Survivance - Tyson Yunkaporta - Building the Ark

Building the Ark

Tyson Yunkaporta

Ryan Presley, Terror Island (Wish You Were Here), 2017, oil and gold leaf on hoop pine panel, 53.5 x 100 cm. Documented by Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

June 2021

Midway through my life, I wake to find myself in a techno-dystopia, with no sense of where my proper pathway has gone. I have a muse, but no mentor to guide me through all the circles of this labyrinth, this global metropolis I have managed to avoid until now. My domestication settles over me like a nylon shirt, like rolls of fat around my belly; like a cybernetic key for doors to places I don’t want to go but have to if I want my family to eat and be sheltered—a key that shuts away my mind from the world and keeps it locked in my brain.

I can’t feel for knowledge anymore, not from my belly or through my feet from the living land. So instead, I try to make sense of things. But that doesn’t work, so I turn it around and try to sense-make. But I don’t know what that is, so I type it into the device that is my key to this world (war) of information and I make friends through that door.

They’re stoics and I like their sense of humor. I haven’t read Marcus Aurelius, so I don’t know if they are practicing kindness; I just think they are kind. Daniel has a brain like a planet and he says to me, “First principles, Tyson. What is each thing within itself? What is its nature? What does it do, this civilization you despise?”

Maybe I’ve found my Virgil to guide me through this.

“It kills people. It kills land.”

“No! That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing it does, what need does it serve by killing?”

“Matricidal rage. Fear of death. Tiny dicks…”

“No, it covets. That is its nature. And how do we begin to covet, Tyson? Do we seek out things to covet? No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.”

Lightbulb! I can see it, I can see it; they never felt superior at all, they never believed it for a second. They did not pity us or feel disgust, they was just jelly. Bah. If that’s what your enlightenment gets you, then I don’t want any of it.

But my new friends seem to have some bits and pieces from their Age of Reason that they want to keep, that might really be worth keeping. I think some of their algorithms are off, because of bad Paleolithic baseline data. I work to correct this in their games and on their commons, and find the skeleton of an Ark emerging. Did we make this one or dig it up on a mountain? I can’t quite remember.

And don’t worry, they say, we’re going to sense-make the fuck out of this imperialism right now. Jordan and Jim and Jamie and Brett and Eric are all going in, full tactical gear. I just have to finish up some interviews and loose ends.

But fuck me, they went to the wrong house and I went to the right one, and it’s there and hideous and all, “It signs away its thoughts and land or else we take its kids again.” And it’s Cook and Darwin and Deakin and its eyes are red and it can see in the dark. But not me: I can only see those glowing orbs so I shoot between them—bam, bam, bam, bam, bam—and briefly there’s illumination, but only briefly, and I don’t like what I see. So I pull my heart out of a dry well in the cellar, give it a puppy and tell it to fuck off home and wait for me there. Haven’t been back yet though, so I hope the puppy’s alright.

Off I go to work, building this Ark and raiding lost ones, and at one stage I’m stuck on the wrong side of a crevasse and the tunnel is shaking and I’m screaming, “Throw me the whip so I can swing across!” But Dr. Octopus is telling me, “No, throw me your knowledge and then I’ll throw you the whip.” He’s saying there’s no time, so I bundle my objects and stories and legacy and toss it across the void and I guess you know what happens next. I manage to get across later without the whip, then prize my knowledge from his cold, dead hands, only to lose it again to a boss villain. But that’s alright, I’ll get it back again. I think.

And I ask if feminism will find a place on the Ark, and then all the things that make up the fruits of that struggle (for equality?) are listed and included, except for the word itself. I argue for keeping it, and everybody is kind and they “steel man” my position and I feel good about all this support, that in the end all things are reducible to an essence, all things may be revealed by Occam’s razor. Stuff is a bit more complicated, a bit more nuanced though, when it comes to some issues around masculinity. I guess every man loves Occam’s razor until it’s time to shave his balls.

I sometimes fear I will be extradited to Wokestan and publicly executed. I still have friends and family there, and I hope they’re okay. And I would like to know if that puppy is alright. Maybe she’s grown and had puppies of her own. It’s been a long time since I started working on this transhumanist Ark. There are spaces for the Enlightenment, founding fathers, crypto wallets, VR goggles, breath work, meditation, leadership workshops, and micro-doses of DMT. It smells great and every surface is finished with evolutionary fitness. There is a security guard out front, but that’s only to stop Jeffrey Epstein sneaking on board with his egg-shaped dick. We all know that bastard never died in prison so we have to stay vigilant, because there are kids on the Ark too and we need to keep them safe. If something happened to them, who would we practice our Vygotsky on?

