and glory. This preoccupation of Heidegger’s, seeped in a brew of human exceptionalism and a pursuit of pure origins along with some other rather dubious notions, creates what seems to us like two blindingly obvious aporia in his questioning concerning technology, namely a consideration of agency in the development of enframing’s challenging forth, and relatedly a consideration of class and regional distinctions among the humans of this world. Who pushed forward the challenging forth of nature and labor that fell out of enframing like destiny? And who can stop it? In several places, Heidegger’s questioning brushes tantalizing close to Marx—for example in his observation that the challenging forth of technology is invested in “driving on to the maximum yield and the minimum expense”; or in his description of humans becoming a standing reserve, which seems to harken to Marx’s analysis of alienation. However, Heidegger does not pursue a material, economic understanding of what is threatening about the enframing phenomenon. This leads to a very nebulous conception of its origins and import, as well as to a misunderstanding of the ways in which we can engage in overcoming it.

Heidegger never forged an explicit political philosophy but expressed that a revolution in thinking was needed to avoid the tragic subjection of humans themselves to the status of a standing reserve. We do not normally think of Heidegger as an activist, but in the Introduction to Metaphysics he states: “we dare to take up the great and lengthy task of tearing down a world that has grown old and of building it truly anew.”[16] He had an exalted view of both philosophy and art in this process. In fact, it was to these activities alone that he ascribed any real power. The world had to be re-created through a heroic exertion of complicated thought, embodied best in poetry. Heidegger was silent about how this deep thought might be conveyed to the citizenry and how in turn it might lead to concrete changes in policy or political systems. Not surprisingly, this giant lacuna in Heidegger’s thought resulted in personal exhaustion and disillusionment, such that he ultimately declared in an interview with Das Spiegel: “philosophy will be unable to effect any immediate change in the current state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all purely human reflection and endeavor” because “the greatness of what is to be thought is [all] too great.” Heidegger broodingly concluded that only “God can save us.”[17]

Taken as disillusionment on Heidegger’s part, this spirit all too commonly results from detaching the abstract work of world creating (via worldview changing) from the concrete work of political activism aimed specifically at agents of the danger. For there are indeed agents. Could not the mysterious ecological relation that Heidegger describes between the scientific mode of representation, enframing, the challenging forth of nature (and labor), and finally the transformation of the world into a standing reserve be more reductively described as the application of modern science towards making money? Does he not overlook the crucial ingredient of greed as the dominant driver of certain (though not all) humans and the force that adds the unreasonable challenging forth of nature (and labor) to enframing? The development of exploitative economic systems arose out of an ability to systematically demarcate and make predictions (about how to build a ship and navigate, about how to build a dam, about how much water is needed to get a certain size crop, about where gold might be, about how to make an equivalent exchange, etc.). Heidegger shows how the self-perpetuating logic of this system alters our worldview, cuts off pathways to the sacred and defeats humility. Yet, by failing to ascribe agency in the process, he concludes that “Human activity can never directly counter the danger.” This flies in the face of actual gains that social movements can and do make all the time, even as this more fundamental work of culture changing happens in the background. Shout out to: Cesar Chavez, to 350.org, to anti-fracking movements in New York, to dam-removal movements and their successes on the Yakima and other rivers, etc.

To state it simply, there are two fronts to changing the world: changing ideology (i.e., ways of seeing and representing); and changing material conditions. As such, the work of poets, artists and thinkers is symbiotic with the work of activists, not isolated a la Heidegger; it is on this level that we think of our work as art-activist. A poetic way of seeing the world—defined here as an investment in non-rational consciousness and empathic understanding—is absolutely required for an effective activism, not only because it opens up a new relation to the world, but also because it restores enchantment and inherently combats the challenging forth of enframing with the alternative form of revealing articulated by Heidegger as the bringing forth of poiesis. However, poetry/art do not happen in a vacuum and no real change can be achieved there without changes in material conditions, which is what Heidegger fundamentally missed. Once again, the phenomenon is an ecological cycle, a dialectic.

We believe in the role of the artist as historian, specifically in this sense of the art-activist who contributes to a transformation of worldview. To represent a river in California, our job is to show not only what it is now, but to represent its now-ness as a form of (avoidable) destiny—here again Heidegger is instructive, for he speaks of enframing and also poiesis not just as modes of revealing, but as modes of destining. History arrives, and it is always arriving. It is not unearthed intact. The image is the tool by which we convey this. As Benjamin said, “It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.”[18] This is the mode of the artist as historian.

