Rita Natálio: Water Carriers and Spillovers
Re-reading “Lesbian peoples: material for a dictionary” (1976) by Monique Wittig & Sande Zeig.
Format: Haptical text
English Translation: Miguel Cardoso
Text: Rita Natálio
Collaboration: Alina Ruiz Folini
Photo: Rita Natálio. Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo’s Collection
Spillovers’ mesh: Astrida Neimamis, Etel Adan, Dionne Brand, Karrabing Film Collective, Kathryn Yusoff, Isabelle Stengers and Philippe Pignarre, Malcom Ferdinand, Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig, Valentina Desideri & Denise Ferreira da Silva, Ursula K. Le Guin.
WATER CARRIERS AND SPILLOVERS
In 2020, a book was found in a well. This well, as many other of life’s cavities, was contaminated by superficial practices of intensive monoculture. Its water, having turned unsanitary, had then dried up for quite a long time. It was inside this hole, then, dried up yet viscerally imprinted by the memory of water, that a translation of Lesbian peoples: material for a dictionary, written in 1976 by Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig 1 was found.
Back then, this book could have been read as a manual or a foundational text for a certain kind of religious cult or spiritual ritual. Much later we learned that it was a diary where the fleeting transformations of transcorporeal and elemental language were recorded, as well as an archive of practices which assembled and connected descriptions of objects, figures, problems and politico-affective strategies that the community of Spillovers (at that time simply called “lovers”, or “lesbian women”, plain and simple) had tried to implement in their lives in the face of the growing aggressions from turbo-capital and the modern science of separations. See, for example, the dictionary entry for Circulation, on page 31 of the English translation:
1 First published as “Brouillon pour un dic4onnaire des amantes”, Les Cahiers Rouges, 1976.
Physical process of intermingling two bodies. Given two bodies full of heat and electricity released from the skin through every pore, if these two bodies embrace, vibrate and begin to mix, there is a circulation and conduction reaction which causes each pore to reabsorb the energy that it had previously emitted in another form. This phenomenon, by the rapid transformation of heat and electricity into energy, produces an intense irradiation from those bodies which are practicing circulation. It is what the companion lovers mean when they say, “I circulate you,” or “you circulate me.” 2
In the book, one came to understand that lovers perceived themselves as membranes of sorts, seeking to relate to one another through their own ecology of connections and its limits. Yet, in 1976 many of us were only 2 years old or had just learned how to use a ring or a Y-shaped stick to locate water. And the problem was that we did not know whom we meant when we said “we”, as one of us said at the time. 3 The plural personal pronoun was a practice that merely allowed us not to disappear into other pronouns that overlooked our lives, even though we did not know exactly who we were. “Lesbians” or “women” were container-words that seemed inadequate, ill-suited. In 1976, we also knew very little about water-witching, hydrofeminism 4 or the flow of water through different scales, bodies and genders. To balance ourselves on 2 legs was something we could do without a hitch, as was reading, though certain constraints of vision and verticality prevented us from touching the irradiation of energy in more complex ways. The search for water with a stick demanded an initiation, a special care, and the use of the antennae shared by the webs of lovers was a technology not (yet) easy to access.
2 Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig, “Lesbian Peoples: Material for a Disctionary”, Avon Books, 1979.
3 Adrienne Rich, “Notes towards a politics of location”, 1984. Available here:
4 Astrida Neimanis, “Hydrofeminism: Or on Becoming a Body of Water.” In Undutiful Daughters, edited by H. Gunkel, C. Nigianni, F. Söderbäck, 85-99. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Available here: academia.edu/1970757/Hydrofeminism_Or_On_Becoming_a_Body_of_Water
The glossary presented here proposes a continuity with Wittig and Zeig’s clairvoyance, by elaborating further on the rings and fiction bags 5 that Spillovers must touch and weave in order to tangle the times and produce water. No need to fear getting wet. And much less feeling pain when drinking dirty water, or watching a water-tap blazing with methane gas released from fracking. All these dimensions, painful though they are, organize love among Spillovers. And although at times one can dispense with the centrality of the eyes and reading, images and conversations with indigenous film practices, radical poetry and counter-colonial philosophies are invoked here. They call for simple enough things: that, in the beginning, worlds were created and lived through these references, from Dionne Brand to the Karrabing Film Collective, from Astrida Neimanis to Ursula K. Le Guin. This is the necessary and anti-heroic gesture of 2020: to forget and to cut off all communication with the anthropocenic elites, all the while carrying water for those in need. As a Zen proverb says: “Before enlightenment (…) carry water. After enlightenment (…) carry water”.
