|Title:||She Skin Black as Water: The Movement of Liquid Imagery in Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here|
|Publication info:||Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
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She Skin Black as Water: The Movement of Liquid Imagery in Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here
vol. 3, no. 2, Winter 2002
She skin black as water: The Movement of Liquid Imagery in Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here
To chart any thematic course through the work of a writer like Dionne Brand is to voluntarily set oneself adrift in waters sublime. The strangeness of these critical waters deepens when attempting to navigate the relationship between Brand's writing and her politics—the commitment, articulated everywhere in her oeuvre, to the project of radical democracy. Brand's sense of writing as radical political activity is one of her strongest distinctions as a literary talent, but the consequent problematization of notions like writing" and politics" may well find us sailing in uncharted waters where, for lack of any land in sight to light on, we are left to navigate a course by the guidance of signs like the wind and the stars, which themselves are moving.
What follows is an attempt to remix Brand's spectacular contributions to what she has identified elsewhere, in the work of Jamaica Kincaid, as a writing enterprise of unfixing the fixed" (Bread out of Stone 45), in order to elucidate the immersive atmosphere rinsed out by Brand's deployment of liquid imagery and references. (To call my commentary a remix is to stress its cut and mix" approach and to distance it from any pretense to authoritatively speak for" Brand.) This paper proposes to read how Brand's project of unfixing the fixed" drenches Verlia, the protagonist of her 1996 novel, In Another Place, Not Here, in a flood of liquid imagery that radically resituates her sense of identity as a Black lesbian and a socialist revolutionary. Accompanying this reading, references to analogous discharges in other works by Brand, and in theoretical intertexts by Northrop Frye, Luce Irigaray, and Peter de Bolla (among others), will clarify the range of sexual, social, aesthetic and political contexts with and against which Brand's imagery of liquid moves.
In embarking upon this voyage, it is therefore essential to foreground the racial, sexual, formal and political investments which interact in Brand's work and which converge in the anchor of agency that is the body: If we couldn't have our bodies we couldn't have anything" (Bread out of Stone 29). Brand's participation in the People's Revolutionary Government of Grenada dramatically demonstrates her dedication to (and the inextricability of) these investments, and provides not merely a powerful autobiographical context for reading her work, but also an organizing principle. In Harris, Philip, Brand: Three Authors in Search of Literate Criticism," George Elliott Clarke asserts that the trauma of the implosion of the Grenadian Revolution in 1983 defines Brand's oeuvre" (184). Chronicles of the Hostile Sun (1984), No Language is Neutral (1996), Bread out of Stone (1994), and In Another Place, Not Here (not to mention the plangent reflections on revolution in her Governor General's Award-winning Land to Light On ) all deal in quite different ways with Brand's Grenada experience. Brand wrote Chronicles while in Grenada, a document of both the revolution and its repression by the 1983 American invasion; two poems in the first section of No Language is Neutral are devoted to Phyllis Coard and Jacqueline Creft, the Revolutionary Government ministers of women's affairs and education, respectively; and Nothing of Egypt" in Bread out of Stone is a harrowing memoir documenting both the terror of the US invasion of Grenada and Brand's unwavering affirmation of the revolutionary imperative.
In Another Place, Not Here differs from these other works with its allusive restraint, whereby Brand displaces and generalizes her personal experience and political commitment. Nowhere in the novel does Brand specify its Caribbean island setting as Grenada. The only clue given to indicate (to non-Grenadians) that the island is Grenada (apart from the names of towns and places too obscure for all but the most comprehensive maps) is the name of the repressive land-owner Oliviere (13-15), who is mentioned in the poem La Souffriere" in Chronicles (15). Apart from this clue (and according to the allegorizing effect of fiction itself), the island assumes an anonymity through which it can stand for the necessity of anti-colonial revolution and that revolution's conflict with those military apparati that so violently strive to repress it (in the name of American democracy," of course). This interpretation assumes nothing about Brand's own authorial intentions; in Nothing of Egypt" she qualifies any attempt to write about colonial war as claiming all the pain" of such an experience, emphasizing that she cannot claim all the pain" (139). But the namelessness of the island renders it invaluable, in the sense of not being owned or not being property (as opposed to the sense of ownership and value claimed through any act of naming), and thus plays an important role in setting the revolutionary scene in which Verlia participates, and which she certainly helps to precipitate.
