Incubation: 'A Space for Monsters' by Bhanu Kapil
The poet's novel
When I think of Incubation A Space for Monsters, I think of the form of the list, and how Kapil has transplanted this form so common to poetry into the form of the novel.
We think through lists, live them, annotate and move through time non-sequentially as we insert our prerogatives into lists. With each iteration on a list, as we enact it, who do we become?
“The secret pleasure of refusing to live like a normal person in a dress/with a sex drive and fingers/dreamy yet stabilized in the café of languages” .
Incubation A Space for Monsters, is a book akin to movement as a form of identity. The movement is many-directional. A character, Laloo, is literally moving. She is in transit via hitchhiking, which means in a sense that she has no idea which direction she will move. Her body is spliced, part “monster” part “baby” part “cyborg” part “dream.” She is moving in the direction of female identity, an identity between borders, between safety and risk, between any fixed notion of intimacy and the question — how to be a person intact? She is revealed to herself within a moving landscape, but she is also hidden. She attempts to grasp the many convolutions and distortions of meaning that shake her to alertness. This book behaves as a poet’s novel in that the interior movement within language and character is mostly intractable. We don’t care where, literally, a character moves. Who she becomes if she survives is the central question but this is not an answerable question. In a conventional novel readers expect to be told — what happens to Laloo? Is she a reliable source of her story? Who is she in any one moment and how can we trace who she has become by the end of the novel? A progression is demanded. Has she moved forward or backward? Are her movements intelligent? What is intelligence?
Readers of poet’s novels want our relation to the text to be released from the expected conventions of telling. We want instead, to be shown one of any manner of ways in which a text can behave. We desire our own definitions of multiple intelligences, which may require multiple readings not condensable into a limited number of words. We require, not a text behaving for an industry, but a text which wants to know something that cannot be told. An impossibility. We desire text that tries to push against the painted sky one often arrives at within a novel — in horror. We desire characters to laugh as they cut through the imaginary backdrop to reveal props, staging, minutia to address frame, perspective, methods of ambulation and to probe the interior or ulterior motives of any descriptive surface. A type of inertia or a type of cutting is required which feels almost like stillness or violence, both with a similar, though wildly different potency. For example, at the end of Incubation, a Space for Monsters we are aware of various rules, such as, “Divorce then re-marry the road at least twice” . A setting is never static and a setting is never merely a setting. This could be said of action within any novel, but in a poet’s novel action is not more important than quiet, arc is not the same as plot, character is not necessarily person or portrait, and time is often a character or operative device.