Ariana Reines - To shove the brains into the guts, to shove the material fact of bodies into the nothingness they often seem to be disgorging

Ariana Reines, The Cow, Fence, 2006.

"To call Ariana Reines' poetry scatological doesn't even scratch the surface. "I COULD BE A DIAPER FOR THE DAY'S RESIDUALS," she writes, and, "She clasped the event to her and proceeded. Fucked her steaming/ eyehole and ended it." The Cow is a body in the way that texts are bodied—"Are you so intelligent your body doesn't have you in it."—but not in the way that allows the text to become desensitized, depersonalized, sterilized. Instead this text is filthy and fertilized, filling and emptying, filling and emptying, atrocious and politic with meaning. The Cow is a mother, a lover, and a murdered lump of meat, rendered in the strongest of languages. "I cannot count the altering that happens in the very large rooms that are the guts of her." - Dennis Cooper

"The Cow, Reines's first book, opens lyrically: 'The day is a fume. At starboard, a white kirtle which is the moon. The day has a hallmark, the night also.' This lyricism is sustained for a few poems, but soon thereafter the sensual grit of Reines's project rears its head and dominates the book: 'I held his cock while he peed with it.' The Cow draws its imagery extensively, and explicitly, from the cow, its body, and the human and its body; it flirts with certain grrrl fierceness, but the work ultimately feels less invested in gender per se than in humanness. The book as a whole is concerned with processing, production, and rendering, and while a poem might focus on the processing of an animal into various products for human consumption, Reines is also concerned with how we humans are 'processed' through our relationships with others and through the approximations of language. Both identity and meaning are multifarious, interconnected: 'Everything is part of something.' In this way the cow is animal, product, woman, and action: 'I am not the nice man in the mart I am the mart itself, which is inside of a dog... I am inside of him and a mart isn't an I.' The body is not only image or occasion to write, but integral to the act of creation: 'My whole body writes.' And just as the various parts of the cow as product are graphically detailed, language itself can be broken apart ('an umlaut could be a cousin's bone') or condensed or ground up ('glv ovr me. Brns; ozne'). As interested as Reines is in communication and representation, she seems to retain a healthy dose of suspicion in her project, beginning her final poem with the line 'Does a resemblance really mean anything.' There is a desire in this narrator to 'empty language out of me,' but after such a visceral defecation, what is left? 'What. Now What,' she writes, and like Beckett, she embraces her paradox, finishing The Cow on "Go on. Go on." - Emily Wolahan

"No doubt about it, this is strong and original work. Scary in the best possible way." - Richard Foreman

