To Render Touch: A Review of Slabs by Brittany Billmeyer-Finn
in this space | an absence | engenders | a voice | s t o l e n |
to take the body
| make a voice
| from the void
i watch | your body swiftly
re-making re-claiming un-longing
rigorous | and bloodied | a spilling or breathing
a void, held close | as abundance
Memory may be imposed onto the body or imbedded within the body, contorted among a web of internal biology. Its manifestations germinate. This gesticulation of emotion, experience, and relation bears inscription—what the body remembers, when the body retracts, how the body emerges.
In Slabs, Brittany Billmeyer-Finn writes from the non-linear origin point of memory, where marks become visible amid an enigmatic blurriness. The slab is a transfiguring geology that carries scars. The slab harbors cracks and the inherent potential for fault lines to emerge and break. She excavates shards of memory, spaces of suppressed consciousness and isolated creativity, and reconjures them in the present. When Billmeyer-Finn writes, “the enactment of a mark,” she reveals this process of reclamation. Writing produces a breakdown of embedded histories and narratives crucial to imagining new modes of social interaction. From this process, the body becomes a site of healing and survival. For Billmeyer-Finn, resistance against trauma comes from relation. A desire or want conceived through memory or a memory of longing.
a nourished tongue
your arms are open as a cross but
you do not feel
split wide open.
In Uses of the Erotic, Audre Lorde conceptualizes the erotic as a guttural repository of power to be realized. The erotic—a means of both inter and intrapersonal communication and consciousness—functions as a modality for individual and collective agencies to emerge. She describes it as an emanating force from which, “the sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding.” Analogous to Lorde’s conception of the erotic, Slabs exerts queer sexuality as a means of healing, knowledge, and power. Her expression of queer identity, or rather the negation or refusal of socially-imposed identity, asserts queer intimacy as a mode of propulsive and dynamic energy. Billmeyer-Finn reshapes identity from a point of tension towards one of interaction.
From her analysis of identity, a thread of political movement emerges, one that seeks to construct identity in a wholly different form, one that cannot be commodified or manipulated. Billmeyer-Finn refuses the violence of hegemonic identity discourses which mark the body as fixed or static. Her language initiates the possibility of intersection to emerge, a type of constellation, which never essentializes or reduces queer women to a homogenous categorization, but rather sees difference as a productive and creative socio-political force. She writes, “when this identifier draws a blank reiterates a/hierarchy engulfs a refusal.” This actively builds a dialogue in which art, poetics, and theory converge in an impetus towards horizontality.
Billmeyer-Finn’s notion of the erotic is articulated in both tactile and theoretical registers. The theoretical is not removed from materiality, but coexists with it. Therefore, writing is not restricted to or by the theoretical, but rather enables an embodied practiced informed by the theoretical, political, and philosophical. In Slabs, each interaction, touch, urge, and utterance has the potential to be a gesture of poetics and healing. The writing utilizes linguistic acts of resistance to express this understanding of embodiment.
a blood track
a shift in topography
meaning: i think
of violence as
The use of repetition becomes a ritual in the text, a tactic to refuse the repetition of a supposed normativity. Likewise, the list, a common form throughout Billmeyer-Finn’s work, asserts itself as resistance. It functions to subvert the mechanics of logic and rationality. The language captures a non-linear narrative or associative process, revealing the discrepancies of rendering. She writes,
- a head
- as in a pleasure object
The language confuses numerical orientation and semiotic descriptors. Similarly, compound or reoriented words are part of a practice of misreading as reading, a linguistic synesthesia. Billmeyer-Finn molds language to shift the reader’s perspective towards assemblage as she writes: “mishap/e,” “selfslab,” or “bears/bares.”
The writing is aware of memory, touch, and interaction—largely articulated through the use of quotations—and embraces both the verbal and non-verbal. Speech becomes a somatic ritual rather than a semantic articulation of clarity. When Billmeyer-Finn documents or records, she does so to dissolve the linearity of narrative. She rejects the predominantly western hierarchy of expression, one in which written or verbal linguistic coherence takes precedent over any other mode of speech or communication. Her lists of quotations are both a linguistic record, but also an embodied documentation of experience: a rendering. These perceived notions of linguistic superiority are entrenched in white patriarchy. Slabs molds a specific communicative space that acknowledges the idiosyncrasies of language—through writing and speech, but also through touch, emotion, memory—to create a rhizomatic and evolutionary organism. She exposes ambiguity within words and excavates spaces of non-definition, states of flux. Space where memory is held.
These distinct techniques work against hegemony and culminate in a reshaping of normative linguistics. Billmeyer-Finn writes, “when they said ‘turn my eyes insane’ but I read ‘in/that hope’ the waiting line/ has gotten shorter growing the same way I am.” The disparity between what is told versus what is absorbed or taken into the intimate space of the body initiates a queer-feminist pedagogy. In this space “knowing disappears or transforms/into the intuitive & unacknowledged.” She listens to the body with care, questioning a mind-body dualism by tangling these spaces of knowledge. She allows her emotions and feelings to have agency, while being acutely attuned to the socio-political implementations of power.
This poetic praxis enables a revision of the slab as an archetype, breaking its deeply entrenched meanings in western artistic conventions and historical grand narratives. The slab is primarily recognized as a surface for writing. The stone stele, or slab, was also historically integral for funerary ritual. Billmeyer-Finn utilizes these historical textures of the slab and resignifies them. In doing so she addresses the social-induced inability of a body to self-identity, therefore write or speak with sincerity. She recasts the slab from its rigidity into a malleable fluid; a chemical breakdown emanating from undercurrents and forming a new ecology: the slab is a torso, a hand, an anatomy. And her writing births the active formation of a gesture, captured in her refrain
These lines speak to the book’s essence—the consciousness that gesture is not confined to the aspirational or fleeting confines of dreams. Touch is remembered. It is held in the body, to be accessed again. An alchemical transformation of memory into bodymemory, bodywriting, bodyhealing,
to reveal u n / m i s / n o n identity |