18.12.05

INTERVIEW WITH JEANNE HEUVING

Hello to all Chiasmus visitors:

Here is our latest interview with Jeanne Heuving. Enjoy as Lidia and Jeanne engage in a gripping rap on words, women, and the writing of the self. Feel free to express your(her/his/my/our/them)self in response to their conversation. And thanks for your patronage.

Peace out,
Chiasmus Staff
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LY:
I'd like to start with three of my favorite concepts-liminality, affect and palimpsest (also one of lidia's favorite words of all time). Incapacity stages a reading experience (and I imagine a writing experience) unlike most anything I've seen before. My reading experience might be described as being deep inside affect-a place where affect is so foregrounded that its ordinary moorings slide away; deep inside liminality-an in-between space, between I and she, between writing and self, between writer and reader and writing; deep inside a palimpsest-the writing of others sometimes pushing up through your writing, or your writing embedded within theirs (Cocteau, Duras, Cixous)--as well as a layering of forms. Why I care about this is that all three of these concepts / spaces seem intimately linked to the lived experience of women in particular. Would you say that this writing has any lineage to l'ecriture feminine as it has been variously theorized? Are these concepts which so deeply inform the writing and the reading gendered?

JH: Actually, I would say that the relationship between women's experience and language is such that writing occupies an in-between space--a space between existing forms of articulation and non-articulation. Language is an immensely mobile, febrile, and tensile formation; but it is also marked by prior use that sustains conventional and status quo relations. If one is sensitive to how prevailing language uses do not speak oneself, then, as one writes, one of necessity formulates oneself through this gap in intention and available expression. I think this gap is particularly vivid in any language practice in which representation or representativeness is of issue--such as in fiction, or in my work Incapacity which as a cross genre work I list as poetry, fiction, autobiography, and biography. I wanted Incapacity to be representative of me, my life, and hence its rather excessive moments of inarticulation.
I like that you see this piece as being "deep inside affect--a place where affect is so foregrounded that its ordinary moorings slide away." Since innovative or experimental writing is often read quite erroneously as being largely cerebral, and at times anti-emotional, I am glad that I am communicating at this level. I have a hard time knowing just how "affect" works in this piece for a reader, but I do know in writing the piece, I wanted to be true to something that might go be the name of affect. Leslie Scalapino in commenting on this book picked up something of how the affect works: "Incapacity uses the separation of us /one as passive viewers, who see their own actions as outside them only always: taking this very separation of the present from language (conventional seeing), which is pain, as the means itself of inverting one's relation to others--love stood on end--she moves the terrain, fast-forwarding and flashbacks at once, to see not even the formation of events but seeing in their midst." This is a very Leslie Scalapino kind of observation, but I do believe she is quite right about how affect works in my book, since affect is importantly caught up in relations of ontology and epistemology--between inside and outside, nearness and distance. I think that Incapacity is about an immense kind of struggle within myself--a struggle that once it was contained in a book did make me feel sad. When I decided to call my book Incapacity, I wept about it, off and on for several days, maybe even a week or two. The naming of the book and the publishing of it, this coming into the world around a life riddled with hiddenness and non-being, was cathartic. It is as if the book itself is a wonderful little house that contains the uncontainable; as such it has so much capacity for incapacity that incapacity has been chopped down to size, so to speak.
As for others' writing pushing up through my writing in a palimpsestic mode, it was finally through borrowing others' words as if they were my words that allowed me to get beyond, "I don't want to formulate anything at all. All formulation is false." In grafting my writing to other people's writing who had felt deeply, strangely, awkwardly, I came to accept the fictional nature of all formulation; and also came to understand that these formulations are partial truths, momentary resting places, in an onward rushing, mutating existence. These articulations, formulations, enhanced my life by allowing me to "feel" what was incipient in my life.
As for l'ecriture feminine, I would say that it is written out of similar impulses as to what I am describing above, and no doubt gave me courage, waywardness to articulate my own untoward directions. And it is the problematics of l'ecriture feminine which are so important, remain so vital for this time, any time--especially for women or for any person within the society that feels misrepresented by the status quo. L'ecriture feminine has been horribly stereotyped ever since its emergence in the U.S. in the 1980's, but perhaps more so now. This is, in part, because of the current reaction against poststructuralism, deconstruction, but also because of the perennial misogyny of the larger society, including the academy. I am just amazed how the leading lights of the women's movement and so-called French feminism have fallen so quickly from grace. They certainly deserve all the honor that has accrued to other "rights" activists, civil rights activists, human rights activists; yet in the case of women, their self-interest in the category of woman is always threatening to implode. Certain caricatures of French feminist writing have been created around such truncated ideas as "a woman's ink being her mother's milk" and of a "separate woman's language"; these have been pulled out of context and have no more relation to what these set of writings are about than summarizing the larger U.S. Women's movement as being about burning bras. These words and actions taken out of context are so much debris used to mischaracterize the very real issues women had and continue to have, not only with society, but also with available forms of expression and representation.
Importantly, in a sense all writing that is newly formulating something is "in-between," in between what has already been articulated and what needs to be newly felt, thought. For women, and other suppressed groups, the in-between gives them far greater possibilities.