"OK, that is a slaughterhouse on the cover of The Cow, and those are dead cattle. Framed by the clinical language of a livestock manual, Ariana Reines's first book runs language, culture and sex through a meat grinder, and the results are not pretty. Perhaps those who like poetry or sausage should not watch it being made. But as the Koran points out, “Do you then believe in a part of the book and disbelieve the other?” Reines insists on showing us “the other side of the animal.”
Consider vomit and velleity. It's not a matter of whether one word is poetic, and the other not. It's not just a matter of balancing diction so that the same poem can plausibly use both words—let alone the same poet. It's a matter of using vomit to describe a real transaction between inside and outside, retaining all its disgust, the reflex of it, as a way to address ideas like cultural bulimia without hiding behind the adjective. In the same way, velleity needs a similar anchoring: used non-ironically, it can still compare the language of consciousness with the fingertip precision of sewing lace. In both cases, the feedback loop is profoundly physical. Unfortunately, both times “velleities” is used, it is misspelled. Either way, Reines’s relationship with language is fraught, ambivalent, and serious. The work contains quotes from Ashbery, Baudelaire, Burroughs, Proust, Rilke, Stein, and the Bible, among others.
Reines's work is undeniably raw and powerful. Her verbal shredding has none of the clinical neatness of the computer algorithm, or the vaguely reassuring frisson of scissors on paper. The insistence on blood, shit, cum and guts within an experimental framework reminds me of Armand Schwerner's The Tablets, down to the use of a similar sans serif typeface, but it also sets up useful contrasts. While Schwerner's sense of cultural transformations is similarly sexual and his body parts are similarly scaled, stacked and strewn, Reines will not let the aura of myth slur the body count. The cow is sacred, a mother, a lover—and equally, “murdered meat.”
Reines removes the scholarly mask and talks even more directly: the harshly clinical frame of the manual and the constant sense of the body as muscle, blood, and water make the possibility of rebirth or any meaningful myth much less luminous, and much filthier. She reminds us that the cultural construction of bulimia is not that different from putting a portal in the stomach of a cow so that the digestion process can be seen. The myths are real. It is the people, the bodies that are ruined, not the tablets or the statues. She writes, “We were the real's dead mimes”. No warm nests to return to here. Only slits, gashes, and holes. Reines scolds us: "We are going to be smarter about these things from now on."
In “Item,” Reines combines a discussion of feedlot/slaughterhouse practices, and the advent of mad cow disease with the story the speaker’s down-and-out mother, once a medical practitioner, walking downtown from Washington Heights to ask her for money for a steak. This wraps itself around a discussion of language and truth. After describing how cows cannot digest their forced diet of corn without massive doses of antibiotics, she writes: “A wimple fell over the real as if to protect it: a ruckus in the girl is artificial as anything, fortified by nutrients.” Despite the tone of this line, Reines often calls the ironist's bluff by using language as literally as possible. She calls the cyberpoet's bluff by calling our attention not only to shredded texts and the cultural commodification of desire, but actual holes in physical bodies. She might even call Beckett's bluff: she is not convinced that language can’t describe real things, but the purgatory effort is just as bleak and wearying as anything Beckett’s characters confront.
'What happens to the world when a body is a bag of stuff you can empty out of it.
Errors, musculatures.
Can I empty language out of me.
What difference does it make how a thing dies. Consciousness. Nobody knows
what that is.'

Be warned: the obsession with bodily functions is pushed past the comfort zone, however sturdy your sealegs. Reines wants to make you sick, and shock you into a different place. The last stanza of “Advertisement” reads:
'You have got to sometimes become the medicine you want to take. You have got to, absolutely got to put your face into the gash and sniff, and lick. You have got to learn to get sick. You have got to reestablish the integrity of your emotions so that their violence can become a health and so that you can keep on becoming. There is no sacrifice. You have got to want to live. You have got to force yourself to want to.'
By any measure, this is hectoring, risky, and, in this case, not concerned with being good poetry. Reading this book may be a test of your masochism, but it just might change you. She’s aware of the risk. The book is peppered with such lines as: “Ailmenting the world perpetuates it,” and: “I will not train myself to love this shit.” With all the aggressiveness of Reines’s stance, it is unsettling to see the oddly beautiful spaces her work opens up on the killing floor. Look at the cover long enough and you may find an unsettling balance between beauty and horror, a sense that stays with you long after the book is closed.
The last quarter of the book does permit something approximating gentleness to appear. The poem “Rest” starts with “Hymns can make your forgetting happen.” and ends with “The mouth’s a haven for all an eye cannot disperse.” But in the context of such fraught, relentless hammering, such brief moments of beauty can risk seeming like desperately mimed cliches. Here’s a chunk of “You:”
'I looked up and was assuaged.
I carried to my mouth the ointment of the cloud that had ceased to move,
That had ceased to pass over me.
I found a secret duct amid these floes of air and then they left off their coquetries,
their complications.
The beauty makes me feel it really happened
The sky had stars in it they glittered like calories upon the world'

Whatever the state of poetry, words like "beautiful" and "lovely" should never be taboo, but it's harder to earn the right to use them: the cost of beauty is greater today. Using such a vague word as beauty requires a corresponding concreteness. Vagueness gains its relevance by the hardness of the frame. Reines pushes this logic to a place it hasn't been before, and doesn't want to go, a place past politics, but profoundly informed by it; a craft that appropriates and shreds other texts, but which sometimes hides the theft; a search for beauty under piles of carcasses both metaphorical and real. At one point she asks, “how badly does narrative long to be beautiful?” Does Reines succeed? Given that all meters are in the red, and that the answer has to wait until the end of the book, “Afterward” sounds understandably weary, but oddly, cautiously hedged. Hope is hard, too." - Mike McDonough

