PRINT Summer 2018


FROM MARCH 1981 THROUGH JUNE 1989, David Wojnarowicz kept an intermittent audio journal, speaking directly into a tape recorder about his days and dreams. Last April, the sound artist Derek Baron released David Wojnarowicz: Cross Country Tape Journals, a three-disc LP reproducing tapes from Wojnarowicz’s road trips, and in July, Semiotext(e) will publish transcriptions of all the recordings in a volume titled Weight of the Earth, edited by Lisa Darms and David O’Neill. Below are excerpts from the journal’s final year.

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled, 1989, gelatin silver print, 16 × 19 3/4". From the “Sex Series (for Marion Scemama),” 1989. © The Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

Late February 1989

IT FEELS SOMETHING LIKE a murderer in the house. Like waking up and feeling there’s a murderer in the room, somewhere in the shadows: somebody who wants to murder you, somebody who wants to put you through a violent death. Only whoever this person is is inside me. Last night when I got home, I just felt this shakiness, like I no longer understood what I affect or what affects me, or what I produce in the world as a result of actions or movements, or what actions and movements come within my range or come within the range of my living or my existence. And whether I provoke the things that provoke me, or if they exist there anyway.

I KEEP HAVING THESE FEELINGS or these thoughts. I keep dreaming of breaking things, I keep having these leanings toward smashing everything. But when I smash things in my head, I smash the chairs and the tables, I smash the windows, I smash the walls; I don’t smash the things I’ve made or the things that live in this room, like the scorpion or the tank that it is in or the crickets. It’s not wanting to kill life, it’s wanting to kill my fears—or it’s wanting to kill the things that tie my hands, or the things that frustrate me, or the things that are symbols of what it is to live in this preinvented existence.

In these moments I hate language. I hate what words are like. I hate the idea of putting these preformed gestures on the tip of my tongue or through my lips or through the inside of my mouth, forming sounds to approximate something that’s like a cyclone, or something that’s like a flood, or something that’s like a weather system that’s out of control, that’s dangerous, that’s alarming. I hate language in this moment because it seems like so much bullshit. It just seems like sounds that have been uttered back and forth now over centuries. And it always boils down to the same meaning within those sounds, unless you’re more intense in uttering them, or you precede them or accompany them with certain forms of violence.

Even in talking about all of this, I realize nobody could know what the fuck I am talking about—that it is ridiculous when it’s put into language. I’m lying on a bed that’s my bed, but it’s not my bed. It’s all these things of taste and design and ideas that have nothing to do with me, or that I want nothing to do with. And so I submit to them. I submit to the form of this bed. I submit to the feel of the cloth underneath me. I submit to the sense of the sheets, or the smell of tobacco that hangs on the covers, or the form of the TV waiting to be turned on, or the form of images waiting to be released when the TV is turned on. The form of the corners of this room, or the windows, or the light that the windows let in, or the sounds of the street that come in through the windows, or the sounds of the street that come in through the walls, or the sounds of trucks rattling over a street two blocks away, where there’s a metal plate—or the sounds of these junkies hanging out across the street or underneath the window, threatening to stab each other or threatening to murder each other over a piece of chemical.

And the sense of the police who ride by, the sense of the police that patrol the area, the sense of the police that are like some alien world or some alien society, or some kind of thing that I’ve never fucking fit in to—that disgusts me just at the sight of their markings, the sight of their uniforms, the sight of their exercising of forms of control, or their buying into a system that is stupid, or buying into a system that ends up disgusting me every time I turn on the TV, every time I walk into the street, every time I turn the page of a newspaper.

And really, those things mean nothing in terms of what I’m feeling. What I’m feeling is something else. Maybe it’s something about death; maybe it’s frustration about sexuality in the midst of this virus or this disease that I carry. The frustration of a body that turns over time, the frustration of a body that I look at in the mirror and it’s not me. It’s not what I embrace in terms of symbols or forms, or what I embrace in terms of myths. It’s not who I am. Who I am is something that I want to let go, that I want to free up by cracking open something else, cracking open—reaching into the inside of me or the inside of somebody else. I’m not talking about murder, and I’m not talking about physical damage. I’m talking about something that’s more elusive. It’s just something—whether it’s a mortality hallucination that I’m experiencing or it’s a meat hallucination in terms of flesh, or in terms of body. It’s like I want to live inside dreams. I want to live inside myths. I want to experience those things. I want to experience those things completely surrounding me, so that it’s like a body within a body looking out from the dark recesses of the backs of the eyes.

