Dodie Bellamy – Language squirms like a living thing, dense and gelatinous; texts filled with metaphors stretched beyond the breaking point

Dodie Bellamy, The Letters of Mina Harker (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

"A fixture in the San Francisco literary scene for over a decade, Dodie Bellamy will surpass the expectations of her many fans with this book - which traces a woman's relationships with three very different men and her involvement in 20th-century vampire culture. This is a nearly indescribable epistolary novel that brings the heroine of Bram Stoker's Dracula forward into the acronymic age of MTV, HIV, ATM, VCR, etc."

"This book is the culmination of a posession, a spirit that haunted San Francisco a decade ago. Bram Stoker's heroine inhabited the body of Dodie Bellamy and wrote letters to Dodie's friends, who were also writers, some of whom were also posessed. Unlike the book Real: The Letters of Mina Harker and Sam D'Allesandro, in which the letters of Mina alternated with those written by Sam, this book is solely composed of letters written by Mina Harker. We hear one side of the conversations, but there are echoes on the line." - Queer Book Reviews

"I do not mean I perform-see my swiveling neck my changing mouth, arms that open wide-a tremendous pile of meat that sings 'I love you'-then I explode." People used to say that a poem should not mean, but be. Today, we might better say that a text should not mean, but perform. Dodie Bellamy's novel, The Letters of Mina Harker, is such a performative text. It's not what this book says that matters, so much as what it does. It dances its way through the minefields of female desire. It steps lightly from spot to spot, even as explosions detonate all around it. It cuts a swath through language and life alike, shattering identities wherever it goes. Warning: this text is dangerous, it bites.
On one level, The Letters of Mina Harker seems to be about certain events in Dodie Bellamy's life. The book speaks of her marriage to "KK." It narrates her tumultuous affairs with two other men, whom she calls Dion and Quincey. And it movingly memorializes Sam D'Allesandro, her close friend, now dead of AIDS. All of Dodie's relationships are described in intimate, sometimes embarrassing, detail. No secret is too private to reveal, no event too trivial to recount, no emotion too fleeting to be analyzed in depth. Most of all, the book is about Dodie's sex life. It feels as if every erotic fantasy, every twinge of jealously, every last orgasm, has been transcribed into the word processor and pinned down on the page. And the realistic vividness of all these happenings is only enhanced by the fact that they are set against the background of everyday life: domestic chores, art world gossip, and recognizable scenes from San Francisco during the Eighties.
Yet despite all this, The Letters of Mina Harker is not a confessional text. Even if the facts it recounts are true (which may or may not be the case), it isn't an autobiography. This is because The Letters of Mina Harker is, above all, a book of and about writing. It's a verbal performance, not a series of revelations. In this postmodern reinvention of the epistolary novel, the story itself is relegated to the past. The present tense of the book is the time in which its letters are written. These letters are addressed to the Reader, to the dead Sam D'Allesandro, and to other lovers and friends, fictive or real. Unlike in traditional epistolary novels, these letters can never receive replies. They are rather like messages in bottles, urgent communications sent out with no hope of return.
The only thing truly present in this text is a voice; or better, a pair of hands typing. The novel's main character is not Dodie Bellamy, the woman to whom all these things happened. Rather, it is the narrator, Mina Harker, the one who actually signs and sends the letters. Mina is a ferocious vampire woman, the undead companion of Count Dracula. She is not Bram Stoker's compromised Victorian heroine, but a fiercer, harsher, more independent figure. Mina haunts Dodie, possesses her body, takes her outside of herself. For writing, like falling in love, is like falling prey to a vampire. The person who yearns, like the person who writes, is taken over by an alien entity. She finds herself acting in all sorts of ridiculous, dangerous ways. She finds herself saying things she does not mean. The writer, like the lover, is a vessel for outside forces, a host for a ghostly parasite, an echo chamber for voices of the dead.
The aim of confessional writing is to achieve an absolute transparency: to get through the words, and arrive at life itself. But Dodie Bellamy knows that this is an impossible task. Life and writing can never coincide. Each thrusts repeatedly against the other, without success. At best they may trade places, as in a perpetual dance. "Writing versus life-is the one flight, the other hot pursuit?" The body cannot be spoken in its entirety. Sex is forever beyond language, or before it: "my cunt has lips but no tongue it clenches dilates and drools but will never speak." To write about something is necessarily to transform it: to distort it or embellish it, but in any case to lose it. Experience is always being exchanged for words, and body parts for parts of speech: "there's metaphor on one side and literality on the other and I'm stuck between them two mountainous silicone tits crashing against one another." Speech is a huge and cumbersome prosthetic organ. Even if it's bigger and heavier than whatever it replaces, we can't help noticing how phony it looks and feels.
But of course prosthetics also have their own pleasures and rewards. Language, like a cheap horror film, is moving and scary not in spite of its fakeness, but precisely because of it. No wonder the novel is littered with lurid, hilarious descriptions of horror films seen on VCR or on late-night cable. Dodie (or is it Mina?) see herself as Jennifer Jason Leigh being torn apart in The Hitchhiker, and as Drew Barrymore playing the teenage slut in No Place to Hide. And yes, I admit it: this grotesque, artificial heightening is what really lures me into The Letters of Mina Harker. I'm seduced and intoxicated by the novel's viscous prose. This language never sits still on the page. It gestures, it screams, it sings; it ties itself into knots. It squirms all about like a living thing, dense and squishy and gelatinous. The novel is filled with metaphors stretched well beyond the breaking point. It crackles with epigrams, anagrams, and brilliant throwaway aperçus. And it's loaded with distorted, rewritten citations of texts both famous and obscure (including--conflict of interest warning--one from a book of mine). The Letters of Mina Harker is hot and cold, immediate and distant, passionate and ironic, all at once. In the way she calls forth the myriad pleasures of sex and texts, both high and low, Dodie Bellamy may well be America's answer to Roland Barthes. I can say of her book what she (or Mina) says of one of her lovers: "I may not have liked what he did but he made me feel alive, overburdened with random meaning." - Steven Shaviro

