A Review of Lia Purpura’s Scream: or Never Minding
January 5, 2018 § 2 Comments
By Sarah Cheshire
In the midst of the recent #MeToo campaign, I turned to Facebook to ask the women in my life a question that burns in my bones every time another story of power abuse or systemic injustice violence bursts open on social media: what do you do with unfettered rage? I was soon inundated with a polarity of responses. Some asserted that maintaining sanity in this crazy, overstimulating world necessitates being able to selectively disengage: turning off the TV; disabling Twitter; learning to meditate; and exercising self-care. Other friends spoke about learning to find power in rage: getting mad; marching in protests; demanding accountability; and finding ways to resist.
A scream is the body’s most primal mode of resistance. To scream is to inhabit rage rather than attempting to tame it or channel it. The act of screaming also often emerges from a state of paralysis; we scream when we have exhausted all other efforts to assert ourselves against repressive environments, as a means lashing out against the experience of powerlessness. And yet often, in order to function socially, we learn to swallow the desire to scream, to detach from rage and other visceral experiences. In Scream: Or, Never Minding, Lia Purpura prods into this space of paralysis, the space from which the desire to scream stems.
“There are things I am supposed to never mind…,” the book begins. “…subjects one might avoid: ruined land, ruined animals. Because the issues of the day can begin to feel old, and people get tired of feeling bad.” Purpura revisits the concept of never minding continuously throughout her brief narrative, challenging readers to examine our own myopic ways of being; all that we constantly overlook in order to move through our days and feel okay with ourselves. She uses the metaphor of a tidal wave to illustrate this tension between acquiescence and resistance:
…think of riding a tide: a force absorbs you, purpose transports, and a shared mind washes over. At the, edge though—near jetties and inlets, in dips and depressions – little tide pools settle and still, and that’s where the interesting stuff lies.
Like riding a wave, success is so often defined as a linear motion; a progression up a ladder, perhaps, or a movement down a path which might meander a bit, but always has a clear end point. Personally, as a graduate student and a relatively new participant in the world of adulthood, I feel a constant pressure to always think towards the future. At least ten times a day, I receive emails reminding me about deadlines for fellowships or summer internship applications or opportunities for “building my resume.” As I read Purpura’s words, I often found myself pausing and wondering: In my own efforts to chase distant ambitions, what small important things might I be overlooking? What would happen if I stopped, stood still, and let myself feel emotions, such as rage, in their rawness?
As her prose unravels, Purpura’s narrative crescendos between personal anecdote and commentary more existential in tone. “When I was a child, I was not daunted,” Purpura writes near the beginning of Scream, “I let myself get completely exhausted.” She goes on, through fragments of memory, to reminisce upon the profundity of her childhood connections to toys, animals, and other seemingly mundane objects; things as small, yet sentimentally invaluable as the tin bees her mother used to make for her and her sister out of old tuna cans, or the long-dark eyelashes of a certain cow grazing a verdant pasture in the corners of her memory. As she grew older and her world expanded, however, it became harder and harder to see the extraordinary with ordinary objects. Tin cans no were no longer potential bees, but waste headed towards landfills. This particular cow became reduced to a generic number, existing only to serve a utilitarian purpose, being slowly fattened in preparation for the slaughterhouse. “A tool [becomes], through long use, a hand’s extension, no hint of its shape responding to a body—of such a fit being intimate,” Purpura observes. The process Purpura describes is a one we all go through in varying degrees, as we grow, gain knowledge and perspective, and accumulate possessions: the process of becoming desensitized.
“I’ll get to work on another word, too: something for the loss of relationship to a singular object to due an overabundance of them,” Purpura writes. In many respects, Scream reads as a meditation on the psychological landscapes of consumer capitalism; the commodification of human experiences and relationships, and the loneliness created through systems of mindless consumption. Alongside personal reflection, Purpura also comments on larger-scale systems mass-production, environmental destruction, and waste (such as factory farms) and the ways in which these systems thrive off of practices of never-minding. What happens when there is no connection between consumer and consumed? What happens when we stop feeling personally responsible for the animals and objects we own and use?
Though the book is only nineteen pages long, each page of Scream is packed with wit, wisdom, evocative shards of memory, beautiful aphorisms, and subtle and not-so-subtle calls to action. Through masterfully crafted sentences and loose, associative language, Purpura leads the reader through a visceral experience, an experience that stirs the gut much like the build-up of a scream itself.
Sarah Cheshire is an MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Alabama. She is the author of the award-winning chapbook Unravelings (Etchings Press), and her writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction‘s 2014 anthology Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly, Scalawag magazine, and was recently shortlisted for the American Shorter Fiction prize.