A latent romanticism seems to inflect Brand's approach to writing as revolutionary activity. Frank Davey's exegesis of Leonard Cohen's hyper-romantic Beautiful Losers (1966) suggests one sense in which Brand's work, like Cohen's, participates in a post-Romantic literary tradition, wherein narratives of the dissolution of the subject as a self-identified individual herald an anti-Enlightenment irrationality as much as a compassionate call to community:
Davey's remark also highlights the stylistic similarity with which both writers mobilize the warm watery syllables" (Brand, No Language is Neutral 36) of liquid imagery to counter-discursively kick against all the hegemonic pricks. This poetic critique of post-Enlightenment reason, which for Brand becomes a critique of the codification of racism in the production of knowledge (Bread out of Stone 153), resonates powerfully with Luce Irigaray's 1974 essay, The 'Mechanics' of Fluids," in which Irigaray writes that solid mechanics and rationality have maintained a relationship of very long standing, one against which fluids have never stopped arguing" (113).
However, as Pamela McCallum and Christian Olbey have shown, In Another Place, Not Here deploys liquid imagery in arguing less against the hegemonic discourse of reason in general than against the specific kind of codified racism whereby the spectre of slavery continues to haunt the West Indies (and the developing South in general), in the displaced form of economic globalization" (170).
The character of Verlia in Brand's novel embodies Brand's most concentrated articulation of liquid imagery. Verlia is drawn almost exclusively from images of liquid (blood, sweat, tears, spit, rain, rivers, seas, oceans, etc.). We first see her through the desiring eyes of Elizete, the woman who will become her lover, to whom Verlia first appears, with the disconcerting force of revelation, as an almost mythological kind of water spirit:
As McCallum and Olbey point out, this scene—and Verlia's relationship with Elizete in general — is both embedded in and saturated by the work process" (171). Their reading of In Another Place, Not Here situates the novel in a literary tradition of the neoslave narrative" (163) and reminds us that Brand's liquid imagery cannot be fixed to one meaning—that it not only conjures Verlia's sensuality and emerging sense of emancipatory collective subjectivity but also evokes the legacy of slavery in the peril" that Verlia drank ... as a newborn" (In Another Place, Not Here 125) and in the sweatshops where Elizete works (McCallum & Olbey 170) as some examples of what McCallum and Olbey term the fluid, complex, and contradictory forces unleashed in the expansion and consolidation of global transnational capitalism" (165).
Overdetermined and painfully interrupted as it is by the labour process (172), Elizete's first description of Verlia is supersaturated with variations on the liquid theme that transform her story into more of a song. Throughout the book, these liquid images will conjure a host of metaphoric and metonymic associations with ideas of memory, maternity, futurity, freedom and revolution, and in so doing they will deepen analogous connections that Brand has made in earlier works:
Whereas Derrida's writing frames an ex-centric absence, Frye's frames the metaphysical plenitude of an archetype:
Brand's use of liquid imagery flows with these deep-running symbolic currents and (as McCallum and Olbey's argument makes clear) against them. My tongue is mythic" (No Language is Neutral 51), declares the anonymous narrator of hard against the soul." Brand deploys creative writing as a critical practice wherein evocations of lesbian desire mix with revolutionary socialist imperatives to oppose and demystify the racist and patriarchal images of the female body that have colonized even the imaginations of otherwise anti-colonial writers:
The same kind of visceral, bodily response to colonization is grotesquely and exhaustively represented in Irvine Welsh's 1994 novel, Trainspotting. In Welsh's novel, inappropriate discharges" (210) of bodily fluids, and transgressions of all kinds of social boundaries (most prominently dramatized by how heroin addiction troubles the interiority of the subject), occur frequently enough to assume the force of anti-colonial negotiations by the characters undertaking them—in other words, the force of viscerally fucking the system." In Brand's work, a deluge of images liquefy the (pleasuring and revolutionary) female body in a metaphoric metamorphosis through which its significations may slip beyond the prisoned gaze of men" (No Language is Neutral 48). Such emancipatory slippage also paradoxically demonstrates a use of fluid imagery that moves with mythological currents when we recall the ancient Greek story of Arethusa, who was transformed into a river to escape being raped by Apollo.
