j/j hastain’s “Dear secondary umbilical,” and the dangling theater, part 1

books 003

You know those books you read sometimes when you only have to read the first word or sentence or line and you know that you’re all set, that this shit is going to tear you up, that you’re going to that home in the sky and you’re staying the weekend, if not the whole damn winter? Those books that have your mainline dialed up just right and lets you know not that “This Is Life” but instead “Life Can Fucking Wait”?

Well, j/j hastain’s Dear secondary umbilical, (MadHat Press, 2012-13) was not that kind of book for me. That is to say, it took at least three pages. Partly because I and it (but mostly I) had to overcome some pre-existing conditions. Knowing nothing about the book or its author, something about the blurb on the back (“How else will we get the love? It’s beautiful in here. This is a book I will give to the ones I share the best parts of this world with.” – C.A. Conrad) and the brief introduction (or what to call it, the anti-intro, the pre-text) made a rather New Age-y impression. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I got that impression, but the possibility of one of those elusive and enchanted but mostly impersonal and quiet collections where all the guts and cracks have been painted perfectly white for your inspirational reading-digestion seemed quite real at the time.

Dear secondary umbilical, is my vulnerability record just like the umbilical cord is the infant’s vulnerability-record—but in the inverse. The infant’s cord gets cut. I am making connections to unconditional light again by way of creating contacts, which are re-adhesions of any first cut.”

Actually, there’s something rather provoking about the confidence of this introduction (other lines as well, “I consider my work expressive anti-memoir: an entirely new type of book–” “I believe in creating texts / spaces that are inherently non-linear and a-historical—texts as spaces that have not been patriarchally controlled and cannot be patriarchally controlled.”) that disturbs romantic ideas about the writer as a mostly unknowing Genius and the work itself as so pure that any additional information will undoubtedly corrupt it somehow.

“An entirely new type of book–” How dare you?

But this is a reconstruction, while reading, this all fed into my skepticism.

I suppose don’t care much for art with a purpose, unless that purpose is something like installing a bomb inside the artist/writer/reader and then explode her/him/them/us to a sobbing hysterical mess.

Pre-existing conditions.

I suppose I like my art to be the primary umbilical, as important as food or sleep or fucking.

In this frame of mind I read the first couple of pages, the first couple of “Dear”’s (the book is made up of a series of letters all with the headline, “Dear secondary umbilical,”) with some level of distance to the text, waiting for that moment when all those unfair assumptions are finally cemented and you get depressed because another book sucked the life out of you and not in a good way and now you have to politely finish it and figure out how best to write the eulogy.

How much sweeter then to admit defeat? That familiar but rare sensation of being converted, against will and mood and helpless theorizing, by something so mystical and strange as a couple of words strung together? To be pulled into a maze of something so hypnotic and beautiful and wrenching?

I’m not sure when exactly this shift took place but half way through Dear umbilical (and it’s not particularly long, 40 some generously fonted pages) that was the word that seemed to saturate the reading experience the most: Beautiful. The line from the blurb on the back (“It’s beautiful in here”) seemed suddenly more accurate than lazy. Even the “in here” seemed an accurate analysis. It is a book where you’re not so much following some narrator around as moving into a location, the narrator-as-space, the writer-narrator as location, writer-narrator-image all blurring together.

The writer-narrator-poet-voice inseparable: who cares?

Memoir-fiction-poem, and at each hyphen-intersection, something wild growing.

erect herb

Beautiful as the non-linear, beautiful as the poetical, the poetical as the useless, what should reasonably be cut, instead of “reasonably”, because it’s not earned, what furthers no story but generates its own urgency.

“This is a discipleship of leavening, showing how the beautiful is reason enough to create tongue for the beautiful.”

The beautiful is not a creation of the tongue, of the mind, of a careful system but is itself subject, refusing to be just fringe, an uncontrollable mass, possibly liquid, shapeless, infectious, dangerous, mystical, surging to be poured and birthing tongues to sing its praise, its coming-into-being.

Like reading a line over and over, like a spell or chant, getting dizzy with it.

“I am saying that the erotic release through guaranteed orgasm is like the power of superimposed seasons–or a neoteric fuel extracted from thousands of pounds of slowly compressed feathers.”

“I am saying that the erotic release through guaranteed orgasm is like the power of superimposed seasons–or a neoteric fuel extracted from thousands of pounds of slowly compressed feathers.”

“I am saying that the erotic release through guaranteed orgasm is like the power of superimposed seasons–or a neoteric fuel extracted from thousands of pounds of slowly compressed feathers.”

(My repetition.)

It is a book that seems to call for a return to ancient, old poetry of prophecy and the supernatural, all that stuff which makes current herders of subtlety and realism cringe.

“The fossas and fissures are becoming quixotic–gaining fur.”

The stuff which is to be contained grows strange, ridiculous, monstrous.

One of my own cringes, when it comes to things tinged by a New Age kind of lexicon, or any religiously informed writing for that matter (or even many feminist positions), is the reluctance to deal with the body, it’s orifices and imperfections, it’s violence and desires. What’s so refreshing about hastain’s book is its lack of such hesitation. It’s a very horny book. If the first word that came to mind was “beautiful” then the second word must be “fucking”. If there is a story line in this book it is a story of fucking, of god-fucking, of lovers fucking, of rape, of orgasms and reaching for the eternal.

Like no redemption is allowed by severing the body so the soul can push through painlessly.

Like this is a surgery that takes some trashing.

“This is the body’s deifying need to propagate and feast. This is about sites of attention–about what exceeds the usual–about moments that transcend normalcy or status-quo.

Cock hanging between the legs of a gorgon.

The incredibly large quivering vulva poised as the lips of an opening flower in the Amazon.

These are the ulterior gods spilling their roils.

This is the dangling theater.”

Also, one of the beautiful things about this book, and one of its accomplishments, because it seems to me quite rare, is the fearless and academic investigative tone applied to the personal subject matter of memoir and the flighty stuff of poetry, creating a kind of reverb that at times becomes utterly (beautifully) devastating.

Like going home.

Like life can fucking wait.


One thought on “j/j hastain’s “Dear secondary umbilical,” and the dangling theater, part 1

  1. Pingback: j/j hastain’s “dear secondary umbilical” reviewed | MadHat Lit

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