July 29, 2014 | by Christopher Higgs
Dodie Bellamy writes genre-bending works that focus on sexuality, politics, and narrative experimentation, challenging the distinctions between fiction, essay, and poetry. Her methods include radical feminist revisions of canonical works, as in Cunt-Ups (2002) and its follow-up Cunt Norton (2013), which appropriate the “cut-up” technique made famous by William Burroughs; and The Letters of Mina Harker (2004), an epistolary collaboration with the late Sam D’Allesandro, which reimagines Bram Stoker’s Dracula in an AIDS-plagued San Francisco. In her 2004 book Pink Steam, Bellamy explains, “I’m working toward a writing that subverts sexual bragging, a writing that champions the vulnerable, the fractured, the disenfranchised, the sexually fucked-up.”
As an active member of San Francisco’s avant-garde literary scene for the past thirty years, Bellamy is often associated with the New Narrative movement. Before moving to San Francisco in the late seventies, she grew up in the Calumet region of Indiana, studied at Indiana University, and joined a New Age cult. That experience informs her newest book, The TV Sutras, which Norman Fisher has described as “part porno, part memoir (maybe), part spiritual teaching (probably not), [and] part fiction.” Bellamy says she spent five months “receiving transmissions” from her television set, writing brief commentaries on each, which serve as the material for Part One. For example, from #5—“Do you want me to come back to your place? Man and woman in bar. Commentary: Focus on getting back to the basics/beginning anew. Establish a home base you can return to.”
Part Two, “Cultured,” switches into a more familiar form of narrative, but nevertheless refuses to explain itself. At times it seems as though it contextualizes and complicates the sutras in Part One, while at other times the connection seems hidden. In a recent correspondence with Bellamy, we discussed TV Sutras and her history with the New Narrative movement.
You refer to The TV Sutras as a conceptual piece. I’m curious about the ways you see it participating in the current trend of conceptual poetics, or conceptualism in general.
While my writing shares enough concerns with conceptual poetics to be published by Les Figues—poems from Cunt Ups are included in their I’ll Drown My Book anthology, followed by the book length Cunt Norton—The TV Sutras, like the current trend of conceptual poetry, connects with older roots in twentieth-century Conceptual art practices, procedural practices that have been employed since before the surrealists. Procedural strategies have been in vogue ever since I came to poetry in San Francisco in the late seventies—erasure poems, cut-ups, et cetera. I remember very early on going to a reading by Carla Harryman during which she said she “generated” a text, and I was shocked at her use of the word “generated” instead of “wrote.” For me, this was one of those “Dorothy’s no longer in Kansas” moments. Kathy Acker’s use of appropriation has been a touchstone, as well as her conflation of reading and writing. I “generated” the first handful of TV sutras for the Occult issue of 2nd Avenue Poetry, which focused on the intersections between poetry and divinatory practices, particularly rituals that introduce chance. In receiving my sutras through my television, I was reaching back to an ancient tradition of inspired texts—texts that arrive, bidden or unbidden, from a divine/alien elsewhere. Read More »
May 8, 2013 | by Christopher Higgs
Harmony Korine’s name is usually paired with the word controversial. The writer and director of the films Trash Humpers, Mister Lonely, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Gummo, most recently he helmed Spring Breakers, which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. A Crack Up at the Race Riots, his debut novel, was originally published by Mainstreet/Doubleday in 1998, and has recently been rereleased by Drag City. As unconventional as any of his films, the book presents a multimedia assemblage of text both printed and handwritten, drawings, photographs, news clippings, suicide notes, celebrity gossip, appropriated material, lists, diagrams, ideas for books and films, as well as stories and scenes that are at times humorous and at times disturbing, but always provocative and engaging. At the time of A Crack Up at the Race Riots’s initial publication, Korine explained the book to David Letterman as “the great American choose-your-own-adventure novel.”
I recently sat down with Korine to discuss the rerelease of A Crack Up at the Race Riots.
Since you wrote the book fifteen years ago, I wonder how you feel about it now. Do you still feel close to it, or does it seem like a distant memory?
I think both. I was about twenty-three when I wrote it, but it’s still pretty close to how I think now. It sets up a lot of the themes and ideas that I would start to work on later. I definitely see some connections and through-lines to things I’ve been doing today.
What do you remember about the process of composing it?
I’m gonna be honest with you, I was doing a lot of drugs back then. So my memory is kind of spotty, but it was definitely a kind of narco-fueled micro-deconstructed jam I was trying to get out.