"The Letters of Mina Harker collects a number of epistolary texts that Bellamy has published over the last ten years in a variety of public (and private) forums, written under the pen-name Mina Harker. Mina is no simple pseudonym, however, but a performative rewriting (and rewiring) of Van Helsing's secretarial adjunct from Dracula, and as Dodie Bellamy's mouthpiece, Mina becomes a feminist vampire for the 90's. Over the course of the letters (written to person[a]s living, dead, and "invented"), Mina chronicles the events of her (and "Dodie"s) colorful life as a writer living in San Francisco, as well as the ongoing (and playful) "tension" between the "author" Mina Harker and the "character" Dodie Bellamy, whose body Mina sometimes inhabits.
As an experimental, cross-genre foray into intertextuality, Bellamy's writing itself is vampiric, resurrecting the classic horror corpus and inflecting (infecting) the corpse with the blood of her own desires. In addition to the "primary" textual site of Stoker's Dracula, Bellamy borrows, bends, and breaks a number of other diverse sources and cultural-intellectual traditions: epistolary fiction, Kathy Acker, the confessionalism of Plath, horror films, French feminist theory, sadomasochism, film theory, erotica, working-class identity, and the gay and artistic circles of 1980's San Francisco, where the AIDS epidemic haunts the novel, extending the vampiric erotics of sex, blood, and death into the contemporary.
The above is not meant to be a mere listing of influences or reference points. Bellamy does not simply raise the flags of hip tropes and "sexy theory," nor does she superficially pastiche these notions as hypothetical parlor games - her text enacts them, structurally, in a real-time melange of flesh and blood, where theory just happens to be the after-the-fact explanation for what is the case. In Bellamy's fiction, the world and the self (and all attempts at explication) are fundamentally hybrid, cyborg, "both-and," and the moments of crisis (horror, abjection, disgust) are only a result of our attempts to repress experience into tidy categories with solid boundaries. These boundaries (between bodies, between worlds, between genres) press up against and penetrate one another, enacting an unmitigated new world of "trans." It is this moment of "trans" - the slash in outdated "either/or" binarisms, the "cross" in cross-genre or cross-dressing - that becomes the site of self (and textual) (de/re)construction, that heightened moment of horror where boundaries and categories break down, enacting a kind of reconfigured utopia (literally no-place) that in Bellamy's hands becomes freeing rather than threatening.
The ultimate utopias, of course, are to be found in sex and death, the abject "loss" of self within the formless dissolution of being and intentionality. Orgasm, for Bellamy, is not merely an exalted state of some escapist bliss or sensationalist subject matter, but rather an exemplary moment of immediacy that Mina wants to capture in writing as well. "Sex, no matter how fondly recalled, comes across as generic" - i.e., descriptions of sex are genre-laden - but the orgasm (as ineffable, as l'petit monde) exceeds descriptions or categories, exceeds the literary per se: "This [orgasm] is an ideal state of discourse - unmediated, with a totally receptive audience." The second half of this quote demonstrates Bellamy's humor, a performative, self-conscious pleasure-of-the-text that is erotic as well as "embodied."
However, as the novel (not "progresses" as much as) proceeds, Mina (as construct, as persona, as corpus/corpse) begins to take on a cyborgian self-consciousness that questions the presumed jouissance of the performative and eroticized text. In a text so attentive to the physicalized politics of gender and sexuality, the realization that writing (in the form of letters, or gossip, or narrative) places yet another set of boundaries on the "feminine" self, presents Mina with the double-bind of writing her own demise, performing her own self-deconstruction: "life as a corpse to be embalmed by the writer... THE TEXT IS NOT A BODY it is a coffin." This self-reflexivity adds yet another layer to an already dense and complex narrative. For Mina Harker, as for Bellamy, writing is a matter of breathing life into a literary corpse (contemporary fiction) so that the living dead (the pulsing, erotic, written words) may startle us into self-recognition. If the novel is dead, The Letters of Mina Harker are missives from beyond the grave, as well as letters from fiction's future." - David Buuck