5 Ursula K. Le Guin
To be a lover means, always, to be a Spillover. The spill-over effect, which leads to the spillage of liquids and intentions, is the primary condition for the multi-species and intersex amorous cooperation, whether these liquids are genital, lacrimal or jet-pumped from less obvious parts of the body, such as the elbows or feet. Water is produced at the encounter of 2 or more entities and, if properly placed in bags, it can mutate into the condition of amniotic fluid, which has strong amnesic properties, and can gestate other entities. It is not common for amniotic fluid to be ingested, except when a Spillover is buried under dry soil, a practice that aims to generate water in periods of severe shortage or contamination. Spillovers are all those who, in a life without protagonists, wish to overflow, to spill over and out of themselves, and thus cross the soft borders between peoples, territories and landscapes.
Bags are Spillover technologies with a multitude of functions. Bags can generate and carry babies and can be swapped from body to body regardless of gender. Bags can carry water. Bags can carry amniotic fluid and they can also carry ideas or stories. They are self-healing and biodegradable and yet there is a limit to their use, they are not disposable. Bags do not simply generate human babies, they may also create vegetable or mineral kinship and that’s why one sometimes says that a baby plant or a baby rock was born. Bags also serve as a strategy of resistance in the case of severe groundwater contamination (as shown in the film “Mermaids or Aiden in the Wonderland”, by the Karrabing Film Collective from 2018. In emergency situations, they can break through hard borders such as those that divide today’s nation states. They are tools for the migration or transmigration of bodies which have the temporary ability to deactivate passports.
It is said that a long time ago Spillovers experimented with carrying water, and then experimented with words, in the above-mentioned bags, thus supplying multi-species societies with unexpected and opaque bonds. Since then, whenever the water touches a word inside the bags the latter may split it into pieces: this happened, for example, with the words clitoris (clito-iris) and iridescent (iris-descent), instruments of emotional concentration and unfolding. Since then, when 1 or more Spillovers manage to carry a bag full of water into a territory ruled by monoculture, the Spillover’s iris swells up like a clitoris, thus generating a highly-hydrating golden shower followed by a multicoloured rainbow (an iridescent rain-bow) in the sky. This event provides an intense pleasure, but one cannot call it heroic, or confuse it with the male tendency to worship singular phallic figures. In fact, as Spillover K. Le Guin puts it, “…it’s clear that the Hero does not look well in this bag. He needs a stage, a pedestal or a pinnacle. You put him in a bag and he looks like a rabbit, like a potato” 6
When Lesbian peoples: material for a dictionary was found inside a hole, this page was marked and underlined, suggesting that part of the work carried out by Spillovers was intimately bound to the attention devoted to bodies and water, and to the development of a highly sophisticated, bodily, indeed embodied, internet.
Protocol for tuning antennae and becoming a Spillover
Spillovers use the antennae of the hands, the nape, the feet, the eyes, the tongue, the ankles, the clito-iris or the intestines to regenerate their membranes or something at a distance from them. They can thus collectively mobilize emotions, thoughts, relationships or experiences.
Here are some exercises for tuning these antennae, collected from empirical experiments:
RUBBING: Try rubbing your 2 hands together for 2 minutes. Then place each palm of the antenna-hands over the antenna-eyes without applying too much pressure. Allow the heat to travel through the width of your skull and thus hydrate the orifices and communicating ducts: eye sockets, forehead, nape of the neck, mouth, throat, chest. Sometimes the connection between the antennae and the heat’s hydrating motion allows us to visualize geometric patterns and colours.
