Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

juliejoosten's blog

Thinking with M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

I thought today I’d write about a text that beautifully, painfully, brilliantly performs some of the affective and political work that I’ve been writing about in past posts: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! Zong! is a listening text; it draws on and intervenes in the legal history of 142 African slaves who, in 1781, were thrown overboard the ship Zong so that the ships owners’ could collect insurance money for their loss. Relying on the language of the legal decision "Gregory vs. Gibson," Philip reimagines history by listening for and to the voices drowned within its violence.

Revision and Sedgwick and Surprise

In my head my posts this month were going to unfold more linearly than they seem currently to be doing. I imagined each post, in advance of writing it (and an advance of writing any of the posts) as a short section in a longer essay. But, as almost always, the plan alters ever so slightly, then ever so completely . . . Each of these posts remains (in my head at least) a continuation of what precedes it and is to-be-continued, each is part of what I now think of note-taking towards an essay, and/but the essay keeps altering as I write—

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Parenthetical: On Neural Transformation:

(One of the things I’ve been reading about recently and am deeply engaged with is the idea of neuroplasticity. The internal reality formed by neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to alter in response to external and internal experience—is not only a mental phenomenon but also a somatic one. The traces in the brain left by experience are associated with particular somatic states, some positive, some negative, some an ambivalent combination of both. Plasticity demonstrates that experience leaves a trace on and influences neuronal networks, modifying the way information is transferred through the brain and body. Experience thus leaves a trace that alters the givens or modifications that have preceded it: this the principle of neuroplasticity.

Bodies Called Forth and Bodies Calling

Part of the reason I’ve decided to write about bodies this month is because I’ve been reading and talking so much about them—in newspapers, online, in books, and with friends and family. The transformations of bodies, the inescapable signifying of different kinds of bodies, the ways those significations might alter, have all been part of these readings and conversations.

Chapter 1: Beginning (Again)

It’s strange to think of a formal beginning in the midst of the continuous alterations—some barely perceptible, some profound—that seem always to unfold at this time of year and in the midst of alterations particular to this unfolding year. In Toronto, the hide-and-go-seek appearing and disappearing of Spring, the feel of the thawing ground yielding against my boots, sap running through the trees, the end of one strike and the possibility of new strikes, book season.

Prologue: Context: Sugaring

Today, the sap is running. It has been, on and off, for the last two weeks. I’ve spent as much of that time as possible a couple hours north of Toronto with family and friends tapping trees, carrying sap, cutting firewood, stoking fires, boiling sap into syrup, and finally bottling it. This is anything but a professional operation. The pleasure began on a Thursday when we bricked the evaporator, also called an “arch,” a “fire box,” an “oven,” and which I, for unconscious reasons, cannot help but call “the kiln”: think of an oil drum cut in half and flipped on its long side. Think of fire bricks, of scoring them with a diamond blade and tapping them apart with a wedge, of fitting them, puzzle style, along the sides of the barrel, and then mortaring them into place.

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