"The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy is a history of a young unlady writing in San Francisco in the 1980s. Stoker's Mina Harker, "this plain Jane secretarial adjunct," in Bellamy's hands becomes her own subject who vows never to "perish in domesticity like a Jane Austen heroine." In the wings: AIDS and death exercise their insatiable appetites. By blurring the lines between sexual and literary articulation ("my throat is a cunt"), Bellamy/Harker "suck up the silence." Gender, genre, and class crash in The Letters in a culture bomb. "I am a post-punk Milton waging a one woman war against structure, taste, logic and even words themselves."
Bellamy's "bestiare d'amour" has an affinity with Kathy Acker's no-holds-barred approach and the work of Dennis Cooper and other "new narrative" writers. Identity is always in question; boundaries always at risk. Mina and Dodie defy pinning down. They're shifting, in constant motion. Bellamy constructs a sophisticated doppleganger effect between author and subject, undermining her own position of mastery by implicating herself on the page. "Dodie's so much more constructed than I. She makes a clone of herself, Mina Harker." Mina/Dodie's voracious appetite/cunt/writing (where does one end and the other begin?) gulp down everything–cum, pop, cock, culture, films, history, literature, horror, philosophy, fast food, sex, and anything else she can get her hands and mind on–spewing it back "bursting with plots you never stop narrating." (Although this is said about Sam D'Allessandro, it also describes The Letters.) Narrow and binary definitions of form and content, theory and creative work, high and low life, authenticity ("Who cares if it's true or merely a dream spiraling into the darkness, a piece of cheap dinnerware covered with jewels"), class, and gender are uprooted and exposed in all their complexity in The Letters.(62) This mish-mash of high and low raw matter is the stuff used to create a glittering universe. "Yet all that was sick or hysterical about her behavior in day-to-day life could be turned into something valuable through the act of writing."
Historically, the epistolary novel has its origin as a form used by male writers to tell the private, supposedly "authentic" (read unmediated) story of a woman's seduction, abandonment, and fall. Claire Goldstein points out that "from the seventeenth century on, the letter becomes associated with the feminine" and is encoded feminine in several ways: "as an activity engaged in by women, as a published genre appreciated by a largely female audience, and also as a reflection of a certain cultural image of female character."(emphasis added) The letters are usually presented as written for private not public purposes. Once they have been made public–after some remarkable or fortuitous chance–they are presumed to be part of a secret and therefore more revealing, more authentic text. Frequently the female subject, as in Les Liaisons Dangereuses or Clarissa, is of a "propertied" family. That is, she is not working class. There would be no tragedy to reveal in telling the tale of a poor or working class woman's fall. She is already fallen. She is always the other woman: sexualized, disposable, already erased, not part of the cultural economy. Middle and upper class women are located as pure, clean, virginal, marriageable, and therefore part of the cultural economy though often as an object of exchange and consumption. Goldstein notes that "the style and format attributed to epistolary prose–natural, light, naive–resemble the style of conversation cultivated in aristocratic women and enforced by cultural discourse and instruction."(emphasis added)
As Kathy Lou Schultz points out, "while it is now possible to identify a trajectory of experimental women's writing, to inhabit a vocabulary of gender and sexuality, references to class often remain just that: mere codes." Bellamy's The Letters of Mina Harker challenges codes of social decorum and propriety, and their relationship to class, at every turn. In The Letters, Bellamy takes the form of the epistolary novel and wrests it from its "high" ground. She launches her culture bomb, exploding the discrete notions of anything that could be considered "natural," "authentic," "light," "naive," and makes something new and endlessly expandable, exponentially multiplying the details, descriptions, digressions sounding out–"in medias mess"–"the joyful, troublesome, gender, genre [class] exploding noise."(Retallack)
Bellamy’s challenges expose even while acknowledging that the codes of gender (and I’d add class) make anything she does twice as shocking than anything a man might do. "I like to talk dirty too," Bellamy states, "But sometimes it's such a yawn since all the cards are stacked on my side–being female, anything I do is automatically twice as shocking as anything you do...". She out-others the notion of Other, thereby overturning one of the organizing principles of the epistolary genre: "...having been an Other since the day I was born, being the other woman was small potatoes to me." Our author is seductress; married woman (to a gay man and writer, "KK"); the other woman; a woman fantasizing about her favorite "Victoria's Secret" model, Fredrique; the frump in a torn bathrobe at the keyboard, writer; woman who sits apart from another woman–"her face every inch of it covered with lipstick"–to "show they have different futures", and a host of others.
Identity is always fluid and gender open for appropriation: "I loved it when my tits or my cock or my asshole would destroy my own ego with their needs." "I'm amazed at my erection long and hard and colorful." And while the effects of class in the hands of many may be buried in codes, Bellamy takes a different tactic: "Thus did I understand that Rendezvous and I were involved in a conflict of form–he approached me from behind sneaking up on my subconscious like a tracking missile (he calls this letting things pass, I called him a passive-aggressive asshole). I'm the William Tell type, firing at a person point blank (he called me a controlling bitch, I call this getting things out in the open)...". Bellamy eradicates boundaries between what can be articulated and how in public or in private and risks the consequences of doing so, particularly at the heart of the intersection of class, gender, and innovative writing. Bellamy has remarked on the SUNY poetics listserv that "the feminist poetics scene in San Francisco nourished me–but it became quite clear fairly early on that I was not going to be supported there (quite the opposite) for the sexuality and vulgarity I was moving towards. (Though it wasn't as bad as when I recently read in Cambridge and nobody would look me in the eye or talk to me after my reading.)"
By assuming multiple positions (or what Schultz calls "complex and mediated identities"), Bellamy marks herself as someone struggling against the system of fixed social, class, literary, and gender structures/strictures. She is then invested with the power to address, unseat, lay bare, redress whatever may fall under her gaze and pen. And yet, as Bellamy says in "Reading Tour" from Tripwire 2, "While I believe–really believe–that formal innovation opens new vistas of expression, better allows me to track a psyche's collisions with a fucked-up misogynistic culture, I'm still plagued with self-doubt. Am I an elitist, I ask myself, am I like one of those social climbing neighbors my mother scorned, the ones who traipsed around with shopping bags from Marshall Field when Sears and J.C. Penney have everything a reasonable person would need?"("Reading Tour" 127-28) She still questions her particular strategies for addressing vulgarity and sexual and innovative literary pleasures/pressures (class, gender, genre). She remains poised, sometimes hilariously ("Life is like marriage: who could stand the constancy if you didn't take it for granted") at an outpost on the edge of some nether world.
