Cassandra Troyan - Her narratives form a feedback loop with the sound a human brain makes as she squishes it under her boot: Please don’t tell anyone I’m crazy. I couldn’t bear for people to be collectively and overly concerned.


Cassandra Troyan, Throne of Blood, Solar Luxuriance, 2013.



“Cassandra Troyan goes for the throat, and once she's in the throat she goes for the gonads, then the brain. No sex is safe, as is no being. Let her re-teach you how to cower.” - Blake Butler

“Troyan's is a voracious language that gurgles itself, spits back up and swallows again only to become a new hungry hole, always phoenixing, always being born, never finished filling. In her 10000 rebirths we can finally see our own wants clearly: stained, wetdreamt, slit and sticky, but innocent in never having been informed why we are alive. This book is very dirty and very, very pure.” - Melissa Broder

“This book will disturb you to the same degree that you should have been disturbed before you read it. Cassandra Troyan's aphoristic poems reminded me that things are grimmer and life is sadder and filthier than I have will to believe, no matter how often I hear about Jersey Shore. Troyan fills her cup with blood and mucous and says "take, drink." She says, "The body is meat. The meat has feels." Her narratives form a feedback loop with the sound a human brain makes as she squishes it under her boot. She can be as abject as Bataille or as sick as Cèline, but through it all, maybe best of all, she is also funny.” - Adam Robinson

Throne of Blood makes me believe Cassandra Troyan chews razorblades and has freezing skin and needles for fingers, but for some reason, I don’t feel like shying away as she comes closer. Maybe it’s because I sense a sort of hidden warmth she has for her demons. They’re like dozens of hands reaching out that scare you, but don’t mean to.
I wet myself over the thought of roses
of making love to a hospital bed.Declarations of sex to bags
filled with liquids substituting
organs now present as witnesses.Walking into the divide an abyss the possibility
of apathy calculations of sentimentality amiss.Ripped out my vein limbs
Love makes you grow.
Honey drips from a sloe-eyed doe.Get cocooned in the sickness
a sweetening sludge.When the IV tubes get sugar clogged
it is obviously because you are selfish
and I am dead.When weighted I materialize.
Let’s just hover until this distance retreats.
When I first started reading fiction as a method of learning about writing, I was obsessed with the grotesque, but it feels like Troyan has leveled up the concept here. For roughly a third of the book, I read the speakers as being inhuman simply because they seemed so far removed from humanity that I refused to believe they could be like me (which sounds like a pretty fine accomplishment to me).
She gets so manic as a child even as a small child who can’t tear herself away from the heat of light into sleep struggles inside with her body damp with fear her gutbrain keeps churning.
“everybody wears just about the same shade of distain rusted by mire a scab a caw like a brokenness born inside a baby. A sickness from the innards she can only be cold. Gutted and raw.”
Those that are human are twisted with desires to lash out, to be scrubbed clean or wholly disfigured, or to be filled to burst, all in hopes of finding some connection to the real. Sex, one of the only avenues of release available to the people of ToB, is so vital that other icons and symbols of vitality become commingled with it into a form of life slurry that fascinates the speaker.
I’m well read but sucked dry. I will grow a thousand thrones be­fore I recede. I will allow small advances before I creep through the slit of your time.
I guess I could grow a fondness for the taste of blood.
My nose it bleeds from lack of use.
Every touch is a wound and the test to smear.
The disgusting people of ToB, all wounded in the head but still hard to pity, build their world around you as you read, and eventually force you into their frame of mind, as is the result of the best grotesque literature. The building anxiety becomes more concrete until transforming into a nightmare where any similarities to reality only heighten the terror.
The architecture of flesh a building
with a building segmented as a scorpion; thickness
as presence rather than protection.
When you have the darkness, you have to play with it in some constructive way or it’ll come out how you don’t want it to.  Plenty of this play is in action in ToB as people both fearfully obsess over and fulfill their most primal fantasies. Cassandra, you wild, loving mother to these fucked-up babies, I hope you can bear more, because I could read this forever. - Shaun Gannon

-Throne of Blood
Throne of Blood begins with a Preamble. The Preamble sets the tone for the book, just like the Preamble to the United States Constitution is a brief introductory statement of the Constitution’s fundamental purposes and guiding principles. Presumably, the poem would provide some of those for this book, Throne of Blood.
• “the drained lake muds with the girls of winter bloated and tangled at the bottom in the wreckage”
• “the smell of dead meat.”
• “the scent of rotting bowels”
• “Myafhhhauckingancaeetchesss, arrreuu stheyismines myown FEEUUCKING MEAAT!andTTTthisisfeeuucuuuckibngMINE!”
• “I slammed his head into the concrete floor”
• Edith Piaf
The Preamble begins with lyrical horror. The narrator is unbothered by dead women crowding the drained lake and the house, even when their bodies are used for decoration or masturbation by the male character. The narrator’s point of view changes when it becomes clear that the male character is the one making women into corpses.
The horror and violence, more specifically, violence against women, casts a long shadow over the rest of the book. Where the Preamble takes on horror in a narrative mode, the rest of the book inverts that formula and approachesit in a more figurative or linguistic or speculative way:
“If there could be a moment of self-realized terror,
where everyone in the world kills his or herself at the same time.”
While, the possibility of horror, fear and dread, are not explicitly present in the rest of the text, the Preamble works as Chekov’s gun, even though (spoiler alert) there isn’t really anything to foreshadow since the remainder of the book is considerably less linear and narrative. Even though the rest isn’t what I would call a story, the poems are still haunted by the dead girls.
I think the book manages to do a lot of things very successfully, from the disgust, horror, and repulsion of the Preamble, to a candid and intimate lyricism that comes later in poems like Fragile Kingdom. That poem could stand as a synecdoche for the work; it seems like text and the design are hardly holding together, dreadfully balanced, about to collapse. The work is annihilating itself, as are most of the narrators. Narrator is maybe a funny word to use since it seems like the concept of narration is not dismissed, but damaged in the work.
The theatre is a fiction
that I have writ myself true to.
Even the layout lends to the reading of the text as flung open, with the words left and right justified on the recto and verso respectively. The titles are on the lower outside corner oriented perpendicular to the rest of the text, reading from bottom to top, which make it particularly easy to simply continue through the text as if it were one long work.
There will always linger a quiver as we repeat the affair again, and again. Rise up on our throne of blood call it CORPSE MOUNTAIN built from what intangibles uncertain.
Search for Throne of Blood, and you find a Japanese film based on MacBeth, which makes a lot of sense. It takes an awful lot of corpses to make a book.
Actually just look at my face please and let me sit on yr chest.
I’m going to punch you in the dick,
spill water on yr 15” MacBook Pro.
I will need more fidelity. I will not give up.
I will show up at yr apartment
and ring the buzzer and wait
outside even after you let me in
and I will breathe through the building
exhaling into the speaker
our face could never be that close.
Sometimes the blood stops flowing, or maybe it doesn’t. This is from The Castle That Only God Knows.  There are multiple distinct tones and voices in the book. While some come from a sort of dream horror world others come from a world with MacBook Pros. Then there are dry lakes full of bodies and head smashing. Then there are poems that are possessed by lyricism. Then there are klonopin poems, lists of side effects, lists of substances consumed.
You’re in an artist loft in Brooklyn in a room full of people drinking
coffee on a Sunday afternoon and you answer the phone and
start speaking Czech and for a moment you almost forgot what it
means to be dead.
Sometimes the least lyrical moments are the most plaintive:
Please don’t tell anyone I’m crazy.
I couldn’t bear for people to be collectively and overly concerned.
Overall the book is harsh, not gentle. It arrives at a sublime through violence, horror, and decay. It is still interested in the sublime.
Reigning over the sublimity of one’s impassioned distance.
Throne of Blood is an impassioned distance. It’s not a thing that can be attained or obtained.
I’m a true romantic so I need you to hit me.
Negation of this disaster
is the only thing that can save it.
Throne of Blood is an explicitly hard work because the hard thing it is doing is trying to approach the sublime through annihilation of the self. This isn’t always an easy thing to do or read. Where at one point the annihilation of the self would have been through the experience of “Nature” or “God” or “Love” here it is the experience of horror, banality, language, sex, and yes, CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICHES. - Leif Haven

