Mourning: or summer
Rotting and rotten: spoiled – Lily Hoang
I didn’t mean to presume you are part of me. I didn’t mean to presume I am part of you. But secretly, I felt this was true. – Stephanie Young
. . .
I used to think that I wallowed with Mitski. An oozing self-indulgence that smeared like secretion. An endless cycle of needles pricking me into a lulling pain.
Like the line in Annie Ernaux’s Cleaned Out that describes the sensation of cramps and jabs of pain through semiotic reversal: Almost pleasurable.
It was summer.
I called one person each day.
I was tired of drinking thick juices.
I was tired of urinating so often in attempt to filter out perceived toxins.
I hated how bananas were used to thicken every drink.
I was tired of remembering a trunkful of rotten fruit in brown paper bags.
Last summer, for a period of one to two months, I obsessively listened to Mitski.
At the time of my writing this, Fourth of July has just passed, marking the one-year anniversary of my infatuation with Mitski’s music. An affinity that quickly progressed to obsession as sadness swelled. On the worst day, I played her music for a whole 8-hour shift.
Last Fourth of July, I compulsively played Puberty 2 and waited for the weeks to pass until I got on a plane towards the heat. I lied on my bed listening to the pangs of fireworks. This Forth of July I ate Japanese food with someone I care about. We ate out of small partitioned containers and worried about flight schedules. I looked at the planes above me. Earlier that day, we went to a park where the fireworks would not be visible. The river was partially opaque.
I sought Mitski’s music for comfort, a soothing coolness punctured by hot flares. I felt as though obtaining a feeling of security necessitated two emotional registers, not just an anesthetic placidity but also the sharp welling of hurt. I took long cool showers and ate small bits of cloying chocolate. I squeezed by whole body together, hoping for something to drip out.
She appeared to forge a vessel through which to transit a perpetual and unabashed melancholy. I felt a kinship when looping her music through headphones. I thought I could weep eternally.
But not all of Mitski’s songs are sad. Her music does not exist within the confines of a stripped-down trope but rather confuses the paradigm of mournful nostalgia.
I do not want to associate memory with weeping nor weeping with feminized shame.
I want to say so much more in regard to weeping. To nostalgia. To shame. To agency.
As in: pain is not simply the gash or wound or scrape. But also the pulsing of the hole, the mass of red-stained tissues, a tablespoon of salt in the mouth. Pain is embodied in the fluidity of blood and its permeation from the body as historical site. The topography of pain transmits through somatic gesture as performative liminal space, subsequently spreading onto material surfaces. As in: pain is caught in constant metamorphosis.
Mitski offers a floatable, transmutable space. An I’m-not-in-what-you-think-I’m-in-so-fuck-it mentality. Her songs function as an incubator of emotional narrative that resists its linearity by coddling and nurturing emotional flux but ultimately denying its ostensibly sequential logic. Her rumination negotiates a tension between the velocity of narrative propulsion and the festering of cyclical stagnancy. She produces an epistemology implicated in rumination.
How I feel this river rushing through my veins / with no where else to go, it circles round
I listen on the train. I compulsively check to make sure my headphones are secured tightly into the headphone jack, thought I know they are. I cannot bear to consider the scenario of someone else listening in. This ritual feels too necessary to be intruded upon, too gory and peeled back. Like vomiting or breaking open a still-fertile wound.
The experience of wounding often produces blood. There is iron in blood. If iron connotes strength and density then I often drain my power onto concrete, across fabrics and into bathtubs. I think of this leaking-on like writing, like writing my body.
A rare symptom that results from low levels of iron is a desire to consume non-food substances as if they are food; particularly ice, sand, and dirt.
I wonder if this desire stems from wanting to compensate for one’s nutrient-deprived blood with symbolic nutrients, the substances from which a plant or small crustacean could grow. In movies when a woman is giving birth, she is often given a cup of ice to chew on. It is unclear in my mind whether this is an act of care or an attempt to naturalize female pain, reducing it to something elemental and symbolic.