In Bellamy's hands, Harker is no polite, anorexic, aristocratic debutante. Right at the outset, Bellamy's voracious appetite ("This book is the bag. So is my cunt.") is unleashed, chowing down everything from Nosferatu, Duchamp, Bram Stoker, "Hill Street Blues," William Gibson, The Hunger, Newton's machinery, herbaceous plants of the Amazon, bloody sanitary napkins used as literary and sexual fodder, literary theory, and Gregory Corso, to name just a few (and this is just in the first letter or two!).
As Joan Retallack has said in another context, but which aptly describes Bellamy's Letters, "[T]he very act of attending entails a radical figure/ground shift." Good middle class girls and women are polite, taught not to discuss (or even see) the monstrous; indeed this is part of the education for becoming a woman in middle class society. In discussing the social pressures to silence adolescent women, Michelle Fine notes, "The voices... echo powerful, diverse, and yet share messages to domesticate, submit, and be nice, if not mute." Bellamy speaks about topics which are often veiled or kept hidden by the codes of polite, middle class conversation, literature, and sexual politics, such as "my nose against his soft-hard cock, nostrils itching with fabric softener and urine."(11, emphasis added) As she states elsewhere, "The monstrous and the formless have as much right as anybody else."
Bellamy addresses these things using a vocabulary and diction that is the marriage of street and poetry, "I am so aroused my clit flicks like a tongue." She violates rules about where it is O.K. to speak as well: "...in...the Roxie Theater...I shout, 'That's me on the screen you assholes!"(9) "Bad metaphors are the only way we can approach the really important things, don't you agree?" she confides, continuing by way of example, "the stars are astonishing, the sky speckled like the black-suited shoulders of a guy with really bad dandruff." She understands the conventions of authenticity, privacy, gossip and voyeurism on which the epistolary novel rests: "DON'T TELL ANYBODY are the three most erotic words in the English language." Bellamy challenges what one can speak about (subject matter), how one can talk about it (vocabulary, diction, form, taste), where (context), and by whom (gender). This Mina is no disgraced, fallen woman. Having joyfully positioned herself in opposition to this system, she revels in the full menu of pleasures (and pain, rage, etc) to which she has access and can give voice. In The Letters, sex, life, death, characters, the body, desire, the text will not be contained by rules of class, gender, and social decorum. There is mutiny here, but no muteness.
This is writing without shame. Bellamy presents the particular details of her characters' existence, giving voice to their complexities as educated people living at a lower economic status. An example is her description of the Kentucky Fried chicken wedding meal, which is had while sitting on a sofa with "springs poking my butt" in front of a 12 inch black and white TV (this is not a description of a first married meal in middle class land!), alongside an invocation of a Duchamp nude. Others might include "KK" fixing his zipper with a staple gun or the kitschy apartment with a photo of Deneuve ripped from a magazine, strewn dirty clothes, and an ashtray from a local restaurant. "KK's" face is lovingly described as being "like his thrift store clothes: worn but to the innovative never beyond mending" while his TV dinners come from Canned Food Outlet. Or there is the description of sex in the car with Dion, whose day job is hauling around carcasses–and Dion holding up a bloody finger (She has her period and he's not cleaned up from work).
Bellamy addresses without simplifying the intricacies of class, suggesting that any elision of such distinctions would itself be a wrong: "Voice spit tears shit a cry–the refusal to emit seems like a crime." This notion of complexity is enacted formally, as the letters are addressed to multiple others: the reader; an individual who is dead (the writer, Sam D'Allessandro); fans; lovers; personal friends; and others who may be "fictional" characters (Qunicey, Dr. Van Helsing). Bellamy locates the class, gender and social pressures/conventions underlying the epistolary form and plays with those conventions. Out of this is created a form that performs a complex relation. It's both kitschy and sublime.
In The Letters, Bellamy marries high and low culture. Texts, movies, and a host of other second-hand material are used as jumping off points to create something new. And because the reader may be familiar with many of these other materials, and because of the resemblance to seemingly real people, say in the San Francisco writing scene, the boundaries between these things are constantly moving and in question. The novel is a performance in which, willingly or not, everyone participates.
The writing itself is sexualized in what could be considered a particularly female strategy. As Genre Tallique says, "Attention to the complex discontinuities of the feminine in language will explode the shortest distance between points and turn it into a field of sinuous, labyrinthine lanes." Dodie/Mina say that "the simplest narrative is the history of a gratified desire" but then go on to create a world/text in which "she cannot resist cannot withhold she reveals things too early, slips in the vulnerable the unwise the embarrassing the scandalous." Writing is sexy, sexual, generative, voracious, expansive: "Writing has always been more sexual than sex, the sustained arousal of never quite getting it right." Desire is anything but gratified, certainly not simple, or linear. Yet Bellamy understands the allure of narrative, "I am eager for his ejaculations as I was for Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett to marry," although she refuses the mousetrap of plot. The book openly struggles with how to "end" such a text: "So here I am, working on my ending, going crazy with endings...". The writing is full of desire at every turn. "Eagerly he licks his cum from my mouth: I want to bring the reader this close to writing." And she does.
Perhaps the social and reductively defined codes of middle-class life and literature, or any bounded area–feminist writing, the novel, relationships, for example–attempt to too narrowly structure the world, whatever particular world we're talking about. Bellamy gives voice to the complicated, the messy, the vulgar and explicit. Her writing is multiplicitous and interwoven, blowing up boundaries of silence and absence in whatever guise in the class, gender, genre big bang. Like Jane Austen, an author Bellamy talks about reading in The Letters, and other writers who have gone before, Bellamy provides an important role model for writers breaking with traditional strategies and codes about what can be explored in a literature interested in narrative and how to address class and gender issues in the context of innovative form." - Robin Tremblay-McGaw

