A FAILED ESSAY ON GRIEF, SICKNESS, ANTI-WRITING/ANTE-WRITING, WOUNDS, CIXOUS, PHILOCTETES, DÃ‰BROUILLARDES, AUNG SAN SUU KYI, ON KAWARA, KANYE WEST, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, BARTHES’ MOURNING DIARY AND QUEER GHOSTS IN CONTEMPORARY R&B; IN THE FORM OF AN INTERRUPTED LETTER TO A DEAD PARENT.[admin / November 17th, 2010 / Young Bright Things ]
Yes, I would sometimes like to write postcards like the above telegram to people. Especially since I now live so far from everyone I know. Postcards which say only, just as On Kawara’s telegrams do:
I AM STILL ALIVE
I HAVEN’T COMMITTED SUICIDE DON’T WORRY
I HAVEN’T COMMITTED SUICIDE WORRY.
While dueling with debilitating pain, I listen to Rakim and Funkdoobiest.
Funkdoobiest, “Rock On”:
Rakim, “Guess Who’s Back”:
This is(n’t) how writing begins.
“IF YOUR SOUL LOVES THE SUN.”
This October I did something I had been wanting to do without wanting to do it, which was write about my father and his death, and with it, my own varieties of sickness: in my life in general, and over the past few years in particular. I spent the whole month of October (“death month”) on my blog writing about him, towards him, through him; about it, towards it, through it. Even this essay is from one of those posts, revised. (Revise, revisit, to look at again, to visit again.)
Thinking about writing and illness, writing and grief. After October 2006 I barely wrote for two or three years.
During this period of two to three years I was also at what was then my sickest and most dangerous (this still being true in some ways and no longer being true in others) as well, so it was perfectly just that I would not or could not write. Dedicating what little strength and what mountains of time I had to the project of “healing”Â myself, a project which seemed to consist of a succession of failures and increasingly dramatic privations, resulting in damages whose magnitude and permanence also increased dramatically, even exponentially.
A body that repudiates me. A body sensitive to everything, easily poisoned. A body that holds onto everything, that keeps secrets from me, that turns from my ministrations like a melancholy child on the verge of puberty, like a willful and dreamy animal, scorning all faith, trust. A body covered in lesions.
Now I have always known myself to be a knight but my body sought to prove it, for these years my skin had become an armor, my skin had been turned into leather (lichenification, it is also called), into a hide for me to wear, though I was still alive within it. The effect being that naked I seemed to be wearing mail, chain mail; but chain mail of skin, skin mail. Growing up I had the armor too but immunosuppressive drugs unbuckled it from me.
(The kind and merciful face worn by various forms of suppression. Suppression to be differentiated from, but obviously related to, repression.)
That this particular attack of ill health would come after this death (your death) is also well and just. Especially given that until I turned eighteen I was sure I would kill myself when it happened. This death (your death) being my life’s axial dread.
And so—no writing no writing never writing. No living and therefore no writing. No blood in the skin, no water in the plant. Beyond muteness, beyond silence, beyond emptiness. So deep inside the wound as to be the wound.
I can write THE WOUND I can’t write THE WOUND.
It is perhaps not the greatest idea to have your father as your greatest—and indeed, only true—friend for most of your life. Especially if this father will certainly die in your youth. In your younger brother’s even starker youth.
Liliane Giraudon, quoting Beckett: “Language is gone. My heart is gone.”Â
Now, I am not totally opposed to the therapeutic possibilities of writing (although to be honest I am quite opposed to it, or at least the trappings of tyrannical hygiene), but for this particular wound, I was very clear with myself. Refusal to write through it. Refusal to be cured by writing. This mud hole, writing will not drag me from. This wound, writing will not cauterize.
Wikipedia says that cautery is useful for stopping severe blood loss, closing amputations and preventing infections.
Reasons for rejecting cautery.
Siding with blood loss, badly-executed amputations, rampant infection.
How to be a writer who says no to writing, or at least a certain kind of writing, but by virtue of that kind of writing, all writing. Knowing when writing has no time in me, knowing where writing has no place in me. Locating a silence that is not a writing too; a silence that is a silence that is a weeping wound.
The writing I want will never heal me of anything.
Barthes in JOURNAL DE DEUIL. October 27, 1977. “Irritation. Non, le deuil (la dÃ©pression) est bien autre chose qu’une maladie. De quoi voudrait-on que je guÃ©risse? Pour trouver quel Ã©tat, quelle vie?”
