Geo Barcan: Anne Boyer: The Undying

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“Illness vivifies the magnitude of the body’s parts and systems. In the sickbed, the sick disassemble and this disassembly crowds a cosmos, organs and nerves and parts and aspects announcing themselves as unfurling particulars: a malfunctioning left tear duct—a new universe; a dying hair follicle—a solar system; that nerve ending in the fourth toe of the right foot—now eviscerating under chemotherapy drugs—a star about to collapse. All that time lying down can also bring about the microscopic practice of worry. In the sickbed, illness also illuminates smallness, shabbiness, self-absorption, inconsequence, personal finance, home economics, the social order. Virginia Woolf’s mother understood how the small was the great agonist to the ill: ***“Among the number of small evils which haunt illness, the greatest, in the misery which it can cause, though the smallest in size, is crumbs. The origin of most things has been decided on, but the origin of crumbs in bed has never excited sufficient attention among the scientific world.***” [p. 99]

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    • I WOULD RATHER WRITE NOTHING AT ALL THAN PROPAGANDIZE FOR THE WORLD AS IS. [p. 116]**

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“I read somewhere that while many people have written histories of illness, no one has ever written a history of the ill. But I don’t think this is true. Every person with a body is a secret historian, at work on the same volume: skin as the annals of sensation, genitals as jokes told by fools, teeth as the rise and fall of what bites” ...

“Disease is never neutral. Treatment never not ideological. Mortality never without its politics.” [123]

“Cancer is held apart as a special kind of suffering, but suffering from the inevitability of our common accident isn’t valiant. To be a child of this accident never made me a member of a valiant class. Immobilized in bed, I decide to devote my life to making the socially acceptable response to news of a diagnosis of breast cancer not the corrective “stay positive,” but these lines from Diane di Prima’s poem **“Revolutionary Letter #9”: “1. kill head of Dow Chemical / 2. destroy plant / 3. MAKE IT UNPROFITABLE FOR THEM to build again.” [124]**

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“I have always wanted to write the most beautiful book against beauty. I’d call it Cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, paclitaxel, docetaxel, carboplatin, steroids, anti-inflammatories, antipsychotic antinausea meds, anti-anxiety antinausea meds, antinausea meds, antidepressants, sedatives, saline flushes, acid reducers, eyedrops, eardrops, numbing creams, alcohol wipes, blood thinners, antihistamines, antibiotics, antifungals, antibacterials, sleep aids, D3, B12, B6, joints and oils and edibles, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, eyebrow pencils, face creams.” [161]

“I come across a headline: “Attitude Is Everything for Breast Cancer Survivor.” I look for the headline “Attitude Is Everything for Ebola Patient” or “Attitude Is Everything for Guy with Diabetes” or “Attitude Is Everything for Those with Congenital Syphilis” or “Attitude Is Everything with Lead Poisoning” or “Attitude Is Everything When a Dog Bites Your Hand” or “Attitude Is Everything for Gunshot Victim” or “Attitude Is Everything for a Tween with a Hangover” or “Attitude Is Everything for a Coyote Struck by a Ford F150” or “Attitude Is Everything for Gravity” or “Attitude Is Everything for the Water Cycle” or “Attitude Is Everything for Survivor of Varicose Veins” or “Attitude Is Everything for Dying Coral Reef.” [165]

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“Emotional pain overruns the physical, as if it isn’t actually the other way around, as if it isn’t pain in our bodies or its absence determining what kind of day or hour or minute we have, whether or how we work, whether or how we breathe or sleep or love. Then the already apparently abstract goes floating away into further abstraction, like a dust particle submitted to a discourse made of dust.” [209]

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“To be a minor person in great pain at this point in history is to be a person who feels inside their body when most people just want to look. There’s expository pain like an X-ray machine, illuminating the difficult mysteries of the interior. There’s the pain that becomes metaphor and there’s the pain that’s read as if it’s the canon. Then there’s trash pain—the libertine pain of malingering, which is more like a texture than an image. Then there’s the epic pain of a cure.” [211]

