“Fizzy Romance, Messy Matrixes, and Death Equations”: A Review of Camonghne Felix’s Dyscalculia

Witness the heart crack open, as fizzy romance, messy matrixes, and death equations rise to the surface. In the wake of an abusive childhood, Camonghne Felix undergoes a harsh transmutation of her brain, striking her with dyscalculia, a learning disorder that makes numeric language difficult for her to grasp. Enter an erotic undercurrent. Enter shame and the precarious performance of selfhood. Then comes X, the big true love who embraces betrayal, leaving Felix with the words, “I feel like I am going to die,” stuck in her throat. Cue the great unraveling, as the documentation of a girlhood steeped in trauma and an adulthood stretched out in the desperate reach for healing commences.

Dyscalculia is a kaleidoscopic reflection on love, yes. It’s also a reclamation of identity, as the author writes to fill in the gaps of her own memory, firmly asserting her existence. The magic of this work lies in its heroic reach and scope. Page after page, an offering is made of the most eclectic value, touching upon everything from Pythagoras and Tinder to karmic curses, Ritalin, and colonialism. With such an impressive range of memory, thought, and research all thrown together, the journey of this narrative is anything but linear. It instead opts for a wilder path filled with serpentine curves. This then begs the questions: What exactly is gained from this organized chaos? Is this chaos indeed organized?

Towards the beginning of the book, I had my doubts about the function of this artistic entropy. But as I continued on, I soon discovered the powerful organizing principles at work. First, there’s the matter of fluctuating tongues. Felix’s tone travels from the warm poetry of “we lie lazy in the deep cusp of our bed, the sun’s tender touch grazing the fur of our bodies,” to the cold and clinical declaration, “People are systems. Systems are motivated and organized by mathematical impulses…” Second, there’s the matter of form. Sometimes a single line sits pretty and profound in the center of the page, while other times a full memory gushes forth, filling several pages. This constant oscillation from one extreme to the other establishes a dependable rhythm, offering the sensation of travelling along an arc, then another, until a full circle is created and a clear pattern revealed.

This cyclical nature is further emphasized by the inclusion of poetic refrains, which occur with greater frequency as the narrative unfolds. These repeated phrases create a sense of memory and déjà vu, directly involving the reader in Felix’s attempt to recall her own past. As these words echo, they transform into a prayer or mantra, underscoring the Pythagorean belief that “insistence on remembering… allows one to rise with the gods…”

With each spin around the circle, the reader bears witness to the shedding of skin as the author releases old incarnations of the self. As she dives inward, returning to her true nature, she also expands outward, finally realizing, “I just am this momentous, this large, and I’m not even trying.” The shape of this story, the shape of her very healing, is then unveiled as a spiral—a fitting form to exemplify Felix’s technical virtuosity as well as her personal hunt for wholeness and authenticity. The spiral inwards offers a total repossession of the self, while the spiral outwards depicts a hand in the midst of a cosmic reach, apotheosis right around the corner. “When I spiral, things around me become their own spirals, taking on their own momentum, taking on their own force… To see it is to see it… I love what I’m starting to know,” writes Felix. Indeed. And around and around we go.

 

Dyscalculia was published on February 14, 2023 by One World.

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