Instead, I imagine strength in allowing oneself to bleed, to want one’s inside out, a reversal. To bear something materially. Organs pasted to skin, an arrhythmic heart pulsing on the exterior. Exposed, ready for harm.
. . .
The line I carried with me everywhere:
One morning this sadness will fossilize and I will forget how to cry.
Pain transforms into a carcass that envelops the body; the body itself is hulled, rendering a shell.
Despite the fossil’s opacity and concretizing of emotion, Miski is also engaged in an act of narrative distortion. The fossil is often instrumentalized as a relic of the past to propagate enlightenment, from which a conquering of nature is deployed. This rhetoric suppresses and flattens acute emotional engagement and its collective intersections. Yet, Mitski reconstitutes the semiotics of the fossil – and the impossibility of complete emotional stoicism – producing an inherently dialectical formation of socio-emotional entanglement.
This is a process of reversal, a warping of hegemonic linearity. Of history and brash materiality ionizing. Of a body chiseled into flattened obsoletion but still pulsing and bloated from the scraping-down.
I desired this fossilization. I did not seek to erect an emotional impasse through calcification. I instead wanted to embody the fossil the way I understood it via Mitski’s rendering. I imagined tears seeping through the caked-on fossil, a permutation that would make the skin underneath damp and humid, making glands swell.
I sought to distort time, stretch it out into a gooey substance I could mold across my body. I could watch its viscosity harden. I could lick its residue off my finger tips and taste it on my gums for days.
. . .
I started listening to Mitski’s albums in reverse. I first listened to Puberty 2, a title which itself confuses linearity, or imagines if linearity folded back on itself to produce a circle, a gnarled root repeating, reimagining, or recreating itself as a nostalgic tenderness.
I worked through this reverse chronology. Listening to Mitski’s first album, Lush, I see its fertility, its willingness to break into/from one kind of youthful vulnerability into another. To understand how the body can be a site:
Hurt me as you choose.
I’m at my highest peak, I’m ripe / about to fall
I should move to a brand new city and teach myself how to die
The music carries a constant oscillatory tension between brittle, frail rot and an exhumation from the compost. These pressure points manifest as layers of emotional sediment, a temporal aggregation that is disrupted within itself as layers ripple, bleed into, or pull apart. These undulations sonically manifest through polarities in volume and rhythmic disjunctions that warp cycles through improvisation.
On the written page, I think of this tension as embodied by Emily Dickinson’s dash. Her punctuation represents unmediated expression through the dash as connector, ligament or limb; both a visual representation of acceleration via the line but also untracked space. This sub-space is liminal, semantically unrecorded and resistant to exploitation. The dash is performing subversion in the sense that its linguistic translation is unknowable while its affectual implications induce rupture.
Simone White places the Dickinsonian dash in conversation with musicality, Dickinson works in an emotional shorthand, she develops her own affects and “cadence” …She reforms, represses, reorganizes the meaning of those words by moving stresses around, deforming the ballad form, performing a kind of lyric screaming.
I imagine Mitski within this aesthetic constellation. I think of the drastic volume shifts in Mitski’s songs as a sonic representation analogous to the dash. It can enact silence, screaming, non-sematic purging or many utterances simultaneously; it is a gesture that cannot be muffled or clamped-down.
Most consider Dickinson to be silent, boxed inside a nightstand drawer. To consider the dash is to realize her presence exploding out of the pressurized box. I imagine a release.
And the businessmen saw my bones
Still in bloom from morning shower
Cause I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want
. . .
I put on a too-tight dress, a diamond, and apply gray shimmer around my eyes like dust. I put on my high heels because I want blisters. I want a tangible body part to hurt.
I want to impress people I don’t know. I want everyone else to weep, too.
