Schizophrene by Bhanu Kapil
Callicoon, NY: Nightboat Books, 2011.

Reviewed by Kristen Stone, poetry editor

Schizophrene as a text reaches toward the question of exposure and its danger. During a partial solar eclipse, “we shift our chairs to avoid the sunlight, eclipse light, which could damage us forever… we move into the house, which is netted, barred, and where the danger increases, if you’re paranoid, and diminishes, when you sleep” (34). To what have you been exposed? How is exposure (or its effects) inherited or transmitted between generations? Is this genetics or linguistics or something else?

Kapil’s sentences and paragraphs are deeply emotional; I feel them in my diaphram rather than reading them with my mouth or eyes, like a normal girl.

Schizophrene carries a sense of excess; the words are apportioned carefully because the content is dangerous:

“reading these words, i can’t have them in my house” (10)

“i threw the book into the dark garden” (1)

Kapil’s narrator, as she attempts to chart intergenerational effects of trauma, of migration, how touch resonates through the body and time, reaches the edge or conversion threshold. I can’t have these words in my house. How to act on a book when you can no longer read or write it? But are compelled to keep doing the story in some form?

I am reminded of Peter Levine’s Healing Trauma.  Levine describes a man who, as a child, fell off a ladder, and for years after found himself in similar situations, falling from similar heights. (I might have the details wrong, but this is the general idea) (maybe he fell off a boat?) The idea being that he had to remember the initial trauma, with his body, and then he stopped getting hurt.

I think of my mother, the note of panic she got in her voice when I lived far away and would call to describe to her some injury or another: I sliced my finger on the food processor mom, I think it needs stitches. I walked into a cookie sheet and burned the back of my legs. A cow stepped on my shin. You need to be more careful, she would say, and it always left me feeling like there was some back-story that I wasn’t aware of.

Is psychosis a form of excess? Of being unable to tell the whole story? What is the relationship between nation and mental illness? ” It is psychotic not to know where you are in a national space” (41). Moving through time and geography, Bhanu documents the (dis)connections between speaking and seeing and intergenerational memory: “my mother’s mother put a hand over my mother’s mouth, but my mother saw, peeking between the slats of the cart, row after row of women tied to the border trees” (40). Can you write the image. Can you write the suffering of your mother. When you cannot write, do you throw the notebook into the snow? Then what.

The sensation of Bhanu’s words– their semiotics, the word beneath the word– has potential as a form of healing touch. “A ghost mutates through intensity, gathering enough energy to touch you through your thin blouse, or your leggings, or your scarf” (36). What does it mean to touch through: a fabric or membrane: the light impersonal healing touch (71). What touches what/how? Can touch be made healing with a buffer: a sheer fabric or membrane.

Is mutation intergenerational?
How to tell the mutated story?

Schizophrene is a failed map, a book about the limits of the book, a genetics primer. It is available from  SPD, among other places.  Was Jack Kerouac a Punjabi is Bhanu’s blog about teaching and writing.


About LIMN Editor

LIMN was created to give exposure to new and emerging artists and also bridge the gap between art and assistance. All money raised by LIMN is used to fund grants for artists with disabilities & persons with disabilities who are pursuing any kind of art education or art therapy. LIMN operates as a not for profit organization. Our staff is 100% volunteer based and all money donated to LIMN helps persons with disabilities.
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