Tentatively, Convenience's Reviews > Incubation: A Space for Monsters

Incubation by Bhanu Kapil
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Well, well.. I got onto GoodReads to review this bk expecting to be one of the only people to review it &, Lo & Behold!, there are ALOTOF reviews, some of them very analytical, & ALOTOF ratings, most of them very high. A few people consider this bk to be bullshit. Interesting. I didn't expect much of a readership, I didn't expect much analysis, I didn't expect much controversy. I reckon the publisher did a good job of promoting this bk. The publisher of my bk "footnotes", Six Gallery Press, cd learn a thing or 2 (or 2,000) about promoting the work they publish. 6GP is abysmal. But that's another story.

"Incubation" was given to me by Amy Catanzano who's friends w/ Kapil. They both teach at Naropa. Perhaps many of the people who've read "Incubation" are students or ex-students of Kapil's.

In "Farren"'s highly analytical review of "Incubation" on GoodReads


she writes:

"As I was wading into Bhanu Kapil's "Incubation – A Space for Monsters" it became evident to me that I needed to read Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" in order to understand what was meant by "Cyborg" and "Monster"--terms liberally deployed and conceptually integral in Kapil's verse novel.

"Obviously Haraway's theory could be an entire class unto itself – but broadly, it's a reconstitution or a reexamination of traditional binaries (male/female, work/play, public/private, technological/natural, etc). These binaries are inadequate and have led to enormous ideological fractures that have left theorists and political operatives helpless. The problem, Haraway posits, is the framing of the entire system. In a technological world the conceptions of male/female work/play etc are rapidly dissolving."


"Haraway posits that women of color are representatives of cyborg identity, a potent synthesis of many outsider identities, and so it is with Kapil's Laloo, who is a Punjabi British woman hitchhiking through the US."

Hhmm.. I have alotof criticism's of what Farren presents as Haraway's theory (I haven't personally read Haraway's work so I'm only responding to Farren's synopsis) - esp in the 2nd paragraph. Nonetheless, Farren seems to be SPOT ON about its relevance to having a clear-headed reading of Kapil.

The whole Cyborg/Monster play w/ identity in "Incubation" was an irritant/stimulus for me. Given that I read alotof SF, I'm accustomed to such terms in SF contexts - particularly CYBORG. I once dated a girl named Gail Litfin that I called a cyborg b/c she had a pump attached to her abdomen for the dispensation of insulin. She was a severe diabetic. A cyborg, to me, &, as far as I 'know', in conventional usage outside of Haraway's usage, is a being that's partially organic, partially machine. Since neither Kapil or her alter-ego Laloo fit this description [again, as far as I 'know':], the references to both/either as such kept me a bit off-kilter. Wch is fine & wch is one of the things that made this bk interesting.

As for "monster"?: Of course, "monster"'s meaning is much more various in society-at-large. It's most common meaning is probably something like "a creature of extraordinary properties negatively defined" - such as Frankenstein's Monster - & if we reiterate Farren's excellent "Haraway posits that women of color are representatives of cyborg identity, a potent synthesis of many outsider identities, and so it is with Kapil's Laloo, who is a Punjabi British woman hitchhiking through the US." & substitute "Frankenstein's Monster" for "cyborg" then we come up w/ people being 'monsters' who're 'patchworks' of different cultural influences & conditions.

But the weakness of this is that Frankenstein's Monster is a patchwork of dead human parts reanimated. Kapil is alive & is a product of multiple cultures that're also alive. As for "outsider identities"?: "Outsider" is a relative term & there're an infinite variety of ways that a person can be "outside" something that have nothing to do w/ gender or ethnicity. I have no idea whether Haraway privileges (to use a word overused by academics) gender & ethnicity as 'outsider'-making elements but Farren's statement that "Haraway posits that women of color are representatives of cyborg identity" implies this to me.

REGARDLESS, Kapil's bk does seem to be, indeed, largely focused on the experience of a British girl of Indian descent hitchhiking in the US & the feelings of fracture involved in that experience.

So where is my fucking REVIEW?! The reader will notice that I haven't rated the bk. This can be taken as a compliment, as an avoidance, as a statement on the futility of the rating system. One of the things that I like about "Incubation" is that it falls outside easy categories. I wdn't call it a poem, I wdn't call it a novel, I wdn't call it a travelogue, I wdn't exactly call it a memoir - but it falls closest, perhaps, to the latter.

I've called Laloo, the main character of this text, the alter-ego of the author, Bhanu Kapil, b/c at least part of her narrative seems to parallel Kapil's own. What I don't 'know' is just how far the parallel goes: Did Kapil hitchhike across the US alone? If she did, as a girl, I know from personal experience, as a boy, that can be, but isn't necessarily, quite dangerous.

One of the things that strikes me as the most remarkable about "Incubation" is, once again, the way it exists as writing outside of genre. Kapil seems to've written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness motivated by underpinnings of diasporic sociology & psychology w/o confining herself to any particular method of how-to-go-there. This bk is apparently contextualized by some as "experimental" but I wdn't even call it that! I think she writes, it flows, it spouts from ideas & theories & experiences but I don't exactly think it 'experiments' in the sense of creating a structured situation to test a hypothesis - to initiate a situation to study the outcome. Maybe I'm 'wrong'.

It's further noteworthy to me that the cover art is the most 'lubricious' I've seen in a long time, w/ fluid possibly flowing from the vagina, but may not even be perceived as sexual by the casual perceiver b/c the figures copulating are multiple armed gods/goddesses presented in a somewhat stylized manner. I have to wonder whether such a potently erotic image wd be on the cover if it weren't so contextualized as Hindu mythology. This, in itself, seems very appropriate to the writing. Do readers get so caught up in the ethnicities of the bk that they don't notice the coming-of-age hero(ine)'s-journey?

To return to not rating this: I'm not even sure I LIKED THIS bk &, yet.. I will definitely read more by Kapil. Not rating it is a way of saying that the experience of reading it is somewhat beyond such things as 'like' & 'dislike' - such ideas are probably irrelevant to what I get or don't get out of the bk. My hypothetical not-liking has more to do w/ how-much-is-actually-being-sd-here? & am-I-as-stimulated-by-&-satisfied-w/-the-technique-of-saying-it-as-I-prefer?.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 28, 2010 – Finished Reading
August 29, 2010 – Shelved
August 29, 2010 – Shelved as: literature

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