Home Global Politics The Politics of Syntax and Poetry Previous the Border

The Politics of Syntax and Poetry Previous the Border

by Good News

A conversation with Ari Banias about his new sequence A Symmetry, a e book that interrogates every little thing from whiteness to the that technique of community.

December 30, 2021

“Some males are girls folks too / the ability a mountain is land and a harbor is land and a car parking space,”Ari Banias writes in “Oracle,” the gap poem in his new sequence, A Symmetry. In Banias’s poems, binary oppositions—of males and females folks, land and sea, us and them—buckle, because the very thought of borders is made porous. Attending to the entanglements between the topic topic and the metaphorical, Banias interrogates the terms of relation mapped by dominant techniques and constructions that underpin global capitalist orders. “What’s the ‘we’ whiteness requires?” Banias’s poems attend us to position a question to. What does “in assorted areas” indicate when immigration severs the topic topic “right here” of day by day existence from the imaginative “right here” of dwelling? How might per chance well transness level us toward alternative routes of being?1

Banias’s first e book, Somebody (2016)—a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the PEN Middle USA Literary Award—probes the paralyzed meanings of embodiment on the untidy intersection of non-public trip and social that ability. Printed earlier this drop, A Symmetry moves via layered geographies—our bodies, imaginations, and other landscapes—exploring the brutal fictions of borders and the precise scars they leave, the ways whereby they script encounters, and the wilder ways we discover every other, mute.2

I talked to Banias in regards to the seductions of nationalism, the unwieldiness of pronouns, divesting from whiteness, and the social meanings of syntax.3

—Claire Schwartz4

Claire Schwartz: A Symmetry feels to me like a e book of the exterior. At the same time as it’s attentive to the uneven distribution of violence and other atmospheric pressures, the e book feels positioned in a shared weather. Would possibly per chance you consult along with your engagement with weather, ambiance, the exterior?5

Ari Banias: I admire the phrase “shared weather” and how it will get at accumulations increased than us. In A Symmetry, as within the arena, the conditions of that weather, of the ambiance in all senses of that word, must not most productive conditions of the hot—they’re an accumulation of historical events that predate us and that proceed to proliferate in and via our setting, and in and via us as living beings.6

Within the intervening time I continue to exist the West Waft, where wildfires are raging yet again, scattering particulate topic and smoke throughout hundreds of miles. These particles are literal, bodily manifestations of settler colonialism and extractive capitalism. We breathe this weather into our our bodies; it sickens us to varying levels, typically along predictable lines of class and inch; we’re internal it, and concurrently it’s internal every of us.7

CS: In her e book Within the Wake, which attends to representations of Sunless existence within the contexts accumulated following the transatlantic slave commerce, the scholar Christina Sharpe describes weather as “the totality of our environments.” Sharpe is talking in particular about anti-Blackness as a “total local weather.” Are there ways in which you’re local weather—totalizing constructions of uneven subjection—in A Symmetry that with out a doubt feel vital to title up entrance?8

AB: Sharpe’s concept of local weather has given me ways to judge of the pervasiveness of white nationalism and capitalism as weathers that encompass and enter us. Whereas ending the e book, I was working via questions of nationalism, namely with regards to Greece—Greece as a thought and perfect; Greece as ancestral; Greece as a museum, as constructed nation-disclose, as flashpoint for economic crisis, as home of violent EU border coverage writ neat. I judge about how idealizations of Greece because the so-called “birthplace of Western democracy” are braided into justifications for the introduction and upkeep of the US, for all manner of neocolonial and army interventions, and of European imperialism. And about how that interprets into the hot kinds of field topic and ideological cruelty inflicted on migrants and displaced folks on the borders in Greece, within the Mediterranean more on the total, and naturally right here within the US.9

