Part of the reason I’ve decided to write about bodies this month is because I’ve been reading and talking so much about them—in newspapers, online, in books, and with friends and family. The transformations of bodies, the inescapable signifying of different kinds of bodies, the ways those significations might alter, have all been part of these readings and conversations. I’m aware of the call for activism, both on the street level—to take part in marches and rallies in support of reimagining how particular bodies signify or are made to signify—and through the arts—calls on artists to reconceive of the ways bodies mean or are made to mean and to create that possibility through artworks engaged with histories and structures of power that are damaging and demeaning to most, supportive and enfranchising to some. These are the stakes of the question of privilege.
I’ll focus here on the artworks called for; they require thought and deliberation. A careful attention to history and possibility. I’ve been thinking a lot about Danez Smith’s “We Must Be the New Guard: Open Letter to White Poets,” which ends, “I ask you to join me and others in utilizing verse to not rewrite our shared, grizzly history. I end this letter by not begging you ‘please’, but by telling you ‘you must.’”* “Rewrite” is a brilliant word in Smith’s sentence; it suggests that his call is for writers not to repeat and/or revise and/or simply reiterate “our shared grizzly history.” But “rewrite” is also a strange word here because, in other contexts, the word carries the possibility of “remaking” or “reimagining,” a possibility Smith seems to refuse. I think there’s an important reason for this refusal: Smith is calling for something entirely new, a writing and thinking that engage with the past not to transform that past but to acknowledge its presence and to draw on it to create a new kind of literature, one that leads Smith to write, “I challenge you to make art that demands the safety of me, of many of your writing siblings, of so many people walking the streets in fear of those who are charged to protect us.” Smith’s challenge demands a newness or novelty that arises out of and engages with tradition and history, that sees in the present the bodies of the past and the bodies of the future. It requires making of the present a moment of acknowledgment that is also a moment opening on to change.
(to be continued)
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.