AGAINST DAYLIGHT is comprised of notebooks filled with research pilfered at the analog and digital divide. In the quest to write a novel about alternative ancestry, I am combing through physical libraries, audio archives, and digital repositories of queer culture and art to answer the question: what is the phenomenology of shame? This is a queer scholar's attempt at historical spelunking.
Join me @ againstdaylight.tumblr.com.
You can find the origin story for Against Daylight below, as well as the titular short story that started it all.
The Origin Story
My name is JH Phrydas, and I am a failed academic.
I wasn’t always a failed academic. I went to Catholic school from the age of 5 to 18. I spent each day in some brutalist brick building spread across the rolling hills of a sleeping monster in the piedmont. It was the South. The monster was not visible—it existed along the margins of language, shouted or whispered, where Ponce de Leon divided the city by the color of skin. That avenue was close to the house where I was born, where I would sing in a stranger’s mansion in an attempt to forget what that divide meant.
In the city, the streets were built along trails of First Nations people who beat the ground over paths animals formed to find shelter along the wooded hillside. There were so many hills. One could never see the horizon, even from above.
You see, the city was built inside a forest. And in that forest, I went to school and fell in love with a string of best friends, each a marble the way we struck and kept rolling. Each a shattered crack along the edge of the sky.
I moved to Berkeley and became a devout academic. I replaced the boys with theory and claimed only words and the stains they left behind could wreck me the way the sky did back then.
And even though the night heat in San Francisco clubs kept me roaming the streets at daybreak—furs and gold draped over muscled shoulders of us, half naked: a feral herd at the edge of a concrete wilderness and ash—I found myself once again fleeing decadence and sweat for a more structured type of knowledge: a sage and seer I dreamt one night without a trace of fever. Her name was Bhanu, and I knew nothing of language until I read her work and found all my theory couldn’t touch her breath lying dormant in each line she wrote on the page.
I won’t tell you the dream, but I will say she was there, and I was given three Tarot cards. As she turned away, the first pointed me towards the forest.
And so I went.
Professional drinking prepared me for grad school like no other occupation could. And so I studied somatic psychology; the way clay molds to the hand as it drifts, wet, against the form; bodies that speak without words through a gesture subtle and profound as a tap against the thigh in a crowded bus; a syntax of longing; a cadence that evokes the rise and fall of skin; unbounded queerness that begins in bone and ends beyond time; cruelty of a community with nothing to gain; immersion in horror; attunement through the way a sentence feels in your mouth; quests for a word to strike against the white teeth of a lover asleep on a couch; the room in which the couch sits; and the writing of that room, a sentence a type of architecture—but one whose walls move.
For three years I lived in a mountain valley lost in clouds. The cliffs would drop from the wheels of my truck as I sped to class after the flood. Yes, there was a flood. Wildfires, too. Young girls would trip over dead bodies from time to time in this high desert town. We should never have placed the devil chair there, in the meadow at the firelight’s edge, but we always did, and the devil never failed to show.
For three years I wrote manuscripts and talked with psychologists and artists to find a way to write what is emergent in our blood. For another three, I applied to PhDs to extend that work, breathe into the higher educational structure a contemporary need: to follow queerness and language as a means to reveal structural shame; to give mystics and poets and maligned rejects a moment to fuse again to the spinning maw of culture, its chassis aflame, hurting, mid-moan.
For three years, I was the reject. I moved to LA. I left the community I spent my forest years culling, weaning myself on their offhanded light. I got depressed. I replaced books with iPhone apps. I drank and did drugs and sometimes pissed the floor late at night while the moon looked away. I didn’t know how to proceed.
Until I remembered my promise: fuck academia. I squatted over the institution to take a poo. I posted online to regain a sense of composure. I made a reactionary selfie for likes:
I began to read again.
“But certainly, this much is true in the United States: it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of – this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.”
– Stefano Harney & Fred Moten
I went to UCLA and got an alumnus library card. I felt like an intruder. I was allowed three books at a time, and each time I’d bring them back late from Koreatown where I live. I ransacked my old notes for a project started 3 years ago—when I received a letter from my uncle about a relative, long dead. An ancestor I vowed to bring back into the world, to learn about his childhood, his affairs with men, his life and ignominious death.
I went back to notes taken in hushed darkness during a class on the charnel ground taught by Bhanu Kapil and Melissa Buzzeo. Sitting above the carnage, I saw a desert bleak and dark; a figure at the horizon. I wrote a short story about that figure as it reverberated through time; back to my great-great uncle; an alchemical ancestry sprung from the blanked-out whiteness of the sky.
The figure was a silhouette. The story against daylight.
I’ll be posting my research here as I stumble in search of a method. To tell this story stuck in the memories stillborn and lost at the rising edge of the digital age. A novel written by a poet based on rogue scholarship, stolen notes, and dreams. To answer the question:
What is the phenomenology of shame?
