Sunday, August 20, 2017

Apocalyptic body song

"There is no self and other," she said, laughing into the mouth of death, the blue light at her temple gleaming laser-like into the sky and surrounding air, the song in her head crescendoing in tidal waves and reverberating in the bones of every man, woman, and child around her, her armies plunging and rising as if carried by apocalyptic body song.

And when she rested her body down upon the dirt, arms spread, legs spread, face down, there was a breach to history as well as evolution.

And the sky lit with fire, half from the weapons of his attack, half from her summoning of the earth and all its calderas — war and decreation all at once, a seeming impossibility.
It's been a while since I read The Book of Joan, but I think I still have things to say about it.

It was not an easy read for me. Overly literary, almost poetic. That's not always a bad thing. Usually I would blame myself for not connecting with a book. For some reason, this time, I am perfectly comfortable in not taking the blame. Another time, another place, I imagine I would feel similarly, just that I might explain it away differently.

I mean, "apocalyptic body song." Come on.

While the turns of phrase are sometimes beautiful, they took me out of the story rather than propel me along by fleshing it out.

That said, there's an awful lot to think about here. The trajectory on which our planet is headed, ecologically, politically, maybe morally. "We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power." Resources. "Reproduction wasn't what we mourned. We mourned the carnal." The nature of love, gender, energy, power, narrative. "I wonder sometimes if that's why grafting was born. It restores us to the evidence of a body." Physicality and magicality. "The physical world seemed only a membrane between humans and the speed and hum of information." Rebellion.

In 2049 there is a space station colony where live — if you can call it that — Earth's last survivors, among whom 49-year-old Christine, soon to be "aged out" and thus having nothing to lose, grafts the story of Joan onto her body. "What is the word for her body?"

[It's hard not to think that I would be aged out soon, too.]

[It's hard not to think of Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body. It's been eons since I read it, I don't remember it, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say these novels share some themes and theory.]
Two things have always ruptured up and through hegemony: art and bodies. That is how art has preserved its toehold in our universe. Where there was poverty, there was also a painting someone stared at until it filled them with grateful treas. Where there was genocide, there was a song that refused to quiet. Where a planet was forsaken, there was someone telling a story with their last breath, and someone else carrying it like DNA, or star junk. Hidden matter.
Shirin Neshat. Divine Rebellion, 2012.
Los Angeles Review of Books: Retrofuturist Feminism
Now is a fine time for tales of women's resistance, which, above all else, is what The Book of Joan has on offer. Lidia Yuknavitch mines literary and political history for impressive, timely heroines based on the iconic Joan of Arc and her contemporary Christine de Pizan, the only chronicler to write during Joan’s lifetime. Yuknavitch grafts these findings onto layers of material drawn equally from contemporary critical theory, our dire political and ecological realities, and an array of speculative fiction ranging from Shakespeare's The Tempest to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In the convoluted folds and counterfolds of her narrative, Yuknavitch binds these various strains together with the fates of an Earth that has not quite survived eco-catastrophe and a parasitic sky realm, CIEL, ruled over by Jean de Men, a sadistic and egotistical television-billionaire-become-dictator: "His is a journey from opportunistic showman, to worshipped celebrity, to billionaire, to fascistic power monger," a rise made possible by the "acquiescence" of the powerful and wealthy.
The Rumpus: "A Full-Throated Cry from a Clarion"
In The Book of Joan, the last members of the human race, having "ascended" to a colony in space after a violent event, have lost their sexual organs in a devolutionary process. Insects and reptiles populate the station where these semi-humans orbit a dead Earth; the bugs and lizards are neither animal nor synthetic, but something between. The relationship of Joan, around whom the book revolves, to her companion Leone, is not sexual or platonic but something else. Everything in the novel is both-and, not either-or. "Bodies in Space"
When you center a story in the body, particularly the female body, you're going to have to grapple with ideas of autonomy, consent, life and death. We like the female body when it is wet, unless that wet is urine or period blood. We like the female body when it is DTF, not as much when it is Down To Eat or Down To Fight or, Ishtar save us, Down To Think. As the book twists and turns and changes shape it becomes far less the familiar story of a young girl leading a war, or becoming a nation's sacrificial lamb, and becomes much more about women having control over what is done to their bodies. It also mediates long and hard on those people who want to assert their desire on other people, animals, or the Earth itself.
I can't imagine whom I would recommend this book to.
The beauty is all gone now — but the vastness remains, and I can almost feel beauty just under the surface of things. It hurts to look at it.

No comments: