INTRODUCTION: AN EXEGETIC CHAIN | Kit Eginton | The Hypocrite Reader

Kit Eginton



One day this past winter I decided for some reason to read Cat Pierro the entire list of personal flaws I keep in my phone. I have about sixteen flaws.

When I had finished she nodded approvingly and said that they were very good, but that she would like to add one: “You take people’s advice too seriously. Often you are despairing—it’s as though you have been in a shipwreck, and you’re clinging to a waterlogged plank, and you are crying, ‘All is lost, all is lost!’ And then someone comes by in a helicopter and tosses you down a shitty inflatable raft that’s slightly better than the plank, and then they fly away, and you cry, ‘I’m saved! I’m saved!’ But really, you weren’t hopelessly lost in the first place, and you aren’t saved now. You’re still just somewhere in between.”

Naturally, I took her thoughts onboard wholesale.

It is true that I tend to hoard snippets of “wisdom.” But I think I have good taste in aphorisms. Let me share a few of them with you.

On regret: You are drowning in your own blood because you are afraid. The desire for absolution. The nostalgia for a shelter. A shelter. Like a spell.1

On hypocrisy: To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.2

On others: I want you to touch me / as if you want to know me, / not arouse me.3

This spring my best friend and I were trying to form a revolutionary trans organization in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts. We hoped to build or find a coalition that could withstand the coming storm. The region (when I’m being silly I call it “God’s Green Hamper”) is racially divided by an east-west line running between mostly white, historically lesbian Northampton to the North and heavily BIPOC Springfield to the South. Springfield was a major terminus on the Underground Railroad. The apartment I spent the winter in lies right on the border, in Holyoke, an old paper mill town.

On building solidarities: Go to their things, don’t try to get them to come to yours.4

This past winter I used to walk daily to the Dunkin’ Donuts. At that point my period of unemployment had stretched for a couple years. I would wake up around 3pm., be dressed by five, and walk up Route 5 in the deep blue twilight, hurrying to make it before they locked the lobby doors and switched to drive-thru only. If I made it I’d sit surrounded by the orange walls for hours, nursing an iced coffee no matter the weather. I kept getting the leftover pumpkin spice flavor till February, when the pumpkin or the sweetened condensed milk in the sauce must have gone off and I had to run out to the parking lot to empty my stomach in a dead flowerbed, where no one would have to clean it up.

For months I tried to find something to write about that winter that would recuperate it somehow, turn it into a lesson, into raw material. A couple months ago I went on a date with a writer who suggested I stop trying to find what lay at the “bottom” of misery: Death is simply not a very good teacher.5

Before getting into the Holyoke apartment, in fall 2022, my best friend (then my partner) and I briefly became homeless together. It was their second go-round, my first. I have two stories to tell about that time.

First vignette.— We are in a McDonald’s at a rest stop between Easthampton and Albany. There is a life-size statue of Ronald McDonald that takes up most of an indoor bench. The exit is hung with photos and newspaper clippings about the family who owns the franchise. It is late. We are on our way to see my partner’s ex-husband. I have not had time alone for, maybe two weeks? and I am crying into my McDouble. I spot a bearded man in a flannel shirt, who looks like my poetry teacher in college. He always seemed to me like the sort of person who would be found at a rest stop McDonald’s. I say, “Josh?” But he glares at me like I’ve spat in his face. Later I ask my partner why this happened. They tell me, as gently as they can, that I look insane—an unkempt, unhinged trans woman. I didn’t know.