"I thought a really good insight into what we talk about when we talk about poetry was when Josh Corey, trying to understand why he liked Ariana Reines' "The Cow", called it "nakedly angry." In other words, he fell back on the old binary of the raw vs the cooked.
In her review of "The Cow" in Raintaxi, Lara Glenum gets closer when she says that the book is about the way culture teaches us how to desire. (As Zizek is always pointing out, there is nothing spontaneous about desire. He would have a field day with this book.) Though the thing about Lara's review that I would quibble over is the way she emphasizes "struggle" in the writing process. This can be misread as a return to the old raw-vs-cooked binary, to the expressionist subject.
Like I wrote to Ariana, mostly her book reminds me of various video art. I think in particular of one piece I once saw at the Walker: distanced camera-stare at a bunch of poor teenagers reenacting professional wrestling. It's boring and violent and quite brilliant.
Though perhaps Josh is right about the "naked" in another sense. The book also has something to do with the exquisitely unsexy boredom of pornography. How such films reveal the artificiality of nudity.
Perhaps it has something to do with Kiki Sera's work: (That's a piece called "Phantom Fuck").
Another example of people falling back into this binary are the blurbs to Anna Moschovakis' book "I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone." As I alluded to in the entry below, her style is the result of very conscious process of impoverishing - a very artificial act (like all art). Yet the blurbs say that the book is "stripped of artifice" (Ammiel Alcalay), that they display an "absence of artifice" (Lewis Warsh), and (Ann Lauterbach) that Plato "would have loved them" (I thought he only liked poetry that glorified war).
The critics/blurbers I've included in this post all like these pieces. But more frequently these binaries are used to dismiss work, or at least to compartmentalize." - Johannes Göransson

"Though she would have had no trouble finding a publisher (her first book of poetry, The Cow, was an award-winner published on a reputable press), twenty-seven-year-old Ariana Reines chose to release Coeur de Lion on the imprint she recently co-founded, mal-o-mar editions. "I didn't want to have to wait a long time for it to come out, I wanted to be able to move on," she says. Moreover, mal-o-mar (the name is a pun on the marshmallow treat and on Mallarme, the 19th century French poet whose spatially experimental work, Reines explains, is "full of white foam; the marshmallow is his food," and whose dandyism Reines finds politically subversive) gives her the freedom to follow her instincts in pursuing projects other than her own writing (a translation of Baudelaire is in the works).
Unlike many recent books of poetry, which seek to assimilate both pop and academic cultures, Coeur de Lion does so without any ironic posturing or condescension: the book's treatment of its subjects is sincere. Equal consideration is given to the likes of Mel Gibson and Georges Bataille, Nabokov and Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Madame Bovary, "that brat Arthur Rimbaud and Sade. Reines says she envisions Coeur de Lion as "the intersection of two extremes--an extreme of sincerity and an extreme of artifice." That intersection gives rise to the paradox of the book as an object, a "concerted effort," which takes as its subject something spontaneous, immediate and transient--namely, the experience of being in love:
"Fuck those assholes/ who think that there is nothing/ To know about love./ I'm nauseous/ Cos of the possibility of us attacking Iran/ And the hot rain falling right now./ Manhattan is full of white women with/ Businesslike bodies. It's all/ Handheld devices. If I can't make this feeling right now/ For you more personal/ The general consensus is going to/ Fucking kill me. Recall manual/ Figurations. Recall metaphors/ Of hands. Recall your hands./ My total impotence/ As an individual. My failure/ At freedom/ Of speech./ I'm already/ Forgetting your face/ So maybe I was playing/ Myself more than I thought/ About having more feelings than/ Most assholes." - Brian Kalkbrenner