With respect to California, we have found it illuminating to stare at a blank outline of the now-iconic shape that forms the boundaries of the state. That shape, which owes its Eastern contour to the desire to capture as much gold-harboring land as possible, has become one of the primary images of our project. It reflects all the capriciousness and violence, even absurdity, of political borders. These lines were drawn in 1849, the year after gold was discovered in the state. How was this same land understood before the lines were drawn? What was a river then? Is there a clue there to what it could be now?

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11 October 1849, Sayler/Morris, 2016, Archival pigment print, 18 x 22 inches. Title refers to the date that the state legislature formally adopted the boundary lines of the State of California.

The creation of that shape we now know as the borders of California was an arrival, not an inception. The destining started with the Spanish lust for gold, which animated their colonial adventures. Some believe the very word California was invented by a Spanish fiction writer named Montalvo in the early 16th Century. Montalvo gave the name “California” to a fantastic land of desire and gold in his novel Las Sergas de Esplandián (published in 1510).[19] In this book, the inhabitants of California were all-powerful women who ate men after laying with them in order to bear children. There was gold everywhere. The women wore gold harnesses and hunted with gold weapons. Montalvo called it California because it was a caliphate, a land of infidels. Yet, he also placed the territory “very near to a side of Earthly paradise.”[20]

This was fantasy, but fantasy transforms fact. Ten years after Montalvo’s book was published, the colonist Hernan Cortes wrote a letter to the King of Spain from present-day Baja California, in which he purported to confirm the nearby existence of just such a place as Montalvo described (earthly paradise, lots of gold, only women who ate men, etc.).[21] Cortes was likely angling for continued investment in his colonizing enterprise, but it is telling that he thought his report would be both enticing and sufficiently credible to his benefactor. Not long after Cortes’ letter, maps begin appearing with Montalvo’s word “California” labeling some of the lands Cortes colonized[22] and after a while this became the accepted name of the region. Montalvo’s fantasy reified.

However, when the first Spanish mission entered into the territory of California more than two hundred years later in 1769, it was not the word “oro” (gold) that appeared obsessively in the diaries of its leaders, but the word “aqua.” Nearly every day that was their primary concern. They hunted down rivers.[23] They had to hold water before they could hold gold. On 24 January 1848, everything came together when some other colonists found gold laying around in the American River. The mass hysteria that followed produced the near extermination of the Native people and rapid industrialization.

Of course, this gold had been sitting in the rivers all along but the Native Americans did not value it. Seeing value in gold is a purely imaginative exercise and dependent on a given worldview (enframing). John Sutter, the owner of the land on which gold was found on California, remarked without apparent irony that:

It is very singular that the Indians never found a piece of gold and brought it to me, as they very often did other specimens found in the ravines. I requested them continually to bring me some curiosities from the mountains, for which I always recompensed them. I have received animals, birds, plants, young trees, wild fruits, pipe clay, stones, red ochre, etc., etc., but never a piece of gold.[24]

One is reminded of Marx’s paradigmatic, if racially tinged, account of the commodity fetish and the absurdity of a materialist theory of value: “The savages of Cuba regarded gold as a fetish of the Spaniards. They celebrated a feast in its honour, sang in a circle around it, and then threw it into the sea.”[25]

There is a paradox at the core of history: how do we see the present as a destining, as the seemingly inevitable outcome of past events with all the gravity that implies, and at the same time see that very destining as contingent and therefore as mutable? This sort of maneuver requires a negative capability that is not the province of science, including history performed as science, but is the province of art and myth. When we ask, “What is a river?,” we would do well to attend the poet, as Heidegger recommends. Paraphrasing Holderlein, Heidegger gave this answer to the question before us:

“As a vanishing, the river is underway into what has been. As full of intimation, it proceeds into what is coming.”[26]

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Maidu Headmen with Treaty Commissioners, unknown photographer, c. 1851. Image courtesy of George Eastman House.


Notes

  • The Nisenan Maidu name for the American River was Kum Sayo, meaning Roundhouse River, referring to a structure that the Nisenan Maidu used for dances and other ceremonies. This building was the center of a Maidu community. A particularly large and important roundhouse was located at the mouth of the American River near its confluence with the Sacramento River, in the vicinity of this highway bridge. Other roundhouses could be found all along the American River. The domesticity implied in the Maidu name for the river contrasts with later names applied by European colonists: The River of Sorrows; Wild River (so named because of the ostensibly “wild” nature of the Maidu living there); the River Ojotska (a phonetic rendering of the Russian word for hunter); Rio de los Americanos (named for the American trappers that had begun to use the river).

[1] See Benjamin Madley, American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe 1846-1873 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017) and Brendan C. Lindsay, Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide 1846-1873 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015).