Second vignette, a few weeks later.— It’s 7am. My partner is sleeping at the cheap motel and I am driving north to Walmart, mostly just for something to do. I have not had my antipsychotics for several months at this point and I am struggling not to hit any of the other cars because of the vision or whatever it is that I am having. I have never tripped but it is like how people describe psychedelic experiences. My body is several light-seconds away. I am hovering in rarefied air, I can see the silver and copper tangles that wire everything together, the leviathanic musculature over which the shops along Route 5 stretch like a thin skin. I am exactly like the meme of the white lady with equations flying past her head. When I get to Walmart I walk around and around the parking lot texting one of the other Hypocrite editors breathlessly about the magic sigils my partner and I have invented, which combine like so to make the Marxian dialectic and like so to make the Hegelian, each sigil standing for a type of autist. She doesn’t reply. Everything is transfigured by a burning clarity, but there’s no one to hold me on the Earth long enough to write it all down. A few hours later, it’s gone.

On playing a role: Actors understand the infinite vastness hiding inside each human being, the characters not played, the characteristics not revealed. Schoolteachers can see every day that, given the chance, the sullen pupil in the back row can sing, dance, juggle, do mathematics, paint, and think. If the play we’re watching is an illusion, if the baby who now wears the costume of the hustler in fact had the capacity to become a biologist or a doctor, a circus performer or a poet or a scholar of ancient Greek, then the division of labor, as now practiced, is inherently immoral, and we must somehow learn a different way to share out all the work that needs to be done.6

On leaving a role: Wanna fly, you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.7

On enchantment: To the extent that workers were willing to believe that having solidarity was morally necessary, they were able to realise—partially and fitfully—the slogan that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. This phrase never described a preexisting truth about the working class; it was, instead, an ethical injunction. But insofar as workers accepted this injunction, their interests as individuals began to change: those interests were simplified, narrowed, or even wholly redefined, but also partially fulfilled.8

From September to May I would take my partner’s car out driving late at night. Often I would take Route 141 over Mount Tom, a slow, plodding climb up and down dark hollows, then a grand descent—all of Easthampton spreads out beneath you as you hurtle down. Lyrics or lines about sad men trapped in small towns would pop into my head on these joyrides: “One dark night, / my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;”9 “Mansions in the heights: / how they shine, like jewels in the crown / of your hometown.”10

During these months I felt as though I were detransitioning, not from being a woman exactly, but from—what, being an aspiring New Yorker? Being an organizer? The future I could live with was rotting off my body. Facebook and Twitter were collapsing, there was almost no one to talk to. Disconnected, my mind began to eat itself; I wouldn’t have lost what I did if my tits were bigger, if I were smart enough, if I had “it,” that brilliance, that moral fire.

On having “it”: In order to assimilate the culture of the oppressor and venture into his fold, the colonized subject has had to pawn some of his own intellectual possessions. For instance, one of the things he has had to assimilate is the way the colonialist bourgeoisie thinks. This is apparent in the colonized intellectual's inaptitude to engage in dialogue. For he is unable to make himself inessential when confronted with a purpose or idea. On the other hand, when he operates among the people he is constantly awestruck. He is literally disarmed by their good faith and integrity. He is then constantly at risk of becoming a demagogue. He turns into a kind of mimic man who nods his assent to every word by the people, transformed by him into an arbiter of truth. But the fellah, the unemployed and the starving do not lay claim to truth. They do not say they represent the truth because they are the truth in their very being.11

On co-computation: For Anarkatas, the grapevine is more than just about passing information you heard. The grapevine is an experience of constant information sharing in Black culture that is communal. Anarkatas make use of the “grapevine” as a concept to describe revolutionary communication infrastructure that is not formally recognized or easily traceable.12

Work on the magazine was slow and halting this winter. I was deeply depressed; Erica was trying to get her novel published; James had a fellowship in Ireland; Sandy was touring with her new band, the Dilators; Piper was finishing law school and is having twins this week (or, um, right now? We just got news that she’s literally in labor on publication day, which didn’t stop her from suggesting a tweak to one of the article titles). Cat was the only one at full capacity. We let ourselves go slow, and we did it without a theme for the first time in a hundred issues.

