Any definition of modernity is, by virtue of its subject, vertigo-inducing. A phenomenon that necessarily remakes the world in its image, modernity spawns a reality where everything that follows its advent is indicative of its presence. What makes defining modernity hard is that definitions are, naturally, compartmentalizations, and thus things to which modernity cannot lend itself: there’s modernity in your clothes, modernity in your food (I’m not just talking about microplastics), and there’s modernity on your bookshelf. Modernity is everywhere, and trying to catalog something that’s everywhere is an arduous, if not unthinkable, task.
In a video for Crack Magazine, Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski makes the following statement: “You know, the sad girl thing was reductive and tired like five, ten years ago and it still is today,” in response to a fan tweeting that the day on which Mitski releases new music is a “big day for sad bitches.” Mitski’s statement is one we’ve been hearing a lot lately, in response to the onslaught of internet “sad girls,” who seem to have made it their mission to reduce popular media made by or about (young) women to a canvas that perfectly depicts their sadness. As a consumer and enjoyer of art that often gets the “for sad girls” label slapped on it, hearing Mitski’s response, I couldn’t help but agree with her and empathize with her frustration at having her art reduced to a pseudo-identity, but I also found myself feeling a sense of sympathy and understanding for the self-proclaimed “sad girls.”
Beneath the ordered cerebration of waking hour, beyond the sober images reeling before us, lurks a chimera of hypnagogic mirages and mauve phantoms. It is the shadowland where illicit lovers, infertile mothers, and poets embrace their ghosts and mourn their unborn. Women find themselves thrown into this dim realm of flickering forms at that late hour when the departure of their men abandons them to anxious conjectures of a life that could even now turn in their womb and mould into flesh with the ripening of time.
A quick scan of tourism sites for Prince Edward Island brings up photographs of red sand and lighthouses, as well as the occasional image of a redheaded young girl with two braids. Nicholas Herring’s novel Some Hellish is firmly planted on that same island but could not be farther from the bright whimsy of travel advertisements or children’s book covers. It follows a middle-aged fisherman, who shares the name Herring, quietly experiencing an existential crisis of sorts while going through the motions of his daily and seasonal work.
“Why is there only one fish?” I asked him.
In his new place, I saw he had a huge aquarium. Where there should be a window from floor to ceiling, he had an aquarium, with one goldfish inside. What’s the word for an aquarium that has only one fish? Is it an aquarium or is it an artwork? I wondered if he was doing something similar to Marco Evaristti’s Helena with the fish and the huge tank: some sort of sadistic gesture.
Since the dawn of ‘Western’ civilization, it’s been customary for aging pop-intellectuals (or whatever the equivalent role was at a given time) to point to a dichotomy between the East and West. Today, and excuse my polemics, mediocre faux-intellectuals point to a regressive, ecclesiastical East dominated by Imams and oligarchs, and contrast it with a progressive, technocratic, civilized West. WJD, a collection of poetry from Khashyar Mohammadi, is an ethnography of the margins of the Islamicate world, and, in my eyes, a scathing critique of Euro-American reductionism and today’s incarnation of orientalism.