I was steeped early on, every via family reviews and the Greek Orthodox Church, in moderately uncritical registers of ethnic pleasure and longing (and belonging). I’m not invulnerable to the seductions of ancestral nostalgia. I’ve felt proud to be taught of my familial connections to communism and leftist resistance in Greece. However I repeatedly prefer to shut alert to how these affiliations are constructed and mobilized. For instance, underpinning many reviews of resistance to fascism or correct-hover conservatism is a produce of “Greekness” as one thing compulsory—and, too, the concept of Greece as a nation-disclose to be heroically defended. Nationalism shores up that desire to with out a doubt feel a connection to disclose, to reckon with ancestral traumas—wars, displacements, occupations—in provider of purist conceptions of that land, its histories, and the political relief watch over of its future. Nationalisms delimit who “belongs” in a disclose or “doesn’t,” and what constitutes a “respectable” political, historical, or cultural converse to belonging. What, then, does it indicate to be of a disclose? To love that disclose? How and to whom does this love lengthen?10

CS: The delusion of white supremacy is supported by the fiction that the white peep is natural all over. By distinction, for your poems, I’m made so responsive to being a body in disclose—of having a peep—and typically it’s discomfort that animates that awareness. How construct you watched in regards to the connection between inch, disclose, and having a look for your poems?11

AB: There’s a line in one poem that’s a self-interruption: “—! who made you watched that?” To be a white person making an try to pass against white supremacy, which displays up in how I’ve been taught to query the arena, ability fixed reexamination of my positionality and, at a bare minimum, the willingness to not be cheerful. So what am I seeing? How am I seeing it via the distortions of whiteness—and via other lenses? What am I not seeing? Can I query what I’m not seeing? Maybe not. However can I query that I’m not seeing? Can I write into that?12

The brand new poems are some distance much less drawn to conclusiveness and more invested in sustaining a high quality of attention: I’m going to proceed having a look and to assist to what appears to be like, occurs, or doesn’t, in desire to straining to impose that ability or reciprocity where it is going to simply not be. Moreover, I judge of a retaining sample, persistence and waiting. As some distance as opacity, the “I” of A Symmetry actually isn’t onstage in a spotlight pronouncing itself. However it isn’t disembodied either.13

CS: One ability you probe the that technique of the “I” for your work is via an engagement with varied “we”s. There’s this layered interrogation of how love and family—these particularly certain, calcified iterations of the “we”—are also kinds of acute hazard. Within the poem “Sufficient” in Somebody, a straight couple comes into a uncommon bar and begins making out, which makes the uncommon bar much less fully on hand to uncommon folks. The poem moves from there to assist in solutions the meanings of white kinship, and the white speaker is differently implicated. Would possibly per chance you discuss in regards to the ways in which whiteness and queerness and/or transness intersect for your work? 14

AB: Whiteness as an embodied trip and as an ideological machine relies on a me-first “I.” And that “I” is absorbed into whiteness’s “we” and the constructed-in, creepy promise of protection that “we” implies. My insistence on an ambivalent, unstable self in my poems, typically expressed as a “we,” is a refusal of expectations spherical gender allegiance and gender coherence, and it’s also a refusal of the primacy of “I” as a unique, closed-off entity. The “we” of the “I” that transness makes—transness being, for me up to now, a lived trip of loads of affiliations—has taught me that no “we” is inevitable.15

I don’t indicate to imply white folks can correct willingly come to a dedication to step out of being white on the topic topic, lived dimension. Despite the indisputable truth that, materially, we must all be paying reparations. Reasonably, the “we” of whiteness is intentional. It used to be designed to continuously set up me, to position someone white, ready to win it over and over and to not discover the selecting. Simultaneously, we’re promised that folks certain by shared marginalized identification markers will robotically share politics or a concept of justice—nevertheless look, the CIA has LGBTQ-friendly and diversity-oriented recruitment campaigns! You are a homosexual fascist! We’re not on the an identical aspect. If no collective identification is inevitable, then it follows that we are in a position to win to construct collectivities along other lines. I’m drawn to collectivities that is also solid via working alongside every other in some produce of mutual care and liberation, at no topic scale. It’s not required that we share identities to construct that.16

CS: There isn’t correct the “we” of shared identification in A Symmetry, nevertheless a more intimate one—the “we” of two folks—as nicely. What significance does that smaller relation consume within the sequence? 17