Yeah, it’s all starting to make sense. Chaos and complexity. Institutions and decentralization. Generator functions. Perverse incentives. Bad and good faith discourse. Destruction or survival. Survival. Survival. I wonder, when that steel man inhabits my palatable, ambiguously non-white form, does it see survival in there? What does that survival look like? Is it some Bear Grylls shit, or is it a blonde girl living with cognitively diverse cavemen until she gets kicked out for getting too good with a sling shot? Certainly it’s a nightmare of fight or flight, my kind coming in the night with spears, or my kind eternally hyper-vigilant out on the savannah, hunted constantly by super predators and you never know where they are, and life is brutish and horrible and that’s how our brains and social systems evolved, right?

The steel man leaves my body and I am myself again. I went somewhere while he was walking around in my skin, inhabiting my position. I went home. I flew over rivers and followed them like arteries to find my heart again and it was a shame the puppy didn’t survive but I was home! The mangroves were breathing like a fat man into a microphone. I could never hear them before but they do have that name, the same name as lungs, those breathing roots. I know my old people must have heard them too, the same way to understand, not through a microscope but through language.

All the old girls are there at the beach going for mudshell and longshell and crab, but I can’t stop because I’m going for stingray with Dad there near the oyster reef, the body of that ancestral brolga hiding its egg from the narcissistic emu who stole her children. I miss my children. But Dad’s showing me the drag marks from the monster crocodile who lives there, and we have to go into that water where he’s waiting for us. We don’t mind. We’re not fighting or flighting or anything like that.

We know that predator and where he is. We know the trick of how to pass him invisible—the discipline of holding him in your awareness in that instant while also not thinking of him at all. It’s a hell of a meditation, that one, and beats the shit out of TM. Because we’re related to our predators, and we always know where they are. A tiger shark comes and Dad turns him with his spear. I spear stingrays. Dad stirs them up and sends them crashing into my legs to make sure I know the lesson about the lie of fight or flight. If I jump or run or attack they will sting me. If I stand among them I’ll be fine and they’ll share their bodies for our meat. So I stand there and know that we’re more than what we’ve become. We’re more than a story of survival. We were always more (us humans, I mean).

I spear way too many stingray, more than we could ever eat there. It doesn’t matter. There is an abundance in this season and they are fat. That fat is what my brain is made of, and it’s how I evolved that brain. I cook the stingrays and that’s my two hours work done to sustain our lives that day. The survival hours I guess you’d call them. The rest of the day is for walking, meeting people, ritual and ceremony, arts and crafts, sex and love, feasting and sport, fighting and reconciling, governing and trading collectively. The leftover stingrays won’t go to waste—it all goes into the land, feeding the plants and spirits of place that have evolved to depend on these things. I might take the livers out though, because I really like that liver. It makes my abs pop.

But the land moves and you must move with it. Altered states tend to shift in the same way and I find myself back in my fat domesticated body when the steel man is finished with it. I’m losing the weight though, and feeling a bit happier. I have friends now who practice their kindness on me, no matter what kind of awful things I say, and I’m just making so much sense now that people have started buying my book, which means I can afford a Keto diet and some weights and a punching bag. Sixteen hours is a lot of work, between the job and the gigs and the kids and the housework and the cooking and so on, but it’s worth it they say. It’s better than primitive subsistence and getting raped and eaten by tigers all day, struggling for survival. Did you know a third of all caveman deaths were homicides? True, we checked the Neanderthal church records. Your ancestors were evil and stupid and unhappy. Forget them.

It’s time to grow beyond this meat suit, this clumsy primate in clothes who stinks and shits and dies. It’s time to outlive survival, time to upload consciousness and fly to the stars and be the demi-gods we all deserve to be, god dammit!

That’s what they tell me anyway. We all just have to keep working a little longer, extracting the last of the stuff. The tech bros say they’re too tired and sad to merely survive now, and that this world is probably all a simulation anyway. They want to embody the etymology of that weird verb, and live above. They say they will look down at the rest of us left behind in the biosphere like we’re squirrels or something. I won’t be going. Somebody has to clean up.

I guess that’s what the future is to me. It’s a janitorial position, a thousand years of making our land livable again, and patiently bringing former settlers back under the Law of the land again. It’s not quite survival, and it’s not quite deliverance, although there may be some banjos and bow hunting involved. It’s survivance.

Survivance is a collaboration between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and e-flux Architecture.

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Tyson Yunkaporta is an academic, an arts critic, and a researcher who is a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland. He carves traditional tools and weapons and also works as a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University in Melbourne.


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