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Digressions Toward and Away from an Introduction to Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writers Folio: A Hauntology

“The more invisible something is / the more certain it’s been around.”
—Joseph Brodsky

“[B]eauty is a defiance of authority.”
—William Carlos Williams

 

I’m out. Peace, out. I’m ghost. It’s something we used to say, which is to say, I used to say it, without knowing where I’d gotten it from, some brilliant someone having said it first, only for me to repeat it, back in the day, back in the day when I’d use such a phrase, “back in the day” also a phrase some brilliant someone said first, only for me to repeat it. And by “I,” I mean, “I, abstract, adoring, distant / And unsalvageable,” as Lucie Brock-Broido once said. “‘I,’” after all, “is another,” like Arthur Rimbaud said. And here I am repeating some somethings other brilliant someones said first. Me an “I” like the “I” in Puerto Rican writer William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, who declares: “And if when I pompously announce that I am addressed — To the imagination — you believe that I thus divorce myself from life and so defeat my own end, I reply: To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we alone live, there is but a single force — the imagination.” The radical imagination, the I that is me would add, the autonomous within Glissantian poetic relations zone that, following Catherine Malabou, is characterized by its plasticity—its capacity to explode form, a capacity that nevertheless retains creative potentiality to “sculpt” new forms out of the explosion of old ones. The radical imagination, yes, that life- and love-affirming continuum of study, practice, and performance, of being and becoming, in other words, study informed by Harney and Moten’s theorizing: study as unpredictable and speculative, which works against “monopol[ies] of knowing,” study as “relentless experimentation,” what Jack Halberstam describes as “a mode of thinking with others separate from the thinking that the institution requires of you [:] a co-experiencing, thinking with, for and through the other.”

Which is to say, I want a life outside of debt, debt, as we learned from David Graeber, always ultimately illegitimate. I want anti-statist, anti‐hierarchical communism, which is to say, I want communism proper, which is to say, I want life, love, joy, and wonder. I want disturbance, desertion, destituency, subterfuge, abolition, insurrection, and revolution. I want fusion, “contamination,” and masquerade. I want guerilla attacks on art, music, creative writing, etc., and the so-called worlds they far too often merely reproduce.

But “I cannot make you understand,” like Kafka says. “I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” But I don’t matter. I am matter. I am a mattering. A smattering. This life is an invention, after all. Names, characters, events, and incidents are the products of the imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is just that, a resemblance, a seeming. Like Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi wrote in Call Me Zebra, “I had no identity and yet, I thought, I was infinite, multiple. Like a blank page, I can be whatever I want.”

Yes, I can be whatever I want, which is to say, I’m a ghost.

Which is to say, what I’m proposing is a non-totalizing subjectivity to interpret a certain being and becoming, a certain apparatus, if you will.

Which is to say, I’m proposing a kind of reversal of Nietzsche’s call for “active forgetting,” a knowing, conscientious abandonment of the past because it “returns as a ghost and disturbs the peace of a later moment,” that is, I’m proposing “active remembering,” or what you might call an active re-membering in response to capitalism’s dismembering and disremembering especially, brutally, and incessantly enacted through, among many other violences, an invisibilization of the marginalized, among them Puerto Ricans, we liminal, spectral hybrids, fusions, and reified hyphens, we who are largely rendered invisible in literature, not to mention culture as a whole, mainstream and otherwise.

It’s one of the reasons I wrote the as-yet unpublished “‘Hauntology’ Is a Postmortem Portmanteau of ‘Haunting’ and ‘Ontology’ and I Had a Mind to Look at the Mirror and I Did and Found No One There, and Thus I Am Afraid,” which finds me “transcommunicating” and “transarguing” with the ghost of Maurice Blanchot, that is, with his allusive, elusive The Writing of the Disaster. It’s one of the reasons I wrote “Blues for Borinquén” (published in Salt Hill Journal this year), which tells the story of two Puerto Ricans in the middle of Hurricane María, the first in the storm’s eye, the other in its mediation and aftermath. The fiction is full of black holes—call them shrouds, caesuras, portals, thresholds. I wrote this fiction in response to another journal’s call for fictions about “mutants” and “castaways,” so of course it features Puerto Ricans, we ghosts, we liminal beings, we re-ified in-betweenesses.

I came to realize this, that is, that I am a ghost, a long time ago but it’s only after the culmination of years foregrounding Puerto Ricans in my writing (albeit guided by an anti-essentialist theoretics favoring and further complicating fusion and multiplicity influenced by Judith Butler, Gilles Deleuze, Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Spivak, and many others, the continuing practice of which has evolved into something akin to Édouard Glissant’s “relational poetics”) that I’ve come to see that I am, that is, that my writing is largely unseeable and rendered unseeable by the publishing-industrial complex.

This is in keeping, of course, with the almost complete invisiblizing of Puerto Ricans, whether here or on the island. A 2017 poll revealed that nearly half of U. S. citizens are unaware that Puerto Ricans are citizens. And I’d argue that most of the other half may be aware but they don’t care.

A rupture: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality…” (Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House).

Another rupture: “Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality” (James Joyce).

So much rhetoric about inclusion and diversity from Big Publishing, but when was the last time they published a novel by a Puerto Rican? As far as I can tell, it was Carlos Fonseca’s Natural History in 2020, preceded by Ernesto Quiñonez’s Taína in 2019 and Esmeralda Santiago’s Conquistadora and Justin Torres’s We the Animals in 2011. I’ll submit that I’m off on the count, etc., that Big Publishing has published other novels by Puerto Ricans within this ten-year-plus span, but the point is that the numbers are so few as to be deliberate.

It’s part of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s overall project to imperialize, colonize, and cannibalize us, all of us, especially historically underrepresented, minoritized, marginalized, oppressed, etc., groups, groups that have been and are being invisibilized or outright erased, which is to say, turned into ghosts.

A note about minorities, or, rather about minoritization: for me, following John Rajchman’s following Deleuze, a minority has no form, or rather, it is fluid, formless, any forming always fraught, contingent, temporary, a “kind of socially and sociologically unrecognizable force, the unfolding of which cannot be completely contained in distinctions between public and private, inside and outside, consumed by the corresponding majority.”

Another rupture: I write this introduction under the shadow of Uvalde, and by shadow, I mean, within a black hole, and by black hole, I mean, nowhere, and by nowhere, I mean, in the always already liminal space of invisibilization and erasure, a seeming metaphorization that the horror of Uvalde tragically literalizes. In other words, the tragic irony of an invisibilized person literally erasing invisibilized persons—with the callous assistance of the police, whose function, of course, is to protect and serve, yes, but to protect and serve the wealthy and themselves—has further complicated my ongoing theorizing of hauntology.

Which is to say, since as a Puerto Rican, I am a ghost, I will haunt, that is, maybe that’s what I’ve been doing all along, that is, writing to disturb the order of things.

So call this a haunting: Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio is a kind of phantasmagoria, a haunting of various embodiednesses and dismemberments. It is how a character in Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s abovementioned brilliant Call Me Zebra defines a “good book,” that is, an “object that calls up the ghosts of our past in order to reflect the haunting instability of our future world.” The folio is an active remembering, re-membering, a knowing, conscientious foregrounding of the past and present, and imagined futures that conjures ghosts that disturbs the peace of the contemporary. And isn’t that why we, that is, artists are here, here to disturb the peace, as James Baldwin defines the role of the artist?

Moving in and out of the worlds of the living and the dead, Carmen Bardeguez-Brown “Roots and Routes” conjures a host of ghosts, evocatively offering a post-colonial critique of five-hundred years and counting of capitalism.

Michele Carlo’s “Exactly Like Nobody” tells a story of floating in the interstices of being “almost like everybody, exactly like nobody,” a being and becoming that “submits to no one,” a comic story that trangressively exceeds and undermines its comedy by subtextually critiquing ultimately oppressive notions about appearances, etc.

Joey De Jesus’s concrete poems and glyphs/pictograms are incantations, evocations, of the power of language. They are “wonderments texture of ghost moth sea / & whose each word uncovers a little more / of the world, spectacular as it’s sounded.”

You’ll find “Sacred ethereal beings” in Caridad De La Luz’s “Return,” which reminds us that the fight, the good fight, “is not a new fight but a new flight,” which is aligned in my mind with Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation of “lines of flight” that break through systems of discipline and control, reveal the vistas beyond limits and toward the impossible as possible.

In “Blessed Believers in the Unreal,” Lyn Di Iorio fantastically blurs the so-called boundaries between the animal and vegetal to foreground the “to-be/not-to-be-ness” of exile and diaspora.

Considering the spectral “streets and haunts,” the “almost conspiratorial conversations,” the various uncertainties, etc., in James W. Fuerst’s “El Hueco,” it’s fitting how often “as if,” “maybe,” “seem” (and its variations) appear in the narrative, all cohering into a Bolaño-esque mystery.

Kenning JP García’s “Grace Notes” engagingly interrogates memory, epistemology, and especially ontology, moreover paratactically limning “this other reality” that “came just in the middle of another reality. what isn’t real just isn’t real here,” where “life is the void. death is a-void. death avoids. life voids.” Addressing liminality, García knowingly writes about the “slit of space through which passes an other. many others. words and thoughts. instincts and emotions. an involuntary moving between yet within.”

“The geography of my heart is mapped by plants,” Hilda Lloréns writes in “The Garden of Rooted Memories.” “Spirit guides. Numinous,” she continues, this deep reverie on planting and transplanting, rooting and uprooting a phantasmatic engagement with the exilic, the diasporic. “Then again, isn’t it all hybridity?” she asks, a question I read as rhetorical, but then, I am a hybridity, which is to say, a multiplicity of fusions and forces and flows.

In “Say No More,” you’ll find another of Robert Lopez’s engagingly if sometimes disturbingly odd Beckettian isolatos, one whose lived their “entire life inside a fog,” a kind of shut-in who “can’t distinguish between what’s real and what [they’ve] dreamed or saw in a movie when it comes to [their] own life story.”

