A pear-shaped question mark

Berlin. Alone, ‘no longer a we’ as Elizabeth Hardwick would say, no longer that ‘commonest of plurals’.

I walk along the canal with Ruth and she explains her Gaga practice to me. Gaga is a movement language that focuses on internal sensations. She says that in yesterday’s class they had been instructed to ‘be a corner’.

Can a body be a corner if it is imagined so, by the brain? Can a foot be a cave? The very concept of ‘corner’ and ‘cave’ are products of matter, of brain matter ...

My brain/body is grappling with confusing questions of form and formlessness.

Disintegration, coming undone, being torn apart, feeling shattered, struggling to hold it together … these are common expressions of women’s grief, rage, and anguish. Bodies have dissolving outlines, internal landscapes are swamps, marshlands.1 It seems that these expressions are not of a new state but rather of a pre-existing condition. It seems to me that sometimes the illusions which grant us the reassuring appearance or impression of a unified form, that sort the ‘hot unsorted parts’,2 don’t withstand certain shocks.

Texts written five, fifty, one hundred, one thousand years ago contain lessons about the structural inequalities facing women, especially when it comes to their bodies and their desires. So, why do we have to learn them over and over again? This, for me, is not a rhetorical question.


I reread the short texts I have written for Ruth over the years, usually for exhibitions. For one I didn’t write a text, maybe we felt the exhibition title was enough:

Never not a body.

When I talk about Ruth’s work I often refer to an early piece, Intractable (2010–11), which features a linguistic diagram stemming from the phrase ‘no finger-licking’. Figure 1 The instruction is borrowed from a sign in the Hocken Collections, in Dunedin, Aotearoa New Zealand: ‘Please! Turn paper carefully, no finger-licking!’, with a cartoon of a monstrous, slippery, saliva-coated finger. Figure 2 Moisture is the enemy of the librarian or archivist, hence the white gloves and controlled temperatures—and the body is moist. That leaky, fluctuating, dripping, hissing, desiring body.

The disruptive, recalcitrant force in Ruth’s work, in the archive, and everywhere, is the body. References to bodies occasionally appear—actual bodies, very rarely. Vitrines feature papier mâché broccoli and clay avocados, clearly handmade, but also vegetables chosen for their brain-like and brain-health qualities. In Support (2009), Ruth’s hand is on her hip, a ‘curling, warning question mark’.3 Figure 3 A black metal display stand holds a different photograph of a woman’s hand touching a metal plate: the purple-tinted image is a photograph on aluminium of a photograph in a book of a frame being made for a photograph with aluminium. Figure 4 and 5 The work Certain. Hesitation (2012) is a puzzle or rebus of the word ‘manual’: A manual is a guide, and manual work is work done by hand, or with any of the muscles and bones of the body. The manual rubbing up against the machine.

In the audio work No Solitary Beat (2012), the artist reads aloud a script written in response to television footage from the 1980s, in which a school group visiting a museum are encouraged to explore artworks through touch: Figure 6

They move and touch and sink, striking the surface in a smooth gait, they move and touch and sink, smacking tongues, gliding hands …

The sound of touch is an attempt to establish a connection, a form of speaking identifiable through vibration …

They are not original in this thought, many before have attempted to conjure meaning through interaction with a surface. They are not original in this thought, many before have attempted to avoid meaning through interaction with a surface …

There are things you can touch, and things you want to touch, that compel you through the prospect and memory of touch. I read a painter friend’s thesis about paint and sex and blood. This woman is very important to me. Her paintings are dripping and full like the body, and they have boobs and fingers and fingering. She got me thinking about Carolee Schneemann and how ‘hand-touch sensibility’ was one of the terms she pulled out of her vagina in 1975.


