Travis Chi Wing Lau & T. K. Dalton



T. K. Dalton: So this is an experiment. We've got, at the moment, two editors of this section, and it seemed fitting to have a dialectical introduction to the work in this issue. 

 Travis Chi Wing Lau: Absolutely—it’s a form that models a kind of dialogue.

TKD: Yeah. And it also models, or renders as transparent, a transition of power. Not that we're incredibly powerful as digital literary journal editors. But we do have a kind of power, and there's a change in that power, and transitions of power happen, I mean, in our own government, that's happening now. The pieces in our Ideas section this issue also address transition. Barbara Ruth's review of Sins Invalid, Avra Wing’s review of Raymond Luczak, and your own review of Jay Besemer—in different ways, each of these works and each of our pieces about them I think underscore the way that transition is inseparable from the lived experience of disability. These three works, in very different ways, use our literature to reflect that instability.

TCWL: Especially if we are thinking of all bodies as being temporarily able. We are all in that strange liminality of ability, which can then be complicated by other vectors of identity as in Besemer's case of gender and chemical transition.

 TKD: I definitely keep returning to this idea of transition as if it's a thing that has some end, like change will stop. I think what I like about Ruth's review of Sins Invalid is the way that their show represents change -- the aging of the disabled body, the stripteasing away of clothing to reveal the body of an amputee -- as active, not passive. 

TCWL: Yes. How might we think of categories of identity like race, gender, or disability as verbs (active processes) rather than nouns (static states)? 

TKD: Yes!

TCWL: Societal structures disable just as systemic inequality racializes bodies.

TKD: You should really get a Ph.D. But again, yes! And when I think about some of those systems -- say the federal government -- those structures feel a lot less stable and predictable than they did a month ago. Which makes them that much more potentially oppressive.

TCWL: Which is why campaigns like #cripthevote were so important in the recent election.

TKD: I think criticism (in both senses of the word) from our community is especially important after the election, too. These societal structures, they're old. They come out of antecedents as old as the country. I think of Wing’s review of Luczak's The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on my Lips, where she describes the eponymous kiss as “evoking Whitman’s personae of comrade and lover, as well as acknowledging Whitman as a kind of father whose descendants—Luczak among them—are the poets who share his expansive view of life and expression.” I love this calling back to history, especially in the context of the way placing oneself in a tradition can mark a kind of transition, can show a sort of change over time. Wing’s review raises the question, How did this queer artist deal with the world he inhabited, and what is revealed through the perspective of another queer artist in the contemporary world. Know your history in other words. Know where you're transitioning from as well as where you hope to be transitioning to, or something. Is that overly hopeful? Romantic, even? (Whitman pun intended). Or maybe it's like what you said before, about the state of being being active, dynamic, not passive, assigned. 

TCWL: I think that's perhaps one of the greatest challenges that face younger people in the disability and queer communities -- this lack of connection to and awareness of our histories just as new powers that be are seeking to erase them. Luczak's volume, I think, dares to find resonances across time, which I don't always feel like younger folks do enough.

TKD: Totally. And technology actually silos us (us? them? I'm 37...) even more.

TCWL: One of those sad ironies -- we're more "interconnected" than ever before and able to "access" more from the past than ever before yet seem more removed than ever from it. Transition seems appropriate -- technology advances in a way that culture has yet to catch up to. Millennials, especially, are caught in that in-betweenness. Luczak found a forebear and a mentor in Whitman. I think this is particularly poignant given how directionless a lot of disabled and queer folks feel right now. A turn to history seems timely and necessary.

TKD: For sure. It’s interesting to mention age and generation. Another thing I noticed was the way aging kept emerging in texts under review. Luczak describes a speaker “alone in my bed being unable to strip down to the boy I used to be.  The Sins Invalid performance included a piece called “Midlife Crip Reflections” with these lines:  “aging as a crip, / sometimes, feels like my body is aging faster / almost with a vengeance / as if claiming revenge / for all the years of forcing my arms / to also be legs and pushing my body / until it ran out of gas, / and even then forced it to keep going.” There's an individual transition that's constant, even as the body in space becomes variously disabled, and as the body in time becomes variously oppressed. I maybe should use a word other than “constant,” since that sentence already sounds so intensely algebraic. Steady, maybe that’s it. 

TCWL: Yes, yet disability problematizes this notion of linear development like queerness resists a kind of reproductive timeline. Disability can make you feel like you've aged beyond how old you really might be. It can also feel like it takes years away from you. Crip time in the midst of individual transition, perhaps?

TKD: Right. I wrote that and then thought -- yeah, but this cute little tautology was written by someone who can't sequence well enough to put together IKEA furniture in less than a full day.  I love that idea of resistance.  Being present or stating presence (in the case of folks with less visible disabilities) is a form of resistance, too, no?

TCWL: Yeah! Especially when disabled folks are so often infantalized or seen as not "fully developed." Those with less visible disabilities, especially in the academy, have been vital in resisting the "speed" of academic time and the "publish or perish" model of academic productivity. Being present, taking up space, and taking up time are all acts of resistance.

TKD: I am here, and by being here, here is now there. 

TCWL:  And my being here challenges the assumption that there is only one "present" and one "future."

TKD: Or that line from Besemer, describing a moment “when making & unmaking have become the same action.” 

TCWL: Yes! Again, processual rather than static.

TKD: And to quote you from earlier -- "[This] is why campaigns like #cripthevote were so important in the recent election" -- presence changes the content of the argument, even if it doesn't change the outcome. Maybe?

TCWL: Yes, we are challenging the narrative that the outcome is indeed inevitable and that the future administration cannot be changed and does not need to be accountable.

TKD: I think we'd gotten to this real enlightened point, then I dragged us back to politics. Um, so this is probably enough for an editor's intro. Though I feel like I could talk a lot more.

TCWL: A lot of productive threads to follow! I smell a part 2.

TKD: Or at the very least a Deaf Poets Society, Issue 4. Before we finish, are there any thoughts you have about transition from, say, your own poetry, your research about disability through your Ph.D. or anything else you want to mention that you haven't yet? 

TCWL: My involvement in DPS for me is part of a long process of transition, really -- to understanding the place of the personal in my academic work and the way my academic training and relationship with theory influences my poetic practice. Far too often, literary studies folks separate themselves from creative writing folks but at the heart of it, literary studies takes creative work as objects of study. I want to immerse myself more in the writings of disabled folks and be more attentive to how that writing is produced from the position of disability. My poetry, especially, is about trying to aspire to a certain accuracy about states of feeling, being, and experience. But if anything, if disability is indeed transitional in a verbal, processual sense, it's actually a futile pursuit to try to isolate disability experience. Instead, I guess, I'm learning to be okay with these snapshots of disability in motion, of fragments that capture mere instances of disability, if that makes sense. (Sorry, that was a little long.)

TKD: No, that was great!! Folks should get to know you. Any time a new mind comes on board, it alters the journal and the work we do undergoes a productive transition—maturation, we always hope. Presence changes content and direction.  So happy to have you, Travis, and speaking for the editors, we’re excited to see your new Ideas. 

Read Travis's Biography

Return to Issue 3: January 2017