Archives: January 2018

The Miscarriage

Dorothea Lasky’s new poem ‘The Miscarriage’, featured on Poets.org:

The doctor says it’s an empty room in there

And it is

A pale sack with no visitors
I have made it and surrounded it with my skin
To invite the baby in

But he did not enter
And dissolved himself into the sea so many moons ago

I wait to see
Will the giant bean be in there another day

The women of the world say
Work harder!

The men in the world say
Work harder!

I work and work but I am an empty sack
Until I bleed the food all over the floor

Then I am once again with everything
Until the gods say, you’ve done well, good sir
You may die now

And the people who were asking me for favors all along
Knock on the coffin door
But I am gone, gone

An Extract: River

Fitz Amazon River

An excerpt from Esther Kinsky’s River (tr. Iain Galbraith), published today:

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My flat was not far from Abney Park Cemetery. Had I leaned out of the bay window in my front room I would have been able to see the cemetery gate whose defiant grandeur stood out from everything else in the area, even from the cemetery behind it. On a walk some years earlier, I had taken a detour through the cemetery. It was springtime, and there were small clumps of yellow and white blooming daffodils everywhere. Although I had not been alone at the time and was given all kinds of explanations about the history of the graves, the cemetery had seemed like a deep forest to me, a dank and musty island, half-wild, drifting in the river of the city. At the time I should not have been surprised to stumble out through one of the two gates into a London that was wholly different from the one I had previously entered from. Now that I was so near to this forest full of graves, I rarely visited it. It was autumn. Poisonous flowers blossomed in the shade of the tall trees and brushwood; the leaves rustled after a dry summer, but had retained their tired green instead of turning yellow. The cemetery seemed like an incongruous counter to the wilderness beyond the river Lea, which lay in the opposite direction. The cemetery belonged to the city; it was a small outgrowth from it, not an island in a river. There was no surprise for me to look forward to on leaving the gate at the other end of the cemetery; in fact, that way led towards my old London life, whose familiarity I wished to slough off. I confined myself to short tours between the graves, trees, flowers and undergrowth. I avoided little groups of drug dealers and their customers, and the dreamy visitors sitting on graves in the few patches of sunlight.

One day, in the middle of the cemetery, I came across a young girl and her boyfriend in a clearing. She had a pale, drained face, and was looking up with a timid, rapt expression at her companion, a large black man sitting very upright on a tree trunk or gravestone. He was staring into the bushes, but his gaze was so earnest and lofty that he seemed to be looking over the tops of the trees, into some uncharted yonder. The girl reminded me of a sepulchral angel, its face worn by wind and weather; her skin was like porous stone, and her features had a certain flatness, as if they had been sandpapered to erase severity. But she had lovely long red hair, and I secretly called her Sonja because she reminded me of a character in Chekhov. A few days later I saw Sonja in the cemetery by herself; she was sitting in a different part of the clearing, where she had set up a pinhole camera to take a picture. I asked her about the camera, which she had balanced with some difficulty on a tree trunk, and she explained its simple construction. On windless days the pictures can look like delicate sketches, she said. And sometimes they show angels.

Sonja was a firm believer in the pinhole camera. She showed me all kinds of wondrous phenomena made possible by the device: the reproduction of images; bringing to light the invisible. She went on to explain how leaves also acted as a kind of pinhole camera; the spots of light observable under foliage on a sunny day were countless tiny suns. Countless tiny suns, she repeated. It was a chilly, whitish-grey day, and I thought of the three suns seen by members of an expedition to the ice-wastes of the North Pole four centuries ago. 

I would sometimes meet Sonja on the street, or in the second-hand clothes shop a few houses away from my flat. The shop was managed by a thin-lipped Croat, who professed to be running the place on behalf of a Bosnian charity. It was chock-a-block with stuff: clothes, suitcases, toys, shoes. I ran into Sonja a couple of times there trying on shoes. She didn’t like them, or they didn’t fit her, and on one of these occasions the thin-lipped man went to the back of the shop and reappeared with a large rubbish bag full of shoes, which he proceeded to empty onto the floor in front of Sonja. At last she found one that suited and fitted her, whooping with joy at how lovely it was as she rummaged in the shoe-heap; its other half was nowhere to be found. Sonja left the shop without purchasing anything. The Croat calmly picked up the dumped shoes, including the single one, and put them back in the bag.

