The Year in Review: 2019

The following highlights are not exhaustive.

EVENTS

Trans/Acker Symposium: Trans and Genderqueer Readings of Kathy Acker (November @ The New School in NY): It was McKenzie Wark’s great idea to put a bunch of trans people in room to talk about Kathy Acker all day, and it was my great pleasure to be one of them. McKenzie presented from her forthcoming book Philosophy of Spiders, which in parts employs a kind of aggregation technique on Acker’s body of work, for instance, sifting through to find and catch all the questions in her books and piling them all together. Torrey Peters’ absorbing talk on “The Cult of the Sad Literary Trans Woman” (via Leslie Jamison’s recent essay) has stayed with me as I’m thinking about my own investments in the sad literary sort-of girl; and Kay Gabriel’s talk was predictably too brilliant to pin down. I presented an essay on Acker’s sexual pessimism and an early draft of my novel that features Acker as a character. (Some of our talks will be published eventually on Public Seminar.)

Is This a Room, conceived and directed by Tina Satter (November @ Vineyard Theatre): A change of direction for Satter, Is This a Room is verbatim theatre dramatizing the transcript of the FBI’s interrogation of Reality Winner, who leaked documents about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election. The performance was electrifying and horrifying the whole way through, in part due to Reality’s vulnerability as a young woman in thin blouse and cutoffs confronted by three armed men; in part due to the knowledge that she was arrested immediately after this surprise visit and has been in custody ever since. Is This a Room, then, documents her last moments of freedom, so many of them filled with concern for her dog and cat—neither of whom, she warns the agents, like men. Spare set, no intermission, the only breaks the quick beats of purple-lit silence to indicate redacted text; throughout, we were suspended with Reality in escalating crisis with very little relief available. Emily Davis as Reality was riveting, and the real Reality shown to be the people’s hero she is.


Last Days at Hot Slit Launch Party (March @ Participant Inc., NYC): This was among the scene-iest events I attended this year, an intergenerational who’s who of queer and feminist artists and writers, there to support the launch of the new Andrea Dworkin reader, edited by Johanna Fateman and Amy Scholder. Scene-y yet warm. Slices of the book were presented by an ensemble group (including Karen Finley, Christen Clifford, Andrea Long Chu, among others). Held at Participant Inc. on the closing day of Viva Ruiz’s Pro-Abortion Shakira, with Thank God for Abortion posters as iconic backdrop: the room held Dworkin’s complicated legacy with generosity and compassion.

Lambda Litfest (September in LA): If you know me offline you’ve already heard too much about this but ICYMI—in September I met Tegan and Sara! And talked to them on a stage, even somewhat intelligently, about their memoir HIGH SCHOOL. Here we are!

Also as part of Lambda Litfest, I read with cheeky queers Charlie Jane Anders, Ryka Aoki, Amanda-Faye Jimenez, Sam Cohen, and Rachel Levy for The Bitter Laugh. So much laughter! Not nearly enough bitterness! Still sorry for going late and eating into Foglifter’s time.

I made it to the launch of Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry, too, which was a radiant delight, the room lit up and glowing. Here’s Amber Dawn from her introduction: “Poetry is to dream, desire, resist, emote, express, and create new possibilities…And what I have to say is every time a sex worker writes a poem, we transcend all the harms that have been done to our stories. Every time a sex worker writes a poem, we rise above subjugation.”

 

BOOKS

Kevin Killian, Fascination: Memoirs (Semiotext(e), late 2018): He left us a legacy of generosity and love, and a body of work defined by elegance, wit, dishiness, and depravity. Fascination collects two early memoirs and a new work centering his brief affair with experimental musician Arthur Russell. What a treat to meet a younger Kevin, living his best, occasionally alarming, gay life prior to leaving New York for San Francisco.

Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (Norton, 2019): This book is extraordinary. Hartman recreates the lost histories of young black women in the early twentieth century as they wander within circumscribed lives while daring to want something more. Some chronicles are composites, some imagined from the details anonymous photographs, others recreated through complicated archival trails, all meticulously researched. A captivating, original work of creative urban history: “After a year spent looking at a colored girl, posed in the nude, on an old horsehair sofa, I decided to retrace her steps through the city and imagine her many lives. Following in her footsteps and in those of other black women in the city, I made my way through the Black Belts of Philadelphia and New York….I traced the errant paths and the lines of flight that in the decades from 1890 to 1935 would enclose the boundaries of the black ghetto. In the end, it became not the story of one girl, but a serial biography of a generation, a portrait of the chorus, a moving picture of the wayward.”

Stephen van Dyck, People I’ve Met from the Internet (Ricochet, 2019): This engrossing, often very funny postconceptual memoir is just what it sounds like: a long list plus annotations in the form of notes on each person, the annotations accumulating to form a personal narrative through brief encounters. Van Dyck meets people from Gay.com, Craigslist, MySpace, etc., often to hook up (in a variety of forms including “massaged my butt, slept over” and “sat on his very hairy lap”), sometimes to buy or sell furniture, occasionally to go river tubing or talk all night about the universe. In archiving these forms of queer cruising, initiated online but also strongly localized (set predominantly in Albuquerque and Los Angeles), van Dyck’s memoir offers something of an update to Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue though without much in the way of theory/analysis. It’s a document of experience from 1998 to 2009, covering the author’s first queer encounters, his mother’s death, and his coming into an identity as gay and as a writer amid a range of fleeting and not-so-fleeting intimacies made possible by digital spaces.

Lauren Levin, Justice Piece // Transmission (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2018): In this diptych Levin wrangles with race and racism, gender, queerness, desire, touch, accountability, and motherhood from the vantage point of not-so-straight white Jewishness, and it is a feat. Sprawling, peripatetic, slipping in and out of lineation, these dispatches from the daily trash fire that is Trump’s America are no less urgent for their braced lucidity. Hard to excerpt in a way that accurately reflects the book’s breadth and its intimate and unflinching consciousness but I’ll try: “The constant cleaning needed to hide the facts of domestic work, / its endless return and its decay. What you are supposed to do is erasure // This reminds me of justice. I don’t know how to explain why. / But it’s like the refusal to hide that justice is made of rotting parts” (40).


Trisha Low, Socialist Realism (Coffee House Press, 2019): 
A solid work of autotheory from one of my very favorites. From my review in Bookforum: “Where The Compleat Purge relished in performing the delicious narcissism of the morbidly melodramatic teen girl, Low’s new book Socialist Realism is decidedly Adult. More restrained, less indulgent, and properly, legibly, nonfiction, Socialist Realism is a mostly earnest, always engrossing long essay that charts a personal quest for utopia in the form of some kind of home. If this second book is not, frankly, as fun as her first, its pleasures are of an altogether different sort. Low has traded in the no-futurism of her suicidal phantasies in favor of dreams of revolution. A quixotic, improbably sentimental work, Socialist Realism longs for a better world while celebrating the minor joys of this one. This Low is not threatening to bequeath us her Franz Ferdinand CDs; she’s committed to life, for now, and to building a something else, a something more—what might be called home.”

T. Fleischmann, Time is the Thing a Body Moves Through (Coffee House Press, 2019): Also (with Low’s Socialist Realism, above) part of Coffee House Press’s new series of booklength essays. Per its title, it’s no surprise that this book offers an embodied movement through time—and yet it defies narrative fixity. Fleischmann brings to it a great deal of respect for experience, change, motion, difference, space—and love, via complex intimacies that bloom and retreat and defy categorization. Super T4T and politicized as a given, while resisting inscription in queer/trans identity politics—the author draws on the work of Félix González-Torres to offer a politics of the embodied self in relation to others. This book-length essay integrates within it an essay in desiring verse (dropped into the book throughout in sections), and a fascinating essay-talk on the Publick Universal Friend (dropped into the middle in full). I loved this.

