Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Claudia Rankine, _Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric_

WHILE I REMEMBER hearing Don't Let Me Be Lonely praised back when it appeared (2004), I had not read any of Rankine's books before Citizen, so high time I got around to it, no? And this one is actually a bit more intriguing than Citizen, without quite the same level of topical urgency.

It does (did?) have a certain amount of topical urgency, though. Like Alice Notley's Alma or Carla Harryman's Adorno's Noise, or (more obliquely) Peter Gizzi's The Outernationale or Richard Greenfield's Tracer, Don't Let Me Be Lonely speaks to the depredations and anomie of the Bush II era. (That may be his jug-eared phiz dimly visible on the image of a snowy television screen that punctuates the book--his, or that of Alfred E. Neuman.) However, while references to deaths of James Byrd and Amadou Diallo and to the second Gulf War cross the horizon of the text, a lot of the attention is closer to home: depression, insomnia, medication, anxiety about one's liver.

Which may be a clue as to why this volume shares a subtitle with Citizen. Both volumes are interested in what happens to bodies, in particular certain darker-skinned bodies in a society with a particular history at a particular time. The emphasis here falls more medically than in Citizen--there is more about pharmacology and suicide hotlines--and we get more of the background noise of the culture here, with allusions to Coetzee, Zadie Smith, and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, but a continuity is detectable in the multi-layered response to a historical moment, in the wit so dry it burns and so cool it has to be measured in degrees Kelvin.

If this one is a response to the Bush II years, and Citizen a response to the Obama years, will we get another American Lyric on (let's hope) the Clinton years or (please god no) the Trump years?

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