To avoid having to search my house-moving boxes for crockery I bought some tea glasses from the Croat, and a metal teapot tarnished by constant scrubbing during its years of service in some canteen or cheap roadside café. The Croat stood behind his makeshift shop counter, where some pieces of jewellery were displayed. This was a motley jumble of brooches and rings, which the donors may have overlooked on lapels or in pockets as they hurried to stuff the clothes into bags. The Croat gave me the odd bit of advice as I studied the jewellery. This brooch was very becoming, or that ring showed off my hand very nicely, but I was not persuaded. 

Sonja worked in a small grocer’s next to the charity for Bosnian refugees. I sometimes met her there. On one occasion I wanted to tell her about my instant pictures, indeed I had even prepared a little talk in my head about the relationship between these pictures and memory, but the talk went awry, my words sounded muddled, and she regarded me with disbelief. I mistrust memory, she said. The next time we met, she mentioned that she had started work on a photographic study. She mumbled an attempt to explain the study to me. You know, she said, beauty, light, reality, that sort of thing. A kind of law. Her voice became ever quieter, and I could barely understand what she was saying, but when I gave her a quizzical look, she shrugged her shoulders. A kind of law, she repeated, craning her face so far forward that it almost came up against my own. What is actually beautiful in what we see? she asked so suddenly and loudly that the few other customers in the shop turned to look. Following this conversation I stayed away from the shop, but a few weeks later Sonja came to see me. She was pregnant. Her features had become sharper; the weather-worn stone angel was no more, while her red hair, plaited into a braid, hung down in front of her shoulder. She lowered her eyes and soft bluish eyelids; she was no longer Sonja but a pre-Raphaelite vignette. That day at the grocer’s she had handed in her notice; she intended to move to a houseboat on the Lea. As a farewell gift she had brought me two photographs she had taken with her pinhole camera. On one of them I recognized a view of the garden behind where I lived: the flat gravel-strewn roof, the sycamore, the window of my small room, where I had so often stood. For a moment I was taken aback; I felt watched, and caught at trying to memorize things. The window of the little room looked empty, however; there was no sign of any figure.

The other picture showed Sonja’s clearing at Abney Park Cemetery: the trees, grass, half-overgrown gravestones, the deserted tree stump where she had sat with her friend. It really did look like a drawing.

An angel! she said, pointing to a thin, apparently hovering white shape in the bottom corner of the picture of the clearing. It was a blot of the kind that had occasionally appeared in the photos I took with my old instant camera: white shadows, caused by light penetrating the primitive casing. 

Thank you, I said. It’s very beautiful.

Sonja, who since her metamorphosis may have been called Gabriella, took her leave. She walked slowly and ponderously, not towards the Abney Park Cemetery, but in the other direction. I began to imagine her in Springfield Park, where, who knows, she might cross paths with the King, but then I saw her turning down the lane that ran along between my back garden and the embankment above the train station. The moment she vanished I was no longer certain I would recognize her if I saw her again in a different place. 

I gave the two pinhole photographs a place in my flat. And there they stood, one at either end of the series I had taken of the Lea, like two distant relatives from a branch of the family thought to have withered away.

(…)

Best Book of 1996: The Lost Lunar Baedeker

Natalie Eilbert for Granta
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Natalie Eilbert on The Lost Lunar Baedeker: a collection of Mina Loy’s poems published in 1996.

There is a habit in poetry to call poets of a certain opacity, ‘difficult’. Poets like Mina Loy often get unfairly categorized this way, which only demonstrates the failure of imagination presided over by vogue trends in poetry. If you are looking for a narrative-lyric, follow the strain of Plath. Mina Loy is an entirely different descendent, a distillation of Dickinson, a rogue sibling of Apollinaire. It isn’t that she is difficult so much as our minds have been trained toward the center, and hence, more narrative throughlines. It is as Loy tells us in the first poem of her book, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, ‘tame things / Have no immensity’.

With the transparency of first-person narrators up for furious debate, it should be noted that Loy’s biography is somewhat irresistible. Sure, she palled around with Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes and the usual Paris suspects. With Duchamp, she orgied in Greenwich Village, according to editor Roger L. Conover; she also renounced the establishment by sewing her own clothes and disrupting the Futurism movement’s fascist momentum with her own feminist futurist manifesto, and in so doing, predicted a Weinstein-era violence for the future women of the world who followed status quo: ‘Professional & commercial careers are opening for you—Is that all you want?’ And so, as World War I cooked up, Mina Loy spent her time queering the Lady out of the body, flipping off mainstream politics, and presenting us grounds to abandon society in favor of the Loy Feminist Manifesto.

