Annotated Bibliographies - Staff Picks
For this issue, the staff have annotated their picks for readings that connect to the idea of portals.
Miller ICA Director
• Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong. New York : One World, 2020
Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings is a rare example of a book that fully outshines its dust jacket accolades. Through her poetic mastery of language, Hong delivers a searing, perceptive, and deeply honest portrayal of her life as an Asian American. She possesses the revelatory ability to leverage the English language against itself, exposing the hidden operations of white supremacy. Hong writes, “I share a literary lineage with writers who make the unmastering of English their rallying cry... To other English is to make audible the imperial power sewn into the language, to slit English open so its dark histories slide out.” When Hong slits open the English language and its dark histories slide out, she creates a portal into a more real and more human understanding of racialized existence.
• Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, New York: Grove Press, 2018.
Freshwater is the debut novel of Nigerian-Tamil author Akwaeke Emezi. A book like no other, this visceral and vividly woven story illuminates the invisible threads that hold bones together and pulls flesh through the portals of corporal existence. The story features Igbo (Nigerian) mythology and submerges the reader into the watery world of the deities and spirits of the Ogbanje. We follow this tale in first and third person from the perspective of the brothersisters, the Ogbanje, who are born into and possess Ada, the protagonist born with two spirits—with “one foot on the other side”.
Through Ada’s story, the reader experiences the weight of worldly embodiment— the madness, the violence, self-destruction, and nebulous pain that awakens the Ogbanje, Asughara, described as “the wildness under the skin”. Freshwater is ripe with metaphor and exposes Ada’s multiple selves through each raw layer molting like the skin of a python. The author cleverly points out the power of naming or labeling ourself, “When you name something it comes into being. It gains strength.” And yet this is a story of self-discovery and coming to terms with the many parts of oneself that cannot be defined—parts that evade categorization and even expose the inaccurate concepts of male and female as separate identities. Akwaeke Emezi, a non-binary and trans author, describes their own transition as “a bridge across realities, a spirit customizing its vessel to reflect its nature.”
Freshwater is formidable and challenging. It’s story is a struggle of agency and primacy of a dissociated body and spirit that remains hopeful that every part of ourselves exists for a reason. It poses the question “How do you survive when they place a god inside your body?”
Visitor Service Coordinator
• Age of Sand by Ido (Lisa) Radon (www.idoradon.com), Los Angeles: PANEL, 2019.
Coded in multiple strands, woven up and knotted reflections on drawing “... drawing in the doubled sense (as to one what is needed; activated non-ferrous magnetism; also diagrammatic diagnostics, mapping, figure and ground)...” together the technic and organic, future and past, word and cypher, Age of Sand is an artist/chap/code/cyberfeminist book by artist and poet Ido Radon, currently based in Vancouver, BC.
Beginning and ending with the full text of the .stl file needed to 3D print a copy of the comet 67p. printed on purple pages in silver ink, the human-english-language printed in black text on white pages carries 5 distinct voices, each marked by a shift in typography and a distinguishing symbol. Seemingly one book of poetic excerpts, Radon runs the individual log entries together, merging digital world building with the formation of earthly matter, familiar and oh-so-human observations of the visible dimensions of this planet locked in step with futuristic cyborgian imaginaries.
The embedded navigation systems might point to other forms of consumption of the book-object as alternatives to reading linearly, suggesting that one might read only pages marked with black squares or dot matrices and not those with bursts or clovers in one pass and some other ordered formulation in the next. In place of page numbers, the lines are numbered, connecting the writings to poetic verses intended for study.
Among the topics interwoven throughout the work, the generation of wor(l)ds, books, knots, planes, and elevated life forms like cyborgs, goddesses, etc. maintain as consistent players on the field which Radon has observed/created this intricate root system of visioning.
Radon’s observations make permeable the boundaries between digital and material, plunging the constructs of seemingly distinct realities down into a soup of interconnection. The forming of the future here requires the learning that happens in the body whether via immersion into the elements of earth, the vortex of the coding world or in the aspirations of the spirit. The handbound book-object proposes “Not a getting out of or over but a getting deeper in” a total embrace of all things existing, exposing the mirror of languages to their own reflection in the world around them.
“Our tears are conductive” makes one complete entry (seeming to be in the sorted category of the cyber-future) lets me the reader see all matter of my being as belonging to both the construct of nature as well as the network. Another entry, “What is electric? What is not electric?” similarly places being outside of the competing circles of animate and inanimate, constructed and naturally occurring, placing all states of existence both inside and outside of the limits of perception.
“Not unlike photosynthesis–sky furnace and leaf– the files held in them energy shadows of the objects themselves and the qualities and forces of their constituent materials.”
• Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace by Jodi Dean, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Written in 1998, Jodi Dean’s Aliens in America in many respects feels as germane today, at the onset of 2021, as ever. Comprising a heterodox analysis of Twentieth Century United States and the major technological and spatial achievements of outerspace exploration and the internet, Dean applies the discourse of UFOlogy toward establishing an understanding of the dissolution of truth, rationality, and credibility as conditions for—and effects of—democracy in the networked cultures of the late capitalist information age. Within, the internet is examined as an arena of active epistemological relativism that supplants a passive public and destabilizes hierarchies of whom or what can produce and legitimize truth and knowledge. Aliens in America provides an entrancing look at the proliferation of minor realities and the pursuit of fugitive alien truths in a time where we neither lack access to information nor knowledge but rather the ability to discern, distinguish, use, and employ it—where everything is simultaneously plausible and unbelievable. Like alien abduction, our use of network technology makes the familiar become strange. However, in participating in networked culture, we become both alien and abductee and the portals we open up for others or are ourselves abducted into have profound ramifications. As Dean writes: “What happens to me—alone, isolated, vulnerable—is of global significance.” (Dean 1998: 180)