Reviewed: Cinema of the Present by Lisa Robertson Coach House Books
I am writing to you now because I just got back home—spent three snow-cramped days in my boyfriend’s bedroom—peanut shells all over his duvet—drinking beer and eating rice and mostly napping. Now that I’m here I can reflect upon the past couple of days with the cool kind of epistolary gravity their banality, certainly, doesn’t deserve, or want to deserve. He and I had a lot of sex, mostly in the mornings; between sleeping and waking his body’s so pliant and forgiving it becomes a surface, clear of props and architecture, one I can touch without fearing any kind of boorish—and that’s what it is, boorish—unwanted intrusion on the part of my body, full and round against his unnatural thinness, his limbs pointing with the kind of taxonomical accuracy description wishes it could touch. Dylan is so thin he constitutes the negative space between my two selves, especially when he and I make love: here the girl disgusted, here the girl enamored, here the friction-as-body between us, beating me back against reconciliation with what Hilton Als would call “my I.” No, wait: imagine again the two selves, one on top of the other, and an egg—I always come back to eggs when I talk about sex, not because of my body’s maternal potential or all the sticky liquids the thing involves but because I can’t expunge Bataille—yes, and an egg between us, and we want to kiss but we fear we might in the process crack it, so the egg wields in its delicacy more power than our desire. How can I put it clearly? Your book is like this, the flesh-coated object between two instances, in my case the two selves wanting to settle. I suppose it’s appropriate, then, that your book is called Cinema of the Present yet contains only one long, drawn-out list of sentences that act almost as metaphors, but not quite: so many thoughts constituting the spaces within the grid of the here-and-now, so much to reach for and want to touch when I fuck Dylan but so much hesitancy, so much of my own strange convoluted fear he might break and in turn myself collapse. What happens in between the moments of the present of which we’re cognizant and acknowledge, in between desire and touch, between contact and conduction? Can we condense all variant moments into one string of woven phrases? Even science can’t reach this; maybe poetry can, maybe you have. Your mock-aphorisms, intellectually parodic (looking at our doubt and laughing; an act of self-defense) and piercing, say it better than I do, so I’ll let them stand where I cannot write:
“You are neutral, like an event.”
“You did not disappear to yourself.”
“You dispel a skein of cloud.”
“You dream of the cogito, wanting to swim in its work.”
“You’d like to read a paragraph that’s not on a wall.”
–a few favorites.
The ambiguity of one string dissimilar to but so harmoniously perfect against the ambiguity of the next. “You refuse apocalyptic consciousness.//Sometimes you need a record of your life.” The you you address is Lisa Robertson but also me and my “I” and Dylan, situated so neatly inside the line that marks periphery. The concept of the present and its signifier (present; names being so much like the heavy leg a gimp drags) unites all the strange words you collate—
“a quorum of crows”
“the sex of believing is dirt.”
Everything is happening, everything isn’t happening; in the way a war’s always inscribed on Dylan’s body, his girlishness, his thinness toward a realm free of gender, one that sends me cascading like blood or water into doubt’s boxing ring. “A quorum of crows will be your witness.” You posit a pronoun’s just a metaphor; I agree. But what of metaphors themselves, the egg between my two warring identities or egos (conflict, the only requirement longing wants), Dylan’s figure in morning’s light asserting itself as the cartology of nowhere? I want to say pronouns are a means of killing language, but I’m not so sure. Your book exists as a string of sentences that exist outside metaphor because they’ve no previous reference. “It was spoken, transmitted, temporal, not arbitrary.”
I rejoice in the idea that language on its own (“You’re finding out about the collapsible body”) can’t make meaning.
If this is true, then I’ve still time—space—to figure out what it means when it’s 9 A.M. and I’m touching Dylan’s cock because it needs me to kill sleep’s little death with another petite mort, and then I’m on top of him, and I’m trying to touch the other me and there he is, exterior and soft (skin, surface, eggshell) enough to enter but still so dangerously angular and in the aftermath I write to you because I’ve passed by myself like a stampede of film slides and if I can do this maybe I can do what you’ve done: crumple the cinema of the present into a ball and throw it beyond my body, where it can unfurl without prejudice.
No, I couldn’t put it down,
Rebecca Beauchamp is a student in the University of Virginia's program in poetry writing. Many of her works explore the anxieties that go hand in hand with having grown up queer and eating-disordered in a consumerist and anti-poetic America. In addition to her work as a writer, she is a multimedia artist; recent works include “Purge,” an exploration of the emotional/physical response to bulimia nervosa and one steel-and-chiffon “Poetry Confession Booth." She has worked with Rita Dove, Claude Wampler, and will be studying at the Ashbery Home School in Hudson, NY this summer. She lives and studies in Charlottesville, VA, where she feeds feral cats against her landlord's wishes. Rebecca can be found on instagram @girlrebecca.