Teaching A Dead Hand To Draw: Kim Jones, War, and Art (2007)1
Teaching A Dead Hand To Draw: Kim Jones, War, and Art (2007)1
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines Kim Jones's representation of the Vietnam War in his art, including Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw. Jones has had the temerity and exceptional force of temperament, personality, ingenuity, and originality to teach his hand to draw. Through that act, in all its aesthetic variety, he continually overcomes the grief and memories of experiences beyond comprehension that are the legacy of the Vietnam War. This chapter also considers the ways that Jones translated the language of war trauma into the languages of art by analyzing his other works such as Khaki Marine Shirt (2005), Rat Piece (1976), and Self Love (1986).
Basic training psychologically authorizes people to kill before combat even begins (figure 18). One Vietnam veteran remembered that his “drill sergeant forced the squad to crush kittens to death in their hands,” reported clinical psychologist Edward Tick in War and the Soul (2005). When this soldier was unable to do the act and broke down, “declaring that it was wrong,” he was “shamed until near breaking.” Then, he killed his kitten. He “cried over the kitten’s death,” but was later able “to kill people without remorse.”2 This soldier killed with a “dead hand”—a term that Kim Jones, also a Marine and Vietnam veteran, would later coin in another context.
Jones arrived at this association in an artist’s book/sculpture he made by hand, entitled Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw, begun in 1976 and not completed until 1995—an object to which I shall return in the conclusion. For now, I wish only to introduce Jones’s title as the pretext for pointing out that the hand that draws an image from the imagination (whether in pictorial, sculptural, or performative language) is also the hand that draws and fires a gun. Moreover, a “dead hand” is a corporeal instrument able to extend the psyche trained to kill into the act itself. The relationship between a dead and a live hand is the generative operation at work in how Kim Jones translated the language of war trauma into the languages of art.
Khaki Marine Shirt (2005) is a stunning demonstration of Jones’s decoding. This composite object is simultaneously a wearable shirt of Marine military issue and a drawing/sculpture. On the back of the shirt, Jones drew graphic symbols of troops and movements on a ground painted white. The drawing depicts the opposing forces of a battle in spare black graphic signs of Xs and dots, as well as rectangles for tanks and fortresses; lines for tank movement, combat, and containment; and directional forces in a “war that never ends … an X-man, dot-man war game.”3 As Jones explains:
They have no gender. They’re Xs and dots. They’re symbols. They’re erased to show movement. I’ll draw a tank, or I’ll draw an X, and erase it, then re-draw it in a different position. Or I’ll make a line of tanks that shows them moving
through their two-dimensional world. But when they’re killed they’re erased and that leaves a ghost image. So the erasing is a very important element of the war drawings. … The important thing is that it’s always changing.4
Jones augmented the drawing by adding a wood frame on the middle of the back, which is also overpainted in white with line drawings that continue the action. The frame is embedded in the shirt and projects from it, isolating a section of the larger drawing that appears overall to be a circular encampment. Framed as such in the middle of the back, this part of the drawing also doubles for and looks like a target, marking its wearer as the object of assault. In addition to its original function as a shirt, the framing device enables the shirt/drawing/sculpture to be converted into a tabletop/cover that stabilizes the object flatly on a surface where the drawing may be observed more closely, as if by those who would plan battle strategy. Thus does Khaki Marine Shirt serve multiple purposes, as do many military items carried into the theater of battle.
Photographed wearing this drawing/sculpture/tabletop object, with his head covered in pantyhose, Jones became a generic Marine with the burden of battle born on his back, targeted for death. Jones has noted that his war drawings are “like a diary—like a writer keeping a daily diary.”5 In this way, the very shirt on his back records a daily meditation on his inner life, his memories as a Marine, and his continued sense of self as a soldier. But the photograph also attests to the fact that it sits uneasily on his back, as the embedded frame distorts the shirt, forcing Jones’s body into an unnatural pose. Jones’s naked arms extend (p.178) awkwardly from the garment’s short sleeves, and his “dead hand” dangles, ready to do battle and draw the war of which it is a specter. Khaki Marine Shirt must be understood both as a work of art and a relic of the Vietnam War that has never ended for Jones, whose art must be considered the precise aesthetic expression of the Vietnam War for how his unique language of artistic forms simultaneously indexes and expresses its physical conditions and psychological toll.
The kitten story recounted above amplifies Jones’s Rat Piece, carried out in the Union Gallery at California State University, Los Angeles, on February 17, 1976. At the beginning of this event and in the company of viewers, Jones transformed himself into his persona that became known as Mudman. Disrobing and covering parts of his naked body in mud, he then pulled pantyhose over his head to cover his face and strapped onto his back a towering macabre sculptural apparatus made of (among other materials) twigs, foam rubber, and mud lashed together with electrical tape. Spotting a photographer taking pictures of his action in the gallery, Jones asked if any had been taken before he had donned the mask. When the answer came back negative, Jones is reported to have commented: “Good, because I don’t want my face in this.”6 As “performance is not acting” for Jones,7 his insistence on visual anonymity reinforced an aesthetic determination to draw the representation of a “mudman” such that actions undertaken as that icon would stand in for the experiences of others.8 Jones then read a text that referred to a range of emotions, which one viewer described as “feelings about his nakedness, the structure on his back, reactions to his performance and to himself as though the structure were part of his physical being, feeling like a mad thing caught in the wind, trying to escape and to identify his feelings.”9 Another witness remembered that the performance had “a theme of needing recognition.”10 Following his verbal commentary, Jones doused three rats confined in a cage with lighter fluid, and burned them alive.11 The rats screeched as they burned, and Jones bent down and screamed along with the tortured animals.12
In this tragic action, Jones pictured the viciousness of war and its haunting residue in his imagination, conduct, and very ability to endure senseless brutality. In his screams, Jones dislodged parts of the radical intrusion of the imprint of war and death on his psyche that is the legacy of trauma, defined succinctly as a normal response to extreme stress resulting in chronic anxiety. Jones also presented the public with a faceless apparition able to carry out such violence—violence as a means in itself, and violence as a force to conjure the mayhem of the Vietnam War. Mudman is he who came out of the mud and marched into a world that did not want to see what he had lived: flesh-burning napalm; relentless rain and monsoon-drenched red soil that rendered survival as tenuous as it eliminated difference and reduced soldiers to hulking fly-ridden (p.179) beings; labyrinthine tangles of jungles, hills, and mountains that hid unremitting threats of attack—the legacy of guerilla war; and the constant delivery of bodies to death in bloody, rotting corpses, burned and smelling of shrapnel and gun powder.
As much as Jones created a metaphoric representation of the lived conditions of Vietnam, he also reenacted an explicit behavior that he and other soldiers had performed in Dong Ha, where they were stationed. In his words:
vietnam dong ha marine corps our camp covered with rats they crawled over us at night they got in our food we catch them in cages and burn them to death I remember the smell
some enjoyed watching the terrified ball of flame run
vietnam dong ha marine corps feel sorry for one and let it go my comrades attack me verbally
vietnam dong ha marine corps guard duty it was my turn to sleep a duck was quacking bothered me threw a rock at the duck hit its head next morning it was staggering around crippled I couldn’t kill it a friend crushed its head with his boot13
As this remarkable narrative of war attests, Rat Piece revived actual events and presented metaphoric qualities of the extremes to which Jones and others had become accustomed in a situation of survival where sensitivity to crushing a duck’s head or to burning rats alive were themselves acts of mental and emotional survival in a context of uncontrollable threat.
