A Cyborg Feminist Analysis of Corpse Whale

Donna Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs” is a seminal 20th century re-reading of the necessity of the human category in response to the rising tide of social/military technological development. She uses the category of the cyborg to name and theorize the liminal edge of the category, human. Although for Haraway, cyborg’s are born of the specific interplay between modernity, technology, and the social constructs that enforce non-humanity, they ultimately function as an analytic category through which to examine the liminal space of humanity and to interrogate the role of speciation as a pillar of society. One possible reading of Haraway’s arguments in “Manifesto for Cyborgs” concerns the possibility of a somehow-integrated human/non-human society (I understand that she explores this idea more fully in other texts specifically on animals). Arguably, Dg Nanouk Okpik’s Corpse Whale demonstrates a particular vision for that sort of integration The denizen’s of Okpik’s Corpse Whale world are multi-species; the conditions of possibility for life in that context seem to be set by the presence of that diversity. The world Okpik writes is constituted by animals, specific people, types of people, meteorology, geography – each as substantive contributors. A notable example of the animal/human liminal dynamic is Raven, as a recurring theme. It is possible to read Raven across speciation, or perhaps embodying multiple species components or dynamics. In “Bess and Raven,” Raven although receives no gender pronouns – which might be read as indicative of humanness – Raven is described as speaking and using tools in a way which seems uniquely human. In “The Sun, Moon, and the Dead Raven,” the Raven’s trans-speciation is explicitly stated. Okpik writes, “The Raven/man came alive, his body, severed into seven stars, became the dipper in the night skies” (76). The Raven is at once human, animal, and divine or cosmic. There is, of course, as well, the recurring raven image, which appears to mark the beginning of each month in the text. The Raven is operating, as an influencer, simultaneously across species and almost paratextually.

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Under Cover of Night

-night as respite

-night as total/totality

-night as day

-night as relaxation

-night as reformation

-night as spark for the mind

-night as free association

-night as clear succession

-night as supernatural, divine

-night as terrestrial-night as repository

-night as inscrutable-night as empty

-night as philosophy

-night as imprint

-night as origin

-night as quizzical

-night as systemic

-night as within and without, cycled through everpresence

 

“night of sovereignty”

“night of ecstasy”

“night of proximity”

 

