Journey Into the Self: On Vincent Czyz’s “Sun Eye Moon Eye”

"Sun Eye Moon Eye"

Vincent Czyz’s novel Sun Eye Moon Eye traces the post-genocidal, and by extension post-apocalyptic, journey of Logan Blackfeather, a Hopi “of mixed descent.” On the surface, Logan’s story revolves around coming to terms with his father’s death; the suicide of the abusive uncle who replaced him (as titular father only); the knifing of a racist truck driver for which he is sent to prison and then a psychiatric facility; and his slow reemergence into the world via the therapeutic trinity of love—his relationship with Shawna, a woman he meets on the lam in Manhattan—art—his return to composing the music he’d given up on in the midst of trauma—and ethnic reconciliation—reclaiming his heritage from the legacy of colonialism and settlement. On a deeper level, Logan’s journey is really about his dwelling along the margin of where the waking world—one of broken families, addiction, poverty, deracination, violence—meets an animist dreamscape—southwestern geography fused to a Hopi mythography.

Throughout the novel, Logan’s survival depends on suturing these two distinct worlds, less into a coherent whole—in fact his survival depends on learning to live with incoherence—than into what I think Czyz (for lack of a better term on my part) regards as a redemptive kinetics. This means a worldview of motion over the essentialism that informs the pigeonholing and stereotypes of the colonialism—and its legacies in racism and classism—that Logan contends with throughout. “With no tribal mother around to hold your hand, with no tribe to take you into its bosom, you wind up covering the wound with a sunny myth of your own device, and they send you to Upstate University to relearn the straitjackets you’d spent your last ounce of energy shrugging out of.” Logan’s realization is clear: either he agrees to imprison himself inside the cliché’s he’s been made to inhabit, or he will be literally imprisoned until performing them becomes second nature. Freedom from these institutions will require movement, the “dance” the novel ends with, “a whirling beyond the reach of watches and clocks and calendars,” all the machinery that confines time, and by extension the individual, to units of measure, and which serves as a metaphor for other forms of imprisonment—racial, economic, epistemological—forced upon Logan. His resistance to this, and salvation from it, depends upon him discovering a way of being that is “motion and nothing else.” 

Czyz equates this “dance” with a capacity for an openness to transformation, dialogue, difference, that not only serves to liberate Logan but offers us, as readers, an antidote to essentialism and its instrumental use in the genocide upon which the countries of North America were founded. As Logan realizes late in his story, in a moment typical of Czyzian irony, “The Old World is behind you.” The capitalization is not a typo. Czyz’s story conflates Logan’s own “old world,” his personal history, with the legacy of the Old World, white European culture more broadly, to show how it informs not only our understanding of selfhood, but a worldview whose legacy includes the extermination of Native Americans, and also “Buchenwald, Treblinka, Lodz.” The journey the novel takes us on demonstrates that Logan is not learning to run from this Old World; instead his running offers a counter-practice to its instrumental rationality, a rejection of its exploitation of the world—both in terms of peoples and natural resources—for the purposes of profit and power. Running means a recognition (figured in Logan’s own racial and cultural hybridity) of the untenability of the boundaries and distinctions that make Old World cultural practices such as private property, racial segregation, resource “allocation” possible. It means an embrace of the porousness of existence, in which peoples, times, landscapes are mutually-informing and mutually-constitutive: “Others he’d never known swarmed in his veins, flowed out with his blood though no doctor had noticed them in his glass tube.” 

The novel dwells in a knowledge not so much alien to that of instrumental systems as sidelined by it. “Neither moon eye nor sun eye should hog the sky,” Logan realizes, accepting the simultaneity—or what the novel calls “double exposures”—of what are oftentimes mutually exclusive ways of perceiving, and thus being: the clinical clarity of ratiocination versus the symbolic obscurity of the unconscious. The contradiction is sustained but not reconciled in art, which, like Logan, finds its life in the kinetic, in the “friction between us and the world” that makes it impossible to “separate dream” from “non-dream . . . the living from the inanimate or the passed-on,” as if the beautiful itself were an attempt to maintain, as long as possible, the wavering between things, their endless combination and recombination. Logan’s kinetic practice is also Czyz’s. And so, in the novel, poetics infuses reason, and lyrical abundance and evanescence inform a perspective in which it’s impossible to segregate people, experience, and things into definitive, never mind opposing, camps. Not surprisingly, then, Logan’s primary quest is a freedom from a history that defines him and his ancestry only in terms of Old World power, reclaiming a worldview prior to, which also means anterior to, colonization. As Czyz writes, “There’s no going forward without going back,” or “The journey isn’t complete without return.” 

Logan’s universe is at once static and dynamic, moving toward what it always was. Or, rather, that movement itself is and was and always will be the way of the universe. Luckily for us readers, the novel delivers this intricate commentary by pulling us irresistibly into a story whose characters are sympathetic and vividly drawn, whose writing lyrically evokes Logan’s dreams and nightmares—whether along the abandoned highways and landscapes and habitations of the southwest or the grimy corners of Manhattan—and whose hallucinatory perspective never loses sight of the world as it is. That the novel dwells in this rich cross-current—intersections of spirit, politics, history—without losing sight of Logan’s humanity, and our interest in his fate, is the finest achievement of this visionary novel.


Sun Eye Moon Eye
by Vincent Czyz
Spuyten Duyvil; 588 p.


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