A writer takes on subjects as varied as vomit, Kathy Acker's wardrobe, and Occupy Oakland, in lyric explorations of illness, health, and the body.
A moving meld of essay, memoir, and story, When the Sick Rule the World collects Dodie Bellamy's new and recent lyric prose. Taking on topics as eclectic as vomit, Kathy Acker's wardrobe, and Occupy Oakland, Bellamy here examines illness, health, and the body—both the social body and the individual body—in essays that glitter with wit even at their darkest moments.
In a safe house in Marin County, strangers allergic to the poisons of the world gather for an evening's solace. In Oakland, protesters dance an ecstatic bacchanal over the cancerous body of the city-state they love and hate. In the elegiac memoir, “Phone Home,” Bellamy meditates on her dying mother's last days via the improbable cipher of Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Finally, Bellamy offers a piercing critique of the displacement and blight that have accompanied Twitter's move into her warehouse-district neighborhood, and the pitiless imperialism of tech consciousness.
A participant in the New Narrative movement and a powerful influence on younger writers, Bellamy views heteronormativity and capitalism as plagues, and celebrates the micro-revolts of those on the outskirts. In its deft blending of forms, When the Sick Rule the World resiliently and defiantly proclaims the “undeath of the author.” In the realm of sickness, Bellamy asserts, subjectivity is not stable. “When the sick rule the world, mortality will be sexy,” Bellamy prophesies. Those defined by society as sick may, in fact, be its saviors.
Dodie Bellamy's writing focuses on sexuality, politics and narrative experimentation, challenging the distinctions between fiction, the essay and poetry. In 2018–19 she was the subject of On Our Mind, a yearlong series of public events, commissioned essays and reading group meetings organized by CCA Wattis ICA. With Kevin Killian, she coedited Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977–1997. A compendium of essays on Bellamy's work, Dodie Bellamy Is on Our Mind, was published in 2020 by Wattis ICA/Semiotext(e).
Dodie Bellamy's latest work, When the Sick Rule the World, is a series of biting, ouroboric takes on the bi-polar allure of sickness, a fantastic book of psychic bloodletting and cauterizing ironies.
'Art writers lie. Art lies.' Bellamy fishhooks these sentences into an essay that begins with an ingenuous art review, passes through cancer and the Rust Belt, ends with the dreams of a child. And each piece of writing in this book does something similar—whether it's essay or narrative or both at the same time—which is to say that no two pieces are alike. Whether she writes about the death of her mother or Occupy Oakland, Kathy Acker's Gaultier dress or 'Techrification with Heart' (in a letter to Twitter), Bellamy never fails to infect the holistic pieties of contemporary culture, to expose art's enduring lies.
The beautiful thing about Bellamy and this book is how readily and insistently she gives herself over.
The Los Angeles Review of Books
Bellamy's infused wit is the lifeline that keeps the work buoyant, a line of resistance thrown out for the reader to grab and hold to. With its raw, sometimes crass observation juxtaposed with neurotic intellectual analysis, When the Sick Rule the World provides a peculiar brand of humor that is both a tool of self-examination and an exercise in revolt.