LY: One of the great mind and heart beats of Incapacity is that the "self" it sets out to narrate (autobiography) doesn't exactly emerge in the ways we are used to. Not as a unified subject, not as a main character whose conflicts are played out and resolved over the course of the text. And yet something does emerge, resolve, even if fleetingly, even as the act of appearing is always also in the process of dissolution. That makes my heart race. Trying to find her. Is this motion one you think is at the heart of language itself-its inner-workings? The act of naming chasing its object of desire perpetually?

JH: Again, I am really gratified that you respond to Incapacity on an emotional level. As I mentioned previously, what I do think does emerge in Incapacity is some sense of capacity by the end of the book. While I will write other innovative or experimental books in the future, I will never write anything quite like Incapacity again. It is very much my first (creative) book (although I am not a young person) and I needed to write it before any other "real" writing could occur. Not all writers write this kind of "first book"; some find an idiom or a way to write without struggling directly with the conditions of their life, without needing to write some version of their autobiography; but for me, without bringing my life in overt ways into the fold of my writing, I would have remained outside of my writing.
I love thinking about whether some "her" does emerge in the book, however fleetingly. And I like to think that this "she" is not just an "effect" of the writing, an illusion of the writing. I would have to say that whatever emerges in this book is probably more me than any overt representation of my life or me. The book is actually arranged somewhat chronologically, with respect to how I wrote and arranged the book. There are three sections that are very "written" that I wrote fairly recently and three sections that are taken from my journals, beginning as early as 1970. I began going through my journals after I had written a couple of the "written" sections of the book, namely "Snowball" and "Offering." Then after selecting journal entries and arranging them in the sections called "Daybooks," I wrote "Gaudy Night," the most palimpsestic, phantasmagoric section of the book that prominently uses the writing of Dorothy Sayer, Emily Bronte, and Marguerite Duras. And then I needed to conclude the book, so I created the collage "Snow," that is made up of journal entries and lost cat ads. In putting this section together, I looked for journal entries that would help me engage the sense of destitution and dereliction that seemed to be hanging around the other sections in the book. The final section "Snow" then is the disparate precipitate of the earlier sections, made up mostly of early journal entries. The book concludes with a few fragmented phrases, that can be read as either poetry or prose. The final line of the book is, "Shot through with heat and luster. Heavens teeming with black holes." This feels pretty positive to me, as if the real energies in life are moving through things; and so cannot be isolated and contained. I / she has entered the world of moving forces.

LY: The images in Incapacity seem utterly vital and at the same time not completely understandable--readers often try to "link" image to text-this is both possible and perpetually frustrated. Similarly, your use of film history and theory and artistic production casts the story away from narrative and toward the moving image. Is that another in-between space of exploration? Between image and text?

JH: I believe, as do many theorists and thinkers, that we are changed by the technologies we use. We are amidst a great technological revolution that began with photography, was catapulted into film and television, and is now transformed even further through computers and the internet. When I first began writing in my late teens, early twenties, I was acutely aware of how amorphous fiction writing seemed, say as opposed to filmic representation, or in relationship to the direct analytical statements about human life in psychology or sociology. So, at the very least, I thought, creative forms of writing needed to register some of the effects of these new technologies, not just in the new contents they unearth, but as modes of apprehension. I was introduced to Marshall McLuhan fairly early on and his idea that the medium is the message has really stuck with me. Broadly speaking then, the technologies that allow for the articulation of diverse contents, whether these technologies are image-making media or powerful modes of reasoning, are often more important than the putative content they "contain."
In Incapacity, I juxtapose my written text with photographic images to create a gap between either mode as registering "reality." Again, if there is a "real," it would be between these modes of presentation. In many ways, I wanted the photographs to cut through the fictional or literary enclosure of the text, so that the sense of what is "symbolic" and what is "fact" are destabilized. Paul Auster in The Invention of Solitude draws attention to how in art or in imaginative works facts are almost always read as potentially symbolic, if ever so obscurely. And he also points out how in literary or artistic works descriptions that insist on their facticity are often very disruptive. You can find this kind of combination in Melville's Moby Dick and in Paul Auster himself. In many ways, I want the photographs here to function as a "factual" disruption of a written text that I presume will be read at least in part as symbolical. Some of the photographs in Incapacity are mundane and others are grand, cataclysmic. It seemed a real break through in thinking about the book when I decided, for instance, to take photographs of the backyard of the house where I grew up--a concrete slab patio and cropped, scraggly grass. I had to go up and knock on door of the house where I grew up and explain to the woman who was living there, what I wanted to do. Even so, I felt very furtive taking these photos in my old backyard, as if I was transgressing not only the enclosure of someone else's back yard, but of the back yard tucked away in my memory, a back yard I felt as a child to belong far more to my mother and father than to me. Then I was appropriating it through the aggressive technology of photography for my own unseemly work. There are also a number of photographs of the volcanic mountain areas around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala as well as photographs from the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala that I was in and is part of the subject matter of this book. These "grand," cataclysmic shots are meant to contrast with the mundane shots. The final photographs in the book are taken on the street where I now live just when the snow is beginning to melt. One of the sidewalks has been chalked in with numbers, lines--perhaps designating a place for painters to paint a drive way return, or perhaps sink a new sewer line, or something. I am not sure. I love the slight dreariness and beauty of melting snow with its many layerings. The marks on the street became symbolic, or emblematic, of my desire to write--caught, stilled in a photograph. Moving between media as a writer or reader vivifies sensation. It has something to do with how our brains are made up--going from one media to the next addressing something of the same content in a different media, recreates it, makes it more powerful. And since being, feeling, and representing are really important issues in Incapacity, these crossovers not only create my relationship to my work, but also exist as part of the artistic content of the book for whoever reads it.

