Response to Machado's (2019) "In the Dream House"
Updated: Apr 29, 2022
The question I'm choosing to respond to this week is this one:
"In what ways does the form of the book reflect what is happening inside of the Dream House? In what ways does it reflect Machado’s physical and mental state post-Dream House? What do you make of the various sections of the book that really complicate the memoir genre/style, such as the Choose Your Own Adventure or the Déjà Vu chapters (if we honestly want to call them chapters)? How is this queer?"
Phew, I don't know about you all, but that was a really tough read (or in my case, audiobook, listen) for me. It dug up a lot of old memories of my own experiences of codependent dating in my early twenties. I also don't know if anyone else listened to Machado's book instead of read it, but in the Audible version she reads the book herself. It may or may not be the extended isolation of this quarantine, but hearing her memoir in her voice was - unbelievable. I felt like I was there, reminiscing on my own similar experiences countless times. It really spoke to the taken for granted naturalness of this type of subtle and compacting normalized abuse. Heteronormatively (read like: Naturally), even less frequently than hearing stories of abuse do you hear stories of queer abuse. To begin actually answering Harry and Jon's questions, as a media ecologist, I always appreciate a good question about form! I understood Machado's segmented form as purposefully contributing to the replication of when one thinks back to experiences of abuse; how they're usually in bite sized forms, like memories reflected on as you drift off to sleep.
Memories of abuse are like snap-shot instances, that when looked at in isolation may not look like much (little red flags of human fallibility, surely), but when seen full-fledge compounded enactment signal more overt symptoms of complex abuse. I saw Machado speaking to this near the end, when she said,
"A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean that it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two of you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable to" (pgs. 235-236).
Although I don't believe she cited her explicitly(?), this quote immediately reminded me of Marilyn Frye's bird cage metaphor. Where she explained that if you look at one bar (representing an: incident or micro aggression even) in isolation you'd be asking yourself, "What's keeping that bird in there? It can escape..It must just not want to..." but when looking at them in tandem, suddenly it's revealed that they work as a prison.
In this case, the prison reflected the physical and mental state of Machado during and after she was under duress in the ever-present myth of the "Dream House" of queer relationships. I saw her choice to divide her book into these various sections as being a purposeful representational form of the endless multidimensionality of these intersectional and historically-situated experiences of abuse. It doesn't fit in a neat box someone can classify neatly. Her explanation at the end deeply resonated with me, when she disclosed how she felt she carried these rooms around with her. But as the previous quote spoke to, eventually she had to let it go. As someone who writes for similar reasons, I hope her writing this was a successful dimension of her practice in cathartic release and letting go of this phase of her life. I understood her use of this out of the box compilation of personal writings as quintessentially queer in form; deliberately pushing back at traditionally valorized writing standards, in the same way the memoir is known for contrasting via brazen humanness. It was also queer AF the way she told how it felt as a woman growing up in a world that makes you smash your queerness down so far that the thought of even finding a partner becomes inevitably pedestaled, only to narratively bring it back down to the grubby ground of human paradox. The way Machado weaved though depictions of generational, psychological, and emotional manipulation was breathtaking in the best and worst ways. So close to home. It's been a week and I don't think I'm anywhere near over hearing someone speak the truth in such vivid, long-overdue, and until now profoundly silenced detailed.
One last queer thing, shout out to the one section in "Into the Dream House" where she points out that queer people also deserve the indignity of negative representations and is much more eloquently like: