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Issue 149

Letters
by Emily Amos-Wood, Rosemary Flutur, and Karina Roman Justo

Dear C,

My mind’s been on one lately, layering and repeating thoughts like a polyphonic refrain of obsession. Thankfully good writing is a mitigator: countering the feverish chorus of opinions and observations, it can quiet down what’s inside me. Good writing gains my attention without raising its voice at all. It doesn’t prevaricate, is radical without toil and trenchant without pretense. The Greeks already have a word for what I’m trying to describe, by the way: parrhesia, which means to speak freely, frankly, and without fear. It’s also what characterizes Johanna Hedva’s potent “Soft Blues,” which is one of the best essays I’ve read in a while. Where other writers might withhold personal detail, or generalize enough to reach an abstract truth so everyone (men) can understand, Hedva splays themself out. It’s inspiring and galvanizing to read. For example, the same day I read it I considered not abetting my depression and maybe writing, which was something I hadn’t done in forever and which is woefully mandatory for my sanity; the longer I don’t write, the more choked I get. As I did, driven by Hedva’s words, I evinced personal details from my recesses: that over the years, there have been many men whose touches I have encouraged, and how most of those embraces left me feeling more alone than if I hadn’t been touched at all. That in the last year, breaking the cycle of cis male partnership and embracing my latent queerness, I’ve had to redefine who it is that I want to touch me. That I spent years swirling in and about multiple pathologies, guided and blighted by them, until the ritual breakdown. Madness is insurrectionary, indeed. It broke my world for me to reformulate it. I needed the reminder, which Hedva imparted: one of potential, of possibility. All of my breakdowns led me to here, now, where I no longer trust the society I live in but instead trust the beauty and desperation of the people that inhabit the same fucked up world. Enmeshed and interdependent, like Hedva writes, in a world that tries to claim we’re not. Hedva’s essay is an affirmation and also a prompt: to keep breaking the world. We’re never alone in doing it.

Rosemary Flutur

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Dear C Mag,

During the past year I have been concerned about how notions of touch(ing) would mutate, wondering how being confined to the boundaries of our own bodies during the pandemic will affect our modes of touching the world. Your issue 148 offered body language as a grounded alternative to stay in touch with our realities and relationships. Alex Quicho’s essay is enticing in the sense that it presents porousness as a sensibility that must be embraced, a state for remaining open to others. Quicho explains Anicka Yi’s smelly sculptures that somehow invade the audience through their invisible compounds (cannot avoid the virus reference), only to dig deeper into the complexities of permeability.

She reminds us of boundaries as borders, cleverly bringing up Yi’s Immigrant Caucus (2017) to extend the porous from the individual body to those of nations. As a migrant, I can see myself as that which filters through, but in the current context, I also fear being invaded by a malady carried through that which I cannot see. Porousness is ambivalent and informs how each of us approaches what lays beyond our borders.

I wish for porous art spaces where the creators, the artwork, the visitors, and the systems that sustain them would dare to navigate the pores and all that emerges from them—even when the sight is not pretty and forces us to smell the stink. Would the skin of these places be as the one shown in the cover of your past issue? A sensuous flesh, “a porous layer upon which much can happen,” as Theodore (ted) Kerr described. In the meantime, Quicho’s words keep chanting in my head: “more care, more porousness, more interdependence,” not as a mantra but as a latent demand.

Karina Roman Justo

P.S. As I am writing this letter, I am holding my newborn niece in one arm. Her slight weight makes me feel the index of a vaccine running through my body. I have never felt more porous in my life! Letting both do their thing on me.

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Hi C Mag,

I’m writing this from my bed. Sick from inoculation, overtaken by a fatigue that feels like being sucked into the earth. A cheap price to pay for immunity against the spectral disease that has engulfed “Our Lives,” as I speak modestly for the collective body––that grandiose “we” that always fails and falters. The “Body Language” issue felt like a gift to read this spring as I reflect on how life in the pandemic has altered my perception of my bodily limitations.

I was grateful to read Johanna Hedva’s essay “Soft Blues” in the issue. It takes a hacksaw to the institutionalized illusion that sickness is an individual issue. Hedva channels the voices of chauvinists, psychiatrists, and their own language in sickness to conjure and critique “genius” and the immunity granted to the cis-white-hetero males of the art world. Hedva’s engagement with mania, masculinity, lawful delusion, grief, and gender dysphoria is a barometer for the unwritten ableist norms that legislate who is “sane.” Mental illness, in the framework of this essay, is a self-destructive response to the vague, obfuscated, miasmic forces of violence that condition our psychological weather. Being sensitive to the currents of tyrannical power and oppression is a kind of talent or torturous gift in men, and a threat in women and queer people. Being involuntarily hospitalized in a psych ward, for someone who’s both marginalized and mentally ill, can end up in the most tragic cases as a kind of prison sentence. Or, at the very least, an intense round of 24/7 securitized scrutiny that ends in medication, pathologization, and disciplinary regulation, which marks one’s sense of self as somehow intrinsically “sick,” rather than traumatized, oppressed, or psychologically vulnerable.

Bipolar disorder teaches—in its painful, sadistic way—those who live with it that reality is putty, shaping and being shaped by voices and energies that both are and are not the “self,” as you know it. As someone with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I’m not used to reading work that both validates the need for serious healing and care and that also acknowledges complicated relationships to mania; yes, hypomania can be pleasurable, euphoric, and “productive,” but untreated bipolar has taken and continues to take lives. How do we disentangle law, ableism, institutionalized treatment, and gender from the lived experience of illness? This is a question I’m always grappling with, and I’m relieved to see that C Magazine is as well.

Emily Amos-Wood
UP