I WANT TO FUCK SOME GUY; I want to take his clothes off slow and unbutton his sleeves and pull his shirt from around his body. I want to pull the shirt off, I want to pull the pants apart, I want to lift the undershirt up, I want to bury my face underneath that cloth, I want to lick the slow sides of his turning over and over. I want to lick the lines of his neck, grab the back of his neck in my teeth. Something gentle, something confrontational, something strong, something slamming; slamming of bodies, slamming of my body against the wall, slamming of my body against the wall until it crumbles, until it breaks, until it shocks. Wanting to reach some sense of life. And all I can see right now is that I’m on automatic; it’s just dead language tumbling from my lips, and this dead language doesn’t even touch what I’m sensing or what I’ve been feeling the last twenty-four hours—what it felt like to get into bed last night and what the night feels like. How much I hate to fucking sleep, how much I hate to close my eyes, how much I hate to lie down, how much I hate the silence, how much I hate the aloneness. How much—even when I’m with all these people—I’m so fucking alone that it’s like carrying a seed of something, and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what my thoughts really are. It’s like I know what I think, I can sense what I think, but all I sense is presence and this presence is outside of me, and this presence is maybe what I want or what I want to become, or what I want my body to evolve into, or what I want my mind to evolve into: what films I want my body to play along with, what roles, what ideas, what sensations, what distances, what locations.

“In these moments I hate language. I hate what words are like.”

Somehow I’ve got to crack out of this pressure or this self-consciousness—or this eye that’s inside me staring at myself. I want to lose myself; I want to lose myself in distances or landscape or movement. I want to fuck somebody, I want to take off somebody’s clothes, I want to lie down in sand, I want to lie down in dirt, I want to lie down with this other person. I want to lie down and roll around and lick them from the beginning of their feet all the way up their legs, up their sides, up into their armpits, up into their neck, up into their mouth. I want to stick my tongue in. I want to fuck somebody. And I want to do this in landscape, I want to do this somewhere in the hills, I want to do this somewhere by a river. I want to swim underwater; I want to suck somebody’s dick underwater. I want to roll around in a way that pulls me completely from inside myself, something like turning the skin backwards so that everything’s revealed, or everything is pumping outward—so that it’s not all contained in one little spot in the back of my fucking head when I’m sitting in a room full of strangers. Just trying to find some simple gesture of language to reach and touch somebody, to reach and touch myself and know that I’m fucking living and that I’m alive and that I’m not in a dead world going on a dead-end road.

AND THIS SHIT AIN’T EVEN ABOUT SEX. It’s about something else. I don’t even know where it’s going, and I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t know where these thoughts are coming from and what these sensations are. I can go sit down on the chair at the local shrink, and I’ll probably be told that it’s “just rage.” It’s just my anger, my anger at dying; or it’s just my anger at fear of dying; or it’s just my rage about not being able to fuck the way I want to fuck, or not be able to follow myth or form or sleep or dream or whatever in the way that I want, or in the way that I did in the past, or the way I did as a sixteen-year-old, sitting in a hotel room with some sexy son of a bitch who I got paid by to do various things.

I don’t know what it means. I don’t know where I am right now. I don’t know what’s going on inside my head. It’s such a dislocation of so many thoughts that—oh yeah, it can come out in a form of fucking somebody so that I feel some relief for two seconds or go into that gray zone of orgasm or whatever that place in the head is that some of us get addicted to. And the thing about orgasm, or the thing about that place—that place you disappear into for a fraction of a second—is that even if I were to surround myself with that for the rest of my life, it’d get boring within ten minutes.

