The Last World: HANNAH BLACK Investigates Mommy Issues and Death

Jordan/Martin Hell

“How to not blow up the world, even though it sucks?,” asks artist Jordan/Martin Hell in his interview with writer and artist Hannah Black. Taking Black’s novella Tuesday Or September Or The End as a starting point, the two artists discuss how incest and mommy issues correlate with various apocalyptic happenings and death as a universal feeling.

and what has been done / May never be undone / So take your sad song / and sail into the next life . . .” —Grouper, “Clearing”

The hyoid is the U-shaped neck bone that’s broken in one-third of all homicides by strangulation. It’s also the bone responsible for some of the most vital machinations of the throat and tongue. In Chinese medicine, “plum pit chi” refers to the psychosomatic feeling of having an obstruction in the throat. In Western medicine, it's called “globus” or “having a frog in your throat.” For a long time, I used to suffer from nightmares where I couldn’t talk or breathe and instead collapsed under the weight of total blackness beginning at the throat until I broke through it and awoke, panting in a panic.

In 2022 Elon Musk tweeted “Vox populi, vox deior the voice of the people is the voice of God, when Trump got reinstated to Twitter. For a cycle we were inundated with news of AIs being programmed to troll Drake by leaking his viral bops before they were even conceived of. Maybe it was orchestrated by larger forces to set the scene for the inevitably dumb conversation we’re all starting to have about emergent super-tech regulations in an already bombed-out music industry. Under late-stage capitalism, medical school has become so dystopian-ly expensive that scientists post 3D printable mockups of a cadaver’s collected hyoid bones online for poor students to use to study.

In Hannah Black’s There is at least one spot in every dream at which it is unplumbable (plum pit qi, hyoid bone) the artist mines Taoism, fruit, and Freud, asking what exact bone breaks when one is strangled, and if we blow it up could we save the world? Ok, maybe I’m putting words in her mouth. Black doesn’t seem the type to want to blow up the world, even if it sucks.


In her most recent novella Tuesday Or September Or The End, she crafts worlds within worlds of dual internalities following the intrigue and antics of a newly separated couple named Bird and Dog as they ride out an alien invasion, an election, and Covid-19 in the comfort or discomfort of their own respective fuck ups. Utopia is a pendulum, continually panning through scenes of interrogation, deflection, exploitation, and action more like vaporwave in the haze of flu than the Michael Bay style pyrotechnics we’ve come to associate with the apocalypse. There’s a near-constant muck of bad TV, restless situationships, social unrest, family drama, existential panic, Covid-19 travel restrictions, and worldwide collective alien obsession, to add a wild card into the mix. Then, the smoke clears and the real work begins as aliens and humankind put together a world worth dying for in the most unilateral ways possible (or impossible).

I caught up with Hannah Black in London to ask her about her recent work and her ambient philosophical relationship to being alive and giving a fuck in 2023— such as she lives and imagines it.


JORDAN/MARTIN HELL: What happened to you or your work during the pandemic and why did you write Tuesday Or September Or The End?

HANNAH BLACK: I want to say upfront that I’m writing out these answers to you after an attempt to answer them in real-time, and I hope I can say things better here, but I’m writing next to a sleeping baby. For me, the first year or two of the pandemic was a boom-and-bust era of insane overvaluations of and disappointments in my capacity to be adequate to my friendships, uprisings, political organizing, and so on. The book combines the registers of hype and crash by being both ambitious and slight.

J/MH: What is the relationship between sex and death in the book? What is sex like as you imagine it? What is death like?

HB: I imagine sex as a pure synthesizing wave, but I experience it via my actual body. My body is also what binds me to the life/death problem. I can’t remember where, but recently I read that anything as universal as death must have something good about it. I feel sympathetic to this because I recently had a baby, which brings a feeling of universal vulnerability. I think while writing I was interested in the astrological thought figure of Pluto, which is the alchemical principle—the possibility of alchemy, which is something to do with the idea of an essence. In astrology this relates to sex and death because they are material transformations. I was interested in how transformative forces have been captured and put to work by capitalism. I think that’s the kind of sex/death thing going on in the book.


J/MH: In the novel, the character Dog is invited into the home of another character named Fossa while he is canvassing in support of a grassroots campaign for a Bernie Sanders-type quasi-fictional electoral candidate called Moley Salamanders. They disagree repeatedly and do not reconcile their differences at all during their initial meeting. But instead of leaving, Dog and Fossa sleep together and then begin a three-weeklong situationship, quarantining together in the midst of the beginning of the pandemic despite Dog having a girlfriend. Why do those characters choose to fuck each other instead of revolutionizing the world or parting ways after it becomes clear that no political progress will be made? Is there an inherent erotics to political persuasion? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

HB: This is a great question and I will need a couple of years to think about it! One thing I distinctly remember about the writing process was that I felt that I had to deal in a deep way with TV because watching TV was a huge part of the early pandemic for a lot of people. Other than that, this was another aspect of how I tried to stage the election/insurrection continuum via Dog and Bird’s relationship. Dog and Bird both go their separate ways but what they each encounter is, firstly, the problem of the family (this was big in early Covid-19, because it forced the issue of normative categories of care), and secondly, the inverse of their politics: Dog goes canvassing and encounters this sort of deconstructed household; Bird enters the abyss and encounters (the impossibility of) revolution in the form of the aliens. Or a simpler way to say all this is that Bird has her daddy issue and Dog investigates his mommy issue. In my own creative process, the political aspects got confused with some intense realizations I was having about myself, and I think that the book is this strange convoluted little work partly because of that confusion.


J/MH: Similarly, there are themes of incest and “mommy issues.” What does the apocalypse have to do with the collapse of the nuclear family such as it is proselytized in conservative media today?

HB: In the conservative media, the family is a fantasy apparatus that allows a certain type of ultra-repressive politics in the name of freedom. And on the other side of the culture war, I think the image of family is like the logo of a social nausea caused by longing, whether it’s queer family or abolition of family—both of those are just ways of referencing the incurability of endemic atomization.


J/MH: Does that interest in motherhood transfer to the hyoid bone piece from Frieze NY 2023? You’ve said elsewhere that it’s the “breastfeeding bone.”

HB: The hyoid bone sculpture began with my interest in a diagnostic crossover between traditional Chinese medicine and psychoanalysis, the sensation of something stuck in the throat, which in both cases seems to have something to do with the condition of being feminized or hystericized or being a woman. The hyoid bone is an otherwise unattached bone anatomically stuck in the throat, it’s important to the actions of speaking and swallowing—and the muscles that hold it in place are the ones a baby uses to suckle, so that was very relevant to my current interests! I wanted to make it really big and heavy. I would like to make a hyoid bone the size of an analyst’s couch.

J/MH: What about the title,There is at least one spot in every dream at which it is unplumbable (plum pit qi, hyoid bone)? Where did that come from?

HB: It’s from Freud’s essay “The Interpretation of Dreams,” in which he describes his own dream of examining a woman’s throat. He later died of cancer in that area of the body. He says this uninterpretable place is the navel of the dream—more mommy imagery! I was amused by the meaningless, navel-like association between “plum pit qi” which is the traditional Chinese medicine name for the stuck- in-throat feeling, as if a plum pit were stuck in your throat, and the word “unplumbable.”