Don’t Kill My Embodiment

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely seems to be the wrong title for Claudia Rankine’s lyric about American life. I would suggest something more along the lines of Don’t Die on Me. Or, if that’s too cliche, perhaps something more subtle would be appropriate, something that portrays Rankine’s constant fear and anxiety about death and loss but at the same time reflects the multitude of instances where she has been faced with it. Maybe, Don’t Make Me Bury You Again, Please.

But cliche might be appropriate. The nature of cliches, over-the-top and expressive, are apt to describe the feeling of Rankine’s book. An autobiography (which reads less like a book and more like a series of images and simulations comprised of her memories) that conveys such a sadness and heaviness about life that it becomes totally saturated with melancholia, to the point where the book becomes apathetic about itself. Death, loss, tales of woe, more death, depression; a whole collection of emotions from the maudlin to the chilling, are very effectively played out on a reader, who (for the most part) has no desire to feel them; to feel this all too direct connection to the embodiment of Rankike’s life. So Rankine turns you in on yourself. She overwhelms the reader with dark history and even darker personal narrative, to the effect of desensitization. What might start out in a reader as schizophrenic emotions; lows and lower lows, feelings of empathy or anxiety, will eventually diminish, until the reader is like the TV’s that scatter the book; completely static.

Reading the book is like being adrift at sea with no current; motionless but not really motionless. There is still an odd bobbing movement that is constant, but only truly felt on its own. It’s like the emotions of Rankine, as they reinvigerate themselves in the reader, are betrayed and turn into something unexpected but at the same time natural, as if you, the reader, come to embody her embodiment.

There was a point for me where sadness had turned wholly into apathy, which resulted somehow, into a warped sense of contentment, like I had been so beaten down by the signals and beams and messages from Rankine and her TV images, that I took on her affectations, her fears, and her narrative, and for a moment, I felt something that wasn’t completely hers or mine; I felt ok with death, with being lonely.

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