Saturday, May 18th, 2013
Just released by Futurepoem, Rachel Levitsky’s The Story of My Accident Is Ours blends the novel, essay, and serial form into a rich site for assaying the human social condition. Composed in “chapters” and privileging paragraphs as units of thought, Levitsky writes about (read that as “around,” not “on”) a great Accident in order to explore how social being is contrived and inhabited. Her project reads like a philosophical meditation on public spheres and the body as she seeks to trace how intimacy and self-understanding emerge in our late-State-manufactured context. The philosophical sensibility springs from her coolly detached neutrality and distant standpoint, which allow her to detail the broader machinations of the world’s social structures with a calm, orderly precision: “the State made ecstatic way for the industry and its products, lubricating pipes, opening ports, stimulating sales” (52). This is not a dry treatise, however. The stakes feel infinitely high, the writing slowly spinning towards finding a way forward, a means for understanding and navigating our new situation, this post-Accident space.
And what of this Accident? Levitsky begs off ever telling us precisely what the accident is or was. It is presented as the great unnamed event that she—and everyone else—must reckon with as an inheritance.
It’s not over when I wake up, but I wake up anyway.
It is a mistake.
It’s clear I don’t know how to live in this world. (70)
By choosing to describe the Accident in this way, Levitsky invokes a sense of an event without having to delve into History, per se. The Accident emerges as a total experience—a condition as much as it is also a moment. And as the rest of the text contends, this Accident isn’t just hers, but ours. It happened and happens to all of us.
As a reader, it was clear to me that the Accident is the calamity of society. Her text pores over and considers how we are composed, or “wake” into, the world that is already happening around us. Levitsky describes how “it was in thinking about our names that I began to tell this story. It therefore follows to reason that thinking about names is the one true origin of my accident” (10). In this way, she suggests how the Accident frames us. It operates similar to the way an identity relates to a name…personal social being, the body outlined in language. Thus opens her exploration of The Story.
By writing around rather than on, by describing consequences and the shapes that spring from, Levitsky writes abstractly but with a strong sense of social engagement. These qualities, along with the self-reflexive prose form, indicate her indebtedness to New Narrative’s explorations into subjectivity, community, and language. However, unlike key New Narrative works, such as Bruce Boone’s Century of Clouds or even Pamela Lu’s Pamela: A Novel, the sense of coterie or intimate community is here replaced with an intriguingly generalized social body. The Story of My Accident is Ours is simultaneously invested in exploring the social and personal without offering historical context, personal details, or other identifiable markers of person and place. For example, the first chapter begins
We woke into the world—
All at once and all one way like characters you’d see in a science fiction movie, without parents, cloned for the purpose of replacing the organs of the rich, or jailed indefinitely and repeatedly for our childrearing ability. We had the appearance of arriving whole, the sets of our features predetermined and complete. (3)
Throughout the text, identities crystallize into four positions: “I,” “we,” “he” and a collective called “the Spiritualists.” Though Boone and Lu also resist naming names, there’s a site—and time—specificity to their work that helps place it in a larger, particularized social framework. The grand “we” that Levitsky invokes clearly operates in a contemporary, urban, first world-ish mode of State legibility without being pinned down to an identifiable or particular geopolitical landscape. “We” could be in Los Angeles, Seoul, Mexico City, or Dublin. “We” could also be in Dubai, Istanbul, or Qatar. The text’s lack of geopolitical specificity suggests that this “world”—which operates as though it were the whole “world”—is terrifically uniform. Implicit in this gesture is the suggestion that specific details aren’t required or necessary for identifying the “world” “we” live in now—we are all “we” in precisely the shared way that “we woke into the world.”
Where queer, feminist, and cultural studies advances have made strong—and terrifically necessary—claims about the ethics of attending to particular contingencies and employing fine grained analysis for social critique, Levitsky instead opts for the seemingly universalist gesture of abstraction. But as stated earlier, the way this semblance of universality emerges is a central interest of her work. Universalism abets the erasure of differences and negates minoritized social positions. It pours a smooth gloss over the varied plenitude of human experience. Some would say it is a means for subjugation. Can abstraction be used otherwise? What if this World, the new first world context I described earlier, were the social totality and constructed all possibilities for everyone’s being? By writing from within this framework, Levitsky tries to discover the social/personal moebius’s end. Her turn towards abstraction is in fact an ethical gesture. Where other New Narrative texts invoke abstraction as a way of creating an alternative type of privacy, a particular sphere, Levitksy uses it as a tool for examining our publicum. If we woke into the world “all at once and all one way,” her project seeks to explore the dimensions of this type of being, enunciating how such structures require our cooperation while also sussing out that participation’s limits.