Cassandra Troyan's Throne of Blood deterritorializes genre in the most beautifully messy manner imaginable. It simultaneously behaves like fiction, nonfiction, poetry, sci-fi, splatter punk, gorecore, sixth wave, blinker freak, and unapologetic porn. It mutates, squirms, quivers, convulses, never settles down, never behaves, and never offers respite for the reader.
The lusciously disgusting opening passage, which modulates between prose and numbered poetic lines,  
He's sucking the marrow out of a girl's femur so there's enough space to fuck it. It's really too hot for it to be spring.
2. I'm a little dry
evokes a very Bluebeard-esque scenario of chopped up girls dangling from meat hooks. By the fourth page, the text opens up or rather sinks itself in mud as words begin to come unglued from their sentences:
The mud gets so
and tight
on my chest
pushing it to explosion
my nose filling
with the sandy




                        almost see

            my bed

Words then begin to trickle like blood droplets across five pages, visually conveying the sensation of falling to the point where one page houses only the word "down," before coagulating again into prosaic imagery of fucking, choking, gargling, howling, and the suggestion of immanent death.
And this is merely the PREAMBLE.
Pages later we read, "To be a real person is to not be alive." And I whisper that line into the laundry room when nobody is home so I can hear it echo and reverberate against the machines. I wish I was closer to the Grand Canyon. I wish I could be atop a roller coaster in Denver Colorado so I might shout that line as I plummet. "To be a real person is to not be alive!" The speaker might be one of the monster's victims. Or, the speaker might be the monster. Perhaps the speaker is both? Many monsters accumulate trophies. Many victims report moments during their experience where they desired death. To be alive is the briefest of moments in the cosmic scheme of things. And from the perspective of the artist producing challenging work, as Troyan most certainly is, the gratification of the present provides little comfort. This speaks to one of the many commonalities shared by monsters, victims, and artists.
Reports and interviews and scientific studies indicate few monsters find pleasure in the acts they perform. Instead, the pleasure comes from the anticipation and the reflection. The before and after. Similarly, the moment of trespass marks a threshold for the victim, which demarcates the before and after of the unthinkable event. For the artist, too, these observations apply. Most importantly, the before and after are what matters according to Throne of Blood. In the present, we the living are not only worthless, we are not real. We are fakes, phonies, pretenders pretending, performing, acting, mimicking as unauthentically as any horror film.
A quizzical predicament, which only becomes more beautifully confusing as our reading progresses. "If you love someone," page forty stares back at me, "fuck the world. / I don't believe in love because it is real / And I am tethered to the hope through spit." So, in this complicated calculus Troyan creates the idea of aliveness equating with fakeness, and deadness equating with realness. Love is real, and therefore dead. Ergo, loving someone is akin to worshiping death. Indeed, the seething lava of Hades seems to beckon us from every page of this book. The drunken Dionysian jubilee Troyan parades before us entices us to succumb to the forever middle, the before and after that tricks us into believing in the existence of a now: the uncertain, unstable, violent thrashing of existence from moment to moment, alone, afraid, in the dark, surrounded by wolves snarling and snapping at our frail bodies like they are merely juicy slices of meat.
"The real," she tells us, "must be fictionalized in order to be thought." This is the title running along the left-hand margin of page seventy. The question Throne of Blood seems interested in provoking is not the basic ontological question, "what does it mean to be," but rather a more rabidly black and potently nihilistic question: who gives a fuck about being? Or, put in the form of a statement rather than a question: to be is not to be, forget the question.
"IF I COULD JUST NOT BE A HUMAN, LIFE WOULD BE GREAT," says page seventy, nuancing the earlier preoccupation with death, shifting our attention toward becoming other rather than becoming nothing. Of all the moments in the book, this moment seems the most intriguing cri de coeur. Radical alterity: transforming the desire for non-being into the desire to be something other than human. It is hard not to hear theorist Donna Haraway mumbling posthumanist incantations behind this text's meat curtains. To become other, to blur the boundaries between human and machine, human and animal, material and immaterial is what Haraway famously calls becoming cyborg. Troyan's cyborg, however, is a sex machine with a broken pleasure button. Too much pleasure, not enough pleasure. All pleasure and no pleasure. Wet, gyrating, flustered and contorted. Where ejaculation and blood mix with spit and shit to form a greasy, smelly lubrication for ontological transformation. Where resolution is no resolution. Where the truth of falsity and the falsity of truth shine brightly in the face of sheer brutality and gore.
As the end approaches, I can't help but notice how the book acts like what happened never happened, "…to roll over in such / luscious sludge / … / to leave us as sacks / of skin side by side. / so empty and so full." Or, perhaps I am mistaken: maybe it has happened, again and again, so many times we have no choice but to think of ourselves as little more than lost climbers on Corpse Mountain. The swollen bloated flesh of that revelation unsettles me. We are all loosely collated yet chaotic meat sacks with appetites, I know. Objects interacting with other objects. What this book does better than most other books is engage with this experience we call living in a way that never reduces or summarizes, but instead makes more complex, elaborate, and intense. So, while I am reading it in the cold, shallow bathtub after a lightning storm, as I am typing these words in my florescent-lit office cubicle amidst the rousing conversation of medievalist scholars debating the relative merits of Henry VI's attack strategy during The War of the Roses, I feel compelled to go outside and dig a hole the size of a lunchbox in the front yard of the nearest sorority—the Chi Omega house, where in the early morning hours of January 15, 1978, Ted Bundy entered the bedroom of 20-year-old Lisa Levy and beat her unconscious, strangled her, tore one of her nipples, bit deeply into her left buttock, and sexually assaulted her with a hair mist bottle—in order to bury Throne of Blood without watering it. There will be vomit and urine, I am sure of it, someday placed upon its topsoil, for the space assigned to sorority front lawns seems amenable to those fluids, so it holds that someday this book will find another audience as it transforms into the earth and grows like a weed for the killing. Because then, and only then, will it become real. - Christopher Higgs

