This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Erika Eckart, is from Ways of Looking at a Woman by Caroline Hagood, released by Hanging Loose Press in 2019.
The concept Cronenberg refers to is Samuel Johnson’s; in metaphysical poetry, Johnson wrote, the most seemingly incompatible ideas are linked together “by violence.” While pregnant with Max, sequestered in the Fordham library doing reading for my theory class, I read Derrida on birthing imagery: a baby is monstrous, unformed, unnamed, without the fecundity of meaning and comfort that comes with it. And Derrida was witnessing the deconstruction of Western metaphysics, which was also a birth.
The mention of deconstruction in a discussion of birth may seem strange, but consider a philosophical tradition in which putting together and taking apart have always been interconnected. The funerary text The Tibetan Book of the Dead, for instance, leads the reader through the perceptual journey that lies between death and rebirth, or the in-between space of the bardo. In this model, life is more circle than straight line, although anyone who’s ever lived knows no shape so tidy can do justice to this labyrinth.
One night Minos’ wife made love to a white bull. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus found his way out of the labyrinth by following an unraveled thread backward. The monster was just an unwanted child. So, who am I, you might ask again? I’m like the rest of us, at all times on the brink of birth, death, transformation, the in-between.
After watching so much Six Feet Under, I feel qualified to discuss death, though. A family drama set in a funeral parlor’s ingenious. I’m angry I didn’t think of it myself. The show says: embalm as you like, but the extraneous and perfectly essential foul liquids of us will always come snaking around the edges, hurrying along like children down waterslides, unaccompanied by a guardian, throwing hands up in air, graceless and ugly like all true happiness. Eventually we must all pay the piper.