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“Our mouths met like the sides of a wound newly meeting again. Something torn apart was being repaired. Or something.”
-Daphne Gottlieb, from “the intimate museum of absence”
Everything, Gottlieb writes in her stunning and stark collection Pretty Much Dead, is a part of something, belonging to something that is absent. In one piece, she discusses going to a lover’s house to find doll limbs without their dolls, plants without their jungles, the lovers, absent their pieces.
Though the collection covers multitudes—the emotional and physical landscape of San Francisco, the politics of change, nontraditional intimacies, and stories of a city well-loved and well-complicated by the passing of time, what strikes me as particularly timely and poignant about Pretty Much Dead is how truly resonant it is with the sociopolitical landscape of the place it is engaged with: San Francisco.
Art has a longer shelf life than journalism. Which is to say, to quote Ann Pancake, that art is capacious enough to hold politics, but politics are not always capacious enough to contain art. What is striking and beautiful, and simultaneously grotesque (only because of the national housing crisis, the constant displacement, and the way the tech industry is completely changing the Bay Area), is that Gottlieb manages to show the true grit and effect of change on a person, a neighborhood, a collective consciousness.
And though the pieces span from commentary on class and race and gender, the connective tissue appears to be made up of absence. A city is part of the intimate museum of absence, because it is a city absent of intimacy. And the wounds that meet together are the attempts to reclaim places and bodies after wound, and after displacement. The resulting collection is not only currently politically relevant, the artfulness and beauty with which Gottlieb portrays the struggles of the above intersections makes the collection timeless. There will always be poverty. There will always be systems that hold up one class over another. There will always be the seismic nature of communities built in the margins.
Pretty Much Dead is not an easy read—but a complicated, riveting one. That the book begins with an epigraph from Anthony Bourdain is an irony not lost on the reader—what is a great time in San Francisco, anymore, after all? And what does this famous man know about it?
Pretty Much Dead
By Daphne Gottlieb
Paperback, 978-1940885285, 234 pp.