A Short Interview with Elizabeth Ruth Deyro, Founder of The Brown Orient

The Brown Orient

Enjoy a short interview with our beloved affiliate The Brown Orient‘s founder Elizabeth Ruth Deyro and spread the word about this fabulous publication. 

terseeditor: When did you become interested in writing publicly?

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro: My professor in Creative Writing class, which I took in 2014, was the first to introduce me to publishing with independent literary journals. As he himself was fond of submitting poetry and known for having an admirable number of publications under his belt, he also encouraged our class to do the same. Often, he’d require us to submit to calls for submissions, and give incentives to those whose work get accepted for publication. It was in this semester that I got my very first publication – a poem written in Filipino that was published by {m}aganda Magazine as part of their 28th issue. Since then, I grew more interested in submitting more to other journals, and I did a couple of times, but the succeeding semesters as a writing major were pretty tough and I almost gave up on creative writing. I did not submit to literary journals again until late last year, when I finally got over the anxiety that those terrible semesters brought about. Now, I have a respectable number of publications, but there is always room for improvement, in terms of both quality and quantity.

terseeditor: Who are your major influences for writing?

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro: Contemporary writers such as Rainbow Rowell, Jennifer E. Smith, Madeleine Roux, and Tahereh Mafi helped me greatly in finding my voice in writing. Chuck Palahniuk’s style has always intrigued me, and I aspire to adapt his tone in my writing as well. Neil Gaiman is also someone that I really look up to.

terseeditor: At what point did you come up with the idea for The Brown Orient? Was there a certain event that was the catalyst?

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro: Yes. I have long noticed how people seldom acknowledge the fact that “Brown Asians” are underrepresented in the global narrative – especially in Western mainstream media, which has massive influence over so many cultures and individuals from all over the globe. All they seem to know and mind about Asia is East Asian culture, and that says a lot about the deficit in proper representation for other regions of Asia. But what triggered me the most was this one conversation I had with my sister, when she just could not believe that we Filipinos are actually Asian. The side of the Internet that she has grown to become fond of apparently only ever acknowledge East Asians as the “legitimate Asians”, which is ridiculous considering that there is a lot more to Asia than that one region. This is why I created The Brown Orient, which is a project made to show the world that the “Orient” that they have always associated with just one region is in fact multi-sided – and these other sides have always been Brown.

terseeditor: You do a lot! Can you tell readers all the cool projects you’re working on at the moment?

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro: Oh, I am so blessed and grateful that I get to be part of a handful of projects. Firstly, I am the Fiction Editor of Rag Queen Periodical and we will be releasing our first issue soon, which I’m truly excited about. I also got selected recently as the new editor of /tap/ lit mag, and we’re currently reading submissions for our forthcoming issue. Aside from these two, I also have other engagements with other journals, both for editing and writing, which I think is really amazing.

I am also currently directing a theatre production called “Miss Dulce Extranjera” as final requisite for my undergraduate degree.

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro: In between these commitments, I sometimes do advocacy work, with particular focus on mental health by participating in projects spearheaded by local youth organizations. I act as Sponsorship and Partnership Head of Silakbo PH, a collective that primarily promotes art as means of coping with mental illnesses. I am also a member of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Inc.

terseeditor: What are some of your ideas for the future?

Elizabeth Ruth Deyro: This mid-year, I will start to work on my first chapbook, which will be a flash fiction chap about different narratives that reveal the parallels of one’s struggle with mental illness and the societal issues presently dealt with by Filipinos. This is definitely the first priority.

After graduation, I hope to get a day job as editorial assistant for a local publishing house or magazine, which is my goal ever since I started to pursue writing and editing. I also plan to study again for a Master’s degree in Journalism.

Of course, I have so much plans for The Brown Orient: a huge collaborative project with our sister publications including TERSE., possibly (hopefully!) going print, and finally being able to provide monetary compensation for our contributors and staff members.

