Bhanu is a brilliant novelist and thinker, but the discussion was actually co-led by poet and editor Amber Di Pietra. Amber's participation was not advertised, though it was implied in Bhanu's description of the event:
I've been reading Elizabeth Grosz on sensation and futurity: "There is an involuted and oblique relation between the energies of sexual selection...the attraction to and possible attainment of sexual (though not necessarily copulative) partners—human and otherwise—and the forces and energies of artistic production and consumption" (from *Chaos, Territory, Art*). That the intensity felt in a body is part of what allows it to extend into a territory or cross between domains—acts of pleasure, acts of sexual selection, as analogous to the process of making transgressive works of art. Not sure. Am thinking about immigrant bodies, refugee bodies, bodies made hybrid by divergence on a continuum from prosaic (the South-Asian grad student) to traumatic. Have been thinking about numbness, about hyper-vigilance, about what happens to the flow of "energies of sexual selection" in a body that's at the limit of possible sensations. This as depending too on class status. On how desirability is worked out in the port of arrival. My question, then, for writers/artists working through a poetics of disablement—towards hybrid works, in particular—is there any language we can think through together, about the experience of hybridity/fusion in the body—and how might this affect our transgressive relationships to the space of the book, the territory of document, our ability to attain the kind of couplings/intensifications/resonant physical gestures that further the limit of what a book is? I feel as if there is another kind of book I am only beginning to imagine. What about you? I didn't meet you yet. Other aims: I'd like to ask Amber Di Pietra to say more about the hybrid body as "compacted."It was an intense event. Some people were thrilled by it, others had mixed feelings, still others were disturbed. I don’t think anybody walked away unmoved. One person told me that afterwards she had to abandon plans for the evening and stay home, that she was in no shape to go out because of what she'd heard—and felt. The afternoon has haunted me this past week. I’ve been journaling about it, over and over, trying to get a handle on my reactions.
Jumping off from an excerpt from Elizabeth Grosz's Chaos, Territory, Art (which Bhanu had made downloadable on the Nonsite site ahead of time) Bhanu talked about attraction and species survival—and alluded, without going into details, how the trauma of otherness can thwart one from feeling one’s attractive capability, can thwart one from enjoying pleasure until an experience is nearly over. It numbs one’s ability to take in and feel passion. As always she evoked a wonderfully uncomfortable edge between intelligence and emotional and physical vulnerability.
Amber's surprise presentation was also captivating and smart, and can be found here. Amber talked frankly about her difference from her family, the painful physical realities of childhood arthritis, and the social stigmatization she’s experienced. She said you feel like an other to yourself—taking in cultural images and then the shock of looking in the mirror and seeing you aren’t that image. Others talked about various ways they too were shocked when looking in the mirror—age, race, etc.
I felt there was not enough acknowledgement of the gulf between our experiences and Amber’s, the gulf between ableness and disablity, between private trauma and public trauma. An acknowledgement of otherness is not necessarily a bad thing—it’s a matter of respect. On a more mundane level, being with Kevin for 20+ years, at a certain point I stopped trying to understand him—he’s unfathomable—and I realized that understanding and trust weren’t inherently connected. We should acknowledge otherness—rather than trying to colonize it through compassion or understanding—or finding parallels in our own trauma. But how can we do this?
Perhaps the event was trying to do too much: acknowledging the deeply personal nature of the topic, witnessing Amber’s trauma—but also discussing Elizabeth Grosz, who naturally adopts an academic and speculative tone. There were all these people plugging into personal traumas and then there was the group’s continual return to an intellectual mode. Although abstraction has its place, and I love Elizabeth Grosz, it felt alien amid all the personal disclosure. I don't think the event was set up to handle an overload of emotion, but the nature of the topic and the generous vulnerability of Bhanu and Amber invited gut level reactions.
When I inserted theory into The Letters of Mina Harker I tended to collage in theoretical language—including passages from Elizabeth Grosz—in an awkward and jarring manner—so that the coopted language was a violation as much as an opening. Intellectualizing disturbs me these days—intellectualizing as a way to contain all the messiness, an impulse to distance and erase ordinary life.
But then, does one need to be frank about everything, does one need to put a spotlight on every messy little thing? Aren’t there positive values in coding, filtering, mediating? I’ve never written directly about my own childhood trauma—at this point I wouldn’t know how to make it interesting—there’s no distance, nothing redeeming, no relief. But that trauma has influenced my writing about monsters and all sorts of freakishness. Lots of women relate to the monster. Not surprisingly, the discussion turned to the question of whether writing about trauma reactivates the original trauma or recuperates it.
There’s so much trauma among writers. What happy child spends so hours with her nose stuck in a book? I do believe we store emotions in the body. I asked my chiropractor if she felt a person could release childhood trauma. Karen said no—the memories will always be there—but one can get to know that trauma so one can better manage its impact on your current life. Later in the week, I asked another body worker about trauma. Erene said emotion is always in the present—so if you dip into a childhood trauma, you experience it not as past/distant but in the present. That's how it felt at the Nonsite event—that for some of us the past was infecting the present. As Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."