Time-Transgression and the Vortex of Experience in Jessica Baer’s Midwestern Infinity Doctrine
Midwestern Infinity Doctrine. Jessica Baer. Columbia, SC: Apocalypse Party, 2021. 134 pages.
The haunted speaker of Midwestern Infinity Doctrine, self-reflexively invoked on the page as “Jessica Baer,” offers a philosophical-poetical treatise on the liminality of life, death, and memory—where the in-betweenness of living becomes rupture from which other, alternate timelines emerge. Like science fiction/fantasy author Gene Wolfe’s seminal Peace (1975), a highly poetic and unsettling novel which recalls scenes from the life of the possibly deceased Alden Dennis Weer, Midwestern Infinity Doctrine enigmatically traces how “[s]pace is haunted” in the post-pastoral Midwest. Here, lost dreams of a peaceful landscape belie a reality wherein “[t]he difference between living and dying is fuzzy logic” (Baer). Consciousness spreads across pages, spilling forth maladies, quandaries, and contradictions—such that life is—and it is within the life of the imagination that the reader finds themselves on a journey into and beyond the self in ways that breach the unknown.
Baer’s world is the world of the “wobbling putrescent,” where the flesh has gone immaterial and is revived again, shocked out of the grave in an endless circuitry. It is the body trying to make sense of the world through a kind of private language that often eludes sense: “I go backwards in time and find myself in bed with you, suddenly, we’re floating inside the open air, begin to drop Contemporary Me throws their arms around the pastmyself as we’re falling and I murmur, in a steady voice, into my own hair, ‘it made sense. It made sense it made sense.’” The “you,” that threshold between selves, is an alluring space that can also be painful. At times the speaker is pained by the intimacies of being surrounded by other bodies in the wherewithal, this whelm world. As Baer writes, “you try to tell me what you’ve done, gone & died again, in your head . . . I hesitate to speak, a threshold where your heart should be / learning to cross itself.” The heart crosses itself with the knowledge that we are here, right now, and now is kind of like forever when one lives in a moment for so long they never leave—(“He leaves the room and I do not move. I have always been here). We remain in multiple places and memories at once.
Baer’s world also conscripts the reader into its building, performing the page as a portal and simultaneous a zone of revelation where sharp and brilliant insights come to surface—“Time is in a sense only affective investment which serves as the delineating force (cosmic law) between the bios and the dead/undead of object-matter, where we live at this ledge of spilling cascade-time.” Timelines are broken apart and reconstituted through intuitive logic, and intuition leads the reader toward an infinity as much illusory as real—if we could only reach beyond ourselves so far to see it, we might have some knowledge to share. Baer’s speaker is filled with wisdom emptying from pockets of time, the hard-won wisdom of a speaker contemplating living and dying alongside joyrides through intersecting texts and philosophies, what it means to live out our words and the worlds they spin. This threaded text bears significance in relation to stars and sky and cosmos which continually loop back to remind us of the point of puncture/rupture. What pains one is the prick of time. But it is also revelation. It helps us “carve back to the core, if you can find it,” as when the speaker says, “Jessica Baer, the pain is as bad as it is recalibrating.” Baer is not only interested in scar tissue but goes deep into bone to realize the why and what for.
There are other why’s and what for’s that concern me in this text, for instance when Baer writes, “[w]hen you crossover thresholds to pass between universes, rounding the arch of the portal to the midwestern heart, a bell rings—its an apex.” I find myself taken back to a fantastical, almost supernatural Midwest, where I come to know the landscape as a universe once spoken and so twice lived by myself and the speaker—it is a Midwest embedded at the heart of a vortex, and I ask why I am here and if “I” even exist. The Midwest becomes a pause, a “caesura of sense” where we ask ourselves “did what you find what you were a searching for and/or are you actually not there, at all?” Baer writes, “[y]r mouth collapse into a tractor beam as tachyons filterback from the future past through the voices, singing in the dusky bar, smoke crags, and the melody repeats because the needle is broken can’t find its groove.” These fleeting impressions provide solace amidst, amongst, and against the troubling vortex of experience.
Midwestern Infinity Doctrine will make one want to transgress the boundaries of themselves, staying up late on a journey past the edge of day and into something more beyond than beyond.
Julia Madsen is a first-gen writer, scholar, and educator. She earned an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and a PhD in English/Creative Writing from the University of Denver. Her first book, The Boneyard, The Birth Manual, A Burial: Investigations into the Heartland (Trembling Pillow Press), was listed on Entropy’s Best Poetry Books of 2018. Her chapbook, “Home Movie, Nowhere,” was published with DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press in 2021.