Jones’ nakedness in Rat Piece, as well as his use of women’s pantyhose as a mask, also summoned the eroticism of both sex and death that hung over Vietnam, which, together with alcohol and drugs, momentarily tranquilized and sedated anxieties and tensions as much as it fed despair.14 Indeed, “acting out through rageful and violent expressions, including during sexual activity, often became a source of shame, guilt, and self-degradation years later [for Vietnam veterans], and a source of preoccupation with fear that one might once again become ‘evil’ or violent as one did during the war.”15 These aspects of Mudman return in Jones’ erotic drawings, which he reworked decade after decade, changing, updating, and redrawing, or repainting. In many of these works a composite surrealistic creature—half human, half beast—presides in a wide range of sexual activities and postures, simultaneously perpetrator and victim, predator and hunted. Male figures, split in half, appear in landscapes of sandbags; blood and demons issue from mouth to penis and anus; entrails double as bamboo. Such drawings often picture a gigantic phallus: vehicle of orgasm, signifier of pleasure, and object of threat in the larger landscape of Thanatos, where the primitive impulses for destruction, decay, and death, or what Sigmund Freud theorized as the “death wish,” coexist with the life instinct. (The French refer to this death within the Eros/Thanatos dyad as le petit mort, or the “small death” that occurs at orgasm.)
(p.180) Eros and Thanatos are even more explicitly rendered in Self Love, a drawing/painting/photograph from 1986. Nude, but wearing the “walking sculpture” of Rat Piece, Jones eradicated his own face and amplified his walking sculpture by drawing over the photograph with a graphic tangle of what appear to be hybrid organic forms that fuse entrails with roots. A kind of stump appears around his legs, over which Jones has penned phrases such as “self love” and “love of self.” This work recalls the narcissism that Freud identified in his study of World War I combat neuroses in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). Such self-love (narcissism), Freud argued, is a traumatic manifestation of “intense, unmanageable self-directed sexual energies,” or what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, reading Freud, called an “internal narcissistic conflict” that is leveled at the self in direct proportion to unexamined traumatic experiences that make up the life/death paradigm and symbolization of the self.16 Evidence of this complex interweaving of self and other is particularly heightened in Jones’s overdrawings of illustrations of pinup girls from “girlie” magazines. These drawings catch the partially naked women in a webbed labyrinth that resembles Jones’s walking sculpture.
In a telling comment made in 2005, Jones noted that his walking sculpture was also like a “skeleton outside my body.”17 The skeleton has been associated with the personification of death, but also with suffering and the reaper, who culls life unto death. The image of the skeleton equally signifies Chronos, who in Greek myth is included as one of the Orphic triad: Phanes (or Eros), Chaos, and Chronos (or Time). Together, the members of the triad emanate from unknowable worlds to create change and transformation.
Space does not permit deeper consideration of the significance of the ancient triad in Jones’ work, but this relationship is part of the structure through which Jones moved from Chaos through Eros over Time toward healing. The photographs of women’s bodies in his drawings appear to be metaphoric representations of Jones himself, sexual objects enclosed in his own exoskeleton: these are self-portraits, albeit projected, altered, and hybrid.18 What I have been describing is how Jones drew himself as the “mad thing” that he became in and after Vietnam, and which he described in his spoken/read narrative during Rat Piece. This is the naked man who is simultaneously soldier, Mudman, and skeleton, and who asks for recognition of nightmarish war experiences; for acknowledgment of the psychological torment of returning to a hostile nation after sacrificing his youth; for admission that veterans were forced to forfeit a burgeoning, once innocent, sexuality; and for acceptance as the social misfits veterans understood themselves to be in the wake of experiences that only other veterans could share.
Furthermore, in the drawing/photograph Self Love, Jones holds a small sculptural skeleton made of sticks and twigs: the figure also wears a walking sculpture on its back. Mimetic, but not a mirror image, the skeleton doll represents a lifeless yet differentiated double of the artist: a skeletal echo in which death is inextricably conjoined with life as a narcissistic extension of self and self-image. In turning his skeletal self inside out and wearing it on his back, (p.181) and in re-creating a skeleton to hold in his hands (itself wearing a skeleton on its back), Jones visualized interior emotions as multiple representations of psychic death in an agonizingly negative self-image that pictures the skeleton not twice but thrice. This visualization draws out as an image “the extreme fear and terror that many combat personnel have experienced, [which] almost never was disclosed during war duty,” and the self-condemnation for feeling fear, as well as fear “that others might be cruelly and brutally condemning of the emotional states produced by difficult situations.”19 The body’s skeletal frame doubles as icon of death and inner numbness, depicting Jones’s inner psychic structure as a vehicle for exhibiting his inner feelings.20 Displacing the skeletal frame and emotions onto an external source, Jones’s skeletal double echoed the self exhibited in the drawings, which was embellished to read as contaminated and overgrown, the site of exposed guts.
The walking sculpture-cum-skeleton might be said to function as a metaphorical Möbius strip, drawing a line from interior to exterior life, a line that connects as much as it depicts the continuity between inner and outer modes of dissociation.21 Jones’s post-traumatic stress disorder is especially vivid in terms of psychic death, numbing that reflects “internally directed rage and blame, … impacted grief, and profound fear—fear of ‘going crazy’ over a seeming inability to forget the immersion in death trauma.”22 To make the psychological complexity of these experiences more difficult, combat troops are trained in psychic numbing and denial, training that includes dehumanizing the enemy as a tactic for killing “it.” In the Vietnam War, such tactics were epitomized by “repeating the mantra, ‘Fuck it, it don’t mean nothing.’”23 Jones’s drawings especially visualize this separation of mind from experience: the traumatic discontinuity and rupture that is nevertheless part of an unremitting metonymic continuity that extends to, and is embodied in, his art.