"...Tina Brown's book is primarily concerned with evoking the pathos of choosing an identity, or in having one chosen for you. She squirms, she tapdances, she smiles coquettishly while throwing up in her mouth. Ariana Reines' The Cow is fiercer and wilder, embracing the persona of the eponymous ruminant, taking the consumption of (female) flesh literally. Brown flirts with obscenity, or more precisely our fascination with obscenity; Reines is viscerally, exuberantly obscene, yet somehow more in continuity with the hidden obscenity of the Real discovered by modernism and psychoanalysis—I think of Sianne Ngai's essay "Raw Matter: A Poetics of Disgust," but also of the primal scene of modernist poetry, The Waste Land, where the corpse planted in the speaker's garden turns out to be the mass grave of the (feminine?) nature that our civilization perches precariously upon: the cow with her vulnerable eyes and the cattle industry that produces and consumes her is the figure for this. The body is cracked open, violated, marked for death, taboo rather than sacred:
'E a r m a r k

She clasped the event to her and proceeded. Fucked her steaming eyehole and ended it. The cracked things was a doomed pidgin, it meant something.

Yesterday. A patience would be ideal. Make an art of it, sere notes winding their way through an air to have become the name of her going. Her name on the list, and some certain information they had.

After a time there is no more accuracy, after a time you can't get the note clean of what it might have been.

Under the skirt of Mother Ginger huddle little boys and girls. A holiday shit stain. His scholarliness justifies those flights

Of fancy you condemn in him. And the gummy hulls of words muzzle the chaw, a kind of cud that will not do. An umlaut could be a cousin's bone,

The poisoned nuance that started everything. It was from eating ourselves. It had to be

Someone else's sickness first, our silence, our good balance, our usefulness. There is something certain creatures long for. To be hacked up and macerated. That's having it come out and go into another body.

Eaten, gemmed with grease and herbs. Whose low language ruined our bowels. Whose lowing eventually meant nothing. We knew we were to become a ream of flesh. Another nothing.'
"Gemmed with grease!" I can't recall the last time I came across a text so scarifying, so disgust-ed/ing, that also seemed so verbally alive. Like Brown, Reines is also concerned with the position of poetry and herself as a speaker within poetry, though the sheer force of her negativity seems just possibly to contain its own seeds of regeneration. From the last page of "Transport," toward the end of the book:
'It's the same old story and you have to learn to speak the CLAMATO language of the elders or they will fuck you too.

You have to learn to speak the deciduous vocables of the true poets a beautiful whiteness.

The feet of white girls in flipflops. Fake hippie skirts from Forever 21. I hate the fop in me I want to eat a nipple of Venus because I am becoming a magnificent woman. Hurting culture want to bleed faggot

Leg wax high heel lipstick cuntface a marketing job designers wanting the best I want filthier but not to be homeless because I love myself too much bluebell cups in the rain a poetics of the music of the poolside therapy. Hate me. We are still thinking too much.
At this site, at this juncture, we are going to be we are becoming free.
Maybe Beckett is the more appropriate forebear to cite (the phrase "Go go" appears repeatedly, while its last words are "Go on. Go on"), and Stein if Stein were unable or unwilling to recuse herself as completely as she seems to from the matrix of heterosexual desire. Desire/disgust is the axis both of these books travel upon, Brown empahsizing the former and Reines emphasizing the latter. Above all I am impressed by their vulnerability, their angry nakedness. The only book by a young male poet that comes close to this level of lacerated sexed scrutiny that I can think of is Aaron Kunin's Folding Ruler Star—another Fence book. Say what you will about the magazine: as a press I think they're demonstrating some real vision over there, and an admirable willingness to tolerate discomfort. The pleasure of these books is in their sting." - Joshua Corey