That is before we even encounter her poetry. Loy as persona and Loy as post-mortem text operate with enormous distinction. Whereas Loy famously proclaimed, ‘I was never a poet’, Loy is someone I consider a Super Poet, one whose bewilderment grew equally out of sui generis language as much as cultural disavowal. While T.S. Eliot had his lines segmented and preened by Ezra Pound, Mina Loy freely deployed words like ‘semieffigy’, ‘sialagogue’ and ‘agamogenesis’ with the whim of an un-lanterned genie. (In fact, in a letter to Marianne Moore, Pound wrote, ‘Is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams], and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?’ Sorry about that, TS.) (Loy was English but her poetics make good prosaic sense when conceived of through the American canon.) It is in the selected work, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, that we chance to sit in the incubation chamber with Loy, if we dare.

It should be noted that in my back and forth with Granta editor Eleanor Chandler, part of the misfortunes of women in the arts reveals itself: It is hard to place editions and chronology with Loy’s collected and selected bodies of work. When Lunar Baedecker [sic] was published in its 1923 heyday in Paris, it existed only until it went out of print. As the editor terms it, her being ‘unassimilable by the canonists’ meant being fortressed into her era, as her work never cottoned to the zeitgeist. She ventured in our imagination more as a sorceress than a genius, as the mythopoetic experiment of woman is wont. Versions of the book have been republished as collected volumes in 1982 and 1991, but the editor of 1996’s The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Roger L. Conover, curated the poems in this volume with careful deliberation, changing the name to reflect his editorial quest for Mina Loy. On this point, he offers us some background into the publication history for us to chew through, ‘four minutes to the millennium’ that are still all-the-more poignant:

Loy has a chance to rise above neglect. But in order to read her, we not only have to get past neglect, we have to get past legend. And this may prove more difficult, for legend has a way of insinuating itself upon neglect. I first edited Loy’s work in 1982. At the time, publishing her work felt more like a cause than an editorial occasion. The Last Lunar Baedeker circulated like a secret handshake, and has since become part of the Loy myth . . . These stories should neither elevate nor diminish Loy’s stature as a poet. She should first be apprehended at poem-level.

The Lost Lunar Baedeker is divided into five sections – the first four are chronological of her life as a poet, and the fifth section is drenched in the kind of revolutionary prose that keeps a good radical from the middle. (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, another book I considered for this series, revolutionized the novel through her subversive, unorthodox structure.) Ensnared in this book, you encounter neologisms and Latinate medical components turned adjectival in use. ‘Being an incipience’, she writes in the winsome poem, ‘The Effectual Marriage, or THE INSIPID NARRATIVE of GINA AND MIOVANNI’,

a correlative
an instigation of the reaction of man
From the palpable to the transcendent
Mollescent irritant of his fantasy
Gina had her use   Being useful
contentedly conscious
She flowered in Empyrean
From which no well-mated woman ever returns.

It’s dizzying, dense and feminist as hell. She wrote this between 1914 and 1920. In ‘Apology of Genius’, she will tell us, on women suffering the passions of men, ‘Our wills are formed / by curious disciplines / beyond your laws.’

(…)

It was gold

Patricia Lockwood for the London Review of Books
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For the LRB, Patricia Lockwood returns to Joan Didion’s works alongside the new Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold (directed by Griffin Dunne), evincing the ‘pointillism’ of Didion’s style.

(…)

To revisit Slouching towards Bethlehem and The White Album, in the paperback editions just released by 4th Estate, is to read an old up-to-the-minute relevance renewed. Inside these essays, the coming revolution feels neither terrifying nor exhilarating but familiar – if you are a reader of Joan Didion, you have been studying it all your life. Read ‘Comrade Laski, C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)’ and see if you do not recognise the man in the modern scene. ‘Actually I was interested not in the revolution but in the revolutionary.’ Where things are moving too fast she fixes a focal point. She captures the way the language becomes more memetic, more meaningless just as the ground begins to swell under the feet – as if the herd, sensing some danger, must consolidate its responses. Her adept turn to political writing in the 1980s and 1990s showed the same prescience; if you are tuned to where the language goes strange, you will anticipate the narrative they’re going to try to sell you.