JOURNAL DE DEUIL, MOURNING DIARY. Barthes and his mother’s death. Here Barthes is like a distillation of the Barthes I love, the Barthes of FRAGMENTS D’UN DISCOURS AMOUREUX, which I bought in English (A LOVER’S DISCOURSE) when I was fourteen without knowing anything about Barthes or how he would come to live in me, in my writing.
“Which I bought” meaning, “which you bought for me.” Every other week (payday for a security guard), a tower of books, at BookBuyers in Mountain View. A city which is lucky enough to call itself the birthplace of both Google and myself.
While many will draw a connection between JOURNAL DE DEUIL and CAMERA LUCIDA (LA CHAMBRE CLAIRE)—Barthes’ last “book” book, also written after his mother’s death, also full of his misery over it—I think a better companion work would be A LOVER’S DISCOURSE.
I would suggest reading one after the other, as a pair. To be reminded of all the forms of a beloved. To be reminded of all the ways to be heartbroken. To be reminded that being a lover—”Tears,” “Absence,” “Waiting,” “To Be Engulfed,” “Gift,” “Dedication,” “Gossip,” “Suicide”—is not limited only to amorous love.
Barthes, JOURNAL DE DEUIL, November 6: “Mon deuil est celui de la relation aimante et non celui d’une organisation de vie. Il me vient par les mots (d’amour) surgis dans ma tÃªte…”
Right now I can’t read them as a pair, though. My copy of A LOVER’S DISCOURSE, like my father, is in a box in California.
And yet I know that this not-writing, this silence which is not writing, does not escape from writing. I know this well, and in this at least I know myself, too. I am not one to put a thousand-year-old sword between life and writing to preserve the chastity of either—and least of all my own. Even before sexual knowledge I was never a chaste girl. Not for me, virginity. I know my own impossibilities.
I think what I am saying is that my refusal to write was therefore a refusal to live.
And so sickness has its place here, too.
Intolerable thought, thought that makes me want to lie under a bus: to have written, then healed, then been happy. Adjusted. Healthy.
Sickness, then, a thousand times sickness; sickness, sickness, sickness unto death.
I will not write you out of me.
(Wasn’t Kierkegaard’s SICKNESS UNTO DEATH referenced in NEON GENESIS EVANGELION at some point? I want to think this. Also, there’s an essay called “Queering Kierkegaard” I haven’t read yet.)
Saying, I will not be in the world in any other way but this. Saying, This wound is a place I can live.
Like Hector’s degraded body, remade every day. Only, instead of a body made fresh again—a wound made fresh again. A wound kept from scabbing, cells broken open daily, moisture let back in, fresh blood through old slashes. Not Hector, I realize; Philoctetes.
(PHILOCTETES! You too are in the book I wrote, O victim of Odysseus’ martial cruelty. The Sappho in my book dreams of a discussion with you when she is on a train, from Brussels to Cologne, I think.)
Like HÃ©lÃ¨ne Cixous, I have always preferred Achilles to Odysseus. Prefer is an inadequate word. Like Cixous, I love Achilles. Like Cixous, I am a secret Achilles. Like Cixous I am suspicious of the Odysseus the diplomat, Odysseus the eternal survivor, Odysseus the winner. We are suspicious of Odysseus most of all because in spite of ourselves we find certain textures of his intelligence in us.
Odysseus is a dÃ©brouillard. Strong, smart women are also often dÃ©brouillardes, but when you are a smart woman who also feels intensely, it is sometimes difficult to accept being a dÃ©brouillarde. It can feel like a betrayal, somehow, to be so terribly resourceful. A dÃ©brouillarde escapes bad situations narrowly and cleverly, knows how to fix things, is “creative.” A dÃ©brouillarde doesn’t scream, doesn’t tear the face off an enemy, doesn’t break a bottle over the neck of a stranger in the street when he says “WO AI NI, KONNICHI WA”Â in a winking voice. A dÃ©brouillarde stays calm, knows how to handle herself and the world. A dÃ©brouillarde knows how to cope.
Sometimes I think it would be better to be a little less dÃ©brouillarde, a little more pathetic. But, though it pains me to write it, I feel like I cannot quite afford the pathetic. Even in my suffering I remain defensive, proud, even practical.
“But in theory, I speculate that in the same way that the Gurlesque poets use a kind of Third Wave feminist privilege to engage in scatological, frilly, or otherwise irreverent modes of gendered representation, a privilege and vantage point which could not be afforded in the same way during the heyday of the Second Wave feminist movement or before, that perhaps nonwhite poets don’t feel the same access to privilege that would allow them to be “frivolous” in quite the way that Gurlesque poets are. There are still much larger battles to be fought for women poets of color, important battles, and so perhaps not as much room for coy playfulness in this particular way.”Â
I know there is a way to disarm and destabilize and creep out the patriarchy, and to be irreverent (and, equally as importantly: radically, ecstatically reverent), and scatological, and also be a dÃ©brouillarde. Right now I am hoping I can call this way “my life.”
