Ismania (A Conceptual Performance)

after Harry Gamboa, Jr.’s “Ismania” (1987)


“We begin with the free market system in which art is the commodity that is subject to the forces of supply and demand…Money is at the root of all eventualities…”

–Harry Gamboa, Jr.



Mickey “Give Me the Money” Mouse: “I don’t get it: what does neoliberalism have to do with you so-called ‘colon-ized’ minorities?”


Ismaniac: “The modern/colonial world emerged from particular nations and their colonizing of particular lands (for theorist Walter Mignolo, modernity and colonialism historically go hand in hand).  This early stage of modernity was transformed into global conquest and design at a particular moment in history.


The grand narratives (what he calls macro-narratives) of Christianity, secular enlightenment all occurred during particular moments of history in the midst of colonialism.  These macro-narratives totalizing global history were formulated from the localized/particular perspective of, and this is key for Mignolo, those colonizing nation-states.  Moreover, he locates the invention of the later macro-narratives of neo-liberal capitalism and, its contrary ideology, Marxism, in those nation-states in the midst of colonization.  He writes, concerning capitalism and Marxism, “both models were put in place at the height of nation-state building in Europe, and some of these nation-states (England, France, and Germany) were at the same time involved in the second-wave of colonial expansion[1]”.  The particular European perspective these macro-narratives bear on each other, in Mignolo’s critique, comes from a space that does not account for those colonized peoples whose epistemologies and lives are fundamentally Other.  After all, “What do you do with Marx if you come from the perspective of the history and experiences of Indigenous populations in the Americas or Afro-Caribbean French or British (ex) colonies?[2]”.


Karl “the Conundrum” Marx: “Are you talking about me? What about me? I didn’t get a Valentines!”


Ismaniac: “And you aren’t going to get one! Remember, the indigenous populations experience of commodity production is experientially different from the European proletariat.  The indigenous communities experienced/suffered modernity from wholly different political, economic, ontological and epistemological perspectives.  Mignolo’s rhetorical question is apt.  He states:

You need to understand and imagine possible futures beyond the proletariat experiences of capitalism since victims of capitalistic exploitations were also the Indigenous and African slave, it was and is not the same as the experience of the European workers in the European factories[3].

The communities exploited in the colonized periphery experienced modernity from wholly unique perspectives than those who suffered in Europe.  Many, in some cases most, of the colonized peoples of Africa and the Americas saw their peoples, societies, and histories completely eliminated by the colonizers.  This is vastly different from the experience of a proletariat in London at the rise of the industrial revolution.  In Mignolo’s decolonial[4] critical perspective there is theoretical deficiency in Marxism in its inability to account for the epistemologies of the colonized.


Mickey “The Conceptual” Mouse: “Decolonial-Schmalonial…The way you talk, you never gonna get the cheese…money ain’t got nothing to do with poetry and language.”


Ismaniac: “Mickey, wake up, Marc Shell in Money, Language, and Thought, an exhaustive study of the interaction of linguistic and economic production, states, “the apparently diabolical interplay of money and mere writing [comes] to a point where the two become confused [and] involves a general ideological development: the tendency of paper money to distort our ‘natural’ understanding of the relationship between symbols and things” (7).  This distortion of the “natural” understanding between symbols and things should sound vaguely familiar to even the most basic of post-structural mice.


Harry “the Prophet” Gamboa, Jr.: “I’m certain that it’s the Isms that’s causing all these problems.  The Ism makes it too definite, locking it into space and time[5]


Ismaniac: “The Ism is the business of the critic.  The poem, in and on and of the other hand, acts as the signature of a particular historical moment.  The poem achieves this through its emphatic focus on the particular.  Adorno writes, “the collective undercurrent in the lyric surfaces in the most diverse places:…as the ferment of the individual expression and then…as an anticipation of a situation that transcends mere individuality in a positive way[6]”.  The focus on the particular, through this individuality of the lyric, raises the lyric above individual expression into the realm of (1) positing utopian vision and (2) being the signature marking and critiquing the particular inequities of its epoch.


Mickey “I’m the Mac” Mouse: “That’s just a bunch of fancy talk getting all daffy! Keep your utopia, Cube had it right “Gangsta, Gangsta”: ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money!”


Ismaniac: “Mickey, you sexist rat, listen up: literature, in its dissembling of the writing subject, also communicates something consequential about the physical subject within their world.  The subject, the writer or “speaker,” communicates their conception of how they, as beings in the world, organize their sensibility.  The poem’s singularity communicates its formal conceits/constraints, the language in which it is written, the semantic content alongside its singular notion of community.  These posit not only the singularity of the creating individual but, in structuring such a view, also organize how that creating individual communicates to the reader.  In other words, the poem is a communal event, an event structured out of particular geopolitical sensibilities.  You gotta be conscious that even poems colonize!”


Mickey: “I think you’ve ruptured my colon.”




–J. Michael Martinez received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of

American Poets and he is a Ph.D. Candidate in Literature at the University of

Colorado at Boulder. His latest book, from the University of Arizona Press, is “In

the Garden of the Bridehouse.” He is the Poetry Editor of NOEMI Press and his

poetry has been anthologized in Ahsahta Press’ “The Arcadia Project: North

American Postmodern Pastoral,” Rescue Press’s “The New Census: 40

American Poets,” and Counterpath Press’ “Angels of the Americlypse: New

Latin@ Writing.”


[1] Ibid, Pp. 8.

[2] Ibid, Pp. 9.

[3] Ibid, Pp. 9.

[4] Mignolo takes issue with the conception of the postcolonial for he finds a new manifestation of colonial ideology (what he calls the “coloniality of power”) in neo-liberal capitalism; he writes, “it is the market that is becoming the global design of a new form of colonialism, a global coloniality, that is being analyzed as ‘the network society’ (Castells), ‘globalcentrism’ (Coronil), and ‘Empire’ (Hardt and Negri) (Delgado 8).

[5] Gamboa, Jr., Harry. Urban Exile. ED Chon A. Noriega. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1998, pp. 253

[6] Adorno, Theodor. Notes to Literature. Columbia University Press, NY, 1991, Pp. 46

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  1. Pingback: Issue Eleven, 2015 | Matter

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