Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Stick a Pin in Me" by Vajra Chandrasekera

"You know the saying..."? A speaker caught in the painful, political conflict between the immutability of the past and its fluidity tries desperately to explain what has happened: to find the point (in the past) at which the past (which hasn't changed) changed: to name those responsible (who have enforced a brutally useful combination of unnameability and inescapability for themselves): to find a ground in a space that is all map and no territory: to hold on to the past even if only in linguistic form, by repeating cliches, sayings, and famous quotes — those elements of language most explicitly defined by being shared links to times past (which of course all language is) — all of which seem to slip the mind or solidify on the solidifying tongue as soon as they seek utterance: to speak a lacuna in the speakable: to live at all costs, including the very high cost of avoiding certain costs. Though no parentheses appear anywhere in it, the entire story is a parenthesis surrounding what it does not and cannot say, even if at times it comes as close to saying it as those American prohibition-era instructions on what not to do lest you produce alcohol, which would of course be illegal.

I often try to write around the powerful sense I have that to refuse certainty, or at least certain hegemonic forms of epistemological certainty, is an ethical necessity; you might say that this story is an attempt to write around the flipside of that, the violence that makes some kinds of certainty impossible — and after all, all we have here is one person's testimony, and unlike a "real life" testimony or a fictional one that asks us to believe it "takes place" in the given world, we can't even compare it against our own testimony to decide whether and how much to believe it.

Please don't let my overwroughtness dissuade you; I've had my eye on Chandrasekera's fiction for a while now (and recently have had the inexpressible privilege of talking about a beloved book with him) and of what I've read this is his best yet. It's also, in the extremity of its allegory and metaphor (and in its proximity to the given world it just barely refuses), by my lights his least specifically sfnal. Take that for whatever it's worth; I tend to suspect it's coincidental, but I suppose we'll see as his project continues.

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