Karole Langset reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Karole Langset reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent visit to EMU:

If you arrived early to Sponberg Theater to listen to Bhanu Kapil reading from her book Humananimal, you would have noticed crowds of people flooding into the theater by human packs. It was an impressive turn out that placed strangers squeezed sitting together, anxiously awaiting Kapil’s reading.

Kapil took the stage and her first action told me a little about her. Kapil introduced herself by throwing her jacket onto the floor. It may appear at first she was trying to throw the jacket onto the stool, but it fell to the ground, and she didn’t seem to care and made no effort to pick it up. It seemed as if she was saying, “I am not going be what culture thinks is civilized.” Laughs in the crowd reflected an amusement by her odd action and by this silent rebellion. She seems to be ‘in the moment’ kind of person. This seize the day attitude is reflected in her delivering her own narration. She says, “I will drink water now.” She also tells the audience to always say yes, because if she didn’t say yes she wouldn’t be in Michigan.

She quickly began reading segments from her book. She read with only little pauses of throwing bookmarks onto the stage. This seems to say, “I am done with this, I have finished reading and I am letting the words leave my system.”

It is hard to blame her for this action. The words are intense; they are too hard to understand in terms of morality. Kapil read the words, “One of the boys pushed the girl off the roof and then there were six.” Many people in the audience are shocked by this statement and nervously laugh. I remember having the same reaction as I read the book. It is shocking. It is also shocking that wolves would raise little girls, only for humans to end up killing them. This topic is uncomfortable because what is moral is blurred.

When Kapil is done reading she throws the book into the crowd. Even this action seems to imply a message. It seems to say, “I have given my words, it is time for you to take them with you and do what you will.”

The audience doesn’t have to be comfortable in seats crammed together in the dark area of Sponberg Theater. If anything, perhaps, the filled theater raising anxiety heightened Kapil’s performance. It hard not to be annoyed though when leaving being chaotically pushed out of theater by wolves fellow humans.

When I left the theater, I heard someone say, “It is always sad to leave, because you feel like you know them, but you don’t.” I can’t help to agree in a way. I wanted to know Kapil more. I felt almost violated by her experience, a study, and left without being able to really reply or to really understand. I wanted to know her. I wanted to live in her world for a little while longer, but it was time to leave and time for the words to absorb.

Jeff Keene reviews Bhanu Kapil

Another reaction from Jeff Keene, this time regarding Bhanu Kapil’s BathHouse reading:

Bhanu Kapil says “creativity is her antidote for anxiety, possibly steaming from depression.” As she spoke very relaxed and calmly about her work Humanimal, I was entranced in her presence and fascinated with her insightful stories. Her words, voice pulled me into her creative space and began to shape new connections, meanings from her work, that I initially overlooked. In her words, rhythm was at work, playing with the innocence manifesting from her own self,  appearance,  and the ravaged, beautiful children she “randomly” chose to explore.  I love the her ideas of letting her writing find her, so she can write close to her body, staying intact with her endocrine system. This has to be why it seemed so natural for her to explore, embody, and speak about these issues, when she randomly chose this book in the first place. Not to mention, the relationships she drew between her self,  Indian women, feral children, and her father made it seem that she picked this book strategically. Relating to different bodies, the same in theory, removed from their origins, forced to adapt and survive, she says ” I slipped my arms into them to become four legs”. A humanimal.

Bhanu, an Indian woman, says ” she once felt removed from the culture of her people”, being born in Europe and not accustomed to most of her family’s way of life. Just like feral children, she connects these disconnections to explore the relationship between living within the means presented before you. A misinformed, misguided body, finding a way to cope, survive, and imagine. “All branches bear life” she said, showing that, whether nature or nurtured, all things existing fight to survive. Also, her father’s story provided me with another component to this. He was raised in poverty, very malnourished, and helpless,  the exact same societal conditions that  caused for these “wolf girls” to become feral for so long.  However, all survived unfathomable odds to breathe. Also, the scar on her father’s leg is another innuendo to the miraculous powers a body has to heal itself and adapt. Raising the question, what is a body’s limit? I don’t think there is an answer. Although, I do think Kapil would agree with me, in the end, it’s unknown.