PARTYING: Gather 3 or more Spillovers. Put on that favourite song you feel like dancing to. Dance wildly until you work up a sweat in all of the 2 million or so sudoriferous glands on your skin. Then use the sweat vapour to tune the antennae. This evaporated sweat will become a collective offering for times of drought.
TOUCHING: Lay down on the ground with 1 Spillover and rest the back of your neck on your partner’s stomach. Let go of all the weight of your head and allow it to sink into the other’s digestive and intestinal waters. Activate the antenna on the back of your neck while listening to the organs’ watery sounds. Innervate the antenna so it may tune in with, and ease your partner’s digestion and elimination of toxins.
Go out for a walk at a steady pace with 2 or more Spillovers. During the walk, activate the root-antennae on the soles of your feet. Feel how your blood flow is in sync with the sap of the plants on the edges of paths. Standing still, you can use your feet’s antennae to connect with the groundwater. Allow these waters to rise to your mouth in the form of saliva. Then kiss 1 or more Spillovers so this drool may continue to circulate.
It is said that rings are chains out of which Spillovers build their worlds. Rings are tools for visualizing times. In order to see and grasp different layers of time you need to touch them, since it is not an ocular technology, but a haptic process. Rings alchemically traverse the formation of bags described above. And it is said that the first Spillover’s ring materialised itself on the margin of a lagoon when, to drink some water, Spillover XYX had to bring their mouth down to ground level, so that the coccyx and anus pointed upwards. The problem with these open circular forms (already invoked by Wittig and Zeig) became even more complex then, because of how difficult it was (and is) to talk about them. As XYX’s mouth literally sucked on rings, XYX’s verbal expression was inescapably excluded from the usual patterns of understanding and ended up mutating into other language sources and codes, also scarcely consensual within the monocultural world. Thus, the visualisation of past, present and future times through ring fingers touch, became the only feasible chance of recreating language. Nowadays Spillovers’ amorous search involves practicing this ring’s touch with the aim of a radical overflowing – of water as well as of identitarian confinement. As the monocultural world tightens its manifold constricting belts of destruction, we face a race against time: to generate water and observe its current/course as a flow rather than a constricting chain. It is a war for the unfolding of times.
On this topic, read the comment by Spillovers Stengers and Pignarre on circles:
How people have bitched, expounded and sniggered about the womens’ groups in the 1970s who learned that it was sometimes necessary for them to meet together ‘without men’! They were called ‘witches’, and it was an insult, but in fact in their groups they accomplished the first gesture of witches, without first naming it as such: the casting of the circle, the creation of the protective space necessary to the practice of that which exposes, of what puts at risk in order to transform. 7
7 Isabelle Stengers and Philippe Pignarre, Capitalist Sorcery – Breaking the spell, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p 25.
Although it might be difficult to visualise, rings move autonomously and, when assembled, they form soft pliable tubes or a kind of belt that climbs, shifts and slithers. Belts can be worn in a vast number of ways, always in contact with the body: around the waist, on the hand, on the head as an ornament, or as a channel between different bodies. With these belts, Spillovers practice other ways of surrounding, enclosing and even ringing lovers. They face certain phenomena of scarcity and toxicity (of water, light or soil) in the course of what has recently been called the Anthropocene, as oracles of an ever more tangible care for their haptic tenderness. In the Spillovers’ oral histories, entities and deities appear carrying or exhibiting bright belts, with fitted stones or twigs. They mediate between this world and that of the non-living, and give access to opaque and sensitive codes that can rarely be shared except in the form of erotic practices. Thus, belts are living, elastic entities. In fact, they need to shed their skin on a regular basis, as snakes and other kinds of crawling animals do. It is said that these skins can be used to create the skin of bags and may perhaps serve to bind or repair them, once the waters break as someone is being born. To wear a soft belt or a snake around the waist is a way of celebrating the peristaltic movement that binds Spillovers together.
