On Superspreading

Here’s me landing on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1492, detail from a 1592 engraving by Theodore de Bry

An ongoing series in which the great colonialists justify themselves

Back in the day, I was a superspreader. But not like you know it now. I fucking spread civilisation. And the word of God! (The two go de la mano.) To the New World. Which I invented. Before me, we all lived in the old world. Which was rather sad and narrow, lacking in imagination. Trust me, you didn’t want to be there. I fucking didn’t. But let’s not talk about that. The point is that I stand for progress. New worlds, not old ones. Things you can invent, not things you have to accept. Like I said, I was doing the work of God. And what is the work of God? Creation.

The funny thing is that now no one seems to know what I was talking about when I said I discovered San Salvador. You all celebrate it in your ‘history’ books but can’t place it on a map. You don’t even know if it was a string of islands or a single island (even though, in 1925, you did decide that it was a single island, and named it San Salvador, as if you had discovered it, when in fact I had, and in any case now your ‘experts’ are not sure that was really the real San Salvador, which means that a lot of academics can still have careers, so somehow I’m supporting them too, from beyond the grave – parásitos); all you really know now is that it was somewhere in the Bahamas. Fuck! I was very clear in the description I gave in my diary: muchas aguas y una laguna en medio muy grande. (OK, so I gave the Diario documenting my first voyage west to discover the east to Queen Isabella – she’s the one who paid for my exploring – when I got back west by travelling east. She fucking lost it – perra – then she had a problem with my so-called ‘enslavement’ of the natives. But we’ll get to that later (as we went along there weren’t that many to enslave anyway). The Diario you have now was written during the 1540s by a monk who was a friend of the family but who probably made a few things up given the lack of an original, except that bit which I just repeated to you, which is from my lost original, which I know because I wrote it and you know because the monk told you that bit was from the original. But, fuck, how difficult can it be? I mean, the whole reason that I did the difficult bit of finding and inventing the place was so that you people would be saved all that bother of having to do it yourselves. I’m a problem solver; you’re problem makers! My exploring fucking killed me; you’re killing my exploring.

But I suppose that’s geography for you. Always invented. Mainly by people with imagination like me. San Salvador is in Asia, as I maintained to my dying day. I was following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, not some fucking Viking peasants in a rowing boat. You’re looking in the wrong fucking place!

But back to the enslaving: that’s all you people go on about nowadays. And the dismembering and killing. Back in ’92 you ruined the 500th anniversary of my having discovered America with that kind of talk. I mean, after you cut off a man’s ears and nose (for stealing corn, I might add), it’s not like you’re getting top-real when you sell him on. Just like it’s not like you can do a proper census of the natives, or Los Indios, as I decided they should be called. Who knows where they came from? And what’s in a number anyway (unless it’s a nautical mile)? You say there were between 600,000 and five million of them when I landed in 1492. WTF?! That’s a margin of error that makes the whole thing meaningless. When I told Isabella where I was going, I was precise: I told her that Asia was just a few thousand miles west of Europe. Oh, and here’s the rub: by 1548 Los Indios were down to around 500. That’s why I’m writing this column. You people say I was a superspreader, but you’re using it the way you do when talking about your own problems. Los Indios gave me parrots and cotton threads, you people say, and I gave them smallpox and influenza. And thus Guanahani became San Salvador. But hey, I’m still big with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I read an article on their website about how great I was and how Mormon predicted my coming… and Mormon was a fucking Indio. So there!

You forget that I invented globalism. I linked one hemisphere to the other, and now that most of you are stuck inside, you’re missing it, aren’t you? I’ve watched you with your biennials and your art fairs, your dim sums and your dashis, your ‘can’t miss’ art events. Blabbering about new territories, new art ‘destinations’ and the great ‘investments’ you’re picking up there as if you ‘discovered’ or ‘invented’ them. Mierda. You didn’t; I did. I invented the whole system!

The thing is this: you need old-world pathogens to start a new world. Otherwise it’s going to be their world, not your world. You know this better than I did: you consume to produce, you produce to consume; consuming is just what you do when you’re a consumer. Which you are. The thing you make sure of is that you don’t consume yourself. Assuming you have that choice. And choice is what you’re supposed to have in a consumer society. Although I see that you’ve had a few of your choices restricted now. Mi cadáver viajó más de lo que tú lo harás.

From the April 2020 issue of ArtReview 

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