 

 

Check out the fresh style and sharp mission of The Brown Orient

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‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’: A Short Interview With Editor Isabelle Kenyon

Please Hear what I'm not Saying

terse editor: In the introduction to Please Hear What I’m Not Saying you mention how limited mental health services are in terms of funding and support. When did it first occur to you that you’d make the focus of your collection mental health in order to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity? Can you tell me what drew you to their organization specifically?
Isabelle Kenyon: The focus of mental health came about both from my observations of the poetry being shared across social media platforms, the themes of mental health emerging from those, and my desire to create a theme which was both broad, inclusive and would ignite a passion in writers to submit to the project. It had to be something people would feel passionate about – and so simply on principle of supporting Mind, people submitted their work. Mind, to me, has the largest profile of mental health charities in the UK and their money and the work they do reaches the largest audience. However, I am looking into also donating part of the profits of the book to other UK charities, perhaps smaller organisations who the proceeds from the book could really help.
terse editor: While sifting through the poems for the collection, as the editor, what were you noticing in terms of connections between writers? Mental health is their common theme, but any images, feelings, experiences bonding these writers together in solidarity through their craft?
Isabelle Kenyon: There were definitely themes emerging – in terms of style, distancing of mental health conditions through different tenses and in some cases personification of conditions such as depression. In terms of topic, themes of motherhood, Alzheimer’s, family, sarcasm, and self-reflection emerged. I have tried to group each section together in way which complements the work of each writer in the collection.
terse editor: Has compiling this collection opened your eyes or changed your approach to mental health discussions?
Isabelle Kenyon: I think the overall impression it’s had on me is: mental health is no small feat – conversation needs to become commonplace. This book has proved to me how wide spread and urgent it is for support to be in place for those who struggle with their mental health.
Please Hear What I’m Not Saying is now available in paperback and ebook format.

Four Poems by Noelia Young

Listen in on a private reading by Noelia Young, a slam poet based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her poetry discusses important themes: racism, wisdom, growth, and survival.

Time stamps for each poem:

“To My Racist Friend” 00:29

“Advice To My College Self” 03:38

“Lulla-bye” 7:01

“Me Too” 10:34

 

Manifestos: A Prose Poem by Wes Bishop

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“Who runs the world?” I ask because I have complaints. The little man tells me the box for such things is down the hall. I stumble, clutching my manifestos. If only the masses would read these typed blueprints for utopia then the world would work, because I am a mechanic for reality!

I get to the box, but it is closed. The sign reads—

UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

SEE WEBSITE FOR DETAILS.

 

So, I tweet.

I post.

I comment

and I yelp.

 

I set my phone to vibrate text alert so if anyone comments their digital voice will trip the invisible wire I have set.

Ding– 1 Comment,

Finally, comrades!

Ding— 2 Comments,

YES! They can join—

Ding, Ding, Ding— 3 Comments

— MY REVOLUTION!

I open the comments like a child tearing at wrapping paper…

“Who voted for this asshole!!!,” one comment reads. “BITCH PLEASSSSSSSEEEEEE! Sit yo fucking-turtle-looking ass down somewhere!,” another retorts. “You is lame!!! #SuckIt MOTHER FUCKER!!!” another says.

I chase those comments with my words. Chase in futility the vulgarity of worldwide mass expression. The little man behind the desk laughs. “What’s so funny?!” I shout. “Nothing, our complaint box is just finally working.” I look. There I am, reduced to a wooden statue taking complaints and handing out smoke.

 

Capitalism, Oswald’s day out, Silence by Shivangi Goel

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Three poems by contributor Shivangi Goel.

 

Capitalism

We made the world we live in,
And we have to make it over.
Baldwin says to me, over
Tea on couch across generations
Of whispers of learnings snuffled
Across ink and what confluence
Would have it that only this voice reaches,
It doesn’t lie, doesn’t exaggerate
Taking me up the throat, gargling its
Way out
This venom
This venom
We’re accomodating unknowingly
I mean all of it is not venom, and
All of me is not shaken
To the shaky wiggly mud patches
Of what I know and am sure to change
I’m sure of nothing.
These men in Prada suits talk of
Business deals and deforestation
Mr Sir Yours Respectfully,
Why do you have to take every fucking
Poor woman
And man
And kiddo
Out of their house onto the street
And then call them poor
To build your goddamn dam
I’m a skeptic in front of the shopping mall
Glad I can buy creams and burgers
I don’t know of the degree of its wrong
Or if the world is becoming smaller
At all or
If I’ll ever know
If I should have to make everything about myself
Shaky wiggly mud patches watered with Starbucks
And confusion
I don’t know Roy, I don’t know.