[2] Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, trans. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1977), 297.

[3] These ideas are developed more fully in other Heidegger writing on rivers, most notably in Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’, trans. William McNeil and Julia Davis (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996) and “Build Dwelling Thinking” in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, trans. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1977), esp. 330-339.

[4] Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 296.

[5] Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’, 40 [emphasis in original].

[6] Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 296.

[7] Ibid, 297.

[8] Jay Lund, “What’s Next for California Water?,” https://californiawaterblog.com/2011/02/23/whats-next-for-california-water/, (23 February 2011). This history is obviously told in far greater detail in many other places, notably Norris Hundley Jr.’s definitive The Great Thirst: Californians and Water—A History, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

[9] Hundley, The Great Thirst, 77.

[10] See Hundley, The Great Thirst, 86, but there is also an extensive literature on this crucial question. To cite just two important examples: Donald J. Pisani, Water, Land, and Law in the West: The Limits of Public Policy, 1850-1920 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996), and more recently, Mark Kanazawa, Golden Rules: The Origins of California Water Law in the Gold Rush (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

[11] General accounts can be found in Hundley; see also Stephanie S. Pincetl, Transforming California: A Political History of Land Use and Development (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); Walter Goldschmidt, As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness (Monclair: Allanheld, Osmun & Co., 1978); Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman, The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire (New York: PublicAffairs, 2005). In our project we focused particularly on Westlands, an understanding of which we owe to in part to: Lloyd G. Carter, “Reaping Riches in a Wretched Region: Subsidized Industrial Farming and Its Link to Perpetual Poverty,” Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal 3 (2009): 5-42, http://digitalcommons.law.ggu.edu/gguelj/vol3/iss1/3; and Ed Simmons, Westlands Water District: The First 25 Years, published by Westland Water District itself in 1983.

[12] See Goldschmidt, As You Sow (referenced above) and see also the work of Dean McCannell, which updated the legendary Goldschimdt study, and also the work of Paul Taylor (Dorothea Lange’s collaborator). An unpublished but excellent dissertation by Daniel J. O’Connell brings much of this work together: In the Struggle: Pedagogies of Politically Engaged Scholarship in the San Joaquin Valley of California, unpublished doctoral dissertation (Cornell University, 2011).

[13] For example, see http://pacinst.org/publication/human-costs-of-nitrate-contaminated-drinking-water-in-the-san-joaquin-valley/.

[14] It is hard to overcome thinking about causality in linear terms (which is itself a by-product of enframing). However, as ecological thinking is a thinking of relationships, it is also a thinking that dissolves linear causality in favor of cycles and dialectical relationships. Heidegger was perhaps more ecological than even he realized as his style of writing is cyclical.

[15] Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister, 25.

[16] Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 133.

[17] Martin Heidegger, “Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten,” Der Spiegel 30 (Mai 1976): 193-219, trans. W. Richardson as “Only a God Can Save Us,” in Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker (n.p.: Precedent, 1981), ed. Thomas Sheehan, 45-67.

[18] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 462.

[19] Kevin Starr, California: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 5; and Charles E. Chapman, A History of California: The Spanish Period (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1921), 59-65.

[20] “Sabed que a la diestra mano de las Indias existe una isla llamada California muy cerca de un costado del Paraíso Terrenal” from García Ordóñez de Montalvo, Las Sergas de Esplandián, Seville, 1510, as found http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/california-its-naming-heritage, 7 July 2016. See also the argument for the Persian origin of the term from Kari-i-farn (“the mountain of Paradise”), suggested earlier by Carey McWilliams, in Josef Chytry, Mountain of Paradise: Reflections of the Emergence of Greater California as a World Civilization (New York: Peter Lang, 2013), 13-15.

[21] Chapman, A History of California, 64.

[22] Ibid. 65-66.

[23] Hundley, The Great Thirst, 32; anyd https://pacificahistory.wikispaces.com/Portola+Expedition+1769+Diaries

[24] John A. Sutter, “The Discovery of Gold in California,” Hutchings’ California Magazine, November 1857, accessed 24 May 2017, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist2/gold.html.

[25] Karl Marx, ‘Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood’ [1842], in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 1 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975), 262-263.

[26] Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister,” 29.

 

Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris use photography, video, writing, and installation to investigate and to contribute to the development of ecological consciousness. Their work has been exhibited in diverse venues internationally. They are also co-founders of The Canary Project, a collective that produces art and media about climate change and other ecological issues. They teach in the Transmedia Department and are part of The Canary Lab at Syracuse University.