In this way Verlia's lesbianism (which, as Peter Dickinson notes for all erotic identities, is best understood as performative" and thus also subject to slippage ) assumes a necessary political function. The depictions of lesbian love dramatize and magnify, in very different and very intimate ways, the emerging notion of fluid identity: Sometime she feels Abena fold her wholly and they are stooping, doubled and kneaded in sweat and where she begins and Abena ends the skin does not break off, yet it does ... So much water. The room is full of water" (In Another Place 187).
Meira Cook's treatment of the female body as a site of performance" in the love letters" (89) comprising the second hard against the soul" chapter of No Language is Neutral (36-51) reads the excesses and ecstasies of Brand's evasive subject" (90) in the context of Lacan's theory of phallic subjectivity and jouissance. Intending to read Brand against the Lacanian grain, Cook names the female body as an unnameable" conflation of Lacanian jouissance and Derridean supplement, but the resulting textual overflow" (91) is less an analysis of the diversity of images and tropes with which Brand celebrates the body than a thematization of poststructuralist paradigms. In hard against the soul," in stories like Madame Alaird's Breasts" (Sans Souci 79-84), and in the novel In Another Place, Not Here, Brand wields the English language against itself to pioneer a vocabulary for lesbian sexual pleasure which, as one of the longest-running unsaids" in Western culture, poses a limit case in that dilemma of discursive poverty which, as J. G. Ballard has wryly observed, plagues the language of sexuality in general:
Brand asserts that women learn about sexual pleasure from women" (Bread out of Stone 33), and the imagery of liquid provides her most powerful poetic reservoir in writing out this pleasure. But, given that Brand's kind of sexual difference is still so widely and distressingly vilified, the discourse of sexuality per se cannot contain such vivid writing out from spilling over and mixing with questions of race (and) politics.
Asked to address the specific relationship between her writing and revolution, Brand has called poetry a perfect kind of speech" (Seminar discussion) whereby the humanistic imperatives of socialist revolution are realized in the formulation of precise, compassionate forms of communication. Such imperatives inhere in Brand's writing at the level of form as well as content; J. Edward Chamberlin notes that Brand's sensibility to the fashioning of the poetic line poses not an object-oriented problem but a relational one. He observes that the seamless fluidity with which Brand delivers her work in public readings results not only from her Trinidadian linguistic heritage but also from her own poetic convictions, dealing with navigation [amidst] a whole set of indeterminacies" (Personal interview) wherein the only constant is a knowledge of self. For Brand, this knowledge is contiguous with her identity as a Black socialist lesbian. In the novel In Another Place, Not Here, we can see how the character of Verlia channels a torrent of liquid images that envision the Black revolutionary movement to which she is committed as a radical kind of liquid power, the carnivalesque excess of a formless, fluid, protean body.
