It was a really fun and energizing Guillotine event at Melville House—I loved hearing Bojan Louis talk and read from his text on censorship and Arizona, and was really revitalized by his anger and activism. Sarah, Bojan and I spoke about anger in our respective writing after our readings, about Jamaica Kincaid's awesome interview in The American Reader where she notes:
People only say I’m angry because I’m black and I’m a woman. But all sorts of people write with strong feeling, the way I do. But if they’re white, they won’t say it. I used to just pretend I didn’t notice it, and now I just think I don’t care.
There are all sorts of reasons not to like my writing. But that’s not one of them. Saying something is angry is not a criticism. It’s not valid. It’s not a valid observation in terms of criticism. You can list it as something that’s true. But it’s not critical.
You may not like it because it makes you uneasy—and you can say that. But to damn it because it’s angry…. They always say that about black people: “those angry black people.” And why? You’re afraid that there might be some truth to their anger. It might be justified.
We talked about "rants" - a word I think I am reclaiming in the Guillotine text - I love actually the performativity of the rant, like Close to the Knives, the need for rage to find a form...the monologic like Thomas Bernhard or the Croatian writer Vedrana Rudan's Night—it is some of my favorite writing. But I think "rant" can be a term used to dismiss writing, seen as unformed, or as pathological, obscuring reason or truth...A text I keep on returning to again and again is Anne Carson's "Gender of Sound," I think because she is isolating something from ancient Greece, from the dawn of Western patriarchy, that exists still in our rhetoric and language, the privileging of sophrosyne, the masculine (colonialist, white) mode of self-control, versus the idea of the feminine (subaltern, in various forms) mode of outsized, outside emotions. And I think Jamaica Kincaid is speaking to this sort of disciplining - to label a woman, a black woman, or a man of color, or a queer person, "angry," (or a killjoy) is an attempt to silence them, to negate their justified anger, to negate as well their logic, or the way they've made an argument through more emotive energy.
And then Sarah asked us about the term "revolutionary nonfiction." And I said I thought it had something to do with trauma or rupture, admitting that there is trauma (national trauma, cultural trauma, individual trauma), circling around it perhaps, but not packaging it up at the end, not insisting on total healing, because is total healing ever possible? I think (and I've been thinking about this a lot) that the market forms of the memoir, or memoiristic writing, often beautifully written pieces, are structured towards making the reader feel okay about everything at the end. I'm okay, you're okay, we're okay. Or this is fucked up, but we (the liberal reader) are the good people. Something like that.
I think this is something I agitate against in my writing, and I think that's often why my writing is called "angry" because I don't attempt healing. Except I think of Ntozake Shange, a huge influence on me when I was in college, calling for a healing moment at the end of a work. I think in Heroines I attempt some sort of healing and call for community. My end of O Fallen Angel is extremely nihilistic, as the ending of Green Girl could also be interpreted as, to a lesser extent. I am finishing Mutter now, have to turn it in at the end of this weekend, and I end again on somewhat of a healing note, but trying to go against the sentimental, still wanting to end with a note of ambivalence. Ambivalence is not what the mainstream reader wants. Ambivalence is sometimes not what I want, in my life, in my reading. We often want a happy ending. Despite this, I think radical works frustrate these expectations.
As I was leaving the Melville House space in DUMBO John and I see a little creature scurrying past us. We follow it, as it looks like a kitten. A little terrified street urchin. We took the baby home, bathed it, cleaned it up, took him to the vet yesterday, put some pictures of the kitten online, and as of this morning Melville (as we were calling him) has been adopted by a couple in Ditmas Park who lost their 19-year-old cat two years ago. Yesterday was delightful, if exhausting, playing with a one-pound ball of fluff while wrangling my 20-lb puppy, who wanted to play with the kitten like a puppy plays. The kitten decided to reside almost entirely on my chest and under my chin, while purring rapturously.
Anyway. I felt so -happy and open - about rescuing the kitten, taking him home, getting him adopted. I wanted that happy ending. I wanted the sentimentality. I wanted to play with a kitten as opposed to wrestling with my manuscript that is basically an atrocity catalogue, a collage-opera of memories. Dont' most of us prefer looking at kittens on the Internet, at least sometimes?
melville the muffin