 

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Oswald’s day out

It’s the day my sadness refused to work
And I had no choice but to smile at the balloon man,
Although he charged me three
Pennies for balloon worth two.
It’s the day my sadness walked out,
And I too left work early to sit by the frozen banana outlet
And even treated little Mona to her last ever double dip chocolate
So I refused to be sad today
Although I couldn’t be sad anyway,
I could feel it surfacing deep within
It’s the day my frustration refused to work, although
It still laughed at me from the deep mysterious insides
It’s the day my emptiness gave up
And jolted into anxious action,
And I smiled because it only slightly mattered to me anymore what I was doing,
And then little Mona was run over by the fool who could feel.

 

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Silence

When my mother told me to listen,
Instead of shouting resentment with every bit of me
When I started to learn
To see myself as a resentor
To see it as a good thing
To shout out doubts
When quite really,
I was better off noting them down
I was better off weighing my options
I am better off sitting in a room:
Small one, dusty curtains
Observing everything,
“To be a writer is to observe”
Sontag
But I’m not a writer
More than she is a writer
More than he tweets
More than they shout
More than my unhappiness.
When we discuss in class the true tragedy
That silences Ghosh’s narrator:
My narration
Crippling, numbing, staring out the window
I understand
that we are basking ourselves in ill formed opinions
Half baked in ovens of our illusionary profiles:
It’s lost on us
Like Neruda wholly exclaimed
To sit down
Stare at the curtain (mud sprinkled like specks of sunshine you miss the little boy more than I miss the little boy yes it still haunts me I make tea my memory dissolves slowly the sugar cube swirling it’s just as real just as necessary),
Say nothing.

 

 

 

And I Loved Them by Elisabeth Horan

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A poem by contributor Elisabeth Horan.

 

 

Is it my turn to use them?

I asked, in doe-eyed chin up hopefulness –

 

Not yet, replied father-fuhrer.

Maybe tomorrow.

 

I never really got a chance to play

with them – they were under lock and key

behind the rum, above the crackers

 

They were shiny, mysterious, like magic:

twinkly, yet smooth of wooden grain.

The smell of pipe and strawberry always

floated about them, then remained.

 

Daddy and Sissy didn’t know that

I took them out one day.

 

I snuck them out and ate of them –

skinned each one by lascivious one

with my devilish, thorny, rasping tongue –

 

Young me, shoved them in my pants;

cried upon their backs:

 

I love you, Dancing Faerie Queen!

I love you, Freddy Mercury!

 

Bored stare and low resolution glint

flickering in their multi-faceted

eyes of diamond cut me through – and through

 

Like they had somehow

seen this coming out of others before me,

like none of this was new –

 

Still, I behaved.

Promised never to break their arms

and their legs apart

 

Nor to paint their semi sweet

ribbon mouths lipstick and shut. Or

rip their necks out, like sluts.

 

But Daddy knew.

Daddy and Sissy knew.

I don’t know how, but they knew.

 

Didn’t whip me, but bore me a silence; their fear

of me almost worse than their ignorance.

 

I gave it away in my guilt leaden eyes;

rode astride a glimmer-wave of hope.

That’s how they knew I was all shiny new.

 

I didn’t cry over so many

little things after.

For I had witnessed,

had learned their secrets –

 

With blouses open I tasted them as

tarts and berries entranced with

a sexual elixir toward heaven,

or hell – who cares for the compass!

 

And I loved them.. It was worth

all my lives prior or none in the future –

 

It was even worth

trading away, in an unplanned way,

my family.

 

 

 

 

 

Follow Elisabeth on Twitter: @ehoranpoet

 

Footnotes: On St. Ives, Education, and Death by Andrew Woods

St. Ives?

Too many books are printed in St. Ives. I came to this conclusion as I harvested publication details for the bibliography of my latest paper. Students and scholars alike dread the tedious duty of transcribing this information—from the name of publishers to the year of publication—into the footnotes and reference lists of their essays. And, according to academic procedures, one must mention where the book was printed. That’s how I noticed that my paperback editions of Nietzsche, Weil, Foucault, Burke, and others all seem to originate from St. Ives. I wonder why publishers seem so keen to print their books in this small Cornish resort. I remember that the band Another Sunny Day recorded a B-side called “A Boy from St. Ives,” but that’s all I know about this seaside town.

