Aggressively Gentle by Brianne Agnizle: The Emptiness of Motion

AGGRESSIVELY GENTLE  by Brianne Agnizle. February 2018. $4.00. 8.5"x5.5". Self-published. 

AGGRESSIVELY GENTLE by Brianne Agnizle. February 2018. $4.00. 8.5"x5.5". Self-published. 

From the get-go, the cover of Aggressively Gentle is littered with symbolism. An empty shopping cart is in stasis in front of a wall of pre-packaged salads. The metal of the cart is cold and expecting, vaguely reminiscent of the bars of a jail cell. The overhead fluorescent lights are sterile. What organic material the bags of salad may contain is shackled in barriers of plastic, waiting to be opened but staying tactfully orderly and silent. The pink text of the title emphasizes the cliched femininity of the grocery store and the kitchen, subverted by its implications of sterility and isolation. The supermarket is a sentence of devotion to a person who does not seek devotion.

Ostensibly, this is a zine about a desire to express tenderness and love. Under the mask of desire lies a sinister dance between estrangement and motion. So repeated are the statements of desire by the narrator that they are practically rendered meaningless. What is left is what is beneath, and what, indeed, is beneath?

The images in which the text of the zine are set are recurring void environments: cityscapes of buildings, skyscrapers, street lamps, grocery stores, empty buses, empty cubicles, factories, sidewalks--evidence of people without people occupying their built spaces. In this vacancy sits uncomfortably the text of a woman longing for connection, sometimes with someone in particular, sometimes with anyone. The object of her affections is little more than a focal point in a period of upheaval, for whom character traits and humanity are irrelevant. Aggressively Gentle seems to be penned as much to the emptiness of the world as to an abstract object of desire. There is a thin line between ambient context and companionship, the environment becoming something of an object of desire and a former lover becoming integrated into the environment.

The zine repeatedly ponders on the paradox of a city being saturated with lonely individuals, structurally bound by separation. The narrator is both participant and observer to this phenomenon, often estranging herself from participation by occupying an observant role, taking “field notes” of the object(s) of her desire. She frequently divides and reduces her notion of self, at one point perceiving herself to be both a criminal and a victim in a homicide--intentionally choosing the word “homicide” above “suicide”. She compares herself to objects: rifles, fields, whatever is a convenient metaphor to cope with a lack of autonomy over sentiments of isolation. The most tangible instance of this division of self is the narrator’s relationship to her alter-ego “Rosemary”, a dancer at a club who is capable of love in a way that the narrator envies. Rosemary, although initially an artifice, gains a realness that somehow evades the narrator’s own flighty sense of self and autonomy.

Stylistically, Agnizle employs frequent parentheticals and ellipses to render the narrator unsure of herself and place her on shaky footings. As if to say, “I am not occupying much space, don’t mind me,” Agnizle uses solely lower-case text for the entries from the narrator’s perspective. The narrator’s questions ultimately seek stability, stasis--a relief from a transitory world. This is juxtaposed by the exterior voice of the world, written in an affronting all-caps red, which leaves a voicemail to remind the narrator that she is little more than a series of chain reactions, as if to isolate her, strip her of autonomy and remove meaning from her surroundings.

Such is the world created in Aggressively Gentle: a place where people subsist rather than live, where individuals are caught in helpless transition, set in motion by a force outside themselves. Emotions are factory-made, outsourced from their possessor. It is a grayscale world, disrupted by colorized pinks and reds embodying something between a war and a symbiosis of tenderness and violence. In motion, time is rendered blurry and so repetitive as to induce amnesia. So heavily steeped with significance is the process of driving and being in motion that motion and time seem to lose their meaning. The narrator finds comfort in what is cold because there, time itself is frozen. And yet, the narrator belongs to motion, perhaps in the sense that she is a prisoner to it more than she takes residence in it. The question is poised: how do you escape escapism? The answer isn’t very clear.

Katherine Beaman

Katherine Beaman