There Is Nothing Left to Say On the Invisibles
Whose to Tell
by Travis Hedge Coke
“[P]eople kept saying I shouldn’t have written Boy, because I didn’t know anything about Black people. I’m entitled to write about what I choose to write about.”
– Grant Morrison, Anarchy for the Masses
The romance between a white British kid and an African American woman. How Boy – even when she is police detective, Lucille Butler, when she is rogue agent, Maya – seems a hub for Black characters who slot neatly into various media stereotypes. Boy retiring from being a violent cell operative.
What would this get us?
It is acceptable to be upset. You cannot really help if you are upset, not by anything. You just get upset. And, if you feel your upset is socially inappropriate or functionally awkward, you tamp it down and you try your best to move past it.
Can we say that some people should not write, or draw, or articulate certain experiences?
What does it mean, to say, “should not.” Shall not.
Not cannot or “should not or there will be punishment.” No one is establishing a law, with punitive measures attached, to discourage anyone from writing about a sexuality they do not share, or painting people of an ethnicity they are not.
To who do we, as artists or authors, have a responsibility? To the groups we use in our work? Only to our audience or our target audience? Ourself and only ourself?
All the good intent in the world cannot make something not racist, or sexist or wrong. We have to acknowledge that.
But other people do not have to acknowledge it.
Much Montauk conspiracy literature will invoke Marjorie Cameron only to erase her as a person or worker. Marjorie Cameron, valuable for being a woman. Marjorie Cameron, tool of wise men. Marjorie Cameron, reluctant sketch.
It is nonsense, and cruel, but it will be frequently framed as enlightening and uplifting.
Every invocation of Judee Sill or Yoko Ono runs risk of being a facilitation for the lauding of men. Your chances are bleakly good.
The prologue, or preview to The Invisibles, is a short comic, titled, Hexy, in which King Mob is put under a curse and escapes it while killing a politician. It is the rare instance in which Mob’s role as an assassin is clearly expressed and his murders are not framed as incidental to missions or missionary work. But, it also begins with a phone booth papered in sex work advertisements, and those, running the natural span of sex work salaciousness, include ads indulging race play.
Racial fetishism surrounds us. We are suffused, on myriad levels, with fetishized racialism and racism because race, conceptually, is a fetish. Race is not ethnicity, nor nationality, nor culture, nor family. Race is an excitement to focus and a focus to excitement.
Barbelith, in The Invisibles, is our universe’s twin, our universe’s placenta, a buoy, a boy, egy görl, eggy girl, exampli gratia, us. The English satori is not the Chinese, twin and placenta and egg and boy are just words. In all the meanings of just words.
Race and sex and gender and culture, in how they are objectified or pornified, are always unified, though individual victims and outliers may not agree.
“Accuracy’s abhorrent to the Oriental mind,” said Alfred Lyall. Sure, he thought he knew.
There is no human condition. The human universal has to be so stripped down as to be alien, or it is not a universal, it is just something you are comfortable with or something someone who colonized you told you that you had better get comfortable with.
I reckon a large part of our attempt at universality is the reaching out. We put a human spin on our own poor fits. Or, what we are afraid are poor fits.
Helena Blavatsky referencing “one ‘well-to-do Arab’” or “some tribes of Siberia,” and seem less or more leading than one hundred and ten years later, King Mob, in a fit of frustration, referring to a Japanese man as, “Charlie Chan,” but anglophone literature, magick, revolution, science, history, art and politics carry inclination to orienting confirmation biases and cute summaries, slips of phrase, and twee knowing gesture.
Inside The Invisibles, or on the surface of it, Jack and Boy have their romance over about one year of monthly issues, most of it, probably, more apart than together. There have been accusations of characters fetishizing other characters, of ignorance on the part of authors on the comic. Arguments are put forth that the two of them make a bad couple or a poor fit, that they could not last. They do not last, though. They do not last and yet the moments are eternal, recorded in panels, imprinted on time and space and hope.
From inside, Boy and Jack’s relationship changes, and again changes. From outside, to us, the world they are in is a model, a concentration or purification for experiment and play. The Invisibles is a workspace, a tabletop on which rests interlinked models. Play set land. Personal public journal.
Colonialism is understood and performed. Racism staggers by racialization, not only amongst the topmost and bottom rungs of a thronged ladder, but throughout the body. Predisposition to bigoted or presumptuous interpretation affects the potency of anticipatory potential dynamics.
