On TC Tolbert's 'Gephyromania'
TC Tolbert’s poetry collection Gephyromania plays with, problematizes, and bridges various subjectivities and concepts of the body, identity, and text. Throughout multiple readings, Tolbert’s language creates a sustained state of anticipation, evoking a feeling of bodily movement (in both reader and author) not inappropriate for a volume whose title refers to an obsession with bridges. A bridge both separates and unites, just like a long-distance communication. What follows here is a review in the form of an unsent epistolary blast. As a friend of the author, my own problematic subjectivities are candidly referenced here, and the distanced eye of critical writing has been deliberately abandoned.
Message 1 6/26/14 11:15 a.m. CST
TC, it’s Jay. I’ve got your book and I want to open it out and mate it with mine, what I’m working on now, but that can’t happen. You know what? I wonder about my discomfort with speaking/languaging from within my own subjectivity. There’s something I mistrust in that, in myself. Or is it fear, the fear of punishment? My obsession with self-correction as a way to forestall the aforementioned. And how I would insist that my own transitioning is not self-correction. Do you agree? You say,
I want to tell you about my body. About testosterone
as unwitting art historian. About recovery. Me(n). What it feels like
underneath there. The part you cannot know. but should. (42)
I want this too. How can I trust this want in you but not in myself?
Message 2 6/27/14 9:15 a.m. CST
So I’m reading Judith Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power,and in her introduction she says, “[e]xceeding is not escaping, and the subject exceeds precisely that to which it is bound.” It seems to me that this is what Gephyromania is “about,” if you go for that word in talking of your work. The challenge of time is present here in these poems, living as/in/with a body through time, a body in radical transformation as the medium of time flows about you. And you, in transitioning, have exceeded (not escaped) the embodiment from/with which you began. I make this connection without implying that “escape” was ever part of the goal, which I can’t claim. But exceeding happens, whether intended or not. And you’re still a body, you still must live in the tricky enclosure of your body. Me too.
This “bridge” place you build and use in the book — one goes back and forth on a bridge and maybe that’s the point too, or part of it. Not that you would (or could) go back to the embodiment from which you started, but rather, that body is also still in/with this body. You say,
You have forgotten that I do so little
with the skin I’m in. You make me a ladder
and now I want you to make me more. (30)
I’m not imagining a person as the “you” every time that pronoun arises, but when it does, here, it allows me to imagine the “you” empowering the creation of the bridge you travel, perhaps the bridge you become. There is a way in which we become bridges, isn’t there? Still anchored to — bound by — where we began and what we were then/there. And this is not “failure.”
Message 3 6/29/14 7:40 a.m. CST
So are we casualties of good advice, the same advice delivered deadpan to us again and again as though it were scripted? How to be a poet, to be a queer trans wo/man of any/all gender — can anyone really claim to know how to do and be?
Yeah, yeah. Pound, whatever.
Goddamned well of loneliness. Make it new. (76)
This is where we come from. Does where we originate actually help us bridge? Help us move? Help us change?
If there is not here
there’s a line I crossed. Somewhere valence
got Prufrocked with the T. (30)
There’s much to be said for the problematized power of others — maybe peers of who we were, maybe anticipated peers of who we’re becoming towards — to help with deciding and discovering how we locate ourselves, how and where and to what/whom we connect. But it is also important to problematize the origin-point of the poetic body (the embodied poetics?) in a space of high-modern text experiment. It’s an origin, I mean to say; I read in these poems an acknowledgement that there must always be many origins to the becoming-bridging. If there’s a range of poetics that can be called trans and genderqueer (within which we met), can we also posit a range of poetics that can be called transitional? Or is that rather limited word encompassed by the “trans” of our understanding?
Someone like Stein, living a queer life though not perhaps a “trans” life, somehow still managed a transitional poetics by exploding the documentary or utilitarian function of language. I’ve come back to Stein lately, which actually shocks me, because somehow I carry this idea that an understandable poetic framework for my particular masculinity relies more on looking around at, say, Kenneth Goldsmith or K. Silem Mohammed than back toward a modernist icon like her. But what was Stein’s on-paper gender anyway? I don’t hold with the idea of masculine or feminine writing — this is a contradiction in me, as I clearly do embrace the idea of trans writing. That there can be such a thing that emerges in and from a text. Maybe what I mean is that there’s something about being trans that makes the word language into a verb. “And who wouldn’t/language in whose voice” (30).
