Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004)
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)
Claudia Rankine, Just Us: An American Conversation (2020)
A quick post… It’s a busy time, but something has been on my mind.
Recently I wrote a post inspired by a psychological study trying, and interestingly failing, to demonstrate the reason why our minds aren’t constantly assailed by memories of the past and projections of the future. This must be the result of inhibitory mechanisms, the idea was, so perhaps we could just find a way of dialling down those mechanisms and the floodgates would open. It didn’t happen. So we’re left with the question, why it is our minds are ever free from all the things that could crop up?
It might be interesting to think of these three collections by Claudia Rankine (mingling poetry with prose and images too) as explorations of the ways that specific social circumstances can affect the capacity of the mind to restrain the flood. Rankine presents the contemporary African-American experience as a constant battle with racism, and as well as featuring stories of victims, she tests out some of the many pathways an individual could take through life, facing or trying to avoid the pressures. I took two complementary things away from them: first, a sense of the myriad emotions, stories, sources, disciplines, tones, and tactics that a thoughtful person might sense as pressures on their own thinking, and second, a sense of what it might take, and what it might be like, to find a moment of reprieve.
The point might be an implicit hypothesis: one reason why our minds might not be assailed by thoughts of past and future is that social comfort, a feeling of being in place and protected, quietens things. The alternative — a feeling of being constantly pressured and doubted (it was in reading Rankine that I really got my head round the idea of a microaggression) — might lead to the sort of sifting, worrying, raging, hybrid forms in Rankine’s work (including, for example, in Just Us, an apparently anxious but often pointed facing-page fact-check of the text). So these works make me think that the question of why any ‘I’ may not be flooded with thoughts has some relation to whether the relevant sense of ‘we’ is precarious or not. Rankine’s works also offer depictions of what it might be like, as a certain sort of person, to experience the flood.