Re-Reading John Keene (Prelude)

Memory, that vast orchard of myriad, variegated moments, appears to undergo an endless replanting.
—John Keene

Nyumba na riika itiumagwo.
—Gikuyu Proverb

IF objects could speak from their embeddedness in history, they would surely ventriloquize John Keene. Repeatedly, Annotations attunes us to the “thingness” of the world, our slide in and out of subject hood, our slide in and out of object hood.

Attaining a narrative on the stage of history, objects split to become subjects. Tradition and genealogy, those linchpins of self, are “secured” as “one’s place in the reference chain” (4). Similitude–“Old folks liked to say he favored the uncle who died young” (4)–foregrounds genealogy as racialized strategy, relation via metonymy, “you remind me of.”

The insistent stare through which black strangers attempt to forge connections—each new meeting staging loss and reconciliation, an enduring testament to racial melancholy.

What memory returns, “reflections” that “had lost their color” (10), “A small yet insubordinate squadron of impressions” (11). And material aids, “Photographs” which “substitute for a fully-sketched description” (11-12).

Keene alerts us to the perceiving now as transformative memory: “Our ears hammer impressions into audible jewels” (13). “Nice work if you can get it, and you might get it if you lie” (12) and “whenever the ice-cream truck would come by, the first impulse was to run to the window and perform the dance of seven wails” (14). (Those who understand the v-w speech pattern among some Indians get the joke.)

“A sudden musicality of phrase as when one hears the windowpanes humming” (16).

Annotations meditates on the relationship between memory and marginalia. Whereas marginalia disrupts textual integrity, demanding history respond to the subjects it (dis)embodies, memory foregrounds an-other re-membering, marked by interruption and innovation, sediments that refuse to settle.

Marginalia assumes a privileged role, mediating between history and memory, the insistent call whose response embodies the reader.

Musical interludes punctuate the text–Treemonisha, Pannonica, Evonce, Bakai, Klactoveededstene–suggesting that music remains untranslatable, even and especially when transcribed into language.

Disturbing the text, these interludes “locate” the author. We imagine him checking album sleeve to discover titles, inserting titles as moments lived while writing, pleasures enjoyed, evidence of the claim that “the very phenomenon of our lives “ provides “a boundless source of poetry” (72).

Annotations desires. It demonstrates a “thirst for the trueness of lives and language” (72), wooing the reader through “intense polysemic pleasures” (58).

Reading the text aloud–and how can one resist?–we are reminded that “Listening implies a desire to surrender” (61).

I submit, willingly.

*first blogged 12/11/2005

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