I think this phenomenon is the manifestation of our exceeding the “good advice” we were given. We can no more escape the bonds of language than we can escape the born-in body. But we language ourselves anew, and our bodies force language to exceed itself. The question of whose voice is never resolved. The voice is multiple, and should be. This is why I never left Tzara behind, because he also languages. Makes a body with fragments of text, and calls it the approximation it is, calls himself the approximation any person necessarily must be. Perhaps not trans-identified, still he had the courage to bust the lid off of the idea that the self is singular and whole, proposing that whatever we are, we are not born but made.
Message 4 6/30/14 10:20 p.m. CST
It’s storming; fat waves of rain pound down on the roof, against the windows. Thunder coughs in the distance. Tomorrow early I have to go to diabetes school; I was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago, after my latest bloodwork for T levels. Transitioning has saved my life, in more ways than one, but often when I get healthcare I’m putting my head in the lion’s mouth. Someday I’ll tell you about my mammogram.
The thunder is closer now and the lightning more violent. I’m glad for your “A Love Note for My Breasts (Abridged).” Here’s the whole thing because I love it so much:
Thank you for the joke about Tokyo. I’m cutting you off now. For my grandmother and the way she talked about my grandfather. She said he liked her for her big brown eyes.
Thank you for protecting me from straight women. I’ll miss that. For making me think long and hard about why there was a marriage I was leaving. For the 1997 I never had. (28)
I think this gets me because of the way it speaks of forbidden things, or at least speaks of things in a forbidden way. I want to claim more of the not-nice; you know, the things not said or done in polite company, whatever or wherever that is. “I’m cutting you off now,” said in a poem for one’s breasts — but of course, that’s only shorthand, dancing with the popular idea of what embodiment is, means or entails for transmen. This phrase bridges the vast space between “mutilation” and liberation, a space made public in a process of dubious consent, by other people’s publicly expressed affects: revulsion, acceptance, hostility, pride. But “cutting off” is also a way to describe ending a toxic or abusive relationship. I hear liberation in it, ambivalence too, or irony — “protecting me from straight women.”
Is it your actual body that’s written in — or into — these poems? Is this something you can say came with or out of subjective experience? Because I find myself responding to your words more literally than I usually do for poetry, as though the narrator’s voice is your own, making a claim for the bodies contained in the book. I find myself doing that thing with your work that I do not want people to do with my work — I’m identifying with the poet. But I am also wondering about the question turned inside-out; that is, do you see the writing of the poems as part of the process of forming your actual body, beyond just reflecting it?
Weird question, and one I can only ask another poet.
April 16, 2013
Dear Aaron Shurin,
I started reading Citizen on a train from Grand Central Station to New Haven last Friday. I’d had a meeting in the city in the morning. Afterwards I met my friend Paul for lunch. I caught the 1:34 train. It was raining. On the way into the city, I finished reading C, a novel by Tom McCarthy. I had figured this would happen, so I brought your book for the ride home.
At first I worried that it would take a long time to read Citizen. The poems are so dense. I had to read the first few more than once before I felt comfortable moving on. I also had to shake off this weird feeling you were somebody else. I saw your photo and realized I had been confusing you with Aaron Kunin, who I saw read once. He looks nothing like you.
I love reading on trains. Hurtling forward while pushing through language reifies the experience of reading. I find myself chasing down the traces of my thought in much the same way my eye follows a passing object through the window. I get a glimpse, then it is gone. I try to record what I saw, but it’s always a distortion.
I started drifting in and out of sleep as I read. I underlined the phrase, “how you scratch the page to let in light.” I drew a line to the top of the page and wrote, “No.” I must have drifted off to sleep again, as I have no recollection of writing this.
Later I woke up and looked out the window and thought I saw a hillock beside the tracks covered in snow. I closed my eyes again and thought, “The snow should have melted by now.” I opened my eyes and looked again. No snow. I got as far as the poem “Helios Cream” before arriving in New Haven.
