Rae Armantrout, "Anti-Short Story"

In recent days, the problem of tone has asserted itself rather forcefully. Those subject to second-class citizenship meet a litany of demands about their tone.

Rae Armantrout, "Anti-Short Story"

Re: Molly Crabapple, "Despair Is Premature And Rage Is Insufficient"

I read many thoughtful, informative, and angry essays after the leak of Alito's draft intending to overthrow Roe. They are necessary reads, and I'd like to introduce you to one which has stayed with me. Here's Molly Crabapple, describing the world before legal abortion:

...I did not think that the Christian right would touch Roe itself, if only for the purpose of having it remain their favored magnet for the wrath of their constituents, their ideal distraction from all the ways they had failed to deliver anyone a better life.

My mother disagreed. She is old enough to remember the teenage girls sent off to some “aunt out west” to deliver babies that were immediately scooped up by wealthier couples. Of course the fundies would take away Roe, she always said, if they had the opportunity. She was right.

I encountered a few men last week who said they didn't understand why abortion being taken away was a big deal. I tried to be as calm as I could when I described the insensitivity, neglect, and abuse I've seen from those who believe women should not have rights. I explained that even the threat of having a right taken away makes one that much more of a target. I don't know if I was heard. One or two of the people I talked to had people in their lives who've escaped fundamentalism. I wasn't sure what to say to them about their question.

Crabapple's description of a secretive world with immense and evil machinery is both accurate and stunning. A lot of people had to be part of getting a girl sent "out west," delivering a baby, and then selling the baby. Of course none of it was documented; nearly all of society conspired in the harm. There won't be any statistics for those who don't want to believe we could be this cruel, this violent. There is just the cruelty and violence.

I urge you to read her essay. Above is just one story of hers which hits like a truck. There are others. Below, I've written on the problem of tone as I encountered it in a short poem of Rae Armantrout. I don't doubt that in coming weeks we'll have a discourse about tone, which often declares who is allowed to speak and whether they should be heard.

Rae Armantrout, "Anti-Short Story"

In recent days, the problem of tone has asserted itself rather forcefully. Those subject to second-class citizenship meet a litany of demands about their tone. The substance of a complaint—your policies are killing us—is purposefully ignored because of claims about how it was said. In general, tone enables a variety of gatekeepers. Not too long ago, I witnessed a thorough but rambling scholar get torn apart because of notions dictating how the academy should talk. Suffice to say, I don't share those notions.

Our hellscape of pundits, talk-radio hosts, and pretend newscasters tone-polices so much that it can be hard to see tone as an issue. When something is unceasing and ubiquitous, it may not only function as a given, but gain all the advantages of invisibility. Still, Rae Armantrout's "Anti-Short Story" brought the issue into relief. The poem's brevity led to ransacking a toolkit of themes in order to find a few that fit well. You can see how tone emerges as a central puzzle when thinking through what is meant:

Anti-Short Story (from Poetry)
Rae Armantrout

A girl is running. Don’t tell me   
“She’s running for her bus.”

All that aside!

Initially, I hear a playful tone. "A girl is running" could be ominous, but saying "Don't tell me / 'She's running for her bus'" immediately puts the image of a girl running for a bus in my head. She may be late for work or school; I fail to believe the situation is dangerous.

Therein lies the problem. How do we assess tone? Armantrout says explicitly "Don't tell me / 'She's running for her bus'." What I hear as playful could well be exasperation. "A girl is running" is the fundamental fact given to us, and we know this to be a dangerous world for women. On my reading, Armantrout's last line, "All that aside!", brings us back to "A girl is running" with emphasis.

Tone is everything when it comes to politics nowadays. Right-wing trash floods our discourse not just because it is everywhere, but because it commands powerful tones. A right-wing narrative has often been forged from a description not unlike Armantrout's poem. Recall the Central Park Five, one of you-know-who's most deadly and demagogic excesses. However, the tones used do more than sow distrust and fear. One of the most dangerous is that of unimpeachable authority. Armantrout provokes us to think about what's happening, reconstruct a situation and the emotions involved. She does not aspire to domination or creating tools for domination. But then there's Ben Shapiro, who is everywhere. He sounds authoritative while constantly making hyperbolic, tendentious claims. He makes so many—he floods the zone with assertiveness—that it is useless to debate or fact-check him. The combination of incessant speaking to a large audience in his specific way establishes his "facts and logic" in impressionable minds. The outstanding question is what sort of investment is needed to combat this. "Anti-Short Story" from that perspective is an educative exercise, centered on realizing the primacy of certain facts.