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This review is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

Cover of How to Wash a Heart
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Bhanu Kapil, How to Wash a Heart (Pavilion Poetry)
Host-logic is magic. It is a magical logic. It is not, therefore, strictly logical, though it may magically take the shape of logic. It can hide its paternalism, its paranoia and obstinacy, its maddening need to be liked and to be like, in the turn of a phrase or a smile or the offer of warmth. Calypso in The Odyssey (Emily Wilson’s translation): ‘I have made plans for you as I would do / for my own self, if I were in your place’. The power of host-logic as magical thinking: everything depends upon that ‘I’, and everything is conditional – ‘would’, ‘if I were’. Host-logic bewitches. How does it do this? At what cost? Who pays?

When you found my Diary / And read from it / Aloud. / Was this the moment / I became / An alien form?

A kind of spell. The two subjects of Kapil’s book perform and endure the ritual of hospitality. The host, reading aloud, wants to change the guest. The guest, in fact, has already been subjected to change. There is the horror of recognising this, followed by the horror of failing to isolate the moment when it happened. The moment cannot be found. As in ‘titration’, the process of violent change is gradual, iterating across imperceptible degrees (still, it is violent):

I press the plush white towel / To my cheek. / This is titration: / A few moments to feel like / A complete human being.

In trauma theory, titration is a slowing down. The process ...

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