Catherine Taylor and Mathias Svalina, April 2, 2013

ApartOn Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 7 p.m. Catherine Taylor and Mathias Svalina read at Counterpath.

Taylor read from her new book Apart, which grew out of Taylor’s memories of visiting her family in South Africa as a child and her later curiosity about her (white) mother’s involvement in early anti-apartheid women’s groups. Mixing narrative prose, poems, social and political theory, and found texts culled from years of visiting South African archives and libraries, Apart navigates the difficult landscapes of history, shame, privilege, and grief.

Mathias Svalina read as well.

“Documentary poetics can break your heart, and Catherine Taylor’s first book of poems, Apart, certainly will…”

Sarah Barber, in The Literary Review

“Catherine Taylor’s Apart offers an intimate and sweeping look at the legacy of apartheid, while performing an altogether rare balance of “lyric seduction” against “the ugliness of corpses.” Taylor refreshingly treats white guilt and the self-conscious recognition of privilege as starting points rather than conclusions, as she plumbs the depths of history, from which, as she reminds us, “no one is excused.” The result is edifying, original, and critically rigorous — a poetic and political vibration between “ecstasy, shame, ecstasy, shame.”

Maggie Nelson, author of Bluets and The Art of Cruelty

“Catherine Taylor’s Apart is neither journalism nor memoir nor documentary poem nor lyric essay nor jeremiad—though it contains elements of them all—but a brilliant and relentless examination of conscience always in search of a literary form adequate to its mission. Embarked on the “search for a common name” in the aftermath of South African Apartheid, Taylor’s takes care on her way to gather an archive of feelings, “signs of struggle, boredom, hope, effort, fatigue, tedium, privilege, its lack, brutality, tyranny, complicity, despair, and resistance.” If Apart renders in language the affect of having an ethics, what makes Taylor’s writing ultimately so persuasive as a politics is its portrait of the private citizen as “at once ineffectual and humane, complicit and resistant, irrelevant and necessary.” Deeply attentive to the contradictory ideologies that structure our lives as historical subjects, Taylor’s vision of conscientious citizenship demands that we recognize subjectivity’s intrinsic subjection to power without ever losing sight of our individual agency and the necessity for independent action and inquiry. Thinking its way through the insidious, tragic inequalities of globalization, capitalism, and democracy’s alleged freedoms, Apart indeed succeeds in persuading its readers to disavow “a cynicism we can’t afford.”

—Brian Teare

“Everything begins as duality (the personal and the historical, ideas of white and ideas of black), and becomes more—even hopelessly—complex…It is not so much that everything is dual, but as Taylor eventually notes, a “jammed hinge.” Everything remains, as the title has it, apart. In exploring the unresolvable, everything becomes a part.”

–Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Ploughshares

“The pendulum image, from the prologue to Catherine Taylor’s  Apart,  could swing neatly between ‘prose and verse’ or between ‘faith and doubt, black and white, change and stasis, self and other, amnesty and retribution .  .  . poverty and wealth .  .  . alien and citizen’ in a book that investigates the realities of post-apartheid South Africa. Instead, in a hybrid work that fuses the lyric, the documentary, and the memoir genres with Taylor’s scholarly inquisition, Taylor tells us that the pendulum system ‘doesn’t just swing back and forth .  .  . inscribing simple opposites’ but that ‘it leaves a trail of ever-shifting ellipses.'”

–Pia Aliperti, NewPages

from Apart:

Fear has a tailwind. Fear colonizes quickly. Fear is calculating red lights and bystanders and petrol levels even now as I write you this letter upside down under the Southern Cross.

* * *

bad family’s a cancer or a cause, celebration’s inevitable denial flaunts misdeeds and even evil cleans its teeth in the mirror of not me, not my people.