Earth, Milky Way: punctum books, 2019. 158 pages, illus. ISBN-13: 978-1-950192-53-3. DOI: 10.21983/P3.0268.1.00. OPEN-ACCESS e-book and $20.00 in print: paperbound/5 X 8 in.

In this astonishing book, JH Phrydas examines how to write the things we cannot—”look away.” Look away from would be the correct English “parse.” But this is not English. This is touch—”textural” instead of “textual”—as when he asks:

Can writing open up a space of agency: re-territorializing both the soil and our bodies? Walking through a white space, signposts, paths—when the space blanks out, what happens to the figure, the body, the citizen housed inside? Bared, we continue, shifting at each break.

The “entrancement” and “vulnerability of the witness” is experienced fully and brilliantly through this work at the endocrinal and tactile limits of the body, but also through what is not the body. Here arises the biopolitical potential of his work, of how the vibrations – cross-exchanges of the deepest kind – work to transform not only sites and materials, but a politics of these materials as well. In these pages “every body radiates,” and language excretes its light for (or, because of) figures typically excluded from experimental works. How does one write the body that, in a culture, is so swiftly – broadly – decimated or erased? Tension between “confinement” and “escape” play off notions of passivity, of the human-animal, of what it means to scan and select – to choose in ways that allow concepts themselves to orient to each other to create a carnality of encounter: in turn. Through modes of desire and longing for touch, through the “dawning horror” of a particular architecture (the country in which he writes) — a space where, à la Marguerite Duras, but also Melissa Buzzeo, one must “refuse life”—Phrydas complicates and elaborates questions of sexuality, gender, and political/communal living.

~ Bhanu Kapil

Imperial Physique

In 2008,  JH Phrydas wrote a story about how bodies talk without words. He wanted the story to not just describe the silent ritual of nonverbal communication but to perform it. The interaction would be visceral – the exchange melancholic, yet full of lust. He wanted words to retain the unsayable: the subtle movements of a body in heat. In the years since, Phrydas kept rewriting this story, using different techniques, different syntaxes and forms, in hopes that he would find a successful method of gestural writing.

Imperial Physique is a collection of these attempts. They explore the way our bodies hover between animal and human, civil and wild. The bleakness – and underlying verve – of imagining Western empires in decline serve as a backdrop for a lone figure searching city streets, decaying architecture, and sand dunes for some type of physical connection. What arises is the loss of – and longing for – touch at the edges of imperialism, historical violence, and personal shame.

It’s messy, I know—it can’t not be—but might we lean toward a potentially more candid topology that prioritizes our bodies and how they interact? What is at stake in positioning ourselves as animal—wild—when safety, or lack thereof, is an inherent force of carnality? What are the politics of a visceral life? Does cruising bring about the destruction of religiously and politically sanctioned notions of decency—self-worth—the social bond of our moral and ethical requirement? Can we cruise and, in the circling, dissolve structures that ensnare us?

Paired with these stories are essays on queer embodiment, figuration, and plasticity that emerged through conversations with somatic psychologists, art therapists, and poets. They give context to the short stories and offer other ways to engage with the book: through thinking of language as texture, as sculpture, as a physical yearning against empire. The place where language and the body merge.

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