Even our large excerpts below cannot do justice to the depth and skill of Eilbert’s essay, but we include the excerpts here in the hope that you will take the time to read the rest.
The mess of flesh and text is part of Apps’s singular experience, the extruded fatty masses on either end of a hermaphroditic language that has heretofore been silently examined and photographed for medical records. These images anesthetize the violence of dissection, which allows for the body to undergo sectioning, to wilt as meat against a continuous surface. The gloved hand of a doctor imperializes the intersexed body as a thing mutated against binary configurations. The hands must learn from this alien genitalia by means of abstraction. And these are the same hands that, over a hundred years later, still tug at Apps’s young genitalia for means of measurement and record. We see these hands verb the spectacle in Dear Herculine, and we see these hands reaching up into the boy-body in Intersex, the account abject and solipsistic in both books. There is a reason why Apps is keen to render with disgust the images of bodies, beyond disharmonious harmony. It’s to remove the idea of the thing in favor of the thing itself, in all of its warm and damp and undisguised earth-flesh: “The action is disgusting and beautiful.”…
If Dear Herculine is that historical explanation of structure, Intersex is a personal belittling of explanation. He lives not against the death-errands of the letter, but inside the torpid womb of Florida, minced by all his childhoods. Boyhood is editorialized. As Apps puts it, “Revision will come later.” A pediatric endocrinologist separates the century-old diagram of an intersexed body from the speaker, but there is cruelty everywhere. These visits become that future revision. The boy forms hands that fascinate in the death and anatomy of small creatures, and the body, as it grows toward and against injection, segments into a thousand selves. He is made of lines as shapes—on and off his person—round into genital purpose. He writes,
The hole is a different breed of hole than the holes I find in my flesh, that the flesh is as it imbibes and extrudes. This hole is different from the hole that means lack, means desire. Different from the holes in the wires. This is the hole that forms between things when they are denied fluidity. This hole is the negative that forms when the whole is denied, as distinct and effervescent as its infinity of nodes may be. This hole is the dim, thick air around the tangled lines that formed me. When I speaks, I speaks out of a certain language that is formed against this hole, this negative. I speak with an I that is not quite like the I that I describe as a cock, as erect boyhood. But my tongues are speaking in tongues, here, inverted.
And so we are in this extruded ecology, this map of a body made feral by and then conditioned to shape. Bhanu Kapil, in Schizophrene, a book composed of light touches for condemned bodies of mental illness, gives us another way of looking at the surfaces we mold over a body of work: “Folds generate density on a contour map but for what? A map is a kind of short term memory: the genealogy of an historical time versus the chronology of geographical form.” A memoir is a map, and in letters to the dead, a genealogy is carved out. So too this short-term memory is given gross vitality in memoirs. I will never forget the opening of Intersex because it made me physically ill to read—and I generally have a strong stomach. We are given a different contour map, one made of shit and grease and all the liquid movements inside the body that want—badly—to drip and leak and plop outside the body. This shapes and impresses a geographical form, too, with supreme success. Apps will never offer up the body without contamination, though he would never call the jolting stuff of the body contamination. In this first part, called “Barbecue Catharsis,” Apps writes,
My bowel movement gives me post-coital melancholy. When I lift my ass from the seat, I can feel the thick fluid peeling up from the surface of my skin, like pulling my hand off a table coated in the dye-flushed fluid that surrounds blackberries in pie filling. It’s sticky on my skin.
I wrap my hand with a profuse coiling of cheap, rough paper. I wrap it until my hand is white, mummified ball and I make tentative gestures at the edge of my ass until I feel the mass hit wetness. When I look at my balled fist, the mahogany stain runs deep. Orange and green vegetable matter rest in specks on the surface. I wipe until my fist wad is saturated, and then I strip it off and make a new one. I rinse and repeat. Except I don’t rinse, shit gets on my hands. I wipe, I toss. I wipe, I toss.
The body is an explosive weight, despite how this liquid bursting is generally mummified in the skin. “The beauty of the thing all vibrating and haywire because we are shit. Biological refuse. Gorgeous decomposition. The stuff extruding from a shame structure….”