With that, I must say Kapil was my favorite Bathhouse event in the past two years of experiencing them. She seemed very down to earth, reserved, yet full of passion and experience. I loved how she dropped the torn pieces of paper, used as page markers, as she flipped through her book to read, front to back. It made me think about leaves falling from trees or children torn from society and released to be free. But for me, the icing on the cake was when she threw her book out into the audience after she read her final sentence. It was such a beautifully awkward, absurd moment that struck me with immense power. Almost like she was breaking free from her innocent demeanor or a musician ripping his shirt off and throwing it into the crowd for a bunch of raging fanatics. One day, if I ever write something good enough to be asked to do a public reading of this nature, I’ll definitely do that exact same thing, finish the last sentence and throw it in the crowd!

Kasandra David reviews Bhanu Kapil

The student reactions to recent BathHouse events keep on coming! This review is from Kasandra David:

While waiting for Kapil’s reading of  Humanimal to start, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  As someone with a background in philosophy, I found the text rather frustrating because it pointedly avoided ‘primal questions’.  Fundamental questions are my lifeblood.  Problems of identity, the metaphysical status of personhood, moral consideration of animals and the social aspect of consciousness are all things I’ve scrutinized from a completely inorganic, analytic perspective.  Though I found Humanimal beautiful I did not initially find it engaging.  To me it was like a computer with its silicon guts torn out; interesting to look at but not particularly useful.

But I’m forced to admit hearing her read it gave me a different perspective on her work.  Kapil’s voice gave the text so much flavor.  Her accent coupled with a melodic rhythm turned Humanimal into a lulling chant.  I felt completely absorbed by her narration.

Another interesting phenomenon was how I came to understand Humanimal better as a fictional-autobiography.  It is often said, often cheekily, that all writing is autobiographical.  While usually I find this witticism unhelpful, I had somehow not made the obvious connection between some events in the novel being reflections upon Kapil’s experiences as a British Indian.  Actually seeing her and hearing her read the excerpt about being called a ‘Paki snake-eater’ gave Humanimal a depth I hadn’t recognized before.  Maybe the surreal content and foreign setting made parts of Humanimal inaccessible to me.  But putting a face to the words made connections; it provoked a kind of empathy in me that only good literature can.

It’s always helpful to hear a text because it pulls you out of your own paradigm.  You’re forced to process the text another way, to reconcile the meaning you’ve superimposed onto it with the way it exists as sound.  I think this is particularly true when the author of the text is the one doing the reading.  They lend it something unique.  I like to think they love their work in the way a parent loves a child – perhaps a little ignorantly, or blindly, but it’s genuine and valuable in its singularity.  If Kapil’s rock-star finish is any indication, she felt as great about her reading as I did.

Renee Casey reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Renee Casey reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s BathHouse reading:

When first reading Kapil’s poetic document Humanimal, the reader is thrown into the historic events of Amala and Kamala, two feral children found in India, as well as Kapil’s search into the minds of the two girls and the affects of “humanizing” them. No doubt Kapil’s fragmental writing style captures the mind of the reader, but the haunting voices of Amala and Kamala leave the reader flowing in an odd state of consciousness.

At first, Kapil’s document allowed me a new way of looking at writing, at fragments and combining historical events with the aftermath of those events. Yet it was hearing her read that really touched me and got me thinking. Humanimal has a large focus on the body and after seeing Kapil read, the message was only amplified. Her small frame surrounded by the dimly lit stage and large blank screen and brick wall as back drop only encouraged the listener to be more presently aware of the body. Kapil’s voice while reading is breathtaking. She has a strong presence and hearing her read makes me think of the idea of voice and ownership. Immersed in the words that she wrote, it was as if watching the words capture her, owner returning to creation to form the work itself, transforming her. The woman I had listened to earlier in the day at the library had all but disappeared.  The text became her and she became the text. Though, after thinking about it for a while, it is not surprising how familial she is with Humanimal. After all, it is she who encompasses the girls. It is she who writes, “I slip my arms into the sleeves of your shirt. I slip my arms into yours, to become four-limbed.” In the end, Kapil’s reading gave way for a powerful and captivating experience.

Dustin Wingett reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Dustin Wingett reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading:

Before Bhanu Kapil read for us in the Sponberg Theater, she held a quick question and answer session in the Carillon room of the library.  What struck me was how open she was in talking about her personal life.  One of the first questions was, “how did you become a writer,” which prompted a lengthy response about her childhood and her mother singing to her and encouraging her to sing these poems she was writing when she looked out her window.  It was nice to see that she was very warm and welcoming about all the questions.  Also, one audience member pointed out that she very eloquent, which I would have to agree with.

