DECEMBER 14, 2017
IN This Bridge Called My Back, Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa posed the need for a “theory in the flesh” that centers the body as the “site which houses the intuitive, the unspoken, the viscera of our being.” Due to its nature as an embodied practice that is at once “the expression of evolving political consciousness and the creator of consciousness, itself” Moraga and Anzaldúa argued that the “theory in the flesh” stemmed from embodied experience and, in doing so, created “the most reliable roadmap to liberation.” Theory in the flesh generates not only a change in consciousness, but also in the form through which we express political consciousness. In Moraga and Anzaldúa’s work, that revolutionary form emerges in part through a mixture of poetry and prose to translate a range of experiences, from Spanish to English, from lyric to prose and back again.
In her debut poetry collection, Gospel of Regicide, Eunsong Kim draws upon this rich tradition within women of color feminism to further theorize the traitor as a revolutionary figure. Much like Moraga’s “A Long Line of Vendidas” and Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera critiqued the gender and sexual politics of their radical Chicanx communities in the 1980s, Kim critiques the failure of Asian American allyship, particularly when it comes to African Americans, in our contemporary moment.
Drawing on the rendering of Judas as Christ’s most loyal disciple in the apocryphal Gospel of Judas, Kim explores Judas’s fidelity to Jesus, following the mandate to betray the leader and his willingness to suffer banishment at the hands of the other disciples. Setting up Judas as a potential revolutionary figure whose betrayal counterintuitively permits the forgiveness of humankind’s sin, Kim considers the catalytic relationship of treachery and betrayal to radical change. Traitors, after all, drive revolutionary plots, according to Kim, who observes in “HE” that “the gods know that the only way to move the revolution / forward is to // have a man kiss you // and take you to your enemies.” In her reference to the Kiss of Judas, Kim turns our attention to the gendered and sexualized nature of the traitor’s revolutionary act. She asks us to consider how, in reading Judas’s betrayal as an act of love, can we also read his kiss as one of desire?
When I met Kim for dinner one warm September evening in Boston, she cited Norma Alarcón’s work on La Malinche as one of the few texts to consider the revolutionary possibilities of the traitor. In Mexican and Chicanx culture, La Malinche is often thought of as the woman who betrayed the Aztecs to Hernán Cortés. However, more contemporary understandings of Malinche by feminists such as Alarcón and Moraga understand her as a slave among her own people. According to Alarcón, the traitor/translator Malinche becomes a figure of “historical, sexual, and linguistic agency” rather than simply La Chingada (“the fucked one”). Throughout Gospel of Regicide, Kim often references the traitor using feminine pronouns, highlighting the association between women and betrayal.
Over the course of the collection, treachery turns from Judas as a revolutionary figure to a manifesto of revolution and coalitional politics for contemporary times. Divided in two parts — “Regicide” followed by “The Gospel”— Kim’s poems consider political meditations from Hannah Arendt (“Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”) and Cheryl Harris (“Whiteness as Property”) alongside historical events like the shooting of Latasha Harlins to ruthlessly interrogate allyship. In this vein, Gospel of Regicide is urgent reading in our current political moment, when the rise of Donald Trump marks a backlash against the Obama presidency and the Black Lives Matter movement that has become increasingly vital since it emerged on social media in response to George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin.
In the first section, Kim positions white supremacy as the object of regicide. Echoing the Lord’s Prayer, Kim writes, “deliver us from whiteness / from its benevolent privatization / deliver us from the anecdotal rapture / was yesterday not also the apocalypse —.” In these moments, Kim points to white supremacy’s ongoing violence, foregrounding how, for people of color in the United States, the end times were yesterday, today, and tomorrow. “Let not one trace survive,” she continues, “a world without them: Haven // Stories that do not remember them // Home.” A world without whiteness or the memory of whiteness, Kim argues, is a world where people of color are free; it’s a world where one can forget whiteness because one can forget the everyday conditions of apocalypse because they are no longer there. While Claudia Rankine’s Citizen enumerates an endless list of microaggressions and constraints on Black people as a condemnatory revelation of racialized injustice, Kim’s Gospel of Regicide takes an unflinching look at Asian American complicity in the subjugation of African Americans.
