In a womb-shaped wormhole, j/j hastain examines postmodernities of gender through the central iconography of the unicorn. If a wormhole is phallic, a womb-shaped phallus situates us at the beginning of a new gendering. Here we encounter the erotic as path, as activism; birth into the new virginity. The earth moves, “a tectonic-mid,” not letting the new arise so much as a concurrency with it (17). The omen, the portent “turns psychic roughage/ into emotional and physical/ alcoves” (19). We are slowly introduced to the unicorn, not the well-known unicorn of classical myths, but as a new unicorn born out of a new site of gender depolarizations. Here we have the classical view of feminine purity mixed with the phallic horn. Amongst the multiple representations of gender depolarizations, we see the “femme swagger,” (23) “female semen,” (54) and “the vascularity of surplus/ and need” (58). How the vein is both phallic and womb-reminiscent as it carries one thing to the other is receptacle-like.
savory gelatin” (60)
One cannot help remembering kari edwards’ ideas of the fluidity of gender after reading: “identity as an unending site” (32). From a 2003 interview with akilah oliver:
“Gender is one of those things that is assumed to be solid, where in reality it is both a social construct and a personal choice. And like everything else gender is neither solid nor permanent, it’s only permanence is perpetrated by the state, family, or the church. So the shifting narrative is more representative of life, which goes against the idea put forth by Judith Butler that gender is a performative repetitive pattern which is nothing more than an assembly line of identity. I think identity is more fluid than that. With gender, would we have gender stability if there were not the oppression of gender-centric behavior?”¹
Gender is fluid, but hastain takes it even further than gender reversals, fusings, and fluidity. These morphings are also the morphings of the artist:
“we wonder if we would die or be resurrected
if we were temporarily buried
in frida kahlo’s disintegrating bed” (52)
This fluidity of life, of reality, of perceptions of reality, parallels Robert Duncan’s expression; “Our engagement with knowing, with craft and lore, our demand for truth is not to reach a conclusion but to keep our exposure to what we do not know, to confront our wish and our need beyond habit and capability, beyond what we can take for granted, at the borderline, the light finger-tip or thought-tip where impulse and novelty spring.”² This also reflects Hejinian’s ideas in her essay “The Rejection of Closure,” but instead of losing closure in order to question meaning, hastain rejects closure as a way of questioning reality itself.
As we arrive at “original replacements,” we witness a deepening of these gender/artistic evolutions (55). The new is the originary that perhaps we return to. How the “original” is both unique and therefore new, simultaneous with the very beginning, the first, and so becomes the antithesis of the new. Like diachronous sediment, we encompass the new and the old in one geography.
And an interesting idea starts to evolve from this. How the partial can become whole:
“I am being fractured into
This leads one to remember Deleuze and Guattari’s view, in Anti-Oedipus, that objects “are not partial in the sense of extensive parts, but rather partial like the intensities under which a unit of matter always fills space in varying degrees.”³ In this view, partialities are not a part of a lost whole, but rather “intensities” that become themselves a wholeness.
The worm-hole journey takes us, Inferno-like, deeper. We come to some intervening darknesses. In the same section where we encounter a snake and Lucifer, we come across the “musty,” (77) “the duskier centers,”(77) and “alluvium,” (82) although simultaneously “auspicious.” (77). Then “we supervene in congenital layers/as an abyss’s duty” (79).
The often heard critique that experimental poetry avoids the body, the sensual, cannot be made here. In addition to everything else, this book is also a love poem, a very sexy love poem:
“your genitals are my overabundance
In the midst of this auspicious darkness, naturally enough, the vampire’s relation to the unicorn also appears. “‘Because I know if I bit down/I could feed’”(86). This vampire/unicorn juxtaposition is possibly another view of the sort of duality or depolarization/gender mergings that we have seen so much of already – “duality continues to disappear” (87).
In the midst of love also, destruction is always lurking. Thus the vampire/unicorn hybrid: “that the unicorn might tear the impending/virgin/into bloody bits” (118).
Once hybridization is complete, must existence be complete, or must it begin again? Thus the motif of the unicorn’s relation to zero appears: “ensigns
to trust” (91)
which bursts into vociferation of song:
“a sopping vociferation/bursts/with libretto” (95)
“as I lay there
lead and neck susceptible-canticle
to your crooning” (93).
The new gendering, depolarizations, fluidity of gender and being bring us to this point of anti-nihilistic decay and subsequent regeneration. Not reaching a conclusion in order to transcend limitations, we see the new regenerate as old, old as new, the dancing fight/absorption between good and evil, partialities as wholenesses, and wholeness as a fragmented state of being. In Tom Beckett’s review of j/j hastain’s work in the recent issue of Galatea Resurrects, he reviews 7 of hastain’s books all together.⁴ Reviewing this many texts together makes sense as hastain’s work does have an element of non closure and continuity. There is no end or conclusion, but an endless conflagration of “polysemous/ panoply” forever evolving our worlds and ways of being (88).
² From the Robert Duncan essay” Towards an Open Universe,” found in Selected Prose.
³Anti-Oedipus by Deleuze and Guattari page 309