That night my wife Lori and I watched Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Afterwards I sat on the couch reading Citizen while listening to the Blue Mars Cryosleep ambient Internet radio station. I read to the end of the first section of the book. I made a note to myself about making notes to myself.
It says: “I no longer trust myself to remember.”
I wrote something about David Lynch and something about Tom McCarthy riding his skateboard over the line demarcating the GMT in England. I wrote that I was too tired to continue reading. I wrote that I’d read a few of your poems aloud.
The next night I watched Fear by Roberto Rossellini, which stars his then-wife, Ingrid Bergman. The northern lights were rumored to make an appearance around midnight. I started reading the second section of your book after the film, on the couch next to Lori, listening to BBC Three. I got as far as “Station.”
Lori had found a website tracking the probability of seeing the aurora borealis on a given night and was checking periodically on her iPad and outside to see if they were visible. She stayed up late waiting for them. They never appeared. Just as she dozed off to sleep, our daughter woke crying and stayed up most of the night.
I wrote that if I were ever to publish a poetry magazine, I would ask you to submit.
Sunday we ate brunch at our new neighbors’ house. I started reading again after we put my daughter down for a nap. I sat beside the picture window in the Ikea Poäng chair, my feet up on the footrest. I could hear the washing machine hum as it washed my work clothes for Monday morning. I read to the end of part 2.
I finished the book late that night, after putting my daughter to bed, eating dinner, watching six short films by David Lynch and the newest episode of Mad Men. It was late. I made a note about “dishes” and “lunch.”
I wrote down a question regarding the experience of reading Citizen. “Did the poems become more transparent as the book progressed, or did it just seem that way because I had learned better how to read them the deeper I got into the book?”
I did not answer the question. I drew a line next to this one by you, “... what do you read, how do you read it?” It made me think about the way I planned to write about your book.
Rachel Glaser's 'Moods'
Find a book at Flying Object you love, like Moods by Rachel Glaser. Slip it under your shirt and hold it in place while extending your belly, feeling for the poems to kick with a muffled laugh. Walk through the building singing lullabies, rubbing your book baby growing beneath the folds of your shirt-vagina. Give birth on the floor or couch, or privately in the bathroom. Be careful not to tear or bend its little cover or pages to prevent costly surgery and recovery. The hunger is immediate, just like little deer in nature documentaries, and while some still believe baby formula is the way to go, there is a movement to return to the nutrient-rich breast milk. Breastfeeding also cuts down on wasteful bottles and packaging; in short, breastfeeding your book can secure a sound future in multiple ways.
Taking notes for your poem, open the baby’s belly and read its organs aloud, for instance in opening Moods, “Our Husband arrives to little applause / his handsomeness is wasted / he bikes uselessly towards us in the rain.” Studies show that reading babies to themselves is more beneficial than teaching them to anoint pets or spear fish. The spine the book rests on will remain decades after we have been ravaged by the crud and stench of the soil.
On Becca Jensen's 'Among the Dead'
A fairly precise list of the things I ate during the two days I wrote this review of Becca Jensen’s Among the Dead: Ah! and Afterward Yes!
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
7:01 a.m. While I wait for the water to boil, I press my finger to a dirty plate and pick up a few crumbs of chocolate cake. They’re hard from sitting in the sink all night but still very rich. I feel a little sick almost immediately. The water boils. I take the dog out.
7:55 a.m. I find that poets tend to eat the same thing a lot — which is probably a species of the lyric impulse: a desire to propagate, preserve, and protect pleasure. Or trauma. Or, it’s a desire to make the two indistinguishable. Anyway, every morning I have the same thing for breakfast: Kashi, Greek yogurt, and blueberries. I only make eggs when I’m hungover or on special occasions.
10:05 a.m. I eat a small bowl of Snyders of Hanover Jalapeno Pretzel Pieces, even though I’m not really hungry. I used to eat these with my mom after school, and I still eat them religiously, especially when I have writer’s block — which, after two hours of focused writing, is beginning to creep in. (Note how writing follows the rhythms of sexuality: iterative rises toward climax followed by periods of detumescence. Tomorrow I will delete everything that I’ve written this morning — ashamed by the hysteric intensity of the writing, by my desire to re-write the whole history of the avant-garde in two pages.)
