‘Autolysis, or Ways of Disappearing’ by Sylvia Warren

In one sense, ‘Autolysis’ is the story of humanity’s unhumanity. It’s well known, though rarely admitted, that the human body is not just human. We couldn’t live without the bacteria in our guts, for instance. Only death, when our bodies decompose into the Earth, reveals us for what we truly are; and this revelation is a lifelong project. Warren unconceals it through fantasy. There are many fairy tales, it’s true, of humans turning into nonhuman animals, humans metamorphosing into trees, humans caught between humanity and fish-hood. But Warren’s story is the first I’ve read in which becoming-fungus is a run-of-the-mill aspect of contemporary women’s life cycle. In ‘Autolysis,’ coming of age means learning the nonhumanity, the “rot,” as Warren puts it, innate to one’s body. There are rituals to instigate various stages of the transition, rituals to palliate the pain of metamorphosis. And this is another way to read ‘Autolysis’: the phased development of a woman’s inborn fungus coincides with the familiar metamorphoses that are her human-reproductive cycle. Warren illuminates by exaggeration the hidden agonies which every woman suffers but is ideologically bound to consider precious—even amidst the recurring horror of her body becoming alien to itself.

“Things were budding inside, forming fleshy growths that burst outwards under my skin. I lay there in the dark of my bedroom, a wet itchiness as the insides of me became too large . . . I waited to disappear into the bed, tied down by the maze of mycelia until I melted and decomposed.”

Published in minor literature[s], February 2020, and available to read here