Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Incubation, A Space for Monsters by Bhanu Khapil (Leon Works, 2006)

The thing I like about Incubation, A Space for Monsters is the incredible lines. It’s as simple as that. One good line -- one memorable line -- after the other. Well, not good so much as provoking – one thought-provoking line after another. They produce the pleasure of poetry along with the continuity of fiction, the insight of memoir.

“Somatic forms of memory: Once again, the year dissolves into numbers. The rooms are already half full with water.” (Incubation, p. 43)

But what is a good line? A “good” line might merely be well-crafted or it might use words that are not offensively over-determined and yet retain a sense of interest. It might be a little off or it might project a sense of emptiness into the reader in spite of filling her with the irritant of its meaning. This is certainly that but it is also engrossing (englobing?) because the various subject matters are worked so intricately through the text. No, that’s wrong – they are the text.

"Now I am here in the future of color.” (Incubation p. 35, )

The book is a passionate conversation or perhaps an intimate explanation. It is a road movie, trip book, a biography, an autobiography of the body, an autobiology, a how-to tell-all tell-tale demonstration of form asserting itself into the chaos of the world and the body becoming something strange like a person or a book.

“This is the story of how I changed my structure. (Incubation, p. 43)

Kapil’s fascinating engagement with her subjects – the body, birth, the feminine, gestation, incubation, narrative, sex, gender, genre, ethnicity, ethics – the usual subjects perhaps – are urgently presented and expertly done. I say the usual subjects because they are so much my own (and I acknowledge are the obsessions of many writers, A Tonalist and otherwise, who I read and admire.)(And though I would argue that this book is entirely A Tonalist, given it’s ambiguity, its darkness, its celebratory doubt.) My personal, very intense experience of Incubation was of a gradually unfolding closeness of the writing with my own work – specifically nude memoir. I don’t have a feeling of influence so much as one of simultaneity. Of déjà vu.

“I am writing to you because it is private and separate, like thinking.” (Incubation, p. 12)

“'Writing this to you ….' She began to investigate and fix the attentions around her, but the picture was mute.” (nude memoir, p. 10)

“I am writing to you, as always. This is the story about a girl who went too far. There were consequences, but I like to think of her, the girl who left hearth and home, as re-established in a town or city central to your country, washing dishes like a robot or falling in love with a needy cool robot.” (Incubation, p. 88)

“A golem. Like herself. Skin like flesh only not in her mind. Inside the memory, the wetware an obscene cream as if robots ran on semen. She turns to him. In pieces. In a kind of mechanical pain. He carries in him the mother who didn’t survive. It is evident in his soft address. He is her confidant. Her history. She confides. They confer in a jacked-in version of love. His love is wired in. They know things together that otherwise only she knows. “It’s better than sex, she says. He says, “No, it’s not.” (nude memoir, p. 30)

“Sex is always monstrous. Blood appears in the air next to the body but nobody asks a questions about the body. ‘Please touch me there. More. Oh god.’ For a hitchhiker, the problem of the boudoir is transferred to a makeshift, itchy, unsafe space on the verge of a New Mexico highway. It is often the sex of another era, in which the socks and dress short/blouse are not necessarily removed.” (Incubation, p. 31)

“But the bride survives. She is not Nature. She is not Given. She is a cop with her own problem. An assassin. She faces down the long corridor of the tomb.” (nude memoir, p. 79)

“Is it dark yet? Yes. Quite dark. I can’t see her anymore – just a shiver, moving through the trees. Something is coming towards her in the moment of contact that precedes alteration, something huge, but I can’t see what it is. The question of home dissolves into the question of trees. L is for love which is blood: the gathering speed of a pulse though the person is standing very still in the space before touch there in the darkness which is real.” (Incubation, p. 93)

Danger is present in both works, the danger of being a brazen, blatant unreconstructed and yet pieced together entity. There is a common interest in Donna Haraway’s sense of monstrousness – perhaps the same stolen lines? In my own reading of this book I have made a very personal connection but for any wised up reader seeking the kind of thrill a thoughtful ultra-contemporary cross-genre writer can provide, Incubation is a must read. Leon Works’ production is equal to the writing -- with a wildly colorful cover and black pages between sections that allow for brief contemplation of the universe as you read.

The back matter (I assume by publisher Renee Gladman*) puts it perfectly: “A work of global fiction, Incubation, A Space for Monsters extends its own faltering reach to offer the (various) other: a body, an accompaniment in language and ultimately a water site of inscription to touch.”

Laura Moriarty

* Renee informs me that the back matter was actually written by Melissa Buzzeo whose new book What Began Us is just out and just in at SPD. More on that soon.


Blogger John Sakkis said...

thanks laura. i just finished incubation last week and fell in love. i was fortunate enough to be one of bhanu's students at naropa, one of the students in her "mutation" class in the fall of (05?) where, as i understand it, a lot of this book was being written/thought about.

the two words bhanu used the most in that class: "liminal" and "materiality"...

9:00 AM  
Blogger Hayes said...

yes, this is a book i have been lending to all my friends! My how bhanu pays atention to a multiplicity of subjectivity, monstrous as we are...nomadic flesh in preconception...this book surely incubates within some pre-world we are all waiting to be birthed from...

9:33 AM  

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