12:50 p.m. Lunch is the improvisatory meal: the space of play within the otherwise rigid strictures of the lyric impulse. I have scrambled eggs and an English muffin. And afterward, a few handfuls of caramel popcorn left over from my wedding. Barthes is right about writing but only because his famous aphorism is itself a tautology: tissues are a tissue of quotations.
3:50 p.m. I eat more jalapeno pieces and caramel popcorn as I re-read Becca Jensen’s Among the Dead: Ah! and Afterward Yes! (2012).It occurs to me that Jensen’s book also scrupulously documents a certain kind of consumption — of texts rather than foodstuffs. I consider making this a metaphor in my essay, but I realize that the metaphor is totally foreign to Jensen’s book. She talks about desire and subject formation in very interesting ways but she’s not really interested in eating.
Eating is, after all, a way of returning the body to itself. It brings the body and the world into alignment by assimilating the world to the body. When Jensen thinks about the body, she treats it as a form of dispossession and loss. The book is obsessed with drowning and exile. Jensen thinks these are the basic facts of embodiment. I read at first without comprehension, but with deep pleasure in the texture of her language. Then I realize that the book is designed to elicit this sense of mystification. Citations and commentary are introduced long before or after the passages they refer to, forcing the reader to travel backward and forward in the book, with the aimless consumption of a flaneur, an exile in aesthetics.
6:45 p.m. I experiment with making toasted pasta for dinner. The results are disappointing.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
7:55 a.m. Kashi and yogurt again. While I’m walking the dog, I think about this urge to repeat. I decide it’s a way of regularizing temporality: imposing a small but potent uniformity on a vast play of differences. Then I think about the avant-garde. Its tragedy, in my opinion, is its determination to be different (or difference): to separate itself decisively from what came before. An Oedipal ambition, which ends in the violent suppression of the past. I’m thinking for instance, of conceptualism and its relationship to romanticism. Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing (2011) and Craig Dworkin’s introduction to The Ubuweb Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2003) both begin by dismissing romanticism out of hand as the negative, reactionary force that conceptualism rescues us from; e.g. Goldsmith:
Because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of genius — a romantic isolated figure — is outdated […] today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.
Who are we even talking about here? Hölderlin in his tower? Wordsworth on the Alps? (Even The Prelude, perhaps the most expressive poem ever written, is itself an appropriative rewriting of Paradise Lost.) Never mind that this dismissal has no purchase on romanticism as it was actually practiced. Never mind that conceptualism is itself a romantic movement, depending on the romantics’ discovery of a textualized material world that can be fragmented and appropriated by art. These are ritual disavowals; they are marked by a ritual mystification of the past. Why engage in this polemical (and sometimes brutal) self-repression? What happens when the repressed returns? With some regrets, I make eating the central metaphor of my essay anyway.
I like Among the Dead: Ah! and Afterward Yes! so much because it imagines and practices a kind of avant-garde writing which does not engage in such historical partitioning. It draws the whole of literary history into itself in a series of quotations which stretch from Odysseus to Ulysses. Though it flirts with genres like the verse play and the lyric essay, it’s really a commonplace book: a compilation of Jensen’s historically omnivorous reading, a place where multiple pasts combine according to an idiosyncratic chemistry.
9:45 a.m. More Jalapeno pieces. I wonder, as I eat them, whether I actually like them — honestly, they’re pretty gross — or whether I eat them in order to maintain a pocket of the past in the present. Probably the latter: desire is a form of nostalgia. The present, in which we desire, is almost entirely occupied by the past. (We might say that the present is a medium for the past.) Again, my thoughts turn to the avant-garde. We are always being told to “make it new” and “make it now.” But the now is populated by the past and propagates it. The question will be: how to write from the newness of the past and the pastness of the new. Without being an asshole — that is, without being motivated by a patriarchal longing for a lost unity of the poetic tradition.