Dodie Bellamy, Pink Steam (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2008)

"Dodie Bellamy sows poetic bedlam in Pink Steam, an introspective collection of bits of fictionalized memoir and reflection that explore everything from sexual desire to the temptations of shoplifting. Bellamy deconstructs Barbie's Dream House, recounts a run-in with "Venus" and reports from "the field" (read: her mother's couch in Indiana) on the 2000 Republican National Convention. Her offbeat, flirtatiously subversive prose puts a fresh spin on countercultural life in San Francisco and the Midwest from the 1970s to the present." - Publishers Weekly
Dodie Bellamy, Barf Manifesto (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2008)

«Asked to write a paper on alternative forms of memoir for the 2007 Modern Language Association conference, Bellamy wrote an admiring analysis of "Everyday Barf," the essay that concludes Eileen Myles's recent poetry collection Sorry Tree. Bellamy's talk, "MLA Barf," became a rousing defense of the "barf" as a literary form. Here "MLA Barf" is joined by its sequel, "CCA Barf," delivered as a lecture at the California College of the Arts some months later. Together the two talks celebrate Eileen Myles—especially her genius for bringing the body into writing—as well as the conceptual practices of two British visual artists, Tariq Alvi and Bridget Riley. In addition, Barf Manifesto, like The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is an intimate account of a long, sometimes tortured, but enduring friendship between two female writers.
In the words of critic Ramsey Scott, "Bellamy asks us: how can sloppiness become an intellectual stance, a methodology with its own aesthetic and political priorities? How might a permeable editorial screen that allows for error, parataxis, and the non sequitur serve as the basis for a hybrid kind of writing that is at once critical and autobiographical, factual and fictional? What does it mean to insist upon the disorderly as a means of cultural critique and political engagement?»