i'mma sell my guns
By Cassandra Troyan
(Illustrated by Stephen Michael McDowell)


How strange to love a thing like mouthwash.
I would like to gargle your cum.

I want to fuck in the park.
I want to piss on yr chest.
I will smash my clit into yr sternum.

Actually just look at my face please and let me sit on yr chest.

I’m going to punch you in the dick,
spill water on yr 15” MacBook Pro.

I will need more fidelity. I will not give up.
I will show up at yr apartment
and ring the buzzer and wait
outside even after you let me in
and I will breathe through the building
exhaling into the speaker
our face could never be that close.

Go to the bathroom with me.
Come in my mouth in my esophagus
repetitive sexy failures.
It’s so easy to feel that adulthood
is closing in on something
rather than opening up.

The wants of our bodies to all meld together
this one doesn’t like a hip touch
another one no hair tug
because his father used to pull
him by his hair
but you are the only person
who has hurt me how I wanted
and then more than I wanted
until I wanted more.


I dreamt of being with you in bed
but I couldn’t see the bed.
Every time I closed my eyes to try to see,
I was bombarded with an image of a flower
exploding again and again
shivering its path into my vision.

A hatchet forced into the ground
becoming a flag.

I will destroy myself so I won’t need to kill.

To have the strength to stand for your own selfish hate.
To run against a stream of something like disaster.

Look at me, I have a body
and it moves in space
for when the heart gets blunted
head is foggy.

I want to be in a way of thinking that is only feeling.

There is never a time when anything doesn’t matter.
Nothing is inevitable.
Even a wound is a child.

What do you fear?

No tears for the creatures of the night.
They rest in gold milk.

It’s melancholy at golden hour and all we have room for is

Black Bile
Black Bile
Black Bile

It catches your lungs then your wrist like a shackle
as all I really want is for a peacock to stand on my chest.

Is that really too much to ask?
I don’t want children
I just want to be your mother.
I want to hold a rock in my mouth
and offer it you as an egg.

To put grapes in your mouth
and drool through the fruit.
To feel contented by the idea of not thinking, not just
not thinking in the syrup of a want.

I really believe in absolutely nothing except everything
as it’s easy to be afraid of something true. 

How To Become Invisible

Looking out the rear car window, my head tilted back, the sky reminds me of a disappointment that I’ve seen before.

Being here makes me think of what it would be like to be very quiet and slowly pick out my eyes.

I would be willing to do it if it makes you stop talking.

If I never have to see you or anyone ever again.

To the right, there is giant riding lawnmower driving into the distance and disappearing over the hill into a cemetery.

In the morning my mother tries to wake me.
Instead she crawls onto my inflatable air mattress with me in the basement and I can’t remember the last time something felt so real.

I can never return I can never leave

If there could be a moment of self-realized terror, where everyone in the world kills his or herself at the same time.

Moving in the language of blood.

What it means to know how one can feel a sick dig of the helpless into one’s skin.

When you didn’t know the war is over.

When you feel like another one has just begun. There is a long hunger to not die in the ways that we want to. To experience the accident of loss.

The impossibility in knowing that any life you choose is absurd.
The insatiable has product the glitch is proscribed and this fucking entitlement like a line slant, the lever cancel and I can see that what you really want to make is pasta.

To be a real person is not to be alive.

There is distance in a hope for tranquility, to know that if you pull long enough you can become your own enemy.

I feel every method of attraction is only there because there is no other option.
I will teach you to hurt yourself.
You have a blood with wants.


I bought myself a shotgun for my 25TH birthday.

That’s better than something else.

It’s the joke that isn’t funny until you cry, when you smear wet and needy on the dirty fringed rug.

When you laugh you knock the cum plug out of life.

Keys strike each other like a gangbang and on the high chord I notice how everything is unimaginable.
ce sentiment, sentiment ce sentiment de l'amour

The impossibility of knowing someone in a time where they don’t exist.

Its always hardest to lift one’s self from the ground.

If we fuck, let’s end in a position that is good to die in. 

I Was Going Down On You, But The Birds Were Just Coming Up

The awkward alterity,
animated in bloat
as a Russian woman turns heads
in the café. She is leaning
in and spraying
another woman.
She is

I wish I would have let myself lean and let go,
feel that same warm subtle foam,
when we were
caught in the
bathroom making out
confused, the visibly
distraught freshman
alarmed by two women
pressed against the full-length
mirrors, which were asking for
a body to
validate their form.

How your promise to fuck me
but refusing to fuck my life
was most endearing in its hope,
as if fucking me,
and the fuckedness of
my life are not
somehow intertwined
I complied.



