Miasma Tropes

i. Lung

From Sufrière hill and
Saharan gust of sand between dog
And wicked wolf beheld

There’s Bad Airs

They’re crossing some lines
Coming to unbridle the number
To the places given

Upend the digit

From black biles of underwater
Cracks submerging
The sung unity

Islands do and don’t repeat

A hunt
For breaths

Here with the asthmatic recall cus
Day’s a place for counting

While slipping into
Some vapors
Muck language

Serenely coming

So say miasma
Tell it green


There’s bad airs
Bad shit lungfull

See green
Night go

ii. A social life of shapes sounding

Here’s meandering for something other than a new concept or critique or reparation of History. In History we want, at best, the sturdy warehouse of people and places and their reproducible grammar. An oriented architecture for recognizable gestures. An account of densities which also grants density. In any which way, a range placed, an economy of withdrawals and deposits. So that we know we’re moving along something.

But History reproaches transits in fact. Motion can only appear in it as delinquency. Where did you come from and where are you going. Only History moves and has direction. Its subjects in place and mute in a symmetry of tabulated days. And yet there’s the buzzing. There’s sound moving across. Things and people tell stories. There’s breathing. There’s what’s going on. Shapes are made.

Can we speak of a historical function whose impetus discloses the wish to track the mutation of the shapes that come up and along the motion of the world. No person of interest in History or autopsy table for the etherized familiar ghost of progress or genealogy or archaeology. Just a murmuring anterior felt as groove, as rhythm, as signature without sign. What Walcott might’ve been hearing in “the sound / like a rumor without any echo / of History really beginning.”.
1 Final stanza from “The Sea is History” in The Star-Apple Kingdom (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 1979). The poem opens ventriloquizing the colonial master: “Where are your monuments?.” As such, it shapes an ongoing swirl of monumentality and memory mutating towards the sonorous: memory abolished from the need to re/member.
There at the blank edge of the poem in the silence of the Word that makes space for some sounding from the black waters of a shoreless sea unintelligible from within our shore without a sea. The sea is history because it annihilates itself in a total foam continually. There where there is no day. Sea, that’s history. We would like to speak of sediment, of the dust storm swirling in the liquid, but that’s the echo of monuments. The sea is history because it slashes its lunar throat open in a unison babble unseen.

Regard the logics, the choreography, the moves the historical Ghost makes. You see the dance, the point and the line and the space made in the wake of its many limbs articulating. History, itself a shape among the others, then open to something other than the critical reflex. You see the dance that you’re dancing also. Be shaped up. Be mad and deep in the expenditure of your move. 

Shapes occasion the question bound up in an errant quest: an invitation to departure. Shape makes the border work. At the edges of shape things go down. Despite its effort, History corrodes itself as it passes over its purview of materials, producing a various bestiary of shapes muddied in their own historicity, their own sprawlings across time and times.

What could emerge from the sounding of mutating shapes for what’s transversal to place and duration, within the contagion of History’s universalizing vapors. There where they are and as they come to be moved and are moving in situations. A situation “is where agency meets concrete forces that shape its expression.”
2 An articulation of the situationist practice as sketched out by McKenzie Wark in Raving (Duke University Press 2023). In her text, Wark is working towards the rave as a “constructed situation” that coordinates elements of night, expenditure, dissociation, urban “junkspace” and the trans* body. And raving is, among other things, an insistence on the ongoingness of night against the segmentations of daytime. I would add that raving also responds to or stands in continuity with the trans-temporal parties discussed here (as vigil, as séance, as marronage) which are but an occasion for remaining with night.
A practice beyond capture.

Xenomorphs of the organizational promise of space and contractions and expansions of time: ways of getting towards what one does not get to. “Something in the way of things,” mouths Baraka, something so fully cutting and cut across that knowing what it is—that knowledge—would not describe the motion in and through it.
3 Baraka’s “Something in the Way of Things (In Town)” appears in various performance settings, notably as recited with The Roots for their 2002 album, Phrenology.
You’d have to practice. You’d have to return and not recur. You’d come back and the whole thing would differ and defer your secretarial note-taking. So you’d walk along the open field and fail. And then what. Failure marks the genesis of rhythms.