LY: Do you see hybrids such as yours as an interruption of the current literary present, a continuation of some literary history, or a kind of repressed but always secretly present pulse? Or something else entirely? How important is it for us to learn to listen, read, write like this?

JH: I see my particular hybrid as very much born of the contemporary moment, which is not to say that there are not hybrids in other periods of time. Tristram Shandy, for instance, is often given as an example of a writing that combines meta commentary or philosophical speculation with fiction. Yet, my book, and other work that engages multi media and multi genre, Theresa Cha's Dictee comes to mind; Leslie Scalapino, Susan Howe, your work, Lidia, are all partially relating to the challenges new technologies. Your Two Girls Review seems an early, really adventurous move in this direction with its bold use of graphics and photography. Actually, I think that early the early Modernist movement of Imagism, in urging an intensified, disassociated image, is actually responding to new technologies, such as film. I think the greater the change that is occurring in any particular historical time, the more likely will there be hybridization going on. But there is hybridization in art that announces itself; and other hybridization that is hidden in the synthesis that art makes. In this latter case, I am thinking of the kind of hybridization that occurs beginning with African American spirituals as they change to blues and jazz, and then onto rock and roll. In our own time, if we are to have a spiritual, alive response, and by that I mean, if we are to continue responding in the fullest, most enhanced way, to what Althusser calls the "real" condition of our existence, than we also need to engage hybrid forms that reveal their edges. We need to see what it feels like to bring diverse technologies, orientations, together. When I teach, I use a line that Laurie Anderson brought into a talk she gave at Cornish College of the Arts, "How wide is the jump cut?" By this question, she was focusing on the challenge in filmmaking of making large, initial jump cuts that the ensuing film then has to respond to. If the jump cut starts out wide, then the work is likely to register some of the leaps and gaps most people go through as part of their daily lives. I think it is very important to respond to the world around us and to engage synthesizing processes. And I think it is important that some of these syntheses will be very edgy--so the hybrid nature of the creation announces itself.

LY: Why do you think there are not more hybrid texts published in America?

JH: I think that in a time of much change that most interesting, significant art is hybrid in one of the two ways I describe above. But if you mean why aren't there more art forms that show and reveal their edges, I think it is because they often require more from their readers. Many people want to escape the very demanding world we live in, not engage it. And then there is a real anti-intellectual, anti-artistic ethos in this culture that fits in nicely with a national political culture that has been drifting to the right under the influence of corporate control for many decades now. Art within such a culture needs to challenge our basic modes of perception and apprehension if we are to awaken from the current cultural somnambulism that seems to be heading for a large bang.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the most coherent discussion with regard to women's writing i've seen in a long time. Thanks for providing space for this kind of thing. Women's writing in America needs to be discussed...particularly writing which radicalizes what we mean when we say women's writing.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Woman in Academia said...

Kudos. I read the interview, which then made me want to buy the book; what I most loved was the crossover (?) or breakdown (?) of genre. I suspect that if more women wrote inside of the "space" you talked about in the interview, we'd have a new body of work.

One can wish...

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish more art DID challenge our basic modes of perception...it seems like the hot-spots of nyc and la have groups of artists devoted to this idea, but I wish the waves were larger and more dispersed.

Insightful interview.

Will buy the book.

7:42 PM  

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