Artwork > Writing

Angela Lopez Graduate Thesis
MFA Thesis

Picture a beautiful Hawaii Coast.
Picture looking up from the bottom of a ditch at night.
Why go to Hawaii for vacation when you can go to the bottom of this ditch…
Picture a body falling down from the top of the ditch.
Why go to Hawaii for vacation when you can go to the bottom of this ditch and identify murderers?
From the bottom of the ditch try to see who dropped the body.

Part 1: Mirror Neurons Repeat

Motor systems in the brain are active when performing an action, as well as when observing someone else perform that action. Subconsciously, without moving, the mind responds to the physical gestures that it sees as though it were performing the gesture itself. Viewing a repeated gesture gives time for the subconscious processing to move to the conscious brain, causing the viewer to feel what it sees.

Feel what it sees. Deep in their underground colonies ants keep their dead in organized piles. They arrange them in various patterns, such as rows, or triangle-shaped piles. They maintain them by reorganizing them almost constantly. An ant walks between the rows of organized dead and touches the head of every corpse it passes. The process of making and viewing repetitive images, as well as repetitive acts, creates a slowing down of cognitive processing and an investigation into the content of the act.

A fundamental way empathy is established is through shared bodily experiences. Edith Stein explains an aspect of intersubjective empathy through considering how the growth of one’s hands from childhood to adulthood helps one relate to, and see the similarity of, other hands of different shapes and sizes. Stein emphasizes that it is not a strictly visual understanding, but also sensorimotor. (Edith Stein, On the Problem of Empathy)

Part 2: Mirror Neurons Repeat

Vultures are beautiful large birds. They live by digesting death. When a vulture looks at you its head moves slowly. Its eyes focus on yours and do not move.

“The communication or comprehension of gestures come about through the reciprocity of my intentions and the gestures of others, of my gestures and intentions discernible in the conduct of other people. It is as if the other person’s intentions inhabited my body and mine his.”
-Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

One gesture communicates a reciprocal gesture as it is understood by empathically inhabiting the other’s body. A familiar hand x-rayed, becomes an unfamiliar harbinger of death for Hans Catsorp, when he sees the ring he inherited floating around his skeleton bones. “ . . . hanging loose and black on the joint of his ring finger—a hard, material object, with which man adorns the body that is fated to melt away beneath it, when it passes on to another flesh that can wear it for yet a little while.” (Thomas Mann, Magic Mountain) This same hand was his fathers’ and his grandfathers.

Repetition dissects a gesture by slowing it down so much that it becomes a memory even while it is still taking place. One hand crosses over the palm of another and grips it, then cuts the other’s wrist with its fingernail. The focused cut is slow. While ever-present with action or pain the beginning and end are also vivid.

Repetition is longing for and dreading it again.
Touching the head of every body it passes.
Kissing my fingers then touching your grave
again and again.

Part 3 Body Awareness

To cure a rash massage it. First, gently rub your fingers over the surface. Slow down and feel the movement underneath. There is a pulse. Wait. Something adjusts itself under the skin.

Gerhard Roth refers to body awareness as the belief that “I belong to my body,” and autobiographic consciousness as the conviction that “I am the one who existed yesterday and will persist into the future.” (Chimeras and Consciousness: Evolution of the Sensory Self) However, the body senses and interprets information beyond what the mind is consciously aware of. The body operates beyond our will and is affected internally by what happens externally and vice versa. As a result there is a lack of physical and political control over our own bodies.

What’s missing, what’s left
Savoring the fine wrinkles and scars that match up on two lovers’ bodies.
A dimple hides a cavity.
Caressing the first line of defense.
Smooth with wrinkles and patches of hair
Tracing the contour of the side
and around the black lump that’s been eating there,
Spotting and growing.
I put pressure in one spot and see it bubble up in another.


Reflected in our organs it leaves empty black protrusions.
Gathered in a bucket I stick my hands in it,
and scratch it,
try to pile it like water.
It sticks to my hands.
I want to shovel it out.