AB: Discontinuance June Jordan’s poem “Watch #1”? It begins: “Let me be / very / very / very / very / very / explicit.” In that poem, the speaker lists and rails against hundreds of neat-scale political and economic violences. Amidst all of them, what brings the speaker abet to themselves—the part that grounds the poem—is an eyelash that’s fallen above the loved’s lip. And the premise that an eyelash is ample to counterbalance structural violence… It’s not ample within the arena, nevertheless it’s ample within the poem. What’s the eyelash? It’s nearly nothing. It’s a detail. And it is, in its placement, intimacy itself—on myth of it is predominant to be very almost about query an eyelash. It orients us to what is recent, embodied, connective, and frighteningly minute. The “I” and the “you,” who every are and must not every little thing.18

CS: A Symmetry might be attuned to questions of syntax and grammar as constructions of relation. I’m pondering, for example, in regards to the closing two lines of “The Chuffed”: “A yellow butterfly that has no passion in me. / I even don’t hang any passion in kings.” As the syntax used to be repeated to forge an protest of relation against the hierarchies that capitalism prescribes, the constructing itself used to be thrown up for grabs.19

AB: I indicate, syntax is repeatedly about ascribing hierarchy, correct? Syntax is a subject of who/what comes first, of what entity or power acts or is acted upon, and heaps others. Once I play throughout the constraints of this protest, I’m taking part in with a aim to describe machinations that hum below acquainted cadences, the below-rhythms and the recordsdata they raise. I want the draw to return below scrutiny. I truly like when syntaxes fold, repeat, contradict, and undo themselves to describe their and our hypocrisies. I truly just like the trip, while writing, of stumbling onto coded meanings in habitual language patterns after which defamiliarizing or destabilizing them. And I’m most drawn to: What becomes conceivable after that?20

Within the poem “Pronoun Watch,” the compulsory syntax stays static, nevertheless the pronouns relentlessly shift. As they construct, energy, transaction, and culpability seem to shift too. The poem won’t relief you engage fastened relationships between subjects, and it leaves the ask of complicity an initiate one.21

CS: In “Oracle,” you foreground this trouble to ingrained representational logics, writing, “Refuse the adaptation between sameness and distinction.” That line feels associated to the title. Is there a via line there for you?22

AB: Oh, indubitably. The title A Symmetry contains its hang refusal, being that it’s readable in as a minimum two ways, and these readings are contradictory, paradoxical, every symmetry and asymmetry immediately. It will’t be every, nevertheless it is every.23

To intention from a associated moment in that poem—to yell, for example, “Here is land and right here is water and they’re two discrete issues” is to push apart that there’s land below the water, and there’s water below the land. Conserving them conceptually separated is fragment and parcel of the mechanisms of colonization, which depend on retaining apart folks from every other, themselves, their very hang histories and practices, and other living beings. I dwell smitten by refusing binary categories and pondering—land/water, identical/assorted—even, and per chance especially, if I don’t know what that can seem like. Writing is, as a minimum, floor to put together on. Translation, too, a essentially irascible put together, has been instructive for me right here—being that, aspect by aspect, any two texts or languages or experiences are particular, certain, and can never be precisely symmetrical. Within the route of of reaching—which is one ability I admire to judge of translation—when I let travel of equivalence as an goal, texts can touch, overlap, gentle every other up, initiate anew. To set for one thing is in a roundabout way to disclose belief within the probability of connection: to be triumphant in (as movement) in protest to be triumphant in (as contact). Symmetry’s with out a doubt not moving about that.24

Since we’re talking about symmetry, I’m in a position to’t not mention the liberal delusion and rhetoric of symmetrical family, of the so-called stage taking part in field—the premise that the kind of part is, first, conceivable, after which that it’s what we must want. I discover the tackle of symmetry, just like the tackle of perfection, horrifying, a form of precursor to fascism. Phase of the hazard of attempting to attain that symmetry is indubitably that it flattens and ignores all these alternative routes of being and referring to that don’t hang the relaxation to construct with evenness or sameness. To originate this, who and what is cropped out, abnormal down, compressed, suppressed, straightened, disregarded? Even in what’s regarded as nature, symmetry is not very finest.25

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