Jones had already made the rat his moniker several years after returning from Vietnam, repeatedly revisiting this sentence in his writing: “vietnam dong ha marines its summer time 125 degrees heat sweat like pigs work like dogs live like rats red dust covered everything.”24 Such a description of living like rats summons the widespread negative cultural concept of the rat as a vicious, unclean, parasitic pest that steals food and spreads disease. This view of rats signals, in part, the legacy of the black rat that carried parasites on its back, vermin that in turn bore the Black Plague bacillus, causing the fourteenth-century Black Death, killing millions.25 Central to this image is the rat as the intermediary for the death of millions, a representation that recalls statistics of the Vietnam War in which US veterans were themselves made to be the medium through which nearly two million Vietnamese, two hundred thousand Cambodians, and one hundred thousand Laotians died. Adding to these overwhelming statistics, more than three million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians were wounded, (p.182) and some fourteen million people were displaced as refugees. At the same time, the veterans were also victims of the war machine that killed or maimed its own forces: more than 58,000 US soldiers died; nearly 304,000 were wounded; and some 33,000 were paralyzed. In addition, some 110,000 veterans died from unspecified “war-related” problems; 35,000 civilians were killed as noncombatants; and nearly 2,500 soldiers remain missing in action today.26 These statistics of great carnage remain unconsidered in the very psyche of the United States itself, which has still not come to terms with its role in the Vietnam War.27
While Jones materialized the underlying cultural psychosis related to the Vietnam War in Rat Piece, his book Rat Piece documents the cultural response to the work, systematically detailing the sequential unfolding of the performance, beginning with his own statement and moving to announcements by the gallery of his show, news articles about it, and responses by the art community (which never mention Vietnam or the fact that Jones was a veteran). The book also records the repercussions of Rat Piece in the legal system and how money changed hands, including fines for undertaking the action and fees to attorneys. Rat Piece shows how Jones was vilified as “sick”; how the police and the courts prosecuted him for cruelty to animals; how Frank Brown, who organized Jones’s performance at the Union Gallery, was fired by the university; and how some powerful voices in the art world found Jones’s performance “sensation-seeking rather than art” (the opinion of Marxist critic Max Kozloff, then executive editor of Artforum). Lacking insight into a quintessential representation of the Vietnam War by one of its veterans, Kozloff refused to publish images of Rat Piece, which he deemed “cruel theatricalism,” while paradoxically acknowledging the photographs of Jones’s performance as “quite arresting.”28 For his part, Robert Hughes, then art critic for Time Magazine, pointed out:
Nearly ten years ago on the first night of US—Peter Hall’s [sic]29 celebrated play about Vietnam—when members of the cast burned live butterflies on stage. At this point dozens of people rose to protest about cruelty to animals, before storming indignantly out to supper in restaurants where they ate the force-fed, diseased livers of geese and the flesh of large slaughtered mammals.30
Hughes, of course, was right about the hypocritical public response.
The book Rat Piece concludes with three documents. The first is a prayer to St. Jude that appears as a photocopy of a small prayer card from the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago. It beseeches the saint “of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of,” to pray for the supplicant.31 When one “send[s] … prayers and petitions to the National Shrine of St. Jude, they are incorporated into the Masses, prayers, and good works of the Claretians in Chicago, and [in the prayers of those] in more than sixty countries around the world.”32 St. Jude cured the leper. That Jones selected this saint for his book is evidence that he identified with the pariah, experiencing intense isolation and misunderstanding for his art and his participation in the Vietnam War.
The back of the page dedicated to St. Jude corroborated this identification (p.183) with the outcast. A letter from the dean of Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County, James G. Souden, written to Jones in 1972, explains that should the artist continue working on filming the death of a “white rat doused in lighter fluid and set afire” (a film Jones was making in 1972, nearly four years before performing Rat Piece and four years after being honorably discharged from Vietnam), the faculty council (to whom the letter was copied) would “not countenance this kind of action.” The dean closed with the suggestion that Jones might consider continuing his “graduate work at another institution.”33 Initially threatened with abandonment by the society he loyally served in Vietnam, Jones also was threatened with being forsaken by the very art institutions in which he sought succor. Four years before the diagnosis of PTSD, in 1980 no one could understand that Jones’s sacrificial act (burning of rats) in the name of art released anger and mourning in the name of war, discharging traumatic pain as a means to live.
The last entry in Rat Piece is titled “Kali-Yuga,” the name of the period in Hindu and Buddhist calendars characterized by the spiritual degeneration of civilization, or the “age of darkness.” It is also the Buddhist term for the current period, and worth citing in full:
- the date authoritatively recognized as the beginning of this
- kali yuga of ours is February 17, 3102 bc
- krita yuga ideal and perfect age 1,728,000 years
- treta yuga one quarter less virtuous 1,296,000 years
- dvapara yuga another quarter gone 864,000 years
- kali yuga our own age the worst 432,000 years
- the sum of all four is 4,320,000 the length of the great yuga
- at the end of that time the sun’s heat will supposedly ignite everything
- and a cosmic deluge dissolve all back into its source the cosmic sea
- RATS LIVE ON NO EVIL STAR
- A PALINDROME ON THE SIDE OF A BARN IN IRELAND.
Such a closure to Jones’s performance and book draws the work into a larger frame of guilt, confession, redemption, and forgiveness, as well as the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction that brings renewal even for the despised rat, part of the minutiae of matter that makes up the “cosmic sea” of stars. A palindrome is the linguistic equivalent of a no-win situation, wherein one remains within its defining perimeters between paradox and contradiction. That Jones has maintained this palindrome as a key representation of self/rat/Mudman/skeleton signifies the depth of his understanding of the social, political, cultural, and existential situation in which the negative and positive poles of rats and stars circulate as metaphors of good and evil, as well as of injustice and its opposite: the dispassionate principles of moral right in which fairness and truths about the real nature, causes, and circumstances of actions may be gained (or, in the case of Vietnam, never were).
While Jones never named Vietnam directly in the performance or book, he (p.184) nonetheless documented the hysteria by which the public displaced its metaphors as a way to avoid examining the impact and lasting effect of Vietnam on veterans of that war.34 Vietnam veterans were put in the position of the “double bind,” or the communication of contradictory messages. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson coined this term and used it to theorize such messages as a factor contributing to schizophrenia. Taking up the psychological and social ramifications of double bind in relation to the cultural expectations of the social contract in “said/meant” relationships, Kathy O’Dell has pointed out:
By 1970, it had become clear in the context of the Vietnam War that there was a growing discrepancy between what was fact and … represented as fact by individuals in positions of power. As people followed the war from home (on television or in the newspaper), they became aware that body counts were being inflated and that atrocities such as the Mỹ Lai massacre were common. The gap between “what was said” by those in power and “what was meant” grew wider and wider, [leading to] erosion of faith in the allegedly consensual relationship between the citizen and the state in the early 1970s.35
O’Dell further argued that as a result, some performance artists of the 1970s took suffering upon themselves. While O’Dell cited artists who did not fight in Vietnam, such as Chris Burden (to whom Jones dedicated his book Rat Piece) and Vito Acconci, her observations are doubly true for an actual veteran like Jones.
Jones must have been contemplating what he would do in Rat Piece when he performed Wilshire Boulevard Walk nearly two weeks earlier, on January 28, 1976. Walking from sunrise to sunset the length of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles while wearing the walking sculpture, Jones simply “walk[ed] in an out of” the lives of people he met on the street.36 Walking in his combat boots with his body smeared in mud, Jones appeared as a phantom of Vietnam, not unlike Ho Chi Minh, the great Vietnamese statesman and leader of Vietnam independence, who wrote “Endless Rains” in his Prison Diary while incarcerated in China by the British during the 1930s for his labor activities:
- Nine days of rain, of sunshine one day:
- Really the sky above has shown no feeling.
- Tattered shoes, muddy road, legs caked in clay!
