Introduction for C.S. Giscombe

When things get quiet. When the map looks stuck and staring at you. There is something wide in C.S. Giscombe’s retrospect. The geography includes the factors of placement.

The interactions in public; the unknowns of visiting, of return. Giscombe admits, “I’m very bad at remembering directions when I hear them” in his new book of prose Border Towns, forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press, which takes us on the journeys of how he has written his books, and how his deep and persistent interest in place necessitates travel.

For Giscombe the question “what’s the subject position of the departee?” is always thumping, always superimposed and intertwined in to the text. So that Giscombe travels to places not only on a map but places in his memory, places loaded with the past. And those events not recorded in U.S. history books such as The Black Migration of 1858 from San Francisco to Canada, which was the basis for his 1998 book Giscombe Road.

How the maps look, where the maps come from, are part of these “parallel” calibrations. It’s important to know if the maps were free or from a local gas station or a Barnes & Noble. And then Giscombe confronts a destination’s peculiarities and systems, how places are racially, socially and economically divided. Where are roads built, who gets displaced when they are built. How long has the railroad been going over that bridge.

The place becomes a map also of dreams one may have in relation to the expectation of synchronicity, and arrival.

Travel can be summarized by Giscombe as “the long song edged out by the shout” while landscapes get scraped up with impressions. So that C.S’s writing rivals the north south east west points on a compass. The words lead us somewhere like the more fine hairs on the ruler, the fractions harder to memorize, zoomed in upon and fuzzy, now, from loading information.

Along the way: I meet theories from Giscombe: “the often unexpected situation of giving directions—as being a literal gift, a literal act or process of giving.  Directions is a gift that slaves—property themselves—can give.  This is conversation, vernacular speech, about geography and it differs importantly from commerce in geography, the industry in maps.”

Geography involves how a place gets named. What is self-described and what are other voices inside quotations so that there are many maps to unfold a “centerless inflection”. How this story gets retold through C.S. is its own journey, all frequencies are picked up while driving out to “the mutest edge” of “The Northernmost Road.” So that there is “a cacophony of reference.”