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In The Devastation, Melissa Buzzeo demonstrates both an intense engagement with academic, psychoanalytic language of the self, and the urgency of an engulfing wildness. The preface claims inspiration from several sources, among them Clarice Lispector and Helene Cixous, and from the philosophical, interrogative style of the body text this is very much in evidence. The narrative opens on the scene of two lovers at the bottom of the ocean, the ‘Devastation’ having swept away their language and identities. The text that follows strives to give form to such an existence.
The language of the first section appears designed not to be comprehended in the traditional sense of direct analysis, but for the reader to be rinsed over by the text. The effect is of submersion in a changing soundscape, where all that can be done is to catch at what images and concepts move past: “I followed what was formless to me.”
Even in such a liquid world, repetitions emerge that prove to be not mere flourish, but highly intentional effort., such as the interjection of mundane objects. Buzzeo presents these object (a door, a plate, a book) in such a way as to bind them to an unexpected word. These objects them reappear throughout the text, thus recalling, without speaking, the words to which they are attached. In this way, the reader is skillfully instructed to build an archive of newly palpable words.
While the early sections tend to indulge in abstraction and language only loosely tethered to the world outside the self, the narrative appears aware of this inward gaze, and makes note of it, such as the phrase “the sea listens/ only to the sea”.
As the work moves to the third and fourth section, the setting shifts to include more physical objects and tangible prose, much of which is shockingly beautiful: “I make vials of our colors our lining/Wet silk craved”.
Thoughts and issues bleed into each other, and Buzzeo employs a sparse grammar and dispassionate syntax, often serving to distort and double the meaning of her words, to magnificent effect. These later sections also include expansive, sharp catalogues of the minutia that comprise an event or happening, crafted with such deftness you could place them in a museum next to the Etruscan ceramics and they would not be out of place: “I hung you. You dazzled me. You ate this star.”
It is this incorporation of what is lost, the world of objects and relationships, that enables the text to so successfully communicate the nature and extent of the Devastation, while only rarely naming it. As the work concludes, it reads retroactively like a strange treasure map-cum-logistical report, with each action and object speaking back to and defining the previously murky sections, while funneling the reader with increasing urgency towards the conclusion.
While Buzzeo occasionally waxes labyrinthine or substitutes a string of banal words that seem more a placeholder than image, what comes through most clearly is her mastery at harnessing unrepresentable abstractions into fine, precise statements, delivered with a doubt so inherent it might be certainty. The Devastation is a complex ecosystem that balances the unknowable interiors with all that constitutes a world, and at the center of it: the inability to express what is necessary by the only means we are given- language itself.
By Melissa Buzzeo
Paperback, 9781937658250, 181 pp.