She herself is now powerful, runs the criticism. There is a danger in her, and it is the same danger she suggests in ‘Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’: that the stories first tell us what it was like, and then they tell us how to live. Like the desert, she imposes a style. ‘Our favourite people and our favourite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted.’

There is something to this. Her essays take place, for many people, in some innermost hotel room. We are there as she unpacks the items on her iconic list, sets the bottle of bourbon on the desk, calls home to check the time, lies down in the dark when the aura comes. Why are we closer to her? Why do we feel, along with her, the shaking of the hand narrowing down and down to the steadiness of the pen? A peculiarity of my own: among all her books, I had not read The Year of Magical Thinking, because my own husband, whom I married very young, on whom I depend and in whom I store half of my information, has a family history of heart attacks – to be more specific, the men on his father’s side all drop dead in their homes at the age of 59. ‘As long as I don’t read it,’ I often thought to myself, and thought no further, though I kept the book on a low shelf. Whenever the swimming-pool colour of the spine caught my eye I saw a kitchen, and a telephone on the wall with a long curling cord, and my own hands not knowing what to do. ‘As long as I save it, against that day.’

This is personal, but we have seen both the deep personal and the wide diagnostic in her, it is all tied together: South and West, the fracturing 1960s, a line of ancestry across the country. The earth rucking up like a dress bought where, bought when. The wagon train and the plane rides of the sentences. Someone’s on track. The assay scales and the choosing of the words. Her grandfather a geologist, herself a seismograph, her daughter sobbing ‘Let me be in the ground.’ The cowboy and the one who strides beside him, the Broken Man, the childhood bogeyman Quintana and she so feared. These things are together in our reading. Through long investigation into fracture she has brought them together, and somehow we are there in the centre of her thinking, in the place where she is working it all out. We are told it does not hold. It holds.

Perhaps she promises that synthesis, even of a time like this, is still possible. ‘I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralysed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed.’ Perhaps she offers the feeling that if you write the facts down, the facts might somehow remain standing at the end, after the end. There is a small, unobtrusive reporter in the corner. She has outlasted everything else.

(…)

The Tenuous Nonfiction of Clarice Lispector’s Crônicas

Gabrielle Bellot for The Paris Review
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From Gabrielle Bellot’s essay on Clarice Lispector’s ‘confessional, ludic’ newspaper columns, featured in The Paris Review:

“I can feel the charlatan in me, haunting me,” Clarice Lispector wrote in one of the crônicas, or newspaper columns, she composed each week from 1967 to 1973 for the Jornal do Brasil. She was writing in Leme, a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro named for a vast rock that resembled the rudder of a ship. “I am almost sickened by my basic honesty,” she continued. Later in the column, she suggested that “bad taste” and bad writing were similar, and that bad writing essentially meant telling the simple, unadorned, too-sincere truth. In writing, she declared, “the dividing line between bad taste and truth is almost imperceptible. In writing, moreover, there is an accepted standard of good taste which is actually much worse than bad taste. Just to amuse myself, I sometimes walk that thin line between the two”—between, that is, being a “charlatan,” as that column was titled, and writing the bland truth.

A uniquely Brazilian form, crônicas offered readers free-form writing from writers of all kinds, including poets and novelists. Lispector’s adoring editor at the paper, Alberto Dines, simply published almost everything exactly as she submitted it. Although many of her crônicas appeared autobiographical, many also seemed to bend the truth; Lispector, who rarely kept even her birthday consistent, felt most comfortable writing about herself when she was allowed to invent and embellish.

In her crônicas, she spoke more directly about her life than usual, yet those seeming revelations were overlaid with the metaphysical ponderings, digressions, and questions about reality that characterized her fiction, like The Passion According to G. H., and many of her short stories—as well as the works of hers that defied characterization. “I am not going to be autobiographical,” she wrote in Água Viva, a genre-defying semiautobiographical text partly stitched together from her newspaper columns. “I want to be ‘bio.’ ” In a note to her friend and editor Olga Borelli about the text, she wrote, “I must find another way of writing. Very close to the truth (which?), but not personal.”

