Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children.

Where are the borders of art? 
Where are the borders of a woman's body?
How unimaginable is one without the other?
When we think of violence, are we not aware, as women, of our place within the world of men?
The borders of our body, of our safe spaces, of hostile spaces?

I just finished reading The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch and I am re-committed to my impression of her as a fluid, visceral representation of what it is to write of art, trauma, violence and living a woman's experience.

I was floored when I read her memoir, The Chronology of Water. It's lead me here, to her novel, which kept me as enamored.

It's a novel, yes, but I feel as though the narrative of people and places is secondary to the passages that describe life so astutely. This book features a group of friends, all artists and creators, juxtaposed to a young girl in eastern Europe, orphaned by war and surviving through art, grit, and the persistence of young blood.

There are segments of her book that discuss art and experience, art as expression, as language, as reference point, as both anchor and catalyst. These sections created in me more questions. An infinite amount. Sometimes they fuse with and of the body, and gender and sexuality pour into her writing. Violence as commonplace, as a masculine language and threat. She has a similar juncture in violence, trauma, and women's bodies. One intrinsically stomped onto the other.

Our blood is all over this world.

Our greatest threat is so linked to us.

And of trauma, of death and loss and surviving the horrific, does our tongue split, now able to speak two languages? As if at different frequencies, two languages in parallel.

Yes I understand your desire for me to print this document, to do this grocery shopping, to celebrate this holiday, but do you understand that feeling, the deep rumble that comes from prolonged, wretched pain, where you become diluted by the incessancy of it, and become convinced your threshold makes you the undead, untouchable. Have you known that pain? No? Then we do not speak the same language. But yes, I do enjoy coffee. And yes, the weather has improved.

From page 69:
Who are we in moments of crisis or despair? Do we become deeper, truer selves, or life up and away from self, untethered from regular meanings like moths suddenly drawn toward heat or light? Are we better people when someone might  be dying, and if so, why? Are we weaker, or stronger? Are we beautiful, or abject? Serious, or cartoon? Do we secretly long for death to remind us we are alive?
This actually heavily links to the conversations I've been having with my best friend S regarding HBO's Westworld. There is an awful lot to unpack regarding the nature of trauma. If you have not watched Westworld - do not read anything about it! I went in blind and was able to discover and discuss things as I went and it's been very interesting!

Are our trauma's our cornerstones? 

I'd read something recently about the way in which trauma can root certain pathways in the brain, making it more difficult to adapt or change habits. Isn't this a scientific explanation for what we already know? How our wounds remind us, how old habits die hard? Aren't we creatures of narrative, of story? Isn't the story we hear most often our own?

Yuknavitch also has these really bodied moments, that represent those abstract experiences of being alive and sentient but not fully present in our culture and context. Detached. From page 93:
Then he thinks: love is an abstract word coming from a face hole.
I guess the only alienating bit to Lidia's novel is how it's populated by successful artists. Confident in their art. Monied. That's my alien experience. My unknown. Where art is a work, a calling, and not a form of communication and a way of being, of purging that is necessary.

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