I didn’t write much this year: a recurring theme, it seems. Would a doctoral dissertation count? Perhaps. I finished writing, defending, and correcting one this year. It appears as a mirage; a parallel life, occasionally shimmering at the surface, where I crank away at academic pursuits, yearning for some sort of yield; I’m not entirely sure what. But to unpack that is a life’s work, and I don’t quite know how to talk about the infinite ways in which I have been changed by the thesis. No matter. We are here to play.
What, then, have I written: I do occasional essays for BLink, The Hindu Business Line‘s Saturday magazine. I reviewed Alexandra Kleeman’s terrifying and beautiful book,You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, and I did so at an odd time in life, when my conceived limits of edibility and appetite were perhaps carelessly extant. I wrote soon after–again, yes, again–about the Neapolitan quartet; it has taken a lot of writing about Ferrante to enable a coalition of my–you wouldn’t believe!–feelings about her, and I still don’t think I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to say. I had a lot of fun delving into a particular cyber violet, #663366, for WEBSAFE2K16, an internet memory project by the very lovely Jo Livingstone. The Cambridge History of Indian Poetry in English, for which I wrote a chapter on Melanie Silgardo and Manohar Shetty’s poetry, was also out earlier this year. I want to say so much more about that volume, most of all about how important it is as an introduction to Indian English poetry, that provocative category that we always seem to be settling for in want of a more suitable identity. May there be many, many more books recentering, let’s say it, Indian English. I’m currently reading Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse, in dozy little gasps of time, and maybe I will write about that too.
It has been a year of learning to harbour suspicions against empathy, and empathy politics. I did not think it would be so hard, and I do not, still, hold it to be at odds with the perils of Sedgwickian paranoid reading. I trust her, and I hold that. Liz Kinnamon’s essay on ‘the male sentimental’ figure is one that I’ve re-read many times this year (I couldn’t watch more than five minutes of Love, as it was insufferable: full disclosure. What a contrast Verhoeven’s Elle–a film I hope to say much more about here–is to that). It cautions us of trusting the premise of empathy–via Saidiya Hartman, whom I am starting to feel indebted to–by flagging its cruel appropriations:
In 2008, Bush Jr. presented a Medal of Honor to the parents of a Navy Seal who died in Iraq during the War on Terror. After giving a brief overview of the Seal’s heroism, Bush paused, contorted his face, and made a clunky gesture for the parents to come onstage and accept the medal. He was attempting to visualize his grief in that delay and he continued to do so when the parents arrived onstage. As the mother stood next to him in a pastel pink suit and they waited while a female voice announced the award, Bush made a theater of empathizing with her. Within the space of a few seconds, Bush can be seen tapping her on the leg so that she turns to him to make eye contact. Directly after she smiles and then turns away to face the audience, Bush turns back and takes a finger to the corner of his eye in what looks like the wiping away of a tear (1:19). Bush had gotten her attention to flaunt his emotional reaction to the loss of her son. A few moments later someone hands Bush the medal, and when he passes it over to the parents, they look down soberly at the wooden box that now stands in for their son. These two brief anecdotes of U.S. presidential action by a father and a son call attention to the way in which a peculiar legacy of male sentimentality is woven into the fabric of U.S. Empire, colonialism, and war.
What is it they say? Never forget.