When we got to the theater to listen to Bhanu read from Humanimal, that was one of my first impressions.  She knew how to speak, and her voice really carried the tone of the book well.  It was always constant and never got to excited or animated, even when she neared the end, which is sort of how I read the book.  Her voice had a sort of sad or even maybe a bit of a reverent tone towards the two girls.  One thing she did do that I didn’t while reading, was that she slowed the pace down quite a bit and integrated long pauses here and there.  This really heightened the mood of the reading.

While listening to her speak, I noticed how visually striking the book was, especially when it came to the colors.  A lot of the passages she chose to read from had some kind of color mentioned in it, and these colors often where contrasting to the thing they were describing.  For example, she describes the jungle as being red, the sky was copper colored.  I really enjoyed this and it gave me strong imagery to concentrate on while she read.  I was kind of disappointed after she finished, I could have sat there while she read the whole book.  Very engaging.

Leto Rankine reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Leto Rankine reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading:


A Way to Talk and to Write

Bhanu Kapil has a very nice voice. It is the kind of British accent that doesn’t make her sound smarter (not that she didn’t seem smarter) but instead lent a rhythm to the reading of Humanimal and to what she was saying about her writing (and writing in general) that made the ideas sound accessible.

The occult. How my writing finds me. Populate that figure person or creature not multiply but appear again. Vibration in the world. Substituted place. Barely prepared for the vibration of the jungle.  Face the wall.

She speaks of signifiers in her umwelt, used by her to find her way through the process of writing. The population is a repetition of these signs, by staying open to these she is guided. Occult. The way she finds a book not on purpose that compels a story. A movement of her body that aligns her with.

Failure is very useful. Narrative as orbital. From an inability to write the story. Fractal.

Space of a novel. Contracted. Document: ways to write about events that have no aftermath.

The effects of an the event rather than narrative. That in integrates non fiction elements in with these lucid operations.

She speaks of the original manuscript and how it strayed from the story that needed to be said of Amala and Kamala. Rejected. Two hundred and seventy eight pages. Rejceted. How the story evolved or devolved to the three narratives of the sixty four page book: hers as a visitor to a place, her father’s leaving of that place, and Amala. Being in that place and how it populated itself.

Immigrant narrative. What it means to get up and go. Thresholds we cannot see speak again. Life is not going to be like this. You have to have a different life. The disapperance of memory. Where are those seeds where are those places.

Her father’s story. The picture in the middle of the book: his scarred leg laid under a map of the place of his origin in England. She speaks of the body and writing, of a new project, of schizophrenia.

India blood violence refugee. Trigger. Moves up in the world. More white than black faces. Low level subtle forms of racism. Cultural schizophrenia. Return to the real.

Not from the reading. From where she sits in a big window room, talking about our posh library and a robot arm. Perched on the back of chair, talking about a 300 euro coat, her face looking happy but also like there is an intention, a thought that she’s holding with a concentration. Her accent is nice.

At the reading she says to always say yes. Does some things while she reads. Pulls hair. Drops paper. I just liked having the story read to me.

Stacy Lorne reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Stacy Lorne reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading:

On Tuesday, November 3rd I attended a reading of Humanimal-A Project for Future Children by Bhanu Kapil. One of the most fascinating things I took from this reading/discussion was how Kapil looks at writing and literature. Kapil said that writing finds her. She even wrote about this in Humanimal when she describes how she was first introduced to Kamala and Amala by simply choosing a book at random in the anthropology section in a library in Colorado. It amazes me that she found such a perfect topic at random to tie together the strings of all the ideas in the Humanimal. I couldn’t think of a better way to mirror the story of her father and the influence of Britain in India. The locations are the same and they all share the same theme of institulization.

Kapil refers to Humanimal as a document, not a book. I was told this before the reading and couldn’t understand why. A document holds information, not a story. A document is not like a book because it is straightforward and factual. A book or novel can lead the reader in any direction. It can say so much in many ways and even tell you things it never actually said. This is what I felt Kapil did, but she describes it as a document because she is writing in response to something. Kamala and Amala were found over 80 years ago and her father has passed, so now she is writing in reaction to these events.  She even talked about a piece she is working now where she is writing in response to schizophrenia. Kapil’s responsive style is one of the reasons why she is considered an experimental writer.

