Review of Luke Johnson’s Quiver by David John Baer McNicholas

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Blog, CNF, Essay, News, Reviews

“For he is not mad, he through whom the abject exists.”—Julia Kristeva

I. Cruelty is God. Thou shalt have no other God before cruelty. Thou shalt make no serene images. Thou shalt kill what offends thee. Thou shalt kill what entices you out of sheer blank-faced curiosity. Thou shall find thy neighbor’s widow offensively comely.  There shall be no end to cruelty, because in this little world, deprived of context, actions shall be judged by gaslight.                                                                             

I took this book in the tub to read, because it needed to be wrinkled, damp, sticky. I was not disappointed by the effects of a wholesome bath poured for me by my lover. My childhood is what I felt. Every tortured animal, every lascivious look from an adult, every false innocence.

“A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualisms without end (or until the world ends); it takes irony for granted.”—Donna Haraway

The tub is old, porcelain; it is inset to the wall. It is cold where the water doesn’t reach. I find myself smelling the tea bag in the bath with me, overwhelmingly fennel. Candlelight warms the pages speckled by my shifting movements. Water clings to me, drips over page eleven.

When I was four or five, I grabbed the silver rollbar on the front of the electric space heater while sitting in the tub. I was a cassette tape on fast-forward while the world went on pause and waited. This was my secret for many years, in that bathroom, until I emerged I was both alive and dead.

II. God is regenerated, emerged from a drunk at thirty-four. Regurgitated, cruelty followed, but wasn’t alone. Imagine this: a boy becomes a man, when holding first-born, laments his own inadequacy. Boy humbles into man. The animals all try to teach us, and we murder them as if they were construction paper, paste, cotton balls, and tongue depressors.                               

Challenge beauty with Beauty. Put beauty into a cage fight with Beauty. Make the whole beautiful world watch as Beauty comes out on top, truth in teeth like grime soaked pennant. No answers. Beauty comes for you with dripping teeth, and you leap from your flesh in anticipation. You feed Beauty your tongue. It’s all so quiet, like the when a man is suddenly still before lashing out, finally at peace with what he believes he is.

“Monsters have always defined the limits of community in Western imaginations.”—Donna Haraway

She asks, “what does a body feel like?” Earthworms crawling through spoilt grain, a rumbling. A bath, but you can’t shut the water off and it’s overflowing onto the carpet, and who carpets a bathroom anyway?! A body feels like the difference between flying and falling. A body is where eloquence and imagination rot, shame festers.                         

Light, when it touches the hidden shame of the body, burns away the calcified layers of responsibility. Evaporates a myth of purity. Light radiates, neither particle nor wave, always transforming. It transforms secrets into dust, easily swept away by deft foxtail. You will find light in this book if you are witness. Watch it transform without becoming.

“Thus, fear having been bracketed, discourse will seem tenable only if it ceaselessly confront that otherness, a burden both repellent and repelled, a deep well of memory that is unapproachable and intimate: the abject.”—Julia Kristeva

III. A house is a body. A house is a ghost, a tender nightmare. You might transform over these pages, into a house. Parts of you might become flakes of lead paint in the landscaping, sloughed off a windowsill where you crawled out of yourself after midnight, trying to avoid the detection of your internalized splinter parent selves.

You might want to burn the house down, but your family is inside, so you can’t. Is it the house, or me? Feels like a fevered frothing between torching, torture, touch in the space of catapulted sparks, show us ourselves in the other. Wonder if you’ll ever be worthy of the Beauty which you are sometimes capable of seeing and being perplexed, stunned, and cut down by.

“We have all been injured, profoundly. We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of hope for a monstrous world without gender.”—Donna Haraway

Of course, you’ll never know. That kind of knowledge just can’t be collected and stored. Faith is just a sort of stab at the empty ribcage of air. Some people’s ethics prohibit them from seeing all but the most attainable beauty. They are prohibited from questioning themselves. They run from the light.

“One thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims—if not its submissive and willing ones.”—Julia Kristeva

The word quiver; when light becomes lightness. Live, lively, eager. Seen for the first time and we do not combust, do not burst from within full of goblins. It kind of makes you laugh. Not just monsters. Shaking yet solid, yet glimmering, sequins. A glimpse of the always in motion. Find my heart never stops. Find, despite or because of all, it never stops wanting to be seen

“A tireless builder, the deject is in short, a stray. He is on a journey, during the night, the end of which keeps receding. …And the more he strays, the more he is saved.”—Julia Kristeva

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