- Still, tirelessly I must keep slogging.37
Jones and other veterans would not have been able to read Ho’s diary in the late 1960s in Vietnam.38 They were not told that Ho was the revolutionary who founded the Viet Minh independence movement in 1941 and established Communist control in northern Vietnam in the 1950s only after President Harry S. Truman refused to answer eight letters in 1945 from Ho requesting further assistance from the Central Intelligence Agency and the US government (which (p.185) had helped him resist Communist Chinese domination in Vietnam in the early 1940s). Jones would only have been taught that the president of North Vietnam (from 1955 until his death in 1969), along with his Viet Minh and Viet Cong soldiers, was to be vanquished as a “gook” or “slope,” the racist expressions brought to Vietnam by Korean War veterans and used to refer to anyone of Asian origin.39
It is not inconsequential that Jones performed Wilshire Boulevard Walk and Rat Piece ten years after he had volunteered in 1966 for military service when his draft status came up 1A. Only nine months before he performed these actions, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, and the last Marines were evacuated from the rooftop of the US embassy in that city. Six months after Jones performed these two works, North and South Vietnam united to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2. Ten years later, in 1986, Oliver Stone, himself a Vietnam veteran, brought out the film Platoon. Unlike Jones, whose courageous work was not understood, Platoon would be hailed for the very realism for which Jones was maligned—for “its feeling of verisimilitude for the discomfort, ants, heat, and mud—of the jungle and brush: the fatigue of the patrols, the boredom and sense of release of base camp, the terror of ambushes, and the chaos and cacophony of night firefights.”40
Kim Jones never killed anyone in Vietnam. Stationed just a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ),41 in Dong Ha, he delivered the mail. This job, which for some would have been a relief from direct combat, humiliated Jones, who descends from a long line of soldiers.42 The area where he was stationed witnessed some of the fiercest battles of the war: Quang Tri, Con Thien, Camlo, Camp Carroll, the Rockpile, and Hamburger Hill. Khe Sanh, where a bloody battle began on January 21, 1968, was only forty miles from Dong Ha.43 To make matters worse, Jones was shipped out of Vietnam on January 28, 1968, days before the infamous and deadly Tet Offensive began (on the night of January 30, 1968; it lasted until early June 1969). Dong Ha, Jones’s home base, was totally destroyed in April 1968. That Jones missed these battles is part of the burden Mudman carries on his back: a weight of skeletons, sorrow, anguish, unfocused fury, and guilt. When asked about his guilt, Jones responded that “probably, maybe” he did feel such emotions, and added:
But there was this other guy that I knew with 3rd battalion 4th Marines H & S company. I came over from Okinawa … with them, and they were right in the middle of Operation Hickory attacking these hills in Khe Sanh. There was a lieutenant who hated my guts and he took me aside and said, “I’d really like to send you out to Hill 881 South and 881 North44 but we are short on postal clerks. If I send you out and you get killed I’ll be in trouble.” But there was an office typist, and they sent him out; they had extra typists, they needed people. There were the black guys and Hispanics who were protesting. The black guys (p.186) were better organized and refused to go. Some of those battles were pretty fierce. So there is guilt about that—not being sent out to those places. It wasn’t something that I would volunteer for. I give a lot of credit to people who were really into it. I do think there is a certain kind of heroism in them. I have a lot of respect for those guys and I have a lot of respect for those who protested too.45
Jones strongly discourages romanticizing his experience in Vietnam, considering his service lowly when compared with the heroism of other Marines. But one cannot look at his art without seeing the scenes of carnage that have come to memorialize the violence and destruction represented by the war in Vietnam. For Jones was also sent on convoy missions while delivering mail to places near Dong Ha, eleven miles from the DMZ; Camp Carroll, a key Marine base to which Jones often refers, was near Khe Sanh. Moreover, as Jones recalled, “the base at Dong Ha was always getting hit by rockets and artillery; they [the National Liberation Front (NLF) and Vietcong (VC)] were all around us; you had to stand guard duty, go on the convoys, burn your shit.”46 But while Jones experienced some of the worst fighting in Vietnam, he realized that he was perceived as expendable because he was, in his words, “a fuck-up.”47 So when a shortage of mail occurred, Jones and other “non-essential” soldiers were sent straight to the DMZ to “stuff sandbags.” He explains that the soldiers “hung out … just waiting for them [NLF and VC] from December 1967 to January 1968—like speed bumps to slow them down.”48 Jones emphasizes that he and his fellow GIs were “not heroes, just people the military could spare and didn’t need.”49 Jones’ sentiment was shared by hundreds of thousands of veterans unwilling to assume the mantle of hero when they had been “scared to death; never a hero,” in the words of John Ketwig, another veteran.50
Upon his return to the United States, Jones immediately began to grow his hair long. He kept it like that for more than a decade, understanding what he had missed of the legendary Sixties while in Vietnam, not wishing to be identified with the vilified veterans by deeply engaging in art. But he finally cut his hair in 1981, and remembered that not long after that “I started making those Star sculptures in about 1984–1985 with black electrical tape and tree branches.”51 He made “hundreds and hundreds of them, but ended up throwing them away”—not before, however, giving his sculptures what he described as “a haircut.” “They all look like they have butch haircuts, like hippies going into the Marines,” he commented.52 Jones treated the Star sculptures as metonymically coextensive with himself, giving them a physical identity like that of a Marine, an identity that he would himself reassume in 1981 and keep until today. About his relation to the Marines, Jones has noted that it is “a very controlling organization” that he was relieved to get out of, though at the same time they could “be comforting because everything is more or less taken care of for you; you don’t have to make decisions.”53
The Stars appear again in other situations, among them two untitled installations, one at Lorence Monk Gallery in New York in 1990 and the other at P.S. 1 (p.187) Attic in New York, for the exhibition Out of Site 1990–1993. A photograph of the first installation shows the artist dressed as Mudman and wearing his walking sculpture. He kneels in front of a wall and windowsill, dripping with black mud, among numerous scattered Stars. For the P.S. 1 installation, Jones covered the floor of a stark white room with newspapers and then splattered the entire space—furniture, floor, and windowsills—with tar-like black mud, strewing the spiky spidery Stars (also besmirched with black) about the room. When I described this installation to Jones as a massacre scene, he responded that he found it “comfortable” and “familiar.” “It’s like the mother of the serial killer,” he explained. Asked if he was the serial killer, Jones answered, “I’m not; I’m just speaking about how my work looks; it’s scary … it is noisy in a certain way.”54
Jones’ mention of the “serial killer” suggests a relationship between the repetition compulsion of the serial killer to kill and the expectation and requirement of a soldier to kill in an environment bordering on bedlam. The word bedlam comes from the Bethlem Royal Hospital of London, the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital (variously known as St. Mary of Bethlehem, Bethlem Hospital, Bethlehem Hospital, and Bedlam). Long associated with the uproar and confusion of the lunatic asylum, war similarly is a situation of madness and chaos. This is the muddy embattled world in which the Stars are “comfortable.” Indeed, many of Jones’s untitled war drawings, especially of battles like those in Khaki Marine Shirt or Puffy Jacket (2005), exhibit grounds filled to overflowing, a situation referred to in art historical terms as horror vacui:fear of empty space. Such overexcited cramped fields are often related to drawings and paintings associated with “outsider” art or the art of schizophrenics.55 When I pointed this out to Jones, he responded that his war drawings began in the 1950s as a teenage boy’s game that he kept private for decades. When asked why he secreted them away, and if he was ashamed of his game, Jones answered:
Maybe—it was a little too strange. At that time it didn’t seem like artists did things like that. … Maybe it was too personal, too close to like the inside of my brain.56
Then, in response to the suggestion that his drawings resemble horror vacui, best experienced in schizophrenic’s drawings, Jones recalled his surprise when he had first learned of the works of artist Mirit Cohen:
She committed suicide around 1990 by jumping off a building; she bought a bunch of roses and jumped off a building. She was Israeli and did these drawings that fill up all kinds of space. Her drawings are very horror vacui like Paul Klee and they fill the space. I saw them and thought, “Holy shit! There is someone doing work like mine.”57
While Jones acknowledges the visual similarity between his work and that of a troubled artist like Cohen, who could not endure her demons, or the schizophrenic, (p.188) who translates messages from unknown sources into the visual world of the psyche, Jones’s war drawings are of a completely different order.
