by Eli Lambe
Almost exactly one year ago, I attended a conference at UEA on ‘hybrid writing’, organised by Seam Editions. The last presentation before lunch absolutely captured the theme of the conference. Anna Metcalfe presented ‘I hope to Show’, or the Last Thing out of Pandora’s Box, a creative-critical reflection on academic writing, optimism and Hesiod. Last Tuesday, in an unassuming brown padded envelope, my advance copy of A Hope on The Wall arrived. I keep describing it to myself as “a beautiful little book” and it truly is; Francesca Romano has done an amazing job of making a deceptively minimalist-looking home for a complex and engaging read. I can see it conveniently sitting inside my notebook, ready for me to dive into whenever doubt sets in.
The work positions itself as a positive rupture of the negative.
The pre-amble, a mediation on the phrase, “there is no magic money tree” is biting – it interacts with the now and looks at the language of hopelessness, the language of unreality contrasted with hope, with reality. Metcalfe argues, “Hope and objectivity are not mutually exclusive” and thus brings this work into the conversation happening around how we want to act/exist/interact politically and critically. The work positions itself as a positive rupture of the negative. Through her Critique, she enacts solutions to the crisis that plagues the contemporary. The whole work expresses a need to move beyond the reactionary and the “left-wing melancholy [which] invites us to recognize that there is no alternative to the power of the beast…” as described by Ranciére in The Emancipated Spectator, to a politics of optimism, community and care.
In examining what happens when we “hope to show”, Metcalfe describes the academic essay as something which “wears its heart on its sleeve”. This is an observation that is at once freeing and also a deep reflection on the form of the essay – the desire to explain, to explain to someone who understands, the hope to show. This is paired with close reading of political theorist Bruce Robbins and close reading of poet Emily Dickinson as well as ethereal reflective writing that invites close reading of itself. Metcalfe invites us to write, and invites us into this hoping and showing, invites us to communicate and be brought together on “a little patch of uneven earth”. To create in these patches “the building blocks of the communal spaces we would like to inhabit”.
The second chapter of the essay looks at hope through the story of Pandora’s box, and at the various possibilities contained in interpreting and translating the myth. Ambiguity, here, is rich:
“by suggesting the ground upon which hope rests” – either that Elpis remains in the jar for safe keeping, or that hope is not allowed into the world lest we become thoughtlessly optimistic – we instate a particular reading of what it is to be hopeful.”
In this, Metcalfe reasserts the connection and community of writing, reasserts the importance and communicativity of form, presents an alternative to “there is no magic money tree”, an alternative by which we find “a contingent hope that emerges through collective visions, languages and rhetorical forms.”
This is an idea of hope that has been woven through the rest of the essay…
From this, Metcalfe moves into another close reading – of a Clarise Lispector story titled ‘A Hope’, in which the narrator, a mother, reflects with her son on the presence of a cricket on the wall in her house. Originally published in Portuguese, where the word for hope is the same as the word for cricket (esperança) the story “allows us to see hope as a hybrid: the inside and the outside, the formed and the formless, the magic and the real.” This is an idea of hope that has been woven through the rest of the essay, an idea of hope contained/written/loved into the act of creative-critical writing and into communication, translation, and writing itself.
The post-amble came too soon, I wanted to stay inside the words and any sign that I’d soon turn the last page was unwelcome. But, the postamble gave the essay a new focus, a new clarity. Through an essay by Keguro Macharia, Metcalfe ties the previous readings into a current political “rallying cry”, a reflection on “political vernaculars” and looks at Macharia’s essay as it “illuminates the political side of an argument I have for the most part tried to advance through literature and a smattering of critical theory.”
In A Hope on the Wall, Metcalfe reaffirms the value of writing and criticism in shaping our communal spaces, and explores the radical potential in hoping together and hoping to show. This ‘beautiful little book’ is toolkit, therapy and vital critical work all in one.
Featured image of book cover © Eli Lambe
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