This essay is part of the artists’ larger Water Gold Soil project, which brought them to California late 2014 to document drought conditions as part of the ongoing A History of the Future project. Water Gold Soil: American River represents a river in present-day California. Yet, the river represented by Sayler/Morris hovers between the real and the allegorical and their time perspective shifts between the past, present and future. The project consists of an ongoing assembly of original photographic and video works, archival images, writing, maps and other media.

 

Copyright: © 2017 Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Interviews

Michel Foucault in Death Valley: A Boom interview with Simeon Wade

Simeon Wade
Heather Dundas

Editor’s Note: Michel Foucault (born Paul-Michel Foucault in 1926) was one of the central thinkers of the latter half of the twentieth century. Neither a traditional philosopher nor a trained historian, Foucault examined the intersection of truth and history through the specific historical dynamics of power.

In France, Foucault was a major figure in structuralist thinking of the 1960s and in the years that followed. However, in the United States, especially in popular culture, Foucault is often thought of as an inciter of the “French theory” movement that swept through American universities in the 1970s and 1980s. Often controversial, Foucault’s analyses of the uses of power in society, as well as his concerns with sexuality, bodies, and norms have been pivotal in the development of contemporary feminist and queer theory.

One early follower of Foucault’s thinking was Simeon Wade, assistant professor of history at Claremont Graduate School. A native of Texas, Wade moved to California in 1972 after earning his Ph.D. in the intellectual history of Western civilization from Harvard in 1970. In 1975, Foucault was invited to California to teach a seminar at the University of California, Berkeley. Following a lecture, Wade and his partner, musician Michael Stoneman, invited Foucault to accompany them on a road trip to Death Valley. After some persuasion, Foucault agreed. The memorable trip occurred two weeks later. This interview was conducted by Heather Dundas on 27 May 2017, and has been edited for length, clarity, and historical accuracy.

Foucault and Stoneman in Death Valley

Foucault and Michael Stoneman in Death Valley.


Boom
: What can you tell us about the above photo?

Simeon Wade: I snapped the above photo with my Leica camera, June 1975. The photograph features the Panamint Mountains, the salt flats of Death Valley, and the frozen dunes at Zabriskie Point. In the foreground, two figures: Michel Foucault, in the white turtleneck, his priestly attire, and Michael Stoneman, who was my life partner.

Boom: How did you end up in Death Valley with Michel Foucault?

Simeon Wade: I was performing an experiment. I wanted to see [how] one of the greatest minds in history would be affected by an experience he had never had before: imbibing a suitable dose of clinical LSD in a desert setting of great magnificence, and then adding to that various kinds of entertainment. We were in Death Valley for two days and one night. And this is one of the spots we visited during this trip.

Boom: What can you say about this photograph? Were Foucault and Stoneman already tripping when it was taken? And wasn’t it incredibly hot, Death Valley in June?

Wade: Yes. We rose to the occasion, as it were, in an area called Artist’s Palette. And yes, it was very hot. But in the evening, it cooled off, and you can see Foucault in his turtleneck in the cool air. We went to Zabriskie Point to see Venus appear. Michael placed speakers all around us, as no one else was there, and we listened to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sing Richard Strauss’s, Four Last Songs. I saw tears in Foucault’s eyes. We went into one of the hollows and laid on our backs, like James Turrell’s volcano,[1] and watched Venus come forth and the stars come out later. We stayed at Zabriskie Point for about ten hours. Michael also played Charles Ives’s, Three Places in New England, and Stockhausen’s Kontakte, along with some Chopin…. Foucault had a deep appreciation of music; one of his friends from college was Pierre Boulez.[2]

Boom: That’s quite a playlist. But why LSD?

Wade: The revelation of St. John on the Isle of Patmos is said by some to have been inspired by the Amanita muscaria mushroom. LSD is a chemical equivalent to the hallucinogenic potency of these mushrooms. So many great inventions that made civilization possible took place in societies that used magic mushrooms in their religious rituals.[3] So I thought, if this is true, if the chemical compound has such power, then what is this going to do to the great mind of Foucault?

PICT0013

Foucault and Michael Stoneman, Death Valley.


Boom
: But why go so far for this experience? Why drive five hours from Claremont to Death Valley?

Wade: The major reason was that Michael and I had had so many wonderful trips in the desert. Death Valley, many times, and also Mojave, Joshua Tree. If you take clinical LSD and you’re in a place like Death Valley, you can hear harmonic progressions just like in Chopin; it is the most glorious music you’ve ever heard, and it teaches you that there’s more.

