The Nature of Transformations in Our Sister Killjoy

I think some of Sterling’s meditations on Sissie and Marija help elaborate on some of the sticking points we had in our discussion on Tuesday, particularly regarding Marija’s strange attachment to the past or German primacy (embodied most clearly via her son, Adolf). Sterling begins the section of her paper with a definitive statement about the nature of Sissie’s travel transformation: “Journeying into otherness and othering in Germany, Sissie is simultaneously deterritorialized and, as she negotiates her identity with the Western Other, reterritorialized. Gender becomes the mediating focus as she develops her friendship with Marija” (139). Framing Sissie’s transformations as both escapes and returns to structures of power elucidates many of the strange moments where her response to others seems at best ambivalent, particularly in places we discussed on Tuesday. Sterling talks about the scene where Marija mistakes Sissie for an Indian, and articulates Sissie’s complicity in accepting established racial behavior. In this moment, Sissie denies Marija racial authority because she lacks the requisite imagination to believe in the possibility of a German woman who can maintain meaningful friendships with Indians.

Marija herself seems troubled by more or less the same problem. I think her attachment to German history does similar work in simultaneously deterritorializing and reterritorializing her. Just as naïve adoration of an inherently tyrannical past affirms and replicates tyrannical othering power, Marija’s more antiquated attachments other her to people such as Sissie (and really, most everyone) who would deem her strange attachments right-of-center. Her naming her son Adolf, in particular, illustrates the inherent tension between intent and reception, suggesting that only subjects who run abreast of history can trust that their intent not be mis-received (perhaps the reception of intentionality has some sort of resonance with language and the continual barrier Sissie and Marija face in the novel as well). It may be useful to think of Marija as a practitioner of Lauren Berlant’s cruel optimism, wherein a subject maintains an inherently destructive attachment to the faith that this attachment will manifest itself positively, all while subjecting themselves, often unwittingly, to the lurking potential that its loss will prove devastating. We talked about why Sissie and Marija’s interactions were framed in terms of romance, and I mentioned then that the novel seems to advance a position that attachments possess a tremendous and effacing power. Marija may be the best example of this in the novel.

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