Book Reviews · 08/29/2011

The Vanishing Point of Desire by Vi Khi Nao


Fugue State Press, 2011

I’m nervous to talk about Vi Khi Nao’s The Vanishing Point of Desire. I feel self-conscious, like I need to protect my ideas from your derision, like I need to couch my reading experience through “I” in the event that I am totally, uselessly, wrong about everything you are about to read.

Maybe this is because to try to describe the plot of this book is to completely ignore what’s beautiful in this book.

Maybe this is because I wanted to understand The Vanishing Point of Desire through the notion of the vanishing point of a drawing, a painting, a photograph, where lines receding from an observer appear to converge. I wanted to write: this is a book about how solitude and intimacy appear to converge, but never do, into desire.

Maybe this is because I wanted to impose a horizon line, that theoretical place at the eye-line of the observer. A place of understanding; the agreed upon perspective. I wanted to write: this is a book written. But I can’t because this is a book of a painting of cinematic fragments.

Maybe this is because though the narration appears to be written in the second-person, I, the reader, struggled at first to locate myself in the “you.” In the shifting in media res of the paragraph that begins the book, and will be repeated verbatim several times throughout, I read:

In the conference room, a door opens. And closes. Like white culottes opening the curtain of their skirt. I think of the airport Charles de Gaulle. The window. The door. The bright afternoon light. Where flight attendants in mini-skirts wheel their luggage to and fro. Where paintings are suspended from the ceiling. The Tree of Solitude. The House of Intimacy. The Vanishing Point of Desire. Inside the conference room, you are wearing a blue blouse sitting perpendicular to me. Any closer and our shoulders collide.

This is the initial landscape, the horizon not of place but of language. Because I am a reader shamelessly intent on knowing where to locate myself in a text, I think I begin this book with the narrator in a conference room, then move with the narrator into her thoughts of the airport, the thoughts she’s thinking inside the conference room.

After this single paragraph on the first page, the white spaces between the fragments that follow and make up the book might appear to act uniformly; I believe they act cinematically, as fade-intos and outs, as dissolves, and cuts. On the next page, directly following this first paragraph, the white space cuts away to: “I take you inside. The empty wall. The vacant seat. The nonexistent hallway,” and then more white space cuts back into the conference room, which “throbs in vulnerability” as the narrator descends “the stairs of Air France” in her thought; as she’s descending in her thought she is dreaming of being in her kitchen, where the “you” has been imagined into “A Blue Fruit” that she’s washing and holding reverently, sensually.

From the dream of the kitchen, in the conference room, the narrator extends her hands to the “you” in the airport where we thought we were only in thought:

I am at the end of the terminal and the entrance into the gallery. Your long fingers fall into my mind. I desire to take you into the Tree of Solitude. Let me take you there.

Then the white space acts as a dissolve when we read in the next fragment, “The Tree of Solitude is Rilke’s Solitude,” though this solitude dissolves again into an ink painting. And into the painting the “you” and “I” walk, but soon emerge outside it: “It had been raining the day I met you.” And on this day, the narrator writes: “You looked like something I could walk into.”

The patterns of these cuts, these dissolves, do not make a plot. They are dizzying, like Rilke’s notion of solitude:

…for all parts upon which our eye used to rest have been taken from us, there is no longer anything close by, and everything far is infinitely distant.

Yet they aren’t motivated by any theme. They resist interpretation. They are how the narrator and the “you” can move into the “House of Intimacy,” the painting they must cross, an abyss, an edge to get into, and an interview in a conference room, a first meeting between the “I” and “you” in a hotel. It is only in the moments of the imagined fruition of desire that I find a place to settle, to extend. This happens in the dream of the “you” become fruit. This happens inside “The Tree of Solutide,” when I read:

You look at me as I peel your high heels from your feet. Your legs are long and luscious. Your black panty hose clinging. Clinging to the curves of your legs. My hand clings to you too as I lift your first leg and place it on my thigh.

And again when the narrator writes, “Let me draw you with my pen. A drawing of Words.” These moments feel like long steadicam tracking shots.

The longest of these is in the erotic near-conclusion:

For two minutes I escort you through The Tree of Solitude. The House of Intimacy. The window into art. Into language.

Soon after, there’s a cut to the only moment of third-person narration:

Two women stand facing one another inside a house. One shy and the other obliged. Gazing into each other’s shyness.

And then a cut back to images that dissolve,

You begin to remove the dress off my cold body…You draw me into your arms like water out of a well…We begin gripping each other’s body. The drapes fluttering…My tongue is a river spilling its entire contents on the ocean of your body…

and then the hard cut that will be the final fissure:

A woman lies on the canopy bed—
No—
You lie on the canopy bed with fluttering white drapes.
No—
A handmade journal lies on my bed like a woman.

The “you” is the woman written by the narrator; the “you” becomes split through simile:

Like a desire. Like a door. An elongated strip of yellow lace, your/her hair perhaps, loops around your/her body several times through a small punctured orifice the size of a small ink drop. Attached to your/her back, a small rectangular flap peeks out as a penholder.

This split is a place of becoming: I, the reader, am becoming the “you.”

And just as I read, “We are one,” I am jolted back with a hard cut to the kitchen, into the solitude that is no longer a painting,

My eyes searching the horizon for the Vanishing Point of Desire. Nowhere in sight. Desire doesn’t have a point. It doesn’t vanish.

For me, this is the moment where I understand: desire violates perspective.

And when the narrator, who is finally in a specific place, in the airport on the last page, says, “This is my third painting. My complete exhibition. Will you let me know what you think of it?” I honestly gasped. This painting, The Vanishing Point of Desire, is this book, and the act of reading it makes me, the reader, the “you.” I have become the “you” who disappears into the painting by reading the book. For me, this is an epiphanic moment, though not one that brings me to a conclusion so much as it drives me to re-experience the book again, to read it again, to celebrate it, to read it without trying to constrain, to impose upon it, to read it in its own light.

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Vi Khi Nao wrote half of The Vanishing Point of Desire in Ekalaka, Montana and the other half in Iowa City. Other examples of her work have appeared in Noon and elimae. She is currently working on another novel.

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Jess Stoner’s novel, I Have Blinded Myself Writing This (Short Flight/Long Drive Books, a division of Hobart), will be published in February 2012. Her choose-your-own adventure chapbook of poems, You’re Going to Die Jess Wigent (Fact-Simile), came out this summer. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Alice Blue Review, Everyday Genius, Caketrain, Juked, and many other handsome journals. Jess currently lives in the sweat and brisket of Austin.