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“Julian Teppe began his pain-positive Dolorist movement with his 1935 Apologie pour l’anormal, or “Dolorist Manifesto.” Teppe argues against the tyranny of the healthy, and makes an argument for pain as an education, liberating a person from materiality and providing an opportunity for clarity. “I consider extreme anguish,” wrote Teppe, “particularly that of somatic origin, as the perfect incitement for developing pure idealism.”2 Sometimes to make a hero of one’s pain is pain’s only course, but even so, pain’s education should be in more than in pain’s valorization.” [217]

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“The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote that the least one could say about suffering was that it is “for nothing.” That it is “for nothing” is also what people say about poetry. If suffering is like a poem, I want mine to be lurid, righteous, and goth. When asked to draw pain, my students make mostly inchoate scribbles, derivative diagrams learned from aspirin ads, or punctuation marks. An exclamation point is useful, but pain can also be described by its duration, its magnitude, its locations, its relations, its variations, its disruptions, its histories, its temperatures, its haptics, its memories, its patterns, its pressures, its sympathies, its forms, its purposes, its references, its causes, its economics, its forgettings, its dimensions, its categories, its effects.” [237]

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“I wanted to write about exhaustion the way I used to write about love. Like love, exhaustion both requires language and baffles it, and like love, it is not as if exhaustion will kill you, no matter how many times you might declare that you are dying of it. Exhaustion is not like death, either, which has a plot and a readership. Exhaustion is boring, requires no genius, is democratic in practice, lacks fans. In this, it’s like experimental literature. I was once not exhausted, and then I was. I got sick, and then the late effects of treatment made me exhausted. I was taken to the moment of depletion and then taken past that, and after my recovery kept there in the probably forever of never-all-better, sinking further and further into exhaustion’s ground. What happens if you can no longer self-repair? To be depleted is not to die: it is to barely do something else.” [245]

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“The exhausted have a desire: to no longer be exhausted. The exhausted can have this one desire, to no longer be exhausted, as the prerequisite for the possibility of again having many desires, to no longer be exhausted so that they can want something other, to want what they really want, which is to no longer be exhausted, so that their bodies can offer the possibility again of love or art or pleasure, of thinking without regretting, of achievement, too, or something beyond failed and sorrowful trying at the barely.” [247]

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“An exhausted person, trying to look less so, will try, as trying is what she is good at. She will put concealer under her eyes, add blush to her cheeks, do all the tricks the magazines and websites tell her will make her look less exhausted: curl her eyelashes up so that her eyelids might droop less, drink coffee, take Adderall, exercise, realize it is Tuesday, then that it is Friday, then that it is the end of the month, then that it is the beginning, then that time has rushed forward without her, carrying with it her to-do list but leaving her behind.” [257]

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“The year 1321 might be the only one in history in which the sick, infected, and disfigured organized collectively to take over their world. Or at least this was the rumor. It was believed that the lepers had planned for two years—not just for their revolt, but also the world after it. They planned who would get what and how. The wells, streams, and fountains would be simultaneously polluted with a poison—a mix of their urine and blood and four different herbs and a sanctified body. All of France (all who weren’t lepers) would die or become lepers themselves. The healthy who survived the sick persons’ revolt, now themselves sick people, would be the natural citizens of the sick persons’ kingdom” → **when the sick rule the world**

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“Just as no one is born outside of history, no one dies a natural death. Death never quits, is both universal and not. It is distributed in disproportion, arrives by drone strikes and guns and husbands’ hands, is carried on the tiny backs of hospital-bred microbes, circulated in the storms raised by the new capitalist weather, arrives through a whisper of radiation instructing the mutation of a cell. It both cares who we are, and it doesn’t. A squirrel has died, unmarred, of no apparent reason and is cradled at the root of a tree near my apartment. Like any mortal creature, I should not get too attached to being alive. I’d written in my journal: In the clash of civilizations—the living versus the dead—I know whose side I’m on, never saying which.” [280]

    • flora tristan**
    • margaret fuller**