I read through Etel Adnan’s Night and came up with the above list of equivalencies for night. In the poem, night functions as a metaphor, a force, a materiality, a posture. It does not, however, seem to ever be fully defined, nor does it embody a single form to the exclusion of others. Night is night, and night is each and every one of it’s modalities – incommensurably and without conflict or resolution. From that perspective, night represents a sort of multivalent, fragmentary, whole that is both more and different from the sum of its parts. The grammatical structure of the phrases above, “night as ________” preserves and maintains that separation between night and it’s meaning or form, that fragmentation. Visually, ‘night’ enjoys a column exclusively unto itself. Grammatically, the word, ‘as,’ serves as a bridge between the two nouns in each line, and much like a bridge, reifies the mutual opposition, separateness – untouchability – between them. It also connotes a temporal contingency; I’m thinking of the way a theater program might list actors and their parts (e.g. Jane Doe as John Doe in Revenge of the Deer) as introduction to a fundamentally time-bound engagement. It seems that when something functions as something else, the two are not essentially the same, although they may share an intimate knowledge of the other. Ultimately, it’s hard, both from my poetic list and from Adnan’s piece, to parse out a concrete definition of night, especially if night itself is somehow fundamentally separate from its definitions. The only sure answer – night is night – is tautological. Although perhaps maybe a violation of logical standards is precisely the point.Regarding the list/poem itself: It started out as a purely functional list of themes that I intended to discuss fully in prose. By the third line, I realized that they were forming a poetic discussion of their own and decided to continue to catalog equivalencies from my reading. On page 32, Adnan offers her own relationships for night, although in her phrasing, the separation between night and definition discussed above is collapsed completely by the possessive use of “of.”Under Cover of Night-night as respite-night as total/totality-night as day-night as relaxation-night as reformation-night as spark for the mind-night as free association-night as clear succession-night as supernatural, divine-night as terrestrial-night as repository-night as inscrutable-night as empty-night as philosophy-night as imprint-night as origin-night as quizzical-night as systemic-night as within and without, cycled through everpresence“night of sovereignty”“night of ecstasy”“night of proximity”I read through Etel Adnan’s Night and came up with the above list of equivalencies for night. In the poem, night functions as a metaphor, a force, a materiality, a posture. It does not, however, seem to ever be fully defined, nor does it embody a single form to the exclusion of others. Night is night, and night is each and every one of it’s modalities – incommensurably and without conflict or resolution. From that perspective, night represents a sort of multivalent, fragmentary, whole that is both more and different from the sum of its parts. The grammatical structure of the phrases above, “night as ________” preserves and maintains that separation between night and it’s meaning or form, that fragmentation. Visually, ‘night’ enjoys a column exclusively unto itself. Grammatically, the word, ‘as,’ serves as a bridge between the two nouns in each line, and much like a bridge, reifies the mutual opposition, separateness – untouchability – between them. It also connotes a temporal contingency; I’m thinking of the way a theater program might list actors and their parts (e.g. Jane Doe as John Doe in Revenge of the Deer) as introduction to a fundamentally time-bound engagement. It seems that when something functions as something else, the two are not essentially the same, although they may share an intimate knowledge of the other. Ultimately, it’s hard, both from my poetic list and from Adnan’s piece, to parse out a concrete definition of night, especially if night itself is somehow fundamentally separate from its definitions. The only sure answer – night is night – is tautological. Although perhaps maybe a violation of logical standards is precisely the point.Regarding the list/poem itself: It started out as a purely functional list of themes that I intended to discuss fully in prose. By the third line, I realized that they were forming a poetic discussion of their own and decided to continue to catalog equivalencies from my reading. On page 32, Adnan offers her own relationships for night, although in her phrasing, the separation between night and definition discussed above is collapsed completely by the possessive use of “of.”

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Salah, “Wanting in Arabic,” & Aleppo

 

In light of the recent state violence in Aleppo, I re-read Trans Lebanese poet Trish Salah’s piece “Wanting in Arabic,” from her eponymous collection. For me, the piece most deeply explores the notion of intimacy: with another person, with her own body, as well as with a culture, a history, a people, and a language. Whether the addressee is another person or the Arabic language is ambiguous; what is not ambiguous is Salah’s desire to close her distance from it. “What I can want is just to learn,” she writes, alluding to the way in which trans women’s desire is stigmatized, and told whether they “can” or cannot exist, and how they are allowed to do so. Further, her inability to speak Arabic fluently as a Lebanese-Canadian makes her relationship with her identity even more fraught.

This unstable relationship is painful for Salah. “Suppose,” she suggests, “we looked away, burst into Arabic?” Here, the idea of “bursting into Arabic” rather than tears suggests that the language is both a site of sadness for Salah and an outlet for that sadness to which she does not have access. She later describes Arabic as a “common languish” between herself and the subject of the poem, capitalizing on the homonym. It is a pain that renders her “silent”—unable to provide testimony to it, even while she writes this poem. This is a poem about the strangeness and “recognition” of “body” and “home.” The first time I read this poem, I read in it threads of hope and recuperation: “Touch to the hurt again,/ what is possible for them again, here.” Upon second read, however, I wonder if this was Salah’s intent. Is Salah urging herself to reopen wounds that have scarred over, in the hopes of true healing? It is a poem about “possibility?” Or is Salah warning of traumas that return to haunt, over and over “again,” such as the historical trauma of empire that has wreaked periodic havoc on the Arab world for the past 50 years—with just the most recent iteration in Aleppo.

