According to Dorothy Wang’s critical essay on her work in Thinking Its Presence, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s poetics address her racialized Asian-American subjectivity through the unique lenses of troubling the notion of “authentic” or “fixed” identity altogether. In “Chronicle,” Berssenbrugge narrates a story she assumes was past down from “ancient” members of Berssenbrugge’s family. Berssenbrugge simultaneously points to the power that language and stories have as “the primary means of contextualizing—and creating—this supposed cultural/ethnic memory,” she also calls into question this site as giving an unmediated interpretation and look into her identity (251). Berssenbrugge suggests, according to Wang, that “perhaps these Chinese American ‘memories,’ which readers automatically assume are true and autobiographical even when represented in poetry or fiction, were indeed made up by the poet (252). Can a “true” story be told about Berssenbrugge’s identity? Or is such a story already a flattening, essentializing project?
Berssenbrugge further troubles fixed identity with her poem, “Fog.” She seems to describe the relationship between herself and other people, and other people themselves, as unstable as fog. Just as elements might constantly sublimate from stone to lava, fog, water, or ice, so, too, does identity. According to Wang, “The idea that a person can-not be reduced to a fixed state of being (or “identity”) is crucial in [Berssenbrugge’s] body of work” (258). She challenges the binary that divides one element and second, one person and another, one identity and another. In fact, her metaphors are so concrete, and her concrete language is so abstract, her very language blurs binaries. According to Wang, “She rejects the seeming contradiction: the false binary of abstract versus concrete, metaphor versus thing” (254).
In some ways, I agree with Berssenbrugge and Wang’s interpretation of her. I fear that establishing fixed identities crosses into dangerous territory that can morph into regulatory mechanisms of white supremacy, etc, etc.
Before today, I thought this was also part of my dope and nuanced analysis, one that’s adapted to a progressive world where the currents of white supremacy have become more subtle and more obscured. And the positive part of a “progressive” world, at least, is that it seems more ready for revolution.
Now I know we couldn’t be farther from one. White supremacy is alive and well in America. It’s stronger than all of us. Who gives a shit about troubling the fixity of identity when white supremacy is so deeply fixed, is so real, is ignorant of POC breaking their backs to justify their own existence through academia and art? I used to think work like Berssenbrugge and Wang’s could save us. But it can’t, y’all.
listening to this song has been a good outlet for my anger.