11 November 2018
Trying to think through Chase Berggrun’s R E D again, whose list of influences includes season 6 of Buffy and Notley’s The Descent of Alette. Noticed that in R E D all violence or vileness devolves upon a man. “This book is dedicated to survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence” (62). Rage at what has been done to you…does the list of what has been done to you include the assignment and enforcement of a gender, a sexuality? From “CHAPTER VIII,”
We never refer to sadness
as something that looks
but it does (Berggrun 13)
I’ve been thinking about the spatiality of trans writing. From Berggrun’s process note, which precedes the poems, “This work was written at the same time its author had begun their own gender transition. As they were discovering and attempting to define their own womanhood, the narrator of these poems traveled alongside them” (1). The word transition is already spatial, spatio-temporal.
Discovery, task of the explorer, and definition, the taxonomist following in their wake—but what happens to the ursprache of colonialism when it is repurposed by the trans person, turned back upon their own body, to reject the gender that has been discovered there by others and to redefine it?
Discover and define also the task of the source novel, Dracula, in which the protagonist travels to the other side of Europe (with respect to his origin in England), taking detailed notes the entire time.
What is the relationship of an erasure to its source text? What is the relationship of a trans person to their assigned gender? The former question seems to suggest the latter, especially in this case, but I’m actually pretty loathe to explore it for myself.
Before I was out, when I would look for information (re: things MTF, later AMAB, now…?), what I mostly found was a broad consensus that trans women carried a lingering male privilege. This…accusation has really stayed with me, giving me the hard to shake fear that my membership in femininity is predicated upon my continued good behavior. And I was already suspicious of the man in me, the man I was perceived as (am still so often perceived as)—I wanted to root him out, externalize and exterminate (or at least neutralize) him.
This is a little more than a hermeneutics of suspicion.
From “CHAPTER XXIII:”
My hate is drifting reefwards
sleeping in the softness of the sunset
Though I am weary
I must try to startle darkness
I must become an oblong disc of light
I must change my own sad dreaminess
to rigid red intention
Though I do not know what I am doing
though it may be too late
though danger on earth and under water
I must follow him to hell (47)
I’m very struck by those center lines about changing “sad dreaminess/to rigid red intention.” It reminds me of reading The Descent of Alette and having my way pointed towards the Descent of Inanna, witnessing the epic purpose of a woman—goddess or mortal—stealing back what men have usurped. This is the context for Berggrun’s task, which is perhaps not so much an erasure but an excision, considering that the speaker of the poems is out for real blood.
What is the relationship of the above to my thinking through Renee Gladman’s work? Ravicka—or, earlier, the bridge in The Activist. What is my relationship to this material?
I’ve been remembering the Vampire Poetics class I co-taught with Laura Moriarty. Revisiting its texts, like Valente’s Dracula’s Crypt and Notley’s Songs and Stories of the Ghouls. Revisiting distant, dormant, or lost configurations of my social world. Re: Dracula’s Crypt, I’m thinking about my convo with Una about the invention of ethnicity but I am also revisiting the house of memory for the earlier days of my gender transition.
Meaningful / meaningless questions:
When did I start?
How long did it take?
When did it stop?
The temporality of transitions is non-linear—more akin to one of Gladman’s prose architectures than an easy arc.
Or the way time is described on The Good Place. (Even though I like to pretend on this blog that I don’t watch tv.)
I’m going to Gladman and Laura Moriarty right now for method:
LM (from A Tonalist):
And finally the rain is horizontal and petals are stuck to the glass. We walk among the old growth ghosts and are reminded of our dead. Saplings, lilacs and something else, oh yes, forget-me-nots, are purple and black. It’s a decade since the fire burned everything here, though I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday, and now in a cabin or holiday I am layered in notebooks with tea balanced on a pillow on a saucer of Hungarian porcelain. The blue rim of the cup seems like the kind of detail about which my community does not write, but I am sliding it in along with Jacobus Boehme, who said, “What sort of triumph of the spirit it was, I can neither write nor say; nor can it be compared with anything other than that which in life is born in the middle of death, and it is comparable to the resurrection of the dead.” And it does happen to be Easter, though it’s not god but people who are coming back to me.
And RG (from Calamities):
I wanted to write into a new territory, for ‘the book at the back of the book’ to be a country that was both unique and livable, not a country where buildings came up and surprised you but where existed rooted buildings with lines that were linguistic in nature, lines emerging in such a way as to change language, to bring you down to the street. (121)
RG interviewed by Zack Friedman at BOMB back in 2011:
Zack Friedman I’ll start things off with some comments based on Event Factory. To me, a central theme of this book was fluency. The narrator has a formal intellectual understanding of the language and culture of Ravicka, but lacks the practical understanding that comes from lived experience within the city and its traditions or the native speaker’s true facility with natural speech. I was struck by the detail that went into this—the slightly awkward or clumsy phrasing of the narrator is rendered perfectly. What elements of your own personal background with language learning, teaching, and translating (not to mention iffy tourism) went into these books? Are there certain ideas about language and culture that influenced you or that you find coming through in the books?
Renee Gladman I wrote the first two books of the series without ever having left the North American continent. At the time of the writing, I experienced a kind of paradox. It had something to do with the filmmaker Béla Tarr. I’m not sure how to explain this. Seeing his work, in particular the 7.5-hour Satantango—as well as the work of the Polish filmmaker Kie?lowski, and the Russians Tarkovsky and Sokurov—created in me some instinct of belonging. It made no sense, but at a gut level I felt that those dreary, silent, beautiful landscapes, that sense of exhaustion and isolation, were my own. I wanted to place a narrative within a possibility or convergence of those spaces. I also—and I don’t have a rational explanation for this—wanted to push it farther east. A desire began to form for places like Latvia, Croatia, Slovenia. I dropped Ravicka down, perhaps in pieces, over this entire region. Though, at the same time, not really. Something entirely different had happened. I had wanted to escape my monolinguism, so (and you can find seeds of this in The Activist) I began to make up a language that I spoke with my lover on the streets of San Francisco. I would say some words of this language and she would respond with other words, apparently also of this language. Within that exchange was the space of the city, questions of the built environment, of community, occupancy. You think long enough about something and it comes to life in some alterity adjacent to your own. Those alterities have been my fictions.
Things for me to write about:
Finding a resonance with a landscape through film [consult Toufic?]
“It made no sense, but at a gut level I felt that those dreary, silent, beautiful landscapes, that sense of exhaustion and isolation, were my own.”
The tremendous initial and ongoing leap of illogic required by this forms the absurdity at the center of the work.
The “desire” that begins to form for Eastern Europe, the Balkans. How is or isn’t this different than a colonial desire? Someone should be asking this question about Gladman’s Ravicka books.
Also, I share Gladman’s frustration with US monolingualism BUT I’m so fascinated with the response to that being making up a language and, what’s more, a language with her lover. A duolect?
What would the entry for Ravicka look like in Manguel’s Dictionary of Imaginary Places?
That’s not the question. If I point my inquiry back towards myself, the question is: why have I become fixated on adjacent alterities??