I memorized stars. I began to think of environments not in terms of individual social bubbles or networked milieus with their phenomenological frictions but rather through the metaphor of the celestial sphere. While the celestial sphere is widely referenced in astronomical literature, it does not exist. It is a fictitious and hallow framework. Yet the notion of its ostensible coddling of the solar system provides comfort.
I spent summer mornings in a dim classroom.
I sent messages to one person and said:
I want a pulsing tongue. I want my hands tied behind my back. I want to breathe rapidly.
Its been a long hard twenty-year summer vacation / All these twenty years trying to fill the void
I drank thick juices and memorized the temperatures of stars. I related emotional states to planetary attributes; i.e. Mars is rust red and chalky but inconceivably cold, translating to pain that pulses then freezes into submission.
. . .
In Binary Star, Sarah Gerard’s narrator drinks black coffee and liters of water.
Caresses her own body solely to feel bones.
Studies abstract ecologies.
Invites and resists gravitational pull.
I am hesitant to deploy narrator as a signifier in reference to Gerard’s lyric. I feel it registers as a misnomer. Narration is indisputably in effect, in motion, yet the narration takes on a form that dismisses its colloquial recognition, instead caught in a flurry of anti-narration.
Her body cyclically empties and yearns for a fullness it cannot bear, instead desiring to feel stomach lining churn acid.
. . .
I sit on a stool reading about revolutions, networks of care, false friends, wanting skin to be soft.
I heat up meals in the microwave and men compliment them.
Sometimes, the act of swallowing food appears counterintuitive.
Sometimes, there are two bodies enraged.
Do I nourish while this other body dilutes and filters? An attempt to disintegrate into powder.
. . .
In Gerard’s work there is no linear measure of narrative, rather a repetition of warped patterns that fraudulently simulate a forward motion. Energy is subsumed and displaced in a noxious symbiosis. Mitksi’s notion of time also occupies an intersection between propulsive sequentially and a consumptive cycle. This co-habituation evokes memory and its pain/power as a possibility to engage in a different kind of linearity through care, solidarity, dialectics, genealogy. Mitski’s lyric embodies a resonant correlation with female-identified writers on the page:
I want to hold time in my fists, I want to remember this…celestial time / feminized time -Lily Hoang
Tonight is the end of all time / Tonight I want to stop time -Sarah Gerard
i found particles of my past repeating themselves at the bottom of the pool –Jackie Wang
A kinship germinates. I think of Mitski’s evocations of time:
Over and over I tell myself I’ll clean tomorrow
And autumn comes when you’re not yet done
Change, Change, Change is gonna come but when, when, when?
Many of Mitksi’s lyrics evoke a tautology, yet cannot wholly participate in its system because her body is not afforded the social privilege to fully engage in that mode of narration. This prompts the question: who is on the periphery? The abused, coerced, tired body. The mournful body, the torn-up body, the withering body. Specters of past, present, and future begin to entangle when they are isolated from their paradigmatic structure. Improvisation in inherent in Mitski’s narration, distorting the tautology to produce an iteration of hauntology.
Derrida writes of hauntology, the musical flourish of your own most unreadable history.
The female body is systematically subjected to a temporal warping; debasement through an ahistorical rendering in which rendering translates to non-rendering, to invisibility.
One means of excavating the specter of this unreachable history: a dive into algae and debris, culling through rotted clusters and rough pebbles.
. . .
In Jackie Wang’s poem, I Found My Soul at the Bottom of the Pool, she is engaged in a temporal distortion through the dialectic of excavation.
The verb to dive signifies a plunge head-first. A tenacious unraveling of history.
Diving emerges as an act to translate a productive disjuncture between the linear and the static.
I saw Wang perform at the Poetry Project a couple of years ago. She read this poem with digitally-mixed music. She whispered and screamed, an echoed vibration through depths; a sonic diving.
A female lineage emerges from this yearning to dive. I think of Adrienne Rich’s seminal (anti)epic Diving into the Wreck.
