Sneak Peak: Editor’s Note
Sneak Peak! Take a look at the Editors’ Note for Pleiades 38.1, due out on January 15th:
Recently, when discussing this issue of Pleiades, we found ourselves rehashing the ending of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Junot Díaz famously refutes the last words of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its colonial anxiety (The horror! The horror!), when after Oscar loses his virginity to Ybón, he writes in an ecstatic letter, “So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known! The Beauty! The Beauty!” Díaz’s postmodern revision of an arguably xenophobic book seems an apropos metaphor for this moment in literary and cultural history. We wondered: Is the revision of canonical text an act of resistance? And is beauty the most convincing antidote to horror?
Often people say that art makes beauty out of ugliness, but here we offer writing that complicates that notion. The responsibility of the writer, if we can describe such a thing, is embodied in many of the poems, essays, and stories in this issue of Pleiades: these are writers who hold a light against ugliness and do not balk. What is refracted in the space between experience and art is something that resembles beauty—beauty in the minds of people who understand that the act of writing something down is a kind of beautiful reclamation of power. The idea, though, that the writer is here to make beauty is a dangerous one.
Cedric Tillman suggests this kind of revision-as-resistance in “Supremacy, or The Black Lifestyle” in this issue when he writes,“perhaps I can borrow / your imperviousnesses / If I make it / can I / have it retroactivated / some / radical / reconstruction…” Other writers use traditional forms to challenge our notions of aesthetic beauty, as in Anne Barngrover’s “If the Sonnet Were Female”: “I contemplate the world from inside my body—such a narcissist— / yet a white man screams identity politics! and he’s a critic, so smart.” Lauren Goodwin Slaughter, “Pulse,” grapples with impossible task of explaining death to a child. There is tension in the beauty of this poem, as a sense of impending violence pulses beneath the words; then, the speaker is interrupted by the radio—through poem’s sound waves, victims of the Orlando shooting are named.
Brenda Peynado and Micah Dean Hicks’ story “Her Furniture” furnishes a vivid example of the dangers of trapping our humanity (including our art-making tendencies) into a beauty-shaped cage, as “the man” turns “the girl” into the various articles of furniture that fill their house, then “the lover” inhabits that house, anticipating repeating that same act of imprisonment: “He dreams of princesses locked in towers, of girls suffocating under magical sleep, of the cold beauty of a glass sepulcher.” In addition to exposing the hazards of anchoring women to the domestic, “Her Furniture” reveals how mere beauty can become a confining standard.
And as guest feature editor Whitney Terrell points out, French writers (including Benameur, Bon, Coulin, and Lahens) have long been writing socially aware and politically active fiction, and this folio of stories represents well these trends, from the closing of a local factory (Daewoo) to the forced “vacation” of female French soldiers in Afghanistan (To See the World), to the American intervention in Haiti (“An Ordinary Disaster”). One of the things we learned from this feature is how the role of the writer in France is understood to be more than mere entertainer, more than a beauty-monger, and it is expected that literature will challenge the reader by presenting them with the unknown.
We hope this issue spurs reflection on beauty, revision and resistance, but we also hope our readers will take some solace in its pages. As the Romanian poet Stella Vinitchi Radulescu writes (quoted in Luke Hankins’s translator’s note on her work in our folio on contemporary Eastern European poets): “Writing poetry was risky—it could have been a ‘political manifesto’ against the regime! But it was also a refuge.”
—Jenny Molberg and Phong Nguyen