Boom: Until recently the very 1970s idea of, as you put it in your manuscript,[4] a “magic elixir” to expand consciousness, was so out of fashion as to be ludicrous. But current research has called this quick dismissal of the psychedelic experience into question.[5]

Wade: And about time! [During these trips] I saw the firmament as it truly is, in all of its glorious colors and forms, and I also heard the echoes from the big bang, which sounds like a chorus of angels, which is what the ancients thought it was.

Boom: So you wanted to give Foucault LSD so he could access this “glorious music”?

Wade: Not only that. It was 1975, of course, and The Order of Things had been published for nearly a decade (published in 1966 in French). The Order of Things treats man’s finitude, his inevitable death, as well as the death of humanity, arguing that the whole humanism of the renaissance is no longer viable. To the point of saying that the face of man has been effaced.

Boom: There’s the famous passage at the end of The Order of Things, postulating a world without the power structures of the Enlightenment: “If those arrangements were to disappear… then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”[6]

Wade: I thought, if I give Foucault clinical LSD, I’m sure he will realize that he is premature in obliterating our humanity and the mind as we know it now, because he’ll see that there are forms of knowledge other than science, and because of the theme of death in his thinking up to that point. The tremendous emphasis of finitude, finitude, finitude reduces our hope.

Boom: So you took Foucault to Death Valley for a kind of rebirth, in a sense?

Wade: Exactly. It was a transcendental experience for Foucault. He wrote us a few months later that it was the greatest experience of his life, and that it profoundly changed his life and his work.

Foucault and Stoneman Death Valley 2

Foucault and Stoneman, Death Valley.


Boom
: At the time of this trip, Foucault had just published the first volume of his projected six-volume work, History of Sexuality. He’d also published an outline of the rest of the work, and apparently already had finished writing several volumes of it. So when did this post-Death Valley change become evident in his work?

Wade: Immediately. He wrote us that he had thrown volumes two and three of his History of Sexuality into the fire and that he had to start all over again. Whether that was just a way of speaking, I don’t know, but he did destroy at least some version of them and then wrote them again before his premature death in 1984. The titles of these last two books are emblematic of the impact this experience had on him: The Uses of Pleasure and The Care of the Self, with no mention of finitude. Everything after this experience in 1975 is the new Foucault, neo-Foucault. Suddenly he was making statements that shocked the French intelligentsia.[7]

Boom: Such as?

Wade: Statements more confidently out in the open, like that he finally realized who the real Columbus of politics was: Jeremy Bentham. Jeremy Bentham had been up to around this time a very respected figure, and Foucault had begun to find him an intellectual villain. And Foucault denies Marx and Engels, and says we should just look at Marx as an excellent journalist, not a theorist. And all of the things Foucault had been inching toward were bolstered after the Death Valley trip. Foucault from 1975 to 1984 was a new being.[8]

Boom: You’ve mentioned that some people disagreed with your experiment and thought you were reckless with Foucault’s welfare.

Wade: Many academicians were very negative on this point, saying that this was tampering with a great person’s mind. I shouldn’t tamper with his mind. But Foucault was well aware of what was involved, and we were with him the entire time.

Boom: Did you think about the repercussions this experience would have on your career?

Wade: In retrospect, I should have.[9]

Boom: Was this a one-off experience? Did you ever see Foucault again?

Wade: Yes, Foucault visited us again. Shortly after his second visit, which was two weeks after this, where we stayed up in the mountains—it was a mountain experience.

Boom: Also with music and LSD?

Wade: No LSD, but everything else. After he left the second time, I sat down and wrote an account of the experience, called Death Valley Trip. It’s never been published. Foucault read it. We had a robust correspondence. And then we spent a fantastic time with him again in 1981, when he was at a conference at the University of Southern California.

Boom: Did you save Foucault’s letters?

Wade: Yes, about twenty of them. The last one was written in 1984. He asked if he could come live with us in Silverlake, as he was suffering from a terminal illness. I think he wanted to die like Huxley.[10] I said yes, of course. Unfortunately, before he was ready to travel, the trap door of history caught him by surprise.[11]

Foucault and Simeon Wade, Claremont, after the Death Valley experience.

Simeon Wade and Foucault, Claremont, after the Death Valley experience.


Notes

  • The Editor wishes to thank Stuart Elden, Professor of Political Theory and Geography, Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, and author of Foucault’s Last Decade and Foucault: The Birth of Power (Polity Press) for clarifying a number of factual matters in this interview. Thanks also to Jonathan Simon.

[1] James Turrell, Roden Crater, http://www.rodencrater.com.

[2] Editor’s note: According to Stuart Elden, “Foucault was much closer to Jean Barraqué, with whom he had a friendship and for a while a relationship. Barraqué was another significant modernist composer and this may be who is meant [here]” (email correspondence, 29 August 2017).

