Earlier this fall, I bought an erotic political novel meant as propaganda for a Ted Cruz presidency. Or, at least, that’s how the book was packaged. A Cruzmas Carol is Lacey Noonan’s 2015 reimagining of A Christmas Carol, in which the “Bathroom Attendants of Constitutionality Past, Present, and Future” take Cruz on a madcap night of lewd hallucinations to convince him to run for president and save American democracy. “He’s got it all,” the novel’s Amazon description reads. “The stunning good looks, the six-pack abs … the perfect record as a hard-balling, take-no-guff U.S. Senator. So why won’t he run for president? … Why’s he being such a Tedbenezer Scruz?”
Our monthly column Feminize Your Canon explores the lives of underrated and underread female authors.
In 1956, the then-famous Indian novelist Kamala Markandaya was asked if she might set a book in England, where she lived with her British husband. “No,” she responded, “I don’t know England well enough, and don’t think a static society—that is to say a society which has solved its problems in a mild and satisfactory way—can prod me into writing about it. I regret to say I have to be infuriated about something before I write.” A decade and a half later Markandaya’s greater familiarity with English society, and its increasing volatility, resulted in her seventh novel, The Nowhere Man. Her favorite of her own works, it belongs alongside such classics of diaspora disenchantment fiction as Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, Andrea Levy’s Small Island, and Linda Grant’s The Clothes on Their Backs. Yet The Nowhere Man was all but ignored on its publication and, despite being reissued by Penguin India in 2012, remains little known today.
May 28, 2018, Ghent, NY.
The silence is total.
Pencil across graph paper. Like the sound of a small bird making a nest in the rafters above the ceiling. Thatchy, gentle. Straw noise. Wheat noise. It’s too dark to see the letters. Just the scratching in the dim.
Leg against sheets under blanket, friction of cotton and flesh. Breath paused. Heart thud. Whoom whoom whoom of blood. Don’t like to hear it. Don’t want it to stop. Whoom whoom whoom, the blood-rush pulse of the body at work.
The conspiracy lives. It goes on without you and within you, and it’s big—a perfect example of a hyperobject. That word, coined by Timothy Morton to describe those features of our existence too vast to apprehend entirely, to get our heads around, is frequently applied to global warming—which, taken as an example, in turn helps to clarify Morton’s odd term.
In a triple sense, global warming, or “climate change,” is a notion pervaded with an atmosphere of conspiracy. First, of course, the outstandingly real and simple disaster somehow stands under accusation of being the concoction of special interests (ecological, Chinese, or what have you). Second, its onset—so gradual, and now so sudden—proposes the existence of a nonhuman conspiracy against capitalism. It’s as if, instead of machines rising up against humans (as in The Terminator, or that old Twilight Zone episode in which the electric shaver comes slithering down the stairs like a cobra), it is the laws of nature that will ultimately act, like a Marvel supervillain, to topple humanity. Third, and most poignant, it has demanded in response a manifestly useless “conspiracy of good sense”; right-thinking people everywhere attempting to conspire in saving the world and … getting nowhere in particular. In this regard, or in all these senses put together, you could say we live in the era of the first truly global conspiracy that actually matters, one with sway over every human prospect. Masons, secret lizards, CIA LSD, Scientology, Tupperware, all pale in comparison.
Morton’s notion of the hyperobject also illuminates a paradoxical feature of the conspiracy: in its limitlessness, tenuousness, invisibility, and threat, it begs to be denied absolutely. Either the conspiracy infiltrates everything, or it doesn’t exist.
But that’s not right, or not right enough: the conspiracy is real partly because we make it real—like a god. One central source of the conspiracy’s power is the fact that we can’t agree, not only on what it looks like or what its purposes might be but on whether or not it’s there at all. It feeds on belief and disbelief, a billion-footed Lovecraftian creature running amok because each of us is knitting one of its socks—and those of us who deny its existence are knitting some of its most useful socks. Though the image is absurd, the word knitting suggests the knit brow of the worried person, and Shakespeare’s “sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care.” We dwell on malign conspiracies while we’re suffering insomniac episodes. Read More
What first? The touch.
Dawn arrives not rosy-breathed, not rosy-voiced. She arrives with rosy fingers. She arrives in touch. Homer told us so, over and over, as new days took shape during Odysseus’s long, wandering journey home. Here are light’s first moments as described in Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey:
“When early Dawn shown forth with rosy fingers”
“Soon Dawn appeared and touched the sky with roses”
“When rose-fingered Dawn came bright and early”
“Early the Dawn appeared, pink fingers blooming”
“When newborn Dawn appeared with hands of flowers”
“Then Dawn was born again; her fingers bloomed”
Dawn is born again, just as we are. We emerge from the warm womb of sleep and it registers first in the body. Soften your eyes and feel it. Dawn runs her fingers along the softness of your flank, over your shoulder, in the hollow behind your knee. She touches your clavicle and your neck. Fingertips petal-soft. She brushes your breast, the inside of your thigh, moves up your spine and against your scalp, your jaw, your brow. Awareness accumulates. You feel, These are the boundaries of my body. Here’s where I start and the pillow stops. This is the blanket, this is my skin. This is the mattress, this is my chest. All that touches me isn’t me. I am separate again. Read More
Little did Sandi Tan know, her first (and only) feature film, Shirkers, would escape her in the exact way its namesake prophesied. In 1992, Tan wanted to write a movie that preserved her punk adolescence in Singapore. Nineteen-year-old Tan and her friends fancied themselves iconoclasts, abrading against a stiflingly conservative art scene; they led dozens of minor revolutions, from chewing gum (which was against the law) to watching bootleg copies of Blue Velvet via a “clandestine videotaping syndicate.” Inspired by the “unusual” and “unpopular” films of French New Wave and independent American cinema, Tan concocted an idea for her own: a guerrilla-style road movie in a country that takes only forty minutes to drive across. It would be bold and bright and fizzling with youthful energy, exuding all the naive ambition of a sure-to-be cult hit. Only it never was, because Shirkers was never finished. After filming was completed, all seventy reels were stolen by Tan’s mentor and director, Georges Cardona. It took more than twenty years for Tan to be reunited with Shirkers. She sprinkles the surviving footage into a breathtaking Netflix documentary in which she spends remarkably little time pathologizing Cardona, choosing instead to entertain a more nostalgic, meaningful subject: how Shirkers (and its absence) has rippled through the lives of its creators, cast, and crew. Tan in particular feels that she has been permanently fissured by the vacancy that Shirkers left behind, not only in regards to her own childhood but also the place her work should have occupied in Singapore’s film history. Alongside her crew members, Tan wonders if it is possible for the lack of something to be felt, even something that never really existed in the first place. But in the end, Shirkers isn’t just Tan’s wish for what could have been; it’s a beautiful and backward odyssey, chasing down and interrogating her past to find out precisely how her innocence fell by the wayside. —Madeline Day Read More