At times it felt to me as though the slower pace let the work be more authentic; at other times, it felt to me like the magazine had lost its spark. When we started the current iteration of the magazine, it was the summer of 2020: all of us had more time, there was the scent of possibility in the air—it smelled like a burning Target, like city air sans car exhaust. We came into it wanting to seize the breach in reality, to luxuriate in making something beautiful. Maybe it was just the clinical depression, or maybe it was the threat of genocide and the escalation of political catastrophes without a coherent response from the left, but this year I felt more and more keenly the pressure to have a worldly reason to keep doing this. It felt like time was running out.

As for the lack of a theme, themes are always a bit of a con, anyway—an attempt to create the appearance of a unity where none exists. In the best case, they capture a unity of spirit that already exists ambiently in the culture. Still, a surprising amount of coherence emerged in the pieces we ended up publishing.

Sanders Bernstein’s piece (originally titled “Against Jewish Revenge”) shares with the interview with Lawrence Lemaoana an anxiety about national memory, about identifying too wholeheartedly with a concrete struggle or injury. One gets the sense that neither of these men are what my godmother would call “joiners.”

Sanders is telling us how to avoid fascism; Katy Burnett’s essay on Brecht is, in part, about how to respond to it. Like Lawrence, Katy describes a life spent trying to understand the mechanisms that drive our world. She shares an autumnal, frosty air with Tessa Cheek and Hannah Blair, both of whom have written self-skeptical and resolute memoirs about witnessing a living being’s death. In Tessa’s piece, the narrator is a killer; in Hannah’s, she is a mourner who suspects her own motives.

Misha Crafts, writing on transness and horror movies, shares with Katy and Sanders a skepticism about identification and a concern for theatricality, for the separability of the role from the player. Like Sanders, Lawrence, and—again—Katy, Misha writes under the shadow of the collapse of the uneasy shelter liberalism gave to LGBTQ+ people in the first decade and a half of the current millennium.

To sketch you a rough map: Katy’s piece sits at the center of this issue’s compass rose, with Misha to the south, Sanders to the north, Tessa and Hannah to the east and west; Lawrence’s cheerful pessimism extends like a sheltering wing over the whole affair.

We chose to title the issue “FACING THE THING.” Many of the articles involve a struggle not to look away from something terrible. If I had to retroactively propose a “centering question” for FACING THE THING, it would be this: we all know by now we have to face it, but what is the thing, actually? Is it the commodity, whiteness, death? A luta continua, but where, against whom, and with what weapons? What is spectacle, and what is reality? Where do you go if you want to keep it real?

I often felt disoriented and unreal this year. Often, I couldn’t find a self to perform that convinced me or others. I hope you fared better. For my part, it felt as though I had awoken in the midst of a dark hall of mirrors and had to fight my way out, against enemies that might or might not be myself. There’s a disorientation and uncertainty in the self in many of these essays, a frustrated desire to work from the particular out to the universal. I’m glad to feel less isolated now than I did last winter, more like someone I recognize, and to have had these writers and coeditors to think with over the past few months. We should all talk to each other if we want to figure out what’s going on. There are hard times coming, and none of us can do very much alone.

—Kit Eginton

Photograph by Tessa Cheek

1 Rhea Galanaki, The Cake

2 Federico Garcia Lorca, Blood Wedding, Act II Scene I

3 Li-Young Li, “The Undressing”

4 My best friend said this.

5 I don’t think she’d like to be named.

6 Wallace Shawn, “Why I Call Myself a Socialist”

7 Nsambu Za Suekama, “My Gender is Marronage: A Revisitation”

8 Endnotes, A History of Separation, Part II: The Construction of the Worker’s Movement

9 Robert Lowell, “Skunk Hour”

10 Harrison Lemke, “Your Hometown”

11 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Chapter 1 (On Violence)

12 Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas, “Move Like Mycorrhizae: Some Suggestions for Praxis”

I originally found several of the quotes through Philadelphia artist Xio Martin’s brilliant image-quote pairing project.