[3] “…such as the Sumerians, who invented everything, including writing, and the Essenes, who invented Christianity.” Wade’s thinking aligns with John Allegro’s theories presented in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (London: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1970). Most scholars rejected Allegro’s book immediately. However, the book was reissued in 2008 with an addendum by Professor Carl Ruck of Boston University outlining the continuing mushroom controversy.

[4] Simeon Wade, Michel Foucault in Death Valley, unpublished manuscript.

[5] The recent explosion of research into LSD and its effects is too vast for this article to document, yet some notable publications include Robin L. Carhart-Harris et al., “Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging,” PNAS 113 (2016): 4853-4858; Stephen Ross et al., “Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial,” Journal of Psychopharmacology 30 (2016): 1165–1180; Felix Mueller et al., “Acute effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on amygdala activity during processing of fearful stimuli in healthy subjects,” Translational Psychiatry (April 2017), http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v7/n4/full/tp201754a.html?foxtrotcallback=true.

[6] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 387.

[7] Editor’s note: The actual published vols. 2 and 3 were written to an entirely different plan than the original one, and several years later with completely different material content. So the claim that he destroyed and then rewrote is contestable. Furthermore, the original plan for vol. 2 was a discussion of Christianity, which was rewritten and yet was also reconfigured later down the publishing pipeline to be vol. 4 of the project. According to Stuart Elden, this volume is projected for publication in French in 2018 by Gallimard.

[8] Foucault discusses the change in his thinking and writing in interviews conducted in 1984, at the very end of his life. See “The Ethics of the Concern for Self,” “An Aesthetics of Existence,” “The Concern for Truth,” and “The Return of Morality,” all reprinted in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984 (Sylvère Lotringer, ed. Semiotext(e), 1989, 1996). Editor’s note: Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison was published February 1975 in French, and therefore with the Death Valley trip being June 1975 it is impossible for this later event to have influenced Foucault’s reading of Bentham, &c., as the critiques are laid out in Surveiller et punir, the English translation of which, under the title, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, was not published until 1977. The Editor wishes to thank Stuart Elden for clarification on this point.

[9] Simeon Wade left Claremont Graduate School in 1977. After adjunct teaching as an instructor of history and art history at several universities, he obtained a nursing license and spent the balance of his working life as a psychiatric R.N. at Los Angeles County Psychiatric Hospital and Psychiatric R.N. Supervisor at Ventura County Hospital.

[10] The novelist Aldous Huxley asked his wife to inject him with LSD as he died on 22 November 1963. http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/03/most-beautiful-death.html

[11] Michel Foucault died in Paris, 25 June 1984 at the age of 57. Simeon Wade and Michael Stoneman remained close until Stoneman’s death in 1998. Wade for many years lived in Oxnard, California, where he wrote and played the piano. Wade died 3 October 2017.

 

Heather Dundas is a candidate for the Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. Her website is www.heatherdundas.com.

Copyright: © 2017 Heather Dundas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

Reviews

Illusions and Perversions in California’s History of Preservation

Andrew Seles_Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore via Flickr user Andrew Seles.

Nathan F. Sayre

Laura Watt’s catchy title, The Paradox of Preservation,[1] doesn’t do her book proper justice. What she terms a paradox is more accurately a contradiction: because landscapes are never static but “actually dynamic, continually shaped by social forces… and similarly affecting the forms those social forces take” (p. 5), they cannot be preserved but only managed. Moreover, it is the politics of land management, rather than any paradox, that makes the case of Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) so important. The changes that have occurred there in 50-plus years of preservation, Watt argues, have been “invisible to the public” and “invisible to the managers, who present them to the public as part of what was originally preserved” (p. 5).

This may seem paradoxical, but in the first instance it is some combination of error and deception—if it must alliterate, perhaps perversion is a better word than paradox? We are dealing with a case of collective illusion, akin to the “conspiracy of optimism” that Paul Hirt diagnosed in the Forest Service, but perpetrated in the name of wilderness rather than timber production.[2] Anyone who wonders why rural agricultural producers are so suspicious of environmentalists, or who thinks that ranchers’ complaints about the federal government are nothing more than paranoid delusions, needs to read this book.

Watt opens her account with Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s decision, in late 2012, to terminate the lease that permitted the Drakes Bay Oyster Company to operate in Drake’s Estero, an estuary situated within a designated “potential wilderness” in PRNS. She closes by likening the “absolutist environmental organizations” (p. 233) that opposed the oyster farm to the militants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016. But cows and ranchers, not oysters, are the primary focus of Watt’s book, which grew out of her doctoral research at UC Berkeley. (Full disclosure: Watt studied with a former colleague of mine, although she was not a student in our department.)