«Novelist Dodie Bellamy’s pamphlet Barf Manifesto—about, among other things, the author Eileen Myles—shares significant thematic DNA with [Phillip Lopate's] Notes on Sontag. Both texts are interested in the art of writing about writers and in the essay as a literary form. But even as these two books make excellent companions, they bear out significant differences, too. Though a significant force, Myles is less famous than Sontag was; she is also more humorous, more comfortable as a fiction writer, and (hooray) alive and well. Unlike Lopate, Bellamy counts her subject as a close friend, though the deeply honest and ocassionally cranky Barf Manifesto gives us a taste of how complex their relationship has been.
The biggest difference between the books lies in their tone and structure: Where Lopate polishes his meditations into self-contained reflections, Bellamy shifts, sometimes midsentence, among her themes. She opens with a paean to Myles’s poem “Everyday Barf,” gives an evocative portrait of the artist attacking a birthday piñata with a hammer, and then begins to zigzag between motifs—mothers, death, fiction, anger, creative communities. Her verbal upchuck could have become a mess, but the shifts are so exquisitely structured that they rarely fail to marvel. When one steps back from Bellamy’s narrative, her discrete thoughts somehow contrast and interact like the dots on a Seurat canvas, forming a vivid portrait of art and friendship. You’ll wonder how she did it. Barf has never looked so good.»—Michael Miller

"First of all, in case you don’t know who Dodie Bellamy is, Sonic Youth reference her.
Second of all, Sonic Youth are fans of Dodie Bellamy’s work.
OK. So I’m a huge fan of Sonic Youth and Dodie Bellamy so their friendship excites me on many levels.
A few months ago I was able to go to the book launch for “Barf Manifesto” and then I went home to visit my family a few days after. I finished reading the book on the plane then gave “Barf Manifesto” to my mom and cousin to read to see what their reactions would be since both are avid readers – neither had heard of Dodie and neither really looks at books as having any weight outside of what the Oprah Book Club says a book is worth (so basically book burning isn’t happening – which Sarah Palin is for btw – but making sure pop culture only sees that Oprah Book Club books are important is just as good as burning as far as I’m concerned because no other ideas are tolerated). After they both read the book they each looked at me a bit bewildered and said they’d need to know a lot more about the movements she is apart of to understand what she is talking about, unfortunately both will most likely remain more obsessed with putting gas in their cars than caring to think about art and contemporary ideas.
Anyway, if you aren’t well versed in feminist theory, critical theory, contemporary poetry, ect then Dodie’s “Barf Manifesto” will projectile all over you and if you are well versed then I’m sure you sat open mouthed as the reigning Queen sprayed all over you – you water sport slut – Dodie Bellamy barfs on that idea – a good old fashion chunky barf that I’m sure Sally Jessie Raphael would take the time to try and understand.
Passion in writing or art—or in a lover—can make you overlook a lot of flaws. Passion is underrated. I think we should all produce work with the urgency of outsider artists, panting and jerking off to our kinky private obsessions. Sophistication is conformist, deadening. Let’s get rid of it.”—Dodie Bellamy, from Barf Manifesto
The image on the cover of Barf Manifesto is a Raymond Pettibon image, when I asked Dodie about her cover choice she said she wanted the cover to represent a disheveled crazy women so she could, in theory, pass out her newest chap book on street corners. I pictured a Valerie Jean Solanas type character passing out their manifesto and working the street corners as I included the above image of me, naked, holding the book, I admit it, I do look fat in the image but that is because I had yet to finish reading and projectile vomit all over my signed collectors copy (OK – I didn’t barf on it but I did puke in the ocean, it’s only cause I ate a gigantic burrito before opening up the essay and my petite bod couldn’t handle the ridiculous amount of beans and cheese I dumped into it but the fish ate the puke, I’m sure and I know cause I put on a snorkel and watched)! I couldn’t write a review of Barf Manifesto without somehow including myself because I want to be an extension of her new call to literary vomit, I sat through plenty of college English courses and I’ve talked to enough pompous assholes to know this conclusion is not unwarranted. Dodie Bellamy is the professor everyone goes to college wishing for, she fights Academia and all the boundaries and hierarchies they perpetuate. Check out Academonia!
In Barf Manifesto, Dodie Bellamy challenges one of the last places in the literary world where subjectivity has yet to be considered appropriate – the academic essay. Dodie was asked to write an essay about alternative forms to memoir and she chose to discuss a work by Eileen Myles. Dodie doesn’t believe readers must sit through objective essays alone, instead she has brought her innards into the world of the essay – the food yet digested. Readers watch her struggle with Eileen Myles essay, “Everyday Barf” and with Eileen herself, as they battle over a toilet bowl with pleasure and power and barf. The end product is a conversation between two female writers about the very things writers discuss; each other, fiction, toilets, pets, egos, narrative forms, and more.
So basically, get yourself a copy of the book, head to the beach, stock up on some food and alcohol along the way, grab yourself a notebook that you plan on writing in, then get there, get naked, read the damn essay “fingers down throat, one, two, three, bleh” then send me your own manifesto as you step into the squiggly circle inhabited with all those that are a part of the barf that is “feminist, unruly, cheerfully monstrous…. The Barf is messy, irregular, but you can feel in your guts that its going somewhere, you can’t stop it, can’t shape it, you’ve just got to let it run its course.” - Minor Progression