We could try to think of the past as an unfinished reservoir of collaborative possibility, a source of innovation rather than its enemy. In a recent interview, Jensen notes: “After a while, most of my interactions were with dead people, or people who were such strangers that they might as well be dead. Basically, I only began to write as a way to manufacture conversations with some dead strangers.” She’s talking about her reading, but she may as well be talking about her book. While it features five distinct characters, each of these characters is less an autonomous subjectivity and more a channel for quotations. The book works, then, to erase temporal difference, to delete the distinction between citation and original writing. As Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum writes in her introduction to the book, “This atmosphere of allusion produces the feeling of reading great books: of being inside an enormous bell … unable to tell where one’s own voice ends and the reverberations begin.” Or as Foucault says, “I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face.”
12:00 p.m. Eggs and an English muffin again, this time in a sandwich (see what I mean about improvisation). Death of the author, death of the text, death of the reader, salt to taste.
1:30 p.m. With all this death stalking through the avant-garde, one might say that we are ‘among the dead,’ in Eliot’s felicitous phrase. Eliot, of course, intends to maintain a fairly strict distinction between the living and the dead:
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.
The living judge and the dead are judged. Jensen reverses this relation; the second half of her title, “Ah! and Afterward Yes!” is borrowed from a scene in Bleak House:
The gentleman put up his eye-glasses to look at me, and said, ‘Come here, my dear!’ He shook hands with me, and asked me to take off my bonnet — looking at me all the while. When I had complied, he said, ‘Ah!,’ and afterwards, ‘Yes!’
Here the dead judge the living — and find them pleasing. Eliot correlates the dead with the past; for Jensen, the present is dead and the living are the past. I am eating more popcorn and feeling very slothful.
6:00 p.m. I make falafel and hummus from scratch. The hummus is surprisingly good, but the falafel balls disintegrate as soon as they hit the oil. I use a strainer to collect the crumbs and we shovel them into our sandwiches like ground beef. It’s surprisingly good. Maybe it would be better to think that Jensen introduces a hesitation: we can no longer know who is living and who is dead, who comes before and who comes after, what is closed and finished, and what can be reshaped collaboratively. Jensen again:
But that was once but once, so what is now still now? Perhaps the sky? Sky being the infinite bound by limitations, i.e. My dear, my darling, spend your limited eternity with me. But this turn into sky happens ‘always still and always always,’ a quadruple positive, which equals a negative. Therefore, mathematically speaking, we are in the past (21).
No doubt I am not the only one who writes in order to speak with the dead.
1. Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 1. See also Craig Dworkin, introduction to The Ubuweb Anthology of Conceptual Writing, 2003.
2. Camille Thigpen, “Featured Fig: Becca Jensen,” Les Figues Press, last modified September 3, 2013.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's 'Bodymap'
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s new book of poetry, Bodymap, insists we understand technology as “the practical application of knowledge.” This makes it possible for us to view survival as a set of skills and aesthetics, not as an end. Bodymap is a performance and a text, a love song to and an archive of working-class femme-of-color disabled experiences. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha uses her hybrid poetic form and structure to center assistance and interdependency as a site of politicized cultural knowledge production, equipping oppressed individuals and communities with a multiplicity of generative “methods.” These methods are “the psychic and communal practices that arise at the margins of a marginalized community,” which exist simultaneously outside of, and within, oppressive systems. These individual and communal survival technologies are what produce oppositional consciousness, praxis, and aesthetics.
In order to politicize these communities and their affective labors, Borderlands Performance Studies scholar Chela Sandoval unites these skills under a framework she calls “methodology of the oppressed.” At its core, this social circuit of survival technologies is the practice and performance of knowing the conditions of the present. These differential forms of “oppositional consciousness” are the various areas of expertise, skill sets, patterns, and knowledge productions that occur under the conditions and positions of a marginalized existence. Using this framework, artistic forms and aesthetics emerging from the borders of the oppressive hierarchies of power and control become, “an effective means of individual and collective liberation.” In their book, Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands, Sandoval, Arturo J. Aldama, and Peter García identify these methodologies as “decolonizing performatics/antics.” Designating performance as the practice of decolonial intervention provides the groundwork for establishing an affective affinity across experiences, embodiments, and theoretical disciplines. Therefore, the various processes of resituating form and meaning by “reversing, releasing, and altering an established coloniality of power” become “the components of an aesthetics of liberation.” By reclaiming “prophetic love,” or “oppositional social action as a mode of ‘love’ in the postmodern world,” Sandoval politicizes the differential affect linking folks who are impacted by the consequences of oppression. This linkage encourages us to think critically about the powers of cultural production through a decolonizing lens.
