Dawn Lundy Martin Responds to Ronaldo V. Wilson’s “Dream in a Fair”

I have always wanted to psychoanalyze my dear friend, Ronaldo V. Wilson, and am grateful, not only for the chance, but also this public forum in which I get to do it. I have been learning a bit lately about Jungian shadow integration. The shadow is that icky part of the self, “the dark side,” that one represses and refuses to acknowledge. In dreams, the shadow often takes the form of an animal, part-animal figure, or same-sex twin. And the goal, I guess, is to integrate that dark self into the other acknowledged self so that we don’t project our bullshit onto others. Wilson’s long poem, “Dream in a Fair,” a piece in which the speaker attempts to smuggle a duffle-bagged dolphin onto an air plane and ceremoniously tortures a leaf-bug to death, lays bare the dark side in human nature as it simultaneously grapples with identity, or “the big, bald black, who is your brother.”

I should say, by means of disclaimer, that I know virtually nothing of dreams. I rarely remember them and when I do they are almost always banal. In one that produced a certain waking euphoria, I’m eating a delicious sausage sub. And because of this lack, I’m filled with both envy and boredom when people tell me their dreams. “Dream in a Fair,” though, partly because I’m in it and partly because of the way in which it reckons with blackness as monstrosity, intrigues me into its wicked meanderings. Check out the poem’s initial representation of the black body:

There’s a black man standing at the front of the line.

He’s a midget and his teeth are yellow and gapped:

He is short and muscular but covers his body anyway with a costume.

He’s about to proceed: as a dragon, or a horse, something

where only his black feet extend from the mane.

That the black body is often either homunculus transforming or “big” as if to exceed the borders of the body itself—both excesses—signals that these bodies, not only the annihilated animals themselves in “Dream in a Fair,” are symbolic of the shadow that haunts. This is the nigger in the woodpile. No matter where you go there he is, peeking his ugly head up at you, smiling those contrasting white teeth at you (“black, grey, nappy beard, something about his smile, white and easy”). I want to say that these images of black maleness, persistent cultural traces still lodged in the Western imagination—inescapable—in Wilson’s poem, stand in for whatever dark side of the self the speaker represses. But that might be too easy.

The figures are presented as grotesque, I think, for two reasons. First, the dark side is the nigger in the woodpile itself. It hides, yet, it takes form in actions and relationships without one’s consent. It pops up, scares the shit out of you and then goes back into hiding. Second—and I think, this is where one complexity comes in—Wilson chooses figures to represent that dark side that call our attention to both the cultural construction of such racialized figures and their weight on the Western imagination—the ways in which those black figures often stand in for a part of the self that no one wishes to acknowledge. Spend a few minutes on YouTube, watching a local news channel’s recording of a black queeny man in the projects screaming, “They rapin’ everybody out here!” and witness exactly the kind of making of the cultural imagination that Wilson’s figures demand a critique of. “In the dream,” writes Wilson, “you are shadowed by time.”

Wilson’s poem does not, however, construct stable subjectivities. The dream space allows for the “I” to become “you” to become the “big, bald black,” to become “Dawn” (as when “Dawn becomes Donaldo”) to become the “leaf-bug.” We are all implicated here. The bug, the “it” in the poem, needs to be squashed out and it needs to suffer. It is emblematic of perhaps what no psychoanalysis can (or has tried to) account for—when the dark side is a whole cultural project of little blind racial hatreds that make up the self and are necessarily repressed by the self. Who wants to integrate something that is disparaged and a fiction? This makes me curious about the speaker in the poem, whose transparency is hinted at only primarily, I believe, to confuse and call into question our own involvement in the project of construction of race. What little blind hatreds do we cast into the world and what forms do they take? Do we mask them and celebrate them, or do we bring them forth and then smoother them with an empty “tennis can”?

As readers have probably noticed by now this is not really a Jungian reading of “Dream in a Fair”—I am only tangentially circling my Psychology 101 knowledge of Jung—and I don’t end up as much as I really wanted to, psychoanalyzing Ronaldo. Instead, this is mostly a reading invested in the stunning ways Wilson’s poems refuse to let us get away with any one-dimensional acceptance of the “black” as simply a representation or an image. There are no barbershops and street corners and collard greens (thank goodness). No contrived black masculinity. No ratta-tat-tat. His poems refuse to let us claim blackness in any simplistic way just as they refuse to allow non-black readers to look on lovingly in celebration of the so-called “other.”

The grounds keeper at Djerassi tells our speaker, “Everywhere is safe.” “Dallas,” in the poem says regarding the dead bug, “It has no protection.”  We can gather from Wilson’s brilliant meditation in and out of dreamscape in “Dream of a Fair,” that nowhere is safe. Watch out for woodpiles in the trunk of the self.

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2 Responses to Dawn Lundy Martin Responds to Ronaldo V. Wilson’s “Dream in a Fair”

  1. Robert Mueller says:

    Marvelous, and right on target about the cultural construction aspect!

  2. click says:

    really beneficial stuff, in general I imagine this is worthy of a bookmark, cheers

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