Jones replays, restages, rethinks, and rearranges the site of his traumatic experiences, gaining control and mastery over that which eluded him in Vietnam. When I asked if the drawings were a response to the many wars that followed Vietnam, Jones replied, “No, and they are not about Vietnam.”58 Nevertheless, in this regard, combat maps of Vietnam military campaigns that bear an odd resemblance to those made by Jones are available for purchase over the Internet. They include topographical and tactical maps, diagramming battles in which “one grid square equals one kilometer.”59 While Jones is aware of such maps, he never used them:
People often think the War Drawings look like some place—i.e., Los Angeles, London, Paris, etc.—but they are all places in my head. They look like maps but they are maps that are constantly changing. To me they are alive. I DON’T DENY that they are also drawings, and that the shapes in them come from various art historical references.60
What the Internet site demonstrates is how consumed the public in general remains with the Vietnam War in particular, constantly replaying its battles, which remain as “alive” for them as they do for Jones.
Returning to the Stars that Jones scattered about in the P.S. 1 installation, he commented further:
They are watching you and it’s their world, and you are allowed to walk through it. It feels like if you ever turn your back on it, it moves. Rats are real survivors.61
Rats are opportunistic survivors, existing with and in close proximity to humans. In this regard, survivors of traumatic experience lead lives akin to that of a rat, to say nothing of one who pictures himself as a rat, as Jones does (he once wrote, “I need to live with rats”).62 The traumatized understand themselves to be close to, but not really a part of, everyday human intercourse. This is precisely how Jones experienced himself upon his return from Vietnam, feeling more comfortable with those on the margins of society: the homeless, the addicts, the street people.63 To be sure, Raymond Monsour Scurfield, a specialist in war trauma, has observed: “Vietnam veterans, especially in the several years immediately following their service in Vietnam, denied and avoided directly talking about their war experiences with most everyone, [as they were] embarrassed, fearful, ashamed, enraged, or ignorant of the link between postwar problems and the war itself; many men and women withdrew and became psychologically isolated.”64
Being an artist, Jones creatively addressed his isolation by assuming the identity and behavior of the rat, at the same time communing with and drawing out the hidden underbelly of war and society in actions, sculptures, drawings, and installations. As early as 1973, he began showing work on the street:
(p.189) There was no place to show work at that time. It was a comfortable thing to do. I started out in Venice where I knew people and it was comfortable going out on the street and showing my art. It started out with the foam rubber room installation in 1973–74, [in a place] on the boardwalk in Venice that I took over [for] about $25 a month rent. … I covered the space with sand and foam rubber. In April of ’74, I made another foam rubber room. … It was very comforting. I did several pieces when I was in there. It was like a nest or a cave. There was this one older homeless woman who moved in when I left for a week. She had her bags and stuff. It was easy to walk in. I told her to get out and she sort of grumbled and got out.65
Asked about the significance of the foam-rubber room, which in photographs appears claustrophobic and manic, Jones replied:
It was a social piece for me—a way of meeting people like David Hammons [who] loves to go out after 12:00 midnight and he feels comfortable. That’s the same way I felt in Venice at that time. It was a way of making my sculpture without having to deal with someone telling me what to do, like a gallery or museum. There is a kind of a freedom in doing that.66
In addition to hanging out on the streets late at night and in the early mornings, Jones developed the character Spit, about whom he wrote in a self-published text titled Spit (1981).67 This surrealistic tale narrates an encounter with a street person who compulsively spits—at people, places, and things. Spit is simultaneously someone else (an actual person that Jones observed on the street) and Jones himself. The spitting reflex appears to be a reaction to the state of the world, self, and cosmos in general, as Spit expectorates even at stones. Each page of the story is surrounded by drawings that resemble Jones’s walking sculptures. The drawings meander, taking the form of soft entrails and bony structures as well as rootlike hybrids similar to those Jones drew on his photograph in Self Love. In Spit, however, these forms morph into crosses, telephone poles, ducks (a duck is killed in the story), trees (transformed into “upside-down nude women with their legs spread apart”), and both rigid and limp phalluses.68 The strange tale describes a violent journey with Spit that ends in an eerie account of an operation (one Jones actually did undergo around the time he wrote the piece) that—like Spit—has been altered to fit an hallucinogenic nightmare-like chronicle.
