This article is part of Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.
Noah Eli Gordon
My brother gets Boba Fett and I get IG-88. He gets Obi-Wan and I get the Jawa. Darth Vader for him and R2-D2 for me. Chewbacca, my brother; Han Solo, me. We both get Stormtroopers. No one gets Leia, though no one wanted her. The next time my father returns with toys, theres Luke and IG-88 again, which, unwanted, I get. Its not fair. I already have IG-88. Now I have two. Its not fair. This morning I type IG-88 into a search engine and learn that I am wrong. A decade after my brothers claim on the better toy lands me resentfully with a double, Bantam Spectra publishes Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, an anthology of stories edited by Kevin J. Anderson, which opens with his piece Therefore I Am: the Tale of IG-88. Andersons expansion of the bounty hunter droids brief appearance in the original Star Wars films includes four IG-88s, each identical to the other. My brothers choice was not a breach of ethics; it was an introduction to alterity. After all, children intuitively enact Lévinass notion of otherness whenever intoning the phrase it takes one to know one.
The pedagogue in me thrives on binaries, on borders, on lines cleanly bisected, stances spelled out, rhetorical gestures lending themselves to digestible constituent elementsin sum, ease, what is teachable, what one can tear apart, those wonderfully creased folds or pre-perforated lines. But the artist in me courts difficulty, complexity, Keatsian uncertainty, and sides with the value and necessity of what Fanny Howe wonderfully labeled as both a poetics and an ethics: bewilderment. So, for example, as much as I admire the work within the the recent Norton anthology American Hybrid, I cant help but count myself among those disappointed that it projected a resounding misnomer. When its name hit the poetry circuits, things were abuzz; here, at last, pseudo-canonical recognition for that monstrous amalgam, that liminal genre where the head stands erect with the ethics of the poet, while the heart beats the bloody syntax of prose into the body. We thought this was going to be a collection that unfettered poetry from the constraints of genre, that valued it as an epistemology, as a way of being, of seeing, of doingthe hybridity that would admit taking one to know one invariably leads to a breakdown of binaries. But we were wrong. This book was more or less a photograph of Donald Hall and Donald Allen shaking hands. That this makes it a useful teaching tool simultaneously negates its importance for me as an artist.
If my brother and I had gotten multiple Stormtroopers, I dont think wed have complained. They unambiguously carried their dangerous anonymity: perhaps they were blind followers of the dark side; perhaps they were Han and Luke in disguise. But those pesky bounty hunters, that gray spaceO dear, how to explain a moral compass to a twelve-year-old, never mind a twenty-two-year-old. Listen, to many of my MFA students, something as ephemerally unimportant to me as the so-called New Sincerity is already literary history. [A]ny two years can make a generation, Gertrude Stein taught us. We should all know the anxieties, tensions, and arguments of the preceding generations. We should even teach them, digestible binaries as they are, but once we admit those arent the droids were looking for, well, then we can move beyond them. No replication necessaryUtinni!
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Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.