Here’s responding to the felt sense that the thinking that moves and is moving is the kind whose appearance in the world veers as Aesthetic. Which is not to say some passive or second-order phenomenon pointing us to the Thing behind effects, but rather the aesthetic as the—location?—available in which concepts meet the edge of situations. The friction, the erosion of knowledge, the troublingness of the world. The Aesthetic necessarily as troubled, troubling grain of rhythmic contacts. There is all we might have. Aesthetics as a fricative social life of “what thinking.”
4 rom the title of Lyn Hejinian’s A Thought Is the Bride of What Thinking (Tuumba Press 1976), in which she pursued ‘a mode of writing… periodically surprised by its own inherent logics, and in the process of constantly either describing or suggesting possible narratives (histories)”(The Language of Inquiry, University of California Press 2000). In other words (and relevant here), a writing that tracks thought as it rubs up on the unknowable multitude of other things and through the perilous muck of what has been thought before. Thought taken as a constant and wild social friction indivisible from an atmosphere of logics and connective tissues in excess of the historical.

And that’s everywhere, slipping. Moten and Harney: “Study is already going on.”
5 Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013).
What is the move that swerves as aesthetic into the world of the experienced, so the given airs become available otherwise. Motion within a stillness, which is beat and breath and which veers. Thinking slantwise and wakeful to informalisms, here’s breath from the hole of the night of what has happened and goes on.

Take, say, a cue from two Caribbean thought-shapes, from its irreducibles. From the Black, Antillean, and Archipelagic latitudes come Bad Air and Night.

iii. A swirl is a defilement in the air

Before (and before) Hegelian Geist, from the first sciences of the Torrid Zone came oozing some universal ghastly stuff, “el aire como almacén universal,” miasma the warehouse containing all that sick multitude of rotting bodily and vegetal life whose vaporous heels dragged totally.
6 From chapter 24 (“Enfermedades que más comúnmente se padecen en la Isla”) in Fray Íñigo Abbad y Lasierra, Historia Geográfica, Civil y Natural de la isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, first published in 1788.
Total contamination of the West. Bad Air as a first cause of Caribbean decline. New World the foggy pollution of the transparent mind. Equinoctial populations held in their own green and brown and black muck putting out that stuff and breathing in it happily putrid, much to naturalist dismay.

Bad Air a shapeless monster which unintentionally shaped a warehouse of defective Spirit for the etiologist in succession to diagnose. History an intoxication sold as salve. Give the gas a name and call it a day: national character or humor theory of many-colored biles. Miasma, as theory, is a medical sublation of the unruly sounding of the muck. A dialectical trachea ascending to the heavens. To this poison came the pill of negation which neutralizes the antagonizing odors of the world by localizing them in that negativity.

But how about Miasma as real friction. You take a lungful of that wind that goes both ways and think the insufflation of the Historian’s shapes for the opacity of the Antillean airs. Miasma is stealthy defilement. You put that shit to work. For its desired effect as agent and container, History must always be some gaseous informality. But invisibility has always been usurped from the fugitive life of the surround as an instrument for historical forms. So we might as well expire some dent into the flesh of that green gust. Seize the means of atmosphere.

And that’s been going on: Sereno, invisible villain airborne coming down the mountain slope up the nose of sleeping children. Corriente, ectoplasmic fluid in the rapture of possession, in ghost mounted on its momentary horse, for the alphabet of spirit talk. Julius Scott’s common wind swirling out from Haitian Black rage proving that the unity is as atmospheric as it is, following Brathwaite, submarine. Sea and air twinned in the motion of the sudden swirl which promises no direction, a pattern which trips in place.

It is not the harmonic spiral of spherical music. At any moment comes the veering off course. Those periodic hurricanes, Hurston called them “monstropolous beasts.”
7 Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). The 18th chapter details the saga of wild air whipping the amphibian Florida everglades, where marooned Black life mingled with Seminole life-worlds as well nonhuman forms scrambled by the historic Great Okeechobee Hurricane of 1927. The same wild air whipped Puerto Rico, the Leeward Islands, and the Bahamas shortly before its continental landfall. If Antonio Benitez Rojo proposed the paradigm of the “repeating island” by way of a material analysis of the plantation economy in the Caribbean, at the expense of thinking through the non-repetitions that escape diurnal productive activity, what kind of repetition does this common whirling wreckage suggest? Is there a same wind?
They put everything in its wrong place—dog and man and metal and everglade crisscrossed and edging on their moreness than one being. And then the swirling vanishes until the end of the next world. But in the marrow of things beats a swirl like something before memory. What matters is the motion.

To strive for such a cyclonic obfuscation of History’s rootedness and its projected ends. A mudying of the family trees and of the family sepulchers.

The shapes are there and so you go along the tutelage of their edge. Air goes both ways and is open. An atmosphere is not an agreement to breathing and nevertheless we enter its continuum of aspirations. Some shape words. And some burst the word in scream.

Again, Moten and Harney: “Is there a kind of propulsion, through compulsion, against the mastery of one's own speed, that ruptures both recursion and advance? What is the sound of this patterning? What does such apposition look like?”

What is the sonority of the corroding shore of felt life where living goes on, still and swirling. Alone and in shapeless groups. Motions.  

These are the questions at the edge of an undercommons, itself an edge entirely, deferring the shape of places. The crumbling of forward and back registered as sound. To be moved in a rhythm beyond enumerations. To acknowledge that we cannot count breaths. That breath hides from History but that History’s asthmatic mandate, its fake breath, points towards a resource withheld from its forms, which History can’t catch a wind of. That sound meets breath in the phonic participation that cannot be monument. A contour of transitive sighs and expirations. A muck that fucks it up. 

iv. Night Works

There’s an ongoingness to this riff on breathing; a corrosive meeting of thought and shape, unruly compulsion that moves. Rift. There’s a breathing of history’s bad air. The Atlantic and Caribbean tectonic plates moved through the drowned and static liquid fire that shaped Antilles as an arc of black rocks. Bow for invisible arrow of gusts. And a Black sound from a Black mouth fished for tongues in the sea of—history?

Every sound is a contact. Sounding presumes a rhythm which turns whatever’s between source and thing into a hand for touching. Thing here’s night. Here is the Antillean night from which the world opens as a field of edges. Looking out from the littoral zone at night resolves the sea and sky into black and sound.

At night Césaire gargled: “et le grand trou noir où je voulais me noyer l’autre lune c’est là que je veux pêcher maintenant la langue málefique de la nuit en son immobile verrition!
8 Aimé Césaire, Cáhier d’un retour au pays natal (1939). The key “neologism” (new in relation to what?) “immobile verrition” indexes an ongoing debate in the translation of Césaire’s poem that has engendered a variety of interpretations, each highlighting a desired aspect of the phrase’s uncapturable and impossible motion. Though my task here is not to expand on the rich debate that, following Benjamin, discloses but the partiality of all language, I choose to note this because it can only further speak to what the phrase is already doing, its already being the fish barely wrested from the black hole of night.
So not night as the recounting, the balanced checkbook, of days, but rather the hole in the sea in the impossible veering that’s continual with and springing from (via the Latin ver)  night and which needs the mangled informality of a new tongue. Crazy evil tongue from no place but a tongue for placing, in the present participle, going on.
9 BA verb tense that, for Baraka in “Hunting is Not Those Heads on the Wall,” crystallizes a poetics of the ongoing, an ongoingness consubstantial with whatever’s anterior to thought and writing, what one might hope to be with in writing wedded to the still motion of thought: “The clearest description of now is the present participle, which if the activity described continues is always correct.” Another “immobile verrition,” another variegated now in which recursion does not repeat. A contact. Baraka and Césaire gesture towards what we might otherwise articulate via the vexed constellation among language, thinking, and the concrete world, a constellation appositional to the avant-garde credo that one way to mark a new world--here a world black with night---might be through linguistic invention.
The phoneme of location: Black Antillean vibration of the moving edge. Fugue of the breath of mouths on the run.

