- Error Made Beautiful
Tarpaulin Sky Press
88 Pages; Print, $16.00
Aaron Apps’s Intersex: A Memoir attends to the points of intersection between object and subject. What we quickly come to discover is that these points serve not really as points at all but rather as a “contract […] to draw in the loose, sexing silt,” or, perhaps, as “grooves folding into grooves in a harsh ecology of funhouse mirrors.” Again: “A nauseating, beautiful knotting that knots. A flash of contingent tongues, slick with saliva and formed like clay, working out as they knot along.” And thus, we move through an achronological history of Apps’s encounters with various forms of violence both biological and not, both conscious and not, both insistent and not. Oftentimes these violences interweave. A description of a barbecue is given early on: “We ate silver fat. We ate gray-pink animal,” the narrator tells us, with “sauce on us like we are wounds.” And this blends into graphic vignettes involving live alligators, diarrhea in department store bathrooms, domesticity, dissected animals, and the medicalization of sex.
With a page of epigraphs from past to present recognizable thinkers such as Merleau-Ponty, Sarah Ahmed, and Simone De Beauvoir (the latter in line with a rather timely third wave resurgence), Apps makes no illusions as to the theoretical underpinnings of his work. What’s interesting about these particular “epigraphs,” aside from a phenomenological thread tying them together, is that they come on page 11 of the text after an introductory epigraph by Clarice Lispector, which opens the text: “Not to be devoured is the secret objective of a whole existence.” This quote is followed by a series of seven sections making up what Apps refers to as a narrative line. This first of these narrative lines, prior to the second set of epigraphs, is the before-mentioned scene titled Barbeque Catharsis. A final epigraph from Georges Bataille on page 19 reads, “The animal is in the world like water in water,” and thus, the reader enters into a tangled web of connections where Apps stumbles between metaphors groping, as it were, for something that sticks, something that “stains deep into the flesh-sanded skin.” Whether Apps turns to the zoo, the deep sea, architecture, grammar, photography, it would be easy to dismiss these incursions as hackneyed or banal as they seem to get lost before they can serve much of a purpose, but to do so would be to overlook the ways that these tenuous connections between slipping relations allow the reader the leeway to traverse what may turn out to be a map of sorts, a loose cartography of lines and points, which move beyond the spaces they mark.
Apps makes it very clear, though, that he is not searching for or trying to outline a point of origin in his discussion of intersex and the issues the narrator faces, but rather, he explains that the narrator is seduced by the rhythm of repetition: “I say this thing that I say about the womb not to make the memory before memory foundational. I say this not to ground anything at a point. I say this because the chant that flows from that point amid points is incantatory when I say it. And I continue to say it all the while as the lines play their music.” This distinction becomes important as this searching and stumbling between metaphors takes on a rhythm of its own—a rhythm that lulls the reader, coaxing them gently out of the purported comforts of identity, of the categorical, and into a material world of bodies. Put differently, in a section that briefly explores different fruits before abandoning the topic and moving on, “And I say that inside of the orange when you remove the meat there is a cave full of shadows full of caves that extrude fluids between the folds between folds in the smallest of intestines.” Here we see just a momentary glimpse of the ability to focus something continually shifting, too vast and multiple to name, into this private and vulnerable thing. Later, we...