"I’m a very traditional storyteller, it’s not like the audience is having radically different experiences of the narrative. They’re having one experience, which they like or don’t like, or have conflicted feelings about. They’re experiencing a thing, which is a story, and I experience that story for the first time when they do. Up until then, it’s just notes toward a story. That’s the quantum shift that happens for me.
And it’s wonderful—my god, it is so wonderful. It’s also nerve-wracking: I don’t really know what I’ve done, and the first time I’m going to know what I’ve done is when three hundred people are sitting in the audience watching it with me. “Oh, that’s what that is…that’s what the story is… I thought the story was this other thing.” It’s a beautiful process.”
If Eleanor Marx seems such a modern figure, it is because she strove to unite her political activism with her personal expression in a way that now seems wholly familiar. But we must remember that in Victorian England (as today in many parts of the world), the walls between men and women, between public and private life, were high, and there were risks of disgrace, humiliation, and even incarceration for those who tried to pull them down.
By Sally Wen Mao
Brought to you by the Guernica/PEN Flash Series
Four-year-old Mailin was drawing a picture on the wall of her grandmother’s guest room. First, she drew a profile. It was a man’s face. Then she drew his legs. She skipped the body because that moment she forgot that men had bodies – chests, torsos, bellies and all. She drew a hat to cover the head. She drew a princess in a ballgown—the bride. She drew a kid with a balloon in his hand. She drew a bowl of peaches. Then she drew the apartment complex. Bricks because she was told that wooden houses burn quickly. Stairs because she had never lived in a place with more than one floor.
She used a ballpoint pen and the lines were shaky. She knew she was violating the clean white wall, that her grandmother would discover her soon, see her for the criminal she was.
Footsteps started down the hall. They rang, they thudded, a slow pulse. Her wrists went limp. She wanted to keep drawing the place they could all live in together. One that fit a family. Freaks, sure, with no torsos or bellies or chests. But these freaks had legs and nice shoes. These freaks had a three-story apartment made of bricks and ballpoint ink.
The door clicked open. She had it coming. Her grandmother scanned the walls. Her eyes rolled over the bride, and the kid, and the man with a hat but no body. The walls harbored wishes she could not grant.
Mailin knew she’d be punished. She closed her eyes, waited for the whip of her grandmother’s hand across her face. She thought of the house she lived in with her parents in the city—how the three of them slept together on the floor of the living room, how on the weekends they would gather in the front yard with tiny bowls of fruit and she could hear the laughter over the wall between her family and the next door neighbors. She took a bus to school every day with Susu, the girl who lived beyond that wall. She wished they could all live together in the countryside, they could all drink from the same freshwater well and breathe air as sweet as this, as sweet as the air here, on this porch in Xianning, taste peaches as ripe as the peaches here, the peaches in her drawing, so plump her lines could barely contain them. She closed her eyes and breathed in. Suddenly her drawing dwarfed her tininess. The apartment she drew was big enough to fit her whole body inside.
“Why did you do this?” her grandmother asked slowly, but the next moment, her face softened. “What is this? Why doesn’t this man have a body?”
Mailin answered, “He lost it in an accident. He doesn’t have one.”
Decades later, Mailin returned to Xianning. A bowl of peaches was set beside the gilded picture of her grandmother. Mailin lit incense and thought of the bodiless man in the bowler hat. He would have been directly in front of the bed where her grandmother had died. She wondered if when her grandmother was bedridden, the drawing of the man disturbed her. She imagined her grandmother’s envy. It would be a marvel to rid oneself of a body. Mailin learned this from her mother, who once told her, if I were my mother, I’d love to be dead. Unmoving, in a bed—what kind of life is that? It is no life.
In the future, Mailin would meet a lot of men without bodies. No torsos, no chests, no bellies, just eyes that gazed at her, craved her, carved her into something unnatural, something ugly and immortal. Mailin chased this version of herself in the mirrors. The body always deformed, resembling not a peach, but a stalk—inedible and tough. She loved and despised the weight of the bodies she didn’t know: the torsos, the ribs, the stray hairs above the stomach.
Her grandmother once warned her mother to marry a nearsighted man, for his eyes would not stretch far. He’d keep his peripheral vision inside, the apartment as far as his eyes could look. But Mailin could not imagine a future like that. She had long left the city with the wall between her and SuSu. She had long left California with the date palm and the tiny yard. She had long left the ballpoint apartment complex in Xianning, with the freaks dancing around the dining table, their imaginary laughter spilling onto the streets.
Originally published at Guernica Daily.
Millions of Europeans saw World War I as a positive thing.
This week marks the 100 year anniversary of WWI. In our pages, historian Rudy Koshar takes a look at the initial enthusiasm that greeted the war — and why we’re still haunted by it.
Today’s literary professionals are caught between institutional professionalism and the subversive impulse that brought them to literature in the first place. Whereas the mods were defiantly stylish and mildly rebellious while longing for a greater degree of respectability, English professors are respectable and professional while longing for the passion and engagement and excitement of literature, the Thing Itself of reading. This Thing—call it insight, inspiration, or truth—whatever it was at first, it wasn’t about wanting to publish papers. It wasn’t about wanting to be right. It wasn’t about wanting to talk well or talk fast. It wasn’t about wanting an open schedule, praise for one’s own thoughts, or (though I’m not sure about this one) sex with admirers. It was about literature telling us something we weren’t getting anywhere else. We stayed up late thinking about it and it changed the way we saw the world the next morning.
In 1978, Bruscky wandered around Recife like a sandwich-board man wearing posters that asked in bold type, “What is art? What is it for?” After strolling across the streets, or merely sitting on plaza benches, Bruscky would stand for hours as a live display, facing pedestrians from the window of a local bookstore. These questions were genuine for Bruscky, who was trying to discover what an artist could do, and what art could do, amid so much repression.
The Unlearning by Tatiane Schilaro - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
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- Guernica: What are some strands of philosophical thought that guide your thinking on how people should make change in the contemporary world?
- Grace Lee Boggs: I was very lucky that as a graduate student at Bryn Mawr College, I studied Hegel’s Phenomenology. He talked about how we do not reach freedom like a shot out of a pistol, but rather that it takes a lot of labor, patience, and suffering. And I’ve seen it happening. I’ve seen how it takes time for change to take place. But then when huge changes are taking place, they are extraordinary. And it requires a kind of philosophical thinking, thinking in terms of epochs.
- Guernica: Do you feel like that kind of intellectual inquiry is missing from today’s education system?
- Grace Lee Boggs: Well, I think that education today is a form of child abuse. The natural tendency of children is to solve problems, but we try to indoctrinate them with facts, which they are supposed to feed back, and then we fail them. And that’s child abuse. And you should never raise children that way. You should cultivate and encourage their natural tendencies to create solutions to the problems around them. We have a school in Detroit that’s founded on that idea—the Boggs school. They have wonderful teachers who create solutionaries.