7 CHASTITY BELTS
Throughout history, there have been other types of restraining, hard metal belts, sometimes with padlocks in front of the sexual organs. We invoke them here so they can be forgotten. It is said they are negative belts, as their function is to annihilate or separate the parts they cover. You’d be mistaken to think that they are simply used for the purpose of sexual abnegation. In fact, hard belts for cerebral and ethical chastity can also block the circulation of energy, unevenly distributing weight across artificially divided entities. However, we do not have to spend too much time on this question, as the memory of these stories is widely documented in dictionaries and popular iconographies. But it is worth recalling that all over the world, at any given time, soft belts and hard belts can be rubbed against each other: and the bells toll for them. Hard borders are exposed to soft borders and migration is the only possible resistance to compartmentalisation. Thus, in view of the countless sanitary and political circles and sieges formed along the whole uneven surface of the Extractive Planet, since at least 1492, it has become evident that the poly-vibration of Spillovers’ amorous aquatic practices generates discharges and secretions that enable the crossing of, and resistance to colonial violence and difference-phobic violence.
8 CONTAINERS: CHALICES OR CONES
In the jargon of overflow, it is said that Spillovers’ bodies can be “containers” – chalices or cones – when placed in an inverted V position. To do so, the head has to be buried in the earth, as well as the torso, and the two legs left out, opening wide on to the sky, radiating energy. The energetic profusion generated by these two legs, stretched out and upward like antennae, has the capacity to sense aqueous magnetic fields, fields that were previously imperceptible. This process may generate extraordinary volumes of water. But there is also the possibility of decontaminating the water by crossing and uncrossing the legs in a scissor-like fashion, thus opening and closing the anal and vaginal holes so that liquids are pumped in and out in a process that we may describe here as cleaning and fermentation. This process is similar to the production of Chicha, a beer fermented by the saliva of indigenous women since time immemorial. Thus, if someone says “There is no water left!”, 1 Spillover immediately adopts an inverted stance. The aim is to draw water from the earth, but also from themselves, because it is known that water is not to be found “in one single” place. It is also known that polluting discharges contaminate all the rivers of the earth and all the bodies’ rivers, and that only by expanding these relations can one can take proper care of them.
Once you recall the connection, the crisis is no longer a crisis. 8(Spillovers Desideri e Ferreira da Silva).
This mantra reminds Spillovers that there is an ethic of connection and of its limits. It helps Spillovers to face problems brought about by hegemonic practices of separation.
8 Denise Ferreira da Silva and Valentina Desideri, “A conversation between Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreira da Silva”.
Small memories drift away. The brain – soft bag – collapses on itself. Stripped speech patterns float in the soul’s canyons where things are perennial. 9(Spillover Etel Adan)
It is known that the radical practice of the chalice-body generates and slides into oblivion of the conditions which bind a body to a subject. It is said that this oblivion can be associated with a more collective process of losing track of the free forms of trans-embodying water or generating life. This was the case with the memory of an ancestral tail that many Spillovers remember to have forgotten. Spillovers cannot remember exactly what this tail was like, where it hung from (whether at the front or at the back of the body) or what it was used for. In fact, some Icaros (songs) mention that walking backwards was much easier, or that front and back blended together, since the tail could be the memory of a third or fourth leg lost in the division of Vitruvian bodies. One of the things that gives Spillovers great pleasure is to play at trying to reproduce those times through postures that recall the prior-lived (meaning the past) through the projection of a future fit (meaning the ancestral future).