Writing of Verlia's arrival in Toronto, Brand describes two worlds here in this city ... one is white and runs things; it is as glassy as its downtown buildings and as secretive" (180). Opposed to this secretive world is the secreting world, the other world growing steadily at [the white world's] borders," a world which, encroaching on the other's borders, suggests a tidal, oceanic force. Brand's very repetition of this phrase, the new world growing steadily on the edge of the other," makes literal the sense in which Verlia's world laps against the shores of the white world, and abrogates the phrase new world" to specify a Black immigrant community in the historical process of growing into an historic self-knowledge (Bread out of Stone 67). In one sense it is the city, with its alienating architecture, suspect mutability, and hostile white hegemony that Verlia views as oceanic: its motions something to keep an eye on, something to look for threat in. ... If you live here you can never say that you know the other world, the white world, with certainty. It is always changing on you though it stays the same, immovable" (180). Imagining whites as denizens of the deep, Verlia cannot imagine that any one of them could surface from their city" (181), and she becomes immersed in a new world growing on the edge or warp" of the white world. The virulent quiet racism supporting an immovable" white world and its gross imbalance of power assumes the mythic contours of an unpredictable marine threat. Confronting this immovable hegemony, the world in which Verlia finds herself becomes what Brand elsewhere in the novel calls the sublime territory of rage" (43), a territory whose sublimity annihilates its recognition as territory (Such rage it would hawk and spit out a grass-throated ocean" ), a world radically unthinkable to the white world, a world which unites meanings of liquid dynamics and revolutionary activity under the emblematic sign of the Movement.
In describing Verlia's desires, Brand makes explicit the relation between an emancipatory Black identity and fluidit: She wants to liquefy, to make fluid, grow into her Black self" (149). One possible context for this relation is of course the legacy of slavery, for which in this novel iron" becomes metonymic: Until her head ached with the ring of stone, the jingle of old iron" (34); property marked out by violence, a rope, some iron" (42). This metonymy rings within both Verlia's and Elizete's initial reactions to Sudbury and Toronto. Verlia, en route to Sudbury, hears the sound of an iron vault closing ... hundreds of miles down an iron road. ... This was not the middle of the world. Where she had planned to be. It is an iron road" (138). Elizete's first impressions of Toronto echo those of Verlia's Sudbury: She'd landed up here ... gape open to the road and iron Canadian National ... frozen in mottled iron wall ... the dingy drop into blooded iron" (46). As a material instrumental to forms of slavery both explicit and subtle, iron conjures in these references the legacy of slavery and the empire built upon its exploitation. But iron cannot manacle or restrain liquid, which is part of what gives Verlia's sense of revolutionary Black identity as liquid a mythic power.
Early in the book, Brand describes the inheritors of colonialism's legacy in the luminous image of the blood trees" (42), imagining the children of the Caribbean's iron-chained ancestors not as discrete individuals, but as all this blood":
Verlia's tragic sense of this colonial legacy, whether articulated in nostalgic commiseration with a friend or in journal writing, yield a different but related liquefaction, in the form of tears. The indifferent taste of Verlia's tears provide her with an estranging moment that provokes laughter (195-6); in observing the life sentence" of colonialism, imperialism," Verlia writes in her journal that some pain shows up and you weep like a fucking ocean" (215). (It should be noted here that further reading of how Brand develops characters through this evocative poetic style, in which images of blood, tears and water mix, will be greatly rewarded by her panoramic 1999, novel At the Full and Change of the Moon, wherein the astonishing, almost amphibious  matriarch Bola is characterized before the story even begins as one whose eyes wept an ocean" [ix]).
The massive representation of the masses" as an undifferentiated totality of blood finds intratextual theoretical supplements in Verlia's investigative readings in anti-colonial and communist theory: In the struggle for liberation 'Individualism is the first to disappear'" (158). Reading socialist critiques of bourgeois subjectivity, Verlia learns to recognize this subjectivity as an historical construction determined by colonial and patriarchal forces. In writing out notes against it (as writing on reading, Verlia's notes comprise a clever bending of genres—the irruption of theory within the novel), she articulates her desire to rid herself of bourgeois tendencies and embrace the collective identity of the Movement. Verlia's decision to assume a new, fluid relation to the world provides one possible response to the kind of question posed by Irigaray:
Nowhere in Brand's novel is the collective identity that Verlia finds in the Movement more vividly represented than the crowd gathering like a sea" on May twenty-fifth, nineteen seventy-three" (167). Brand describes the crowd to which she belongs, united in a demonstration of solidarity, as liquid sugar:
This event marks a turning point in Verlia's sense of self, one which she will recall to her last minute" (167), for through it she decisively surrenders her sense of self to the Movement, perceiving herself not individually but relationally and collectively with her sisters and brothers in the struggle. Verlia's new-found sense of collective self ebulliently demonstrates what Brand calls writing for a 'crowd'" (Hunter 257).
