‘Abject Permanence’ by Larissa Pham

— Lyrik Courtney

Unruly Bodies is, on the part of Roxane Gay, a curatorial marvel. I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about post-Structuralism (even if doing so would piss off philosophy dudebros everywhere), but what I will say is that Larissa Pham is a damn good writer who knows what it takes to build a sentence and who has no problem discomfiting her readers. In many ways, nothing is being said in ‘Abject Permanence’ that I haven’t heard before—but what Pham’s essay does do that interests me, however knowingly it may or may not be, is emphasize the importance of self-destruction. In this essay, Pham does the difficult, tireless work of carving up the body, opening the muscle up for discursive consumption.

How inconvenient to be made of desire. Even now, want rises up in me like a hot oil. I want so much that it scares me.

Here, the focus on textured sensory detailing hits hard enough to overwhelm, but even that sensation—in many ways not unlike the sex that Pham describes—is peculiarly invigorating. The work itself is almost un-new in the way that it unbraids the universalities of lust & pity & disordering into startling, vulnerable shapes. These allegories & their sometimes-clichéd sensibilities are not unfamiliar, but become difficult to discern in the hands of Pham, who props them up like dolls straight out of the Uncanny Valley until they are at once human-seeming and also entirely not. The canyon-jumps she makes between narrative positionalities and points of entry (internal and external) do almost as much work to force me into seeing as the actual text itself. I recognize the bodies here as bodies I have carried once, bodies that I am still bogged down by, and I, too, am stretching my hand out for the possibility of feeling.