Were you carrying around a composition book and jotting material down as it came to you?
No. At that point in my life I had no idea how to contain my ideas. The creative process was more explosive for me. And I didn’t have a filter, and I didn’t try to filter anything, as much as just try to get stuff down. So, I would just write everywhere. I would wake up in the morning and hear a conversation on the street, like a guy on crutches—this is my own sense of humor—I’d hear a guy on crutches going down the streets and I’d hear him muttering something to himself, something observational, and then I’d write that down on a piece of paper and then I would change his name. I would think, What if Clint Eastwood said that? Or, What if Snoop said that same sentence? Or, What if it was a quote from Margaret Thatcher? I was so interested in how the humor would change or devolve into something else. So that’s how it would happen. I would write things and then I would change the authorship. I would appropriate things from certain places. Then within certain quotations, I would change words around inside it, or changes sentences, or break it down in some way, or add to it in some way. And a lot of them were ideas for other things, but in the end I just liked the titles better. Like, they would be titles for books I would want to write, but I would look at them and I would think, Wow, the titles in and of themselves are exciting. Read More »
April 2, 2013 | by Christopher Higgs
Kenneth Goldsmith’s writing has been called “some of the most exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry.” Goldsmith is the author of eleven books of poetry, founding editor of the online archive UbuWeb, and the editor of I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, which was the basis for an opera, Trans-Warhol, that premiered in Geneva in 2007. An hour-long documentary on his work, Sucking on Words, was first shown at the British Library that same year. In 2011, he was invited to read at President Obama’s “A Celebration of American Poetry” at the White House, where he also held a poetry workshop with First Lady Michelle Obama. Earlier this year, he began his tenure as the first-ever Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
I recently sat down with Goldsmith to discuss his new book, Seven American Deaths and Disasters.
Since your practice emphasizes the value of the selection process over the creation process, how do you choose what to include and exclude from Seven American Deaths and Disasters?
I began with the assassination of JFK, which is arguably the beginning of media spectacle, as defined and framed by Warhol. His portrait of Jackie mourning iconizes that moment forever. Although he made Marilyn’ss, he never memorialized her death, thus it never entered into the realm of media spectacle in the same way. From JFK, I naturally proceeded to RFK, an eyewitness account of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It’s an incredible linguistic document—you really feel the newsman’s struggle to find words to describe what is unfolding before his eyes. John Lennon is taken from a cassette tape made by someone scanning the radio the night of and days following his assassination, which feels like an audio document from a lost time. Space Shuttle Challenger is from a TV broadcast of the event and its long, weird, silent aftermath. Columbine is straight transcript of a harrowing 911 call. The World Trade Center, the longest piece in the book, is from several sources—talk radio, news radio, color commentary—stitched together into a multichapter epic, thus mirroring the gargantuan scale of the event. And Michael Jackson is from a catty FM station, where the shock jocks have no problem cracking jokes and making racist comments at his expense. Read More »
October 22, 2012 | by Christopher Higgs
Kate Zambreno’s first book, O Fallen Angel, won Chiasmus Press’s “Undoing the Novel” First Book Contest, and her second book, Green Girl, was a finalist for the Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. So it should come as no surprise that her provocative new work, Heroines, published by Semiotext(e)’s Active Agents imprint next month, challenges easy categorization, this time by poetically swerving in and out of memoir, diary, fiction, literary history, criticism, and theory. With equal parts unabashed pathos and exceptional intelligence, Heroines foregrounds female subjectivity to produce an impressive and original work that examines the suppression of various female modernists in relation to Zambreno’s own complicated position as a writer and a wife. It concludes by bringing the problems of the modernists into conversation with the contemporary by offering a timely consideration of the role of the Internet and blogs in creating a community for women writers.
What was it about the modernist wives that first interested you?
I think I came to the wives through an initial discovery of more neglected modernist women writers—Olive Moore, Anna Kavan, Jane Bowles, maybe I’d add Jean Rhys to that list. I was living in London working in a bookshop and not doing much in terms of trying to write a novel, so I pitched to Chad Post at Dalkey that I write an essay on Kavan. And because I had nothing else to do, I sat in the British Library and read everything by her. And started reading all these other experimental women writers, like Elizabeth Smart—not the Mormon abductee, but the one obsessed with the poet George Barker, an obsession she documents in the amazing By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Not a modernist, I know, but I sat at the British Library and read the communal notebook she kept with Barker and thought about Vivien(ne)’s hand on “The Waste Land” manuscript. I began to be really interested in ideas of literary collaboration.