Birth of the vowels

cbc45a117d2e2dee8e97a17c5f083903etually, I’m taking a few days vacation from Book 3 to work on other projects. First, I should be finishing reading this manuscript a press sent me to peer review/recommend if they should publish it. It’s about Central Asian food history, which is certainly fascinating, and I’m almost done with it, which is great. But I’m kind of putting off writing the report because 1) it really needs a lot of revision to be publishable, which I imagine they don’t want to hear and 2) I want to tell them to be less racist and more feminist, and I bet that’s not going to go over big either. I need to let it percolate for a few days while I change my own attitude to be kinder, more supportive, more constructive. I am pretty sure that will happen soon.

download-3ven as that percolates, I spent today doing something way more fun: working on a sort of poetry-novella tentatively titled “The Birth of the Vowels”. I started this over Christmas break, and have been coming back to it in little bits and pieces. It’s now about 18,000 words, so about 70 pages. I think it will finish up around 100 pages. It’s an account of how the alphabet came into being (or at least, as the title suggests, the vowels), told slowly and with a lot of digression, background, foreground, and just sort of meandering around my brain. It’s a sort of meditation on what feminist history might look like. Would a feminist history be less devoted to narrative, to unidirectionality, to efficiency? Would it be less squeamish about birth and food and more squeamish about stabbing people?

6307edd7af1e9af8d63b51f94f396f71--illuminated-letters-illuminated-manuscriptt’s easy for me to write feminism (or I hope it is) and much harder for me to write decolonialization and anti-racism, so I think when the first draft is done, I’ll go over the whole thing and think about how I can restructure it to be also a meditation on whiteness, or at least on how I might approach that. I kind of regret now centering this on the Sinai desert (where the alphabet was invented), but the whole point is that digressions are useful and fine, so it shouldn’t matter so much where the starting point is.

download-4ptimistically hoping you are just dying to read a piece of it now, I’ll give you a peek at a paragraph here:

“And then the miracle: a second miracle: one in a long line of miracles the Jews have been experiencing lately: God brings the water together again and drowns the Egyptians. Even though they know how to swim, and the Jews do not, it is the Jews who cross safely and it is the Egyptians who drown. That is the miracle. And more: it is the Egyptians who are eaten. Yes, though they learned to swim in order to eat fish, in the end of this story big fish come and eat the Egyptian soldiers, shown in the mosaic images half-ingested, armor and all, with head and shoulders, chest and waist still out in the world, and their legs unborn, pulled into the mouth of the huge fish, already being chewed and digested, a horrible reversal, an undoing, an unbirth.

download-5Greek and Roman painters loved this image, men eaten by fish, unborn (do you remember Lloyd Alexander’s Black Cauldron, and the scary Cauldron-Born undead?) appear in many images, from Archaic Greek pottery shipwrecks to the horrific Jonah-eaten-by-fish-who-is-in-turn-eaten-by-a-much-bigger-fish-and-then-wow-that-big-fish-is-eaten-by-a-really-humongous-fish that the archaeologist Jodi Magness recently unearthed from its long burial in Israel, where it was once the floor of Huqoq’s synagogue.”

download-6h well, maybe it’s not good enough to publish, but that paragraph’s appropriate for Passover anyway, which is next week, y’all. Finally.

We’re going to spend Passover cooking for vegan friends. Not sure how we’ll do a vegan Passover, but it will be a good new challenge, change it up some.

If you liked that paragraph from the novella, please let me know!

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