"How could I resist a poetry collection called The Cow? Winner of the 2006 Alberta Prize (newly renamed the Motherwell Prize, annually offering a cash prize and the publication of a first or second book of poems by a woman), American poet and filmmaker Ariana Reines' first poetry collection works through the name of the livestock meant for food against a disparaging remark used against girls and women as her focal point, and working out from that into magnificent poems that challenge, push and even punch their way through the page. An exciting, vibrant, passionate and highly intelligent first poetry collection, first poetry collections rarely get as good as this; a clean sense of self, a clear sense of goals, and a smart, clear sense of how the poems fit together as a whole unit.
Does a resemblance really mean anything.
The world rhymes too much. Maybe.
A situation of the similar kept aloft by an air that is hating.
I spell it like that because I mean it.
Well, maybe a situation can find a way to be a family against your will.
Or maybe that's just psychoanalysis, I was going to write.
All this "meaning." It is rhyme. Is just rhyme.
And this, this could be it. Liberty.
I am harassed.
Tonight three guys in a car said we can help you with your hardon.
That was the most genderfuck catcall I ever pretended I wasn’t hearing as I walked by it.
I am so tired, deep deep inside. I am tired.
This ceaseless squabble. What Mandelstam said.
What. Now what. Go on. Go on.'
From the bodies of ruined animals to the bodies of ruined women, the poems in The Cow push hard against prevailing winds that somehow feel less strong after the push; this is a fiery and powerful "fuck you"; this is a book about hope. As she writes, "I have to get to the other side of the animal" (p 63). This is a book that makes its points by tearing you a new one (knowing that it's the only way you'll learn)." - Rob McLennan

Ariana Reines, Coeur de Lion, mal-o-mar, 2008.

