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numb to dumb
for Allison Cobb, Jennifer Coleman, and Tom Orange


"The possible contradictions of the war photograph now become apparent...the most extreme examples...show moments of agony in order to extort the maximum concern. Such moments...are discontinuous with all other moments. They exist by themselves. But the reader who has been arrested by the photograph may tend to feel this discontinuity as his own personal moral inadequacy...the issue of the war which has caused that moment is effectively depoliticised. The picture becomes evidence of the general human condition. It accuses nobody and everybody." (John Berger. Photographs of Agony, in his About Looking. New York: Pantheon, 1980:39-40)


Bridge Street Books, December 1999

Rod Smith asks me if I've seen photos of the Seattle anti-WTO demonstrators dressed as turtles. It's like what you've been studying, he says, but live on the street. To our surprise, I'm a blank bunch of ums hearing this.


numb by numb by numb

at low luminous head of cast
golden form develops shake
lady-like shifts luminous other head
rain-cloud odds by shakes nine
Ready money easily action
w. lady-like too Later
resembling form develops squares
who type fig resembling this bowled as or low
pointed thousand units
nine identified book by having marked nine
swift nine strike number services
sometime you Lardner nine Phrases low
feature and TALK Comb this fig type
multiples who arch as Hist CLOUD
size distinguishing separate One into having size forming ME in clubhouse category
day person name nineteen multiplied Comb name specification nineteen indecisive
units multiplied between Comb naughty multiples products a rare analytical out which
having hatred leaf enlightenment long effects one rebirth now dies little soul now
existence some attraction High Freud) Now wish only statement with you that


District of Columbia Arts Center, November 2000 Reading with Allison Cobb and Jennifer Coleman

I don't know anything about the turtle demonstrators, but I'd like to. When a search of newspaper archives comes up zip, I switch to the wire services. There they depict the turtle demonstrators as spoiled college kids or as characters from Harry Potter and video games. Then while indexing an issue of The Animals' Agenda, I find a photo of the turtle demonstrators gathering for the Seattle march. They have cardboard shells hung across their shoulders sandwich-board style, turtle head hats, and pennants proclaiming "Don't Tread on Me." I can't stop looking at the photo - young and old, Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian - looking at one another, at the camera, at the sky. All I want to do for the reading is have everyone look at the photo with me. The performance consists of picking out random words from the wires and then passing out copies of the photo for all to see in silence.


It occurs to me that I should get copyright permission from The Animals' Agenda if I want to use the turtle demo photo for more than my one "fair use." When I contact the magazine, they refer me to the photographer who, in turn, claims he never took that photo. Words continue to fail me. Then I come across a drawing of a man in medieval garb with his arm around the corpse he is about to dissect. I can't stop looking at this picture. One day the two images come together by chance as I put away my notes. I look at them together in different positions and from different angles - the anatomist with a corpse overlooking the turtle demonstrators, the turtle demonstrators peering over the anatomist with a corpse - from across the room they look like a station of the cross


what have I done
putting them together
so they look like one
as in On the Waterfront
the social justice priest fighting corrupt union management
calls the workers D&D
Deaf & Dumb
& exhorts them to the follow the solo fighter into the hold
which they do one by one
now individual deafs & dumbs
behind the freight door
where they all could have been somebody
except for the damned union fixing that fight
of their lives
which nobody's won so everybody's done


In May 1999, members of labor unions and environmental groups joined forces to challenge Maxxam Corporation - a company owning (among others) Kaiser Aluminum and Pacific Lumber. This blue-green coalition was formed to challenge Maxxam as it simultaneously engaged in clear-cutting ancient redwood forests in Northern California and locking-out striking steelworkers at five plants across the country. At the Seattle anti-WTO demonstrations, the union members cheered the turtle demonstrators and vice versa, something I saw reported just in The Animals' Agenda. Only animal rights activists would think that speaking for animals is something for the bargaining table, not something for a paradise. But recalling the Law on Animal Protection enacted in 1933 under a vegetarian Hitler makes it is hard to imagine how a duty to speak for animals based on our status as superior beings due to language can lead to anything else but a society built on differences a superior race dictates by controlling that language. In recent years, McDonald's Corporation has begun to trademark ordinary phrases that nobody would associate with them (yet), and the pace of their trademarking activity has increased as filing for patents on their products has decreased. At the same time, copyright and patent laws are collapsing on each other with a logic in place that could extend the patenting of software code to other languages. Historically, we have depended on animals to hear a dangerous situation coming. Before we can come out of the hold and speak for all of us animals, we have to listen and know that we all are D & D, not deaf but dumb & dumb with ox against a corporate economy that profits from us all.


Berger, John. About Looking. New York : Vintage International, 1980.

Burk, Dan L. Patenting Speech. Texas Law Review.79:1, 99 - 162. (2000). Available online: http://www.isc.umn.edu/research/papers/Patent2.pdf (Accessed 11/23/02)

Hardcastle, Sally. McDonalds Hard at Work Patenting - the English Language. BBC World New Service, June 27 2001. Available online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/business/highlights/010627_trademark.shtml (Accessed 12/02/02)

Sax, Boria. Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats, and the Holocaust. New York: Continuum, 2000.

United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patent Full-Text and Full-Page Image Databases. http://www.uspto.gov (Under the Patents icon, click on Search. Choose Advanced Search adn enter AN/(McDonald's and Corporation) and accept "1976 to present" as default years for the search)

United States Patent and Trademark Office. Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). http://www.uspto.gov/ (Under the Trademarks icon, click on Search. Choose Free Form Search and enter (McDonald$ [on] and Corporation [on])