Don’t Let Me Be Lonely – An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric
(Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2004)

Or one begins asking oneself that same question differently. Am I dead? Though this question at no time explicitly translates into Should I be dead, eventually the suicide hotline is called. You are, as usual, watching television, the eight-o’clock movie, when a number flashes on the screen: 1-800-SUICIDE. You dial the number. Do you feel like killing yourself? The man on the other end of the receiver asks. You tell him, I feel like I am already dead. When he makes no response you add, I am in death’s position. He finally says, Don’t believe what you are thinking and feeling. Then he asks, Where do you live?

Lyric’s habit of addressing and, in doing so, invoking dead or absent subjects is here powerfully complicated by the technologies of television and telephony. In this instance, such an address might make one dead. The television is company to the lonely subject, but it distorts a sense of time, excluding the consumer from their own experience (‘eventually the suicide hotline is called’) and from current events. Unfortunately, however, the paramedic who later arrives is not sympathetic to this ‘momentary lapse from happily’: ‘Resistance will only make matters more difficult.’ This mode of enquiry extends to Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), which considers racialised interpellation and systematic complicity through the pressure it exerts on the second person (addressing ‘you’ is always a positioning of ‘you’ in lyric), where the consequence is—and continues to be—social death to people of colour.  

by Sam Buchan-Watts