by Johannes Goransson on Apr.11, 2011
I was just teaching Ronaldo Wilson’s poetry (Narrative of the Brown Boy and the White Man and Poems of the Black Object), following a discussion of Aime Cesaire’s Notebook on a Return to the Native Land, and I couldn’t help reading Joyelle’s post but to see a connection between “the deformation zone” (a phrase Joyelle takes from Aase Berg’s book Upland, which is notably “set” in an airplane crash that never happens, instead hovering like a dragonfly in between life and death): a zone where the inside is outside, the outside inside.
From Narrative, we discussed the poem in which the brown boy fantasizes about Brad Pitt and Kevin Bacon being attacked by “a flaming couch section” and covered in gasoline and sperm, and the one in which the brown boy becomes sexually attracted/curious by an old white man who appears to be “dying”: accumulating bodily materials like “coral” or “rust,” his flimsy boxer shorts appearing to meld with his body, stitched up as if his interior was about to flow out.
This inbetween space (the swimming pool, the pool, the locker room) reappears throughout Black Object: The speaker in one poem goes with a white man to a hotel room where he discovered that the white man is bleeding profusely from the ass; a white man is stabbed in Brooklyn (“Welcome to Brooklyn,” says the speaker coolly); a black ex-army guy is disheveled in a public bathroom and the speaker fantasizes about pissing on his face. Strangers meeting sexually/violently in in-between spaces, generating grotesque bodies that are saturated with media, conducting media, swallowing media.
Not only do these instances recall Joyelle’s deformation zones but also Mark Seltzer’s idea of “wound culture,” where the public space is pathologized. These inbetween spaces – private spaces that are made semi-public – are distinguished not only by the violence, sexuality, fluid (media of swimming pool water, of gasoline, of semen), but also by the sense that these wounds create a kind of public space.
Also interesting how this model follows the one set up in Amiri Baraka’s seminal poem “Black Arts,” where the races met in violence (guns, cops etc) and homosexuality (the black leaders giving head to the white sheriff) resulting in grotesque bodies (something about Liz Taylor and “mulatto bitches”). Except that Ronaldo complicates things quite a bit: there is no search for “pure” heterosexual “love” in a “black world”, but rather the “love” is totally impure, the love is exactly in the grotesque body, in its wounds, in the public space where these interactions take place.
It seems that “pure” love – defined against an impure (gay, kitsch) love – might be related the the oldfashioned sublime, while Ronaldo’s impure love and grotesque bodies might have something to do with a deformation zone sublime.