Letter From the Editor, December 2020
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
Lacunae are, first and foremost, textual chasms—gaps on the page where something once was, or where something could be. They’re the Achilles’ heel of many an ancient work. But far from literary flyover country, lacunae can be rhetorically rich; my Lit Hum professor spent a justified week on them and them alone in Sappho’s poetry. And while, thanks to innovations in the papyrus industry, the majority of Annelie Hyatt’s poem in this issue of The Blue and White hasn’t been redacted over the millennia, readers will find plenty of meaning in the apertures she makes and describes: “You suspend yourself like a melody / you become the melody & tease me / from a crevice in the trees.”
Lacunae in life—weeks of delayed course registration, say, or the 11-month interregnum in 1940s India—are tricky things, and they can provoke our ire. As awkward dissonances between expectation and reality, or between reality and imagination, they fuck up our plans or do away with them altogether. This month, Lyla Trilling’s lacuna is Columbia’s delay in rooting sexual assault out of frats for good: “Every institution in question has the money, power, and resources to substantially change their cultures of misogyny and ignorance,” she writes, referring to universities that fail to take action in the face of brothers’ Class A felonies. “But at what point will they gain the will?” In his essay on police brutality in Nigeria, Victor Omojola reframes the lacunae of justice that Americans are still trying to abolish. And Bella DeVaan shrewdly reveals the gaping—and widening—discursive lacuna between charitable donors and wealth redistributors at Columbia.
Lacunae like these are so broad and deep that their borders are outrageously difficult to discern, their voids impossible to fill. They’re easy to fear, so we often shy away from identifying them, even when we know they’re there. When the media puts COVID on the calendar of the world, “lacuna” and its synonyms aren’t the spatial metaphors of choice; we hear more about ruptures, as if one of the most horrifying gashes in memory can be threaded, sutured, and somehow rendered seamless. When COVID is a wide opening, it’s a gleaming vat to fill with self-serving solids—by finally taking a MasterClass or, on the noxious end of the spectrum, launching a business that’ll fill that most glaring of “resume gaps.”
Our writers are searching for other ways. The Columbia curators Claire Shang speaks to aren’t reveling in the lacuna or counting the steps toward its unknown end. Faced with a “stalled” arts industry, they are not only adapting to the pandemic, but formulating new ways to exhibit work; they’re filling (digital) spaces, even if they don’t quite know how. In her critique of the Wallach’s “Uptown Triennial 2020,” Lilly Cao reminds us that not all of those art spaces are being filled constructively, with deep knowledge of their contexts. And just when you think you understand the lacunae, Columbia students will prove you wrong—just ask the Southern students who relate the nuances of their identity-formation to Sophie Poole.
Mind the gaps—paradoxically, they’re full of life. And mind them closely, as they like to hide in plain sight: except here, “lacuna” doesn’t appear in our issue, and even “gap” only shows up as part of a bathroom joke in Gabe Garon’s At Two Swords’ Length. Our writers didn’t have to veer into academese and declare their lacunae the ultimate sources of anything (insert inscrutable Lacan reference here.) They just found them, explored them, and tried to describe them. Enjoy.
Happy break, and huge congratulations to Dominy Gallo, CC ’23, who will take over as Editor-in-Chief of The Blue and White in January, for one calendar year.
Sam Needleman Editor-in-Chief