With differential affective survival methodologies at the heart of this movement, performance becomes an effective site of resistance. Part of this resistance is performing the struggles and strategies utilized for building support and trust within and between communities. Within the framework of Methodology of the Oppressed, performance privileges aesthetic productions based on differential embodiments, knowledges, survivorhoods, and affects. However, decolonizing performatics/antics are not confined to the stage; Bodymap’s concurrent performative, archival, and activist impulses effectively position oppositional consciousness as a political site of decolonizing knowledge production. Because of the ways Bodymap insists on performing a crip aesthetics rooted in alternative methods of relationality, assistance, pleasure, and pain as “a set of technologies for decolonizing the social imagination,” Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s focus on disability theory and praxis aligns with Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed to expand the developing field of intercultural performance methodologies.
According to the editors of Performing the US Latino and Latina Borderlands, “decolonial performatic/antic” methods often centralize artistic techniques such as “parodic-pastiche, hybrid, [and] bricolage aesthetics for generating myriad possibilities for expression.” The structure of Bodymap itself performs a crip aesthetics by utilizing a multiplicity of poetic forms as a decolonial intervention. In fact, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha carefully endeavors to fail at embodying these various forms. The pages are comprised of love odes to cars and discount stores, lists logging imperfect and painful sex moments, “non haikus,” and unexplained abbreviations. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “imperfect” or “unsuccessful” use of form manifests the differential affective experiences of being a working-class disabled queer of color. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha often uses enjambment at the end of stanzas to express an abrupt change in time and geographic location. In the poem “sternum,” Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha connects the two stanzas by a tattoo, not by linear time:
said home? home is right here
and touched her chest light
a year later
when you drilled the needle into my chest
and tattooed home there (97)
Here, the unpunctuated passage of time is meant to express the diasporic affect of being a working-class disabled queer of color. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s rearticulation of poetic form to represent the oppositional consciousness of having to manage multiple homes, identities, and institutions for survival functions as a decolonizing performatic/antic.
In fact, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s emphasis on “home” throughout the book signals her insistence on mapping differential crip cultural productions. There are many moments where Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha intentionally names crip and queer spaces and assistive technologies.
Leave us crumpled in sweatpants on our beds, vibrators always plugged in for pain control, herbal infusion in big mason jars, cell phone where we text our friends when we’re too gone to call, on hold for the low-income queer clinic for sliding-scale acupuncture, again. (39)
By exposing the ways in which working-class disabled queers of color make systems that are not designed to keep them alive work for them, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha cites crip aesthetic production as a source of resistance to ableist, hegemonic power and control. By documenting everyday moments of surviving the experience of being sick, tired, and in pain, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha unites a community across difference through a common love for the places and things that keep them alive, and therefore the desire to resist the oppressive systems that make those technologies inaccessible.
By boldly professing her love for the people, spaces, processes, and technologies cultivating, and assisting, her community, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha contributes to a collective working-class disabled queer-of-color blueprint. However, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is not mapping single spaces or objects; she is pinpointing the various ways in which people are assisted by, or assist each other with, these technologies:
She fucks my pussy that’s so tight after six months of nothing, says, you are so tight little girl, open up for me, that’s right — and I don’t have to work to come. And I cry when I do cause it’s like all the pain, all the not-enough, all the worked-to-death worn-through tired crip body, is coming out of my pussy onto her hands when she gives me what I have needed for so long.
Later, she texts me, “I could tell you needed to be fucked so bad and I was so happy to be able to give that to you.”
And then there was the moment on Skype where she said, “Only the hottest girls have fibromyalgia” and I threw back my head and laughed and laughed and fell in love. (64–65)
Here, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha insists on the indispensability of sex and technology as assistive, healing methods of survival. As she recalls this crip sex moment, the present tense and the long lines convey an intense sense of urgency. By framing interdependence and relationality as both a fleeting pleasure and a life force, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha transforms this methodology into a technology, and in turn, a source of knowledge production. Bodymap is mapping the differential, oppositional modes of interdependency keeping her, and her community, alive. This way, acts of interrelationality and assistance are positioned as an essential component of decolonizing resistance.
While Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is intentionally documenting this specific encounter, its poetic, performatic quality still preserves the moment’s transience. Using poetics as a method for compiling a blueprint, or an archive, of working-class disabled queer-of-color experience, she centers partiality as an essential feature of crip queer aesthetics.
Recognizing the partiality of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work as an essential feature of a working-class crip queer-of-color aesthetics not only shifts the readers’ expectations of what technology is, but also challenges our ideas of what an archive should look like, or work like. What qualifies as a documentable “trace,” and what exactly does a map look like? To Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this is a map aimed towards documenting shared experiences of survival, and these experiences do not always leave a trace, or want to leave a trace. While Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is compelled to document or blueprint a multiplicity of survival technologies to claim and decolonize aesthetic production, her archival impulse still assumes a partial quality in order to echo the precarious realities experienced by working-class disabled queers of color. The signposts present in Bodymap’s “map” are often coded, like an informal conversation between friends. The majority of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poetics are written using a kind of lingo specific to working-class disabled communities of color. Therefore, Bodymap offers assistance and communality to those who understand it, and requires translational work from those who do not.
the slow/walking lane of the Berkeley Y
you on the wheelchair lift, me walking slow, slow
all of us on our low-income memberships.
The elevator of every BART station,
any elevator, anywhere
any ramp, any time
any house where we bed bound jail break time
the community acupuncture clinic waiting room
my friend’s living room
where she exquisitely tops her PCA about precisely which dish to use
and gifts me with the ability to lift her palm. (55)
The idioms, abbreviations, and unexplained locales mentioned in the poems are the necessary codes Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and her communities have learned while “negotiating a landscape of inequality.” In doing this, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha portrays the fleeting, and oftentimes unstable, methods of survival a poor disabled queer of color may experience. She also preserves her community’s privacy, especially of those who receive “illegal” or “unconventional” medical assistance. Except, by exposing these survival technologies through performatics, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha also legitimizes the occurrence of such events and therefore politicizes their existence.
While Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s own performatics politicize her, and her community’s oppositional modes of being, thinking, surviving, and documenting, the book lays the groundwork for future reimaginings of what oppositional social action as a mode of love should look like. By blueprinting the methodologies of a crip queer existence, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “differential” poetics opens up more possibilities within the framework of Methology of the Oppressed, ones that push creativity beyond the materiality of survival. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s representations of non-normative movement, cripness, and especially crip queer sex moments, are a part of a larger project seeking to map future social relations. Performance-studies scholar Jose Muñoz argues, “queerness is also a performative because it is not simply a being but a doing for and toward the future. Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.” Muñoz’s work clearly resonates with Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s contribution to decolonial love as resistance. Her various assistive relationships with her lovers, her friends, herself, and even with the various oppressive systems she must manipulate, are all oppositional, yet practical and hopeful applications of knowledge. By centering technology as crip aesthetics, and crip aesthetics as technology, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha qualifies assistive, cathartic, and healing modes of being as intrinsically political. She does this in her writing, and by making the book itself into a kind of oppositional love anyone can perform, memorize, or use in a critical analysis. Bodymap is a text, a performance, and an archive, an assistive technology and a decolonizing performatic dreaming of oppositional affinities, interdependencies, and sledgehammers to inaccessible curbs.
8. The grief experienced by queer communities is a pivotal source for the politicization of queer existences and is what mobilizes folks to build, maintain, and theorize assistive queer spaces across difference. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha makes a reference to Amber Dawn’s “Where the Words End and My Body Begins,” in which queer grief is reimagined as a “blueprint.” By quoting Dawn, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is simultaneously contributing to and professing her love for the act of mapping queer/crip spaces and figures. See Amber Dawn, Where the Words End and My Body Begins (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015).
11. A reference to Robert McRuer’s “Coming Out Crip: Malibu is Burning,” in Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (NYU Press, 2006). Citing McRuer, who is an extremely influential crip/queer scholar (as well as José Muñoz) is my way of building on Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s crip/queer cartographic efforts. In the spirit of the crip-queer blueprint, I cite McRuer and Muñoz as a way of “professing love” for their work and thus, contributing to the crip/queer mapping process.