Which is also night, “de la nuit.” The Fanonian interval of night, “entre neuf heures du soir et six heures du matin” perhaps abolished momentarily the sunlit toil of the Manichean day: night for the wastefulness of sex and booze and drugs and dancing.
10 Frantz Fanon, Les damnés de la terre (1961).
But it was nevertheless an interval, still for Fanon an accursed share of muscular forward motions towards a national future. Sovereignty is a day.

But night’s sudden creatures practice an infinite footwork in place which "ruptures both recursion and advance."
11Again, Moten and Harney, which lets us wonder about the Césaireian motion at play in the shape of an undercommons, itself placeless, or rather, in the ongoing process of locating itself. In either case, known through an evil tongue. There, it is always night. We know that much.
Night has loose shapes to walk along itself. Continual night within the restraint of light. An extension of happy crime connected to every other Night itself the shape of a fugue that comes and goes and goes on. More than just refuge of the refused, a playground beyond the debt of days.

Antillean pranksters take the piety of a vigil and turn it into an occasion for night. The eve of a Saint’s feast actually defers the holiness of days. Take the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist, Noche de San Juan on the heels of the midsummer point in which light is both maximized and also begins its exile. At midnight on the twenty-third of June, bodies exhaust themselves along Caribbean shores and a zone comes to be by virtue of a nocturnal ablutions, a non-geography of backs against the waves.  Mouths spitting up moonshine, crepuscular expenditure so that the sacred morning is for sleeping the dream of more and more nocturnal vectors. People have been partying along the continual gouging of the solar eye. Night is the fog machine of reasonable curfews. Party aerosolizing the night so you can sniff its emissions of wasting. Atmosphere beyond or at edge with proper places.

These things have and go on. A continuum of nights feels for the many-limbed gale that flees orientation. Melancholy requires a point of departure, and this angel swirls on the axis of its blackened hurricane to become ghastly. A ghost is an angel with lunar wants, and night is a gracious host of hungers. Night is the blooming skin of enlustment. Wet mucky black.

Nightwork in sum. Night in which shapes participate in their edge, in the ready possibility of their informality. Another saint, John of the Cross, singer of dark nights: “¡Oh noche que me guiaste! / ¡oh noche amable más que el alborada!, / ¡oh noche que juntaste /amado con amada, / amada en el amado transformada!”
12Night here as an element or unit deployed by the long mystic tradition which make night an ideal point of departure, leveraging night in its dethroning of ocularly-driven enlightenment and the heightening of every other sense. Night too as the edge of a dream state. See also, Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz, Primero Sueño.
A transformation unmoored to the relation established by knowledge, where the horizon is a gradual submission to form, a slow surrender of unclarity. Etel Adnan: “Night is an exhalation rising from a darkness foreign to it.”
13Ete Adnan, Night (Nightboat 2016).
Night of consubstantial alterities.

With eyes barred from the whiff of invisible lunar flowers, night suggests an organ altogether: for informal exchanges, for lustful night of cruisy crumbling piers and unlit parks and séances and illicit gatherings on the unmapped hillside in which labor mutates beyond recognition and yet still works. Still going on.

Sounding the black hole in the sequence of light where the light drowns, night acting continually on the plateau of days. Sounding that crazy evil tongue out. Immobile veeriton. Night is a tongue that licks the air and feels the wayward wind to where.

Pedro J. Rolón Machado (b. 1992) is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and researcher from Caguas, Puerto Rico, and a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature and Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. He is also completing an MA in poetry in the English department. His practice pursues questions of place and location, nocturnal aesthetics, experimental poetics, hybrid writing, and theories of undercommon social life, especially as these issues touch on multiple Caribbean archives between the 19th century and the present. His dissertation, “Waves in Time: The Puerto Rican Subject Beyond Place” explores recurring tropes of the ocean in the archipelago’s literature in the 19th and 20th century in order to argue for a paradigm of erosion as a key with which to read Puerto Rican literature as a literature that troubles our given vocabularies regarding location, space, and permanence. He is also completing a manuscript of hybrid writing and images titled Miasma Greens.