"Summarizing Ariana Reines’s Coeur de Lion wouldn’t do this thoughtful book justice—it might sound too much like a soap opera for the hip intelligentsia. But the dramatic story—a woman, Ariana, addresses her ex after hacking into his Gmail account—isn’t what makes Coeur de Lion such a tour de force. Reines uses the love plot to investigate the nature of poetic address. She writes that she has been listening to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Italian opera to help her “feel the popular emotions” of an “I” for an absent “you”; ultimately, Reines is less interested in her ex than in that most popular poetic form, the lyric. “I’m so fucking sick / Of you, but that’s the real / Me talking, and not the me / Of poetry. Where literature / Is concerned, ha ha, I’ve still / Got work to do.”
Reines’s “ha ha” is wry, self-deprecating, fun, and bitter—adjectives that apply to her project as a whole. She zooms through her ruminations in steeply enjambed blocks of sentences she doesn’t even stop to title, making the whole book a single, long poem one can race through in a sitting. This speed gives Coeur de Lion a kind of chatty urgency: there’s so much to say, and no time to waste. And Reines makes her poetic manipulation explicit: “I am writing this / In order to lose you / For my own purposes.” If Coeur de Lion is a confession, it’s not just about psychology, but about the violence lyric exerts when it reduces experience into the supposedly universalizing but ultimately “closed / System of another person’s mind.”
Coeur de Lion is the name of both a French camembert and a French king, Richard the Lion-Hearted, whose Crusades in the Holy Land led to the massacre of Jews. This conflation helps us see lyric poetry as both a process of commodification and a domineering conquest. Reines writes that “fermented things” like cheese are “More unsettlingly animal, somehow / than animal flesh.” She wants her poems—experience that has been aged and squeezed into shape—to be animal too, but this means confronting the stink of brutality, in both literature and life.
Ariana learns about Richard the Lion-Hearted on the internet—the same place she learns that, throughout their relationship together, her ex had been sending lusty emails another woman, Emma, complaining that he felt trapped by the “pretentious gypsy Jewish goth,” Ariana. Toward the end of Coeur de Lion, Ariana admits her revenge: “On August 27th I wrote to my / Friend Emma Wolf that I loved / Fucking you and that you might be / A bad writer, which made me / Nervous.” Until now, Ariana has had our sympathies, but this action seems unusually cruel. Reines is careful not to play the martyr: she wants us to know that cruelty is part of her work, as it is of lyric’s.
The identity Jake assigns Ariana, the “pretentious gypsy Jewess goth,” ends up helping Reines—whose book cover , it should be noted, is in a gothic font—to strike back. In Venice, Ariana says Gothic buildings look “like / Geometry and plants fucked each / Other and went insane, a simile that fits Coeur de Lion, too. Reines mates life with form, and their spawn feels alternately heavy and soaring, edgy, and thoroughly alive." - Megan Pugh
"The Cow, by Arian Reines has been a revelation. To refer to The Cow as poetry seems rather reductive - it feels more like a living creature. Using the cold, clinical language of the abatoir, mixed with a fragmented cut-up of various characters - Reines has sculpted a multi-faceted yet cohesive voice that forces the read into avenues of sex, scat and violence. Words don't do this thing justice. Read it for yourself. I wanted to know more.
OK so I guess I just want to start by finding out what you've been up to most recently. I know you did a reading in New York a few nights ago – could you tell me a little more about it? How did it go? What did you read? I've only ever been to a few readings. How do you go about choosing what to read? Is it like acting? Do you have to assume a character for your performance?
- so this soft targets gig was this past wednesday. soft targets is a great literary/arts magazine. one of their editors contacted me with a solicitation shortly after the cow was published. because for the past year or so i have lived in a hole and have had a bizarre reluctance to assimilate too much new art for fear it would make me forget my life, which is not to say myself, but seriously, in order to write the cow i had to refuse or renounce relenquishing an acute & exhausting despair so that i could ramp it up high enough for the whole thing to work. i'll explain more later, but yeah, soft targets literally fell into my lap and i was amazed, and it was cool that they invited me for this. gary lutz is a writer of uncompromising fiction that quickens the beating of my heart when i read it; he's also known to be a retiring fellow, so it was an honor to meet him. here i go, i want to tell you all about kalup linzy's gorgeous performance and the fucking brain-rinsing music of mick barr, but you've asked me about me.
so the morning of the soft targets thing i wrote a story instead of packing up my shit to move out of where i was living. while i was writing the story something jizzed or ectoplasmed on me and i don't know who or what. i mentioned this on the dc blog. and i posted a picture of the event on my blog ( i wrote the story partly cos i was in despair about sectioning off and packing up my personal effects (i have no talent for this kind of organization) and also i was in despair about my mom; where would she go; what would she do. as you might know, she was in jail in february/march, and had been living at my house ever since; it was the third time she'd had no place else to go but my place; i'd been suffering a lot over it.... etc etc. so i wrote this story about fucking, computer programmers, a narrator who has a sister who lives in cleveland, people who like to fuck a certain race of person. i needed something that would have the jarring tenderness i prize in all writing but also something that would be cooler and seem glib without actually being glib in order to reach the new york people. the cow's a book that's designed to feel like an emergency, to exceed itself, to embarass, harass, and refuse to be itself. that can only really work in private; when i read from it the work becomes persona, and that isn't the point.