But it’s not that. It’s like feeling the trappings of everything in society. It’s almost laughable it’s so absurd. But really on the bottom line, it’s wanting to experience some gesture of freedom that feels total. And even that doesn’t make any sense: As if I were in the middle of some barren landscape and something could lift me up and free me from gravity, turn gravity upside down, like a two-year-old in his bedroom looking at the ceiling, lying on his back and imagining the ceiling is the floor and that he’s walking around. Something that looks totally free of furniture, totally free of gravity. Maybe the only thing that would give me what I need right now is to be free of gravity and to float or sleep in that state, or to lie down in the air rather than on the floor, on the bed, or in the chair. Lie down in atmosphere. Lie down and stretch. And lie down and sleep.

Maybe something like a dozen hands moving slowly over your body—a dozen hands that touch you with something like warmth or comfort; a dozen hands not being attached to personalities but rather some sort of intention. And even that starts getting pale, and even that starts getting weak. If I could take a shotgun to my—to my bed: If I could take a shotgun and blow it in half or blow a big hole in it, that starts approximating something of what I’m feeling. If I could take a shotgun and blow holes through every window in the house and sit down afterward and laugh, maybe that approximates what I’m feeling. If I could bust every stick of furniture in this room—if I could shake the walls until they fell outward and the roof just disappeared. If I could pick up these streets in my hands and bend them into different shapes. If I could take automobiles like a toy set and toss them over the bridges into the river. If I could break all the lights in the city. If I could switch everything on and off with a single switch. If I could switch all the lights in the city on and off, if I could switch all the movement on and off, if I could switch something about my life inside out. If I can knock down the existing world like a set of dominoes.

Is it something about power? I don’t think so. I don’t care to have the power to affect all those things. I somehow just need the power to affect something inside me: turn something inside out, look at it, examine it, lick it, throw it against the wall, pick it up, put it back in. None of this makes sense, but it makes all the sense in the world to me inside my head, in some foreign place that rejects the sound of language, rejects the form of words. And maybe again it’s just a simple thing called panic, and maybe again it’s just a simple thing called fear.

May 1989

THERE’S THIS REALLY HORRIBLE FUCKING RAINSTORM. I feel just blinded by it. I had to pull over to the side of the road a couple of times—somewhere up in the mountains in Tennessee. I have to keep the windows closed because it’s raining so hard, but then the inside of the car fogs up, lit up with these huge slashes of bright light. But it’s kind of beautiful, all the headlights of the other cars coming from the opposite direction, big trucks. Sometimes the sky will flash and it will stay lit for a few seconds.

The sound of the wind and the sound of the rain.

That was wild. A big fucking slash of light. I think we had to have gone through the worst part of it because now the sky—it seems like it’s a few hours earlier. It’s eight-thirty in the evening. There’s some light in the sky over to the left. There’s a rest stop coming up, if I can make it to that.

Fucking asshole car blocked off my exit. I think the worst is behind us.

Everything’s really quite beautiful. That was a very intense storm. It’s looking real clear now—still raining.

Now I’m hitting a point in the mountains where it looks like it’s five in the evening, or five in the late afternoon, and I just came out of what’s been like eleven-thirty at night. I can’t believe it was the rain that did all that. Still lightning. Some jack-off in a car just overtook me and is now riding right in front of me. I mean, I could spit on him he’s so close. He’s just showering my windshield with water. Dickhead.

Sometimes I wonder if I want to die or not. I mean, if I wasn’t faced with this virus, how much would I want to live? And I remember Peter [Hujar] was always having those feelings. But I know that I want to live. At the moment, the road is reflecting this bright part of the sky that’s up ahead, and all the trees have receded into this thick dark green bordering both sides of the road. And there’s a gray cloud right at the end of the road and above that some strips of white pulling through the sky, and then there’s this blue, a really beautiful cobalt, very light with a lot of gray in it, and then above that more dark clouds in front of a strip of a bright-white cloud line. And then the gray heaven. And it’s really quite beautiful.

I hate giving words to things like this, moments like this, but I feel very much alive and happy that I’m here witnessing all this. And I’m amazed. I feel like I’ve cheated death this long. I’m just amazed that I’m still here. And I hope I’ll be here for years and years to come.

This is sometime in May 1989. Driving a car to California, somewhere between Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee.