Radical Grammars of Adnan & Ali

In her book Night, Etel Adnan thinks through and around the consequences of a set of images, including trees, darkness, and the sea. She writes, “My memories form a forest with unstable boundaries” (17). As trees, Adnan’s memories are collective, parallel, and similar, but discrete. As the forest of her collective memory, rather than revealing particular information about her past, the dark forest might obscure it. In this way they trouble the stable boundaries of what a memory is. Adnan thus re-casts darkness as a positive, radical, or multiplying force. Adnan later writes, “memory creates identity,” thus applying her recuperation of darkness as a complicating force to the notion of identity. Her deployment of these images—such as trees and darkness—as abstractions rather than metaphor further demonstrates her resistance towards simplification and equation.

Kazim Ali’s poem “Bright Felon Deleted Scene 3” in his collection Sky Ward also explores images—a series of photographs of Ali’s vacation. The photographs have no human subjects, “…only mountains, clouds, empty streets, two pictures of [Ali’s] back” (25). While Ali’s friend Amelia tries to draw from the photos the metaphorical conclusion that Ali is “turning [his] back on people,” Ali claims that this metaphor is “not true” (25). He re-strategizes the use of the image of his back and his body, writing “…him with my name is split neck to navel and stuffed with maggots and grubs.” Just as Adnan approaches her images over and over, resignifying each time, so, too, does Ali. That Ali’s body and person is filled with many other tiny creatures gestures towards Adnan’s ideas of an unstable and complex identity: “I am an inferno of fallen creatures, all wriggling for the light,” Ali writes, concluding the poem (25). Here, too, he recuperates the image of the parasite to something that indicates possibility, movement, regimes of knowledge and grammar falling to give way to others.

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