A Manual for Nothing by Jessica Anne
Noemi Press, 2017; 148 pp
Reviewed by Abby Burns
In the opening pages of A Manual for Nothing, Jessica Anne writes of her work, “Well, the book is dead. Ding, ding. Once it’s out of your head, it’s dead. Very different than theatre. Does not always come naturally to you. You can’t live these words.” Anne repeats this comparison of theatre to writing often (hardly surprising when you consider her tenure as a Neo-Futurist) and seems rather predisposed to the former, but still readers might find themselves disagreeing with her self-assessment here. Entering this book, it’s difficult to experience the writing as anything other than lively, vibrant. Anne writes lists, sentences, and lines that refuse to stay on the page. Perhaps, if we are to believe her, Anne feels that she herself cannot live them, but the reader certainly will, carrying around imperatives to throw out the bridge metaphor and to make up a story and to stop crying, imperatives that explicitly resist any real utility, that will supposedly add up to nothing:
15) This is a manual for nothing.
16) Take this as your warning.
18) And nothing will come.
This book is not about achieving any singular end result. It is memoir that delights in confession and obscuration in equal measure. It is fiction that bleeds into the real. The poetic contamination of a technical form. It is the performance of the writing process itself with essays ranging from “The Cover” all the way to “How to Write All the Time and With Confidence.” By the end of it all, the you in which Anne has displaced herself finds an I, finds a voice:
And then in my first person I said,
I am not nothing.
This is for nothing. This is for the part of me, and the part of you, that was reduced to nothing.
But I am not nothing. I am walking up to you, I have something for you, and I want to tell you that
you, girl, are not nothing.