What Errors Reveal
What do the typos of Kindling reveal about its themes of bodies, illness, and global politics? When I read books on writing or attend seminars and panels, I hear only occasionally about the physical bodies that make physical books. And even then it is almost always about the writer alone: his favorite pen, his desk, the window his desk sits in front of and the birds he hears and the type of light he sees outside said window and whether or not or how often or with how many dogs he walks.
In reading Kindling, other bodies become visible (or at least, a faint outline where their invisibility hunches over a press or lies in bed with a pen and notebook). I see a typo and think that if Morales or her publisher did pay someone to edit her manuscript, that person may have been overworked, underpaid, under qualified, or all of the above. I start to imagine all the people involved in the making of a book. The errors wear away at the fallacy that a book is written by a writer and not a community.
The editors, proofreaders, photographers, type-setters, and jacket designers are, to the reader, invisible hands. But what of those bodies of actual people who make a single copy of text into thousands of copies? It starts me imagining the old printing-presses, the deaf workers whose bodies filled basements, hunched over machines, hired for work that would have been deafening had they any hearing to begin with. It reminds me of the sign print in American Sign Language, emerging, I imagine, from the time when the printed word was newly possible and still scarce. The sign made by tapping the thumb and forefinger together, as if plucking a single, glorious sheet of paper from that first miraculous press.
Each error in Kindling is a dark shadow passing quickly, the presence of someone who should be there, but is not. What is uncanny about the ghost is its lack of body, amplified by its insistent suggestion of corporality; only a body casts a shadow or blows out a candle or fills up the arms of an old coat. One cannot be without body, let alone do; corrections require one who corrects, edits require editors. It is bodies, alive in the world, that make the made things of the world.
An indigenous Mam woman in her fifties walks hunched over, sits hunched over, hunches over near the woodstove flipping tortillas between her hands. For most of her life she has gathered and carried the wood to the stove. By now, it is her grandchildren who trek to the jungle to cut and carry. But the pile of wood, carried weekly on her back with a forehead strap for years, haunts her body still. Her body exhibits the world she lives in. And the world she lives in inhabits her body.
So, too, the body of a text reflects the body of an author who inhabits and is inhabited by the world in which she lives. “Our bodies,” Morales writes to her deceased friend Gloria Anzaldúa, “the bodies of two Caribbean women who were born and grew up in the 20th century, amidst war and industry and political repression, hold political truths about the world we live in, about damage and resistance, about truth telling and healing….” Morales’s text reflects the truth of her body reflecting the truth of the world in which we live.
Grammatical errors in Kindling, when read in context, show us where Morales and her community are fallible, penetrable: we read her body—and other, absent bodies—into the body of the text. It is not trickery, but necessity. Morales’s errors are not meant to be symbolic; “spin” instead of “spine” is not a manifesto about the corporate media and medical industrial complex. But just because it is not a manifesto does not mean that meaning is not manifested there.
In the region of Huehuetenango, in northern Guatemala, the families who moved their homes to the road, who block trucks and equipment and prevent the construction of a hydro-electric dam on their land, are called manifestantes. They may or may not write manifestos. Perhaps it is not as important to write a manifesto when you are a manifesto. Their corrugated metal roofs are not architectural inadequacies, but the best that can be done in the context; the metal roofs show context. And—more importantly—they keep out the rain.
Several years ago, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha wrote an article about Environmental Illness, also called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. At the time, a new friend of mine also had Environmental Illness. The article began with a disclaimer that although she wanted to write the article well, she felt the priority was to get it out in the world. The article explained that when I wore scented products I could cause migraines and more in people with Environmental Illness, which I hadn’t realized I had done. She told me where to buy and how to make scent-free products, which I have now done.
To write what is not necessary seems to me a waste of the fine and finite time we’ve been given in these bodies on this earth. To not be careful in our work suggests that what we are writing is not necessary. But prioritizing near-perfection of craft when the content is urgent suggests a warped aesthetic and ethic.
Try as we might, the author cannot be pulled from a text. The making of a book is a physical thing, after all, made possible by many bodies. Whatever it represents, it is also a physical manifestation. I hold it. I sit in my backyard on top of a worm-bin that I built and I hold this book because Morales’s physical body, along with others, made it. I am grateful that Morales was able to pay her medical care for a while. I hope that her body, if briefly, knew reprieve. And I am grateful that this book was born and brought to my arms, just as it is.