Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Thinking with M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

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I thought today I’d write about a text that beautifully, painfully, brilliantly performs some of the affective and political work that I’ve been writing about in past posts: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! Zong! is a listening text; it draws on and intervenes in the legal history of 142 African slaves who, in 1781, were thrown overboard the ship Zong so that the ships owners’ could collect insurance money for their loss. Relying on the language of the legal decision "Gregory vs. Gibson," Philip reimagines history by listening for and to the voices drowned within its violence. Using erasure, recombination, fragmentation, repetition, song, chant, and cry, Philip writes what she hears: the lives of the slaves onboard as “told to the author by Setaey Adamu Boateng.” As Philip writes in the essay at the back of Zong!: “There is not telling this story; it must be told.”* Revising Wittgenstein, the pyschoanalytic theorists François Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudillière have written, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one cannot stay silent.” Zong! refuses to stay silent, and it refuses the traditional forms and strategies of telling. It begins with listening as a mode of conveying—the book is premised on what it means to listen, to hear, to perceive an absence or silence that resounds. It works to give that silence time and space and to identify its perceptible texture, so that it can be heard, felt, touched.

I’ll end now with a couple of pages from Zong!, and tomorrow, these words having floated in this particular space for a time, I’d like to think about what how the textures and rhythms of the voices Philip hears (and offers for others to hear, too) influence our ways of thinking and being, how they have the potential to alter bodies and minds—

Zong! #19**
Please see the attached pdf--it allows for Philip's use of space, which I can't seem to recreate on this page:

*M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 189.
** Zong!, 33-4.

Zong! #19.pdf39.81 KB
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten is originally from Georgia but now lives in Toronto. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Program and a PhD from Cornell University. Her poems and reviews can be read in like starlings, Lemon Hound, Lit, Jacket 2, Tarpaulin Sky, the Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. She recently guest edited an issue of BafterC, a journal of contemporary poetry. Her first book, Light Light, was shortlisted for the 2014 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, and the 2014 Goldie Award.

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