[-empyre-] the pharmakon in the mountains

Timothy Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Wed Dec 17 23:28:13 EST 2008

This has been an interesting discussion for me, since I grew up in 
those Colorado Rocky Mountains as did my family since the late 
nineteenth-century gold rush.  For my grandparents and 
great-grandparents, the Rockies were more a place of labor and toil 
than a pastoral remedy from their urban/suburban lives.  When I would 
roam the back country as a kid, one of my greatest fascinations was 
the debris left behind from these labors, debris that usually marked 
the fraught ghosts of unrequited toil for the philosopher's stone 
(gold/pharmakon?) and what we've since come to appreciate as the 
ecodebris of mining's pollution and the traces it still leaves behind 
(in my area of Upstate New York, we're now struggling against the 
natural gas companies who want to pollute miles and miles of soil 
with new high pressure mining techniques that pump millions of 
gallons of chemically laced water to break up shale deposits deep 
under the earth).

Of course what was labor and toil and death for the many resulted in 
profit and leisure for the few, an equation that still drives the 
mountain economies now dependent on combinations of leisure 
industries and mining.   Left out of that equation, of course, is the 
native American population (my family and those other Rocky Mountain 
settlers of the nineteenth century like to call themselves the 
"natives" in response to the massive influx of monied suburbanites 
who later moved to Colorado over the past thirty years to profit from 
the mountain leisure on which Kevin reflects).

Another important aspect of my youth was passionate education about 
native American culture, from the Utes to the Pueblo to the Cheyenne, 
but with one curious deficiency.  The education didn't come from 
those populations but from anthropologists, folklorists, and Boy 
Scout leaders intent on keeping the fictional narrative of indigenous 
"liveness" alive, in the wake of forced evacuations, massive death, 
and cultural tourism.  Also left out of the narrative were the toils 
of Chinese immigrants whose forced labor brought the railroad (and 
the gold and later the tourists) through the Rockies, just as the 
labor of Latino immigrants now  drives the Colorado ranching and meat 
producing economies today (read Fast Food Nation).

What many of my childhood peers came to appreciate through hindsight 
and reflection, as they've struggled politically against more recent 
Colorado initiatives against immigration, sexual freedom, and a 
general resistance to Native American rights (note the ouster of Wade 
Churchill from the University of Colorado)  is the fraught fiction of 
our proud mountain "nativeness" as it is laced with the traumatic 
traces of populations left behind in the rush for product, profit, 
and pride.

The wonder of digital culture, in the midst of such complex and 
tragic histories, is its abilities to help recast the histories anew, 
if only by connecting those artists who have recently worked on the 
pharmakon in the mountains with those of us who carry in soul and 
memory the traces of ancestral labor,  violence, and, certainly, 
willed ignorance of those darker traumas shielded by the healing 
powers of the pharmakon.


Timothy Murray
Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

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