I’m terrified of tongues over 50 speeds of grow sandpaper hands and lizard tongue
the need to wraggle dry whip into any opening recoiling countenance no no but
whatelse can I do it presses and peee-ewww-trefies to viscosity frozen and petrifies
into rings and rings arboreal engagement macking racks on racks on racks and we
get faded into fresh forms of heart attack.
Information is held in terms of entrance how to hold resistance in the face of the
lack of knowledge. The ungrammatical as rawness and science is the grossest god
that makes no sense
pushes matter to a new jump.
I like animals against tongues
and conceptual forms of hatred
potential methods of pizza chomping
and saliva portals
science as received cultural knowledge
and aesthetics or organization seeds an atmospheric
why why does it need to be
this text?
what is content but not science
yet only natural history
what is a laboratory and a generation of meaning

slam the body up against
the mind
oh shit
this is getting heavy handed

one’s limits aren’t limits always so apparent based on physical harm and the need to
build boundaries out of fear and what it means to get close to spaces of unwell
unfathomable darkness and all the shame that proceeds it but still a need to get
blackened charred in a ruined flesh of idolatry divoted with injury.
this blood is a curse a curse beyond all rogue repression and you can piss in bottles
and hoard them all around you but still never face that bilious puke that revulsion is
sterile and so are you. what is that object? what does it mean? is a weapon a prop
more than a gesture no the gun just signifies she is fed up.
the want to enter
to traverse the male world
and all that must be conceded
of what to give up
to tie yr breasts with twine
sugar sapped notions
in a rotisserie hate crime
but I

Men make history women get fucked and that is why I walk away with these blow-job cheeks asking you to check my credit score. I know you’re impotent better get extra wedding photographers to better manufacture the tragedy. But first let’s get back to life after jesus to find who bears the real face of the deranged in an amnesiac christening wearing the slip slime as a replacement death mask.
how are you
wanna fuck?
at the Starbucks
do not ever hide yr
cruising urge
tumble to
verify a new codex for
The Magna Carta of
riff apology
as up my alley
is one thing
my urethra is the other

on my side of the plant planet
we are swirled to full misery
you say no feelings just chemicals
because all you can eat is salt.
you want no living particles
no calories
or commitments
just minerals.
Crystalline food courts
‘til you swing low and grunt
to the pharmacist
you make good mixology
lab coat humanoid

I still hope to be dead by 50
and rise into the other world conscience
of kindred ignorance
I only like ugly animals that hate the bright.
We are the only animals here
and in no need of feed
that grizzled kind
bypassed by gristle.
I am so much an animal
I want nothing to do with them
instead cull the gunk laws
and prepare new energy
new stigmas of meaning
the hegemony of indifference
to almost cutting
a catchphrase from yr
busted distaste

but I ain’t finna be nobody’s harlot
and I don’t wanna die
no no not just yet
but I am going to find a way
to continue writing until I hear you say
good morning sunshine how’s yr fever?
and you say,
I would call you a cunt
but you don’t have the depth
or the warmth cuff

puffed up on that

we the hunted
we the branded

stuffed up elbow deep
with the rest of
roped throttled
as my brain recedes
this cellulose wad that smells the coffee burning
takes comfort in a wasted
char makes my head hurt
in a way that’s not unpleasant
just demanding and all I can think of is
where can we find the pioneers?
to search at the risk of finding nothing
as you sit above me
and demand the things I’m too afraid to give
even though
I know you’re not drunk
I am fully willing to play the role of
male rage right now.

Make some,
friendly little slime gal

fuck the lady
save the whore
they’re be more mercy down the windpipe
be sure to crunch
then crouch
I’ll tell you once with splendor
I forgive not
an apology.


I’m sorry
but I didn’t really try.

Artist Statement

Everyday we are met with the impossibility of ourselves. The separation that exists between the meaning we wish to make, and all the quotidian hinderances that prevent our efficacy in the world. My work seeks to investigate the supposedly hidden structures of our desires by rendering visible the daily ways we make meaning in the world, and find ourselves in relation to others. Dancing with people. Coming with people. Smoking or drinking or walking or fighting or crying or talking or standing or sitting together in silence. I am not interested in creating my own micro-utopia. Plenty already exist. I am interested in creating scenes for emotional encounters through the clarity and contradiction enabled by polarities. I focus on embodying the moment of inarticulateness. I believe that in my body of work the aspect of collaboration becomes a material in of itself, or how the seemingly disparate medias at play resemble the friction between the desire for immediate intimacy and recognition for the viewer; and the inability to fill, or reconcile that feeling.
Following the belief of Deleuze and Guattari, if all we have is desire, it can be tempered through different sources and means. Sometimes we wish to transcend the mundane through absurd and pleasured realms with “a nascent subjectivity, which we will continually find in dreams, deliré, creative exaltation, or the feeling of love…” (Guattari, Chaosmosis, 6). Other times perhaps relinquishing delight in materiality can lead not to escape, but the palpable. The hope of putting ourselves and words into a space of action as pleading for enunciation. 

Hi everyone! David Peak, the author of Glowing in the Dark asked me to follow him in this chain letter tagalong blog post because if I don't I think your hair falls out or no one will every love you again. Here's the the rundown: It's a blog series in which the tagged author answers 10 questions and then tags another / other authors who will then do the same thing. There are a lot of writers participating in this series. For a place to start check out: Michael J Seidlinger's post here or Jamie Iredell's post here, and let's not forget Robert Kloss OR Ben Spivey OR Nick Antosca OR Christopher Bundy. (If I forgot someone, apologies!)

1) What is the title of your latest book? 

2) Where did the idea come from for the book? 

Desperation and some sort of thick hung illness. Sick blood stuck in the heart, head, and gut that gets gummed up and squeezed through generations. 

3) What genre does your book fall under? 

An aggregate of: Erotic cannabilism. Psychosexual thriller. Suicide awareness pamphlets. Infomercials. Snuff films.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The Real: Pasta and Lizzie Fitch 
The Virtual: Chloë Sevigny and Dash Snow

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

One murder leads to another, as blood is the currency of longing and potential destroyer of inhibitions.

6) Who published your book?

