Monday, November 2, 2015

"Under a Steel Sky" by James Mapes

Prison-as-metaphor feels significantly more tasteless in a story written today than in one written before the decisive rise of mass incarceration and the PIC; the concluding revelation is hackneyed and anything but revelatory (though to be fair it is one of those clichés that made "it's a cliché for a reason" a cliché). So what's good here? What brings me to write this? Something that discussions of plot and character would never touch; something that is in part related to the notion this story allegorizes, that we all know without being told the rules of our own domination — that we all expend enormous amounts of energy keeping up with these rules, memorizing them, updating them, and always enforcing them — but which a description as literal (and politically reductive) as the one I just put between em-dashes does not quite touch. Something to do with the complex pirouette of bodies here (I can't find it now but Keguro Macharia recently tweeted something about the Marquis de Sade's choreography, that only with and after him does one find such attention to bodies-in-space, that this attention and this choreography are often boring), and the way their movements are never, not even for a moment, naturalized. Something to do with the pain and longing and loss that somehow infuses every moment of the story's language, despite its being the very definition of the phrase "workmanlike prose," as if there were something beyond or between the words on the screen. Something to do with desire, the desire shooting through the whole story for something outside: outside these rules — outside these movements — outside these walls — outside these metaphors — outside these clichés — outside these words — outside.

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