How can trauma be written, or read about, when much of the impact of traumatic events is so overwhelming as to debilitate functional emotional, cognitive, and physical responses? Vickroy considers the formal, thematic, and ethical factors at stake in literature that explores trauma, including cultural ideas about identity, relationality, and intentionality. She focuses on Marguerite Duras, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, Dorothy Allison, and Pat Barker, among others. Steering away from psychoanalysis towards sociocultural and political causes of and responses to trauma makes this a more interesting work in my view, but often leads to a simplification of how trauma is aestheticised. Similarly, her contention that such literature encourages critical engagement and engages readers’ empathy in a way that is socially reparative is very optimistic. My main problem with this book was none of it felt particularly new and, in fact, much of it felt retrogressive, especially the discussion of the mother/child bond without much critique of such essentialist assumptions.
“In Memoriam” to the Fifth Street Women’s building, at a very specific period of US history: the women’s liberation movement. Feminist, socialist, anarchist, it was New Year’s Eve, 1970 and Arnold herself was part of a group who wanted a counterlife and a revolution. Thirteen days later, it was destroyed by police. This book is specific and wide-ranging, a document and a novel about love and difference. It’s formally avant-garde too, especially in its use of non-gendered pronouns – “na” and “nan” – that grate at first on the reader’s indoctrination in a binary system of gender, then feel natural. Arnold unsettles dearly-held ideas of gender, identity, and possessive monogamy. In Texas, before they establish the takeover in New York City, the cook and the carpenter are romantic partners living collectively with children and adults. Another member, Three, joins and complicates their relationship. Through people, Arnold wonders about dualism and dialectics, unity and difference. Remarkably prescient are her questions about the nature of the self: is it fluid or essential? Much of her thinking seems more radical than most lesbian feminist essentialism, but also considers the limits of a poststructuralist concept of the self as fragmented and forever socially constructed. The dialogue, inebriated meditations, and representation of dancing as freedom, are all beautiful. Unfortunately, I was surprised by how wonderfully written this was: I didn’t expect too much from an experimental lesbian long-out-of-print book from the 70s. It’s forgotten because it’s a radical lesbian text, not because it’s badly written or polemical.
I am excited to have a new story in the latest issue (Issue Fifteen) of Tincture Journal. It’s a short tale about festivals, energy, sand, and the Indigo Girls.
I should have included an advisory note that this piece be read while Nyepi by Nahko & Medicine for the People is playing. That song, and I hope the story itself, does a better job of capturing what I wanted to write about than any explanation I can give here.
Tincture is without a doubt one of my favourite local literary journals. Fifteen issues is a massive achievement for a periodical in the embattled Australian arts scene. Buy an issue for a few dollars to give it a bit more oxygen!
Don’t forget to check out my latest story, Flesh Memory, a very brief piece on VERITY LA about illness, running, sweat, friendship breakup, embodiment, healing, learning, and all for FREE! I rarely write such drastically personal things, but this came from a place of Truth and Reconstructing the Truth in pursuit of making something I could display in a lit journal.