T. Fleischmann. Syzygy, Beauty. Sarabande Books. 2012.
Reviewed by Christine Martorana
Early in T. Fleischmann’s text Szygy, Beauty, the speaker expresses that “By describing something we place it at a distance”. And yet, paradoxically, the speaker does just this—describing in poetic detail his obsessive love for an unavailable partner. Why, then, knowing the ensuing distance, does the speaker describe the one thing he wants, more than anything, to embrace? Perhaps embarking on this descriptive journey is the only way to temporarily satiate the longing for a love that remains hidden, partial, and incomplete. Regardless, this is simply one of the many times Fleischmann skillfully and fluidly keeps the text at the reader’s fingertips—close enough to touch but never close enough to hold.
At the exact moment the reader thinks he may have gained insight into the characters, their relationships, or their motivations, he turns the page to be greeted by an unforeseen twist, a single word or phrase so delicately placed that it disrupts the reader’s previous conceptions. Is the speaker a man or a woman? Both? Neither? And what gender is the speaker’s lover, the one directly addressed throughout the essay as “you?” Does it even matter? Despite—or perhaps because of—the fluidity with which Fleischmann depicts gender, the reader keeps reading, driven by the yearning to dig deeper into this unusual text that poses more questions than answers.
Szygy, Beauty is an essay that skirts the boundaries of several genres. The text includes 102 short paragraph glimpses into the speaker. These moments include dialogue, poetry, reflections, lists, and observations. Sprinkled among the speaker’s thoughts are references to artists, including painter/sculptor Meret Oppenheim, photographer/painter Man Ray, and potter/transvestite Grayson Perry. The short paragraphs take up less than a page each; it is the start and stop of each moment that lends the text its personal, intimate quality. With each brief snippet, the reader peers into the speaker’s inner thoughts, seemingly raw and unedited—and uncovers there a compellingly honest portrayal of unquenched desire, shifting conceptions of identity, and flitting movements between lovers.
“Syzgy” signifies the formation of three celestial bodies—a formation that only occurs under special and specific circumstances. For Syzgy, Beauty, these three bodies are the physical presences of the speaker, his lover, and his lover’s boyfriend. The common thread running throughout each segment is the speaker’s unquenched desire for his lover—and the lover’s uncommitted fluctuation. Looking deeper, we see a prevailing undercurrent of the text: the structure and limits imposed by external manifestations of gender. Fleischmann crafts a text that subverts these limitations, experimenting with textual representations of gender and sexuality in ways that both challenge and satisfy. They result in a text that is sometimes playful, but is always longing, always beautiful.
T. Fleischmann has published essays in Fourth Genre, Pleiades, Gulf Coast, and The Indiana Review, among others. Their work was honored as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays, 2009 and 2010. They earned their MFA at the University of Iowa in nonfiction, and they are currently a nonfiction editor at DIAGRAM.
Christine Martorana is a Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D. student at The Florida State University. She is originally from Ohio where she received a Master’s in English from the University of Dayton. Currently, Christine’s research interests include intersections between gender and the visual.