Early on in “Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through,” T Fleischmann writes, “I think of what is not written, the silenced past and the terrifying future that weigh on autobiography. I can’t account for most of what happens, my own life getting in the way of it.” Through much of this book, Fleischmann — who prefers the pronoun “they” — attempts to ameliorate this through a discursive writing style that easily moves from memoir to history to criticism. While they switch subject matters, Fleischmann also switches forms, from a standard essayistic style into poetry.

The book uses the work of Félix González-Torres as a jumping-off point. In one stirring and understated section, Fleischmann writes about seeing González-Torres’ “Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.),” an installation made up of a pile of wrapped hard candies, which viewers are invited to take, at the Art Institute of Chicago: “It’s in a corner of a room up some stairs, like it usually is (maybe not always the stairs though). I don’t like this route of approaching, with the twenty-five-dollar admission, but I pay to get the experience of approaching and then touching, in that order, and then taste.”

The choice to focus on the experience of going to see the art as much as the physical art itself brings those ideas closer together, emphasizing the distortive impact of specific contexts.

Another way Fleischmann considers contexts follows shortly after: “An annoying thing about gender is that it always gets in the way of people understanding context. … They focus on the language too much and forget to get everyone housing and health care.”

Carrying this out in practice, Fleischmann’s engagement with their gendered experience often comes through discussions of its material consequences, like when they learn that the testosterone blockers they are taking do not mix well with alcohol, which medical professionals had failed to warn them about. They learned about the cause and effect from a friend at a party instead.

Fleischmann’s friendships and romantic relationships — often intertwined — are the book’s emotional center. They approach their desires in a way that is alternately moving and self-deprecating. “People sometimes think there’s sadness to my romances because I prioritize long-distance relationships and relationships with people who are already in love with someone else,” they write. “As Jackson not only lives in Australia but also has there an Australian girlfriend, he’s really ideal for me.”

This passage captures so much of what is effective about “Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through.” Fleischmann undercuts the sadness before describing it, which softens the blow and produces a sense of longing instead. Fleischmann’s polymathic book exerts this type of control the whole way through, and to great effect.

Bradley Babendir has written for the New Republic, Pacific Standard, the New Inquiry and other publications.

Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through
By: T Fleischmann.
Publisher: Coffee House Press, 157 pages, $16.95.