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The more prose-like moments are from a text I wrote 8 years ago, and had been thinking of ever since. Most of this though was written in a whirlwind winter of desperate hell.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In terms of the affective register, rather than purely based in form, I would say: Ariana Reines’s “MERCURY” means quite a bit along with Blake Butler’s “There Is No Year,” and Lauren Berlant’s “Cruel Optimism.” Kathy Acker’s “My Mother: Demonology: A Novel” and Dennis Cooper’s “The Sluts”.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Indebtedness to a feeling of the familial, and how being out of control is the only way to make one feel sovereign.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is really little held back, and with that comes a rawness to be appreciated and dwelled in. 

Thanks for inviting me David! And please peruse this block of link filled text. Next up to thrash it out is Natalie Shapero. She was one of my TA’s for a creative writing course at OSU, and she is no doubt a stunner through and through. Her collection of poetry, No Object, will be released by Saturnalia Press, March 2013 (which I know, is not a novel, but we gotta keep things rolling, especially with the female influence.) 


on the occasion of the second printing of her book, THRONE OF BLOOD
Tell me about the genesis of THRONE OF BLOOD. What did you start with, and how did you shape it into a book?
The manuscript had a long and varied development. I started writing the Preamble and Interludes when I was around 18, and finished shortly after. I had an amazing mentor and friends who introduced me to Bataille, Guyotat, Mirbeau, Barbusse, de Sade, etc. when I was fairly young. I found myself writing out of this historical sentiment, yet I wanted to find a language attenuated to the violence of being female, and what a world-making project involving those dynamics would look like. In terms of an audience, or understanding what to do with the work, I was a bit confused. It almost got lost in some folder until I returned to it years later.

Tell me about how the book is constructedyou start out with a “Preamble,” and then cut back and forth between poems & occasionally more narrative “Interludes.” This frame ends up giving a form to the book as whole instead of just reading as unconnected poems. Was this your intention?
Maybe not initially, but I feel even when I try to compose a collection of just poems, it falls flat for me. I’ve been thinking recently about the notion of an “exploded novel” or as I sometimes call THRONE OF BLOOD, a “poetic novella”. So many forms of narrativity can deliver the transfer of one’s aesthetic ideals, and I believe finding the right construction is one of the most essential parts. These arguments though, of against conceptualism, or against affect seem so stilted and backward. I consider my project to be both simultaneously, as since when did the realm of feeling become detached from thinking? Utilizing these influences has great instinctual powers that shouldn’t be denied, especially when guided through functional and mediated forms of structure.
You’re also a performance & video artist. How does all of your work intersect? Do you consider one medium (writing, performance, video) more “important” than another, or is the work you produce in each medium an extension of the other, creating a network of thematically & conceptually similar work? I’d say it’s really easy to link it all together, being familiar with it, but I’m curious as to your approach to it.
I made a feature length film for my graduate thesis, called THE SACRIFICIAL TEMPTATION OF THE VOID: (AS NIGHT SLOWLY FALLS, WE MAKE LOVE), which could some day ideally be seen in a larger context or suite of works with THRONE OF BLOOD. These varied elements are all part of my practice at large, and the propulsive force to attempt to have a vision without trying to wrangle everything so hard that the pleasure of the confusion gets destroyed. It is also a good way to feel inadequate, or insatiable. You do all the right moves in one medium, yet they do not necessarily transfers to the knowledge or form of another. I mean this superficially and otherwise. Besides rare crossover, some people know that I make films/videos, but not about my writing or performance, or vice versa.
I often engage the negation of something like a practice of stuckness, by finding ways to let that complacency become a positive notion. Recently I was very struck by this talk of Sara Ahmed’s called “Things that get Stuck: On will, walls and willfullness”. In re-attenuating one’s self to objects and materials this practice provides the basis for a queer narrative of attachment and world-making, and as Hannah Arendt says, “the will is the organ of the future”. I see everything in my praxis as a very interwoven and complicated process of attraction and rejection. Severing and attaching the necessary pull/pulse I do several things at the same time, and it usually doesn’t feel right unless it is maddening. Before I can go to sleep at night I need to work myself into a frenzy of exhaustion if I even hope to still my compulsions. As Janey says in Kathy Acker’ s Blood and Guts in High School, “Dreams cause the vision world to break loose our consciousness. Dreams by themselves aren’t enough to destroy the blanket of dullness. The dreams we allow to destroy us cause us to be visions/see the vision world. Every day a sharp tool, a powerful destroyer, is necessary to cut away dullness, lobotomy, buzzing, belief in human beings, stagnancy, images, and accumulation.”
The title of your book is also the title of an Akira Kurosawa film. Any connection/inspiration there? Why did you choose THRONE OF BLOODas the title of your book?
Yes, very much so. Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD is actually an adaptation of Macbeth, which is literally covered in blood. The Queen who cannot wash the stains of guilt off her hands as the entirety of the play becomes a metaphor for the lust of power through the stain of hypocritical arrogance. The retaliation for the murders of the women in the beginning plays like a refrain throughout the entirety of the work as a guilt-ridden pain courses through familial, medical, and psychological trauma.
Much of your work seems to be about bringing a sense of gravitas to something absurd, whether it’s the horrible fucked-up reality of existence, or something as banal and pervasive as pop culture. As I am someone generally opposed to contemporary cultural referents in art (as I often find they immediately date a work or sit as shallow gimmickry), I find your use of pop culture refreshing. Your allusions & direct references aren’t the subject of any of the work, rather they pervade the word in the same way they creep into the world at large, and they speak in your work as pure fucked-up absurdity. How do you approach pop culture?
Pop culture is the endless circling cesspool that desecrates as it revives. As much as I feel Capitalism has destroyed the possibility of contemporary life, and how that pains me, I cannot ignore it. There is no “away”. It is the sensorial theater of the absurd. During the whole twerk-apocalypse, if you looked at google statistics for searches in the US, Miley Cyrus was trumping Syria hard, which is insane but sadly not surprising. Yet even for me there are some days where I read Al Jazeera and Huffington Post or OMG! in equal parts. This quality of seepage, or the transfer between high and low, I think Janice Lee touched on it a few days ago when she discussed Glenum’s and Klaver’s work in relation to Lauren Berlant’s ideas about the juxtapolitical. Too much seepage is toxic, and still maintains the prominence of hegemonic culture, unless it gets queered enough to complicate and disintegrate the work of commodification or the reproduction of the status quo.
Since I know you are constantly working on things, can you tell me what you’re working on right now?

