Claudia Rankine and Space in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Liver

Reading Rankine’s unique work, I was struck by her frequent references to different prescription drugs, the television and the liver. As I read on, I felt that this was more of an Autobiography of America from a certain perspective in a certain geopolitical space and time than an Autobiography of Rankine herself. However, such a work could not be written without Rankine’s unique background as she is a “subject located in [a] complex space of citizenship” (RA 45) due to her perspective on being Black in America and the changes in spatial rhetoric after 9/11/. The personified America she writes about is plagued with problems with race relations, a vicious cycle of depression and over-medication, liver disease, fear, and loneliness. The issues she presents are not necessarily her own but those dealt with by Americans everywhere. The need for drugs to function normally is a scary but true reality in America today. Something is obviously wrong with this picture. The sense of emptiness illustrated by Rankine’s poetry, prose, and pictures is not something felt only by Rankine. I believe Rankine is trying to figure out where we went wrong.

An example of this personified America and the struggle with identity in this space and time is shown in the passage where she says, “As the days pass I begin to watch myself closely. The America that I am is washing her hands. She is checking for a return address. She is noticing the postage amount. Then the moment comes: Inhalation anthrax or a common cold? I have to ask myself. Something happens– a new kind of white power– and I am led inside. Do I like who I am becoming? Is this me? Fear. Fear in phlegm. Fear airborne. Fear foreign. My flushing toilet, my hot water, my air conditioner, my health insurance, my, my, my–all my my’s were American-made. This is how I was alive. Or I wasn’t alive. I was a product, or I was like a product, a product of and like Walt Disney’s cell animation– stylishly animated, somewhat comic. I used to think of myself as a fearless person” (92-93).

She characterizes the fear felt by all after 9/11 and gives Americans a collective identity characterized by fear. I also noticed she makes references to “I” and in the above passage the “my, my, my” may add to her social commentary in reference to the individualistic and independent nature of Americans. Maybe this very “American” trait, this “I” this “me, me, me” mentality creates this American-made unhappiness and is part of the reason America feels so lonely.

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