Oh, I do love a dÃ©brouillarde. My mother is a great one. No one fucking says “Wo ai ni”Â to her on the street.
I don’t know if people would say such things to Aung San Suu Kyi on the street. The mainstream media does the equivalent quite well, though. Listening to a BBC reporter effuse breathlessly, “She put a flower in her hair!” “Fragile but steely,” Guardian. And holy shit, the Telegraph: “With a trademark spray of jasmine flowers in her hair and defiance in her heart,” plus “Beauty, persistent courage, an unmatched revolutionary pedigree and a steely resolve to put country before family: all these make Aung San Suu Kyi a formidable opponent.” Apparently this is what distinguishes Aung San Suu Kyi: her beauty (of course), her father (assassinated independence hero and “father of modern Burma”), and the fact that she is “steely” enough to—unlike, presumably, most women; un-steely women—prioritize something before “family,” kinship, the domestic. Singularity upon singularity! (Is Aung San Suu Kyi a bad mom?) And yet in so many articles, supporters (always “jubilant”) are quoted saying-sobbing, “She is our mother.” So after all she is still a daughter of. After all she is still a mother of. But no ordinary mother. Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force: “She belongs to the entire nation.”
Women and how they are in the world. Women and how they are consumed. Women and how they resist consumption. I would like to believe that Aung San Suu Kyi is a dÃ©brouillarde who disarms the patriarchy.
Back to illness and writing, wounds and writing. I was saying, This wound is a place I can live.
Saying, This wound will not make me productive.
Saying, I will not make an 808S AND HEARTBREAK.
Though I find Kanye’s most recent material even more compelling than that album.
I’ve been saying for a long time that I need to write something about Kanye West, RUNAWAY, gurlesque, G.O.O.D. Fridays, surproduction, cheesiness, how his previous work keeps coming back as a deformed ghost (“Good Life”Â as a chilling Frankensteinian echo at the end of “Take One For The Team”Â), Kanye as a teenage girl (The title MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY; I read somewhere, someone likening it to “17-year-old Hot Topic cashier poetry,” and I thought, Yes, but that’s clearly why it’s wonderful), females and meat-eating, white servants, appropriation as revenge, giving music away for free, queer heterosexuality, Kanye and the queer anti-social turn, Michael Jackson, Gil Scott-Heron. And who will survive in America. Who will survive in America.
Thinking about Nicki Minaj and her opening monologue, with a self-destructing English accent. Like a rebellion on a colonized island, inside a voice. This monologue, which gleefully rewrites the opening to Roald Dahl’s poem “Cinderella.”
(The Disney film CINDERELLA, which I loved as a child, but afterwards I realized I really only loved the scenes with all the mice: stealing cheese, making dresses, breaking each other out of jail. When, years later, I saw a production of CINDERELLA without the mice labor, I was severely disappointed. Where were all the servants not destined to become princesses at the end of the story?)
Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj. After her verse in “Monster,” Nicki Minaj FOREVER.
(Yes, I’ve seen the “Your Love” video. Why do I forgive an Asian fetish in Nicki Minaj when I would loathe others for less?)
Thinking about RUNAWAY, and men carrying women/children out of fire. Thinking about Scarlett Johansson’s TRAGIC FEMALE DEATH in the video for Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…/…Comes Around.”Â (This album is full of great specificities of grammar.) A song which Joshua Clover perfectly describes as being the sequel in a pop genre that Timberlake has invented. Via Jane Dark:
JT has a certain kind of song, of which this is the best yet, that sounds like a million dollars on a crying jag, as seen through the impossibly glossy black of a plasma screen, pivoting across a pyramid of Quaaludes from self-indulgent misery to a killing spree, and you sort of can’t imagine how come every pop song doesn’t sound exactly like this, except no one else comes even close to the JT vibe, which is saying something.
Actually, does he carry her out of the fire? I don’t remember. I think he doesn’t. There is just that spectacular car crash, and then TRAGIC FEMALE DEATH, one of my least favorite tropes. In any case, the best part of this song (which is to say, the only part of the song that makes this song great, in my opinion; “Cry Me a River” is superior) is the two-minute “Comes Around” interlude, starting around 5:19. Those bailamas, and then the creepy histrionic ghost of “CMAR” comes back to haunt us.
