Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Syzygy, Beauty, by T Fleischmann - Review

My friend recently finished Dark Lord of Derkholm.1 When she gave it back to me, I darted upstairs to fetch Year of the Griffin2 for her, and she told me “I don’t think I’ll be able to get to it until the end of the Summer, is that okay?” I pshaw’d3 and told her not to worry, “I almost never reread books.”

 T Fleischmann’s essay Syzygy, Beauty, the second nonfiction book from Sarabande that I’ve reviewed, is a rare exception. In the picture above is one of my favourite quotes, and when I was first making it, it was only going to read "I have been so many places I must be sunlight. Listen, I have been diffused by clouds, by everyone who has touched me."4  But when I went back to check I hadn’t messed it up, I read the last bit, and understood the subtlety of being "destined for the earth."5 The whole book is like that, every time I thumb through it I learn something new.

"Your boyfriend is an atmosphere, there before
me and remaining to sustain you now."
Half art-critique and half meditative memoir over a series of relationships, Syzygy, Beauty explores art, gender, love, travel, loneliness, and a wide variety of other subjects. Fleischmann’s relationship with the omnipresent but never truly defined "You" feels both intense and ephemeral, the "You" always at arm’s length even in intimate moments, occulted6 by their lack of name and their other boyfriend(s) who often seem to eclipse the narrator. Intriguingly, when asked,7 Fleischmann said that "You" was not a single person, but an amalgamation of a variety of similar relationships. "If I ever said something bad about 'You', I could always say 'Oh no, that wasn’t you, it was the other one'"

 This hits at the core of why I love this book, and what it represents, the untruthing of the nonfiction genre. It’s easy to assume that nonfiction must succumb to what Esther Wolfe once called "The fetishization of reality" but Syzygy, Beauty deconstructs the ideas of reality and truth. While it may not tell the True-True or the Whole-True,8 it still tells truth, possibly more truth than it could tell if bound by reality. Fleischmann, in this book, is blurring the lines of reality and fact, the result being somewhere in-between.

"Keep kissing me, you'll see,
new houses aren't haunted yet."
This works remarkably well with many themes of the novel, whose narrator always seems to be in a state of transience. Between lovers, between city and nature, between boy and girl, the narrator always seems most 9 However, while the essay complicates ideas of gender and beauty and place, it never offers real closure. Most pages will open and close with a sentence about, say, Grayson Perry or Louise Bourgeois, juxtaposed with a body of narrative in-between.10 The reader is presented with ideas and left to make their own meanings, which might be the most nonfictional thing in the world.
happy in the middle, where what all of those things mean can be complicated. “When you held my arms to the bed, I felt like a femme fatale who could swing a hammer…”

A fantastic and emotional read, I've been slow to review it only beacuse I've been throwing it at everyone I know.  I think a lot of people could benefit from this book, especially people encountering this brave new world, that has such non-binary gender ideas in it.
"Even God can't really say what something is without burning stars."

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