Healing, Haunting, and Survival: A Review of Tabias Wilson’s Godless Circumcisions
There are many things that could — and ought to be — said about Tabias Olajuawon Wilson’s Godless Circumcisions. The first thing that is worth noting is that his work is a collection of writing that includes poetry, essays in critical theory and cultural critique, personal narratives, and short, open-ended offerings he calls “quotes and affirmations”. That Wilson aggregates writing across genre’s is not in self particularly unique. What is exciting and makes for a provocative and affecting experience is the fact that the above mentioned distinctions are merely organizational. The book is palpably and unflinchingly political, theoretical, and poetic. Wilson offers incisive critiques of white supremacies, capitalisms, cisheteropatriarchies, and masculinities (and yes, he intentionally pluralizes these forces throughout the book) without defaulting to the conventions of social scientific or legalistic writing. Too often social science repudiates literature, poetry, and art as its constitutive “others,” the things it needs to reject to shore-up its claims on monopolizing truth. Wilson rejects this throughout. The piece “The Raping(s), The Reaping, The Humanistic Renewal” is particularly emblematic of Wilson’s truth conjuring practices in Godless Circumcisions. The piece calls on us to not only reconsider rape but is also a provocation to imagine different forms of justice. Wilson writes:
Rape then, is a sort of base distillation of corporeal capitalisms, often mystified by its racial, gendered, classed, sexual, and political components. To be raped is not simply to be fucked or sexually violated, but to instead be politically dismembered and chattelized in your own flesh; where only the state can avenge you, as a ward/owner of sorts, leasing you to provide the ultimate argument for ongoing, ultimate state control of other bodies not unlike (y)our own…I refused, to be raped, owned, or maligned by the same system that stole my history. Instead, I choose my humanity and alternative forms of justice that don’t involve state-violence through or because of my flesh. (134–5; emphasis mine)
Wilson develops this critique through the use of a Janet Jackson epigraph, jarring recountings of rape, poetic interruptions, and finally the sharing of his modes and methods of survival. Wilson takes us across different styles of writing and affective registers in a single piece in order to weave a political offering that might not have been articulable otherwise.
Godless Circumcisions is a work that sees Wilson profoundly haunted by foreclosed futures (both individual and collective) and the pains of imagining, articulating, and ushering forth new ones. We see this in one of the affrimations, where Wilson writes, “[we] must erupt, destroy and rebuild. Only then can we bury our dead. Only then can we give honor and tribute for their battles to the end” (99). We see this again at the close of “Cheers To The Children: Memories of Poverty, Mother/Brother/Otherhood and Blackness”. Here Wilson writes: “[we] cannot forget the taste of hunger on our tongues, no matter how far we’ve gone from entrees of Miracle Whip and white bread. Cheers to the children who can never forget the art and times of survival jujitsu (105; emphasis mine). To say that Wilson writes form a place of haunting is not to say this is a morose work, on the contrary the book was written with fervent love and a deep concern for healing and wholeness, multiply envisioned. Instead, in the vein of Avery Gordon and Grace Mitchell Cho, Wilson takes seriously the fact that the repressed, the unspoken, the unnamed, the inarticulable, and the dead are immanent forces that impinge upon us in palpable ways. Wilson recognizes that reckoning with violences, traumas, and dismemberments is the only means for “creating realities that we all desire but have yet to co-produce” and the surest means for pathing towards those cosmic wonders cut away from us with that scalpel (172).
Ultimately, this is an enormous first offering from Wilson, it is one that beckons rereading, and indeed I have returned to routinely in the short time it has been out. I eagerly anticipate what Wilson produces next.