Recurring, revenir, revenant, ghost. A revenant is a ghost, a revenant is the one that comes back (around).
To look at again, to visit again.
The epic genre and the pop music video. Thinking about the dramatic increase in Kanye’s material of a conspicuously (even caricaturesque) heterosexual violence, coupled with a baroque, omnivorous, revisionist imperialism. Before ‘Ye’s blog and namesake site became repositories for the G.O.O.D Friday tracks, both were updated constantly with photographs of mostly Napoleon-era (or neo-Baroque, rococo, it was all very jumbled) furniture and art, thrones, chalices, accessories, tapestries.
Not Napoleon in Egypt, but an Egyptian Napoleon. (“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh / aaaaaahhhh, put the pussy in a sarcophagus / now she claiming that I bruised her esophagus”Â). A black phoenix. Rakim, “Guess Who’s Back”: “When I die go and bury me and my notebook in Cairo / with the great God from Egypt manifest was write rhymes / align with the stars, I come back to bless the mic.”
(I realize that for some, putting Rakim and Kanye in the same paragraph is tantamount to sacrilege.)
Also, a new incarnation (re-incarnation!) of Michael Jackson’s Royal Military Drag.
All this to say, I like very much the way Kanye’s recent output is giving us heroic male ego taken to its most hideous bloated emperor rendering; but always with great tenderness (the way a diseased or injured flesh is tender, is rendered). (Elvis?)
Somewhat related: “Christian Dior Denim Flow”Â becomes incredibly moving—well, it’s already quite moving—when one imagines an absent male beloved as that YOU.
Before, next to, and after that exhaustive list of supermodels: always this elusive YOU. The YOU of lyric poetry. The YOU of grief, youthful error, obsession, violent sexual longing, unrequited or frustrated love.
I GOT THE WORLD IN MY HANDS
THE MASTER PLAN
BUT I DON’T KNOW WHY
I KEEP CALLING—
WHY I KEEP—
ALL OF THESE GIRLS AT MY SHOWS
THEY LOVIN’ ME
BUT I DON’T KNOW WHY
I KEEP CALLING—
WHY I KEEP CALLING—
YOU in my mind being a young man of Ganymede-like beauty. (Or Alexis Phifer, I guess. I should just write slash fiction.)
Two other songs to be added to the genre of queered R&B are Deadboy’s cover of Cassie’s “Long Way 2 Go” and Forest Swords’ cover of Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew.”
With the Deadboy, you have that lovely shift in pitch for the vocals that transforms and transgenders Cassie’s voice. (Cassie as bakla!)
Deadboy, “Long Way 2 Go”Â:
But the Forest Swords cover really has my heart. Among the things that crush me on this fine evening: hearing a man’s ghostly voice singmoansing these words:
IF YOUR GIRL ONLY KNEW
THAT YOU WAS TRYING
TO GET WITH ME
IF YOUR GIRL ONLY KNEW
THAT YOU WAS DISSIN’ HER
TO TALK TO ME
SHE WOULD PROBABLY LEAVE
SHE WOULD PROBABLY CURSE YOU OUT
I BET SHE’D BE GLAD
THAT YOU WAS GONE
SHE WOULDN’T HAVE TO
Forest Swords, “If Your Girl”Â:
Is this ante-writing enough. This writing before writing.
Barthes, writing about the antechamber in his early book on Racine, which caused such a fuss.
Am I still waiting. In the antechamber of writing.
Barthes’ JOURNAL DE DEUIL as anti-writing, as ante-writing.
The first entry in JOURNAL DE DEUIL is on October 26, 1977. This year, I was so certain that my father died on October 26, I was obsessed with it, until I remembered that he died on October 25. What the hell was wrong with me? I had thought of little else but his death since his death, and this year I was writing so much about it, finally, finally, I had planned it all out, I had organized the posts leading up to it, I had prepared a special post for October 26, it was foremost in my mind. So why did I get the date wrong?
Perhaps I wanted to postpone his death for a day. And in this way, with each passing year, I could unconsciously increase the number of postponed days, until I would once again (impossible, impossible, impossible, stop, impossible) find myself behind his death. Until his death would once again be a future disaster, to be dreaded. Not yet annihilated by.
That first October 26 entry in JOURNAL DE DEUIL says only: “PremiÃ¨re nuit de noces. Mais premiÃ¨re nuit de deuil?”
My first night of mourning. Lying on my father’s side of the bed (nuit de noces). Hearing my mother call the Philippines to say simple words that gut me; words you can say when you’ve run out of food at a party. To say to my father’s sisters: “Wala na si S–.”
