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Notes on the Visible/Invisible

Posted Sep 12 2008 11:34am
The shaving of the head, in order to make women visible, to shame them. (I told my neighbor I was going to get a sign that said, I slept with a Nazi, but he didn't get it. And then in the movie Black Book, there they were in post-war Holland, the "Nazi whores" being paraded down the street with shaved heads and derisive signs.)

The continuum from voluntary to involuntary hairlessness. Look for "chemo caps" or "chemo hats" on Google and you find rosters of turbans and cloches and caps and sun hats and scarves and wigs soon you will find the Yiddish word "tichel," for handkerchief. The Orthodox Jews and the residents of Chemolandia, both part of a market share. The Chemolandians just passing through, the pious there for the long haul, no fly-by-nights. Where are the kerchiefs for the Muslim women? They don't turn up. To find them you have to look for "hijab." And then the world opens up for you, of luxury hijab pins and jilbabs and bonnet caps, and you learn that Ikea has commissioned a hijab to be be part of its sales clerk uniform.

The shaving of the head to create instant conformity: the military, of course. The shaving of the head for hygenic purposes, to rid the community of lice. The shaving of the head as humiliation, to make the Jews/any prisoners/ just one of many. Oneofmany. In Seed of Sarah, Judith Magyar Isaacson describes her first day at Auschwitz. The showers. The real ones, with water. Then she is shorn and shaved and disinfected, and stands in line for clothes. Then she is rushed at a by a male inmate in a ragged blanket. It is her mother. Without hair, everyone has become male. Everyone is the same.

The medicine took away my hair. I focus on the hair, the hair, that is what is lost. We focus on the hair, the hair the hair. It begins to fall away, which I cannot help. I am help-less. So then I cut and shave it. I leave a Mohawk, I shape the hair that is left, therefore having agency, as the Ph.D.s would say. Then the Mohawk, my Mohawk, falls away. And I shave off the rest of the very thinned hairs. I henna the bare head. Thus I have agency again. I am seizing the means of ---decoration. In a way, I have chosen all, I am in control. I have chosen to comply with the medical establishment. I have chosen to take its poison. I have chosen the poison so that I will not die. I will take the draught that kills, but not all the way dead. Just a little. It just kills a little. I am a little bit dead.

My hair is dead, it falls away. Inside me, rapidly-multiplying cells are attacked rapidly. Inside there is a battle of strong versus weak. The cancer cells want to gallop away and the chemo runs after them, to stop them in their tracks. The chemo pursues. Adriamycin is red and can destroy tissue, you must be careful when administering it. If you are a cancer cell, beware beware.

It is all invisible, this raging war. The patient is told to conjure up this cell eating that cell. Strong happy cells munching on cancer cells. A Pac Man game inside the body. Your mind will keep the score going up and up. Your mind and will.

Everything looks good, the surgeon told me last week. Everything is fine. You're doing well. What would be not doing well? I asked. Not doing the chemo, she said. Non-compliance. The doctor's biggest bane, the patient who is not compliant. Kathy Acker died of breast cancer after a double mastectomy and alternative treatments. Did she refuse chemo? Would it have made a difference? In my ignorance of her particular circumstances I am angry at her, I am snobbish, superior, I am telling her posthumous self that she should have gone for the chemo. Chosen that box. Gone through that door. Though she didn't have insurance. She had fame, underground fame but no insurance. Could she have gotten chemo without insurance? In county hospital here, you get treatment if you have cancer, but it takes a year to schedule a mammogram. A year. And if you have to cancel, you wait another year.

Pause. I look up Acker (See Comments; only half the article available), see that the doctor said to do chemo, that with it she had a 70 percent chance of avoiding recurrence. But with it, a 60 percent chance. She decided the difference wasn't worth it. She had cancer in her lymph nodes but thought that they might not be full of cancer but a catch-basin for the cancer. I read what she wrote about healers and past lives and healing the self. How can you heal the self? She did not heal the self. She died. She died in Tijuana. Would she have died with chemo?

I am skeptical, skeptical, skeptical. Of her work. Of her talent. I never got her work. It was shouting and made up of the mouths of French philosophes. It seemed to be cheating. She was cheating by shouting and talking Rimbaud & Deleuze. She was performative. She had short-cropped hair, possibly buzzed. I am not happy that she is dead. But she is dead. I do not approve. I wish she had insurance. I go to an acupuncturist. I do not believe in past lives, except metaphorically.

And I believe metaphor is real. And invisible.
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