Born to Die

What is the point of movement when movement indicates life and life indicates hope?  I have neither life nor hope.  Better than to fall in with the crumbling wainscot, to settle with the dust and be drawn up into someone’s nostrils.  Daily we breathe the dead” (108)

Perhaps the most obvious syntactical choice in this passage is the structure of the first sentence.  The “x begets y begets z” form instantly implies unflagging forward motion. Word choices such as “fall” and “drawn up” conjure the idea of a cycle, and the narrator’s repetition of words such as “life” and “dead” lead me to believe that ze is referring to the circle of life.  To live, we must breathe.  However, the narrator makes the point that the air we breathe, the key to life as many would argue, consists of the dead.  That image in and of itself it wonderfully poetic.

While my explication of the passage could end there, with that dark yet beautiful image, I think that it connects really well to Judith Halberstam’s piece called “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.”  Halberstam introduces to us the idea of “queer time” (1).  The heteronormative timeline is generally considered to play out as follows: birth, school, job, spouse, kids, retirement, and finally death.  However, Halberstam poses the idea of “queer time” that breaks this timeline, as it focuses on “other logics of location, movement, and identification” rather than “reproduction” (1).  The narrator actually addresses this idea in a passage soon after the one I chose to analyze, listing the “characteristics of living things” that she was taught in school.  In fact, ze goes on to say, “I don’t want to reproduce, I want to make something entirely new” (108).

Halberstam’s idea of “queer time” allows us to eliminate reproduction from the list of “characteristics of living things” that exacerbate the narrator (108).  In fact, of all the aspects of life that “queer time” allows us to move around or eliminate, birth and death are the only two constants.  We will all be born, and our lives will all push forward until we die, our dust mixing into the atmosphere to sustain the new life to come.  Beyond that, it is fair to say that nothing else is constant.  We our slaves to our own desires, but our own desires are just that; our own.  Just as desires vary from person to person, so should the characteristics and timelines of our lives.   Perhaps if the narrator was able to read some of Halberstam’s work, ze would struggle less with how zir own wants and desires don’t fit into the supposed timeline we’re all supposed to follow.

One Last Act For The Dead

What would you do? Pass the body into the hands of strangers? The body that has lain beside you in sickness and in health. The body your arms till long for dead or not. You were intimate with every muscle,  privy to the eyelids moving in sleep. This is the body where your name is written, passing into the hands of strangers.

This passage is unusual because the narrator refers to Louise as “the body” because ze is in a cemetery and believes Louise to be dead and cannot bear to refer to Louise as a dead body yet. The narrator also speaks to the reader directly asking, “What would you do? Pass the body into the hands of strangers?” referring to the embalming process before burial and how people used to bury their dead themselves instead of passing them off. The narrator believes the past was more romantic, as a family would take care of their dead as an act of love before burial but now families don’t want to see the dead. Nowadays people fear death, and the narrator is no different, with the slight exception that ze fears more about Louise’s death than zir own. This fear translates into a desire to see Louise again, but ze fears it will only be at Louise’s funeral.

The narrator has also tried to block Louise from zir mind while living outside of London to reduce the pain caused by her diagnosis and imminent death. This is why ze cannot bring zirself to say “Louise’s body” and instead adopts a tone as if ze were addressing the reader and the body the reader longs for, not Louise. The narrator cannot admit that ze longs for Louise and her body nor does ze want to pass Louise off to strangers to prepare her for her death, which is exactly what ze does when ze allows Elgin to attempt to cure her. The narrator is beginning to regret zir decision to leave Louise and realizes that passing a loved one’s body to strangers removes the acts of love one does for the dead. The narrator is trying to reconcile this idea with zir thought processes about leaving Louise because up to now, the narrator truly believed ze had helped Louise by leaving her. In fact, the opposite is true, and the narrator now deeply regrets sending zir lover off to strangers when ze could have stayed with Louise and tried to cure her zirself.