Right now I am editing a manuscript called “Kept In Lacerated Light (KILL MANUAL)” which is a combination of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, clinical trial results, operational procedures, and biblical verses. I’ve realized my project will always involve violence to some degree, but the dynamics are constantly fluctuating in terms of intensities and affective registers. I’m also writing on a longer novel-ish piece that is a sort of “cunt-up” (in reference to Dodie Bellamy, of course) of Fifty Shades of Grey, and re-writes the work as a schizo-remapping of submission to late-Capitalism and consumption as the 21st century romantic model. In terms of film/video work, I’m working on a new series called A CURE FIT FOR A KING, which I describe as “A hysterico-environmental dreamworld set at the edges of capitalism, A CURE FIT FOR A KING, cycles through endless rabbit holes of Midwest despair and absurdity only to find further economic collapse, failure of masculinity, and the ever-present bee plight.” And I have a show next month in Malmö, Sweden with my collaborator and friend, Ola Ståhl at KRETS where we will have a multi-channel video installation and several hand-bound books as a part of interdisciplinary project that we have been working on for the past four years. The project is based in translation, immigration, opticality while exploring narratives around migration and itinerant labour from the unpublished memoirs of a Swedish immigrant in the US during the first decades of the 20th Century. - Intervew by Mike Kitchell

Interview With Filmmaker Cassandra Troyan

          Coup de Foudre, Part I of The Ascent of the Behemoth Trilogy.

Cassandra Troyan, my erstwhile roommate, collaborator, and friend, is a filmmaker, performance artist, and poet who has just released a chapbook with her brother, Cody Troyan, called Big Bill and the Lonely Nation. At the Wexner Center earlier this year Ron Green, an Associate Professor of Film Studies at OSU, dedicated his lecture on the emergence of the film loop to Cassandra, as well as to other OSU alumni Stacie Sells, Randy Hunter, Karl Baumann, Matthew Swift, and Nicolette Swift for pursuing the realization of experimental film and video at a university that doesn't even bother to offer a program for film production. But don't fret, Cassie has since transcended such dire circumstances and now finds herself a MFA candidate at the University of Chicago.

I interviewed her almost a year ago about the three-part film she made with Stacie Sells entitled The Ascent of the Behemoth Trilogy. That interview, partially updated to reflect time + reality, is after "the jump."

James Payne: The form your art usually takes outside of film is what one might call “performance” in that it involves the body.  It seems like much of what is inside your films is body-based as well. In the two films that you’ve done with Stacie Sells, which are called…

Cassandra Troyan: The first is Part I called Coup de Foudre and Part II is Je M’en Fous. They are both part of what is called the Ascent of the Behemoth Trilogy.

JP:  And what would they translate as?

CT: Coup de Foudre is a pun that means love at first sight but literally translated it means lightning strike or lightning blow. That meaning is also a play on coup de foutre, which can mean “fuck blow” or “cum shot.” Je M’en Fous can mean “I don’t give a damn” or “I don’t care.” 

To what you were saying before, with Part I, a lot of it does consist of performance tableaux and they are present in Part II as well. They can be seen individually or they can be shown as a collective piece. Part III, which is pretty much done now, still uses performative elements but it changes perspective so that it is almost like how we perform in the real world. Part III looks at the world in a performative sense and how color, light, music, and movement can all be ways of projecting this alternative vision and language. 

I’m interested in a new feminine discourse that I consider to be exemplified in the work of Pipilotti Rist. She is a feminist and her work is exploring those modes but not in a predictable way. Her work doesn’t follow the protocol of 1970s feminist film theory or that of filmmakers like Yvonne Rainer or Carolee Schneemann. She isn’t doing things as they should be, in terms of refusing to be an object of the gaze, and using her body in possibly desirable ways.


JP: What interests you about feminism or a feminist discourse?

CT: Well, I would consider it more of a feminine discourse, meaning that it is not just about feminism but what it means to be a woman and what the supposed inherent qualities are of that. Yet my particular vision is colored by thousands of different facets that expand beyond just about being a woman - all of my different relations, experiences, thoughts, and ideas play into this vision. Being a feminist is a part of that but there are many other things involved as well. There are larger constructs at work in society, such as the structure of power, which can either constrain or enable and possibly empower women through its recognition and use. My interest is in continuing this conversation and seeing the different ways it can be expanded by opening it up in a joyful, playful way.

JP: What do those terms, “feminist” and “feminine,” mean to you in particular?

CT: Feminism is important to me in the sense that we still live in a patriarchal society where women are not equal to men. For me, that is something I feel strongly about because a lot of my recognition of the world comes from that first initial difference. Everyone has their unique experiences and I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be a working-class Latina woman - I’m a white girl that grew up in the suburbs. But feminism is something that I feel strongly about and I can actually have some real sense of what I am saying through what I have experienced without diverging into essentialist claims; my subjectivity is strongly rooted in this idea.

JP: Are you interested in working inside that discourse because the rest of the critical social lenses aren’t as authentic for you to comment through? That you couldn’t say anything important about being poor or experiencing the brunt end of racism as much as you could say about sexism?

CT: Yes, I feel it is being more honest. For me, it is addressing feminism but doing it in a way where it is more than intricate theory - though I am interested in using critiques of spectatorship and The Gaze and breaking it down from that history so that it can explain an idea beyond itself. In terms of feminism, it is also about being honest while at the same time recognizing my white privilege and white guilt. My family’s socio-economic situation is different now but I did grow up in a white suburban middle-class family.     

 JP:  The Gaze is complicated in the Ascent of the Behemoth since you - a female filmmaker - are using your body, constantly making the choice to film it, choosing to film it in ways that are sadistic, masochist, possibly sexual, and in a language that is not exactly clear in its intentions. Why does that approach interest you?

CT:  That is what I am talking about in terms of a new feminine discourse and I think a lot of these questions are really relevant to feminism today and that they are the reason there is not a currently defined stage or wave. Even though I am a feminist with the ideas I might have about spectatorship and the objectification of women, I cannot ignore that I am still a sexual being and that I am a sexual being as a woman. 

The figure that is used in Behemoth is not quite a character but rather a manifestation of the idea of feminine desire called the “Behemoth of Desire.” That figure is where I am usually dressed but naked from the waist down and wearing a jackalope plaque as a mask. This is all in reference to what you were saying about being sexualized but simultaneously that character is the manifestation of these ideas of being a woman and how I don’t want to be overly sexualized or objectified but I still want to be desired. 