There are some dangers with this abstracted approach in that it requires the reader’s committed engagement. Some may find the work potentially dry, even academic. The drama of the piece isn’t based in surprising plot points or startling images, but in what eludes full understanding, the language that constantly hasn’t yet been found. The Story of My Accident is Ours is for those readers who adore the rich sentence, the way it furls precisely along a train of thought, its tone as clear as a bell. It’s for those who aren’t afraid of the deep, the patient meditation, those who refuse to be in a hurry.
Furthermore, through abstraction, Levitksy accomplishes quite a stunning feat—of creating an intimate voice without being personal.
When you find him, I am shy.
No, when I find him I forget why I needed to find him. No.
When I find him, I am glad for just a moment, then I am shy. I feel
that he is hunched over.
I don’t have a graceful way with him.
I do my best. (79)
The tenderness of the feelings and her declarative, simple narration of them seem artless and open. Her intense self-consciousness, her desire to document each of her feelings as they happen to her, transforms into an utter transparency that is voided of personality or any other individual markers: “I am glad for just a moment, then I am shy.” If there were a way to get to a nude self—one that was fully embodied and social and also all of us at once—this may be it. The work springs from a singular body and being, but the locatable details constituting the individual are effaced. This raises an intriguing implication: if differences and contingencies are absent in the text, it is perhaps because they are also erased from visibility in this understanding of the world. And what are the consequences for this type of being? That is precisely The Story of The Accident she seeks to tell.
I am struck by the ways The Story of My Accident is Ours operates like a traumatic text in how it explores the calamity that reconfigures her and which she returns to again and again. One aspect of trauma is the way it exceeds our descriptive capacities. In Levitsky’s case, the Accident remains an aporia, but one around which the world is completely constructed. I read strong resonances here with Bhanu Kapil’s Schizophrene’s efforts to examine the psychological fallout of India’s Partition. Where Kapil’s strategy was to dive into incredibly discrete moments of lived time, Levitsky turns towards an abstracted mode of inquiry and reflection. By doing so, Levitksy suggests that the details of such events are not as significant as their structural afterburn, the way they shape how we must contend with what follows. Unlike other conceptual projects that draw their energy from re-presenting traumatic or traumatizing language in new contexts, Levitksy turns away from the traumatic moment itself to look instead to life afterwards…The Story of The Accident as survivance.
The strong reflexivity of the text also implies that a central conundrum regarding the possibilities structuring our social condition is our terrific belatedness, *not* arrival.
I often wonder what it was that drove me, and by me, I want to explain, someone like me, toward that imminent disaster, for I am neither self-destructive nor suicidal. Most of us were neither of those things. Occasionally, one postures, urged on by the loneliness, but even we who do, fools as we are, can soon acknowledge the error in our ways, one born of misreading our loneliness, which most often results in our deep embarrassment over our behavior that was caused by said confusion.
Still, it wasn’t an impulse toward suicide or self-destruction that led me to my accident. I should say “The Accident” because officially, it is not mine alone. I have to think of it, rather, as disorientation. (65)
In constantly poring over her reflections, following out every nuance and grain in her thought, Levitsky implies that the human condition always contends with being after the fact. Arriving mid-stream, we are therefore disorientated. We don’t know how to live in this world. We are all made the same: we awake bereft and confused.
But we aren’t without hope. I felt an immense generosity in the work, in how Levitsky invites us to observe how she works through these snarls and teases these conundrums out. The Story of My Accident Is Ours as an orientating text. My use of the term orientate draws from Sara Ahmed’s 2006 study, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, in which Ahmed describes how “orientations shape not only how we inhabit space, but how we apprehend this world of shared inhabitance, as well as ‘who’ or ‘what’ we direct our energy and attention toward” (3). Levitsky is deeply engaged with precisely these projects–of examining how we apprehend this world, our shared inhabitance, the ways we relate to one another.
The Story of My Accident is Ours as a map. As a meditative beacon. As a moral compass seeking out its true north. This book is timely, urgent, a necessary response poured out of a body and to be pored over.
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