MAKE IT SCREAM, MAKE IT BURN is a collection of fourteen essays exploring the dynamics of haunting and obsession. I look at how we are defined by what we can’t ever fully grasp, from the ghosts of possible prior lives to the perpetually unfinished work of documentary art, from the alternate selves of our online avatars to the specters of broken romances. If my first collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, explored the perilous allure of empathy, this collection examines what happens not when we look but when we can’t look away—when we find ourselves consumed by desire or fascination.
The structure of MAKE IT SCREAM, MAKE IT BURN serves as a mirror image to The Empathy Exams. Whereas the latter started with the personal and gradually turned outward, MAKE IT SCREAM, MAKE IT BURN progresses from the outward-looking to the deeply personal. It begins with a trio of pieces of longform reportage: an account of the “loneliest whale in the world” and his devoted followers, an exploration of children who vividly member their past lives, and an examination of those who find community in the virtual world of Second Life. In the pages that follow, it takes readers to Sri Lanka to survey the residue of its Civil War, offers the definitive critical account of an outsider artist’s 25-year documentary photography project on both sides of the US/Mexico border, and ruminates on a museum devoted to the breakups of ordinary strangers. I ultimately turn to the achingly personal, examining my own life as a site of strangeness and mystery, considering the dynamics of obsession, haunting, and longing in essays about weddings, infidelity, elopement in Las Vegas, becoming a stepmother, and my own pregnancy juxtaposed against an eating disorder years before. These are essays about how we are composed by what we long for, and by living in uneasy relation to what we have.