Hello and welcome to Episode 69 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.
In today’s #DesiCraftChat, we have Tanaïs discussing their new memoir, In Sensorium. In this conversation, we talked about creating new pathways to tell our individual stories and collective histories, honoring our literary lineage, dealing with being both invisible and hyper-visible—and much more.
#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH TANAÏS — INTRODUCTION
Tanaïs is the author of In Sensorium, and the critically acclaimed novel Bright Lines, which was a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize. They are the recipient of residencies at MacDowell, Tin House, and Djerassi. An independent perfumer, their fragrance, beauty, and design studio TANAÏS is based in New York City. Follow them on Instagram at @studiotanais.
In Sensorium by Tanaïs interlaces eons of South Asian perfume history, erotic and religious texts, survivor testimonies, and material culture with memoir. #DesiCraftChat @DesiBooksTweet
In Sensorium is a memoir from a writer and perfumer that also offers a critical, alternate history of South Asia from an American Bangladeshi Muslim femme perspective. From stories of their childhood in the South, Midwest, and New York; to transcendent experiences with lovers, psychedelics, and fragrances; to trips home to their motherland, Tanaïs builds a universe of memories and scent: a sensorium. Alongside their personal history, and at the very heart of this work, is an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded, a land still threatened and disappearing because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change. Fragrance has long been used to mark who is civilized and who is barbaric, who is pure and who is polluted, who is free and who is damned. Structured like a perfume, moving from base to heart to head notes, In Sensorium interlaces eons of South Asian perfume history, erotic and religious texts, survivor testimonies, and material culture with memoir. In Sensorium is archive and art, illuminating the great crises of our time with the language of Liberation.
On a personal note, this book took my breath away for many reasons: structure, language, research and history, and putting everything on the line. This is one way to take control of our own narratives and take our power back.
Here’s Tanaïs now.
#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH TANAÏS
Excerpt from the interview:
Tanaïs: I think that we have to always remember that we come from a collective consciousness. And this very act of writing a book or, you know, making knowledge something that is tangible through words and language, there is . . . there is an indebtedness that we have to the people who give us that very knowledge. And I wanted to do that, do these small epigraphs that are kind of laced throughout the book.
“And this very act of writing a book or, you know, making knowledge something that is tangible through words and language . . . there is an indebtedness that we have to the people who give us that very knowledge.” Tanaïs on In Sensorium #DesiCraftChat @DesiBooksTweet
You know, the different metaphors I have for the shape of the book, I think everything is metaphors. Perfume, for me is the central metaphor. But I was thinking about, you know, the beads and flowers of a mala, like a garland of stories that I’m beading together, I was thinking about one of the definitions of tantra as a loom, a warp, a weaving. So I’m weaving together all these stories, it’s like quilting, pastiche.
These are all the metaphors that have also been some of the primary ways that women and femmes have told their stories without language, creating visual languages and heirlooms and artifacts. And in the several partitions that our peoples have experienced, these artifacts are what people carried on from generation to generation. And those are all subtly woven in. I think, if you’re South Asian, maybe you’re really seeing and feeling that in a way that maybe you’re not conscious of how it’s playing out as you’re reading.
But I try to create, like, a system of various metaphors that are very rooted in femme and women’s experiences. And I think, going back to my grandmother, who you brought up, my late grandmother who died at the beginning of the pandemic. You know, I never got to see her again but I have her artifacts. She created. And she was very prolific in how she would sew kantha quilts, shawls, you know, the different textiles that let her express not only her art history, but I think a way for her to transmit her pain at losing her child and all that she sort of lost along the way. So I don’t know. I think it’s just like finding different ways of honoring knowledge that are not given that space when it comes to, you know, power.
You’ve been listening to episode 69 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.
Episode 70 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Please go to the website if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. That’s desibooks.co. And please share this interview via social media so we can keep raising the tide of desi literature.
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