Point Reyes is one of a handful of national seashores administered by the National Park Service (NPS) but created in places and for reasons quite different from national parks. In 1962, when the enabling legislation for PRNS was passed, the entire peninsula was private land, descended from a Mexican-era land grant that had been finagled into Anglo hands a century earlier. Point Reyes comprised some two-dozen ranches, encircled by a rugged and supremely scenic coastline, all within easy driving distance of the booming San Francisco metropolitan area.

Point Reyes_Stefan Klocek

Point Reyes via Flickr user Stefan Klocek.

PRNS was antidote to and offspring of post-war urban sprawl. Congressman Claire Engle claimed in 1958 that public acquisition was the only way to protect Point Reyes from subdivision and development. This was untrue, Watt explains, but also self-fulfilling: speculators seized the opportunity to buy land and demand inflated prices from the federal government. This reinforced a vicious cycle: prices climbed, values rose, property taxes increased, and estate tax exposure exploded. Park Service Director George Hartzog positively exploited the situation by asking Congress to allow his agency to develop home sites to help offset acquisition costs. Congress demurred, but the ranch owners eventually agreed to NPS acquisition in exchange for long-term leases to continue ranching, seeing it as their only way out of the property and estate tax traps they had fallen into. In short, the NPS played “the major role… at Point Reyes, both in pushing to establish the park in the first place, and in driving the threat of development, thereby creating its own justification for acquiring the ranches” (p. 95). If it happened today, scholars would call this a land grab.

Watt portrays PRNS as both relict and bellwether of larger trends. Fee simple ownership gave the NPS ultimate authority over land use and management, even if private uses—including cattle grazing, dairy production and the oyster farm—were grandfathered in and protected by explicit legislative testimony as well as long-term leases. Shortly later, a backlash against perceived government encroachment on private lands and property rights helped propel the Reagan revolution, and in other parts of the country the NPS devised alternative models that permitted more private lands to persist within or around parks. But at Point Reyes the older paradigm held, and tensions mounted over the decades.

Many scholars have critiqued “wilderness” as a tool of colonial exploitation[3] and an ecologically incoherent, environmentalist fetish.[4] Watt adds an intriguing wrinkle to this literature, arguing that the original intent of both the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1976 statute that created the category “potential wilderness” was to prevent federal agencies from building new roads and developments, not to eliminate previously existing private uses and activities. She shows how an evolving alliance of NPS officials and environmental groups inverted this intent and turned the potential wilderness designation against ranchers and the oyster farm. Only forty percent of the land area devoted to ranching in 1962 remains in that use today, and roughly half of the built environment inside PRNS—including at least 170 buildings—has been demolished. By omission and commission alike, the NPS has worked to produce “the invisibility of the working landscape” (p. 142) in favor of “the appearance of hands-off, ‘wild’ nature” (p. 158, emphasis in original). As Watt pointedly puts it, “the authentic past is that which the authorities have chosen to preserve” (p. 21).

By the 1990s, PRNS and NPS officials viewed the dairies and ranches of Point Reyes as doomed anachronisms, destined to go out of business and thus unworthy of consideration. This again proved both false and self-fulfilling. The ranches persevered and even thrived in the marketplace by going organic, shifting into value-added products, and tapping into the Bay Area’s flourishing local “foodie” scene. But PRNS decisions regarding wildlife—especially the tule elk, which was (re)introduced to various parts of the peninsula in mysterious, seemingly duplicitous ways—depleted the ranches’ forage base, which could void their organic certification by forcing their cattle off of the native pastures. As leases came due, NPS negotiations for renewal or extension were capricious, ad hoc and divisive, further undermining the ranches’ viability.

m01229_The Point Reyes shipwreck

The Point Reyes shipwreck via Flickr user m01229.

Many of the details of this history are difficult to sift and reconcile from the tangle of conflicting memories, interviews, media stories and NPS documents that Watt assembled in her research. No doubt there are PRNS officials who might dispute some or many of her claims. Suffice to say, first, that Watt’s 20-year effort is undoubtedly more disinterested, sustained and thoroughgoing than any others, and second, that the “official” story has long since passed into a twilight zone of bureaucratic doublespeak and face-saving evasions.

