The New Yorker: Exploring the Freedom of Being Multiple

The subject of the profile is (based on the picture) a blacke female. It’s The New Yorker, so the writer of the piece is naturally ***ish. (“A Startling Début Novel Explores the Freedom of Being Multiple” by Katy Waldman). The piece begins:

A recent interview with the author Akwaeke Emezi, whose début novel is called “Freshwater,” refers to certain autobiographical “realities” in which the book is rooted—realities that include Emezi’s “identity . . . as an ogbanje.” An ogbanje, Emezi has explained is “an Igbo spirit that’s born into a human body, a kind of malevolent trickster.” Its goal “is to torment the human mother by dying unexpectedly only to return in the next child and do it all over again.” We are all woven partially from labels, of course. Emezi, the article notes, is also “Nigerian,” “Black,” “trans,” and gender “non-binary.” But it is startling to see those designations laid matter-of-factly alongside a term of magic. “Freshwater” is wrought from that dissonance, insistent that the self, which is multiple, requires multiple frameworks in order to be understood…

Lest you doubt that the Cultural Left and the Dissident Right are increasingly speaking two, distinct, and incommensurate languages, how else does one makes sense of passages like the above? The irresponsible Derridean playfulness continues:

What impels us to sabotage our own interests, or to commit gratuitous cruelty? Freudian psychologists speculated about a wayward id. The movie “Inside Out” blamed our personified emotions. We have invented angels and devils; four distinct humors; a celestial zodiac. Between the covers of the DSM-V runs an entire gamut of pathology, from autism-spectrum disorder to trichotillomania. Igbo spirituality, Emezi radically suggests, has as much to offer as any of these schemas when it comes to decrypting human folly or transcendence. Ada’s story involves depression, loneliness, and the seductions of self-harm.

The piece ends with the usual Celebration of the Marginalized:

Emezi has described her own transitional surgeries as “a bridge across realities, a spirit customizing its vessel to reflect its nature.” Similarly, Ada pursues procedures that will mark her as “other,” neither male nor female, neither singular nor plural. She lets a “masked man take a knife lavishly to the flesh of her chest, mutilating her better and deeper.” The book becomes a study in dysphoria—not precisely the distress of being misgendered but the more nebulous pain of being imprisoned in a physical form, of losing your wraith-like ability to evade categorization.

And yet “to be named is to gain power,” the ogbanje point out. “Freshwater” is alive to the tension between the affirmation of owning a single identity and the freedom and mutability of being multiple. There is something self-defeating about trying to trace a self that is defined by indefinability; one achievement of Emezi’s book is to make that paradox feel generously fertile. Ada does not narrate many chapters, but, when she does, her voice is a fugue of the voices that have spoken before. She says, “I am a village full of faces and a compound full of bones, translucent thousands.”

Postmodernism is a leap into obfuscation and obliqueness, a nonsensical relativism masquerading as empathy, insight, and profundity.

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