For Kim, part of the problem is rethinking what an absence of whiteness would mean as, historically, it has meant, according to Cheryl Harris, “being the object of property.” The problem for allyship thus becomes how to turn away from, rather than toward, whiteness to prove that one is neither an object nor property. In this way, Kim echoes Moraga’s observation that U.S. Third World Feminist Consciousness marks a shift away from white feminism toward a globalized, intersectional feminist politics that sees coalitional possibility in the shared experiences of women of color rather than those of a colorblind feminist agenda. Kim makes this turn personal as, in “Pending Protest Guides,” she references two famous cases in which Asian Americans murdered Black people: “1991 sentencing for Latasha Harlins’s murderer: / 5 years probation / 400 hours community service / 500 dollar fine // 2016 sentencing for Akai Gurley’s murderer: / 5 years probation / 800 hours community service / (—–).” In each case, Kim names (and remembers) the victims, but not the murderers. Like #SayHerName, Kim insists upon remembering the victims in a culture that would erase them. The only information given about the murderers is the light sentences that follow. The blank parentheses anticipate the following stanza, which further underscores the failure of justice in these cases: “x number of probation years / some community service / a petty fine, not time anywhere, inside / state payment for / for, for, for —.” The vagueness of the sentencing — “x number,” “some” — turns into a stutter as the line ends before the speaker can name another victim. These strings of absences, from the murderers’ names to the blank parentheses, suggest that Kim is aligning Harlins’s and Gurley’s murderers with whiteness, creating “[s]tories that do not remember them.”
This moment, roughly halfway through Gospel of Regicide, proves pivotal as the traitor and the betrayed come into focus. In the final lines of the first section, the speaker notes that “the act of denying the father / is to peer into one’s records and / situate first the enslaved / and then all others.” These lines, taken from “Translating Lineage,” suggest that to be an ally, one must look outside one’s family and self-interests to side with the enslaved. Toward the end of the second section, “The Gospel” puts this more succinctly: “I fight against my birthright.” That is, rather than joining the revolution to protect one’s own community, Kim offers another framework: “What if instead of: I am a ‘black’ woman and therefore I fight for Black lives / she said: divest destroy revolt.” Indeed, these last words already contain within them a form of allyship not tied to identity as the hypothetical Black woman first says “divest,” implying solidarity with the BDS movement and Palestinian freedom.
Kim invites readers to consider what such allyship (and the revolution it could foment) would mean. A couple pages before the line “divest destroy revolt,” Kim writes, “Public Key: / The traitor isn’t misunderstood, ok? / She’s deranged / She’s in love the wrong way.” In cryptography, public keys are used to scramble a message; private keys unscramble them. What if Kim’s notion of fighting against one’s birthright is thus the private key and the traitor isn’t in love the wrong way at all? What if, to “situate first the enslaved” means offering up a new form of love that will “deliver us from whiteness”? In the penultimate poem of the collection, “Psalm,” Kim cautions: “Love is not the condition for safety / but becomes a possibility.”
Within this possibility, there may finally be “[s]tories that do not remember them,” but the act of regicide is both a reminder and a possibility that instantiates a new regime: “My desire for regicide / My desire for the throne to be empty / Unseated always in my presence,” Kim observes in “Regicide.” In the final poem of the collection, “On the Name,” she suggests that the names of victims like Latasha Harlins and Akai Gurley turn into “the names submerged deep into our bones / their names / their names / to be called / their names only their names / forever & ever / & / into the next —.” Neither lineage nor birthright, but marrow: a new tradition of treachery. Kim’s Gospel of Regicide is a rare and much-needed ray of hope for the resistance to white supremacy in the era of 45. As Kim emphasizes, the fight is also one that must be fought at home, in one’s community. In interrogating whiteness, revolutionaries must also question their loves, commitments, and vocabularies for resistance. In so doing, she draws upon a long line of women of color feminism that seeks to do exactly this by highlighting the shared struggles of women of color and finding solidarity without erasing difference. Writing in a moment of rupture that began with Black Lives Matter, Kim reminds us that “treachery is not a moment / but a lifetime commitment.”