"Dodie Bellamy's Barf Manifesto is one of the best essays I've ever read. It only takes about half an hour to read, and I'm slow. If she asked me to barf for her, I would. No questions asked. Her break in the traditional essay structure allows for something many essays don't, pleasure. The language is beautiful and entertaining without giving up analysis or content. BARF BARF BARF. She draws a line in the sand for readers. She allows in the personal. She totally barfs all over the notion of "objectivity," which, although it may seem out-dated or trite in this "post-modern" world we live in, it is still very much entrenched in academia. BARF. She contextualized the poetry of Eileen Myles (whom I've never really liked) in a way that resonated in me and led me to actually the poem "Everyday Barf." So basically, she's awesome and crazy smart.
I'm head over heals about her writing, and anyone who hasn't taken the time to read her, you definitely should." - Maurice Burford

From Barf Manifesto:
«Passion in writing or art—or in a lover—can make you overlook a lot of flaws. Passion is underrated. I think we should all produce work with the urgency of outsider artists, panting and jerking off to our kinky private obsessions. Sophistication is conformist, deadening. Let's get rid of it.»

Dodie Bellamy, Academonia (Krupskaya, 2006)

«In this lively, entertaining collection of essays, Dodie Bellamy has written not only a helpful pedagogical tool, but an epic narrative of survival against institutional deadening and the proscriptiveness that shoots the young writer like poison darts from all sides. By the 90s funding for the arts had dwindled and graduate writing programs—“cash cows”—had risen to fill the slack. Simultaneously, literary production moved from an unstable, at times frightening street culture where experiment was privileged beyond all else, to an institutionalized realm—Academonia!—that enforces, or tends to enforce, conservative aesthetic values.
Among the questions Bellamy raises: how does the writer figure out how to write? How will she claim her content among censorious voices? Can the avant-garde create forms that speak to political and spiritual crisis? Can desire exist in a world of networking structures? To the keepers of the status quo, what is so goddamned scary about experimental writing? Bellamy’s textual body morphs through sex, ravenous hunger, aging, displacement, cuddling with animals. Along the way she invokes Levi Strauss, Kurosawa, Marvin Gaye, Christiane (the faceless daughter in Georges Franju’s 1959 horror classic Eyes Without a Face), Alice Munro, Michael Moore, Quan Yin, Cinderella, and the beheaded heroine Lady Jane Grey. On Foucault’s grid of invisible assumptions, Academonia casts a blacklight vision, making it glow in giddy FX splendor.»

«There are the institutions that are created without our input and the institutions that we create with others. Both sorts of institutions define us without our consent. Dodie Bellamy’s Academonia explores the prickly intersection among these spaces as it moves through institutions such as the academy, the experimental writing communities of the Bay Area, feminist and sexual identities, and group therapy. Continuing the work that she began in The Letters of Mina Harker pushing memoir and confession out of its safety zones and into its difficulties, this book provokes as it critiques and yet at the same time manages to delight with its hope.» - Juliana Spahr

«Way back in the seventies, and before Bellamy, pastiche and bricolage as applied to literature made me yawn. Smug attacks on linear narrative through the use of tired language games aroused my contempt. As far as I was concerned, theory had ruined fiction by making critic and artist too intimate. Then Bellamy’s pioneering graftings of storytelling, theory and fractured metaphor changed all that, giving birth to a new avant-garde. Her writing sweeps from one mode of thought to another in absolute freedom, eviscerating hackneyed constructs about desire and language and stuffing them with a fascinating hodgepodge of sparkling sensory fragments. The result is true postmodernism, not the shallow dilettantism of the “postmodern palette.” She sustains it on page after page, weaving together sex and philosophy, fusing trash with high culture, injecting theory with the pathos of biography and accomplishing nothing less than a fresh and sustained lyricism. What is more, her transfiguration of the trivial details of life by the mechanisms of irony, fantasy, disjunction, nostalgia and perverse point of view prove that it’s not the life you live that matters, but how you tell it.» - Bruce Benderson
Dodie Bellamy, Cunt-Ups (Tender Buttons Books, 2001)

"Dodie Bellamy continues and extends Tender Buttons' legacy of publishing radical, cutting edge writing by women. She writes, CUNT-UPS is a hermaphroditic salute to William Burroughs and Kathy Acker… Is the cut-up a male form? I've always considered it so -- needing the violence of a pair of scissors in order to reach nonlinearity. Oddly, even though I've spent up to four hours on each cunt-up, afterwards I cannot recognize them - just like in sex, intense focus and then sensual amnesia."

