Kate Zambreno – Suburbs at their most hauntingly grotesque. Feeling better is a deception: Think pink! Don’t think at all!

Kate Zambreno, O Fallen Angel (Chiasmus Press, 2010)


'It doesn’t give us tools to build a better world so much as show us how the tools we do have suck'

«Like Angela Carter’s fairy tales, Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel deftly exposes the psychic brutality that lies underneath the smooth glassy surface of parable. Set in Midwestern America in approximately 2006, Zambreno’s character/archetypes—a Mommy who names her golden retriever after Scott Peterson’s murdered wife Laci, a daughter who signs her suicide note with a smiley face and a doomed psychotic prophet—are all agents and victims of disinformation, but this doesn’t make their pain any less real. In Zambreno’s SUV-era America, unhappiness doesn’t exist because it can be broken down into treatable diagnostic codes. As she writes, “Maggie wants to be FREE but she also wants to be LOVED and these are polar instincts, which is why she is bipolar, which is a malady of mood.“» - Chris Kraus

«O Fallen Angel is the first novel by Kate Zambreno, and, if she continues in this vein throughout her career, she’s going to start a lot of fights.
The novel describes a older suburban woman named Mommy, her suicidal daughter Maggie, and a homeless and insane man named Malachi. The characters don’t have conversations, and there is no conventional dialogue at all, but Zambreno uses what amounts to different languages for each of them. Mommy gets the longest, most complex and satisfying sentences, such as “Mommy wept tears and tears for Laci more tears than she has ever wept for her own daughter but Mommy doesn’t want to think about that no Mommy doesn’t even want to talk about that Maggie has dug herself into her own hole and she will have to dig herself out of it it’s called Tough Love! It’s a parenting technique. Like guilt and manipulation.” The long, rhythmic and unpunctuated switchbacks of these lines will be compared to Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek—and their frequent, joyous obscenity reminds of Kathy Acker—but the sheer inflammatory shallowness belongs exclusively to Zambreno, as does the comic timing of lines like, “There are angel soaps and little angels on the guest towels (which you are not supposed to use)…” One expects a novel’s major character to be sympathetic, especially one named “Mommy,” but the biggest impression of O Fallen Angel’s Mommy is how utterly loathsome she is. In other words, Zambreno quite deliberately slays one of our era’s most sacred cows.
Maggie’s section is perhaps a bit schematic in comparison, but it better represents the book’s agenda to obliterate received wisdom about everything: character, gender, the so-called traditions of the novel, etc. Instead, for example, of writing scenes with Maggie’s therapist and developing them both over time, she opts for “Maggie is broken because Maggie cannot articulate why she feels sad or why she feels angry and that’s why therapy does not go too well.” This scorn for narrative convention stumbles when Zambreno wanders into cliché—“Because the first cut is the deepest”—or tautology—“Maggie is Ophelia”—but succeeds when it remembers to be ironic, as with the line “Maggie fucks boys and pretends it doesn’t matter because Maggie is empowered!” At such times, O Fallen Angel lays waste to swathes of phony consolation, and feels genuinely troubling. It doesn’t give us tools to build a better world so much as show us how the tools we do have suck.
The third section reads like a mix of holy rage and paranoia, and seems like an unexpected middle ground of the other two. One’s enjoyment of O Fallen Angel depends on how much provocation a reader can take, but it’s a virtue that Zambreno spends exactly zero time making her book seductive. Her idea is to make a work free of empty solace, and this, as we know, is exceptionally unusual, especially for rookies. The book does not make one feel better, it shows how feeling better is a deception, and it asks, why this need to make one’s self a fool? Not everything we read will act like this—and if this book came up in a workshop, the instructor would spontaneously combust—but those that do perform the essential social task of undermining piety. O Fallen Angel is absolutely fearless, and, in its way, it is devilishly fun.» - Adam Novy

«It is tempting to read Zambreno’s novel as a satire - and the blurbs on her book suggest that we should - but the text actually has little of the cool comic detachment found in such satirists as Swift and Godard and Flannery O’Conner, that sense that we are looking through a microscope at the lives of various characters. Instead, O Fallen Angel is more of a grotesque parade of certain social “types” and clichés taken to their furthest degree. The book reminds me of early Robert Crumb, a great deal of Jeff Koons, and even some of John Waters, other artists fascinated by the kitschy, grotesque underbelly of American culture. And like those artists, Zambreno finds this kitsch exhilarating. The overriding tone of the novel is oddly joyful; and while the book is very funny, it's not coolly so - in fact, there is nothing cool or classical about this book at all, and the novel in general brings to my mind certain Dogma 95 films where the camera plunges right into the action, making it purposely difficult to get our bearings. There are no establishing shots here.
The most vivid charater in the book is Mommy - though to call her a character is misleading. Rather, she’s the demonstration of the Mommy-principle. She consists of many of the cultural associations that we have of suburban American womanhood from the past fifty years: she loves the color pink (“Think pink! Don’t think at all!”), she’s largely a-sexual, she prides herself on her housekeeping skills, and she believes children should be thoroughly shielded from the world as well as themselves (“It’s best for grandbabies to sit still or they might hurt themselves!”). If anything, there’s something surreally retro about her in our world of Desperate Housewives and Cougar Town, television shows whose humor is premised on how little the sexually confident and stylish suburban female leads have in common with the June Cleaver archetype, and Martha Stewart, whose image relies heavily on her being the uber-mother or grandmother, but who no one, either defenders or detractors, would describe as being docile. Zambreno’s Mommy is a Mommy of cultural free-fall, an American Mommy certainly, but neither exactly of the past nor exactly of the present.
An example of this not-quite-present-not-quite-past quality can be seen in an early passage in the novel that discusses the Mommy’s rising obesity, and the love of butter that is to blame. “Butter in everything!” the Mommy thinks. “Butter and lard! That’s the American way!” A more modern suburban mother would seemingly spread margarine or some other highly processed “fat” on everything; most of the recent health gurus have been trying to get us to go back to butter and lard. But Zambreno, like John Waters, is especially attracted and repulsed by the 50’s image of the mother because, again like Waters, she’s interested in the suburbs at their most hauntingly grotesque. And the association of “Mommy” with “butter” is so strong that Zambreno takes it on anyway, regardless of its retro-ness (or maybe even because of it). And yet she isn’t purely of the 50’s either. She shops at Sam’s Club and names her dog after Laci Peterson. The Mommy here, then, is a POP Mommy, and I see this book as a whole as not so much a condemnation of the suburbs, but rather the suburbs (circa 1951 - the present) made into POP art. A few months ago, I wrote a post about how I considered Chelsey Minnis’ Bad Bad to be a POP poetry collection: I see Zambreno’s novel as a prose equivalent to that type of writing. (As I mentioned in that earlier essay, I by no means intend POP here to be a derogatory term. I mean it in the spirit of Deleuze when he said his philosophy was a POP philosophy. POP as a way of writing that doesn’t burrow “deep” but instead is frantically making connections, creating surface effects, and then moving on - a rhizometic method of writing.)
The other characters are POP types too - types written with such force that they become gargoyles. Mommy’s daughter Maggie, for instance, is a “good Catholic Midwestern girl,” and the fallen angel of the title. She leaves her suburban home for the wilds of the city, where she sleeps with brutal young men who look like Marlon Brando and begins to experiment with drugs. She is a slightly older version of Natalie Wood’s iconic Judy in Rebel Without a Cause. Like previous suburban runaways, Maggie feels hollow and alienated. But Zambreno raises the volume to this pain, making it almost Beckett-like in both its extremity and its inclination toward self-satire. She writes, “Maggie is a public wound… O a more tortured soul than Maggie there never was.” She later interestingly thinks, “How lonely it is for Maggie to be so adapted to disguising her SECERT SELF.” And the fact that “secret self” is in bold seems to imply that there is no “secret self” here in the realist sense, but rather the “secret self” certain characters torment themselves over in particular types of melodrama. Not to belabor a point, but it’s a POP “secret self.”
Books like this sometimes fall between the cracks, and I hope this one doesn’t. Some readers, who don’t pick up on the suburban POP-gothic sensibility of this book, might find the characters too familiar; other readers who simply want a book to attack suburban lifestyles, SUV’s, red state mentalities, and other soft targets could overlook where the real energy of the book is coming from - i.e. its wonderful Crumbian/Koonsian eye for the acutely ugly, the kitschy, and the American grotesque.» - JP at exoskeleton

«For Mommy, one of three main characters in Kate Zambreno's novel, the way to keep dark thoughts and evil at bay is to dote on a granddaughter (because girls are sweeter than boys), watch TV (even Oprah, who's black yet articulate and gentle), collect angel figurines, and wait for the moment when "hubby pulls up in his chariot." Mommy doesn't like to dwell on her runaway daughter Maggie, a bad girl who lives in the depraved city of Chicago. Maggie, we're told, has become a cutter and a bulimic to relieve her suffering. She has little defense from the pain of daily life except violent lovers and pills prescribed for her bipolar disorder. "Maggie is trying to externalize the demons she has deep inside. That is why she wears all black and has black nail polish. That, and she enjoys making her mother deeply unhappy." When the last lover rejects her, Maggie spirals down from waitressing to selling sex. The third main character, street prophet Malachi, was inspired partly by Malachi Ritscher, who immolated himself near the Kennedy Expressway three years ago as a protest against the war in Iraq, and partly by Septimus Smith, the suicidal veteran in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. For Zambreno's Malachi, there's nothing to mitigate the pain of insanity, confusion, evil, and a heedless populace. Not much happens to any of the three until the very end, when their lives converge. Still, I found myself mesmerized, mostly by the rhythm and occasional whimsy of the prose. Zambreno breathes life into her characters with language alone.» —S.L. Wisenberg

«Kate Zambreno goes for the throat. Or at least her language does, in the manner of those who came to wreck not by demanding, but by will. Her debut novel, O Fallen Angel, (which won the Chiasmus Press ‘Undoing the Novel’ contest) arrives in the grand spirit of Acker, Artaud, Burroughs, but where these are A and A and B, Kate is Z in full: her own, slick, squealy, and of another light. As well: Fun, funny, fucked, freaklit, surprising, terrifying, gorgeous. Her words are a meat we surely want more of, quickly.
The copy of the back of O Fallen Angel says it was inspired by Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. The images in that painting are quite striking, esp. in that I didn’t look it up until after the text. The orange and white contrast, with the odd body shapes on pedestals as if vivisected and mutated bits of humans stuck on gross smooth forms really resonated in retrospect with the three rotating voices of your text, and made me realize a lot about it in seeing, applying the imagery to the residual effect of your words. I wonder if you could talk about how that image struck you as a way of opening the door here, what effect it had in a process sense, and perhaps how it continued to inform the structure or tone of the book.
- I’ve been really haunted by that triptych. For a while I lived in London, really when I first started writing I worked in fiction at Foyle’s bookshop and read all of this experimental fiction for the first time—Ann Quin and Elfriede Jelinek and all the Peter Owen books, Jane Bowles, Anna Kavan—and ran the cult fiction section. I would go to the Tate Museums to the Francis Bacon room in the Tate Britain where they had that first major triptych. I worshipped and gawked at that first triptych, that orange gruesome horror it filled me with such violence and ecstasy. Those three gruesome distorted bodies, the open mouths in Bacon, the silent scream. I’m really interested in the silent scream how we are muted in society, Bacon’s mouths, Helene Weigel’s mouth wide open screaming an empty loss in Mother Courage, Munch’s Scream. I guess that’s some of what I was writing towards in O Fallen Angel, what I’m really always trying to write towards, those who are dumb and deaf but inside writhing with unwordable agony, and are diagnosed as selectively mute, those who lack language so they commit violent acts, they are only given language that is banal and well-behaved , the need to burn burn burn but they cannot so they set fire to themselves, they self-immolate (as one of my characters does literally and the other does symbolically). The spectacle of this, of the wound, to borrow an idea from Mark Seltzer’s cultural study of the serial killer. And we gather around this wound, this trauma in our talk-show society, but then we also suppress it, the anguish, sadness, we medicate it. I also really love how much a reader Bacon was and we both share a passion for the Greeks, the Greek tragedy really inspired O Fallen Angel, especially The Oresteia, the choruses threaded, some of the imagery, and Malachi is a Cassandra figure, ranting, raging, never believed.
And I guess I’m writing towards these figures, pondering Bacon’s figures, often when I’m writing I have all these visual images that inspire me around me, for O Fallen Angel it was various Bacon images and then some paintings by Marlene Dumas and then Durer’s gorgeous severed wing, which kind of was repurposed for the cover. I’ve been reading Deleuze on Bacon, especially the Hysteria chapter, which brings in Artaud, D&G’s inspiration for the body w/o organs and Beckett, both writers who wrote the silent scream, who were struggling against muteness. And I am really interested in the idea of writing hysteria, not only writing to the Bacon figures but also Freud’s hysterics like Dora kicking and screaming, and I love what Deleuze writes about the nervous systems of Bacon’s figures, also their cruelty, and in many ways O Fallen Angel is a very theatrical book, a very cruel book, and my three figures are hysterical, full of such anguish and violence, really such open throbbing wounds, such nervous systems. And I think of the mutiny against muteness in Thomas Bernhard, “the words that we hang on to because we became crazed by impotence and are made desperate by madness.” The epigraph to O Fallen Angel is from Buchner’s Woyzeck, “Every human being is an abyss. One grows dizzy looking down” a very Bacon image, us being fragmented, frenzied, hollow, and the play is basically about a guy who becomes really paranoid and kills his wife, and throughout the play he keeps on going to this doctor who just tells him to be an upstanding man of society. Which kind of connects to the other big influence on the book, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and my Malachi is the Septimus Smith figure, and my Mommy is Clarissa, and they are all hysterics, Malachi traumatized from the war, Mommy and Maggie traumatized by existence and the last two medicate their unhappiness and kitschify their thoughtstream. And you know what I really like about Bacon’s title is that it’s “A Crucifixion” not “The Crucifixion” and I guess I see my Maggie and Malachi being criminalized, crucified. And both works are set during war, and are about a war, being blind to others’ suffering, my Malachi self-immolates in protest of the war, which is inspired by a real person, Malachi Ritscher, who did just that in Chicago, although my fallen angel is and is not Malachi. And Maggie enacts her own war, her traumadrama, on her body.
Before writing the book I watched Last Tango in Paris, which is alluded to often in O Fallen Angel, Maggie’s penchant for Marlon Brandos with stringy hair, for these completely destructive abject love affairs, and at the beginning of the film Bertolucci shows two Bacons side by side. And I was really disappointed by the film, I didn’t get enough of her in it, maybe (although I just found out the other day that Agnes Varda wrote the woman’s dialogue, so maybe I should go back and reappreciate it) but so much of it seemed not really erotic, that’s just me, I far prefer Night Porter, however kitschy it is, to me it’s a better film about masochism and cruelty in love, how we cling to those who destroy us. But anyway since then I’ve been kind of obsessed with the idea of writing writhing Bacon figures in a room, clawing, cruel, craven, and of course the idea of a triptych, as O Fallen Angel is three figures as well (Mommy, Maggie, Malachi) and they rotate in kind of a rhythmic way. In O Fallen Angel I don’t have my figures really interact, they’re really isolated, in the current text I’m writing, another triptych, another family romance, there’s more love or at least touching, even if it’s violent touching or cruel touching (which kind of actually follows Bacon’s trajectory in his paintings, from figures alone in a room to figures kind of communing although still in isolation). But besides the figures in Bacon, these portraits of human suffering, I’m really interested in the spaces of Bacon, these claustrophobic, contained cells. The idea of cells we are trapped in, these small rooms, small minds, our bodies. Also the ambiguity of the cell. Is it a torture chamber? A hotel room? I love that uncertainty. And in O Fallen Angel there’s Mommy, the hysterical housewife, kind of a Jeanne Dielman figure, trapped in the house, she is literally the house, and then there’s Maggie, who’s kind of straitjacketed by her diagnosis on the DSM-IV and mind drugs, and Malachi, my martyr-terrorist, who is trying to be free of the confines of society. Both Maggie and Malachi are trying to be free. But also trapped by the cliches of language.
Interesting to read here about your dealing with the cliche of languages at the same time while handling such ornate and interesting imagery. I was struck in the book by the way that carried through, in that it’s a very clean and spare language most of the time, but handling some very heavy and haunting images. It seems like something that had been cooking in your oven a while and then came out crystalline. Is that true, or just an impression resulting? What were your habits of particular time and setting and making over the time the book was composed?
- I’ve often been so jealous of this model of the writer as one frenzied, one possessed—like Nietzsche, or Flaubert (Madame Bovary was a huge influence on O Fallen Angel, Flaubert who despised cliches, characters that were cliches, but also voluptuously loved cliches). I go in phases. Sometimes I am really frenzied. O Fallen Angel did just kind of come out of me—it’s funny you noticed that. It was the easiest thing I’ve fucking ever wrote, although it is drawing on ideas and in a way rewriting characters I’ve written before or characters that have been sitting in my mind for a while. I think all of my writing is just rewriting, retracing obsessions—maybe a lot of writers are like this. Also, I think it was an easier project than others I had taken on that I had basically figured out while I was writing it. I for once had a structure that was confining, contained, I had the triptych, I had these three characters haunting me—Maggie is in many ways a grotesque carciature of another character I had written before, Ruth in an unpublished novel Green Girl, a sort of postfeminist libertine who’s also quite passive and tragic, sort of like if a Jean Rhys heroine was alive now or Clarice Lispector’s Macabea. I also stole some of my former college journals for Maggie—a few scraps here and there—and I just gagged on how silly I was then, how green, there are a lot of really smart self-aware people at the age of, say, 21—I wasn’t one of them, I hadn’t yet come to any sort of consciousness. And then I had been obsessed with writing monologues of contained women, hysterical portraits, and Mommy was my attempt at this, she is Dora’s mother suffering from housewife psychosis, my Jeanne Dielman, my Molly Bloom, my Winnie in Happy Days (I am hoping to write more of these, actually). And then Malachi is directly inspired by two characters—Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway and Malachi Ritscher, a Chicagoan anti-war protester who self-immolated off a highway. They are all my hysterics, my fallen angels. And so yeah it was a bit of a possession, it became at times an incantation very repetitive and rhythmic. The writing was in a way automatic. I wasn’t aware of what it was, or whether it was successful. Because it came out of me so easily, like a fever dream. Like I had been planning it for a while, but I wrote it in a couple weeks, and edited it over a summer. My other manuscripts have taken years, are still unpublished, have been rejected countless times. But I just wrote this and didn’t know if it was good enough and sent it off to the Chiasmus contest, I had once read this short story “Loving Dora,” by Lidia Yuknavitch, the publisher of Chiasmus, also an FC2 author, and thought if anyone would get the text it would be her. It’s a weird thing. How easy it was. Compared to my other projects.
I love the notion of the funny unfunny funny again. I feel like often readers are so used to the grotesque being morbid or nasty that they can’t take it in the laughable way, that these jokes must come from pain and so are therefore painful. This happens a lot in my own writing: I think I’m putting down something that is cracking me up and when I read it to others or in publication the jokes get so buried in their context that people forget that laughter is even allowed. That is the best laughter, to me, the no laughter that is deleted laughter, because you are afraid. I see that all over your book, especially given the gift of you saying so: “Maggie is into Xtreme Love like Xtreme Sportz. Maggie needs to wear kneepads because of all the rugburns.” This happens too to the Von Trier and to Bataille (I find him hysterical, even when talking about fucking underage girls), and yet there is a remove there, maybe because the face is not in the house. It makes me wonder, then, about how a book is surrounded by the self, and in leaving the self takes on a wholly other air than if those words were somehow presented in the author, as it is in the author’s mind. This doesn’t happen very often, maybe with like people who remove so much context in presentation that you have to laugh, such as Harmony Korine, or Andy Kaufman, but I wonder how you see your author body in relation to this text? We’ve talked a bit before about bodies, and how gender functions and is or is not important, and especially in relation to this book I wonder if you are interested in talking about gender roles, the two females and then the (I assume) male Malachi, and how maybe that dissolved context of the body can be given back into a book once that book leaves the author. I’m not sure if this is a question, or how to proceed, but maybe talking about how you see the book as an object outside of you now, and that transfer of feeling in people taking things you meant one way another, especially in these roles, would be interesting to hear more about?
- I love freaking people out, the discomfort, the stillborn silence, and I feel I have way more license or permission or freedom to do that in writing than in person (maybe gender has something to do with it in life I feel more of a pressure to be nice? to be polite? to be good? so perhaps my writing for me is an attempt to flee the tremulous glossed smile). I had a pretty strict childhood, Catholic school, must make A honor roll, no ink on the plaid skirts, must keep between the lines, I was an ulcerous highstrung child because of all this, and I knew nothing about music, because I was basically always under house arrest, but some people have said the book is kind of punk rock, and I think, yes, a certain strain of my writing can be a form of rebelling or like the body artists of the 80s sort of flinging body fluids as ink onto the readership. I am reading a book about Marina Abramovic and she had a very strict mother as well , maybe there’s something to that, a sort of rebellious push against the family I’m thinking of Artaud as well, always, Artaud. One of the reasons my blog is called Frances Farmer Is My Sister, Frances Farmer had an oppressive mother, who was always pushing her, daddy Hollywood was always pushing her, and then she just snapped, went feral. But yes writing kind of fulfills the gross-out girl stand-up comic in me, or the performance artist, the Lydia Lunch or Karen Finley (Finley who blurbed the book, I asked, trembling, she typed me something on her Blackberry, she is from the Chicago suburbs like me, maybe why I’ve always identified, although Evanston is a far distance from Mount Prospect in many ways). In my new text l I have been laboring and laboring on it, but then I’ll write a line that really grosses me out and sickens me—although never close enough to Dennis Cooper transgression or Karen Finley transgression or what you pull off in your work—and then I’m absolutely delighted. I love that line you highlighted “Xtreme Love like Xtreme Sportz.” I always crack up when I say it, but I kind of read it very slow and sternly… that is a total example of a line that I find funny but people feel freaked out and want to call a 1-800-Therapist for me, because of course I’m Maggie, which I’m not, not totally, I mean, I’ve never smoked crack, that’s one thing Maggie does that I haven’t, I won’t get into lists of other things, I mean, do we really need a compare and contrast? Although I think characters like Maggie or my new Monkey in my work I’m writing are kind of ids for me, like Janey Smith was Acker’s alter-ego—they’ll say obnoxious taboo things that I sometimes am too political or polite to say in real life, kind of the unrepressed me, also the former me that I’m making fun of. I haven’t read Bataille on teenage girls! I think Roman Polanski is really funny when talking about fucking teenage girls—that line quoted in Playboy—everyone wants to fuck teenage girls! It’s funny in that it’s totally sick. What I love about Bataille is how his theory his erotic/pornographic stuff sometimes reads like purply-prose Harlequins—I love he’s such a wanking fangirl when writing about Wuthering Heights in Writing and Destruction.
Okay. Back to your question I wonder if there is something gendered in readers automatically aligning me with the character of Maggie and thinking Mommy is my mother (she isn’t, I had a very different mother), the work is really more of a social biography than pure autobiography, I mean, Gustave was Emma, yes, but he wasn’t really, he didn’t have the burden, people didn’t say, “Gustave, did you really try to take poison as a desperate cry for help? Gustave, did you really toss your wedding bouquet into the fire? Gustave, it’s really a shame you didn’t keep up with those piano lessons.” O Fallen Angel isn’t autobiographical in the way Piano Teacher was autobiographical for Jelinek—oh man that’s the best mother-daughter relationship ever represented in literature, the sadomasochism of such love, that scene where Erika just climbs on top of her mother and starts making out with her, like wanting to hate fuck her mother, wanting to climb back into her womb….But anyway I use autobiography but in a very refracted way in my writing. I am interested in these toxic girls, but they’re often based as well on many girls/women I have known, roommates, past intimates, students I’ve observed casually etc. I think the other fallen angel, Malachi, is just as much me or more me as Maggie is, and I think that’s where gender comes in, yes at times from the inside of creating but from the outside of reading, maybe in how readers might approach a book written by a woman, as purely autobiographical, I mean, I relate probably even more now to Malachi’s feelings of impotent alienation, and wanting to unravel in the street, wanting to stand in a street corner and scream and scream and yet I am strangely muted because no one is listening, but I (mostly) rein in that aspect of myself in order to be seen as normal in society. Again a mirroring with Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf is way more Septimus Smith than Clarissa Dalloway, she was afraid of seeming mad she didn’t want people to think she was mad so she refracted her autobiography in this traumatized soldier. And is Malachi really mad? I am reading Artaud’s essay Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society, while alternately trying to write this: “And what is an authentic madmen? It is a man who preferred to become mad, in the socially accepted sense of the word, rather than forfeit a certain superior idea of human honor.” That is what Malachi is to me, and I identify more with that, the outcast, than with Maggie, also a victim of the DSM-IV, a Dora. So when I write characters I do channel them, it is frenzied for me, I become them, I live their lives while sitting at the desk, this has been dangerous for me in the past, I was doing all this research on film sirens who went mad or were seen as mad and institutionalized, actually when I wrote Malachi I was writing Gene Tierney as well, the actress who was in Laura, and there’s eerie parallels between the two pieces, but I sometimes become these characters in a way, Baudelaire writes, “I have cultivated my hysteria with jouissance and terror,” like Vivien Leigh who began to dissolve into madness after playing Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, the tongue and hands cut off, after playing Blanche she too began to troll around red light districts, Flaubert too was the hysteric, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Miller, Breton, they all were the hysterics but they projected that onto their lovely madwomen wives or mistresses who became their fictitious creations. And so a woman is seen as always close to the body from the outside, I must be Maggie, maybe I am Maggie, I am the madwoman, pathologized, I don’t just write a madwoman. So I am not always gendered I guess when I write, I am more of a body dissolving into other bodies, past the limits of my body, I do agree with Woolf that the best writing is in a way androgynous. A woman’s body that is given back to me aware and uncomfortable in the author photo, in all the publicness that goes into publishing, the reading of the work. A story I tell in the Semiotext(e) book that I haven’t finished yet is that I was teaching a public seminar on “Women Modernists and Madness,” I was all dewy and delirious on Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood and Jean Rhys, and I was teaching Good Morning, Midnight, and I had just taught Dalloway, which of course was all the old biddies and young trixies wanted to read, because they had heard of Woolf, you know, and read it at their sisters schools, and it was such a chore having to treat Rhys glorious Rhys like some gruel I have to force down their fucking gullets, and someone said of GMM, “I don’t know. I just feel like Ford Madox Ford put a pencil in her hand and said ‘Write. And I’ll just edit it a lot.’” And Blake I was murderous fucking murderous. These texts I carry around with me like under my skin, Good Morning, Midnight is way more of a part of me than O Fallen Angel, which felt like an accidental birth, especially this one text compared to the more precious stillborn babies for me that are not yet published, something I excreted at one time and now I have to carry around these shiny excretions in a box and shill them on the street corner, my baby-bodies, and I have to vomit out the words again and vomit out words in this interview and for fuck’s sake you are asking me so many questions! I have no idea why anything I’m saying is remotely interesting! I am being so vomitous! But I cannot help but vomit, vomit, vomit all the guts out. And everyone says to me “Congratulations” and I can’t help thinking of the lines from Hiromi Ito’s Killing Kanoko “Congratulations on your abortion.” Repeated ad infinitum. But I guess I do desire word-abortions book-babies that are stillborn monsters with three hairy heads. Although don’t know if I’ve managed ever to create such a book-baby. Maybe in the future. I think too this public thing is strange and alien to me an abduction-birth because I’ve taken only one creative writing class, ever, and it was a disaster. I wrote about a seedy living room den for girl-hookers who sat around and watched cartoons speechless while waiting to go out with clients and everyone in the class was kind of horrified with me, and were all shitty that it wasn’t realistic, and the ones who thought it was realistic wanted to stage some sort of Dr. Phil intervention with me, the ones who thought that the girl was me, which maybe she was, maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t, maybe she was, but it’s not a question some writers get.
As a closer, would you tell us about your recently announced book based on your blog writing, and other projects in the pipeline or in your head browser? Powerhouse.
- Four months ago I started my blog Frances Farmer Is My Sister randomly the day after my 32nd birthday, which was also New Year’s Eve , because I was now living in Ak-ron Ohio, because I was reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer for the first time in eons a book I read first when I was 21 out of school doing the midnight shift at a greasy spoon in love with a boy who was basically mute and we looked like twins and we would fuck and then eat burritos from Chipotle and he would snort coke off his Wilco CDs and we had a dog named Rex and I was certain I was going to have comely babies with him suppressing any other feeling of wanting anything else. And I remember being confused and horrified and compelled by all the sex stuff in Miller but years later I had dismissed Miller as a pig and now I was reading him and chasing it with Guyotat and chasing that with some Bataille, and felt like I needed to essay, I felt compelled to essay, to be all Montaigne, so I started writing the first in a series of way way too long essays over the next couple of weeks about the literature I was obsessed with, the artists and literary figures I was obsessed with, everything I was reading. And I had been working on a book for years called Mad Wife – a sort of fictional notebook about a woman writer who’s haunted by Jane Bowles, Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivienne Eliot, Sylvia Plath, who feels like she’s the reincarnation of them, like Anne Sexton thinking she’s the reincarnation of Edna St. Vincent Millay, also inspired by The Yellow Wallpaper and Gail Scott’s My Paris and Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina, and so I begin to write about these women on the blog as well, in my mind sort of as process for Mad Wife, and I also began to write about my experiences publishing, my thoughts on trying to get published, and that’s when I began to articulate more of my aesthetics, that was in a way oppositional, I began to in this public forum try to negotiate my relationship with the French feminists, with also the American feminists, with the New Narrative writers, with Cixous’ La Genet, with Dodie Bellamy’s Barf Manifesto, I wrote a long essay on anorexic versus bulimic writing in contemporary poetics…And it all became sort of spurting forth and I was ecstastic about it, all I could think about was all of these long weird formless essays I could write on the blog. And Chris Kraus at Semiotext(e), who I had sent my novel Green Girl, my existentialist novel about make-up that’s very inspired by Two Serious Ladies and The Hour of the Star, who rejected it but blurbed O Fallen Angel, Chris contacted me about two months in and asked whether I wanted to turn some of the longer essays into a book for Semiotext(e)’s Active Agents series, the one that just published Eileen Myles’ Iceland and her Video Green, so exciting to me because I had just reread Aliens and Anorexia, and what Chris is doing in that book is so brave and raw and emotional and mindblowing. The timing was also kind of funny because at the same time I again got rejected from English Ph.D programs, the second year in a row, the feeling that I was an outsider to both creative writing and academia, and then, of course, sort of glorifying in that exile…So I have to write the book this summer. It’s not going to be bloggy. It’s going to be using some of the essays as raw material, extending them into other essays. I’m terrified. Some times I feel—yes! I get it ! I feel very empowered and sure of myself, and then other times I feel very cowed by not being an academic, by not using the correct language, mostly I babble, my mode of reading is masturbatory—did I already write that? The book is supposed to be a vulgar, angry, hopefully at times quite funny American version of Cixous’ Laugh of the Medusa. With my own posse of criminal or outlaw texts or figures, my feminist version of Miller’s Cunt Portraits. I don’t know. I have spoken too much about it. In that I feel funny putting that much weight on it but it’s a big deal to me, and I’m still about 59% sure I will fuck it up (note to self: interviews on HTML Giant should not be used as therapy).
My other stuff? When Chris approached me only two months ago I was working intensely on Mad Wife and Under the Shadow of My Roof, my incest text, another triptych. Shadow is a family romance/love triangle inspired by the Fritzl case. It’s a spatial as opposed to temporary triptych as in the daugher/mother stuff occur on the same page, a lot of it is about writing a family as a house, also a commentary on fascism, on priest abuse, on Abu Ghraib. There’s the Monkey-daughter, and it’s her notebook throughout most of the thing, Monkey disassociates often into all of these characters, often literary prostitutes, she imagines herself a Sadean libertine cum performance artist, and there’s also Mr. Von R and Mrs. Von R, the matriarch/patriarch. I think I’m a lot more humane to the hysterical mother figure in this work than in O Fallen Angel, I love her more, I read about 200 romance novels to prep for her character, and I have to say, reading those romance novels was the closest I have had to reaching ecstasy in so long. They’re like Valium. They’re amazing. What else? I still haven’t published Green Girl, the novel I worked on forever, or Book of Mutter, my hybrid long monstrous essay text dealing with my mother and also Marilyn Monroe, Henry Darger, the actress-director Barbara Loden, Frances Farmer, (where the title of the blog comes from, I’m big into naming writers as my mothers and sisters, stealing from Artaud, maybe because these writers/figures are a sort of family to me), others. So part of the work is trying to publish, trying to revise. Although at this point I have sent the works out everywhere, I think each have been rejected at least 60 times maybe more. I think Green Girl might have been rejected 100 times. There’s always other things in the pipeline, too many. Eventually taking time to rerewrite my monologues of film stars. A work called I Heart Andre Breton, about Claude Cahun, Nadja and Jacqueline Lamba. I want to figure out how to write plays. In Chicago where I’m from a group of writers I know want to start a theater company and we’ll all write plays and act, maybe put up a Thomas Bernhard play or a Jelinek play or a Sarah Kane play.» - Interview with Blake Butler


Kate blogs at:
http://francesfarmerismysister.blogspot.com

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