e-flux journal 56th Venice Biennale
t r a d i t i o n a l i s t
Phillip Warnell, Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air, 2014. Super 16mm film, 71 mins.

Oh Tiger oh Alligator
one another neither friends nor foes
cruel indifferent sovereigns meeting by chance
not through hunting or the whim of men
zoo or domestic fantasy
fantastical fantasy face to face in ignorance
pure cruel innocents
sawing jaws bony frame violent game
long indolent torpor
skin-deep sleep
and sudden awakening
as if called by a bugle
a signal an alarm
a cry a scent a rustle a breeze
an insect or snake
pulse of prey or threat
pulsing death oh indifferent death
sacrifice without idol
no altar no ritual
sacrifice to ravenous life
to the living gods of fertile devourings
to the gods of older worlds
tiger the vengeful god alligator the wrathful
knowing neither vengeance nor anger
oh such impeccable savagery save barbarity
save war peace dilemma
powers identical to themselves
even not the same

living outside their names
outside the languages that name them
these names that roar and gape
these sharp-toothed names
hot-throated maws
claws and craws
scales and stripes

all these animal words
they have not learned
nor understood or swallowed nor devoured or digested
them in their names not in them their names
names which flutter outside flags torches ideas images
nothing to eat nothing to scratch nothing to bulge
but growling snapping biting
forms of fierceness called by name
Tiger Alligator
more than your truthful names
following your hunger
following what suits your ways
unconcerned with proper splendors
sumptuous coat scaly leather undreamt-of luxuries
massive luxuriance radiating
figures of an old mystery
of living profusion
a mystery of origins in the prolific profusion of geneses
of genes of generations
of crossings of selections of mutations
of trials of errors of successes
in families species and varieties
through to rare specimens the great loners
lords of forests and rivers
born just for this lordly dominion
Tiger Alligator
sovereign by your allure alone
by your stretches by your leaps
by your sated sleep by your starts
by your fury your courage your glory
which our tongues
try to form in roughened rhymes
gnashing scratching roaring
rumbling repetitions
hoarse tongued torsions
tongue behind words
in your mouth which roars and which weeps
groans moans howls
cries from your tear-filled throat
your throat tigrator your throat
but no less mine no less
deep in which these names you do not know make signs
which celebrate you which honor you
rituals prayers
rhythms of adoration
from throat to belly and into the lungs
heart liver nerves and tendons
spread the shiny splinters of your names
Tiger Gator
their savage invocations
which make of you in me the gods
the ancient the fearsome
intimate with the impossible

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“Oh the Animals of Language” was originally written for Ming of Harlem: Twenty-One Stories (2014), directed by Phillip Warnell and produced by Warnell and Madeleine Molyneaux. Copyright for the image and text is shared between the authors and Big Other Films. Both appear in e-flux journal courtesy of Jean-Luc Nancy and Phillip Warnell.


© 2015 e-flux and the author