Liberty Limited by Károly Sándor Pallai / Éditions Arthée / 2013 / ISBN: 9789993184638
One of my most despondent memories relates to my first encounter with “Mother Country” France, where it was distressingly tacit that I am “other” than French, that I am fundamentally an islander from Guadeloupe, a French woman sure, but from overseas, from – “over there”. Yes, from “over there” where I am equally quite unfit. It is “over there” that I challenge local traditional sexual identity and gender roles, “over there” that I am French but not quite, African but not quite, European but not quite, and quite an alien based in North America. This sense of départenance and complex negotiations of identities that are quite mine and that I live within these different localities, which are also mine but not quite – have developed my strategies of adaptation and my critical reflection and views. Pain is no stranger to these experiences. In fact, the body becomes a landmine in which are developed strategies of survival. Károly Sándor Pallai’s book Liberty Limited creates a tangible similar sense of painful emergency and immediacy inside the reader who is on the edge, looking from within, pushed into contact with countless “others”, and forced to come out of this vertigo with a better understanding of his/her own presence in the world.
Quite provoking, Liberty Limited is “a marvelous hiatus” that constrains the reader into a nauseous pausing to question issues of race, class, gender, and sex; and experience feelings of resentment, defeat, optimism, shameful silences, or proud resiliencies. Mind your mind! Liberty Limited throws you into this uncomfortable space of self-reflecting. I was struck by the many cross-examinations that fluctuate within the poems. It seems that everything that touches, gazes, or incites the body is unveiled to show that body within its passivity, incredulity, addictions, anger, reticence, or… what is it exactly? What is what after all? Who are we? Do we truly know what we should know? Do we want to know? And when we know, what do we do? Hooked on social media profiles, on oversexualized bodies, menaced by fascist states’ politics smearing the limitations of our body’s liberties… What is true? What is meaningful? Do we have the luxury to dream when corruption, exploitation, wars haunt every breath one’s takes? If this is all a nightmare, when will we wake up from it?
The book mirrors scattered bodies, from Europe to South Asia, from the margins to the center, from the forest to sky high concrete, from sex trafficking to “global conflagration”, from pornography to romantic love, from loss to aim, or from despair to hope. The poems portray bodies possessed by consumerism and wandering within their limitations. They unearth silenced painful realities of landmine-bodies. The bodies are pandemic, full of hate or wisdom, dreaming in nostalgia, they are too late, too much, or not enough. Liberty Limited is also romantic, sensitive, and yet ironic and brutal.
For over a decade, my academic, activist, and artistic works have all centered on the body, its memory and pain – this in visual and performing arts, film and literature works of the Francophone Black diaspora. Liberty Limited is one the boldest contemporary poetic works I have come across on the theme of bodily pain. The pulse of Károly Sándor Pallai’s work rises and falls, images make noise, silences are transformed. It is an invitation for us to face the world as our own subjects. His style uses images that are realistic and mythical, deadly serious and wryly ironic. The book is in its time, unique and important. It is an attractive and accessible presentation of imperialist and patriarchal issues that the reader is invited to confront. Károly Sándor Pallai attests to Liberty Limited in Syria, Dakha Bangladesh, across the globe, within who we are, and what we believe in. It is not only our lack of freedom and our missing will, but also most importantly our power to transcend set boundaries and challenge the whole realm of human existence.It is an honor to write this foreword for such an innovative, challenging and poetically entertaining, and transgressive book. The amorality, aggression, sadism, and voyeurism Pallai depicts are exposed through his dry wit, poise and elegance, exhibiting a constant capacity to surprise. He attempts to flesh out and induce a wide range of emotions from the reader. The poems express the meaning arising from simple everyday objects to violent outcomes that have all become an unemotional “everyday”. From birds, chance encounters, passerby, bodies dying, bodies endangered, memories of his father… the book is richly contextualized and reflective. Pallai liberates criticism and interpretation from their imprisonment. Liberty Limited is a forced encounter with the “other” and a call to continuously re-invent ourselves.
I vividly remember our first encounter, a mild winter in the city of Budapest, as he was presenting his recent research on the contemporary francophone literatures of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Károly Sándor Pallai is one of the very few scholars to focus on literatures emerging from the Seychelles and Mauritius; these territories are, like Guadeloupe, isolated, almost invisible on the world map, and easily forgotten by the mainstream. Liberty Limited is credible and relevant to his intercultural and interdisciplinary aspirations and his proven understanding of how structural violence can create schizophrenic identities. Pallai knows what cross-cultural spaces reveal, it is not the exotic or the fantast that captivates him, but rather their efflorescing complex facets. He tackles the themes of identity, alienation, and self-fulfillment with refreshing boldness.
Károly Sándor Pallai describes our unbalanced bodies that are similar to the topography of islands like my native land of Guadeloupe; their disparate and fragmented disposition, their unpredictability, their fluxes nourished by socio-political instabilities. Liberty Limited is a series of bypasses and disequilibrium performed through original poetic prouesse. Constantly experimenting with both the form and content of his work, Pallai calls for the emergence of a rhizomic-body that yearns to advocate for social justice, peace, and liberty unlimited.
This review is the foreword to Liberty Limited by Károly Sándor Pallai. The book, published by Éditions Arthée, is available here.