Exploring memory, loss, and memory loss, Ángel Lozada’s “Fading Star” movingly depicts the “fading fast” of his mother’s memories.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s poems here limn the past as “ghosted hunger,” the “mouths / And minds of misted / Ancestors”; “Ghosts under the grass”; the “dark shallows” and “the last sorrow,” all of which coheres into a lyrical memento mori.

Juan J. Morales’s quartet of stirring elegies hauntingly offer his deceased father’s “bread crumbs // from the afterlife,” “reminders” of the paradoxically unstable togetherness that love and memory produces.

In “A Yea or a Nay Is No Answer to Why,” one of Rosalie Morales Kearns’s revelatory five poems in the folio, features a ghost that “has hoisted itself up, / stands wobbling on the rim of the casket.”

“Stay on that ghost tip,” Willie Perdomo tells us in one of his luminous haiku. In others, “cool hawks want to dap,” “Spring shadows hide and talk shit,” a “storm falls for you,” and more besides.

Ernesto Quiñonez’s noir narrative “The Ugly Roach Killer Guy” offers the beginnings of a search for the killer of a undocumented girls, a character’s strings of beads—which syncretically symbolize, embody spirits or deities—intimating possible encounters with the immaterial perhaps even supernatural.

Forcefully addressing “Erasure. Modern Genocide,” Dimitri Reyes in “From a Current State of Being” writes, “we’re scrying a future that says, / “We are here.” / “I am here”; which brings to mind, among other things, We Still Here / Nos Tenemos, a powerful documentary foregrounding a community of Puerto Ricans’ horizontally-organized recovery efforts post-Hurricane María.

Oscillating between eros and thanatos, Charles Rice-Gonzalez’s “Deep Salvage” tells the story of lovers, the illness of one compelling the other to “Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in,” such inhalations and exhalations resulting in a kind of acceptance, however painful.

Peggy Robles-Alvarado’s phantasmatic nocturnes offer “glorious unraveling,” “lands we inherit through memory,” and “a galaxy of storytelling/to adjust to darkness,” poems as luminous as they are numinous.

In Bonafide Rojas’s vivid “Sobrevivente,” you’ll find two liminal figures “standing still in time waiting / for seawater-soaked cameras / to capture & save the moment for [them].”

Speaking of the supernatural, Luis Othoniel Rosa’s “History of Human Migrations” features a discussion of “magical artifacts, that ancient interconnection, those lesser gods” that suggest “that the encounter between the Caribbean and Africa will birth a new intelligence that will end all fictions of separation and that will diversify the world as we had diversified the African continent one hundred and twenty thousand years ago.” Liminality as interconnectivity, in other words.

“I stand between / orbits of memory too distant to reach,” Roberto F. Santiago writes in “You, Therefore,” one of the seven poems here, which all evocatively address liminality, an inbetweenness suffused with loss, melancholy, beauty, and love.

Edwin Torres’s “Three Poems” employs riverine lines, an “ark-eology,” as Torres would say, and I would add, an “anarchē-ology,” that excavates, trouble, explodes language, history, memory, identity, and more besides, the poem “my facial mycelial my mask” engaging “blooded apparitions” and cascade of interruptions, of time, “Time running — you, phantasm — here — / bloomed by desperation.”

watibirí’s elegiac “kontinenta karibe” foregrounds a hybridized and fractured syntax to show us “dead people floating, / descomponiéndose hasta hacerse roca” and “internal vísceras that now / they se vienen / hasta con la lengua / por fuera; evermore.”

Speaking about the power of art, Giannina Braschi—in Jorge Neri Bonilla’s folio conversation with her—says, “Art shows us what is. What was. What might have been. What could be. Art is the mirror and the lamp. Or the star and lantern as Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer said. And in my case, it is apocalyptic, revolutionary, and prophetic.”

The art in Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio is all of the above, to say the least.

Big thanks to David Auerbach, Jorge Neri Bonilla, Carmen Bardeguez-Brown, Giannina Braschi, Michele Carlo, Joey De Jesus, Caridad De La Luz, Lyn Di Iorio, James W. Fuerst, Kenning JP García, Ángel Lozada, Jennifer Maritza McCauley, Hilda Lloréns, Robert Lopez, Katie Marya, Juan J. Morales, Rosalie Morales Kearns, Tess O’Dwyer, Willie Perdomo, Ernesto Quiñonez, Dimitri Reyes, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Bonafide Rojas, Luis Othoniel Rosa, Roberto F. Santiago, Edwin Torres, and watibirí.

Let’s bounce. It’s something we used to say, which is to say, I used to say it, without knowing where I’d gotten it from, some brilliant someone having said it first, only for me to repeat it, back in the day, back in the day when I’d use such a phrase, “back in the day” also a phrase some brilliant someone said first, only for me to repeat it.

 

(Image: In, Between, In-between Worlds, John Madera (2016))

Note: This essay is part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio: A Hauntology

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John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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