Sofia Samatar, Tender (Small Beer Press, 2017): Is this really my first fiction entry? I did read a lot of fiction this year, mostly short fiction when working on new stories, and Samatar’s Tender is a treasure trove and a guidebook for innovative speculative fiction. This assembly of Samatar’s short works, most SFF, many formalist and intratextual, each one stretching what a story can do, is so instructive and—honestly, inspiring—I’ve been reading it deliberately slowly over many months, to as fully as possible take on its lessons and light. Favorites: “How to Get Back to the Forest”; “Meet Me In Iram”; “An Account of the Land of Witches”; “Honey Bear.”

Karen Tongson, Why Karen Carpenter Matters (UT Press, 2019): A stellar work of cultural criticism blended with sparks of memoir. From my review in 4Columns: “Since her tragic death, at age thirty-two, in 1983 from complications related to anorexia, Carpenter has been the subject of three documentaries and a cult film (Todd Haynes’s early, brilliant Superstar), at least two biographies, innumerable newspaper and magazine features. (And these are the Karen-specific artifacts, discounting the vast archive of material on the Carpenters, the band she formed with her brother Richard in 1969.) If the subject of Tongson’s idiosyncratic and very fun book is not that Karen Carpenter matters—a given of the title—but why, it’s also where, how, and above all to whom. Karen has lived on, Tongson argues, through an unlikely diaspora encompassing Filipinos and Filipino Americans, people of color, immigrants, queer and gender-nonconforming people, pretty much “everyone other than the white Nixon-era suburbanites she and her music are said to have represented.” ”

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (Graywolf, 2019): As excellent as we’ve come to expect from Machado. From my review in 4Columns: “In her new book, and first memoir, Carmen Maria Machado blasts her own experience with an abusive intimate partner into a sparking arc of story bits. Cycling through a staggering array of modes and strategies, In the Dream House wheels in and out of fabulist, formalist, and realist registers, cultural analysis and polemic to produce a fresh and unflinching interrogation of abuse in queer relationships. The structure holding it all together is a house: the titular Dream House, its chambers built of the stuff not of dreams so much as story. The Dream House corresponds to her then-girlfriend’s Indiana home, where many of the memoir’s scenes of abuse take place. But the Dream House is also a device, the central design of the book, which is constructed of as many narrative chambers as Machado can conceive.”

Calvin Gimpelevich, Invasions (Instar, 2018): A solid collection of stories centering trans and queer characters representing a range of genders and orientations, some poly content, great class analysis throughout. Not as speculative as I anticipated having read (and loved) “Rent, Don’t Sell” in Meanwhile, Elsewhere—that one’s a terrific story exploring disability, transness, body swapping, sex work, and more—but there’s a lot of realism (in the key of urban queer) here too. Sturdy, crisp writing. “Wolves,” from the pov of a caterer sent to staff a wedding in a remote place during a blizzard, is particularly gripping, had me shivering on a 92-degree day. I’ll be excited to read what Gimpelevich puts out next.

Samuel Ace/ Linda Smukler, Meet Me There: Normal Sex and Home in Three Days. Don’t Wash.: These poems took my breath away. The intensity of their desire (esp. in Home in three days. Don’t wash.) is hot hot hot and often quite brutal. This new joint edition includes a moving introduction—letters between Sam and his former incarnation as Linda—and a range of short essays at the back by peers and descendants from Eileen Myles and Pamela Sneed to Cameron Awkward-Rich and Andrea Lawlor. Eileen: “It seems like the great contribution of trans identity to this moment in time is the practical buttressing of the notion of self as multiple. I knew Linda and I knew the work of Linda Smukler and I know Sam Ace and know his work. I’ve met them all at junctures great and small and the support and inspiration I’ve gleaned from any of them is abiding.”

