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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The Importance of Paratextual Information in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

Smith and Watson, the co-writers of the riveting text Reading Autobiography, define paratext as “the framing produced by their (a books) publication, reception, and circulation” (99).  “Cover designs, the author’s name, the dedication, titles, prefaces, introductions, chapter breaks, and endnotes” are all part of the paratextual surroundings and information of a book.  Smith and Watson further state that paratexts “comprise a threshold that can dramatically affect its (a books) interpretation and reception by variously situated reading communities” (100).  The paratextual information of Claudia Rankine’s text Don’t Let Me Be Lonely certainly seems to be an important aspect to the actual writing itself.  While paratexts always affect the readers perception of a book, for instance one might prefer a hard cover to a soft or perhaps you are like me and sometimes buy books based on cool cover designs (I do the same for wine too, always interesting), Rankine seems to be purposefully manipulating the paratext of her book to make a statement about her writing.

First of all the abnormal shape of her book is one purposeful paratextual manipulation.  The subtitle of Rankine’s text is An American Lyric reminding me of the ancient Grecian lyrics or sung oral tales of old.  This may be my own perception but the physical length of the book (it is almost three times as long as it is wide) speaks to this idea of a lyric.  The book is very skinny and elongated reminding me of a scroll of parchment much like an old lyric would have been written on.  This idea may be a bit far fetched; however, the length of the book also extends the space on each page, and space seems to be an important aspect of Rankine’s writing.  The physical space on the page affects the reader as the read.  It alienates the words on the page highlighting their importance; highlighting the starkness and loneliness of death and life that is discussed on the pages.  The fuzzy TV screens interspersed throughout the text acting as postmodern chapter markers also alienates the reader.  The white fuzz is empty space put on top of empty space.

Another important aspect of Rankine’s paratext is the quote at the beginning of her book by Aime Cesaire who states “beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle.”  The design of the book is to make the reader more than just a spectator.  They have to actively read each page and be an active reader because the way her story is laid out one cannot expect there to be a similar format from one page to the next.  It is almost next to impossible to mindlessly read Rankine’s text.

A few other important elements that I only have enough space to touch on here (perhaps someone can pick up where I left off) are her endnotes.  She does not put any marks in the text indicating that there are endnotes; however, she has pages of endnotes at the back of the book.  Another interesting paratext is the note on the last page discussing her choice in font.  The text is set in Imperial, a typeface designed in the 1920s to look more suitable for newspaper printing.  Why would Rankine use this as her font, and more importantly why would she make a notes about it clearly on the last page?

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Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin With Us

In Reading Autobiography, the section on embodiment includes a description of a sociopolitical body. Smith and Watson define this sociopolitical body as “a set of cultural attitudes and discourses encoding the public meanings of bodies that have for centuries underwritten relationships of power” (RA 50). In examining this type of social and political embodiment in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, an interesting pattern of observation and agency emerges. Following a haunting epigraph quote from Aime Cesaire that warns readers “of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator,” Rankine seems to fall into this attitude in light of political moments within the text. Between moments reflection or experience, Rankine includes very current, controversial pieces like President Bush’s errant recollection of the brutal death of a black man in Texas (21), the death of Princess Diana (39), the execution of Timothy McVeigh (47), the police harassment of Abner Louima (56), the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo (57), and the knighting of Rudi Giuliani (81), just to name a few. Between the pages of the white noise televisions, these political moments appear as if they are evening headlines flashing before readers. As the writer, Rankine seems to have a subdued or weak reaction to these events. In her most expressive commentary on one of these issues, she merely finds herself “talking to the television screen: You don’t know because you don’t care.” (21). Here, Rankine does seem like the “spectator” that Cesaire cautions against. She has no agency, just quiet reactions. Perhaps it is this embodiment as the subdued, helpless spectator in the face of swirling social and political chaos and emptiness that compels Rankine to urge readers to find agency in the “Here.” (130). It is in the embodiment of togetherness, in spite of one’s hopeless American sociopolitical body, that “both recognizes and demands recognition,” instead of just muttering depressions at a screen as the stories flash by. In a culture whose politics are absurd and whose social world is anti-social, a defiance of the cultural loneliness lends one the agency to transfer a thought, instead of subduing it under the white noise.

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My second post involving a cat


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A Fool is Born.

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Avery’s Trip


I know I know you guys are all worried that I am going to turn into the old lady in your neighborhood that writes her Christmas Newsletter from her dogs point of view, but please do not fret. Like Alison Bechdel & Donald (her Cat) I have a best friend in my dog Avery. About two weeks ago my mom dropped him off at my apartment to spend a week with me while she and my brother went out of town. One day Av and I set out to have an adventure and ended up (pure accident) at the Avery Institue in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Had to get his picture in front of a building with his name on it and if you look really close the sign on the building even looks like a bone. Kind of neat! I found it really interesting that Alison Bechdel tells her own stories through other characters that she embodies herself. For example when she takes pictures of herself dressed as her father to be able to embody him for that brief moment to tell her life story. If you ever get a chance to check out Alison Bechdel’s official website/BLOG  you will see that she also has put up several pictures & videos of herself and her cat, Donald. This in the same way that she tells her story through emboding her father is another way that she embodies herself through her cat’s perspective. I’ve really enjoyed reading “Fun Home” and learning a lot about Bechdel’s process in creating authentic comic panels while using art to tell her families story.

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Adventures in College Land

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No Future in Graphic Design…

This is a character sketch of how I spent my spring break…lost in the countryside of Virginia, entirely by accident.

I’m not an artist–please be kind. 🙂









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