Writer in Residence

Revision and Sedgwick and Surprise

By Julie Joosten

In my head my posts this month were going to unfold more linearly than they seem currently to be doing. I imagined each post, in advance of writing it (and an advance of writing any of the posts) as a short section in a longer essay. But, as almost always, the plan alters ever so slightly, then ever so completely . . . Each of these posts remains (in my head at least) a continuation of what precedes it and is to-be-continued, each is part of what I now think of note-taking towards an essay, and/but the essay keeps altering as I write—

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A friend recently read my post “Bodies Calling forth and Bodies Calling” and emailed me that my writing about Smith’s “Open Letter” and on the relationship between newness/novelty and history recalled for her Eve Sedgwick’s claims in her ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading’ essay:

"To read from a reparative position is to surrender the knowing, anxious paranoid determination that no horror, however apparently unthinkable, shall ever come to the reader as new; to a reparatively positioned reader, it can seem realistic and necessary to experience surprise. Because there can be terrible surprises, however, there can also be good ones. Hope, often a fracturing, even a traumatic thing to experience, is among the energies by which the reparatively positioned reader tries to organize the fragments and part-objects she encounters or creates. Because the reader has room to realize that the future may be different from the present, it is also possible for her to entertain such profoundly painful, profoundly relieving, ethically crucial possibilities as that the past, in turn, could have happened differently from the way it actually did."*

Sedgwick articulates an ethics of care that is open to the shocks of contingency and history, and, in that openness, thinks carefully and critically about how to create a life that draws on but is not wholly determined by their happening. This ethics is inherently a creative stance. One of its most crucial practices seems to me its encounter with the ghost of a stillborn past. The project of recognizing that the past could have been different—should have been different—includes, I suspect, mourning both for the losses carried out in the historical past and for the loss of the alternate past that never came to be. The same is of course true for the present, too; the reparative reader mourns for the present that is, and the one that could be, could have been, while working to influence the unfolding of the future. Living this dissonance is perhaps one form of hope as “a fracturing, even a traumatic thing to experience.” But what might it mean to mourn for a past that never came to exist—or put differently, to mourn for a past that exists only in its absence? How does that mourning become a way to imagine the future? And what does this have to do with the body and bodies?

What doesn’t it have to do with them?

*Sedgwick, Eve. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 146.

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.

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