Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ariana Reines, _The Cow_

SOME UNNAMEABLE PLANE in contemporary letters is defined by Selah Saterstrom's The Pink Institution, Lara Glenum's Maximum Gaga, and this volume, with their interweaving of feminism with accounts of industrialized meat production. Which is more grotesque, all three seem to whisper, what men do to women or what men do to cows and pigs? Does either activity tell us something we need to know about the other?

In Reines's The Cow, the answer to the latter question is yes, the answer to the former stomach-churningly open. The book bristles with hurt, anger, and intelligence. It bristles also with appropriated texts, from the Bible, the Koran, Cixous, Ashbery, Deleuze & Guattari, and particularly tellingly from a website giving instructions of how to turn the parts of a cow that are inedible by humans into feed for other cows ("RESULTING CARCASS MEAL CAN SOMETIMES BE USED AS AN ANIMAL FEED INGREDIENT"). This process was critical, as we now know, in the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, "mad cow" disease.

The language of the book has an extraordinary range, from the paratactic and traumatized ("Blowhole") to what sounds like feverish improvisation ""In Which She Pays for Her Tardiness") to the relatively controlled and conventional, though not a whit less powerful ("Le Legs de Ses Tristesses").

The strongest impression left by the book is a paradoxical, but in some ways empowering one -- that there is no way mere writing can deal with the harm the book addresses, yet no way to address that harm except by writing.

I'd like to read more of Reines, but her Coeur de Lion, I see, costs several hundred dollars. Probably worth it, but somewhat beyond my means.

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