This is similar to someone like Pipilotti Rist as she uses the female body specifically because it is overly sexualized and that becomes her way of addressing it - by recognizing it. That is opposed to older generations of feminist filmmakers where the body just dropped out of their work or it became a very static body - like Carolee Schneemann’s work. She stopped using her body because she felt it became too commodified within society. I want to perform the body and enliven it through ideas of desire and action. 

The "Behemoth of Desire" character.

JP: Why is it that the Behemoth of Desire is signified by a jackalope? 

CT: The jackalope is a character that is entirely man-made.  It does not exist in nature, meaning that it is on the fringe. It’s a sort of monster so it becomes grotesque in its inability to be defined. The character then uses this as a way to deal with the juxtaposition of being a woman and wanting to be desirable while not being objectified. 

JP: Where did you find it?  

CT: It’s my father’s.  

Troyan at home with her father.

JP: Why did he have it? 

CT: He’s strange. A lot of my work comes out of this relation to objects and found images and sounds which personify an idealistic American aesthetic, or what it means to be an American, which relates to my project “the American Anthology.” In other pieces with fencing masks, bull horns, the jackalope, and in the end of the Trilogy, Part III, my father himself is present as he plays Russian folk songs on his accordion.

JP: Would a viewer of Behemoth have to be educated within the discourses of feminist history to perceive that the use of your body has more meaning than “just” a half-naked woman wearing a jackalope mask?

CT: This is really important - I was just speaking to someone about this the other day. For example, Lady Gaga says she is a feminist and she is using her body in these weird ways as a cyborg-like creature, and through these bodily mutations it could be said that she is doing the same thing - how do you know if it is purposeful? I don’t think she knows what she’s doing and I don’t think it’s the history of a discourse that needs to be fully known but greater attention needs to be paid to the intention. I question some of Lady Gaga’s motives for suddenly associating herself with Feminism. 

My work hinges both ways. For example, when I ask my collaborator, Stacie Sells, to push my head back down into the water again and again, it becomes the linchpin of the action that allows it to turn back and forth and be interpreted in different ways. At times it could appear to be sadomasochist but then it is me who is requesting the gesture. It is never that I am blatantly naked or that I am presenting myself, it is usually juxtaposed with a confusing, awkward, or tense situation that makes the readability indefinite. I am ok with interpretations of sexual fetishization: with the “Drowning Piece” people have mentioned autoerotic asphyxiation and I think that reference is there. I’m not against those references but it takes looking beyond that initial image to see the other place markers that are there. There is something else going on.

JP: Why do you think so much Body Art, at least the kind that is now canonized, hinges on pain instead of pleasure? When you are asking to be strangled or drowned it seems to be in the same vein of much of Chris Burden’s or Marina Abramović’s work…

CT: That approach was used in Part II and now Part III focuses more on pleasure. The trilogy is by no means narrative but it moves through a chronology of ways in which we are socialized in our gender through the bombardment of images in society. Part II focuses on actions, which I am usually performing, but still plays against societal boundaries creating a sense of conflict. Part III, along with the other work I am doing now, does focus specifically on ways of looking at a pleasured female embodiment and that it doesn’t necessarily have to be painful self-infliction. Hannah Arendt talks about the idea that violence and power never go hand in hand and I think some of the performance work in the 1970s tried to be empowering by utilizing violence. Marina Abramović’s work, though violent, was more spiritual and about pain to the point of endurance that would push one into a new spiritual state, so I think pleasure was still involved in an interesting way.

JP: Do you view the distinct performance parts in Part II as documentation or as inherently part of the film? You said you show them alone on occasion but are they still parts of the film? When shown alone are they titled, “an excerpt from Ascent of the Behemoth” or is it addressed as performance documentation?

CT: I have shown the individual pieces at a gallery before and I considered it an excerpt from this larger piece. Those pieces were specifically done in mind for the video that we made but I was still concerned about the performative element and that it only is done one time. Something can be lost with repetition, even though I consider most acts experiments. They are still performance pieces but I view them in a filmic way as they relate to one another - the suffocating piece, the drowning piece, and the choking piece.

JP: Do you storyboard your films first or do you execute different ideas and then arrange them together in a cohesive way later?

CT: No, we don’t storyboard. Sometimes things just happen. There is usually something that we know will be an event, which is a pinnacle, and then there are different images, music, and colors which are pulled in by that event and it weaves itself together. But towards the end, especially for Part III, we had all these parts and it was about seeing how they fit together. It becomes about playing around and seeing what things work in relation to one another and how they speak to each other. That is where pleasant surprises may emerge.

JP: What is the ideal viewing situation you have in mind for the trilogy? If, let’s say, Mr. Film Festival, asked what you would like - considering what you’ve said about possibly separate tableaux, a possible modular arrangement, and the lack of narrative in the succession of the three.

CT: I’d like to see them together when it’s completed, especially since the whole trilogy is only about an hour. I think it’s watchable but with experimental film that can be challenging at times. When I watched Part II with Chris Stults, (Assistant Curator of Film and Video at the Wexner Center for the Arts) at the end he said, “Oh, that didn’t feel like 23 minutes,” where if you are watching experimental film that is bad it can feel endless, even torturous.

JP: Did you do any film before this?

CT: Artistically, it is my first film. Prior to this I learned how to edit on Avid and Premiere but that was in relation to telecommunications and journalism.

Troyan with Nicole Langille as VITALForms. At The Statehouse. 2009.

JP: You make films with Stacie Sells and perform with Nicole Langille. You have these two different partnerships and rarely work without a collaborator. What is the appeal of working collaboratively?

CT: The body of my work is performance but a large part of my practice is collaboration, which I consider to be a material itself, and the different discourses that arise out of that. Stacie and I have been working together for almost two years. Nicole Langille and I work together as VITALforms and we deal with ideas of love, desire, intimacy, and how those relate politically to the relation of bodies in public space. I also work with Red76 and Zefrey Throwell. I sometimes do actions by myself but I find it more interesting to see what work comes out of different collaborative relations and what aspects are similar and how variable interactions are with each person. And I recently started writing poetry again which led to releasing a collaborative chapbook with my brother, Cody Troyan.

JP: Inside your working relationship with Stacie Sells - what is it that she brings and what do you bring?