Once I completed my bibliography, I took to Google to learn how St. Ives had become a printing hub. The results embarrassed me. St. Ives was not the geographical location of the printers, but, rather, the name of the printing company. For several years, I have written “Printed in St. Ives” in countless bibliographies for college assignments. As misunderstandings go, it is minor. In the aftermath of this discovery, I wonder why including the location of the printers is necessary. Surely, the name of the publisher and the year of publication suffices. I doubt any professor feels the need to call up printing companies—whether they operate in St. Ives or not—to check that they printed a certain book in a certain year.

There are a few theories about why books declare where they were printed. An expert on book dealing suggests that mentioning the location of the printers was intended to prove the authenticity of a book to customs officials. Geographical discrepancies between the publishers’ headquarters and the printers’ offices would raise an eyebrow of suspicion and justify seizure of the contraband. Yet, the image of a customs officer inspecting one’s books seems to belong to a quaint and bygone era. I say, spare oneself the stress and download the PDF. Additionally, the joys and woes of global trade mean that a publisher and a printer can strike a deal despite national barriers. For instance, my copy of Eva Illouz’s illuminating and invigorating Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism was published by Polity Press—based in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Malden, Massachusetts—typeset in Hong Kong, and printed and bound in Malaysia.

Despite these changes, the spirit of the inquisitive customs officer still pervades the task of writing a bibliography:

“What are you reading? Who wrote it? Where’s it from? What year was it written?”

Listing citations is like answering a swift stream of questions in an interrogation room.

St. Ives?

The tedious and persnickety ordeal of writing footnotes is one of the humbler tasks of critical thought, because it pushes you to reconsider whether you trust your chosen sources. Not only should you judge the veracity and trustworthiness of your own references, you should take the effort to examine the references of your references. Carefully reading the footnotes of other authors tests your trust in the written word. Not everything printed on a page is an authentic expression of a writer’s thoughts. They might cite a study and contort the interpretations of the findings to suit their argument. Theory can precede data, rather than the other (and right) way around. We live in a time when everyone is urged to check the facts of everything they see and read. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves and others, we might admit that we are not always as attentive and skeptical as we should be. Sometimes, we can be eagerly credulous when someone says something that suits our sensibility and convictions. Writing footnotes forces one to check the basic facts—who wrote this, who published it, when was it published, etc.—and start to build a case for why a source should be trusted or doubted.

Taking the credibility or dishonesty of a source seriously is the sign of a sincere scholar. Questioning the smallest fact—Why are all these books printed in St. Ives?—and seeking an answer—St. Ives is just the name of the company—are two of those intellectual chores that help to cultivate a tidy and meticulous mind. Scrutinizing the words of others teaches you to look at your own work in a more critical light. As soon as one completes a paragraph, one should re-read it and ask oneself, “is this what I honestly think and believe?” I know that struggling to meet one’s deadlines at the end of the semester means that most students do not have the time for this type of intellectual sincerity. Conclusions are often reached for the sake of expedience. Maybe we should train ourselves to think about the task of writing as a more significant endeavor than merely finishing a paper by a certain date. Truly, reading and writing admits you into a long conversation that started before you even learnt to pick up a pen.

In an interview with The Atlantic, the linguist N. J. Enfield attempts to explain why we make small oral sounds—from “ummm” to “mmhmm”—to fill gaps in conversations. Most of these noises are social cues that we are paying attention to the speaker and agreeing with what they are saying. They are the unspoken substance of most human conversation. Enfield talks to the interviewer about transcribing interviews from the recording to the page, and ponders why all these seemingly inconsequential noises are edited out as the conversation is converted into an article. Enfield observes that “conversation is all draft;” books and articles are finished products.

 

St. Ives?

I disagree with that judgement. Final drafts and completed works rarely represent an ending. At the same time, a first draft is nothing like the real beginning of a work. No moment of education or stage of composition embodies a start or end. Properly speaking, I think that lessons and essays “come to fruition.” Nothing illustrates the joyful and intense undertakings of learning and writing more than the word “fruition.” Nowadays, the word refers to the realization of a plan or project, or the period when a tree or vine bears fruit. Etymologically, fruition comes from the Late Latin fruitionem, which means “enjoyment.” The fruition of a letter or poem or treatise represents a cadence—perfect or imperfect—in the long, lustful tune of life. Writing is the act of taking pleasure in something beyond your comprehension, in a language that precedes and outlasts us all.