In the episode where Verlia spends three days in jail, the role of fluid shifts from an imaginative level to a literal one as she confronts the officer who arrested and restrained her. First her finger marking his face ... and then she spat on the floor in front of him. 'Never have a day's peace. Look for me everywhere'" (184). Spit signals not only a profound disrespect for this instrument of the ruling class," but also a revolt against the conventions of bodily regulation, the policing of boundaries between public and private which, when internalized by the subjects of the state (whether consciously or otherwise), prove most efficacious in maintaining social order (Zizek 37).
Ironically, it is Verlia as an individual who suggests to Elizete that sugary kind of fluid self-hood which, in Verlia's estimation, can only become realized in a collective. But according to the figurative movement and spillage we have been tracing, Verlia cannot help but share with Elizete this emancipatory liquidity of character. Early in the novel, Brand establishes a set of elemental tropes that characterize Verlia as water and Elizete as stone, whereby they seem to naturally complement each other: I sink in Verlia and let she flesh swallow me up. ... Her look say, 'Elizete, you is bigger than me by millennia and you can hold me between your legs like rock hold water ... you dive into me today like a fish'" (5).
But Elizete's inadvertent self-laceration at the start of the book foreshadows the inevitable commingling of these distinctions. I wonder if you can see me beyond rock and beyond water as something human" (5). When Elizete is searching for vestiges of Verlia in Toronto, such distinctions are blurred in the language of proverb: This is where you do your Black woman trick. Squeeze water from a stone" (83).
It is in the confusion of identity's boundaries and memory's limits that Verlia's radical notion of fluid Black selfhood, readily adapted to the collective context of revolutionary politics, begins to suggest some strange and sublime implications. Take, for instance, the scene where Verlia, caught out in a Toronto November, waxes nostalgic while thinking of tamarinds" (199). She wonders:
A treatment of this passage should be prefaced with Chamberlin's observation (Seminar discussion) that Brand's description of a tunnel in a wall leading to the sea" harbours, with a muted aspect," an ambivalent reference to slavery—the hole in the wall to the sea through which the captives had to pass." In the context of Verlia and Elizete's relationship, this extraordinary passage reads as a hallucinatory kind of mutual epiphany between the women. At this point in the story, Verlia is exhausted and despairing, mind and body tugged by the chemical tides of the working world's drug culture—coffee, whisky and nicotine. More than just Verlia's reflection in a store window, the woman whom Verlia conjures (a woman who may be conjuring Verlia, on the other hand) in this trance of longing and despair, where time and space are momentarily suspended, is none other than Elizete. We may recall from Elizete's childhood narrative not only her trances spent staring at insect tracks in the wall (10), but that passage where pronouns are similarly reversed as she conjures Adela (20). Or perhaps it's the case that Elizete conjures Verlia, a Verlia finally dreamless" for whom flesh feels forever like a yoke" (36). At any rate, the repeated references to the sea in this episode suggest the possibility of an empathic connection between the lovers, alongside an evocation of the inherited pain of the middle passage. Recall that Elizete wanders Toronto compulsively trying to get to the sea" (56)—meaning on the one hand that the land-locked city bewilders and alienates her, but on the other hand that the sea also carries a metonymic meaning as Verlia.
Metonymy [as opposed to metaphor] ... is much more closely allied to fluids" (Irigaray 110). It is as though Verlia's fluid, Black identity will not be contained, as though its transgressive sublimity confuses her with Elizete. Thus, to the question, Will she become one of those women ... ?", Verlia would answer Yes, inasmuch as she dreads that she is indeed one of those women," but also No on behalf of the Movement in which she deliquesces. The resistance to mapping (and therefore to colonization) that the black seabed holds in its abysmal reserve is the impossible Here" of Verlia's being: if only this were here, the sea ..." (198) Verlia's gaze reflects and refracts through the window to become Elizete's gaze, in a passage that invests a chaotically liquid sense of self (lessness) with sublime powers.
