A fragmented notebook investigates mental illness and trauma in the South Asian diaspora
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Schizophrene traces the intersections of migration and mental illness as they unfold in post-Partition diasporic communities. Bhanu Kapil brings forward the question of a healing narrative and explores trauma and place through a somatic, poetic and cross-cultural psychiatric enquiry. Who was here? Who will never be here? Who has not yet arrived and never will? Towards an arrival without being, this notebook-book return a body to a site, the shards re-forming in mid-air: for an instant.
Poignant, rich, delicious, a book to return to again and again.
Kapil overtly frames her book—which is constituted by eight sequences (or chapters) of narrative poetic prose—as an undertaking driven by social consciousness and personal investment. As her introduction, titled “Passive Notes,” tells us, Schizophrene centers on issues of the self in a sate of extremity brought on by abusive structures of power. The book explores the effects of the partition of South Asia on the individual, addressing “the high incidence of schizophrenia in diasporic Indian and Pakistani communities; the parallel social history of domestic violence, relational disorders, and so on” (i). While the book contains substantial research, Kapil thoroughly penetrates the text with a first-person sensibility, providing us with a model of authorship that uses the self as experiential and empathetic instrument.
Featured in The Poetry Foundation Staff Picks of 2011
In first glancing through Schizophrene by Bhanu Kapil, I hardly felt at ease in reviewing a book that depicts the sentiments of the 1947 Partition of India, the aftermath of violence, the displacement, and mental illness, all in the form of prose poetry. I know little about the topic and the genre. The sheer emotional impact of reading disturbing sections out of context left a pit in my stomach. I was afraid to read the account in its entirety, but also, I was ashamed not to. The tome—not weighty in size, but in content—sat on my desk for weeks, haunting me, finding its way again and again to the top of my teetering stack. I’d glimpse the bright, inviting image on the cover, yet worry. What frightened me? Why was the book still there?
This idea of time and decay is central to Schizophrene, which haltingly, in prose, traces the junctures of migration and schizophrenia in diasporic communities, primarily in India and Pakistan. I say haltingly not in slight, but rather to illustrate the subtleties in recounting experience which is communicated in sparse sentences on the page, hemmed in by an exquisite use of blank space.
Bhanu Kapil is a British-Indian emigrant to the United States. She is the author of five full-length works of poetry/prose: The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (2001), Incubation …