My former professor Anne-Marie Oliver once observed that chalk is the perfect metaphor for the enterprise of education and the transmission of knowledge. She remarks that “true chalk is something marked by an extreme fragility, friability, dustability, temporality . . . These attributes signified that it was once alive and that it possessed still the power of thingness, that is, something susceptible to damage, destruction, death, and accordingly, something human or humanlike. And this stuff was used to form words, dead things that live on and are constantly reanimated in the brains of other beings.” Chalk is formed of prehistoric and fossilized matter that leaves dust all over your fingers and makes marks—equations, illustrations, and quotations—on the blackboard. Coincidentally, the contents of books are printed onto the pulped remains of dead trees. Every page serves as a reminder of death.

St. Ives?

Education and death are more intimately linked than most people think. I thumb through my copy of Vilem Flusser’s Writings (published by University of Minnesota Press in 2002, printed in the United States of America—somewhere—on acid-free paper) in search of his moving definition of human communication. According to this idiosyncratic philosopher and polygot, “human communication is an artistic technique whose intention it is to make us forget the brutal meaninglessness of a life condemned to death.” Writing is the art of making meaning out of meaninglessness. Death—that final moment of becoming nothingness—fuels our desperate need to leave something behind. Oddly enough, there is a striking resemblance between the format of footnotes and inscriptions on gravestones: the name of the author, the title of the work, the year of publication, etc.

Another former professor of mine encouraged me to always conclude with the “thinking answer,” rather than the absolute one. To be honest and ironic, it seems that the only truly absolute answer is death. You cannot argue or disagree with that inevitability. So, what are answers? There are exact answers (printed in Great Britain by the St. Ives Group), elusive answers (“well, it depends on what you mean by ‘advance’…”), and honest answers (“I don’t know yet”). What exactly is the “thinking answer”? Answering a question thoughtfully means that one’s work comes to fruition, rather than to an end. Thinking answers should show the enjoyment of thought, just as writing should convey the enjoyment of words. Although typing up references is the least enjoyable part of the writing process, it is a mark of gratitude. Taking the time to write footnotes represents humility and honesty. Footnotes reveal that you are indebted to those who came before you, and express the hope that you might be able to serve future scholars in a similar way. The old and witty philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once quipped that Western Philosophy is just a bunch of footnotes to Plato. I disagree and claim that philosophy—and thought in general—is just a long line of footnotes to footnotes to footnotes to footnotes. The history of thought is more like the Talmud than the Bible, more like a first draft than a final copy. The footnote protects us from forgetting the origin of originality, and reminds us that no one ever comes up with the absolute answer. More importantly, the footnote is invitation to think with others—from our predecessors to our descendants—and enjoy every thought as it unfolds.

 

Braving the Days: To the Minute by Jordannah Elizabeth

Photo By: T.J. Beach

The very first installment of “Braving the Days” was published on December 2, 2016. I must admit that I am none the wiser, but that doesn’t take me out of the running to have become a better woman. I believe I have become a better human being in many ways. I also believe that I am learning: in life, less can be more. I didn’t tour all over the world this year, but I’ve been to the local zoo. I didn’t play a big concert, but I played a house concert in front of 10 friends. I’ve held a three day old child in my arms, I’ve read a lot of books, I considered having surgery then decided to learn more about holistic health.

I didn’t end up in a profile in The New Yorker but I saw Ravi Coltrane play his mother’s music in New York City.  I love a man who introduced me to a little Prince who adorns half his DNA. I didn’t do anything fancy, but I’ve eaten a bunch of ice cream, pushed swings at playgrounds, and had girls nights at jazz shows and museums.

It’s been a good year. Last year around this time, I had just turned 3o and I was confused and depressed, desperate to make a change, to slow down. So, I did.

My first post of the column was called:

Braving the days using a few words devoid of superfluity.

And I asked the questions:

“How would one do that or how would that sentence be acted out in real life? Yes, this is how my brain works. Between my thought journeys I write notes. I scribble thoughts and ideas and sew them together hoping to God they make sense. Who in God’s name would give me the opportunity to write free form? Should a messy thinker like me be permitted to write without direction from an editor or without a tightly fleshed out theme?”