The orientalism of a Nineteenth Century European may not be the same orientalism as his compatriot, while their orientalism, in toto, is systemic and comparable. You cannot make a lie of Edward Said’s Orientalism because of variety in orientalisms in a pool of orientalist ideology and racist received wisdom.
I could tell you that the Bob Crewe Generation said, “There’s a kind of chariot about you, Barbelo, Bara-Elo.”
“We are your muddahfadduh, we are your boibel-loth; it never started and it won’t send.” From A Wilkes-Krier.
We put limitations on Allan Sherman, on Ma Rainey, Angela Davis, Beyonce, Phylicia Rashad, Nnedi Okorafor, Andrew WK, which we have no power to enforce. It’s a Doris Wishman world. We have power to penalize, in our own individuated ways.
All relationships transitional. Greek to Roman, Roman to white, white Galatea to white Venus. You cannot move out of relation to someone, only into new relationships, different dynamics. Are they white or are they European? Caucasian or Caucasian? The tether from one human to another is as impermanent and forever as the time worm time-lapse figures humans are seen as outside time, everyone receding back into birth parents and DNA. You cannot take the same look twice, but you sometimes see the same the second time, regardless of whether it is there, or if you saw the first the first time or only expected to.
Is anyone bothered much by white artists drawing Black women in The Invisibles? Indigenous characters? No real concern over how a queer artist draws or dresses Asian men. But, I think, too, it is a mistake to assume too many people are particularly upset that a queer writer wrote Black women or queer Latino drew Latine characters.
It is a mistake I make to believe nobody is bothered, that no one complains. No sniping occurs. Of course people complain of how Phil Jimenez represents people of different ethnicities, of genders, social classes, nationalities.
Many of us fail to notice, too often, the range of an artist or author’s identity. It is terrible, but.
Terrible, but. Terrible butt; the slob brother in the shadow of bad ass. The model we model.
The more dramatic outliers may be real, but because they make shinier lures does make them a healthy meal. We have to be careful of the way we talk about how others talk. We cannot portray things falsely to direct a tide against others portraying in ways we feel may be false.
A salon can judge a commune can appraise a culture can weigh a locale can gauge a cell can read a chapter.
I think, sometimes we see a hook and we put the bait on it. But, even if we do, it is a good conversation to have. If it comes up, you might as well talk it out, just so long as it is not talked over and over and over and over to the degree that more pressing matters are never dealt with.
This is part of being a community, correct? We are a community.
Our biases can be variegated, without ever putting the lie to the universal truth that we have some bias and many are shared.
The Invisibles is a shared modeling space, but not all of us are sharing the same space for moulding or crafting. Sometimes we sit on the sidelines and it is for others to work themselves out.
We are all Invisible. A shared modal space.
We ought to take completion, that domesticity of soul, the family of families, as something opening, expanding us into betterment, better seats and things. Maybe we do, in an ultimate end.
No one can stop you from having ideas, from imaging scenarios. It is relatively hard to even stop someone from committing those scenarios to a record. We have to weather criticism, right?
Hard to tell when to weather it, and when to resist or speak back. Nobody comes back after the end, that we have taken note of.
Is a piece of art really, to have said your bit? Is art a salvo of conversation, or is conversation not that fit for war metaphors? You shoot your shot. Salve your slake. Slake your shirt. Best your thirst. Stake your space. Place your bet. Bet your bounds. Bound your gambit. Game your hen.
Trying to say everything sometimes turns so quick to globs in the mouth. Globs of glottal effort instead of the elegant, intentional utterances you hope for.
NEXT: The Dead Weight
- Prologue/Series Bible
- Chapter One: I Was a Librarian’s Assistant (Pt. 1)
- Chapter Two: I Was a Librarian’s Assistant (Pt. 2)
- Chapter Three: Robin Roundabout
- Chapter Four: How Did Helga Get in Here?
- Chapter Five: Boy Our Embarrassment
- Chapter Six: Once I Was a Little Light
- Chapter Seven: Sacrificial Greed
- Chapter Eight: Dreams Like This
Nothing in There is Nothing Left to Say (On The Invisibles) is guaranteed factually correct, in part or in toto, nor aroused or recommended as ethically or metaphysically sound, and the same is true of the following recommendations we hope will nonetheless be illuminating to you, our most discriminating audience.
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. Thompson, Jill. 2016. DC Comics.
Wonder Woman by Phil Jimenez. Jimenez, Phil. Devon Grayson, et al. 2019. DC Comics.
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Davis, Angela . 1999. Vintage Books.
Whose to Tell
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