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Hannah Black, Tuesday or September or the End, published by Capricious, New York 2021

‘And the truth was, nothing else was yet known.’ And the truth was, the aliens were waiting on human interpretation. What form does interpretation take? Comprehension of broken inner life? Jury duty? The risk of revolutionary action? The task of writing, or perhaps any form of critical work, may be figured as an experiment in coming to know the conditions that constrain self-understanding. Or, the possibility of agency in a context which strives to suppress the link between love and pain, the real and illusory, the individual and collective. Daily experience can be characterised as a time of insane inanity, the world one of juridical reduction. Rather than escape into the safety of exclusivity, the risk of persisting in this task against the ‘drab psychosis’ that blocks mutuality necessitates a self-relation that retains, but does not take refuge in, its own negativity.

Hannah Black’s new novella, Tuesday or September or the End, retells the first six months of 2020 through the love affair of Bird, a left communist/abolitionist, and Dog, a pragmatic social democrat wedded to the electoral campaign of Moley Salamanders (who is, of course, Bernie Sanders). These six months witness a widespread obsession with an alien landing on Long Island who become displaced by a new plague in March. The plague keeps Bird stuck in London as she falls into a period of deep, destabilising inwardness whilst isolating alone in an ‘absolutely featureless’ Airbnb apartment. For his part, Dog gets caught in a kind of infantile-dependent relationship with an older apathetic actress, Fossa. Though billed as speculative fiction, Tuesday or September or the End is more a work of narrative disguise. While yes, there are aliens, these oak-like alien forms are as Black tells us a play on alienation, or its real-world effects on how we relate to others and ourselves.In Black’s book, they exist as their inverse: collective love of aliens successfully erodes an alienated social body that invites identification with fascism. [1]

The novella culminates with Bird returning to New York, a place seething with political and social instability following the murder of George Floyd. With financial and psychic assistance from the aliens the people institute a new form of collective life during the month of June, or the End. Love, faith, and law-abolishing violence intermix in that unmistakable, suspended time of a riot, of which Black narrates ecstatically:

in that brand new summer, in the liquid return of feeling, Bird forgot to dwell on her losses. The losses themselves were healed by the novelty of being with others, and not only that, but seeing police cars burn, and not only that. Her soul rushed toward the riot. She had no opinion about her fate. The wheel offortune spun wildly, the future was infinitely open.

The uprising’s success oversees the overthrow of the state governor, the beckoning of a new social relation no longer mediated by abstractions of value, experiments in how to persist in genuine forms of collectivity and the reunification of Bird and Dog. The body, broken open and ‘brimming with a universal light that now radiated outwards’, registers fundamental shifts in the individual’s relation to the collective that revolution brings. In the moment of the riot the subject becomes fully cognisant of herself as an embodiment of the universal which, it seems, is a historic truth that must be relearnt again and again.

Reading the June chapter, there is a sense that everyone—character, author, reader, alien—are grateful for the alleviation of pain that Black grants us by actualising a mode of living that amounts to a ‘complete break with the past’. The riot is successful. But this alleviation has an edge to it or is at least slippery and sets off new anxieties about its disappearance; that familiar doubling of pleasure and possession. Such disappearance is one our world knows well, reading from a position where the possibilities of a different future imagined during the 2020 uprisings have been painstakingly repackaged into the continuation of the present. In one scene, Dog tries to explain to the aliens (who have no understanding of capitalism, property, or incarceration) why every day he makes people cry on the phone over their health insurance. The ‘insane predominance’ of the wage as the ‘organising principle’ of life means that, Dog tells them, in return the call centre deposits money in his bank account every month. Through the watching non-presence of the aliens, who are really the opposite of what delimits our engagement with the world and each other, what appears to be natural or endless and that which is clearly insanity undergoes a reversal in Tuesday or September or the End. An intuitive knowledge is gained, even from those far from any form of radical self-identification, that we must ‘burn it all down’.

Prior to the moment of transformation at the end of the novella, Bird experiences a near psychotic break during her lockdown-induced isolation. In the ‘void’—the name Black gives to a mind no longer shielded from itself—Bird allows herself to find her negative self-relation, really the negative self-relation of culture as such, being the incest taboo. In the void Bird’s teenage relationship with her stepbrother reflects back as a peculiar admixture of love and violence but, in my reading of this scene, Black does not allow one to dominate the other. Bird wonders if she has been charged to ‘live with parts missing’ but is released from the fantasy of being able to close these gaps or disjuncts within herself with a boyfriend or a child or a job. Being doomed to live with parts missing exists in a very different register to being doomed to destruction.

Bird emerges from this purgatorial time, which was ‘a mirage of punishment hiding an open door’, freed from the self-constricting agonies of pain because she has learnt to find the possibilities within the violence that she has experienced. Her self-exploration of ‘basic culture’ reawakens the aliens who now know they must guide the people toward insurrection. In the classic Freudian reading of the institution of the law of incest, renunciation and sacrifice has to take place in order for society to survive. Yet in Bird, violence is not the universality of sacrifice but part of what gives meaning to experience, whereby anxiety and pain are taken from individual pathology and placed as necessary for political struggle and the difficult process of staking oneself. Black’s probing of the historic negative self-relation of culture through Bird’s character prefigures the identity of the individual and collective embraced during the riot, meaning that this identity does not collapse into a formal one but is punctured by those difficulties experienced in the prior chapters of the novella. Black links the social and self in the arc of struggle in this way, where the sentimental and satirical narration of Bird’s void echoes out into the narration of the uprising’s success: ‘after the liberation of Rikers, a giant sinkhole opened beneath it’ to swallow up the memory of incarceration.

When the alien object arrived at the onset of the novella, Bird felt alone in her disinterest with the alien news, yet we can figure Bird’s narrative throughout Tuesday or September or the End as a kind of passage toward faith. This is not faith in an ordinary sense like belief in aliens, but the risk of coming to know the often-contradictory outlines of social and self-transformation. This might require, as Black shows, a suspension of that which normally stabilises us.


Tuesday of September or the End, published winter 2021


Rosie Woodhouse is a writer and PhD candidate in Law Studies at the University of Warwick.


The body, proximity, and place can be far-reaching and boundless—this series intends to question these complex questions through different experiments with language, art, cultural phenomena, and writing as practice, and is led by editor-in-residence Hatty Nestor.


[1] BOMB magazine, Uprisings: Hannah Black Interviewed by Hannah Zeavin (7 February 2022) bombmagazine.org/articles/uprisings-hannah-black-interviewed