Excerpt from Estranger: A Ruptured Text

ISSN: 1533 2063
FALL 2018
A note about the text:

“If I want to imagine a fictive nation, I can give it an invented name, ... so as to compromise no real country by my fantasy. It is this system which I shall call: Japan.”—Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

It started in a cemetery. I felt the weight of collective bodies. Then a collective weightlessness. A movement turned text. I mapped a healing. A new kind of psychogeography. A poetics of ruin and recovery.

“Catch your breath”: this is what the mind thinks as the body recovers. This is what the body feels after bouts of insomnia. 

Estranger begins as an erasure of Barthes’ Empire of Signs. Barthes “is not analyzing the real Japan but rather one of his own devising.” How might this representation mirror my “estranged citizenship”? That is, I was born in Japan. I grew up in the US. I am a stranger to my birth country/estranged from the nuance of daily life and language.

Estranged: as in distanced, foreigned, removed. My perception and knowledge limited to glimpses, to gestures that made the voyage, to intermittent return visits. Japan has been rendered alien to me, or I to Japan. 

The body and its positioning have been put aside, beside itself. There is no normal state. The body left unfamiliar. The mind astonished.

This alienation [alien nation] is a “binary fracture,” a term I developed, which articulates a neither/both concept. It is an aperture. It is the liminal: a transitional space, occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. It destabilizes the binary. It functions as imbrications. For instance, I am half Japanese, half American. Thus, I am neither Japanese nor American. I am both Japanese and American.

This investigation puts pressure on the perception of identity/culture and complicates the subject and the function of subjectivity. Estranger takes on notions of “border identity.” How does the hybrid body negotiate “cultural shock” or the incongruity of “cultural tourism” of one’s birth site?

Sometimes when one writes, only words happen.

To follow the erasure in somatic inquiry. An understanding that settles cellularly. In attempting to fracture the binary, syncope surfaces. A temporary absence of self. Suspended movement. Hesitation/dissonance. I once fainted in the shower and woke in a tub of water. I recall the bloodstained liquid surrounding my body. My first thought upon emerging was not to bloody the carpet, my shirt, the good towels. I sat in the emergency room for an hour while my hair matted with red viscosity. The moment before fainting, I thought about the rush, the heat, the pause. I saw myself falling before the fall had begun. When I write that I am a hybrid text, this is not a metaphor. The body can be read. When one writes, one is not writing on a blank slate. Each book is a palimpsest. I steal. I am a magpie attracted to shiny new words. When I say steal (bricolage, collage, cut-up, constraint, erasure), I really mean recover. What is underneath, between, below. The matrix of how one body/text intersects another and another throughout one’s lifetime.

A poetic utterance does not happen in isolation. To be a blind camera is to understand an emphasis on erasure. The palimpsest as recovery and syncope (the omission of sounds/letters). Absence teaches me what presence could not. Thus, I must recover through erasure.

The body saves us.

The body inside a favorable position. What country is lifted? To adjoin the clear state of matter with fluent speech. Outside each month, we connect with the sharpened tongue. We meet in advanced movement. A dance that lasts just beyond our sight. No one here sleeps in urgency. The effects of language are still unknown. In the answer, the inquiry emerges—in sweet blues and greens. The edge progresses and retracts, a hallucination beyond the coil. I am a hologram. The current resides inside the lens. Nerve. Embryo. Ghost. Estranger: I am this ruptured text.

Born in Japan, MICHELLE NAKA PIERCE is the author of nine titles, including CONTINUOUS FRIEZE BORDERING RED (Fordham, 2012), awarded the Poets Out Loud Editor's Prize. Currently, she lives in Colorado with poet Chris Pusateri and serves as Core Professor in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.