Book Review: Love Speech by Xiaoxuan / Sherry Huang

“It’s Like Reading the Diary of Your Smartest Friend”

The quote is a line from a speech Judith Butler made, and it is the inspiration for the the title of Love Speech by Xiaxouan / Sherry Huang. Graphic Aysha White

Love Speech by Xiaxouan / Sherry Huang is a short auto-theoretical reflection on the nature of language, what makes it hurtful or loving. It is both dense and poetic; written and illustrated; prosaic and photographic.

Love Speech was released in summer 2019 by Metatron Press, an independent Montreal-based publisher.

Huang uses the works of other theorists as a jumping-off point to form her own comments, also using personal anecdotes. It’s like reading the diary of your smartest friend.

While this book deals with dense texts by theorists like Judith Butler, who is known for her heavy and at times overly academic work— Love Speech does not fall into that trap.

Love Speech is tender, vulnerable, open, its pages bursting with the unnameable and intense emotions that make us human.

“Our very being exposes us to the address of another,” a line from a speech Butler made, is the inspiration for the book’s title.

Love Speech ’s 79 pages follow a gentle rhythm, like a summer rainstorm. Images begin to introduce the ideas on speech that are presented, discussed, and finished, but not necessarily concluded.

The photographs were taken by Huang and mainly feature images from her travels.

At the beginning of the text, the tones are bright and fiery. By its end, they change to easy on the eyes cool tones. While there have been no final conclusions reached, there is a sense of calm and peace reached by the finish, retaining the wistfulness of the text itself.

“I will lie down in a field exactly for you,” is placed on a single page, followed by a two-page spread of a slightly indiscernible/grainy blue texture, lending a certain sense of resignation or sadness to the sentiment.

Huang’s multi-faceted work places her in the same category as these other young Women of Colour, revolutionary creators.

Being able to create and communicate an idea is a talent. Being able to create and communicate using two or more artistic forms, that combine into their own relationship, is close to a small miracle.

Twenty and (early) 30-somethings arguably consume more multimedia through their consumption of a variety of tools, from Instagram, to Youtube, to Reddit. The blurring of genres, jumps in narrative, and sense of incompleteness seems to be a signature of the internet generation’s work.

Take an artist like Rihanna, who seems to venture into a new creative field each year (killing it each time); and love or hate her, it’s undeniable that Rupi Kaur’s illustrated self-help-y poems (that she also performs aloud) have had a huge influence on the world of poetry and the younger generation’s expression of it.

Huang’s multi-faceted work places her in the same category as these other young Women of Colour, revolutionary creators.

Love Speech addresses notions of what it means to be a queer immigrant/settler by sharing personal anecdotes and conversation snippets. This is not an often heard from perspective.

Huang writes about deep intense loves with people referred to only by first initials. There is no definite sense of whether these relationships are platonic, romantic, or some combination of the two, a stereotype often levelled at young(er) urban queer-identified folk.

But it doesn’t necessarily matter what exactly the nature of these details are, explains Love Speech. It’s about what makes these relationships loving as opposed to hurtful. Warm over cold. Words that draw you in over making distance.

Love Speech meditates on notions of love, communication, change, and vulnerability in a poetic and theoretical manner without ever slipping into a sense of self-absorption or whininess that can plague personal narrative poetry/prose.

If someone had never read any of Butler’s work before, this would be an excellent and creative way to understand some of the theorist’s concepts.

Being able to recreate the feeling and idea as well as look of a piece in a written critique in fact requires more creativity to do excellently than perhaps it takes to create the piece itself.

Regardless of your agreement, it is an interesting thought.

Huang is one to watch.