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Prayer Request Cards

I would like the church to pray for

J., C., M. and all the boys who went to Catholic school
Mr. B and his lungs, hope you still read the Inferno
and chain smoke in your car when the school doors haven’t opened
One for Mr. Black and his pirouettes, his joy, his self

hopefully there are less stages of the cross
and more Spanish classes, it’s the language of the now

I would like the church to pray for

All the kids who turned their backs on Catholicism
and the ones who didn’t
Miss Shirley, grandma still gets lunch with her on Thursdays
she’s the best guide thru a busy intersection

Really quick, send one off to the bodega on DeKalb
if it’s still there

I would like the church to

quit that guilt shit
& the proselytizing
& only catholic teachers
& those hot ass uniforms
& that long long ass mass

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final thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Erica said at the end of class, last Thursday. I think it’s absolutely, undeniably true that we are conditioned to poke holes and critique, rather than appreciate and celebrate things. This applies to academic work and to non-academic writings, even actions. In some ways, the ability to critique and interrogate is incredibly important. For example, I have always been taught, within the context of historiography, to interrogate silences and internalized biases. History students are taught to critique historical writing, to push back on mainstream historical narratives and to create a more historically inclusive and accurate counter-narrative. Even socially, I think critiques and call-outs are crucial in the production of a less cis-patriarchal, white supremacist, queer-antagonistic, ableist society. And I am a staunch advocate of the “defend your friends” method of friendship (honestly, would life not be easier if everyone had to defend their friends, and if they could not, maybe those shouldn’t be your friends… I swear, the amount of people I know and like who do not feel the need to defend their friends, and are thus friends with human-trash, but I digress…). 

But what I have learned over the course of this semester, is that this might not be the approach to poetry. Because what is everyone’s worst fear about writing and putting poetry out into the ether? For me, it is the fear of being poorly received, having people hate my poetry, being called trite, boring, unintelligent, the list goes on. And I think in the past, when I have read poetry that does not resonate with me, it has been supremely easy to just throw the book down, curse the author, and move on. But I rarely have ever stopped, in the context of poetry, to question myself and my reactions. I am quick to criticize, but slow to interrogate myself and my own reactions, thoughts, and feelings. So the idea of showing up for the poetry we read is really exciting and morale-boosting and health-giving, to me.

Thinking about showing up for the poetry we read, being committed, participatory and kind readers, reminds me of the conversation we had during our first class after the elections. We discussed the role of art, poetry specifically, in a Trump presidency. We talked about how we, as poets and readers of poetry, can push back on the normalization of hate speech through art and poetry. And I think engaging in the arts, and showing up for that art (whether it be poetry, prose, painting, or any other medium, and specifically the work of artists of color, queer artists, disabled artists) is a vital step in questioning the status quo and dismantling white supremacy. Because during this presidency, as has always been the truth, artists will be reacting, critically thinking, interrogating, speaking, and being activists. And it is our duty, as on-lookers and fellow artists, to show up for the work they are doing, and stand in solidarity with their work & have the necessary conversations that accompany that work. That’s what this class has taught me. If you are to critique, question yourself too. And if you find that a criticism is not necessary, show up. Be present and kind, because a lot of folks need that, just as they always have.

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u (an erasure)

 

Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated

I blame you
when you ain’t shit/feel like marble.
But I’m convinced your talent’s special.

Baby,
your patience is the fuckin’ failure.
You need you
the world need you,
too.
I hope you embrace it.

Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated

Lovin’ one hundred proof
I can feel you
Abre la puerta!
Limpiar el cuarto!
Es que no hay mucho tiempo!
You leavin
I know
can’t help it.
Cryin’ out,
‘you deserted.’

Where your presence?
Your disciple?
“Bitches”?
That’s unforgiven.
You should stop the bleeding
for real god.

I know your secrets,
mood swings,
depression,
seen it.

I cry earthquakes
faults breakin’ to pieces.
The world not bullet proof
shoulda told your secrets.

 

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prayer request cards

Asking for things is weird especially when directing it through “the church” because I have never been inside of a church to pray, only to look. But here are some typings and prayers and hopings for.

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