– 2015 (Nederland, CO)
Against daylight; an acacia strikes the evening sky in a scrape that resonates along the low ridge; mist in the arroyo; cool earth. Dry. A weathervane caught in a clump of grass, thin beige of desiccation, turns purple as each night ends. The horizon: pale in sedimental drift. The tidal pull of sand.
That beige, that acacia—what is the phenomenology of shame? Sand laps against the threshold: a wind entrance. Above, loose contours of a house in exile. The gaps in slat walls set the sky to streaming as rocks that hug rusted blades emerge towards an early sun.
Underfoot, a cooling shade—Manzanita, slate. Iron tables lean into the breeze exposed among thick piles of fur. A streaking blindness follows the ridge, cupping an encroaching form in transit along the stunted pines, a figure that, in triangulating light, shifts from yellow to orange to red in alabaster sheen. Iron tables lean into the approach, multiplying its motion in miniature against the sand.
The body stopped turning when the fan stopped turning when I did. Overhead, track lighting cast shadows of our stillness across the parquet floor, weaving a mauve and yellow twill towards and under the cracked molding. Tarnished—white. To follow that twill towards and under the cracked molding one would have to be a creature. A creature that gnaws.
Our shadowed stillness fell against the room, another skyline: a terrain for David.
David is dead. Against daylight; pale legs spread a kick apart, his hands caught in a gesture of exiting: a sheet. Imagine Andrea Mantegna’s Christ, the sharply drawn drapery emphasizing his crotch, an eros that, spinning, flames: a bulge. In bulge, a center, cascading: a slit along his blonde trail, tracing: cutting through his belly, it’s upward clefts, winding up through the valley of his chest to end under the stiff rings of his throat. Mantegna, then: Eakins. See—the crowd files down steep rows of steps to find their seats and settle.
Muffled feet and whispers along the napes of men sent to tingling. I sit at David’s feet, below the wall, unseen. The track lights hesitate, then begin to turn. First the lights, then me. Me, then the body: my David.
Dark coats hover like augurs. A hush: as if David were a bull in defeat, blood-let, a candle; already dead yet still somehow hesitant. The force bleaches him. A flag. Wave the flag and let the light in. To pretend this is the south of Spain—pull down the coats and wave the flag. That light! Always, and again, against the day; silhouettes of dark coats cast on skin, flexed along his slit—a simpered flesh.
They break earth. His slit: pulled open, hands along a shoulder to see; a lean. Murmured rise in intonation, his gash is stark. They wrench him out.
Fur. Such fur, hands tear at pelts that pour from him: a suitcase to bursting, his, left at the station the night he was halted; hauled; kneed; undressed. How they pause, caught in line—at their tilt, the crowd stalls as a bouquet abrupts; sprout from his torso, curved peony, lilac, and musk rose: an overflow of flowers splashes up in track lighting to split open his body caught in green spray; reflecting eyes. The walls: beige outlines the sway of their chests; a gutted linearity refracts through their stems. I whisper: The great lover can bend over iris and sing the bud to open, buds open, rise out of him, the slit, stalks obscured by petals in full bloom, scent overripe, raw; the saccharine green of a boy who dreamed of seaside berries in late September, his lover a mesh overtaking salt grasses entwined along skin, where tan effaced pale. Flowers carpet parquet; boiling water falls along the floor as petals lift, emitted scents rising up the walls in heaps.
David lies in state under the flush of leaves. The room is filled with tiny breaths. Heads drooping against stiff green; variegated soft pinks; ink stains in transit caress blank witness. Baby’s breath; arrangements of color radiate; flicker. Instantly drying as it rises from him, the bouquet crowds out the room; hovering over piles of fur; and skin, in sweat. David in sweat.
His body becomes a taut lake.
Dark takes a simple audience like a beginning, his infinitely mutable veins and lungs.
Against daylight; residual effects of crowded streets include a metropolitan coupling, reverse silhouettes, concrete osmosis—faces smeared, in walking, across diverse bodies. I was to sit at a café and track each smear. Hoping to steady the beat, he’s home in bed, in repose: my David. Adjacent to the city, our window looks on dark woods. Lit from below. There is a languidness unreserved to sidewalk meetings. As if rust were forming along his stiff edge.
His eyes open. Wallpaper tears along the dormer. He reaches—I haven’t yet arrived—his legs in dangle in shade, a rough wool blanket in knots on the floor. He, a son whose father lit torches under our bed, a son with no son or any son; ad nauseam. Instead, a soft lump of his body tinged grey. And me, having not yet arrived, stopped along the park fence to contemplate each roaming form—
He shifts his finger; I turn to leave.
They could not bury him, those coats, for the weight of the blooms in him.
– 2014 (Nederland, CO)