This story is, like so much of Jones’s art, a testimony to the artist’s unparalleled ability to draw art from traumatic experience using a variety of media. Another important text that deserves more attention than I can give here is A Life of Secrets (1994), in which Jones narrates a powerful dream/history of US Marine recruit training in San Diego, where he sees a novitiate nearly drown during an exercise in which the men are required to “leap, boots first, into the 12-foot-deep (p.190) pool. … slip off boots and float to the top.”69 The recruit “sinks to the bottom,” is pulled out, and lies “like a wet sack of laundry” before “two hands push down on his chest,” causing water to squirt “from his mouth like an uncorked champagne bottle.” This introduction to drowning in basic training is immediately followed by a description of the “rainy season in Vietnam,” which transforms the environment into a kind of “moonscape” near the DMZ. “Damp heat surrounds” the twenty-three year old Jones, who is “tired” as a result of rockets having fallen all night, but also “bored.” He spies a “baby rat sitting under a piece of cardboard” and rescues it, only to put it in a puddle and watch it “frantically” swim to the edge “keeping its head above water.” Jones continues his narration:
Finally the child-rat reaches dry land. It looks exhausted. I pick it up and place it in the middle of the pool of muddy water again. The rat sinks to the bottom and drowns.70
This tale of a tortured baby rat, irrationally sacrificed, is the dream of the veteran who has been shocked by basic training, shattered by war, and psychologically damaged by leaving comrades and by surviving, and who therefore feels comfortable in the context of the outcast and outsider, as well as in spaces of visual turmoil that recall the site of the original trauma, which he reenacts daily in both his conscious and unconscious mind. This is the profile of the traumatized survivor. It is a picture of the psychological pattern that prevails throughout the history of war in which veterans “cannot leave war’s expectations, values, and losses behind, [and for whom war] becomes the eternal present”—veterans for whom a “frozen war consciousness” (associated with PTSD) is comfortable.71
Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian lieutenant-general force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994, suffered similarly. Unable to use his force to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, despite his now-renowned heroic attempts to intervene without support from the United States or the world community, Dellaire has compellingly written about his subsequent PTSD, alcoholism, low self-esteem, and identification with the social outcast in his memoir Shake Hands with the Devil (2003).72 For such soldiers, the psychological pain of war never ends. Indeed, “of the 3.14 million Vietnam theater veterans who served in the war zone … between 1964 and 1975, it is estimated that 15.2% currently have complete PTSD, [and] an additional 11.2% currently have ‘partial PTSD,’ that is, one or more PTSD symptoms, but do not meet full diagnostic criteria.”73 These figures reflect “the most comprehensive and sophisticated psychiatric epidemiological survey ever conducted on veterans of any era of service in the United States,” and they show that “over one-fourth of the entire Vietnam veteran population have war-related problems some seventeen years since the last U.S. troops were evacuated from Vietnam.”74
What these studies further demonstrate is that before examining the histories of Vietnam veterans, “psychoanalytic theory did not consider either the environment or adult experiences to be central to personality development in the (p.191) life span. In terms of adult traumatic reactions, it was presumed that emotional distress would dissipate and hence that postwar psychological sequelae would be transitional in nature.”75 It should not, however, be surprising that many veterans of various wars, including the Vietnam War, “vigorously deny the validity of PTSD as a valid condition in order not to admit to themselves their own problems that may be at least partly war-related” and that they fear being the carrier of the “death taint which is aversive to others.”76 Moreover, environmental factors are central to trauma and to personality development throughout life, including long-term and potentially permanent neurological effects; traumatic reactions do not necessarily dissipate, nor are they transitional in nature; and the psychobiology of the individual is an important factor in whether one will be affected by traumatic stress.77 As Harry A. Wilmer, a Vietnam veteran, put it:
It seems to most of us that Vietnam was a long time ago, that it is past history. It is not. It still lives in the nightmares of combat veterans and the collective unconscious of us all. It is an illusion to declare that the Vietnam Syndrome is over. Denial never killed anything.78
Regardless of the fact that the memory of the Vietnam War could not be killed, “it was common for Americans … to confuse their feelings and perceptions about the Vietnam War with their feelings about the warriors who fought in it, [and] many ordinary citizens and veterans of earlier wars scapegoated Vietnam veterans,” calling them such pejoratives as “‘baby-killers,’ ‘losers,’ ‘crybabies,’ and ‘walking time bombs.’”79 To some degree, these are the terms in which Vietnam veterans’ emotional problems are still perceived, as witnessed by the character Lester Farley in Philip Roth’s book The Human Stain (2000). Roth described Farley as “a trained killer [who was] not supposed to come back.”80 Farley kills his former wife and her lover, and the book ends with the veteran sitting on an upturned bucket while ice fishing alone on a frozen lake in the middle of a vast landscape. It is an astonishing representation of the Vietnam survivor’s icy rage and frozen loneliness, of the person who feels more comfortable apart from others, and who—like Farley—describes himself as having already died in Vietnam: “I am a man who fucking died.”81
Jones typed the text for his artist’s book Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw on an old manual typewriter. Later, he cut up this text and collaged it onto pages that look burned and are heaped with layers of objects like twigs and sticks, giving it a heavy thick appearance, a visual look that is augmented by black tar–like paint that covers the book’s exterior and much of its interior decoration. Tiny repetitive grids of black decorate full pages, with a small bit of color in the center of each. Other patterns and abstract drawings fill many of the book’s few thick pages, over which the collaged bits of text articulate the narrative. The overwhelming (p.192) appearance of the book is one of a scorched remnant, Jones’s visual aid in teaching a dead hand to draw. For the title of his book, Jones borrowed from Joseph Beuys’s famous performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). While Beuys, a voluntary soldier in Hitler’s Luftwaffe, displaced his wartime experience onto the form of a dead animal (to whom he “described” his own drawings, images presumably descriptive of heinous wartime deeds), Jones incinerated his own animal persona, the rat, killing himself metaphorically in order to teach his own “dead hand” to draw—that is, to live.82
While dressed as Mudman in his walking sculpture and pantyhose mask, Jones performed the narrative of Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw in an action that was videotaped in his studio in 2001. The video is striking for how Mudman stands passively, numb before the camera. After a moment or two, a voice (presumably the cameraman off screen) instructs Jones to “reach over and pick up the book.” Jones then walks over, picks up Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw, and begins reading. The first sentence is the leitmotif of his art: “vietnam dong ha marines it’s summer time 125 degrees heat sweat like pigs work like dogs live like rats red dust covered everything.” The story continues, describing rockets, artillery, and mortar attacks on the Marines, who “jump in our rat holes” and “live in a constant state of tension and anger” without “hamburgers or ice cream.” Jones drones on without emotional affect: “They are playing a game, but what game is it?” At the end of the performance, Jones recites the dates on which he worked on the book: “1976, 1987, 1988, 1995.” Anyone familiar with the artist’s work will immediately recognize the text of Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw to be comprised of fragments culled from his statement at the beginning of his Rat Piece book. This, and Jones’s continuous working and reworking of the book Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw (like so many of his drawings and sculptures) attest to how his art cycles through and back to the key tropes of his life and art, decade after decade: killing, the killing of animals, being an animal, the brutality of killing and of being an animal—erotic and, paradoxically, numb.
In the video, Jones also shows other books that he has made and comments that “stories are hidden inside,” so that this book, the one holds, would have to be “destroyed” so that one can find the stories. Jones then describes as a kind of “skin” the cover of the very book that would have to be destroyed so that its secrets could be learned. Thinking about skin as an organ of communication, O’Dell has noted (following psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu) that skin
is the body’s only “external sense” that functions reflexively. Touching oneself, Anzieu writes, renders the sensation of “being a piece of skin that touches at the same time as being a piece of skin that is touched. … It is on the model of tactile reflexivity that the other sensory reflexivities (hearing oneself make sounds … looking at oneself in the mirror), and subsequently the reflexivity of thinking, are constructed.83
O’Dell further observed that the experience of “it’s me” is a “quality of the body [that] is particularly palpable” in some kinds of very intense artistic performances. (p.193) 84 Maurice Merleau-Ponty summoned thoughts similar to those of Anzieu in his notion of “coiling-over” in Le visible et l’invisible (1964).
Extrapolating the meaning of skin as a medium of self-reflexivity, of knowing oneself, it is possible to understand that, in part, Jones grasps the skin of his book as a metaphorical cover that stands in for the suppressed memories that bind his life in layers, and which, if known, threaten his destruction. This metaphor suggests that Jones fears that the knowledge of his stories (memories) would destroy him because the book (his body) is more than a metaphor—it is his skin, a surface connecting to him and to his life, which extends from the artist as a shadow to Vietnam: different, but the same.
