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F****** and Places: Sexual and Spatial Memory in All Over Creation

bluish's picture

Fucking and Places: Sexual and Spatial Memory in All Over Creation

                  For the first draft of this essay, I thought journaling would be the most appropriate thing to do. The subject was still too raw. I needed to sort through some things in my narrative before I could even consider what those things meant in the context of Ozeki’s narrative too. The kind of writing assigned in this class forces me to step into and out of myself, but this is a complicated thing to do; it involves reimagining what those processes mean as complimentary and congruent modes, opposed to distinct opposites. My hope for this is that I might move closer towards my unknown. The part of writing that’s challenging me and confusing me, but maybe do it in a way that still means something to an outsider. The polarizing mindset just ends up constraining me. I want to be frank and transparent and true because so often these things are muddled by academic jargon and apologetic mess. I came to this topic out of discomfort, and I think that’s the way most meaningful work comes about.

                “Sex” and “fucking” are used synonymously by most people my age, and a preference only shows when audiences change. From my understanding, these are two very different things. When we talk about intimacy, we have to talk about two important things: reciprocity and investment. I like to think that sex is a marrying of these two—you give, you get, and there’s some greater interest in your partner, beyond what they can give to or get from you. Fucking, on the other hand, doesn’t require either of these things. You can have reciprocity, but without investment, feelings of objectification, exploitation, and unsafety bubble up.

               The dangers of fucking are painfully clear in Ozeki’s novel. Fundamentally, the relationship between Yumi and Elliot cannot foster reciprocation of any kind. The power dynamic is too skewed and perverse for that. She is 14 and involved with her decade-older teacher. The entire premise of the relationship comes from an imbalance. The question of investment only further points out the twistedness of Elliot’s fetishization and hypersexulization of a young Japanese-American girl; these are the parameters. When Ozeki writes of their first time, she makes sure to describe surroundings in a distanced but specific way. She says:

"He took you to a tiny clapboard house on the outskirts of town… He had no chairs, so you sat on the mattress in the corner of the living room. The sheets were speckled with grit, and the feathered pillow smelled like the scalp of his head. It was the best smell in the world" (Ozeki 23).

She quickly transitions from this detailed description to the scene of Yumi cleaning herself with a dusty newspaper reading: “NIXON RESIGNS.” The specificities of the space are important and Ozeki gives them breathing room, but what follows is jarring and hard. When we speak of intimacy and memory, sensory experience and place become tangled. Within the barren, musty cabin, Yumi will remember this complicated first. Spaces often reflect that which occupies them. Ozeki makes a point of this, especially in the first experience.

              The physical relationship between 14-year old Yumi and Elliot is predicated on a vicious cycle of him making her feel stupid, then complimenting her, then fucking her, and there’s little to no room for reciprocity or investment on his part. Yumi is entirely invested in him, as most prepubescent children would be. He is a charismatic, captivating embodiment of “new,” and from that newness comes excitement and devastation. Later in the book, Yumi has a flashback to the feelings of being with him for the first time as she ventures back into the relationship. She thinks:

“I felt my confusion abate beneath a wave of tenderness and power. His breath, warm against my palm, made my skin tingle all over, and then I remembered—this is what it feels like to be fourteen and thrilling at the edge of sex when it is still brand new, testing the waters where his desire laps your shore, sticking in a toe, and not                                  understanding the swiftness of the current” (Ozeki 210).

Ozeki’s metaphor may seem clichéd, but they are clichés for a reason— they’re true for a lot of people. Yumi is the ocean, ebbing and flowing, wicked and unpredictable. Elliot “sticks a toe in,” into her whirlpool, thinking he can do so without any pull from the opposite end, but so arises one of the many complications of mixing intimacy and childhood: fragile attachment. “Thrilling at the edge of sex” struck me. To be young and new and excited; to be fresh and in it for the first time, but it’s bad-- much too easy and much too soon. Ozeki’s metaphoric comparison shows the intersection of intimacy and place in a completely different form. The way in which Yumi processes her relationship with Elliot in retrospect and how she describes it initially are very different-- time, the sweetness of forgetting, both distorts and clarifies memory.

             From these scenes, I start to think more about what all of it could mean in a greater, contextual sense. I think Ozeki draws attention to two very true and very hard things: 1.) Power imbalances are inherent to many of the relationships formed in our lives, and the dangers of these imbalances are long-lasting and ever-tempting. As identity develops, sexual maturation complicates these fragile scales, and the blurriness of desire, curiosity, and coercion leaves fingerprints. 2.) Places hold scar tissue, much like people. Surroundings are a reflection of that which occurs within them, and memories of such places are often clearer than recollections of past actions. For Ozeki, thinking about the role of the environment in our memory is, both, a way of remembering what was, and explaining what was. 





Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York, New York: Penguin, 2004. IBooks. Penguin Books, 2004. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.


Anne Dalke's picture

I'm really appreciating what you are doing here, taking time to experience, and acknowledge, the complexity of the process of moving into-and-out of yourself as prelude to writing an academic paper.

I'm also appreciating your very careful attention to place, the way you juxtapose Yumi's description of first sex in that 'barren, musty cabin' with her much-later reflections 'at the edge of the shore.' In that comparison, you've really made a portion of text, which I'd first dismissed as clichéd, come alive for me, by demonstrating the long distance between initial experience and later reflection on it. Paradoxically, in doing so, you've made new what seemed (originally) not original to me. (Thank you for that.)

Also very striking to me is the line in your final paragraph: "places hold scar tissue," holding memories of what has happened there.I'm just back from the National Conference of Higher Education in Prison, which was held in Pittsburgh this weekend. One of my most remarkable encounters, in an entirely remarkable weekend, was with Anna Plemons, whose essay on Tatooing Scar Tissue is a wonderful interrogation of, and intervention into, the colonizing impulse of the teacher to help, one that she sees as embedded in the Western cultural logic of progress, in narratives of improvement that might hinder or even stymie deeper, slower, more personally meaningful work. I think that Anna's refusal of the narrative of progress, to give rise to "the furrows, folds, and taut patches" of meaning, is a lovely description of what you are up to here, and think you might also appreciate the way that she rejects the metaphor of linearity, the trajectory towards something 'beyond or outside.'

"The paradigmatic distinction between the circle and the line matters," she says, and I think you see that, too.

For which, again, thanks.