Ruth and I are both part of a newly formed, nebulous collective called Town Hall.4 At a recent online meeting she asked the question, ‘what are exhibitions for?’ The answers were varied. I made these notes:

encounter … communication … communication is an encounter between two or more forces … the engine of the work meets the engine of the viewer (skin, nervous system, brain) … frisson … unstable communication … unstable because it requires a body? Figure 7


The body, always there, a pear-shaped question mark. What questions is it asking of me?

Venice. There are sculptures by Andra Ursuta: human ribcages stuffed with rubbish, an old keyboard with a curly cord. I identify with that heartbreak and I assume heartbroken trash-can-skeleton. That skeleton reminds me of all the strange ways that psychological pain is felt physically, and that sometimes life is unfair and it makes you want to vomit.

Vivian Gornick says that ‘the way life feels is inevitably the way life is lived’. Her friend Leonard says his life is ‘like a chicken bone stuck in my craw … I can’t swallow it and I can’t cough it up. Right now I’m trying to just not choke on it’.5

In a dream, I have gangrene in my left arm. I know it will have to be amputated and that I will have to be the one to make the decision. This isn’t a particularly mysterious metaphor. Discussing the aftermath of abandonment with her editor, Elena Ferrante describes a necessary action ‘that can have at least two results: mutilation, irreparable disfigurement; or removal of a living but sick part, with right afterward a sense of well-being’.6 It is not always one or the other—in my experience we might know both.

‘Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten? I try to answer, but the correct answer is always anumerical.’ On the calculations of contemporary medicine and the transmuting of illness into data, Anne Boyer continues: ‘Sensation is the enemy of quantification. There is no machine, yet, to which a nervous system can submit sensation to be transformed into a sufficiently descriptive measurement.’7

I listen to a conversation on New Models8 about algorithms, ‘coder-creep’, and the hyper-quantification of human life. Algorithms attempt to categorise our every flickering desire into data sets, so that our desires can be sold, and then marketed back to us. Algorithms are designed to measure ‘arousal’—high-arousal content is content in the highest circulation. The term ‘high-arousal’ is repeated more times than it needs to be. When the brain is at full cognitive load (struggling to hold it together), it is more vulnerable to disinformation, and the design of the Internet exploits that vulnerability. Figure 8

I wake up to a message from my friend who is also my ex-husband:

omg Jill Lepore talking about men in early tech using computer simulations to predict human behaviour: ‘I don’t know why my wife is mad at me … let’s build a machine to find out.’


A chain is a linked structure. It is used to connect one thing to another, to fasten, confine, secure. While it has many industrial and technological applications, popular imagination connects it first to the body. Chains are worn by prisoners and slaves. It is also a decorative device for necks, chests, wrists—a fetish object par excellence.

Ruth’s chain curtains often span entrances and exits to galleries. Figure 9 and 10 The viewer, the viewing body, engages with the object first by sight and as a filter through which to look. From certain angles the plane is transparent; from others, opaque, depending on the light. Figure 11 and 12

Then by touch. You physically feel lightweight aluminium chains gently dragging across your skin as you penetrate the moveable plane. As the chains drag, you also experience yourself coming to grips with the metaphoric, polemical, historic, symbolic burden or charge of the physical thing, chain … As they gently drag across your skin.

I want to argue that Ruth’s work casts a question of how things collide in the world, and in our heads, into space. If we are paying attention, several attentions, we have the chance to notice/comprehend that form is always already complicated. To use Marina Vishmidt’s phrase, form is always already a ‘palimpsest of histories, relations, and spaces.’9 And that the organ through which we experience form is never not a body.


Boyer also said that if she could, she would ‘write the earth into opening up … and bring back to life an insurgent army of the dead women’.10 I thought of Ruth when I read that, and how, in the messy process of recomposing my life, I’d been inhabiting (at least) one of her methodologies … Artists! They are always ahead, but ahead in their own sideways kind of way.

Ruth stages encounters or ‘meetings’ with the work of others, typically women. In particular creative women, who grapple with the perceived boundary between their interior and exterior lives, and many of whom are considered sick or mentally ill by society’s standards.

Zoom out. This could be thought of as an ethics of practice, a restless, self-perpetuating process of putting into relation. Jan Bryant puts it succinctly: ‘Relation to the world, to others, is a quality that inheres in the work as a method of the practice itself. In other words, there is an ethics of practice that disavows the autonomy of art as an act or an object separated from its making or context.’11

Hers is also an ethics of practice that embraces plurality, eschewing singular male authorship in favour of being one-among-many. It might be an effort to contribute, even in a small way, to the building of a ‘grand female tradition that men are forced to measure themselves against’.12

Zoom in. Working at the level of detail is also a feminist tactic. Whether it is by choice—it wasn’t, but now it might be?—or due to material realities, women are more likely to be enclosed in certain spaces, and excluded from others.

Ruth’s methodological toolkit includes both a telescope and a microscope, and often leaves you stretched out somewhere between the cosmic idea of containment and the roughly cut edge of a flesh-coloured carpet sample.


The History of a Room (2012) is a vitrine that contains a selection of hand-moulded, air-dried, and glazed clay vessels; bright coloured paper cut-outs that could be floor plans, abstract diagrams, or puzzles; offcuts of carpet. These elements sit on a mirrored surface that reflects the objects, the surface of the surrounding room, and the viewer. Figure 13 and 14

The vitrine also includes fragments from narratives of other spaces, but the references have been ‘dis-embedded’. That is to say, Ruth has metabolised the ‘information’ (names, dates, images, contexts, etc.) of these other rooms and synthesised it into strange objects. Objects that we can only engage with on the level of sensation, in which meaning and memory are prismatically layered.

Mirrors. Borges wrote that mirrors are obscene and fearful objects, ‘ungraspable architecture’ in which ‘everything happens and nothing is recorded’.13 In the mirror you see your own head reflected and held for a moment, in the fragmenting figurative space. Brain trips, eyes roll back, into your head …

Ferrante on embodied time and space in Walter Benjamin’s gaze: ‘The extraordinary gaze of eyeballs that are pupils in their entire spherical surface, and which therefore see not only before, not only outside, not the afterward that is in stories, but the ahead-behind, the inside-outside, the after in the then-now, without chronological order’.14

And Benjamin responds: ‘Where doors and walls are made of mirrors, there is no telling outside from in, with all the equivocal illumination.’15

Mirrors and subjectivity. Rachel Cusk reminds me that other people act as mirrors for us, and that it is disorientating when you find yourself, suddenly, without that reflection. Gornick says it in another way, of her friend Leonard again: ‘The self-image each of us projects to the other is the one we carry around in our heads: the one that makes us feel coherent’.16 Kierkegaard proposed that ‘the seeker of individual freedom must break out of the prison in which his own reflection holds him’ and then ‘out of the vast penitentiary built by the reflection of his associates’.17

So, subjectivity is social, and the hall-of-mirrors penitentiary is constructed and fortified differently for each subjectivity. But what about when the body is Brown? What about when the skin is white but the history Brown? Pākehā present to Māori past. A line from Achille Mbembe: ‘For everything, or nearly everything, encouraged colonized peoples to inhabit as their skin and their truth the fiction that the Other had produced in their regard.’18

Twenty years they planted, nurtured
Trained, pruned, grafted me
Only to find a native plant
Will always a native be.


Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I try to remember and imagine every room I have ever woken up in.

What about the brain as an empty room?

Ruth’s works have been interpreted (by me, among others) as maps or diagrams of cognitive function, and her installations as metaphors for the (artist’s) brain, its room.

My thoughts are drifting in and out of the domestic spaces which are so ubiquitous in women’s literature. A room of one’s own? Rooms are architecture, and architecture is designed to sort bodies. A room is made of boundaries. Audre Lorde discusses the unacknowledged class and economic differences of women’s cultural production: ‘A room of one’s own may be a necessity for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.’ A room of one’s own is a privilege, and it is a room and a legacy from which many have been excluded. For Lorde, poetry is the form for those who are materially disadvantaged (the working class, people of colour, etc., etc., etc.) because it is the most economical: It can be done ‘between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper’.20

The first of J. C. Sturm’s two poetry collections is titled Dedications—the result of her writing poems for friends and family in place of gifts. The second is called Postscripts because she had a few more things to say. Both are slim volumes.


Ruth’s insurgent army now includes Sturm, who is also known as Te Kare Papuni and Jacquie Baxter (Te Whakatōhea, Taranaki), a poet from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sturm’s talent was overlooked in her lifetime, and her history remains largely unthought because few of her contemporaries could conceive of her work’s potentiality. As John Newton rightly states: ‘If the collection of short stories that she [Sturm] had ready by 1966 had found the publisher it deserved, it would have been the first book of fiction by a Māori writer, male or female. (As it was the honour went to Witi Ihimaera; Sturm’s book would finally appear as The House of the Talking Cat in 1983.).’21

In archival footage, Sturm says she couldn’t recognise herself as a poet; she is clearly ambivalent about her position as an artist, and even more so as a Māori artist. She was surrounded by (white) men who embodied the mythic norm, who were writing poetry in the prevailing style of Miltonian epics. Sturm’s work, in contrast, is delicate and lyrical, and the style of address is personal, intimate. No context is required to read her.

How being out of step, place, tune, joint
In time became a preference

I’ve noticed a couple of tendencies in recent work (art and writing) which engage the practices of underappreciated historical figures, especially women and people of colour. One tendency consigns them to a patient legion of neglected artists, where patience is upheld as an almost saintlike virtue. I’m not convinced that cosmic, after-the-fact acknowledgement makes up for being treated like dirt. There is also a temptation to construct counterfactuals, in which the artist (in this case Sturm) is liberated from dispossession and social precarity by way of gender and racial enclosure, exclusion.23

I feel a bit prickly and my shoulders are hunching. What right do I have to disturb this dead woman’s rest? And to what end? By all accounts Sturm was a fierce and resilient woman, and there is evidence throughout her work of a stubborn refusal to be governed, whether by Pākehā, Māori, the husband, family, doctors, biographers, the literary establishment, the suburbs. I don’t think she would like it: me, trying to make a point about exclusion and excluding parts of her story, and deforming other parts to meet my needs. These are biographers’ problems, and thankfully I am not a biographer. I shy away from the pretension that we could really know another person, especially when it is apparent that Sturm did not write in order to be known by others.

What is still untold will remain
Untold, and ours. Who cares what
An uncaring world thinks?
Already the poachers stalk new prey,
Scavengers gather for the kill.

Or is my skin prickling because I am feeling haunted? Yiyun Li writes that haunting is to do with home, and when we feel haunted it might be that ‘the past has become homeless, and we are offering it a place to inhabit in the present’.25 Sturm certainly appears to have made a special pact with time, and she is unafraid to look at its influence. Time is everywhere. Some poems bow under its weight, while others ‘lightly pass over, pass on’.26 Some poems are set to a primordial clock, in others time flashes up, quick and physical, like the punch of a small fist. For Sturm time is enduring and omnipotent and it is the substance that connects us, even if it appears to keep us separate.


Details of Sturm’s life are scarce, so I borrow, somewhat reluctantly, a copy of Frank McKay’s biography of her more-famous husband. I had read about the alarming revelations of racism and misogyny in said husband’s letters, and I was curious to see how race, in particular the conditions and reception of a biracial marriage in 1940s New Zealand, would be handled (deftly) and to see what was excluded (a lot).

I think about Hardwick and Sylvia Plath and that canon of thoughtful women who tether themselves to artists of tyrannical ambition, and how this is also often a story about addiction and philandering. Certainly, there is the emergence of an edifying counter-narrative where ‘under a foreign code of conscience’, to use W.H. Auden’s phrase, it’s the men who look like monsters. This is only comforting to an extent. The cruel truth is that this more often emerges after the utter humiliation of women, typically via confessional correspondence, and usually well after she is around to defend herself. It’s a shoddy kind of redemption, and while I celebrate it, I also resent its cost.

Plath’s parting jibe (paraphrased): ‘He may be a genius … but I am an intelligence.’

Hardwick: ‘Some men define themselves by women although they appear to believe it is quite the opposite; to believe it is she, rather than themselves, who is being filed away, tagged, named at last like a quivering cell under a microscope.’27

And, Sturm, in a poem addressed to her family, warns:

I’m warning you,
After forty-two years,
Of enforced domestication
And your tyrannical
Occupation of my life,
I am finally planning a rebellion.

And that if they won’t give her the key, she will leave home without it:

And in the back streets
Spend myself recklessly
Down to my very last cell
In a dangerously
Extravagant spending spree
Until the debt collector
Catches up with me.

I notice that my jaw is clenched. Hard-won but fleeting moments of sovereignty recur in these women’s work, and they stick in me like a claw.


Recently, Ruth worked with the entire Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s permanent collection and installed as much as could fit in the five galleries of the museum in Ngāmotu New Plymouth for its fiftieth anniversary exhibition. Artworks were displayed according to different historical and linguistic categories. The entire project was an artwork, which was also a curatorial gesture. And like all the best gestures it was a simple one, that (simply) made visible what is usually (complicatedly) obscured. It spatially mapped how the ideological is enacted in the museological.

The exhibition was full of art things, and they didn’t really fit, physically and thematically. It was cramped, crowded, confusing. Figure 15 There was no distinction between minor works and significant works. All the external forces of value creation were stripped away, aside from the basic fact that these works were collected by this institution and (we can only assume) were intended to reflect a certain set of values.

Wall labels: absent. Details of each work and their acquisition notes were compiled in a hefty exhibition guide, designed by the artist together with this website. This seemed particularly annoying for some visitors and resulted in a kind of guess-the-artist game, which, it turns out, I was ill-equipped to participate in. I was in the company of older, far more knowledgeable friends, and even those two big brainy brains who had been in those studios and had spoken to those artists who made the work one, two, three decades ago, fumbled, a few times. It wasn’t art history as we knew it (the edited, tidy version), it was all the messy, marginal, and forgotten parts on display. Figure 16

I was shaken by how unruly a collection is and how arbitrary the decisions appear in hindsight. I was shaken but I should not have been surprised by the sordid, sliding scale of omissions: X per cent women, X per cent of Māori in the collection compared with X per cent of the population, etc., etc. Perhaps more revealing was how obvious it was that the value of the work collected by women, Māori, Pasifika peoples was almost always less than their white/male counterparts. Ruth’s project was a sobering reminder of how powerful exhibition-making is: exhibitions can act like a siphon through which the institution can tell certain stories that cast certain practices in a favourable light, and obscure that fact of others.

What I am trying to say is: institutions are juking the stats, and they use exhibitions to do it, and Ruth’s project made that very apparent.


In this exhibition The scene in which I find myself / Or, where does my body belong, you had to literally squeeze into the narrow space of ‘exception’ to see particular works. And your body was notably soft and warm, and the metal surfaces were hard and cold, and it’s uncomfortable/comfortable to be contained in such a state of exception.

What is a border? What does a border do? What happens when you step beyond … when that little toe creeps over the line?

Borders gather a unit and give what is gathered a sense of stability. Borders serve to categorise and in doing so they exclude, and they diminish difference. Mbembe, discussing the brutality of borders in our current moment and the unequal distribution of mobility, states: ‘Borders are no longer sites to be crossed but lines that separate. Within these more or less miniaturized spaces, everything is supposed to remain still.’29

Do all schemas have edges? Yes, I know, countless critiques of the capitalist schema contradict this question, but for the purposes of this argument let’s imagine a schema has edges. When Ruth draws attention to edges and boundaries (of spaces and of things), she is also always drawing attention to the possibility of breaking, breaching, and penetrating them. This might manifest in planes of transparent fabric, mirrored surfaces that break sensible space through refraction, a curtain of chains. Figure 17 in The scene in which I find myself, the richly coloured metal screens which demarcated the museum space are perforated with fist-sized holes—punch holes. Figure 18 The body is cast in all her works as an engine of resistance.

The body does not remain still.


Where does your body belong?

As far as I can tell, Sturm’s body belonged at the beach. When she was a child she spent so much time in the sea that she got sick and had to be taken inland on the advice of a local doctor: ‘She’s waterlogged.’

In ‘What I’d like’, she speaks of her proposed burial place: ‘I want to be near the sea. / Dig the hole good and deep / And pack me down firmly’.30 The tide washes through her stanzas; thought is ‘pounding the mind’s beaches’31 and a memory can ‘turn you to salt’.32 Sand and bones and salt are interchangeable, of one material, and when they are in proximity to one another, the artist’s body and mind is at rest. Love aches in the bones, a child is ‘bone of my bone’,33 and the poet’s feet are in the sand communing with her tūpuna.34

Pākehā present to Māori past
One kind of knowing and feeling
To another way of being.

On top of this image, another hovers. A few years ago now, a news story about the multimillion-dollar re-sanding of Auckland beaches: how fresh sand was imported from beaches elsewhere, and how iwi were upset because tūpuna is the sand and tūpuna should be left in peace, in place. The same beach, another. The same sordid colonial story, the sacred displaced and corrupted for someone else’s profit.

The bastards
The bloody obscene bastards
Make me want to puke —


Folded, unstable time. The abstract and the concrete trading places.

Buchanan and Sturm are both Māori and Pākehā, of the same Taranaki iwi, and lived for long periods of their lives in the same city, Pōneke that is also called Wellington and Te Whanganui-a-Tara. There are shared points on a constellation of influence too. Sturm cites just three: Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield, and Frank Sargeson.37 There is also a shared interest in institutional sites, such as libraries and museums, and the asymmetry of relations perpetrated and perpetuated in and by these structures.

Sturm’s ‘On the building site for a new library’ is a poem about the construction of the Wellington Public Library on reclaimed land. The same building in which Sturm worked for twenty-seven years as a librarian and in her later years managed the New Zealand collection. So, Sturm’s body was literally in the archive. In the library, storehouse of knowledge, ground zero for sorting and classifying work.

That poem is currently wrapped around the earthquake-prone Wellington Public Library building due to a work by the Mata Aho Collective. Printed large on a high-vis vinyl, similar to the ‘building skin’ fabric which Ruth uses in her own large-scale poem banners.

The same building that is on land which was once sea, the now polluted waters in which Aotearoa floats.

Thankful that we never knew
Didn’t have to forget
Trees gardens buildings
Yes, even buildings
Before these ones
Or what the site was like —

    And could be again
    So they warn us —

When it was sea, all sea
And only sea.


I am fumbling some half-formed thoughts.

There is the concept of mauri in tikanga Māori. Mauri is the life force, or vitality, in all things animate and inanimate. It is situated and relational, in that it is produced and affected by the thing’s ecosystem. In Sturm’s work, it could be typified by the sand-bone-ancestor cycle, and how in her poems the channels of communication are kept open through time because things endure and things can communicate.

And all the old taonga
Moved restlessly
In their glass-caged sleep
Dreaming of their prime
Of release and being
Taken home —
    ‘Āwhinatia mai
    Arohatia rā’ —
Sharing with us
The painful truth
Of irretrievable loss.

What I like about art, and what I like about Ruth’s art, is how it can make you feel odd. I think that feeling of oddness comes from how it raises questions or creates dissensus about what can and cannot be sensed. This is also a question of form and of communication—how form communicates, form’s capacity for communication. It makes my brain stand on its broccoli stem.

When I learn about tikanga Māori I experience a similarly odd feeling, and I wonder if that is because it does to me what contemporary art wants to do to me—help me imagine new structures and possibilities for the world. The thought is again half-formed, it feels a bit fuzzy and febrile. I can speak with some confidence on contemporary art things, but I am cautious of that tendency to shoehorn an Indigenous thing into a framework not designed by it or for it so that it can be ‘understood’. I want to have learned that lesson at least.

Another fumbling thought collapses Benjamin’s eyeball gaze and Cusk’s people-mirrors into a thought about transhistorical reflection and refraction. The contemporary artist holds up a mirror to the historical artist, and the mirror projects a reflection that is necessarily partial, mediated, fragmented … Maybe a kaleidoscope is a better metaphor because whatever the image is that flashes up, in my shoddy conception at least, subject and reflection have the power to reconfigure one another, and both must not keep still. Benjamin would agree with the insistence on movement, but takes the metaphor for a longer walk:

The course of history, seen in terms of the concept of catastrophe, can actually claim no more attention from thinkers than a child’s kaleidoscope, which with every turn of the hand dissolves the established order into a new array. There is a profound truth in this image. The concepts of the ruling class have always been the mirrors that enable an image of ‘order’ to prevail. —The kaleidoscope must be smashed.40


Auckland. Virus time. Ferrante reminds me that, anyway, the ‘I’ is a crowd ‘with a large quantity of heterogenous fragments tossing about inside’.41

Sarah Hopkinson

  1. There is also wide-ranging discussion about illusions, delusions, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to live. Elena Ferrante brings it all together in a letter to one of her editors, Sandra Ozzola: ‘My mother left me a word in her dialect that she used to describe how she felt when she was racked by contradictory sensations that were tearing her apart. She said that inside her she has a frantumaglia, a jumble of fragments. The frantumaglia (she pronounced it frantummàglia) depressed her. Sometimes it made her dizzy, sometimes it made her mouth taste like iron. It was the word for a disquiet not otherwise definable, it referred to a miscellaneous crowd of things in her head, debris in a muddy water of the brain. … The frantumaglia is the storehouse of time without the orderliness of a history, a story. The frantumaglia is an effect of the sense of loss, when we’re sure that everything that seems to us stable, lasting, an anchor for our life, will soon join that landscape of debris that we seem to see. ... Or its only my way of describing the anguish of death, the fear that the capacity to express myself would get stuck—as if the organs of speech had been paralyzed—and everything I’d learned to control, from the first year of life until now, would start fluctuating on its own, dripping or hissing out of a body becoming a thing, a leather sack leaking air and liquids.’ Ferrante, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey (New York: Europa Editions, 2016), chap. 16, e-book.
  2. Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (New York: Vintage, 1999), p. 44.
  3. ‘Perhaps a sort of perverse complacency led the lucky women to rescue a smart, sulky man, one whose ambitions and gifts were far from settled, whose intelligence was certain but whose destiny was a curling, warning question mark.’ Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights (London: Virago, 1980), p. 60.
  4. www.town-hall.net.
  5. Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), p. 12.
  6. Ferrante, Frantumaglia, chap, 9.
  7. Anne Boyer, The Undying: A Meditation of Modern Illness (London: Allen Lane, 2019), p. 52.
  8. newmodels.io.
  9. Marina Vishmidt, ‘Proposing and Disposing’, in Lying Freely (Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Academie; Utrecht: Casco Office for Art, Design and Theory, 2009), n. p.
  10. Boyer, The Undying, p. 285.
  11. Jan Bryant, ‘Introduction: The Gift of Being Disgusted’, in Artmaking in the Age of Global Capitalism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), p. 3.
  12. Deborah Orr, ‘Elena Ferrante: In a Manner of Speaking’, The Gentlewoman, no. 13 (Spring/Summer 2016).
  13. Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Mirrors’, in Dreamtigers, trans. Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), pp. 60–61. My personal favourite is Borges on the reproductive nature of mirrors: ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’
  14. Ferrante, Frantumaglia, chap. 16.
  15. Walter Benjamin, ‘Convolute R: Mirrors’, in The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 537ff.
  16. Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City, p. 14.
  17. Pankaj Mishra quotes Kierkegaard in relation to social media and the conditions of cultural and spiritual disorientation under global capitalism, see Mishra, Age of Anger: A History of the Present (London: Allen Lane, 2017).
  18. Achille Mbembe, ‘Introduction: The Ordeal of the World’, in Necropolitics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), p. 5.
  19. J. C. Sturm, ‘in loco parentis (for Ethel and Bert), in Dedications (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 1996), p. 74.
  20. Audre Lorde, ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference’, in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), p. 116.
  21. John Newton, ‘James K. Baxter, rapist’, The Spinoff, 14 February 2019.
  22. Sturm, ‘in loco parentis (for Ethel and Bert)’, p. 74.
  23. ‘When I rule the world, those crude geniuses like Dodie Bellamy, the weird working-class women who aren’t “prizes and awards type writers” will win them all, they’ll get read, they’ll get recognised, they’ll get paid.’ Megan Milks, ‘Dodie Bellamy’s Crude Genius’, in Dodie Bellamy is on Our Mind (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2020), p. 46.
  24. J. C. Sturm, ‘P.S. 22/10/91 (for Jim)’, in Dedications, p. 81.
  25. Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (New York: Random House, 2017), chap. 4 (Two Lives), e-book.
  26. J. C. Sturm, ‘Memo for my 70th Birthday’, in Postscripts (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2000), p. 44.
  27. Hardwick, Sleepless Nights, p. 58.
  28. J. C. Sturm, ‘Coming of age (for my family)’, in Dedications, p. 53.
  29. Achille Mbembe further states: ‘in a world characterized more than ever by an unequal redistribution of the capacities for mobility, and in which the only chance of survival, for many, is to move and to keep on moving, the brutality of borders is now a fundamental given of our time.’ Mbembe, Necropolitics, p. 3.
  30. J. C. Sturm, ‘What I’d like’, in Postscripts, p. 49.
  31. J. C. Sturm, ‘Good Friday (for Peter)’, in Dedications, p. 50.
  32. J. C. Sturm, ‘in the eye of the storm (for Hilary)’, in Dedications, p. 29.
  33. J. C. Sturm, ‘Coming home (for Peter)’, in Dedications, p. 46.
  34. Tūpuna is the Māori term for ‘grandparent or ancestor’. Mine are all stubbornly single women. Grandfathers don’t feature at all: both died of heart problems, young, before I was born. Elizabeth Hardwick, again: ‘Alas, the heart is not a metaphor, or at least not always a metaphor.’
  35. J. C. Sturm, ‘At the museum on Puke-ahu (He waiata mō ngā taonga)’, in Dedications, p. 12.
  36. J. C. Sturm, ‘On the building site for a new library (for Win)’, in Dedications, p. 10.
  37. On The Lagoon, Janet Frame’s 1951 debut collection of short stories, Sturm says: ‘I thought, to write like any of these, to even stand in their shadow, that’s good enough for me.’
  38. Sturm, ‘On the building site for a new library (for Win)’, p. 10.
  39. Sturm, ‘At the museum on Puke-ahu’, p. 13.
  40. Walter Benjamin, ‘Central Park’, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Vol. 4, 1938–1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Edmund Jephcott et al. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 164.
  41. Ferrante, Frantumaglia, chap. 12.