so yeah, doing a reading's like acting, for me. the one i did 2 weeks ago at the bowery poetry club, (you can hear some of it if you go to pennsound/x/Segue-BPC.html and scroll down) i wore butoh whiteface for. i don't do a ton of readings, mostly cos i've been too preoccupied with my family to book them. i used to organize readings for an art gallery in new york and a small literary magazine in paris; generally, readings suck.
one thing that might be interesting is that the first money i ever got for writing as $75 for winning a women's poetry slam when i was sixteen. the poem i performed, slam-style, was about getting fucked over and abused by a psychotic butch girl i was in love with at the time. after winning the money i became disgusted with poetry slams as an institution; felt they were impure; that it was all about my youth and cuteness and not about "poetry." i don't have such an ungenerous attitude about that now, but that's how i used to feel about performance & writing, that they were seperate universes that shouldn't corrupt each other, which is a bizarre and backward way to feel, but which is probably somewhere underneath the "acting" approach in any case.
Can I get a little of your history? How long have you been writing?
I was born in Salem, Massachusetts.
Both of my mother's parents, Polish, survived the Holocaust.
I am interested in how suffering's housed and passed down through crotches.
Anyway, I've written all my life, and in school it was easy to get recognition for it, as i could handle writing in different ways; was a voluble, extroverted personality. Then a lot of bad stuff happened and I changed, became kind of slanted, miserable, and private. Writing didn't become a vocation until, broke and jettisoning things I loved, it became the cheapest art to do, the one that required the least in terms of material organization. Or seemed to require the least at first.
I had a gorgeous childhood until I was about seven. After that time everything got disgusting.
I want to say something about bad writing. I'm proud of my bad writing. Everyone is so intelligent lately, and stylish. Fucking great. I am proud of Philip Guston's bad painting, I am proud of Baudelaire's mamma's boy goo goo misery. Sometimes the lurid or shitty means having a heart, which's something you have to try to have. Excellence nowadays is too general and available to be worth prizing: I am interested in people who have to find strange and horrible ways to just get from point a to point b.
What other writers have influenced your work, or inspired you to write?
I think everything I've ever read, including stuff I haven't loved, is influential to an almost terrifying degree. But to keep things down to the essentials, at least what I can discern today: Michel de Montaigne, Chris Kraus, Avital Ronell, Charlotte & Emily Bronte, Charles Baudelaire, Francois Villon.
I wouldn't let myself read Dennis Cooper's novels til I finished THE COW because I knew the influence would be incredibly strong and even debilitating. All this other stuff had already been in there for a while before I started writing the book in about 2003.
So let's talk about The Cow. Where did the whole concept come from? How long did it take you to write? How do you feel about the finished results? Are you happy with The Cow? Did it turn out how you hoped?
- My intention for THE COW was to make an organ. Not an item, or edifice. Every book is a mesh, a language mesh, to use Paul Celan's phrase, through which you pass as you read it. But Mallarme was wrong about the point of everything being to end up in a book. Nothing "ends" or "ends up" in a book; a book's the opposite of final, if it's ever open. A closed book's another story. Language is a mode of transport because sentences and lines are not heiroglyphs, they have direction. I wanted to work with this, so the poetics of THE COW includes a lot of sentences and is pretty oldfashioned in that respect. I don't have anything to prove about the solidity of the word, the immensity of the void upon which it founders, etc. Metaphor means to carry across and language is inherently metaphorical, right. Well, CATTLE CAR is the vehicle that transports meaning through THE COW. I wanted to impose BACKWARDS on language's, or English's, innate urge forward into the future, to shove the brains into the guts, To shove the material fact of bodies into the nothingness they often seem to be disgorging.
Which means to shove the present into the past.
I have always been interested in the figure of the SEIVE and of the BLOTTER as ways to understand literature. SEIVE: I pass myself through the mesh of words; BLOTTER; I sop up the excesses I can't stand to just leave alone by reading.
The concept for THE COW came from my mom's obsession with Creuzfeldt-Jakob. Her madness is really singular and I have only been able to trace out a tiny corner of what it means or is. Not to mention everything I have in common with her. The book's for her and of her. A person reading it could find: a preoccupation with digestion (have you read Proust's correspondence with his mom?), the question of metaphor (well actually the question doesn't exist anymore, cos metaphor doesn't exist anymore), cattle cars, the lie of comforting Holocaust literature, schizophrenia, sexual mania, what constitutes a witness, the fundamental horror and disgustingness of birth, mothers, the ruined condition of thought or rumination, the destruction of all interiors, terror, the unspoken but overt links between excressence, the "unnatural", writing, and evil, French modernism, the nastiness of surviving, the violence of all transportation, how love makes people disgusting, nausea, revulsion, not dying of a long affliction.
