On Diagnosis1


It may be that the linked chord composing the curved fence under the skin of your back does not follow the brand of path math dictates. But too, the coastline shifts in response to absent forces, and in shifting retains its ethereality. That we can point to a naked back as symptom suggests we will all in time earn diagnosis. The way we hold our frame has less to do with how it's treated and more with gravity—that dark pressure always pushing our form further south. That posture is an act is false—it is a state, repeated until the motion of entering and exiting the state becomes impressed on the mind and embossed on the back. Perhaps with touch the fences could have been mended. Repair is a honed practice requiring years of attention and care; but repair necessitates work, another sort of force.


If we consider alignment a positive quality, we make nothing of the ways the body prohibits column and row: crooked teeth craft their own logic in the cave of language; constellations of markings narrate the vast terrain of chest; old fingers follow a neurotic trajectory away from the palm. If I mapped the body and traversed its complexity, it would be revealed that the richest losses survive and burrow into the clefts of our forms. Loss moves the way light or disease does—it seeks, and in finding, it enters and occupies.




Then there is the fact of our entrance into the realm of sound and being heard, which always requires an exit from another body, defined by ardor and force—an exchange of pressures in a universal compact that sometimes is not signed. The possibility that force is a production fails to follow if, when the exchange is over, less remains. In the end, all our work reduces to the simple trade of one body for another. What the new ushers in will eventually be cast as ruin, a building crumbled and faulting a century after its birth. Like those ground bricks, the blank skin of the back illustrates every emptiness, a weak frame with sagging canvas, like the baggy extra of an aged hand or gone fruit. The left skin of a felled balloon. A womb voided, that never retracts.


"Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it is meant to contain."

[from Beatrice Warde's 1932 address to the Society of Typographic Designers The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible]


If that which lurks and works below the skin is standardized, the limits of flesh are anchored to text, where bone is etymology.


Without companions. Uninhabited. To desert a moral stain. A small piece. Not, no ever. To reckon, calculate, consider, account. To mention in order. To wander. A tramp. Carnage that cannot be traded. A torment or fright. Apparatus for weighing. A peak. Slender, narrow. Obsolete, except in reference to waistlines. To move northward, a hostile incursion. To ascend; to stand out, project, unlike its modern descent.

A corruption; shade, shadow, darkness. Or: protection from glare or heat. A ghost. Window blind. The eye, turmoil and division; anything that informs and enlightens. To thrust or bore through, to beat, strike, push. See obtuse. Pierced and piercing, the latter in reference to cold. Sound, control. Fear possession. Remote, ulterior, distant, long ago. Facing, neighboring. Kept under supervision. A direction viewed in contrast with other directions.

A movement, a beginning. To arrange, divide, separate; to classify. Able to manage for oneself using dishonest methods. To allow to remain; let go, leave, depart from; to undo. To bequeath, rent, slacken; to relieve through weariness or neglect. To recover oneself, arrive; assemble; to go, walk, step. To rise, increase, on, upon, under. Related to raid. A riding, a journeying. An opening for traveling between two places. The converse of force.




In reaching for order I find disorder, then seek the opposite. In this way, all deviance becomes a practice in posture, defined by a contingent not.




A request, then, is required, as I have much to learn: teach me about the bones. Teach me about what happens to the bones when they grow ill. Teach the bones to cringe against the rest of the body's grammar. Use your tongue to authorize the rubric. Use corporeal vernacular, superlative of wrong.


1. In Enforcing Normalcy, Lennard J. Davis notes that the term normal surfaced in the English language about 160 years ago, coinciding precisely with the introduction of the bell curve in statistics. Before this, the popular paradigm was the ideal, a state humans inherently failed to reach and which united all corporeal iterations in their designation as substandard.

In 1917, Lewis Wickes Hine was commissioned to photograph child laborers to illustrate the damage physical labor inflicts on young bodies. One of his lesser-known series includes a group of girls diagnosed with scoliosis. Hine was encouraged to underscore the severity of their deformities. The hope was that the spectacle of such physical disorder would persuade a nation to change its laws.

Here I am contending with order (and it's non): how it is located and how it governs. We need the margin, like the stem of a wineglass, in order to hold the mechanism which contains (the book, the glass) such that the contents (the word, the wine) are featured without disruption. Yet that which is featured necessarily requires out-sides, outliers, and outcasts. This is, in fact, how we diagnose. It is this complex relationship to the margin that I am concerned with here.


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