I think I’ve gotten myself together since last year. I don’t think I’m a messy thinker or a writer without direction anymore. Since that post, I’ve written vigorously, taught many classes and workshops and read at least 51 books.  I’ve calmed down, stopped being so down on myself and focused on my health and my family – and now here we are.

To the minute.

I’m alive and well. I still hope to use a few words devoid of superfluity. I don’t want to be superfluous, but it’s okay to be simple. It’s okay to grow and actually come out doing better than you were before. Being a good writer doesn’t mean you have to live a tragedy.

Being an honest writer doesn’t mean you have to ooze emotions every moment of the day and have climactic events more times than you have a good night sleep.

I guess it happened for Bukowski, but obviously I am not him. This is not to say that next year won’t be full of turmoil, but I doubt it.

Life is what you make it and being an adult can be about making a place for yourself that can last. I don’t own any running shoes…Happy New Year.

You’ve gotten to read me here for a year. Thank you. And thank you TERSE. For a providing a place for my journey.

 

Imagining Victims by Paul Michael Whitfield

1.

I’d like to discuss Diana Tietjens Meyers’ look at the edifying value of victims’ stories in her 2016 Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights in comparison to José Medina’s suggestion of ‘resistant imagination’ in his 2013 The Epistemology of Resistance. I suggest Medina’s concept has the potential to facilitate how victims’ stories can be morally motivating narratives.

2.

Meyers explores the importance of listening to and understanding victims’ stories, and explains this merits changes not just to theoretical accounts of what exactly such stories are and what they do morally, but also to their legal and political use. I’ll focus on the former, and Meyers’ proposed update to our concept of narrative structure.

In traditional accounts of such structure, narratives with moral urgency must begin with a “steady state” of morally neutral (or acceptable) circumstance that’s disrupted and then repaired. Meyers shows, with vivid examples, that the “very conditions that others regard as legitimate and ordinary are the cause of their victimization.” In distinction to those traditional accounts of structure, their stories ex vi termini begin and end morally fraught.

As Meyers points out, the change to our theoretical account of narrative structure must include a form of narrative closure that isn’t a resolution but “a moral void” and “a moral demand.” These stories are morally complete narratives, and the sort of moral completion they involve is a response of “moral self-examination,” where readers are lead by the all-around fraught narrative toward a “clarion moral appeal.”

 

3.

Medina explores the serious imperative of our “need to reimagine our categories . . . so that our reconceptualizations redirect our ordinary practices and our ways of relating to each other.” The personal and political effects of injustice and oppression merit more than merely working within the common and accepted practices of knowledge creation and production, but going further, so as to leave open the possibility of an effective and proactive response to the experiences of others who live (let alone work) within those practices that are not common or accepted.

Medina offers various concepts we might use to better understand this need from the point-of-view of someone who is outside those othered experiences, with the key concept being the imperative for resistant imagination.

If we are to critically examine and morally improve how we engage with others, if we’re to look closely at our daily practices and what we habitually recognize as permittable and unacceptable possibilities of social growth and melioration, one area that can be relevant to opening up latent conceptual space is our imaginative sensibilities. Medina directly positions his account of resistant imagination as direction for this potential.

Exploring the concept of imagination, he begins in the context of fiction, a common area for such exploration, and initially asks a question drawn out of the work of Tamar Szabo Gendler:

Why do we experience such resistance when invited to entertain fictional scenarios that violate our moral intuitions and values, and not when asked to imagine fictional worlds that violate our factual sense or the laws of physics? (Medina, 254)

We have a difficult time with the invitation to imagine a moral world different than ours, especially if that world conflicts with our own, or even causes us to imagine ourselves with more culpability than the ‘real’ moral world we feel comfortable and live in.

This causes us to develop what Medina calls imaginative resistance, where rather than the usual hypothetical reasons we use in other forms of reasoning (“cold counterfactuals”), we’re presented with scenarios where our affective and sociopolitical realities are put into serious question (“hot counterfactuals”).

Presented with a fictional scenario that implicates us in moral harm, our imagination itself becomes resistant, and places us further away from the possibility of that world to sustain our individual ‘real’ world stability.

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Steel Wool spinning, Ballarat East, 2012 by Peter Thurgood

4.

This sort of response is exactly what Medina suggests we switch out: imaginative resistance for resistant imagination. Instead of our allowing our imagination to control how we react to moral scenarios that are uncommon or harmful to our sense of stability within our real “positionality and relationality,” we can instead use these fictive differences to instigate what he calls “epistemic counterpoints,” where the difference we experience itself becomes a cause for moral education and the possibility of better understanding what we have yet to experience ourselves.

