Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body
by Peggy Shinner
Reviewed by July Westhale
“The domestic made lethal – that’s the legend.”
We live in a society entrenched in matters of the body. Sexualization, fetishization, policing, ableism, movement, tangibility, and the body politic, our corporality is absolutely everywhere. Despite the fact that bodies are subject to intensive scrutiny, the historical origin of how bodies have been perceived throughout time (everything from feet to slouching to undergarments) remains mysteriously out of the realm of everyday knowledge. How is it, for example, that foot shape determined class and stature, traditionally? How has the body been commodified in times of martial economies (i.e., dowry economy)?
In her illuminating book of essays, Peggy Shinner tackles those exact discussions. Using the craft of braided narrative, Shinner weaves together historical fact, socio-political theory, and personal experience to create essays that grapple with our culture’s multitudinous interactions with the body. In her essay “The Knife”, for example, the reader is taken through Shinner’s personal experience as a martial arts teacher, the history of karate and fighting with weapons, the concept of arming oneself against a world that is marginalizing, and what it means to work with your hands in a world of abstract technological importance. Similarly, her essay on kleptomania offers insight into the history of the word (and how it was used to describe a sexual disorder, primarily occurring in women who found amorous rapture in stealing things from department stores), while laying the tracks for her own stories to shine through.
Truly, this is a collection of essays that takes the idea of making the personal global extremely seriously.
Read entire review and others at LAMBDA LITERARY.
Falling into Place: An Intimate Geography of Home
by Catherine Reid
Review by July Westhale
23 March 2014
Borges says, in his literary theory, that there are more or less six themes that authors write about, six stories they tell, though the narratives may vary. All have to do with the human condition: how we love, how we live, how we make a life for ourselves, how we interact with the physical/metaphysical/spiritual, our literal and figurative place in the world. Following this metric, Catherine Reid’s newest collection of nature-centric essays, Falling into Place: An Intimate Geography of Home, is the perfect example of how the personal becomes global through familiar tropes. Utilizing her relationship to her home in the Berkshires as well as the deeply-crafted life with her partner, Reid juxtaposes her identity as a native New Englander with her otherness as a lesbian woman to create lyric tension that sustains the ambivalence of the narrative.
Such careful, intimate consideration of place is difficult to do in our day of technology. It is more common to see visitors experiencing the world through the lens of their iPhones or digital cameras than navigating nature through their known memory, as vessels (the body) contained in larger vessels (the natural universe). Reid manages to skillfully connect with the art of physically and primally knowing a landscape, as an animal might. Everything from her deep connection with the water (and thus, the scarcity) of her home to the catastrophes that have occurred over time (as in the story of the oil spill that would have wiped out an entire ecosystem within one river had it not been for the skillful navigation of a select beaver population), demonstrates the careful and intentional consideration of place as a character in the larger narrative of Reid’s life.
Read entire review and more at LAMBDA LITERARY