9 Etel Adan, “Sea and Fog”, Nightboart Books, Collicoon: New York, 2012, p 4.
Protocol Tale of a Tail
The Tale of a Tail is a game involving 2 or more Spillovers that consists of recalling the lost tail, a set of articulated – or perhaps vibrational – rings at the bottom of the back, which can activate certain expansions between anus and rings. Some paired positions involve joining anus with anus, while the body is in a fetal position, or crossing the toes as a prayer and wireless connection with the universe. It is said that the tail can then materialise, followed by the memory of the pain of having been torn off and exterminated down the centuries. In this game, the axis of the body is literally reconfigured around new centres and alliances. That’s why most Spillovers find it graceful to be a water-carrier in extreme burial conditions, conditions that for many others would be unbearable. To cut off communication with the hetero-cis-patriarchal elites through oblivion is an act of Spillovers’ love-making with the earth.
11 ENERGY CLUSTERS
Root, iris, stone, nipple, clitoris are articulated clusters of energy that serve to suck-nurture food and spirit. They are radiant centres on the border-embrace between previously disconnected worlds. They allow one to decipher the whereabouts of love’s soft belts, alleviating the weight of nature or the endless litany on debts and divisions.
Earth-writing is the name commonly given to a form of communication through chalice-bodies buried in the earth. As the process of forgetting is, as we’ve seen, cumulative and multiple, bodies gradually forget about themselves but also let go of more manual modalities of writing – such as drawing letters or typing. In view of this process, some will be aware that this little glossary could only have been made prior to a radical evolution of these practices. Spillovers, in the process of becoming-chalices, become progressively lethargic, drinking considerable amounts of amniotic fluid, which has powerful amnesic properties. Meanwhile, they will have also forgotten the use of bags and will tend to believe that the production cycle of one single life will occur but once, meaning with no place for re-production.
It is said that reading “dries up the body” and therefore it should be performed as a form of vaporisation. Only Spillovers whose hands are free (therefore, those who don’t live buried in the earth) can read. The drool vapours that comes out of the mouth of a “hands-free splillover” can leak into a wet jumper or a towel, and its liquid then squeezed into a cup, which gathers the contents of a book in the form of an energy cluster. A lot of effort has been put into this book-reduction processes, so that one goes from books to an amplification of connective hooks.
Protocol to vaporise a book (e.g. this glossary):
Read aloud. Some Spillovers try to read with their hands. Others try to connect books with their body and allow the paper (which used to be made of wood) to concentrate heat on their skin. They claim this is a way to incorporate reading, since they have forgotten how to trust it. Gradually, they are able to “sing”, breathing fast and producing a concentration of energy and heat, which turns letters into sounds, words into vapour, and vapour into mantras. The more they sing, the more vapour and heat they produce. And the more moisture they exude as they sing, the more the book they are reading vanishes.
POST SCRIPTUM: MANY WORDS FOR WATER
The fluid body is not specific to woman, but watery embodiment is still a feminist question; thinking as a watery body has the potential to bathe new feminist concepts and(Spillover Astrida Neimanis, 2012)
practices into existence. What if a reorientation of our lived embodiment as watery could move us, for example, beyond the longstanding debate among feminisms whereby commonality (connection, identification) and difference (alterity, unknowability) are posited as an either/or proposition?” 10
…so-called “natural” disasters are above all the result of certain ways of inhabiting the earth, of social constructions, of economic models, of political choices that increase inequalities and exacerbate power relations. These inequalities are to be found both in the causes and in the effects of cyclones.(Spillover Malcom Ferdinand, 2019)
To understand the political meaning of storms, one needs to jump aboard the ship. 11
besides the earth’s own(Spillover Dionne Brand, 2006)
coiled velocities, its meteoric elegance,
and the year still not ended,
I have nothing soothing to tell you,
that’s not my job,
my job is to revise and revise this bristling list,
NOTE: This glossary is a work-in-progress initiated in the Working Encounters project, 2020. A final version will be developed in 202
10 Astrida Neimanis, “Hydrofeminism: Or on Becoming a Body of Water.” In Undutiful Daughters, edited by H. Gunkel, C. Nigianni, F. Söderbäck, 85-99. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p 102.
11 These excerpts were translated by Miguel Cardoso. Malcom Ferdinand, Une écologie décoloniale, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2019, pages 114 and 117.
12 Dionne Brand, Inventory, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006, p 100.