If she played with the superficial truth, it was in service, she believed, of exposing one deeper, of passing readers a brief-lit lantern for the moonless dark of ourselves, even if that light revealed, sometimes, more contradiction, more chaos, more flittering soul-storm. Her crônicas blurred lines between genre—some are like little Zen koans, some lyrical reminiscences, while others, like “Return to Nature,” are harder to categorize, reading like parables or flash fiction. At times, they also muddied demarcations between nonfiction and fiction, resurrecting the oldest question of form: Where does nonfiction truly end and fiction begin, and what do we do with texts where we do not know the answer?

*

That she started the crônicas at all seemed a miracle. A year before she began them, she had nearly died when her two fatal addictions came together: cigarettes and sleeping pills. She had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in hand after taking a soporific on the evening she was supposed to have attended a friend’s book launch; at three thirty-five in the morning the following day, a neighbor noticed smoke billowing out of her apartment. She awoke in a familiar yet phantasmagoric hell: her room, acrid and ablaze. Instead of fleeing, she tried to save her papers and, in her maelstrom panic, attempted to put out the fire with her bare hands. Paulo, her son, saved her by dragging her to a nearby apartment; as she walked, she left bloody footprints. “The fire I suffered a while back partially destroyed my right hand,” she reflected later. “My legs were marked forever … I spent three days in hell, where—so they say—bad people go after death. I don’t consider myself bad,” she added, “and I experienced it while still alive.” Pandemonium, as for Milton, had taken on a new, hellish meaning.

She lived with the stagnant sadness of swamps; her old life had become an ignis fatuus, fluttering and flaming just out of reach. Typing became arduous. Her apartment, from where she could hear the hiss of waves and the thwack of tennis balls, seemed oppressive. The crônicas, however, gave her a new task to focus on and conquer, even though she had misgivings about becoming a cronista. The idea of writing for money appalled her. “I’m … new to writing for money,” she revealed in an early column. “I worked in the press before as a professional, without signing my name. Signing, however, automatically makes it more personal. And I feel a bit like I’m selling my soul.” A friend consoled her. “Writing is selling one’s soul a little bit,” he told her.

Her readers purchased her soul with relish. The columns granted her a vast new range of fans, particularly the Brazilian middle-class targeted by the Jornal. She was famous, now, in a new way. One corybantic fan, who had seen Lispector’s apartment ablaze on that fateful night, even appeared at her door with an octopus and proceeded to cook the cephalopod right then and there as a token of her appreciation. “Being a columnist,” Lispector reflected later, “has a mystery that I don’t understand: it’s that columnists, at least in Rio, are very loved … I feel so close to my readers.” She had joined a tradition in which some of Brazil’s most renowned writers had partaken, from Machado de Assis to Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

But she had also joined as a woman, making her one of the few female cronistas of the time.

(…)

On Liking Women

Andrea Long Chu for n+1
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For n+1‘s Motherland issue, Andrea Long Chu’s essay on transsexuality, Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto and feminist transphobia:

Once a week, for a single semester of high school, I would be dismissed early from class to board the athletics bus with fifteen teenage girls in sleek cap-sleeved volleyball jerseys and short shorts. I was the only boy.

Occasionally a girl who still needed to change would excuse herself behind a row of seats to slip out of her school uniform into the team’s dark-blue colors. For more minor wardrobe adjustments, I was simply asked to close my eyes. In theory, all sights were trained on the game ahead where I, as official scorekeeper, would push numbers around a byzantine spreadsheet while the girls leapt, dug, and dove with raw, adolescent power. But whatever discipline had instilled itself before a match would dissolve in its aftermath, often following a pit stop for greasy highway-exit food, as the girls relaxed into an innocent dishabille: untucked jerseys, tight undershirts, the strap of a sports bra. They talked, with the candor of postgame exhaustion, of boys, sex, and other vices; of good taste and bad blood and small, sharp desires. I sat, and I listened, and I waited, patiently, for that wayward electric pulse that passes unplanned from one bare upper arm to another on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday evening, the away-game bus cruising back over the border between one red state and another.