S– is gone. No more.
Wala na. She did not say “dead.” I think she thought “dead” would have been worse. It wasn’t.
Halloween was always my favorite holiday, and now even more so because the dead person I love has a macabre sense of humor. Adored daughter, bury my body on All Hallows’ Eve.
A destiny: to be surrounded every year, with this perfection beyond irony, beyond comedy. Gravestones, ghosts, ghouls, corpses, witches capable of bringing back the dead. How to hallow.
Barthes, JOURNAL DE DEUIL, October 31: “Je ne veux pas en parler par peur de faire de la littÃ©rature — ou sans Ãªtre sur que c’en ne sera pas — bien qu’en fait la littÃ©rature s’origine dans ces vÃ©ritÃ©s.”
“YO MY RHYMES AND LYRICS, FIND SPIRITS LIKE A SÃ‰ANCE.”
From Annie Ernaux’s A WOMAN’S STORY, about the death of her mother:
I, too, would like to remain a cut below literature. I, too, would like to remain a cut. I, too, would like to remain below literature. I, too, would like to remain. I, too, would like to cut. I, too, would like to cut literature.
It does seem like lately everyone is mourning or revisiting past mourning or talking about dead loved ones. Various other literary bloggers. Anne Carson’s NOX. Kid Cudi and his father.
(I still have to listen to the entirety of Kid Cudi’s MAN ON THE MOON II: THE LEGEND OF MR. RAGER. I listened to the songs from his previous album just before performing the second burial of my father, in London. Mostly “Dat New New” and “Down and Out.” Kid Cudi: a dead father, night terrors, fantasized death, hysteria, paranoia. Yes.)
“WHEN WILL THE FANTASY END / WHEN WILL THE HEAVEN BEGIN.”
Late in the time of the wound, when I was just realizing I had to climb out of it or really die, I listened to two songs and wept so hard I thought the weeping itself would kill me.
The songs were Biggie’s “Juicy,”Â and “Mo Money Mo Problems.”Â
Barthes, JOURNAL DE DEUIL, November 10: “Mais toute ma vie n’ai-je Ã©tÃ© que cela: Ã©mu?”
Then writing then writing yes writing.
Ways of saying: THIS IS NOT A HEALING NARRATIVE.
POSTSCRIPT: My mother is not confident in my ability to survive within my physical body. Not only because she has been the greatest and most fearful witness to this body’s ailments and failures, but because she has also been witness to my own native genius for despair, which showed itself early on, not with theatrical gestures (though I am capable of them), but with mute animal withdrawal and surrender. Animal mourning, an animal’s way of preparing for disaster. I suppose in this way I was not always a dÃ©brouillarde.
I was fed exclusively on canned baby formula until I was five years old because I refused to eat any form of solid food. And I was indulged, for though my body may have been weak, my will was strong. My mother tried to wean me off this formula by hiding it from me, thinking: The child will be hungry, she will have to eat something, and then eventually she will seek out food, real food.
I did not seek out food. I gently and solemnly retreated into what I understood to be my imminent death or vanishing into glitter. Half-starved and dessicated I was rushed to a hospital. I was wearing a dress of great luxury, burgundy and gold brocade with an empire waist. (In a recent blog post, Bhanu Kapil writes of a Marks and Spencer’s dress bought when she was eight years old: “I felt glamorous and lonely, as I have most of my life.”Â This is one of the truest things I have ever read.)
And thus my veins were nourished in spite of me. Later I tasted chocolate milk for the first time. My father bought me a picture book with thick pages. I did not die.
I was five years old but I don’t know if it happened on October 23, 1989.
(I also tasted pizza for the first time when I was mildly kidnapped, maybe a year later.)
When an animal is sick, it fasts, I read somewhere. Fasting was one of the things I tried, to heal myself. Fasting was good, but only during the time of fasting. But the time and space of fasting has a lot to do with Halberstam’s queer time and space. The time and space of fasting; the time and space of sustenance. The time and space of sickness; the time and space of health.
I fasted for 23 days, then a few months later I fasted for 30 days, then a few months later 55 days. The human body can do a lot of things. Living, well.
Ways of saying: I have not lived in the time of health in four years.
And even before then, that time of health was produced artificially, procured steroidally. So I think I have never lived in the time of health.
Looking for it. Looking for it. Still looking for it.
Barthes, JOURNAL DE DEUIL, October 27: “Qui sait? Peut-Ãªtre un peu d’or dans ces notes?”