Notes on Mutation
What is a question? How do questions work in your writing? What do they perform? What happens when you ask them?
Some notes from my own attempt to think about this, originally written as a way to think about Jean Valentine's "Little Boat," for a collection of writing on her work collected by Kazim Ali, whom I have never met but look forward to (Who is Kazim Ali? Did he drink black coffee in Egypt from a tiny porcelain cup? That is a separate question) [meeting]:
A question: Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it. As a mode of enquiry that’s also, linguistically, founded on doubt, on not having the words for what happens at the end of a relationship, the question seals space*.
*That tiny, bounded pocket of something that is also space is so free. Optically, a spore**. Or: a bubble with two spherical envelopes rotating at different rates: one you can’t see, like the anxiety gathering in the body before speech, which is heat; and one that processes along a subtly different elliptic. That second membrane is oily, with rich blue and red hues, and in my dream of the question it’s what drives or compels the response, whether that’s a rupturing fingertip or the eye tracking the color until it bursts. Why does it **burst?
Technology and biology, wrote Pam Lu. In a recent Harriet comment, in the sub-space, she wrote: "A question that kept popping up for me during my reading: How many generations does it take to heal? Two, three, twenty? By writing through a rupture, can one hope to get across it?" Reading Pam's words, I considered both the way a "question" from one space appears in another, but also the question itself as evolutionary practice. A way of moving between territories, or out of them, in ways that don't depend upon "transport" or the time it would take, to "go."
Then the poet Michelle Naka Pierce wrote this***, another mutation that exceeds and clarifies my own. Reading her words, I had the sudden thought, which was not a thought: "What if poetry is for others? And not for the person writing it? What if lineage is a line of lit fuel? Almost instantly charred."
January 29, 2010
Distal Flecks and other Migrations
In a recent post on Harriet (a blog from the poetry fdn), [BK: some kind of escaped dog****] writes: "....Tracking color to its most distal fleck, questions of surveillance, carnal lithography or .... Similarly, I saw that saturation was a precursor to vibration: a red ‘dot,’ which was not a dot, it was a body: breaking up.”
I want to respond to this, but I have been ill the last couple of days, and the brain is wonky. I'm in bed, perched slightly up by two pillows, and CP's new manuscript, The Liberties, is awaiting my attention. But the ideas of distal fleck(s) and saturation are haunting me. The body is so full (of pain? of memories? of more internal variation?) that it begins to vibrate, shattering the borders that attempt to contain it. Perhaps not shatter, which implies breaking violently into pieces, like shards. I need a verb that hints at the idea of liquid. Like paint being spread about by an oscillating fan of sorts. Or water pellets moving across a hard surface, vibrating along, creating these distal flecks. I’m picturing being in car wash—as you exit, the giant fan inches the droplets out and away, like some kind of fractal.
But how can I relate this to Rothko’s borders, which seem more feathery than like droplets?
Two weeks ago in Hybrid Utterance, we discussed Homi Bhabha's ideas on mutation. He points to the “discrimination between the mother culture and its bastards…, where the trace of what is disavowed is not repressed but repeated as something different—a mutation, a hybrid.” Trace. Repeated. But instead of being faulted for “going outside the lines” in this trace, we must embrace the swerve from the constructed “pure” gesture. Swerve: see clinamen; that is, a very small deviation in trajectory, marking atomic turbulence. This swerve is a strategy for subversion, but must begin with a shift in perspective—seen as different, not as illegitimate. These new movements, ways of being in the world, though not exactly like the “pure” parent’s gestures, still have validity. It is a way to embrace the chimera and our incongruent parts, as Haraway alludes to. It reverses the vibrations or the effects of the vibrations.
1. Take a sheet of onion paper (or a transparency) and trace the original.
2. Examine the distance of the swerve.
3. Drop paint into the center, then spin or shake.
4. Measure the distal flecks from the epicenter.
5. When saturated, calculate the rate at which the absorption occurred.
The hues rise, and you visualize, quite unexpectedly, a scene where red meets yellow meets sky. Scatter effect.
Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches at Naropa University. She also teaches in Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal...