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  • What Memory Wants:Broken Tongue, Stranger Fugue in Fall on Your Knees
  • Trish Salah (bio)

Composition . . . leads to a staggering conception of history, a history that is open, unstable . . . Time no longer flows in a linear fashion; sometimes it crystalizes in stable codes in which everyone's composition is compatible, sometimes in a multifaceted time in which rhythms, styles, and codes diverge, interdependencies become more burdensome, and rules dissolve.

—Attali 147

What is it for rules (or rule) to dissolve? Suppose we begin with the notion that both forms and processes are constitutively beholden to—and persistently susceptible to—their own destabilizing latencies. As John Corbett has suggested, composition is improvisation, cleaned up, culled from its otherness, retroactively (Corbett, 238). What was intrinsic is cut out, or what came from elsewhere to make some thing up, to exist it, is then forgotten. Retroactivity and latency are as crucial as the cut and the movement, from some elsewhere, to forgetting.

This paper is beset with its own doubleness: Preoccupied with what it is not, it fugues itself, variably, disjunctively; supposes itself a subject without an answer, with too many answers. This subject, the traumatic, finds its elaboration in a reading of Ann-Marie MacDonald's novel, Fall on Your Knees. In this reading, Fall on Your Knees fabulates a psychic history of cultural, racial, and sexual hybridization through the metonymic figure of musical movement. In Fall on Your Knees, musical signatures figure and re-configure erotic and ethnocultural belonging in an economy of dissonance, desire, and repetition. The un/easy commingling of [End Page 231] Arab traditionals, ragtime, New York blues, and jazz and opera circulates through and between locales from Beirut to New Water ford to Ha(a)rlem, sounding a history of discrepant influences and perverse attachments that traverse sentimental narratives of national, ethnic, and familial identity, transecting the romance of reparation.

This paper approaches the question of the ethical via the circuitous routes of the erotic; its argument mediates urgencies arising from the traumatic effects in and of the "real" of European colonialism and in and of the fractured and fractious composition of the unconscious.

Querying the Circum-Atlantic Circuit

Queer music has multiple resonances, most obviously at this particular moment, attaching music to an ensemble of sexual others (fags, dykes, transsexuals). More interestingly, though not unrelatedly, music may be thought queer if it disturbs, disrupts, reconfigures, or "queers" our sense of identity, our affiliations and identifications—music as that which makes you feel queer, other, strange to yourself and perhaps, to others. The homophobic construction is obvious enough: What is a man who is other than a man? What is a woman who is other than . . . Psychoanalysis offers us a discourse of sexual difference that can not exhaust the question: Am I a man or a woman? Am I alive or am I dead? Moreover it provides a means for exploring how these questions might compose unstable homologies, invested with the fearful desire of an other. What is queer but a familiar thing estranged, lost in the field of the other? Evocatively then, queer music reveals or figures, installs or invites, a thing beside itself, a thing before itself, a thing inside yourself. There is a certain resonance here with Ralph Ellison's description of racialized being:

Invisibility . . . gives one a slightly different sense of time, you're never quite on the beat. Sometimes you're ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around.


Although Ellison's recourse to jazz tempo is metaphorical, Paul Gilroy suggests black music and its "broken rhythm of life" crucially enclose

a place in which the black vernacular has been able to preserve and cultivate both the distinctive rapport with the presence [End Page 232] of death which derives from slavery and a related ontological state . . . being in pain. Being in pain encompasses both a radical, personalized enregistration of time and a diachronic understanding of language whose most enduring effects are the games black people in all Western cultures...


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pp. 231-249
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