Kat Chow explains how mourning looks like taxidermy

SEE GHOSTS A brief By Kat Chow Kat Chow’s memoir, “Seeing Ghosts”, is a memorial to her mother delivered in a graceful and captivating ...


SEE GHOSTS
A brief
By Kat Chow

Kat Chow’s memoir, “Seeing Ghosts”, is a memorial to her mother delivered in a graceful and captivating voice. Like many acts of homage to the dead in this book on mourning and family, immigration and ancestors, it comes long after the loss it marks. Chow’s mother died of cancer 17 years ago, when the author was only 13. The passage of so much time did not dull the pain. A certain type of grief persists because a part of us wants it and wants it to persist, and Chow artfully and intelligently maps what type of grief it is.

It is, of course, the pain of being without a mother when she still needs to be mothered, a feeling that she experiences as’ injected into my body as if it were a preservative. , indistinguishable from my bowels ”. She makes the observation, alluding to taxidermy, while also recounting how she sobbed for her mother, part four, during a family visit to her parents’ birthplace, China. The setting for this exhibit – the ancestral homeland – makes sense, as Chow’s mapping of relentless grief includes immigrant loss and desire. Her father, crossing the threshold of her childhood home in a Guangdong village on this trip, strikes her as “coiled up, her past a fishing line; deceptive and once hooked, an inevitable and precarious path.

The fate of those who ruminate on the past, Chow seems to suggest, is fate – a caught fish. In “Seeing Ghosts”, a caught fish encounters a strange sort of misfortune from Chow’s widowed father. After fishing the high seas off the coast of Connecticut, he practices his own taxidermy on a striped bass using Elmer’s glue and internet tutorials, and Chow finds his failed attempt rotting in his basement for months over. late. This fatherly memory unexpectedly echoes a motherly memory. When Chow was 9, his mother suddenly announced, as they were making faces and watching TV together: When I die, I want you to stuff me so I can sit in your apartment and still watch you. In the years of mourning to come, Chow would imagine his taxidermy mother spurting playfully like a jack-in-the-box from closets and corners and even from her coffin. This association of images and metaphors – fishing line leading to fish leading to taxidermy leading inexorably to the mother – is arguably far-fetched and potentially macabre. But Chow exerts such control that his tone somehow manages to be both sullen and affectionately humorous.

For the many people bereaved by a pandemic that has disrupted rituals of saying goodbye and haunted by the guilt of not doing good with the dead, it may seem like they are still with us in an unnatural preserved form. “Seeing Ghosts” provides multiple examples of unfulfilled duties to the dead that plague the conscience of those who remain until they are finally made good. The Chow family half-fulfills their mother’s dying wish, exhuming her son, who lived less than two hours after birth, and cremating him, but it takes more than a decade and a half to bury the ashes with her in a Connecticut cemetery. Other family bones are crossing borders after decades, from Hong Kong and Havana to Toronto. They travel these routes from the Chinese diaspora to the afterlife, redefining repatriation by ultimately resting not where they were born but where their parents settled.

Chow, a reporter who was a founding member of NPR’s Code Switch podcast, tells us that Freud made a distinction between mourning and melancholy. The first has an end and a fixed object; the second is amorphous and incessant. Guided by the work of Asian American studies scholars who developed a theory of “racial melancholy,” drawing on Freud, Chow relates his own life and kind of grief to their explanation of how identities are formed in immigrant families who try to preserve the memory of the places they have left – in a sense to taxidermize the past. “Seeing Ghosts” brings this theory to life, the idea that the loss of the country and the loss of loved ones can hold us to similar perpetual grief, through a narrative that brings Chow’s mother and father to life, drawing their characters with tenderness but with unfailing honesty.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kat Chow explains how mourning looks like taxidermy
Kat Chow explains how mourning looks like taxidermy
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