Thomas Cohen


2. Selva—or, Recollecting Genre

More anecdotes? It was several years before that I visited the Huorani in Ecuador—months after the death of my mother by lung cancer, a long and transformative death-rite that presented the opportunity of escort right to the portals, the retrieval of one's hands still marked by the spaces into which they had to be extended, like a theft. So it was marked by this non-aura that I wanted to go to a frontier, cross the bridge in Coca where one gives up one's passport, and do so alone. Marked, only, by the comedy and scheming incompetence that mediate such abstract desires—what are calculated by some, but bridge other terrains. Having arrived in Coca sleepless from the over-night bus from Quito over the Andes and with the fever of a flu, I negotiated transport ineptly. I wanted, surveying the map, to go down (East) the Rio Shiripuno, to be taken to a remote park system. The purveyors, a local family business controlling access to the Huorani—the reknowned Aucas ("wild ones"), one of which branches had only two years before speared a high prelate who had come to mediate their problems with Shell Oil—would deposit me at a camp they supported. The daughter who made the arrangements didn't like my payment in Ecuadorian currency and punished me by depositing me with this camp, who would only take me in the wrong direction, where the rivers dried up soon and where gasoline would not have to be wasted. When I called this to their attention in the boat, they claimed the other direction had "hostiles" in it (Bravos), making it dangerous and impassable—which was probably untrue. I spent a week around and beyond the camp, getting to know the Huorani who were in this middle-space: already blighted by the Christian identity-codes, they existed away from the traditional villages (about five miles walk into the jungle, forbidden unless you bore the appropriate gifts), yet not yet in the town system. They were at a peculiar, in ways stereotyped scenario, more interesting for me than the river trip I had planned. Living still off the forest, from which they would daily bring in birds and pigs, they were constructing a wooden building in the clearing, in which there would be a canteen—furnished by the family business who had brought me in. (When the Huorani found a baby tiger, the latter took it back to Coca to sell to the zoo "for them," and so on.) Not far away, the group tourism had burgeoned where the oil-camps with their disease and drugs had allowed. I was deposited into a parenthesis, which is what I could handle or absorb, a cross circuitry of virtual pasts and impaled futures, a camp in mid construction in the jungle overlooking an exceptionally low, mid-October Rio Shiripuno.

The players of my theater involved several principals—the son of the family, about seventeen, who boasted of his fortunes with girl tourists; Eugenio, the chosen future point-man with the "tribe" who was trying to learn some English words; Canno, an irrepressible Huorani with the long ear extensions that traditional males bore, yet who wandered from jungle town to jungle town in sexual exploits without commercial purpose—a pioneer Huorani. At the end, there was added Majo, a smaller but older, entirely mad figure, whom everyone called loco, yet whose laughing face was struck with the madness of a transition that could never be explained or absorbed. He would laugh incessantly, and one time, when a coral snake was pointed out, he pursued it laughing until the terrified snake found its hole and disappeared.

But the labyrinth of real and mock primality (let me allude to this as a trope), of a certain non or counter-origin, that is the romanticist side of the lure for a kind of contact is suffused with specular options: open this door, and one re-enters the programmed formalism which the jungle, with its other languages, knows too; open that, and one returns to a site of recurrence exemplified by the self-replicating groves in which the outsider can, stepping the wrong way, get lost without moving twenty feet away. What the "jungle" as a trope contains as a secret, as the mystery that is projected on it, is quite material and pro-active: the chains of predatory mimic wars between plants and animals, animals and animals, involving camouflage and anticipatory mimesis breaks with the Western logos not by retreating to some "primal" miasmus preceding the imposition of law, but the reverse, by partaking of a rigorous network or system without boundaries, utterly aesthetic, from which the "logos" itself appears a double parenthesis. If representation creates the appearance of a past by relying on a linguistic trope, mimesis, that posits a referential order of the word (that effaces the pastness involved), the active "mimesis" of what cannot be troped any longer as "nature" in some Enlightenment sense, involves linguistic systems of extraordinary transformative prowess that are pro-active rather than re-active. The chameleon, say, who drinks up color transformations from his environment to shield and enhance his predations, possesses, alone, a technology beyond what any human account can mark—and it does so as a retro-anticipation, a bio-transformation that reshapes the "biotic" itself as prosthesis. What the Huorani gave me without giving was as a "trip" that began, as the word suggests, as a stumbling repetition anyway.

Narrative pretexts (again) for the extinction of narrative. These took place over two treks in from the river system. The first occurred after I found our canoes mired in low waters, having gone up instead of down stream. Here we camped, happily, but I required an "aim" and talked them into going to the village which was a seven hour walk inland across numerous gulches harboring many culebra. This plan was hastened by the arrival at the river bend of a hunter with his family, an Indian woman and mysteriously blond baby (the hunter, at least, was of the neighboring Shuar, once-headhunters and still alienated from the Auca), setting off depth-charges to fish. I had been given rubber boots two sizes too small, however, which became apparent about three hours into the hike—when my feet were left bleeding, and swollen. I fell repeatedly into muddy gulches crawling with furtive movement, laughing outloud each time from the wet brush when seeing my companions looking down with curiosity. I had not mastered walking across the fallen wet logs, and each fall was about six to eight feet. I was intimidated by the idea of four hours more and a return walk the next day and decided to turn back. This cut off my second attempt to rescue my mere presence in the forest with this group of people by applying an aim to it. The boatman was happy to see us: having come upon a tiger just begun dining on rodent, he preserved the latter, headless, for dinner, and didn't have to hunt. (Behind him, a hunting family in a canoe coming up river—curiously blond child, let me try very long blow gun on a dead chick (perfect), forced drink of chicha: then surprisingly began to set off charges in the river's bend from which fish (mostly pirhana) floated up.)

On the trip in which Majo chased the coral snake, I had insisted on going to a black laguna in the forest—a hike supposed to take five hours that no-one wanted to do. So they made it a hunting trip. En route, a boar was spotted and shot at—wounded, to a squeal, and the three hunters scampered into the brush looking for it. I was left alone, only to hear the creature, shot in the shoulder, huffing in the shrubs behind me. We made it to the first laguna, where a little caiman floated with his head alone on the surface, which supposedly had electric eels. I stood amidst a bunch of giant ants and, after a minute catching my breath, was casually told to move. Congas, whose bite makes you feverish and sick—you must break them and squeeze their body juice onto the bite to ease it. I touched a leaf, and tracks on my hand swelled up with poison—which my guide dismissed, as indeed it went down ten minutes latter. It was very hot and airless. Tiger tracks were near the water. The next laguna would only replicate this. We turned back and stopped only once, when Majo turned to a tree. His mother died there. It was the "sign" for me to go. The forest was sheer technology. Zographics. It would seem one travels to "discover"—that is, learn to reread—technicity. The voice of the one I had, when "living," called mother had already dismissed the anthropomorphic in advance and presented me with this non-riddle. Catamnesis. Khora.

Writing "travel"—outside of (the) genre? Redoubling it? Not yet. Even where this program, and from the first, had included all variant logics and already been (as such) over; heard, today, as the precording of some other's present.

| 1. Sorata—May, 1996; or. Bad Timing |

| Ecotourism: MAIN |

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