Citizen

Claudia Rankine

You like to think memory goes far back though remembering was never recommended. Forget all that, the world says. The world’s had a lot of practice. No one should adhere to the facts that contribute to narrative, the facts that create lives. To your mind, feelings are what create a person, something unwilling, something wild vandalizing whatever the skull holds. Those sensations form a someone. The headaches begin then. Don’t wear sunglasses in the house, the world says, though they soothe, soothe sight, soothe you.

I’ve been having a hard time writing about Citizen and the experience of reading it, as it would be so easy to blandly describe it — the topics it covers, its blend of text and images — yet in no way capture its power. And as Holly Bass said in her New York Times review, it’s tempting to call it “timely,” even though what becomes striking is the breadth and recurrence of the aggressions it collects.

I enjoyed reading this interview Lauren Berlant did with Claudia Rankine where she says:

It seems obvious, but I don’t think we connect micro-aggressions that indicate the lack of recognition of the black body as a body to the creation and enforcement of laws. Everyone is cool with seeing micro-aggressions as misunderstandings until the same misunderstood person ends up on a jury or running national response teams after a hurricane.

Later Rankine responds to a comment about the book “liv[ing] meditatively enraged in a world where truth cannot be spoken to a structure” with a comment about an essayist who described the similarly plain language Rankine used in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as being necessary “in order to perform truth-telling”:

This reading of the style of the book surprised me because I worked hard for simplicity in order to allow for projection and open-endedness in the text, for a sort of blankness and transparency that would lose the specificity of “the truth.” I even added notes to say that the truth, as in the facts, are in the back of the book. I am not interested in narrative, or truth, or truth to power, on a certain level; I am fascinated by affect, by positioning, and by intimacy, as I know you are. What happens when I stand close to you? What’s your body going to do? What’s my body going to do? On myriad levels, we are both going to fail, fail, fail each other and ourselves. The simplicity of the language is never to suggest truth, but to make transparent the failure.

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