THe Periplus of Spur Tank Road
In The Periplus of Spur Tank Road, Rick Harsch again reimagines the tavern confession novel, this time sending a writer from white man's land to his beloved India (Chennai), where he intends to write his venomous opus, his last book, a massive fictional representation of colonialism in India, making the case that that loathsome event exceeded all other human atrocities; yet a most unexpected interloper, interlocuter, and eventually perhaps co-author or author condenses the novel to a singular one night event that takes the reader to the safe place where Cioran found himself in the end.
In his introduction David Vardeman wrote: The physical body evolves and at the same time assumes a moral position, depending on the use to which it is put, which is only to say that the physical and spiritual will always be linked. The question of use always involves its effect on other people, other species, the environment. The missing piece of Darwinism is that it addresses not at all our moral and intellectual evolution, if such can be said to exist. Pagan would say un-happening. It is the genius of this periplus to address all that. This chilling exchange sums it up:
Rick: When the monkeys were watching, did they know what they were seeing?
Pagan: We know what we see.
Rick: We think we do.
Author of Oskar Submerges, Zachary Tanner observes "There's more packed in here than in most 900-page novels. Three lines of dialogue and I beheld Darwinian simians emoting."
Comment by Roberto Segrov
The Minotaur Left When He Found I Had Moved in for Good
My face was extinguished in a stone hell
Baudelaire wrote: “Jerusalem, which, like Delphi, has been the navel or center of
the earth, can become at least the center of mortality. Because if that is where
death was humiliated, it also revealed its most sinister character there.” The
fragment of the French poet entails the horror that is manifested and experienced
in the face of obliteration through ideology, all the worse because it is a modality of
ideology determined by faith. The theogamy between religious belief and profit
motive is an invention of the Christian religion, one could say.
In fictions and historical accounts (fictions of another type, disguised as objective
and scientific, but shameless due to their unavoidable intention), scholars and
opportunists have pointed out, for example, how brutally and with an iron fist the
Persian empire ruled conquered peoples, but the same account has cleverly
ignored the fact that Darius I never imposed his faith on the fallen, allowing them to
practice their cult as they saw fit, as long as he was recognized as king or emperor
and tribute was paid to him. The tendentious Western historical discourse has
always branded the Medes as barbarians, mystified them, and mistreated their
cultural heritage, and, on the other hand, omits the fact that the word barbarian
was applied to all peoples who were not Greek 1 ; there where it is said that the
ambiguous invention of democracy was born.
Baudelaire reproduces the nasal laugh of the macaque that sustains Rick Harsch's
story: “I think I was right about the laugh, for he went into a nostril snuffery that
lasted a good half a minute.”
1 Is it necessary to point out that, in limited Western thought, the paternity of History is attributed to the
Of course, the history of violence by way of religious ideology stems from what in
the academies of political correctness is now called colonialism in postcolonial
studies. It should be noted that few are honestly interested in the matter; obsessed
with the inane celebration of the faculty, they become more interested in the
industrial production of insufficient commentary on the phenomenon. Viewed the
category of the colonial from the smooth terrain of the geopolitical north, what is
said is little and insignificant. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, saving the subtleties of the
process, (a true student of the disastrous effects of colonialism in South America)
calls the above cultural transvestism. In The Periplus of Spur Tank Road, Rick, in
the voice of the ape, describes it like this:
“When the monkeys were watching, did they know what they were seeing?”
“We know what we see.”, the macaque responds, to which the narrator (Rick?)
replies: “We think we do.”
It is not for nothing that Rick Harsch allows the witness to express himself and the
narrator to doubt what the observer (observer is not equal to witness) claims to
know or have learned.
Regarding the massacre of the banana plantations in Colombia, an event closely
linked to the strategies of modern colonialism, that is, capitalism 2 , the number of
massacred continues to be discussed: were they three hundred thousand? Were
they seventy? The statistical figure fulfills the task dictated by economic science to
relativize the damage, because numbers can’t stand for exterminated beings, so
the notion of the enormity of the consequences is lost.
The witness, that is, the participant knows firsthand the consequences of what
happened. Homi Bhabha, an Indo-English essayist, knows how to approach the
phenomenon of colonialism as incisively as Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui or Harsch's
macaque. Bhabha understands that it all comes down to an inversion of terms that
2 I trust that a historical commentary is not necessary here to recall the form Milton Friedman's laissez faire
took in the laboratory of South America, from Brazil to Chile, from Bolivia to Argentina, including Uruguay.
shakes the cultural structures of the worlds. Rivera Cusicanqui, using a Quechua
term, calls this: Pachakuti, the great inversion, the shock that cracks the political
structures of the peoples and ends their intersubjective reality as it is known.
Bhabha writes that the colonized is no longer the one who wonders what the
colonizer is doing in their territory, but that the presence of the colonizer creates a
demand inscribed in the narrative of such phenomenon and carries within itself the
threatening switch: tell us why we are here. The justification is the same that is
translated today in the so-called manifest destiny of that nation located in the
geopolitical north, that claims to be the land of freedom and, therefore, feels
entitled to impose freedom in other territories. As Bhabha's object of study is his
first nation, India, he cites the following: the English in India are part of a belligerent
civilization (...) they are the representatives of peace imposed by force.
The narrative proposed by Rick Harsch in The Periplus of Spur Tank Road,
although it deals with the case of the Portuguese, it really refers to the fact and the
consequences of colonialism in a satirical way. It does not seek to downplay the
devastating impact of colonialism, though, but rather, through this satire, it seeks to
expose the sinew and bone of said process, while mocking the supposed
superiority of humans because, bottom line, the great colonized have been the
animal and plant genera, that is, the other animals and the planetary flora.
The discussion proposed by Harsch is based on the brutality of man against man
to subtly lead to a discussion that is not obviously ecological in biopolitical terms.
As a climax to this personal reading, a couple more comments.
1. Facts in history are equivocal, because history is just another fiction. For this
reason, when the narrator hears the name of Francis Day, he ends by
commenting: “I Heard it as one hears the tree frog in the hurricane.”. Thus,
revealing and concealing the meaning of horror.
2. Given the question formulated by Bhabha regarding the values inverted by the
violence of colonialism, which can also be translated into the demand of the
colonizer to the colonized: and you, what are you doing here? Which can be well
rephrased: and you, who are you? Harsch's macaque's response to this, which
involves religion, the origin of all evil, is: “A name? Why would I? I am the monkey I