This discourse on skin suggests that teaching his “dead hand” to draw represents a powerful encounter between Jones’s artistic identity and his soldier self: the artist grasps the core of his own being as at once dead and alive, and has the wisdom, courage, and self-respect to coach life back into the traumatized shell of the veteran. In this respect, Jones has endured to teach himself to survive through a wide variety of forms, none as poignant and powerful as “a dead hand.” This very act of endurance requires patience and fortitude, and recalls comments by Robert Jay Lifton:
Survivors can go one of two ways, or usually both ways: one is, having touched death, they can close down and remain numbed and really be incapacitated by what they’ve been through. Or they can confront, in some degree, what they have experienced and derive a certain amount of insight and even wisdom from it that informs their lives. I think that great achievements have occurred in relation to survival, including spiritual and religious moments. And so there’s another dimension of the survivor. … The general idea is that one can use a death encounter and re-create oneself in relation to it.85
Jones has had the temerity and exceptional force of temperament, personality, ingenuity, and originality to teach his hand to draw. Through that act, in all its aesthetic variety, he continually overcomes the grief and memories of experiences beyond comprehension that are the legacy of the Vietnam War, and of which Kim Jones is the consummate artist.
(1.) This text was first published in Mudman: The Odyssey of Kim Jones (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), 45–84. I would like to thank Kim Jones, for his honesty and the audacious beauty of his art; Sandra Firmin, for including my text in this important and worthy (p.405) project; Kathy O’Dell and Karen Gonzalez Rice, with whom I discussed this essay; and Julie Joyce and Jane Hyun, for their review of the text.
(2.) Edward Tick, War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, 2005), 86.
(3.) Kim Jones, Teaching a Dead Hand to Draw, video by David Schmidlapp and Steve Staso, 2001.
(4.) Kim Jones, quoted in Susan Swenson, “Conversation with Kim Jones: April 25, 2005. New York City,” in Kim Jones: War Paint (Brooklyn, NY: Perogi, 2005), 4.
(6.) William Hescox, quoted in “Preliminary Investigation Report by the Los Angeles Police Department for Cruelty to Animals Charge,” February 18, 1976, reprinted in Jones’s Rat Piece: Feb. 17, 1976 (New York: Kim Jones, 1990), 94. The self-published book was made possible by a grant to the artist by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
(7.) Jones, in a telephone conversation with the author, September 2, 2006. I also spoke with the artist by telephone on August 19, 2006. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from Jones come from these two phone conversations. Hereafter, I shall refer to both conversations simply as Jones/Stiles.
(8.) Jones would represent these “others” in more concrete form some twenty-five years later in Dressing Room (2003), for which he lined up a group of chairs and covered the back of each with a T-shirt printed with the kind of battle drawing as in Khaki Marine Shirt. The “chair-beings” appear to be in training, and they face a wall covered with more battle drawings.
(9.) Damian Sharp, untitled text (1976), reprinted in Jones, Rat Piece, 63.
(11.) Psychologist Larry Gonzalez reported that when he was an undergraduate at Louisiana State University in the early 1970s, a crowd of anti–Vietnam War protesters burned a rat alive. Gonzalez, in conversation with daughter Karen Gonzalez Rice, a graduate student and my advisee at Duke University, October 20, 2006. I do not know how common this kind of action was during the period, but it demonstrates that Jones’s performance was not an isolated incident.
(12.) Antecedents for the destruction of animals in art exist, from Hermann Nitsch and Raphael Montañez Ortiz in the 1960s to Tom Otterness’s Shot Dog Piece, in which Otterness adopted a dog and then filmed it being shot to death in the 1980s. While Joseph Beuys used dead hares in his work, he did not kill the animals in the making of his art. Antecedents for “walking sculpture” reside in assemblage and in sculptures worn by artists such as Lygia Clark, Franz Erhard Walther, and Franz West. All of these artists, among others, explored sculpture as something useful in the exploration of psychological relationships. In addition, Jones acknowledges Bruce Conner’s use of silk stockings as a precedent for his own art. This material, especially in a torn condition, evokes violence, decay, eroticism, and death.
(14.) For the role of sex in the Vietnam War, see psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, who worked for decades with Vietnam veterans, and his chapter devoted to this subject in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (New York: Scribner’s, 2002). (p.406)
(15.) Raymond Monsour Scurfield, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Vietnam Veterans,” in John P. Wilson and Beverley Raphael, eds., International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes (New York: Plenum Press, 1993), 191. This article summarizes the unprecedented study of trauma and Vietnam veterans in R. Kulka, W. Schlenger, J. Fairbank, R. Hough, B. K. Jordan, C. Marmar, and D. Weiss, National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NCCRS): Description, Current Status and Initial PTSD Prevalence Estimates (Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute, 1988).
(16.) Robert Jay Lifton, “From Hiroshima to the Nazi Doctors: The Evolution of Psychoformative Approaches to Understanding Traumatic Stress Syndromes,” in International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes, 14–15.
(17.) Jones in Swenson, “Conversation with Kim Jones,” 12. A skeleton can also be someone (or something) reduced to its minimal form, as well as a secret, something hidden, as in the expression “the skeleton in the closet.” But finally it is, in actuality, the internal support structure that gives a body or artifact its shape.
(18.) Shay writes in Odysseus in America about the common “hostility and habitual disrespect toward women of psychologically injured Vietnam combat veterans,” which brought home a “painful and destructive legacy … [of a] visceral sense that women are dangerous” (pp. 67–68). This hostility was initiated by the “context of prostitution,” brothels that provided “steam bath, massage, and ejaculation,” and the common experience of “rape and rape-murder” that contributed to “fear, anger, and violence … as the groundwork for postwar sexual life” (70).
(20.) Judith Lewis Herman has observed:
(21.) My understanding of Jones’s work as a kind of Möbius strip is indebted to discussions with the Romanian artist Lia Perjovschi, who described the “costumes” she made in 1989 (titled Maps of Impressions) as “Moebius strips, able to exhibit the continuity between my inner and outer worlds.” Perjovschi, in conversation with the author, October 8, 2006, Bucharest, Romania. Two artists—separated by gender, age, experience, and nationality, but whose work comes out of traumatic circumstances—compellingly created similar constructions, each without the benefit of knowledge of the other.
(24.) Jones, “Statement about ‘Rat Piece’,” in Reese Williams, ed., Unwinding the Vietnam War: From War into Peace (Seattle: Real Comet Press, 1987), 114.
(p.407) (25.) On rats and the Black Plague, see Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Plague and the World it Made (New York: Free Press, 2001).
(27.) In 1993, before the United States lifted the embargo against Vietnam, I had the opportunity with other scholars and teachers to visit Vietnam with several US Vietnam veterans. We went both to Hanoi and Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where we met Vietnamese combatants who had fought against the US soldiers. For the US veterans, this trip was a draining and highly emotional confrontation with the past, but their Vietnamese counterparts did not share such emotions. When asked why the Vietnamese soldiers did not have the same painful re-encounter, the answer was always the same: Vietnam as a nation recognized that it had won the war on national and moral grounds, and it had also collectively mourned, while the United States as a nation had never examined either its collective experience or the individual experiences of its veterans.