The act of diving becomes empirical rather than metaphorical. The work of the metaphor takes form in the material world. It may be performative but it is still somatic.
Treasure hunter you are dead
the light of the world is fading.
Pearl Diver, dive, dive deeper
Pearl diver, dive, dive down
. . .
Last summer, I wrote an elegy but pretended I was carving an effigy. I wanted everyone to remember. I wanted it etched into stone. I wanted it to be ageless. Indestructible. During this process I developed an acute distain for Plato and his rationale that writing weans memory. I re-write until my wrists are sore.
It was recently the one-year anniversary of something melancholic. Therefore, the practice of essay writing contains its own perceivable tautology. I am attempting to negotiate sentiment and memory via structure and exposition.
I realize this structure I am trying to squeeze into is flimsy. I am wary of my own analysis, my own narrative. I worry I making these lyrics docile. That the practice of close listening is reductive. My desire is to show all the fragments, raw and pulsing.
. . .
I smash fruits and name them after stars. I am making a system of murk and pith.
I dip my fingers into its earthy mud. This ecology I have contained in a circle. A bowl of sugar and protein, cellular cuts.
I create rituals to perform and develop new methods of mourning, as the historical precedents are lacking. They are rigid and clerical, patriarchal and sacerdotal.
There is a tradition of female mourners. In Italy, women mourn for days.
Stephanie Young writes, As we wailed I experience myself the image of a female mourner in procession but it was only the three of us.
My new rituals remain fictitious, floating in an ethereal space. It feels as if completing the action would not generate gratification, but rather a more intense sorrow resulting from finitude. So it remains in my head. In this instance, thinking constitutes its own kind of action, its own kind of mental revolution.
The sinew of my narrative remains messy and amorphous, a vile scream. I stand up in from of a group of strangers and say I want to eat fruit again. I want my skin to be soft. I want to wear nothing but over-washed fabrics. I want to see every scar on my body and remember its origin.
Sarah Gerard writes, I want to have my period.
. . .
This summer, Mitksi released a new album. I wonder if her rumination has hardened and burst out into shards: dense objects to clutch or throw. I wonder if she has written about fossilized tears. I immediately presumed her new album to be about power, then realized the absurdity in that statement because all of her albums are about power. The power in a whisper that crescendos into a scream and settles into a droning cry. Confronting pain entangled in the lyric is not an inherently incapacitating admission.
I have a memory of someone once telling me, you are never more powerful than when you feel powerless. We were sitting in the center of concrete steps and I felt the motion of bodies weaving around us. I was drinking too-strong coffee that I had barley diluted. My body felt weak. My heartrate was rapid.
I think my brain is rotting in places
I’m carrying my bag of bones
And when I find that a knife’s sticking out of my side / I’ll pull it out without questioning why
I understand my initial impulse to moralize wallowing as an internalized misogynistic rationalization, a way to reduce the female body to a landscape of cavernous wounds. A rationale that dismisses emotion seeping from the abused body by identifying it as an indicator of weakness. I see Mitski’s wallowing as an act of resistance. Her new album, Be the Cowboy, emerges from a wallowing rumination but instead of emerging with a solidified and desensitized semblance of power, she weaves an intimate lattice like a veil. The album embraces the aesthetic of performance, an artifice that continually dissolves and reforms.
. . .
I want to talk about pain in a way that reveals the wound caked under layers of paint.
To say that my body may be shimmering but it still aches.
When I listen to certain lyrics I feel a pastel bruise rouging just beneath the skin.
I’m all used up, pretty boy / Over and over again, my nail colors are wearing off
But if I gave up on being pretty, I wouldn’t know how to be alive
Mitksi is not merely writing about, but rather engaging in the material realities of female pain and power; recognizing their cohabitations through the body as sculpture:
I clasp the diamond around my neck. I think I have made something cohesive. I think I have a story to tell. Yet I am certain I have not told everything. I have, however, made one glistening object on the exterior.