Despite how this encounter (that is not an encounter) may or may not alter Elizete, she never stops seeing Verlia as all liquid" (113). However, the danger of this perception inevitably materializes as high tragedy: as Verlia identifies with the vast and maternal sea, the sea will, of course, become Verlia's ultimate refuge. Throughout the novel, Brand summons images women walking out into the sea, images which are both disturbing and defiant. 'Go tell them I'm drowning'" (123). In childhood, Verlia dreams or experiences that the house sailing out to sea"—and the passage of this description on page 126 will be repeated on page 246, enriched by the difference that only the time of reading can unfold. Here, as Verlia leaps off the cliff, she decides that it actually happened, that the water is emerald and choppy and the house is going off to sea."
These images of women—and houses—going out to sea mark a kind of eversion, a turning inside-out that mutually collapses boundaries and centres of identity. This eversive strategy is one of Brand's chief talents as a writer who relentlessly turns language against its own assumptions and foundations. In No Language is Neutral, a similar image becomes a watershed moment in the persona's sexual awakening: she was a woman whose eyes came fresh, saying, I trust you, you will not be the woman who walks out into the Atlantic at Santa Maria and never returns (37).
A series of related eversions occupy the first hard against the soul" chapter as a litanic series of identifications made by the ambiguous poetic voice between you, girl" and the signifiers of her childhood:
Similarly, in Chronicles, the narrator of Diary—The grenada crisis" imagines that In my chest, a green-water well" (39). Land to Light On is a plangent meltwater of some of Brand's most painfully personal poetry: The body bleeds only water and fear when you survive / the death of your politics" (15). (In fact, this book's title significantly alters the sense of the line from which it is taken: I am giving up on land to light on" .) And in At the Full and Change of the Moon, Brand develops the eversive strategy in litanic passages that assume surreal proportions, as Bola and the sea become virtually interchangeable entities: after Bola saw the sea, walking into a house was like walking into a wall, a barrier to the open, because this is what Marie Ursule had seen in her child's eyes, the sea, and a journey to be made that melts the body (44).
But In Another Place, Not Here remains the most evocative instance in which the trope of eversion harbours its greatest political effect. Here, it shapes Verlia's final act as an encounter between a subject whose sense of self has become oceanic and an ocean reminiscent of Lautréamont's ancient ocean" (41-7) in its monstrous personification: the sea, its eyes translucent, its back solid going to some place so old there's no memory of it" (246). In escaping the liquid in flesh" deadliness of bombs (115), she casts her flesh out to the sea's liquid, dropping as a deadly" (246) bomb off the cliff—but also, perhaps, as water seeking its own level.
Thus we read Verlia as a character both tragic and sublime, for whom the only full reply to the life sentence" of colonialism would necessarily be a fatal strategy, the dangerous words" (176) of a despair that sizes up the various efforts of socialists not only overwhelmed from without by the American military-industrial apparatus, but also internally fraught by dissent and the many kinds of complicated situation" (221) that undermine revolutionary efforts. Verlia, a character marginalized by the various life sentence[s]" (215) of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, undergoes a radical figurative metamorphosis in seeking to wash away the vestiges of colonially and patriarchally constructed subjectivities.