The truth is, I have never been able to differentiate liking women from wanting to be like them. For years, the former desire held the latter in its mouth, like a capsule too dangerous to swallow. When I trawl the seafloor of my childhood for sunken tokens of things to come, these bus rides are about the gayest thing I can find. They probably weren’t even all that gay. It is common, after all, for high school athletes to try to squash the inherent homoeroticism of same-sex sport under the heavy cleat of denial. But I’m too desperate to salvage a single genuine lesbian memory from the wreckage of the scared, straight boy whose life I will never not have lived to be choosy. The only other memory with a shot at that title is my pubescent infatuation with my best friend, a moody, low-voiced, Hot Topic–shopping girl who, it dawned on me only many years later, was doing her best impression of Shane from The L Word. One day she told me she had a secret to tell me after school; I spent the whole day queasy with hope that a declaration of her affections was forthcoming. Later, over the phone, after a pause big enough to drown in, she told me she was gay. “I thought you might say that,” I replied, weeping inside. A decade later, after long having fallen out of touch, I texted her. “A week ago, I figured out that I am trans,” I wrote. “You came out to me all those years ago. Just returning the favor.”

This was months before I began teaching my first undergraduate recitation, where for the second time in my life—but the first time as a woman—I read Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. The SCUM Manifesto is a deliciously vicious feminist screed calling for the revolutionary overthrow of all men; Solanas self-published it in 1967, one year before she shot Andy Warhol on the sixth floor of the Decker Building in New York City. I wondered how my students would feel about it. In the bathroom before class, as I fixed my lipstick and fiddled with my hair, I was approached by a thoughtful, earnest young woman who sat directly to my right during class. “I loved the Solanas reading,” she told me breathlessly. “I didn’t know that was a thing you could study.” I cocked my head, confused. “You didn’t know what was a thing you could study?” “Feminism!” she said, beaming. In class, I would glance over at this student’s notes, only to discover that she had filled the page with the word SCUM, written over and over with the baroque tenderness usually reserved for the name of a crush.

I, too, had become infatuated with feminism in college. I, too, had felt the thrill of its clandestine discovery. I had caught a shy glimpse of her across a dim, crowded dormitory room vibrating with electronic music and unclear intentions: a low-key, confident girl, slightly aloof, with a gravity all neighboring bodies obeyed. Feminism was too cool, too effortlessly hip, to be interested in a person like me, whom social anxiety had prevented from speaking over the telephone until well into high school. Besides, I heard she only dated women. I limited myself, therefore, to acts of distant admiration. I left critical comments on the student newspaper’s latest exposé of this or that frat party. I took a Women’s Studies course that had only one other man in it. I read desperately, from Shulamith Firestone to Jezebel, and I wrote: bizarre, profane plays about rape culture, one where the archangel Gabriel had a monologue so vile it would have burned David Mamet’s tongue clean off; and ugly, strange poetry featuring something I was calling the Beautiful Hermaphrodite Proletariat. Feminism was all I wanted to think about, talk about. When I visited home, my mother and my sister, plainly irritated, informed me that I did not know what it was like to be a woman. But a crush was a crush, if anything buttressed by the conviction that feminism, like any of the girls I had ever liked, was too good for me.

(…)

Black and Blur

Maggie Nelson for 4Columns
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Maggie Nelson responds to Fred Moten’s new essay collection, Black and Blur, for 4Columns

Because I know Moten in a world that opposes entanglement and clear-sightedness, this must technically be a “response” rather than a “review” of Black and Blur. (The book is the first of three to be published as the consent not to be a single being series, a phrase borrowed from Édouard Glissant; two companion volumes, Stolen Life and The Universal Machine, are blessedly, impossibly, soon to follow.) And thank God this isn’t a review, really, because how preposterous and off the cake it would feel, at least for me, to drag Black and Blur into the world of appraisal or evaluation of argument. Others can do that, and do it well. It’s not that I’m not interested in Moten’s contributions and interventions into ongoing, crucial discussions about the relation between, say, as he puts it, “the critical analysis of anti-blackness to the celebratory analysis of blackness.” I am, and deeply so. As Moten intimates in Black and Blur’s preface, that relationship is, in some sense, what it’s all about: “It hurts so much that we have to celebrate. That we have to celebrate is what hurts so much. Exhaustive celebration of and in and through our suffering, which is neither distant nor sutured, is black study.” (As in the opening of 2003’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Moten locates this foundational interdependence in the work of scholar Saidiya Hartman: “In the Break also began with an attempt to engage Hartman; as you can see, I can’t get started any other way.” Indeed, it’s Hartman’s theorization of “the diffusion of terror” in black expression that summons and undergirds Moten’s inquiry into the nature of that diffusion, its multiple ontological possibilities.) 