And I was interested in the cow as both a witness or figure of oblivion in lots of classics: Joyce, Nietzsche.
Basically, in order to expose how meaning's both excessive and nonexistent I had to work with a cliche, to open it. Something so visible it's invisible, so ingrained in the culture it's an impossibly huge aporia.
It was important to me to not write in a single form. Overt formality creates a patina or lacquer; I wanted to consistently break or break up the surface of the text, to make absolutely sure it keeps on haranguing itself.
I suppose due to the nature of the text, everyone you talk to is going to have a different opinion, perhaps. After the first time I read it, I started thinking about Georges Bataille and his idea of Acéphale – the idea of removing the head, or at least the notion of getting the rid of the distinction between the brain and the body. I guess when I read The Cow I got the idea that you were trying to show that the brain was as much a part of the body as anything else, no more and no less important that any other organ. Could you discuss this? Was this part of your thinking? Has Bataille been any kind of influence?
- The Acephale has been very important to me, yes. Thanks for your insightful question. In fact, I was desperate for the book's cover image to be one I had found on one of PETA's many anti-meat websites-- a decapitated cow upended in a garbage can, with the ruddy arm of a male worker pushing a mop in the background. I've attached the image to this email. Aside from this urgency about reading what happens when the innards of a body are literally splattered with its shit, when the body of the animal has no integrity or person/animalhood, but is rather a unit of production, a mobile site out of which various resources are amped up, extracted.
This of course refers us back to the bodies of death camp victims, which were called "pieces" or "schmattes", "rags", in the camps, and which were put to various practical uses-- hair shorn and woven into rugs, dental gold melted down and rendered into jewels, bone phosphate powder fed to pigs and used as fertilizer.
Despite the fact that our brains are open troughs full of advertising, bullshit, and other garbage, every body's organized to transmit, transmute, bathe in what's a fundamental radiance, life itself. Celan wrote, "The world is gone / I must carry you." When I was writing THE COW I felt the world was gone, and could no longer carry any body. So a body had to carry itself. What would that look like? What would that sound like? Autism? Schizophrenia? Something crying out (and of course when I say "cry out" I am referring to Rilke's First Duino Elegy) inside itself is the opposite of lyric, right, some kind of guttural implosion.
Are there any other writers that have made work focussed around body that you admire?
Well, can I name some people who aren't strictly writers? Marina Abramovic has had an enormous influence on me. Richard Foreman, Diamanda Galas, Gaspar Noe. Alain Resnais.
You've used pieces from Gertrude Stein, William Burroughs, among others, in The Cow. How did you set about doing this? Did you use the cut-up method and act primarily on chance? Or were you very precise in what samples you used?
- Desperatly and maniacally precise. I didn't cut up, except that my brains're already cut up, like most people's. Many of the allusions came out easy from memory, others i circled in books and recopied. The Old Testament stuff tends to be the hardest for people to place, incidentally. I guess people don't read that edition of the Bible much, but I adore its heavy beauty. The stuff from the WR2 website is there for its ugliness. On the other hand some of the Merck Veterinary Manual citations are just beautifully written.
Anything, if it is too allover, recedes into the regularity of its own style. There is nothing so riotous or insane that it doesn't become a kind of wash at a certain level of accumulation. Likewise there is nothing so "direct" or "spare" that doesn't recede into the uniformity of its style after a while. You can get pleasure out of something that stays within its own domain, you can call it good. One of The Cow's most pressing concerns was NOT to have a single style, not to settle upon a correct way of speaking itself, to renounce the possibility of its own completeness, to renounce correctness too.
What have you been working on most recently? A new book? Can you also tell me about the film you're working on? Are you writing a screenplay, or actually making the film yourself?
- Right now I'm working on a book called THANK YOU that's very easy desperate little poems. I have completed a second, more serviceable draft of an essay/novel whose working title was The Hand of Thomas but that I'm now calling THE NEGATIVE; it's basically about Blanchot, Doubting Thomas, Gnosticism, and what I can only call The Visible.
The film's already shot: it's about the disintegration of my grandmother's body; I was thinking of the Maysles brothers, Rodin, and Velazquez when I filmed her; I waned to get very close to what scared the living shit out of me. Editing the film has been slow, but it's a fascinating process for me, and hard, cos so much of the footage is excruciating. I was compelled to do the film because my grandmother's "testimony" had been unsatisfactorily filmed by Steven Spielberg's SHOAH foundation. The visionary filmmaker Ken Jacobs very generously leant me a wonderful handheld mini dv to shoot with, and his daughter, Nisi Jacobs, was a great friend and encourager to me at the beginning of the project. I hope to have it completed by the fall of 2007." - Interview with Thomas Moore