by Feng Sun Chen on May.28, 2012
I remember reading Jackie Wang’s epistolary response to Dodie’s book, The Buddhist, on a blog and wanting to read it, and also being envious of the both of them, who seemed/seem strong, wise, and bonded through kinds of radical vulnerability (a phrase I got from Kristen Stone from somewhere else I can’t remember). I am reading The Buddhist after recently devouring I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, and it seems like they are building on a giant chaotic mass of an energy that I miss (or don’t have) in my life, a kind of active relating to feelings.
I’m only a few pages in and I feel like I have to talk to the book by writing through myself and my dirty navel. The place I had to stop first was at the description of the hungry ghosts. “The hungry ghost is ravenously hungry, but its neck is too skinny to swallow any food. it represents deep-seated longings that can never be satiated.” So far, the Buddhist is like a fleshy, massive plant sprouting from a dense mass of pain that cannot be grasped. A woman is ridiculed for her vulnerability and desire by a Buddhist and she writes about it and her feelings, and it’s a blog, and it’s public. The relationship/affair with The Buddhist could be a “frame” I suppose but I don’t know. I can’t say “broken frame” without then implying that there was a frame to be broken. Relationships/bodies have never been easy to frame (to me)…because bodies rupture each other. Thinking about the word “capture” and how close to “rupture” it is phonetically. I love that other relationships pour through the text, recollections of conversations with other writers, poets, people I admire, who “nurse” the plant.
Like “I Love Dick” and “Coeur de Lion” (Ariana Reines), this book is reflexive disobedience. But I should say that it is not homogenous in its reflexivity/reflectiveness and I think of the line from Kraus’s Dick book about “walking straight into it.” Sometimes it gets very close to the heart matter. These women walk straight into mess in front of everyone. It is public. Suffering in public is so taboo. One of the many things people say to ridicule writers/poets is to point at their fake suffering, because the melodrama of feminine suffering looks fake, unless dressed in appropriate attire. So this fits nicely with various conversations here at Montevidayo. It points to the domestication of desire and emotion and their expression: aesthetics. I remember growing up with this idea that the suffering woman must be beautiful and look a certain way when being watched, restrained but showing a neat vulnerability. Not gashy or rage-y. (I can’t help but think about poems having to be beautiful in their restraint and tension, rather than excessive and overwrought…*see Lucas’s previous posts. It’s something that most people grew up with, I think.)
What about ugly girls? Somehow it is even more offensive for an ugly girl or “hag” to have feelings and desires, especially sexual. One of my favorite parts of the book so far is “Flinching before the Gaze” in which Dodie presents a quote from Franzen’s Freedom and then says “FUCK YOU JONATHAN FRANZEN.” The quote in question is an example of what I hate reading in my limited experience with a certain type of high lit contemporary fiction written by men, and I don’t know if there is a name for this thing so I’m being very vague. The Trend: the condescending male perspective spends copious energy lacerating other characters and climbing way up high so as to gain a good view of how much better they are than everyone else, because they can see through you and your weakness, and paint a picture of just how ugly and disgusting you, and possibly all of society including themselves, are:
“Then she waited, with parted lips and a saucy challenge in her eyes, to see how her presence—the drama of being her—was registering. In the way of such chicks, she seemed convinced of the originality of her provocation. Katz had encountered, practically verbatim, the same provocation a hundred times before, which put him in the ridiculous position now of feeling bad for being unable to pretend to be provoked: of pitying Lucy’s doughty little ego, its flotation on a sea of aging-female insecurity.” -Franzen
I actually have a copy of Franzen’s very thick book, and so does Obama. I don’t know where the book is now, but before I moved, I used it to keep the head of my bed from hitting the wall and disturbing the neighbors when I moved around in bed or had sex.
The asexuality of the laughing hag is threatening to the male gaze. But this book is also about the unruly, horny ladybeast that comes out of infatuation, and the self-annihilating aspects of love. One can be both at the same time. One can be bad and experimental. Or “more than good,” as Ariana Reines says.
Plus a great quote from Jackie Wang:
“suffering in isolation can fucking destroy you. i think there is a lot to be said about the strategy of turning pain into an object as a way to move through and beyond that pain—pushing it out and into the world in the form of something to be shared. i know people tend to be cynical about what approaches “therapeutic art,” but such a perspective assumes that art that takes personal suffering as its object of inspiration is solely about the healing of the Self rather than the transformation of something personal into something social.”
Here is a sea pig:
5 comments for this entry: