The Language of Violation: Jean Burnet on ‘Two Bodies’
March 21, 2013 § 4 Comments
Jean Burnet, author of “Two Bodies” in the March 2013 issue of Brevity, reflects on the origin of her essay and the language of violation:
I am used to talking about my body. I am used to defending it, too. I am too thin, or too hunched. I should cover up my collarbones and hide my elbows, and wear dresses that stop short under my knees to delay the discovery that I am all bones and long limbs. These are some things that I know, of which I am well-versed in—but to think of my body in the language of violation is still a thing I’m learning.
I often struggle with language. There are words that we know that are used to describe violation, but even these feel insufficient to me. We are touched, but what does this mean? There are words that describe the tactile experience—burning, hairy, knotted, ribbed, sandy, sharp, frosty, damp—but what word belongs to us when we are infringed?
I have lived with a violation I have no language for and it is the lack of language for it that produces an anxiety in me. And so this piece attempts to talk about a thing I have no alphabet for, whose effects are no longer able to be traced concretely.
When I began this essay, I had memory on the mind. I can’t seem to stop thinking backwards sometimes. And though I have attempted to write about this subject matter perhaps a hundred times before, this is the first piece which has achieved any accuracy. What I realized in its production is that memory comes to us in pieces, and so I must write in pieces, too. While this essay is not a coherent whole and has no tidy end, I admit it aspires to seek it. Sometimes the narrative must be broken for the story to be told.
My family has an old tradition. They say that to speak your bad dreams aloud to someone else is to ensure they don’t come true. I sometimes feel as if writing is a way of speaking aloud the worst things and making them better. Or, sometimes, that it is its inverse—that in speaking aloud a good thing, it will concretize its truth. And so I write.
And what is a memory in the end, than just a different kind of dream? To share a dream is much like sharing a memory—to make a kind of confession. It is to share a truth about yourself. To share a dream is to be cut open on the surgeon’s table, to let your insides spill from the metal surface to the floor. It is an act of faith.
I am left with questions now, like: How do you name a part of yourself that you can’t remember? How do you own it? I’m not sure, but for me this is a first step.
Jean Burnet lives and works in Seattle. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington, and her work has appeared in The Acentos Review. She currently writes for television, and is an editor for Pacifica Literary Review.