After hearing Kapil read I gained a different appreciation of Humanimal. When I read the document I gave the speakers different tones. It also sounded more sincere. (I don’t know if that’s the right word to describe this.) When the author read it sounded like the documentary that was being filmed while she was writing/researching in India. I was surprised how emotionless some parts sounded to me, but the tone she kept through the reading made me believe the concept of it being a document and not a book. The only slight variations were between her readings of herself and Kamala and Amala. When she spoke for herself it felt more real, but when she spoke for the girls her voice grew louder. When I read the text I put more emotion into the reading, probably because what her father and the girls suffered through was horrific. Kapil could have read this way to take the emotion out of the document, or maybe she feels it is more powerful.

Timothy Mies reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Timothy Mies reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading:

I arrived early to Bhanu Kapil’s reading in Sponberg Theater at Eastern Michigan University. After an unexpectedly hectic day (one filled with obstacle after obstacle, springing out like moving targets at a police practice range – throwing me for loops and forcing me to shoot from the hips as I tried to keep myself protected from the kinds of “real life” challenges one doesn’t expect to meet on a Tuesday afternoon), I arrived early to the theater irritated and aggravated. Having missed the previous meeting in which Kapil addressed our class, I was uncertain about what her reading would be like. I feared that hers would be like some others I’ve seen, unattended and uninspiring. However, I walked in to Sponberg Theater slightly amazed at how crowded it was. Knowing full well that many of the students in attendance were there by force and not by choice, I still felt excitement as I waited for her to begin reading. I figured that for such a large crowd to have gathered there, the event was probably going to be important and worthwhile.

Having read Humanimal, I knew Kapil’s literary voice. However, I did not know what to expect from her in person. She appeared both very stoic and, at the same time, approachable. Her presence was calming and reassuring, and I knew that I would be in for a good reading. I found her speech to be like that of her writing, each word carefully placed next to the other as if part of an intricate verbal jigsaw puzzle. She seemed both very present and also distant in her performance. In my opinion, any nervousness that she may have had leaked through in her reading. In a moment of transparent discomfort she proclaimed, “Now I will drink water,” as she sipped from the clear plastic bottle she pulled from behind her. Although her nervousness was apparent, it was not repulsive.  Perhaps her demeanor allowed for her to perform in the way that she did. She captivated her audience both sonically and visually. She spoke of coming to Michigan for the first time and declared it as the “dark state” and also, “her state.” I thought about that quote throughout her performance. There are a number of ways in which one could interpret the meaning of “dark” in relation to Michigan, but I feel that she was talking about the black cloud of economic despair looming over our state, and by proclaiming it as “her state” she was expressing solidarity. That same kind of solidarity came through in the reading of Humanimal. Although the feral children she writes about were discovered many years ago, the reader or listener can feel a sense of oneness that she feels with the characters in her book.

While reading Humanimal, I discovered sentence after sentence that leaped off the page and slapped me in the face. Kapil’s words are so thoroughly appropriate, it is as if they were handed down to her. She is entitled to her words. I felt that same awe, if not more so, during her reading. I found myself trying to jot down sentences that grabbed my attention, but I could never keep up with her. Each time I felt compelled to copy a phrase, another one flew from her lips to my ears and I realized that I could not grab single sentences from a body of work that flowed so well. Kapil’s words are like family that cannot be broken apart.

As it turned out, that Tuesday both started and ended in a stressful way. However, the hour and a half that I spent in Sponberg Theater listening to Bhanu Kapil was both calming and inspiring. Her reading rejuvenated my tired mind and helped me to think differently about my own writing. That is, she inspired me to search for my own entitled words: words that form unbreakable sentences like those she read from Humanimal.

Alyssa Eckles reviews Bhanu Kapil

Another student reaction to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading, this time from Alyssa Eckles: 

Bhanu Kapil’s reading of her book, Humanimal, was quite the experience, allowing her readers to hear the voices of Kamala and Amala, as well as of the woman searching for humanity within India.

The parts of Humanimal Kapil read from in the reading were very interesting in that they were sections which were very heavy in imagery and color. While Kapil’s work continuously uses color, her reading definitely brought out the significance. Color became even more important after Kapil, in the earlier class discussion, described the village of her mother with a bright blue river and saris for morning and noon and dusk. Her description of her mother’s dreams where the goddess Kali would waggle her red tongue was particularly striking and tied the entire experience of hearing Kapil discuss her book together.

