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Un Magazine 14.1

Expression is a state of matter, or a gesture towards something that resembles reciprocity

Chi Tran

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9/20

Article

1.
‘How do we reconnect with the gestural origins of language?’ asks Jackie Wang.

I wanted to write about the failure of language and I wanted to write about how the failure of language is an enduring matter of culture, an enduring matter of the project of poetics. The process of writing can be quite ugly and lonely and precarious and I want to thank it for being so, because precarious living is always an adventure.

I listen to Elena Ferrante when she says the most pressing questions in a literary project are:

What is the word, what is the rhythm of the sentence, what tone best suits the things I know? Without the right words, without long practice in putting them together, nothing comes out alive and true ... Literary truth is entirely a matter of wording and is directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence.

We come by language, we are attentive to language and we have faith in language through the lens of our own experience.

Language, as an event, carries an afterlife, and by condition of being such it holds history, it has the capacity for memory and it is capable of reproduction, of death, of benignity. As a machine for expression, it comes with a possibility of residual haunting. To use language is a form of devotion. It is a kind of matter that charges through movement, functions through change. Maybe expression, or language, are states of matter of their own. Language can release our boundaries. It can help me to feel true, assisting me in moving simultaneously with those around me.

If we are good to language, it can help us move toward an ecology of things beyond conditions.

2.
Like many of you, I come from factory workers. This physical labour, produced by those who also produced me, stays within me. It does not collapse with time.

Encountering a familiar problem can bring in a kind of intimacy with yourself, and by problem I don’t mean that it is necessarily difficult or that it needs to be solved, but that it requires you to pay attention.

My friend tells me it is important to remember the history of our individual cells; that even if we think we don’t remember, we do. A cell capable of replication or death or benignity is capable of memory.

I occur simultaneously, at all the places I am feeling, at any given time.

All molecules are in constant motion and they shift in many different ways. They stretch and bend with time, translating their body into motion. Degrees of their motion varies, depending on their state of matter (solid/liquid/gas). Once the molecules have shifted, it alters how I witness. Waiting can sometimes be part of it (witnessing, and listening).

Molecules shift in ways that alter how I imagine myself holding onto other people. I like to be with others, I see their bodies interact with states of motion.

I tend to wish for an encounter to feel dialogic, relational, contingent. Cell to cell. I like to understand another’s pace and move simultaneously with them.

3.
My mother has a tendency to make her own dreams come true — it’s like a practice in understanding sincerity.

My mother has a tendency to solve her own pain, simply by bearing it. It’s true.

I receive genetic memory at my own pace, stepping into and out of a plane kept alive by something more transformative than sentiment.

I miss the feeling of being pregnant. I wasn’t prepared for it and I wasn’t prepared to lose it. Herein lies ‘the problem of what-to-do-with-the-information-that-is-feeling.’1 My experience of pregnancy is a double event. Carrying as one event, and not-carrying-to-term as another.

I think of them not as things that have happened to me, but as something that is still happening, and will continue to happen.

Forms of time may hold, extend, reproduce, but I do not think they can replace one another. Sometimes, the pain and mourning of a loss will feel new again, but I try not to express surprise when it does.

I consider the cumulative nature of feeling, and I want to believe in it, but I struggle with the idea of experience as being additive. Then I consider an excerpt from A Dialogue on Love, where Eve Sedgwick writes: ‘My way of paying attention to people is additive, non-narrative. Thus I don’t have a sense of change in people, i.e. if I notice something new, I don’t think “they’ve changed”. Instead, I think, “This is an additional way x is” — grows out of some kind of stress on object permanence, how to keep the same person, a kind of cubist three-dimensionality.’2

4.
My mother’s mother died in her sleep, a single mother of six. They placed her into the earth last week, but I could not be there so I could only think about her and how skies leak. My prayers now apprehend multiplicity, with my directions of care, and my spirit, expanded.

If the matter in my line of vision is held long enough in the light, I can adjust my perspective and it will restructure the molecules, and what I see will rearrange.

We may sense change as spontaneous or incalculable, like an iridescent surface. But sometimes, just picturing an evenness of light may be enough for us to discern a physical structure, and express a kind of direction.

My fingers can bend like so, as I gesture toward something resembling reciprocity.

I often speak of myself as a malleable compound.

The writer would like to acknowledge that there are parts of this essay that have been published elsewhere, in various different forms.

Chi Tran is a writer and artist, currently based on unceded Wurundjeri and Bunurong land.


  1. Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women, London: Mute Books, 2016, p. 3. 

  2. Eve Sedgwick, A Dialogue on Love, Boston: Beacon Press, 1999, p. 109.