Dissonance(s): Anaïs Duplan’s Mount Carmel & the Blood of Parnassus
Having things projected on you based solely on the sex organs you happen to posses at the time of one encounter isn't exactly news for anyone who doesn't conform to established gender scripts. Peer pressure to try to pass as someone else is definitely something that should be questioned and unpacked more often than it actually is, especially when passing is purposely carried out in order to secure privileges that are usually afforded to normative identities. Frustration with being born assigned female and having to pass as feminine while throbbing for a masculinity that isn't confined to biological limitations and gender-specific performances is the point of departure in Anaïs Duplan’s chapbook Mount Carmel & the Blood of Parnassus.
Duplan focuses on one of the most versatile yet volatile artists currently active in performance and electronic music scenes - Dean Blunt, who juggles public identities while also denying them at the same time with the kind of dexterity that leaves his audience wondering about what exactly have they listened to and participated in. It’s Blunt’s refusal to be pinpointed and projected onto mixed with his constant performance of public absence and Black (male) nihilism that caught Duplan’s attention in the first place, and the opening essay dedicated to him is not shy in showing genuine appreciation, even if it’s an appreciation that is constantly underscored by self-awareness.
What follows in this introductory essay is an acutely intimate rumination on gender norms and the commodification of the Black body. White culture dehumanizes Blackness by projecting toxic fabrications onto it, by policing it and robbing it of its soul. Simultaneously, traits like sensuality, vulnerability, softness, and tenderness get labeled as “feminine”and are tossed aside or punished if they “occur” in a male body. Duplan questions Black masculinity and its designated markers (power over, wealth, promiscuity, physical strength) as concepts divorced from testosterone, but without any foreseeable rehabilitation. Similarly, performances from the likes of Eric Andre and Dean Blunt blur the line between performer and audience by “trying on” versions of death and Black masculinity in the mundane — a reality that isn't stuck in the familiarity and vicinity of one’s comfort zone and doesn't rely on the marginalization, dehumanization, and instrumentalization of other fellow beings.
All marginalized people inhabit two worlds at the same time: those of freedom and nonfreedom. Being unfree is different than being in bondage. In bondage, as in the case of enslavement, one’s body is owned by someone else. Being unfree, on the other hand, is what happens after the end of enslavement: one becomes an ‘emancipated’ citizen in the society that used to enslave her and that is still built to do so — without a literal title on one’s body, but still with the power to destroy that body, threaten it, circumscribe it, categorize it, and imprison it.
The opening essay functions as a smooth introduction to the poems’ outpouring in the second part of the chapbook. These poems unfold themselves in blunt and intense sequences that pull no punches in their commitment to challenging conventions of poetry and the reader’s acceptance. Asserting the limitations that come with being prone to self-mythologizing and falling into traps not exactly of her choosing, Duplan bids us to take a closer look at the unfiltered face and virulence of whiteness, constructed as it is but nevertheless performed daily to maintain its hegemony while erasing who we are or could be in the process.
I am announcing that I am going into my depths.
What is this thing called poetry.
does it see me
do i talk to it
what are its standards
for personhood why is white
male Christianhood considered
the most reasonable of bodies, what are
your cultural practices, do they
constitute sexual harassment?
are you an American?
are you a poet?
will David Lehman
anthologize you? will you’ll
Anaïs Duplan is the author of a full-length poetry collection, Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016). Their poems and essays have appeared in Hyperallergic, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, Fence, Boston Review, The Journal, and in other publications.