It’s more that so many debates between, say, something we might call “celebration” and something we might call “terror,” or something we might call “optimism” and something we might call “pessimism,” or something we might call “Afro-diasporic cosmopolitanism” and something we might call “the African American cultural field,” or something we might call “aesthetics” and something we might call “politics,” often become legible only via an unwarranted polarization that Moten’s work not only sidesteps but labors to offer inventive (yet also already-there) alternatives to. It feels more vital to me to use this moment to note how Black and Blur produces felt experiences of these alternatives, carves new pathways through art and thought, which, in turn, re-makes and multiplies the possible relations between them. Such a focus admittedly foregoes, at least for the moment, any granular attention to Black and Blur’s specific content (the essays include kaleidoscopically rich ruminations on Patrice Lumumba, Glenn Gould, Miles Davis, Lord Invader, Charles Mingus, Pras/Ol’ Dirty Bastard/Mýa, Theodor Adorno, Benjamin Patterson, Thornton Dial, Masao Miyoshi, Mike Kelley, Jimmie Durham, Theaster Gates, Charles Gaines, Wu Tsang, Bobby Lee, and many, many others—ruminations made ocean-deep via Moten’s particular style of layering a wide variety of figures and discourses in each essay). But it may shed some light on how and why Moten’s writing has become so crucial to so many in recent years, which links to how and why the publication of Black and Blur feels like nothing less than an ecstatic occasion—both in and of itself, and as a promissory note of more to come. 

Simply put, Moten is offering up some of the most affecting, most useful, theoretical thinking that exists on the planet today—a true leg out of the rut so much criticism has fallen into of pointing out how a certain phenomenon has both subversive and hegemonic effects (“kinda hegemonic, kinda subversive,” as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick once put it) that has proven so durable since (at least) Foucault. It’s hard to write such sentences without being (happily) haunted by the fact that Black and Blur, like all Moten’s writing, disallows the kind of heroic “radical singularity” that might otherwise attach itself to the proper names of Moten’s subjects, including “Fred Moten.” (Hence the “consent not to be a single being” rubric.) As Moten writes about Black Panther Bobby Lee in Black and Blur’s final chapter: “Bobby Lee is another name we give to the xeno-generosity of entanglement: the jam, that stone gas, a block club in a block experiment, an underpolitical block party, a maternal ecology of undercommon stock in poverty, in service, genius in black and blur.” In a 2015 interview, Moten explains further, vis-à-vis Bessie Smith: “I don’t think I’m so committed to the idea of the radical singularity of Bessie Smith as I am committed to a kind of radicalization of singularity, that we now come to recognize under the name of Bessie Smith, which the figure, the avatar, that we now know as Bessie Smith was sent to give us some message about. I think of Bessie as an effect of sociality—she was sent by sociality to sociality, in that way that then allows us to understand something about how the deep and fundamental entanglement that we are still exists in relation to and by way of and as a function of this intense, radical, constant differentiation.” 

As moved and impressed as I am by Moten’s writing—its spectacular range, its unending nuance, its voluminousness, its flashes of pique (don’t miss the footnote addressing British scholar Paul Gilroy on pages 293–95), its swerve and song—I’m perhaps even more inspired by its felt understanding and communication of what it means to be “sent by sociality to sociality,” and its depth of commitment to enmeshment, manifest in its style, orientation, and sound. Back in the 1980s, critic Barbara Johnson pointed out that the self-resistance performed by so many (white) male poststructuralist theorists often had the paradoxical (though altogether predictable) effect of consolidating the theorists’ authority and visibility. It’s like, given the system’s (name a system) longstanding need/desire for male genius, those dudes couldn’t even give it away. Some might argue that the ultra-passionate lauding of Moten courts a similar effect. But I’m not worried. Unlike a lot of those guys, Moten really doesn’t care about that consolidation. He really doesn’t. His work tirelessly deflects it, unravels it, renders it irrelevant and antithetical to the tasks at hand. Selflessness, for him, and for us in reading him, isn’t a new coin to spin in the marketplace of ideas. Rather, as he writes, “It’s nothing. It ain’t no thing. Selflessness ain’t about nobility or even generosity. The substance of its ethics is of no account, no count off, no one two, just a cut and then people be grooving.” 

(…)

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