Brand's novel dramatizes how even so drastic a change in self-conception can only yield a kind of limit case. Verlia's ambiguously delivered (and ambiguously received) statement, Not enough" (235, 241) points to the limits of language itself, simultaneously interrogating its reproduction of history's violence and striving to uncork its revolutionary potential. Thus the character of Verlia becomes a literary strategy for problematizing—and exhausting—recognizable and received modes of identity in order to imagine new ways of being in the world that can realize the socialist dream. In so doing, Brand relegates these old modes to a figurative obsolescence not unlike that to which so many politicians and pundits keep telling us communism has been vanquished (with a sustained stridency that belies an anxiety about the truth-value of their assertions). Through Verlia and all the poetic personae that extend her fluid constituency, Brand rejuvenates the body, the site of agency, with a collective, egalitarian and—though its symbolism is quite estranging—more properly humanistic way of being in the world:
As a limit case for signification and its subjects, Brand's liquid imagery engages what Peter de Bolla has termed the discourse of the sublime" (43). The failure" that Zizek notes in his commentary on the Kantian sublime is the failure of the faculty of sense" to apprehend, in its phenomenality, that which conveys the sublime sensation. In ascribing an elemental liquidity to Verlia, Brand's novel challenges the terms according to which the sublime has traditionally been understood as a masculine force of sensory impression or penetration (de Bolla 57), transforming its power to blur distinctions between subject and object, or between inner and outer" (44) so that Verlia becomes less an evasive than an eversive and immersive subject of discourse. In Brand's terms, the failure marked by the encounter with the sublime ceases to be a failure through Verlia's internalization and redeployment of the sublime, becoming the reservoir for a language not yet made" (No Language is Neutral 36) which can adequately articulate the desires and dilemmas of her unsaid" identity. The madding crowd of the Burkean sublime becomes in Brand's vision a movement of solidarity (maybe that should be liquidarity) whose litanic chant Power to the People!" (167) renames the subject of the discourse of the sublime (whose name as subject, de Bolla argues, is the surplus or leakage" of this discourse ) as a revolutionary collective, reclaiming and reorganizing its power for positive social transformation. In addition, the joy with which Verlia joins this crowd, evoked in the imagery of sugar, conflates connotations of the sublime with those of the beautiful, and the crowd's carnival atmosphere transposes its historically negative resonance (de Bolla 47) as the celebration of a radically heterogenous and female body.
Rosie Higgins's Hopeful Monsters advocates the need for grounding feminisms according to ... their conceptualisations of gender and female identity, their political myths" (1), and while Brand's liquid imagery might constitute one such political myth, it can hardly be accused of reifying a model of essential female experience according to the language of fluidity (a given in Irigaray's argument). Instead, Brand's myriad elemental images and metaphors open to question what it means to be female" (Brand, In the Company of My Work" 358). It's also worth noting here that this reading runs the risk of being misinterpreted as one that evacuates" or dissolves" possibilities for agency and action—but what it seeks to posit is not a question of the subject's agency dissolving, but of the power of dissolution itself as a defamiliarizing mode of agency.
What the flow and flood of liquid imagery in Brand's work suggests is less a transgression that exceeds the patriarchal economy of discourse (as Cook argues) than the condensation of a radically unfamiliar way of imagining identity that precipitates a crisis in practices of representation: how do you write tears" (Chronicles of the Hostile Sun 41). Some of the critical implications of problematizing representation are suggested—in a very different context—by Judith Butler, who theorizes the lesbian Phallus" as an unexpected consequence of the Lacanian scheme" that seeks to open up a discursive site for reconsidering the tacitly political relations that constitute and persist in the divisions between ... corporeality and the psyche" (148).
At once an occupation of and a challenge to the male construct of a woman's life" (Chronicles of the Hostile Sun 360), Brand's fluid lyricism unfixes and threatens critical categories, jamming the works of the theoretical machine" as Irigaray puts it (107). Consider, as a last example, this fascinatingly turbid excerpt from Chronicles:
I don't see Marxism and feminism as theories I need to graft onto people," Brand states elsewhere in Chronicles, I see them as living things" (357). It's certainly easy enough to argue that the devotion of Brand's writing to the project of radical democracy remains first and foremost a symbolic connection between revolutionary poetics and revolutionary politics. McCallum and Olbey make a suggestion worthy of further investigation in writing that In Another Place, Not Here retrieves and redeploys in the contemporary sphere the conventions of a genre initially defined by its capacity to intervene in actual material struggles for social transformation" (166). But it is Brand's own iconoclastic theory of writing as a perfect form of speech" that remains the most defiantly utopian challenge to unfix our historically determined perception of literature as symbolic and immaterial, in order to restore to the practice of literature its power as a set of material strategies capable not only of descriptive effects but of prescriptive change.
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