When Watt returns to the battle over Drakes Bay Oyster Company, in her final chapter, it functions as an indirect or proxy validation of her larger interpretation. Starting in 2006, the NPS blamed the oyster farm for various environmental damages. “None of these claims have stood up to scientific scrutiny” (p. 189). A panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the PRNS had “selectively presented, overinterpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information” (p. 189) in evaluating the oyster operation’s effects on Drakes Estero, and the Interior Department’s own Office of the Solicitor “found five NPS officials and scientists guilty of violating the NPS Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct” (p. 191) by among other things withholding relevant material and data from the oyster company and the National Academy panel. In short, the credibility of the NPS and PRNS is severely compromised.

Ultimately, Secretary Salazar admitted that he shut down the oyster farm simply because commerce and wilderness are incompatible, not because of any scientific data (p. 199). “A long tradition of cultivation has vanished—in exchange, more or less, for a label, since the estero was already managed as wilderness… environmental activists have sacrificed the relative wild for an idealized one” (p. 213). And in so doing, they have been complicit in many of the same mendacious and duplicitous tactics that they habitually ascribe to big industry.

Watt correctly notes that this outcome is “increasingly out of step” with larger trends locally, nationally and globally, which uphold the value of agriculture, collaboration and heritage. “The NPS needs to recognize that residents have a different relationship to place than do visitors, and particularly that working the land, especially over generations, creates a unique connection that should be respected and incorporated into management practices” (p. 220). Instead, the NPS has “sacrific[ed] their needs to the illusion of pristine nature” (p. 5) and succumbed to environmentalists who “confuse a sense of shared national heritage with actual ownership and control” (p. 23).

In July 2017, a settlement was announced in a lawsuit, brought by environmentalists against the NPS, challenging the ranches’ leases in PRNS. The agreement provides five-year lease extensions to the ranches, during which time the NPS must assess the effects of grazing and formulate an official management plan. There is every reason to suspect that five years will not be enough time for the assessment and planning tasks—after all, the NPS has been pledging to do these very things for more than 30 years. But it is more than enough time for everyone involved to read Laura Watt’s book.

Point Reyes Oyster Farm_Ross Mayfield

Point Reyes Oyster Farm via Flickr user Ross Mayfield.

Notes

[1] Laura Alice Watt, The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017).

[2] Paul W. Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War II (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

[3] Roderick P. Neumann, Imposing Wilderness: Struggles Over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

[4] William Cronon, ‘The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” Environmental History 1 (1996): 7-28.

 

Nathan F. Sayre is professor and chair of Geography at the University of California Berkeley. He specializes in the history and politics of rangeland conservation and management. His books include Working Wilderness: the Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range; Ranching, Endangered Species, and Urbanization in the Southwest; and The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science.

 

Copyright: © 2017 Nathan F. Sayre. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Photography/Art

Sonoma’s Fading Images of Hwy 12

Mike Acker

Running through the heart of Sonoma County’s unincorporated communities of Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, and Agua Caliente, California Highway 12 is now a major thoroughfare between Oakland/San Francisco and Santa Rosa. Yet as recently as the 1950s, it was a narrow road for tourists enjoying the resorts. And it was a main street for locals. The resorts started to made these towns more populated and prosperous than the City of Sonoma next door. However, the prosperity reversed over the latter half of the twentieth century as wine tourism grew and Sonoma’s role in California history was revived.

The collage below incorporates photographs from 2009-2010 with those from the 1930s and the 1950s. On the left side we travel back to an era when Kramer’s Inn had wooden benches in front and a Greyhound sign overhead. The “TATTOO” sign peeks out from 2010. On the far right is the original Mary’s Pizza Shack, which became a decent-sized pizza chain of some nineteen restaurants by 2017.

B0005P 0042

A few miles further up the road in Agua Caliente the traces and memories of the uncelebrated history of “The Springs,” can be seen. The faces and buildings of the forbearers of a fourth-generation resident, gleaned from a series of Facebook posts, are combined with his words: “The Driveway of the Valley Of The Moon Saloon, 1930…. That building to the left is still there, but now an apt. The Thugs are still there too… My Great-Grandfather is in the middle ‘Cheif [sic] Bootlegger’ and a couple of Runners.” They are superimposed onto photographs from 2009. The sad state of historic preservation in the area is alluded to by the inclusion, fading in and out, of a page of a historic resource report from 2005, which states that no significant structures remain.

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Michael Acker has lived in the Sonoma Valley for the past 20 years. A local artist and historian, Acker is past president of the Sonoma Valley Grange, and an activist in the Springs Community Alliance. He holds the MFA in sculpture from San Francisco State University, and is the author of the recent Images of America book, The Springs: Resort Towns of Sonoma Valley (Arcadia, 2017).

Copyright: © 2017 Michael Acker. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/