Part 4: Animal Self

“London housewife Barbara Carter won a “grant a wish” charity contest, and said she wanted to kiss and cuddle a lion. Wednesday night she was in a hospital in shock and with throat wounds. Mrs. Carter, forty-six, was taken to the lions’ compound of the Safari Park at Bewdley Wednesday. As she bent forward to stroke the lioness, Suki, it pounced and dragged her to the ground. Wardens later said, “We seem to have made a bad error of judgment.”
—British news bulletin, 1976

My love for my cat is palpable and deceiving. Since she can’t speak, I only experience a nonjudgmental unconditional love from her, which I return to her. She comforts me when I feel sad and makes me feel needed. She however, hates me. She relies on me for everything: food, water, a nice place to shit. She relies on me for play and pleasure. Resentful, she hunts my feet, but bred to be inside, she never succeeds. Never in heat, she seeks revenge for her spay by scratching my stomach when I sleep.

My shelter frames a window to the indifference of the natural world. We look out together. I know that she would like to be outside on the farm where cats go when you can’t keep them anymore. Where there are endless landscapes for them to be free. Here she can be independent, free in nature, free to hunt and kill, free to have sex and love, to be hunted, play and die.

I stretch my fingers as wide as possible pulling the tip of my pinky away from the tip of my thumb. I rest my hand on the head of a crocodile. I align my shoulders with its and rest my cheek on its neck. Then like my fingers, I stretch my feet as far away from my head as possible to measure the length of its body. I feel its breath under my belly. Starting at the tip of the tail, I trace its contour with my finger, feeling every ridge and bump, up to the center of its smooth nostrils. I wrap my fingers around the base of the tooth farthest in its mouth to measure the circumference of its base. Then I pull my fingers down to the tip of the tooth to measure its length. I begin again with the next tooth in the row until I’ve counted and measured them all.

Part 5: A Bite

A child throws a toy from its crib and pulls it back in order to replicate the loss and return of its mother. A child tries not to pick a scab, despite her inherent curiosity regarding how her body works. Her curiosity goes beyond what she logically knows. A scab represents the mystery of how the body functions independent of human will. Regardless of the pain involved there is a pleasure and comfort in knowing it will heal, and a curiosity of what happens if it doesn't.

Instead of pain avoidance, investigate pain, and endure pain as a way to receive pleasure.

I pet the hair on the leg of a spider. I’ve cornered it, but I’m sure it can get away if it really wants to. I carefully move my finger closer to the spider as its legs slowly recede closer to its body. Surrendering, he stretches out his front leg for me. I begin at the top of the leg, gauging how much pressure I can use. Slowly I move my finger down its leg. It gently pushes its leg into my finger. I repeat.

Scratching satisfies while increasing the desire to scratch more.

Part 6: The Pupil of the Eye

The prince of darkness, night, the black death, shadows, black cats, the devil’s beast, the pupil of the eye, nightmares etc. Anything is possible in the dark.

The pupil is the black hole in the eye that recedes directly into the brain. The fear of losing the eye ignites “violent obscure emotion.” (Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny) The familiarity and confoundedness inherit in the mysteries of darkness, black animals, black plagues, and that which disrupts what you thought you knew, is how reality is tested, and thus phenomena is possible.

What is it that makes something feel alive when it isn’t and vice versa? What is the nature of life, what makes a human, human? An individual ant is never aware of the larger structure it participates in. Its knowledge is only of a small section of the whole. When an ant dies it releases a scent that communicates its death to the living ants. If a living ant is covered in this scent, regardless of its vitality, the other ants will treat it as a dead body, carrying it to an underground cemetery.

Aristotle, in Poetics, uses the notion of Katharsis as a way to describe the effect of tragedy on the viewer. Instead of a purging or a cleansing of feelings, the way the word “catharsis” is used today, Aristotle saw Katharsis as a readjustment of feelings. The viewer is not left with an answer or clarification, but a new way of looking at complex emotions.

Her face was misshapen. Her eyebrows rested in the center of her large forehead. Her eyes were set wide apart from each other and her eyelids seemed stretched out. I decided to befriend her. That morning I said hi and she scowled, confused at my attention. That afternoon she flew, from the back seat of the school bus, through the front window and was wedged between the bus and another car.