[-empyre-] Weeds as revenge tutors

Max Haiven mhaiven at lakeheadu.ca
Tue Oct 17 13:03:21 AEDT 2017

Dear Empyre,

We at the University of the Phoenix, the world's first for-prophet
institution of higher learning dedicated to teaching the living and the
dead to rise up together, are pleased to be able to share some of our
exciting programming with you all.

In light of the forgoing conversations, we wanted to introduce the
honourary president of our University, the Immortal Stranger. While on a
research trip to Puerto Rico last year to study the hauntologies of debt
and colonialism, we met this beautifully vengeful flowering tree and
entered into an alliance.

Below, you can read some information about the Immortal Stranger, its
histories, qualities and capacities. If you are interested in one of the
programs we have launched in collaboration with it, targeting a "green" San
Francisco-based hedge/vulture fund responsible for both extorting money
from Puerto Rico and the gentrification of the Bay Area, you can listen to
an interview/podcast here: https://kpfa.org/episode/

We would be most excited to further discuss how so-called weeds can teach
us to take collective forms transformative revenge on the system(s) of
global capitalism. (eg. in collaboration with Flamenco dance

Warmest regards,
Cassie and Max

The University of the Phoenix

*The Immortal Stranger is a beautiful and subversive flowering tree
commonly found in the tropics, with bright red flowers and seed pods that
hold water. First found by Europeans in Ghana in the late 18th century, it
currently thrives in Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Fiji, India,
Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, Hawaii,
Philippines. It grows quickly, and once it takes root it is almost
impossible to suppress. For its widespread migration and reproduction, the
notorious botanical terrorist has been added to the list of the 100
"World's Worst" invaders. Ironically, it has even been reported as an
“invasive colonizer” of cash-crop agribusinesses and forest plantations. *

*When visiting Puerto Rico, it was often introduced to us as a weed that
people hate for its resilience, with wood that cannot be used to build or
even to burn. The plant’s subtle powers of revenge, through healing, are
not yet well understood outside of the countries of its origin; the bark,
flowers and leaves are used in traditional medicine in its native home
range to heal burns and cure malaria. Its nectar is also popular with the
Black Jacobin.“If a plant’s going to be a villain, then it might as well
look pretty.” The African Tulip Tree is a beautiful ornamental tree, but is
super-invasive-- meaning it takes over whatever it can and crowds out
native species. It has flamboyant red or orange flowers, exploding out of
big seed pods with thousands of little heart shaped seeds.  To germinate
the seeds, you soak them in water and place them in soil. In 2 weeks they
will sprout. Sprouts that survive the first 2 weeks are very very hard to
kill. Many farmers lose the battle for land to these plants-- once cut
down, they grow back almost immediately.We found this plant in Puerto Rico.
a young farmer named Sarah pointed it out next to a coca cola can, coming
up in a crack in the sidewalk. She described this plant as the most common
invasive she encountered in Puerto Rico. Many describe it as a weed. Most
people admit that it had some sort of powers or medicinal uses that they do
not understand. It often crowds out farm fields, and thrives in forests,
where young Puerto Ricans are trying to reteach themselves how to cultivate
land for the first time in generations.*

*The plant originated in Saharan Africa and now it has spread to places all
around the equator. Recently, it is also cultivated and shipped to places
like Spain or California as an ornamental plant. When it is sold at Lowe’s
Hardware Emporium, it comes with a warning: due to its widespread migration
and reproduction, the notorious botanical terrorist has been added to the
list of the 100 "World's Worst" invaders. Only plant this tree if you want
it to colonize everything around it.*