The resistance of our imagination not to the transgression of its limits but, inversely, to the limits of our transgression where “what is to be avoided is letting one particular imaginative horizon or frame rule the day and become hegemonic . . . and making the subjects who grow under their influence become insensitive to the blind spots of the frame.”

Medina suggests this sort of resistance can move beyond our engagement with fictional worlds, and expand into our engagement with the real experiences of others who live lives we can only imagine, so as to be vigilant towards and repair “the circulation of ways of imagining collective subjectivities (e.g., racial or sexual identities) that demean them and prevent their inclusion in the community or their equal standing within it.”

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“communication” by Chris Garcia

5.

Medina’s concept of resistant imagination, then, seems relevant to and useful for Meyers’ account of how we might better approach and engage with victims’ stories.

To reimagine our categories, as Medina suggests, in order to include those different than us, one (admittedly rather small) part of this is to reimagine our category of narrative structure.

Victims’ stories can be both complete narratives and morally motivating accounts. An explanation of how to imaginatively resist the thought that narratives must begin and end with morally positive (or neutral) circumstances, the idea that motivation can come from a story’s ending morally fraught rather than morally resolved, is located within a combination of Meyers’ and Medina’s insightful books.

If the victim’s story ends with implicating the reader themselves, even, that reader can realize this as a chance they have to imagine what it’s like ‘on the other side’, to realize sometimes it doesn’t get better, that it still hasn’t, and that there’s a need for their work towards a real world that matches up morally both with their own experiences and those of others, even and imperatively when such a possibility seems unimaginable.

 

References

Diana Tietjens Meyers. Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights. Oxford UP. 2016.

José Medina. The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations. Oxford UP. 2013.

Devotion: Patti Smith by James Carraghan

I started this review at three in the morning. I woke up with a pain in my side; probably the result of poor cooking decisions on my part. I sat in a large chair, covered myself in blankets, and wrapped a heavy scarf around me for a shawl. The pains subsided with the writing, and the act carried them away.

A book that bears the subtitle (if only on the cover) “Why I Write” offers a starting point for interpretation before the work is even begun. There is a whole genre of writing given to the subject, ranging from musings and memoirs of the writing experience (The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer and The Writing Life by Annie Dillard), to review collections as guides to identifying “good prose” (The War Against Cliché by Martin Amis), or the technical guides for usage (The Elements of Style by Strunk and White). Smith’s book is none of these things—not really. Smith has practiced devotion both as a writer and reader since adolescence. Reading her previous work—Just Kids and M Train in particular—informs me of her pilgrimages, her loves, her elemental respect for art that is capable of expressing the best humanity can offer. She has given her life to artists, even if they could not always give it back.

Patti Smith Pirelli Annie Leibovitz
Patti Smith photographed by Annie Leibovitz, 2016

The world Patti Smith inhabits, as well as the world she crafts throughout her work, is one where the past is still resting on the ground around her. It is the same world we inhabit. Smith has the gift to bring this past into focus like a camera lens moving from background to foreground. Leaving a café is not just leaving—Smith passes a bust of Apollinaire crafted by Picasso—the same bust she saw in 1969 when she visited Paris with her sister. 1969 brings her memories of the existentialists and their cafés. Later, Smith will go to her French publisher and follow the trail of Albert Camus, the existentialist/absurdist whose early death at the height of his power added yet more hauntings to his work. Before leaving for Paris, Smith grabbed du Plessix Gray’s monograph on Simone Weil, the atheist mystic whose room Camus meditated in before he went to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the layers of memory we see Smith’s influences on her writing, and the influences on her influences, and the way connection spreads out between artists across decades, languages, continents.

Patti Smith Performing “Land” and “Gloria” in Paris, 2015

Writing begins with transcribing, interpreting; collecting. There is no blank space where ideas come from. Instead, Smith sifts through the worlds in front of her, building from the pieces that come together. This gives voice to the work as well as the ghosts that helped create it.

