Notes On A Postcard From The Other America
In Guernica (“a magazine of art & politics”), a Brooklyn writer named Kate Zambreno writes a lengthy “Postcard From America”, in which she comes to terms with the Trumpening of America. Let’s read along, shall we? Excerpts:
I have just returned from a lengthy road trip through the Midwest back to Brooklyn, New York, where for the time being I live. We drove for three days to a log cabin that my Italian-American grandfather helped build almost a century ago, way up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a half-hour drive away from the nearest incorporated town. (He got a share of the cabin in exchange for legal work before he quit the law to be a butcher.) For days on end I held our terrier Genet on a pillow on my lap as he agitated at bridges and rumble strips.
They named their dog after Jean Genet, who was a sex criminal and left-wing radical. Charming. It turns out that Zambreno is heavily pregnant, which understandably makes traveling with a dog on one’s lap difficult. But it appears that she and her partner are motoring through Mordor:
I have never been so sick in my life of public bathrooms—of wiping down seats, of the cheap toilet paper that gets stuck in your pubic hair, of waddling my uncomfortable strange body through doors, the same fast-food chains, everything almost identical. What slightly disturbed me on this trip was the amused or adoring or concerned gaze I received from so many strangers—who saw me as a very pregnant and sweaty woman in a short cotton dress with her little black dog, who saw me as very much a woman, an impending mother, something both visible and totally unthreatening, not the usual suspicious looks we sometimes got as city people in small Midwestern towns. I didn’t like it.
I had to re-read that twice to make sure I understood. Ordinary people looked upon her with sympathy, not suspicion … and this pissed her off?! What kind of person responds to the kind glances of strangers like that?
Ah, but the true festering horror of the American heartland reveals itself to Brooklyn-bound Zambreno:
But as we drove through the various highways and roads, through Pennsylvania, through Ohio, through Michigan, I was especially disturbed, rattled, by the looming highway signs VOTE FOR TRUMP! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Or the HILLARY FOR PRISON signs. Or just the singular, fucking scary, almost onomatopoeic TRUMP. I didn’t see that many—but the ones I did see looked like ominous humid beacons that I couldn’t quite believe. Trump is everywhere—it is now three months away from the election, the same week my daughter is expected to be born. We were finally a bit separated from the news in the woods, when before we were trapped in that endless cycle of constant refresh, horror, distraction, but every time we looked at the Times I joked to my partner it felt like the Trump Times, it was all they were covering, his every racist belch and shocking pronouncement. I just logged on to double-check and the Olympics is front page—that jingoistic distraction, yet I watch the clips on YouTube too, in awe at the American female gymnastic team, needing some sort of what Lauren Berlant might call a national feeling, or national sentimentality—and then every other fucking article is about Trump, Trump’s dad, Trump being down in the polls, what darned thing did Trump say today, the Trump kids.
Oh my. Zambreno recites a litany of horribles, reminiscent of Ignatius Reilly’s promised “lengthy indictment against our century,” before finally exhausting herself:
This is not my grief, I do not own it, I cannot appropriate it, but it is my grief as an American, and I’m reminded of that line in David Wojnarowicz’s jeremiad, Close to the Knives, lines that I could tattoo on my ever expanding and discontented body, I’ve quoted them so often: “I want to throw up because we’re supposed to quietly and politely make house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder and I’m amazed we’re not running amok in the streets, and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.”
Um, maybe it was just reflux? More:
I’m realizing now that it’s David Wojnarowicz’s rage against provincial minds and Catholicism that I relate to the most, like Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek’s acidic novels against the ghosts of Austria’s past, the banality of evil represented so often in the oppressive family structure.
Read the whole thing. Or not. You’re not missing much if you don’t. I find it fascinating, and not in a point-and-mock way. What’s most interesting about it, at least to me, is not that a Brooklyn-based feminist writer believes these things about the country in which she lives, but that a magazine of some prestige finds worth printing the ranting of a woman so fragile that the sympathetic gaze of Middle Americans upsets her, and contributes to her “rage against provincial minds and Catholicism.” Kate Zambreno is not a marginal figure; she’s someone whose work is reviewed in major literary and cultural publications. Seriously, when you get past the hothouse-flower freakshow qualities of the boutique jeremiad, the more fascinating question is: Is this how the people in the American literary and academic establishment see the rest of us?
Or, to be more precise: Even if they don’t share Kate Zambreno’s extreme opinion, are they the kind of people who think that this construal of America as a Boschian hellscape filled with ogres who gorge themselves at The Golden Corral and then gape sweetly at pregnant strangers — do they think this is normal? That it has anything to do with the country as it is?
I think the answer is yes. Which explains the Fukishima-level meltdown they’ve had in the face of the Trump tsunami. I know regular readers think I’m virtue-signaling when I say repeatedly that I didn’t vote for Trump, but I only point that out because a lot of people come to this blog via social media links, and they don’t know where I stood during the campaign. So: I didn’t vote for Trump, but most of the people in my state did, and it was easy for me to understand why, even if I didn’t share their judgment. If you ask me, the best thing someone who wants to be a real writer can do is to get the hell out of Brooklyn and all these other culturally progressive bantustans that train your mind to think that unfashionable Ohioans at the rest stop who try to comfort a pregnant stranger in distress with a kind glance are the Enemy.