Larissa Lai, The Tiger Flu (Arsenal Pulp, 2018): Another wild vision from Larissa Lai. Queer feminist biopunk ft. mewling catcoats, battlepikes with meaty sucking tubes, an all-female colony of cloned and cloning sisters who reproduce through parthenogenesis, satellite mainframes named Chang and Eng that function like sun and moon. The level of invention is supreme and never flattens out. I loved being immersed in this world.

Cynthia Barounis, Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood (Temple UP, 2019): Cynthia is one of my oldest and best friends, and I’ve had the privilege of watching this book take shape over the years. An important contribution to queer, disability, and masculinity studies—it makes key connections across these fields—Vulnerable Constitutions offers illuminating feminist/queer/crip analysis of such writers as Jack London, James Baldwin, Samuel Delany, Paul Preciado, and more routed through Barounis’ concept of “anti-prophylactic citizenship,” used to describe counternarratives of masculinity that highlight vulnerability and risk. The conclusion tackles the trigger warnings debate (citing, among other things, the online roundtable I put together among queer writers several years ago), rethinking it from a queer vs. disability studies perspective. Elegant, illuminating, incisive, and broadly applicable in this moment of white heteromasculine hysteria. (Here’s Cynthia on toxic masculinity in the age of Trump.)

Junji Ito, Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror (2000): I knew I was late to Junji Ito but I didn’t realize how late until I typed ‘2000’ just now. To anyone for whom Uzumaki is not old news, you’re in for a skin-crawling good time. This series imagines a town cursed by a…shape: A spiral shape. I know. The concept is bonkers and yet, holds up via Ito’s cohesive vision—spirals, spirals everywhere—and boldly unnerving art.


Hal Schrieve, Out of Salem (Triangle Square, 2019): Very smart, heartwarming tale of a nonbinary fourteen-year-old dealing with the deaths of their family members and their startling new status as undead—and their friend, a fat Muslim lesbian werewolf—and many other kinds of magical beings but to reveal would be to spoil. I appreciated how the oppression of magic in this world has allegorical parallels to the oppression of queerness while not being a 1:1 correspondence: because queerness and transness also exist in this world, as do homo- and transphobia, along with other forms of structural oppression that shape these characters’ lives. In other words, it’s not the fantasy bubble of Harry Potter, but rather an alternate history that actually wrangles with real-world social crises. I also dug the many gruesomely comical details of Z’s new zombie embodiment and subjectivity: their eye popping out, for example, among other things. Fun read with excellent politics.

Rita Indiana, Tentacle (And Other Stories, 2018): Weird trippy gonzo fiction from the future featuring parallel temporalities; Yoruba spiritualism and near-future tech; ecological fatalism; fantastical full-body gender transition; an anemone-crowned god; knotty, dense prose full of seedy details and abrupt turns… and somehow all in a succinct 130 pages. A time-bending novel like nothing else.

Robert Caro, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing (Penguin Random House, 2019): I learned a lot from reading this short collection on writerly work by Robert Caro, biographer of Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson, a scrupulous researcher with a tireless work ethic. The stories Caro tells about documenting Moses’ displacement of poor communities to build highways are maddening and captivating: “Moses would just take a site, like the area between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue between 97th and 100th Streets… And he simply threw the people out. That was in the Fifties. I wrote the book in the Seventies, and the people were gone. … But I found that there was in fact a written record. I kept finding references to the Women’s City Club, whose members had interviewed people as they were losing their homes. Volunteers would do interviews with the people who lived in these apartments, and they would go back to the office and type them up…Once I had these interviews, with their contemporaneous impressions, I could track down these people and go to them and say, ‘Tell me more.’”

 

MISC

Fightmaster Yoga Halloween Edition: COMMITMENT TO THE BIT.

Name Dropping: My occasional, somewhat gossipy newsletter: sign up here.

My 2009/2019:

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