(29.) The play US was by Peter Brook, not Peter Hall, and was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1966.
(32.) See the “Pray to St. Jude” page on the National Shrine of St. Jude website: http://shrineofstjude.claretians.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ssj_share_pray&gclid=CMvPoaT7j4gCFQlTVAodwiPaOw.
(33.) James G. Souden, letter to Jones, May 5, 1972, published in Rat Piece, 118.
(34.) Among the list of experiences that are sources of rage for Vietnam veterans “peculiar to the Vietnam War and its aftermath back in the United States” are the following: (1) the nature of guerrilla warfare, in which there are hit-and-run ambush tactics, the involvement of all segments of the population, and the promotion of terror; (2) the view of the body count, rather than terrain objectives, as a measure of progress in the war; (3) the conflict between political and military decision-making; (4) the one-year tour of duty in a maximally stressful environment; (5) the veterans’ rejection and betrayal or nonresponse by society upon their return to the United States; (6) the absence of knowledgeable healthcare programs for war-related PTSD and other veteran-specific mental health concerns; (7) the absence of counseling programs for veterans and their families; (8) the abandonment of the Vietnamese people and armies to be overrun by Communist forces; (9) the difficulties in securing employment and educational opportunities after the war; and (10) the uncertainties of herbicidal exposure (e.g., Agent Orange), and the denial or minimization of any responsibility on the part of government and private industry. Scurfield, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” 291–92.
(35.) Kathy O’Dell, Contract with the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art and the 1970s (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 11.
(37.) Ho Chi Minh, Prison Diary, 5th Edition (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1972), 123.
(38.) When I visited the History Museum in Hanoi together with US Vietnam veterans in 1993, we were shown a bronze jar from the Dong Son civilization (seventh to second centuries BCE) in Vietnam. After being told that the bronze was nearly three thousand years old, one veteran turned to me and asked, “He means three hundred years old?” I responded that, no, the history of Vietnamese civilization was very ancient and very accomplished. The veteran broke into tears and stated: “They never told us.”
(p.408) (39.) The National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF or Viet Cong), together with North Vietnam’s People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), fought against South Vietnam’s Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the US military, and other ARVN-allied forces.
(40.) Albert Auster and Leonard Quart, How the War was Remembered: Hollywood and Vietnam (New York: Praeger, 1988), 132.
(41.) The DMZ was established after Vietnam ousted the French in 1954. It was to be the neutral area between the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (in North Vietnam), led by Ho, and South Vietnam, under the puppet regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, who in 1955 (with the encouragement of the United States) claimed to have won a referendum, declaring himself president of the Republic of Vietnam (in Saigon he had received a third more votes than there were registered voters).
(42.) As Robert Jay Lifton has noted,
(43.) Khe Sanh housed the strategic Marine Corps base located a few miles from the borders of North Vietnam and Laos. This Marine base was built in 1965, and was heavily fortified in late 1967 by General William Westmoreland. It was designed as a site from which to stage attacks on troop movements down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the US buildup, North Vietnamese forces also developed excellent defensive positions on nearby hills that were impervious to ground and tactical air attacks.
(44.) Hill fights were staged in the Khe Sanh area in April and May 1967 between US Marines and North Vietnamese troops on Hills 861, 881 North, and 881 South during the period of Jones’s tour of duty. The North Vietnamese launched these attacks in preparation for the Tet Offensive, strategically hoping that significant numbers of US troops would be drawn off into the countryside.
(47.) Jones explained that he was deemed a “fuck-up” for such actions as “getting really drunk.” He continued: “One night I drank a bottle of Jack Daniels. We gave this Vietnamese guy a K-bar [knife]. We were giving weapons to the enemy, but we didn’t care. I think we had several of them. I spent the whole night drinking with these guys and passed out and pissed in my pants, and went outside the door of the hooch to piss. I was so screwed up and I was supposed to go on a convoy, and I remember leaning on the back of a truck and I forgot my rifle and passed out on the way to Camp Carroll. That explains the ‘fuck-up.’” When I asked if most soldiers were like that, Jones replied: “Yeah, but it depends on the situation. I remember some guys saying that every time they heard that (p.409) there was information that Viet Cong were in one area they would go in the opposite direction.” Ibid.
(50.) John Ketwig, “… And a Hard Rain Fell,” in Unwinding the Vietnam War, 13.
(53.) Ibid. My emphasis.
(55.) Interesting parallels exist between Jones’s battle drawings and the drawings by Adolf Wolfli, the renowned schizophrenic artist identified with “outsider” art. See, for example, Edward M. Gomez, Adolf Wölfli: Master of his Universe (Saint Louis: Envision, 2003).
(57.) Ibid. Born in Uzbekistan (then part of the Soviet Union), Mirit Cohen (1945–90) spent her early years in displaced-person camps before immigrating to Israel. She moved to New York, where she did her most productive art in the mid-1970s before committing suicide in 1990.
(60.) Jones, e-mail to the author, November 2, 2006.
(62.) Jones, “Valley of Death,” in A Life of Secrets (New York: AC Project Room, 1994), 10. In this text, Jones wrote: “I’m alone in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s the month of May. I don’t belong here. I prepare myself for the journey back to the city of Los Angeles. I need to live with rats. I take a bottle of rat shit and blood out of my bag. This is a gift from another time. The shit and blood are mixed with mud and rubbed all over my body.”
(63.) Jones has never been interested in drugs or a regular user of them. Jones/Stiles.
(67.) Kim Jones, Spit, an illustrated story, edition of 200, published by the artist in 1981.
(72.) Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2003).
(77.) In Mary Crowley’s overview of “Psychobiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, A Decade of Progress,” psychiatrist Rachel Yehuda (director of the traumatic stress studies division at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center), noted that “PTSD research is ‘on the threshold of a paradigm shift.’ The condition is understood as not merely a response to an external event, but a response linked to a specific phenotype that has an inability to incorporate stress. Noting that most people do not develop PTSD in response to trauma, she describes this phenotype as an abnormal one in the sense of the difference between talking about how badly you felt in response (p.410) to some stressful event versus re-experiencing the event again and again. Identifying this phenotype provides opportunities for both prevention and treatment.” Yehuda, quoted in the New York Academy of Sciences’ Academy Briefings, posted February 24, 2006. This article also contains a very useful list of the various current studies on the psychobiology of traumatic response: http://www.nyas.org/Publications/Ebriefings/Detail.aspx?cid=b856385b-a328-40ea-924d-044db0ac8a84.
(78.) Harry A. Wilmer, “The Healing Nightmare: A Study of the War Dreams of Vietnam Combat Veterans,” in Unwinding the Vietnam War, 68.
(80.) Phillip Roth, The Human Stain (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 72.
(82.) I address this topic in my manuscript for a book entitled Props for the Memory: Joseph Beuys and the Legacy of Fascism.