"Cunt-Ups is a hermaphroditic salute to William Burroughs and Kathy Acker. I started the project as cut-ups, in the original Burroughs sense, as delineated in The Job. I used a variety of texts written by myself and others. Per Burroughs’ rather vague instructions, I cut each page of this material into four squares. For each cunt-up I chose two or three squares from my own source text, and one or two from other sources. I taped the new Frankenstein page together, typed it into my computer and then reworked the material. When my own source text was used up my cunt-ups were finished. The body with all organs slithers and lunges through netsex, psychic oozings, alien invasion, and serial murder. In ecstatic peristalsis the lover endlessly re/turns to life.
Is the cut-up a male form? I’ve always considered it so—needing the violence of a pair of scissors in order to reach nonlinearity. Is the pornographic a male realm? I think so. Women are usually stuck in the more wishy-washy "erotic." These cunt-ups are my version of Take Back the Night. I’m barging in on pornographic language and subverting it to my own ends. Cunt-Ups is also very much about sexual obsession and desire. In American English we have a language for romance and a language for pornography, but the two rarely meet. In Cunt-Ups, which I see as a very romantic text, I’m collapsing romance and porn. Sex can’t be reduced to events that happen to a person. Sex is a trap, a labyrinth, a matrix that engulfs you. Oddly, even though I’ve spent up to four hours on each cunt-up, afterwards I cannot recognize them—just like in sex, intense focus and then sensual amnesia. They enter the free zone of writing; they have cut their own ties to the writer. She no longer remembers these disembodied shreds of desire as her text. (Dodie Bellamy)"

"Dodie Bellamy in Cunt-Ups uses overtly sexual texts, her own and ones written by others. She arranged her pages whole cloth, cut 'em into quarters and re-arranged them like tiles. She smoothed the resulting page out till it seemed right. The "cunt-ups" of the title refer to William Burroughs's famed cut-up technique. I think there's a deliberate air of domesticity (like working-class moms making dresses from patterns) to how she describes her project--this female riffing on the historic practice of the quintessential "outsider" man. Especially when I think of Burroughs's prophetic railing against the corporate monstrosity, while taking into account the irony of his being the scion of a huge corporate family; and when I recall how much Burroughs hated women, calling them (us) "two-holed monsters," and how he shot his wife (allegedly a lifelong sorrow for Burroughs, yet still how much worse for her!). There's something horribly fitting that Dodie Bellamy, who incidentally comes from a Midwestern, no-privilege background, would construct a small book of endless romps like:
I contact either myself or you, I recall being involved at this time when I moved our hand across my body and I felt like I had one of those small water pistols. You were dripping instead of shooting your victims, you were living in your stomach penis and balls. I fuck you in a garage, I fuck you as if you'll be recovered like a sledgehammer in a garage, like you'll eat my brains. I get all stirred up, I was still half asleep and started flopping about, I was shown to have my right hand cupped around the sledgehammer's base, I used to break up the bones to reach your balls, kneeling before you, here, a sledgehammer will be placed on inventory, your cunt is comfortable, that and your tits, orgasm, after orgasm, but I can't shake wanting to plant myself inside you, gray handle, my hips spreading across the chair, feeling me over. I just want to suck on your nipples.
In a way Burroughs could say anything--he couldn't be thrown out of anything, could he?--being a man, being on a small trust fund, living at the end of the world. Already killed his wife. What's to lose? I think about how Bellamy's appropriation of his method is not unlike Kathy Acker's, but Kathy was also a trust-fund kid, and was personally safer being bad--because the upper classes are entitled to transgress for us all. I applaud this dedicated act of replacement, the joyfully willful construction of a Frankenstein text, one where the genitals are all confused in a timeless flow--all present, as a particularly ballsy female accomplishment. Going one further than Bill, the avant-garde's Dubelyew, in taking this sublime stab at pleasure, the rearrangement of hundreds of cunts and clits and dicks and pussies: The exhausted "I just want to suck on your nipples" has tremendous immanence, all gesture, a mad kind of one-time power." - Eileen Myles

"Three Love-Visions (after reading Dodie Bellamy’s “Cunt-Ups” and kind of inspired also by Johannes Goransson’s more lively posts)
I’m putting you in a barrel. I am fucking you. I’m placing your head in a bag. I am fucking you. I’m smearing your blood all over your tits. I am fucking you. I’m slicing your cunt up like a smile, and I’m fucking your mouth. Your sliced-open bleeding mouth. Baby, don’t you just love these new storage bags? At the bottom of a lake. I’m kissing your tits. Kissing them to death. On a jetty. O, my baby. Only you.

My sweat’s dripping on to you as I fuck you. I am kissing you. I am slicing off your nipples. On the beach the sand in my hands is definitely not so white as I’d like it to be. The water not so green——the Cancun sort of green I adore. I’m rubbing my head against your jaw. I’m carrying you over my shoulder. You’re gurgling. And now you’re not. There’s so much blood. There’s hardly any at all. I’m posing you in a crucifix and I am kissing you and kissing you.

I’m in love with you.
And here’s my fantasy:
I’m fucking you from behind
And I’m taking your head in my hands
And I’m kissing your ears
Breathing into your neck
And snapping it..." - Rauan Klassnik

From Cunt-ups:

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