I have stacks around me as I write at five in the morning. Because of the stomach pain, I will forgo early morning coffee. Because of the stomach pain, I will ignore the fact that I started a sentence with “Because,” a fragmentary move I have always disliked. I have read du Plessix Gray on Weil at least four times in the last seven years—a life of self-denial was never so interesting or so genuine. There are texts next to me I should be working on—class readings, research materials, overdue library books. I scratch on with my black pencil, making notes on the paper, beginning a new sheet after filling both sides, making notes on the margin. Putting a finished sheet next to the new, I’m struck by the rate at which words turn into sentences, which turn to pages; which turn into a book. Smith’s notebook looks open-faced on the cover photograph. Is this a part of the first incarnation whose preserved product sits in my lap?

Devotion handwritten

These connections between names, dates, works, and experience form a mystical way of engaging with the world for Smith.

At St. Pancras International I took yet another train to Ashford, the last length of my journey, to find Simone Weil’s grave. We passed row houses, a lifeless landscape. I noticed the date on my ticket was June 15, the birthday of my late brother Todd. His only child a daughter called Simone. I immediately brightened. Only good could happen today (24).

Smith’s notes become the trail that forms this book, the pieces of which have been built up before us. “Looking back on these fragments, I am struck with the thought that if Devotion was a crime, I had inadvertently produced evidence, annotating as I went along” (27). Samuel R. Delany once wrote in his critical study, The American Shore, about the material that builds and goes into a work

The preparation [of fictional creation] is only partially retrievable from an examination of the text; such retrieval may occur only through more or less informed supposition. (29)

The body of Devotion shifts on page 35, becoming the story Smith has been gathering material for throughout the first section. This represents Smith’s first sustained work of fiction. (She has, we are told in whispers, been writing a detective novel for some time.) A story of comings and goings, the attentive reader will see how the images—both those Smith singled out for us and those we find on our own—relate to the first section A skater viewed sleepily on television becomes the heroine—a skater whose sport becomes a perfected performance art piece, documented by the viewer—the voyeur—instead of the camera.

Stop-start. Begin again with toast. Making toast, I remember Smith’s descriptions of her life in and out of coffee shops in M Train, and the various meals of coffee and toast she describes. Bread is calming and filling, but not ultimately satisfying—man does not live by bread alone. Time passes. I take these notes with me to work in a folder, and slip the folder into the center of Devotion.

The brief story that makes up the center of Devotion reads like a fairy tale. It is dark, a love story between unbalanced partners—a young woman named Eugenia and an older man named Alexander. Eugenia, a skater, intrigues Alexander, who takes it upon himself to become her provider and controller. They begin a relationship in which each exerts a certain amount of control. Eugenia finds her interest primarily in skating. Their relationship twists like the four—then five—axles she performs on a private arena. The two are oddities who meet but never seem to come together, except in elliptical violence. The notes of the first section again help a reader determine the underlying themes—history, myth, Estonia, migration and refuge from that snip of Europe, the archaic, the poetic, the haunted, and the tragedy of spiritual self-sacrifice.

Patti Smith performs “My Blakean Year” at NYPL, 2010

The third section of the book finds Smith on a different pilgrimage, to the home of Camus this time, at the invitation of his daughter to view his final manuscript, incomplete and pulled from his suitcase after the car crash that ended his life. Like Weil, he is a thread through it all—the inspiration and connection that becomes material in the story of writing. Viewing the manuscript, Smith becomes distracted, wanting to create something of her own, to enter into the dialogue of artists.

That compulsion that prohibits me from completely surrendering to a work of art, drawing me from the halls of a favored museum to my own drafting table. Pressing me to close Songs of Innocence in order to experience, as Blake, a glimpse of the divine that may also become a poem. (93)

 We see here pre-text and post-text—the creation and (brief) analysis, the scaffold and the unveiling. Recurrence allow details to stand out; specks of light to bleed through. Great work can often inspire others to response—affection and devotion. The ability to connect these things allows for an answer to the question that sent the muse running off at the start:

Why do we write? A chorus erupts.

Because we cannot simply live (94).

I come home late into the evening. There is little I can find to do—food doesn’t appeal but neither does rest. Internet images fill cheaper desires. A shower offers an open warmth different from the heat of my room. My wrists no longer hurt. Silence. Meditation hinging on deep sleep and the dream state. I reach out to my notebook and my pen. Living is not enough in itself—we must make something out of it. It is in this making that we find devotion enough to keep us for our days.

devotion cover
The Author’s Copy of Devotion, 2017