I found it very interesting how Kapil chose to read several, if not all of the sections of her book where her father was discussed. From the earlier discussion with her, Kapil seemed to have a strong connection with her mother, but it was her father which seemed to be the center of her story and, as it seems, her world. Kapil described the scene where her father beats a boy in school, and then describes her father’s mother beating him for eating butter. The violence seems to resonate when read aloud, and it paralleled the violence of Kamala and Amala’s lives.

Kapil even applied different voices to the “voices” in her book. When she described passages from the wolf girls, her voice became harder, louder as if it were a feral tone. Her general eloquence started up again when she read passages from her own experiences, but the character and tone Kapil gave the wolf girls was intriguing.

Aaron Diehl reviews Bhanu Kapil

Student Aaron Diehl reacts to Bhanu Kapil’s recent BathHouse reading:

Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal

I knew nothing about Bhanu Kapil or her book Humanimal before sitting down with it a few days before her scheduled BathHouse event. Being the busy college student I am, my initial reaction after checking it out from the library was relief due to the short length of the book. While this probably gives the impression that I was not interested in reading the literature, it was quite the opposite. On page IX, the reader finds out that this book is based on Amala and Kamala. Feral children have always been a topic of fascination for myself (check out feralchildren.com) and I was already acquainted with the bizarre story of these two girls.

Being that this was assigned for my CRTW 422 class – Lyrics Essay – I had some sort of idea of what kind of writing I was getting into. Kapil’s language was interesting to me because it has the ability of being totally straightforward and understandable, all while being indistinct and multi-dimensional. You know what the smaller-text voice is saying throughout the book, but the narrator itself is left fairly ambiguous – is it Kapil? Is it the Joseph Singh, the Reverend who attempted to ‘save’ the girls? An idea is conveyed through a cloudy lens. I also was interested in how the wolf-girls were narrated in English- or narrated at all, for that matter. The listing style utilized also interested me – why exactly was it there? In my mind, the text would have read largely the same without it. I also noticed that the wolf-girl’s narrative stopped at ‘O’. What was the significance?

I prepared these questions (amongst others) for her pre-reading Q and A session that we were lucky enough to have Christine set up for us. I was expecting for my fellow 422ers and I to be present, but much to my surprise there was 2 – 3 classes worth of students in the room when I arrived. This large audience somewhat hindered my ability to ask her a question (paired with my shyness) but what also slowed the process was the fact that Bhanu liked to elaborate a whole lot on her answers. It was almost humorous at times. She would mainly answer the question, but in a very unorthodox way, and would also go off on tangents that would eventually lead back to the initial idea. She had an interesting way of speaking: she spoke clearly and slowly, with a definite confidence in what she was saying, despite the fact that some of the tangents were possibly unnecessary. One thing I found interesting was that she called herself “technically Indian” at one point. I also liked when she talked about when she realized she wanted to be a writer; it seems like it was never even a realization, just a fact that had always been in the back of her mind. She had been writing since she had the ability to, and she has just never stopped. Like any art, the only way to make a living doing it is by doing it constantly and dedicating your life to it. She emphasized this point.

Fast-forward 3 hours. Her reading was at 5 pm in Sponberg Theater. Christine opened with a respectful introduction to the author, and then Bhanu took the stage. I was assuming that she would read from Humanimal (even though she brought several other of her works with her) and my assumptions were correct. Her reading of the book focused more on the language then my initial reading did; she spoke slowly and deliberately, with a more assertive voice then she had used at the Q and A session. When she would go into the portions of the wolf-girl narrative, her voice would get even louder, bordering on the aggressive side. I enjoyed her reading style; I often find the more performance oriented writers a bit strange and obnoxious (not all, but some) as the performance itself can take away from the literature being read, but Bhanu kept her reading very straight-forward, focusing on the book and not on herself. Something interesting that she kept doing while reading her book was that she would take her bookmarks and toss them all around and in front of her when she would remove them from the pages. I could not even begin to think of what importance this would have within the literature; as I found out the following day in class, the first time she did it was merely an accident, and she continued simply because she felt like it. I loved hearing this, because it made the whole situation funnier in retrospect.

Bhanu went on to read a large portion of her book before epically throwing it in the audience, much like a drummer tossing his sticks into the crowd after a rock concert. This was very cool to me. I found Bhanu’s reading to be one of the more satisfying BathHouse events that I have attended. It lacked a lot of the artistic pretensions that other readings have gotten me held up on. Bhanu seemed interested in portraying her work in a manner that made it accessible to the listener instead of just quirky or shocking, which is refreshing.