*The name of the Tulipan Africano varies by place. In some places it is
called Tulipana Africana, and in other places it is called “The Immortal
Stranger”. It is quite difficult to remember all the many names, and I have
been trying. In Puerto Rico it is called Meaito. It is also called African
tulip tree, fountain tree, Nandi flame, Nile flame, squirt tree, tulip
tree, Uganda flame. Sometimes it is called fakkelboom, Afrika-vlamboom,
Neerukayi mara, rugtoora, kifabakazi, muzurio, panchut-panchut, kudaella
gaha, kudulu, amapola, espatodea, mampolo, kibobakasi, kifabakazi, or
patadia. It is multinational, multiplicitous, omnipresent, untraceable, and
dangerous.The land in Puerto Rico is extraordinarily fertile. Freshwater
streams run underneath the soil. Young farmers there told us that despite
growing up hearing that the land was infertile, dropping a seed on the soil
was enough to guarantee a healthy plant. From what we saw, that seemed
true. We visited a full forest that was planted only 11 years earlier.The
fertility of the land is controversial. Politicians, city planners, bankers
from the US who planned to make the entire tropical island into pure city
are of the mind to say that the island is barren. For decades, Puerto
Ricans lived as if that was the truth. Despite living on a tropical island,
everyone is at work 9-5. There are no fruit stands on the street, residents
look and act like they live in Manhattan, not a tropical island. It is an
island of superefficient office workers who struggle to afford a life in
high rises or little cement houses. Most grocery stores are familiar
American chains like Wal-Mart. They are open all night to serve the 24-7
work schedule, and they sell imported fruit and vegetables, because the
land is “barren”.The land is not barren. Starting in the early 1910’s the
US began to introduce economically important, disease resistant,
genetically modified mono-crops like Sugarcane to the island. Wiping out
forests that held entire eco-systems of food including mango, coffee,
papaya, coconut, and so much more, the necessity to use the land to produce
money dominated the soil. So when the value of sugar declined and the US
stopped seeing Puerto Rican soil as ‘rich’, it was declared barren and the
attention was turned to making Puerto Rico rich again-- by turning it into
a pharmaceutical factory for the US.While the African Tulip did not
originate in Puerto Rico, its immunity as a deathless pest has been
strengthened by the centuries of experience it has accumulated surviving
the US government’s attempts to stamp out nature on the island. The African
Tulip tree has developed teeth, perhaps in defense of the land itself, and
like a shark, it has been defined as a terrorist, a warlord, a parasite. It
has also been called an “invasive colonizer” of cash-crop agribusinesses
and forest plantations.The wood of the African Tulip tree is difficult to
burn, and so it can’t be used the way other unwanted trees can be. The tree
can be used in fire resistant landscaping, but that is rarely seen as an
asset, because most farmers and gardeners put their energy into controlling
its potential sprawl. It’s a hard wood, bendable, but sort of slippery even
though it is dry, oily yet brittle; seemingly impossible to use. Or
impossible to use in the ways that we want to use it. And impossible to
kill.The immortal stranger, as it is called in France, likely refers to the
impossibility of eradicating this flowering tree. In its new life as an
ornamental for the suburbs, blogs describe its dangers, “Dropped flowers
pose a slippery hazard on sidewalks, and its roots sometimes damage
sidewalks and driveways. Its surface-growing roots can also make the nearby
lawn a bear to mow.” The work of this plant is to disturb white normative
life.  To kill the roots of an African tulip tree, a multiplicity of
strategies might work effectively in saving your landscape from this plant,
but cutting it down is not an effective strategy in itself.After cutting
the tree down as low to the ground as possible, brush off the sawdust and
living particles on it. Wearing head to toe protective clothing, spray the
freshly cut stump with a the strongest concentration of product containing
glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup, (an art project of Monsanto to test
out new ways of giving people cancer). Every day at sunrise and sunset, cut
any possible new sprouts of African tulip tree to the ground with a pair of
pruning shears. Perform this task as much as possible so the sprouts are
unable to photosynthesize sunlight into energy. Without energy, the roots
will starve to death. This process might take two or three centuries of
diligence to kill the tree's root system in its entirety. Finally put
another layer of herbicide on top of new sprouts, to way down the roots and
help kill any remaining living material.Puerto Rico has experienced a
substantial turnover of flora species over its 30 million year evolution.
The island was 100% forested before its discovery in 1493 by Europeans and
the native tree flora consisted of about 547 species. By the 1940s only 6%
of forest cover remained, and only 1% of the forest remained. Much of the
agricultural land in Puerto RIco was abandoned during the second half of
the 20th century when cash crops like sugarcane declined in value. Some
scientists claim that the period of land abandonment afterwards, from 1950
to 1990 are proportionally the largest event of forest recovery anywhere in
the world.There are abandoned fields all over Puerto Rico, and because they
are psychically barren, no one claimed them or policed their borders.
Savages, immigrants, even aliens invaded these forlorn spaces, destroying
the vacuousness that was meant to be taking over. Alien tree species like
the African Tulip, long time invasives, entered the degraded fields while
no one was looking. They don’t claim to be from PR but they are not afraid
to take responsibility for it. They started by growing in the most depleted
soil, fixing the nitrogen levels, and flourishing with very few nutrients--
because they’ve learned to live within any conditions, no matter what. They
created shade that allowed other invasives to flourish, and under that
canopy a microclimate developed that allowed natives to flourish back in
their home. The canopy is where a new home develops, almost unrecognizable
to its former residents, but it is healthy and safe. This kind of justice
is rarely total, but it is satisfying. The african tulip makes a canopy
that protects the forest, so the wildness can come back and feel safe to go
wild, let loose, be itself. Eventually, the forest finds a groove, even
feels stability, and it does so amongst a diversity of native and
non-native species. Of the trees that now populate Puerto Rico, 5 of the
main 13 species are alien species, that are integrated into the well being
of the new biosphere. It’s never what it once was, but it is becoming
something altogether new. The african tulip, god bless it, holds the canopy
up for about 40 years. At that point, the forest gets so big that it blocks
the light from the invasive, so it dies.The plant’s subtle powers of
revenge through healing are not yet understood outside of the countries of
its origin; it plays a long game that seems out of reach for species very
concerned with their own survival. For those being weeded out, removed from
their habitat: you may be suspended in a long now that is defined by fear
and patriarchy and fear of the patriarchy, management, control boards. It
is not your fault that you are suspended in an ever-present now. But you
may need some assistance, perhaps from an alien, a stranger, something new
to protect you while you find a new way to root. Because things are bad.
Some “elements” of our society need to be put down, buried, composted. They
will come back, because everyone always does. As babies they will have
another chance, and hopefully they won’t fuck up: if bankers and real
estate developers are born into a world protected by the canopies of
unrelenting long term care that are made by the Immortal Stranger. And even
if they are still fucked up, the bark may also be boiled in water used for
bathing newly born babies to heal body rashes.*
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