CT: When we first started it was very specific. I was studying film with Ron Green, an Associate Professor of Film Studies in the History of Art Department at OSU, and I wanted to start actually realizing experimental video work and he suggested talking to Stacie. From that point we started talking and we began to propose ideas we had and started working together. The first video, which, not that I hate it now, but it is extremely didactic, and heavily theoretical, and there is not as much of a synthesis between the aesthetic and theoretical as we each wanted. I was theoretical and Stacie’s vision was aesthetic and she also provided the technical skills.

But with Part II we had a blended process where we equally shared in the direction of the project and we knew where our strengths were. In Part III, most of my aesthetic ideas are motivated through motion, action, or songs, and Stacie is inspired by more abstract and color-induced visions, reminiscent of 1960s and 1970s experimental film, like Stan Brakhage or Paul Sharits

We both do everything together but in the beginning we didn’t really know what we were doing.

JP: Where have you shown Behemoth and is it available to watch online or to purchase?

CT: We have screened Part I at the Athens International Film and Video Festival in Athens, Ohio and the Ingenuity Film Festival at the Video Salon in Cleveland, Ohio. An excerpt, Untitled (drowning), was shown at Gallery 138 in New York City.

I have a Vimeo site and so does Stacie and we make everything available to watch there. The aesthetics of display are important but I feel that it is more important to actually share the work and make it readily available to everyone.

JP: That strikes me as different from most of the filmmakers that you are influenced by. You have to go to university, or now,, to even see some of their work since so much of experimental film is criminally difficult to access.

CT: I hope that people use Vimeo,, and YouTube, and find ways to utilize these sites beyond social networking - as a means of displaying and sharing work. But I’m serious about being an artist so I guess I have to find some way to make money from this.

JP: Grants. Or you could just sell DVDs.

CT: Well, most people just sell the hard-drive and projectors. That becomes the way that galleries sell multi-channel video installations.

JP: But you don’t want to do that. You would likely have to take it offline.

CT: I know. I am more interested in selling DVDs for $5, something that is reasonable and affordable. It’s a problem for me when I see a video piece that is on sale for $25,000.

JP: No one will ever see it again.

CT: Exactly.

JP: There is that difference. It can’t be easily reproduced on a postcard or put it into an art history book, or just a small…

CT: Video still?

JP: Well, not the same. I don’t think a video still really tells you much about someone’s work even if it is covered in every book on avant-garde film. If you haven’t seen the whole of a film it’s basically impossible to comment on it.

CT: Like Robert Beavers, who pretty much refused to show anywhere except this outdoor screening in Greece and people who are serious Beavers enthusiasts make these pilgrimages to go there. I think there is something amazing in that.

JP: But how would they have even known about his work if he had always done that?

CT: This situation is very specific to film and video, cinephiles are some of the most insanely obsessive collectors or followers, in the sense that they think viewing a work in its ideal or finest form of presentation is the only way to view it. But I don’t think of my work like that.

JP: Do you only use video?

CT: Just digital video, SD and HD.

JP: What is the reasoning behind restricting most of Behemoth to black and white?

CT: Part III is very much infused with color but the choice for the black and white is partly aesthetic but also relates to and creates the ambience of the film…

JP: Is it that signal, “This is an Art film, it’s in black and white, there are French inter-titles, you can hear Hitler speaking…”

CT: No, no, no. I mean, I am interested in the idea of playing with the lines of art film prototypes, or the stereotypes of the genre. I love Godard and thinking in those terms, like in the beginning of Part II when there is Russian music and a gauzy perception which pulls in and then almost becomes a flicker film that calls to mind an early filmic Romanticism yet disassembles it through the disintegration of the image. Part II is in color and it leads into Part III which deals with this grandiose voice that is constantly shifting. So it is this conflict between insane laughter, but then it drops out into silence, and then when it comes back it brings the color with it.

A flyer I made for the premiere of Behemoth at SAIC in Chicago, Illinois.

JP: What are your inspirations? Or how did you get interested in video?

CT: Well, when I took Ron Green’s class that focused on women’s experimental cinema - that is what really influenced my work today. But I have always loved film, even from a young age. In terms of the women’s experimental canon: Leslie Thornton, Abigail Child, Peggy Ahwesh, Su Friedrich

JP: Basically everyone that was in Robin Blaetz’s book Women’s Experimental Cinema?

CT: Yeah, that great book. Those filmmakers inspired me to begin creating but before that I had been a pretty heavy filmgoer and film lover, especially in the last five or six years. I mean, of course the French New Wave, early silent films by D.W. Griffith, F.W. Murnau, G. W. Pabst, Carl Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Yasujiro Ozu, Erich von Stroheim, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, etc. I have always admired the ambience of those films, the great contrast in the images, the extreme drama and sense of urgency. German Expressionism, Russian cinema, everything within contemporary Eastern European cinema. I love the dreary soberness created in the atmosphere in Bela Tarr, Andrzej Wajda, Jiri Menzel, Vera Chytilova, Milos Forman, Krzystof Kieslowski, Jan Svankmajer, Dusan Makavejev, but within all of the believable and unbelievable worlds created by these directors, there is usually a prevailing sense of play and witticism that escapes from the bleak, all except Tarr, for him there is no escape.

JP: What role does sound play in your films? What are you thinking about in terms of it and how is it being realized?

CT: In Part I the sound usually matched the cacophony of the images without directly relating to them, making the viewer think instead of the role of the images we are submersed in on a day-to-day basis. Much of the audio was from television, movies, literature - references to pop culture. But now, music is really important. I don’t know what it is or what it means exactly but I think that is what is amazing about the use of music. Intuitively I might feel that there is a relative purpose, whether it is personal, or possibly even nostalgic. Especially in Part II with the use of “Moon River.” 

The juxtaposition of me appearing as the “Behemoth of Desire” character in a canoe and slowly paddling into the scene and exiting the screen while the song is playing enters into the narrative that the song suggests. But the fact that I am going off into the sunset and then it cuts out and then enters in again at the end when it layers over itself again and again - it destroys this expected beauty through the destruction of the voice and the climax of the song deteriorates as it drops out.

JP: And you used the Hitler voiceover to invoke what exactly, what were you trying to accomplish in Part I with that selection of voice?

 CT: I know it’s an extremely loaded reference and I wasn’t trying to use it as a low blow, or an easy target, because it’s almost too easy. I wanted to use it in an archaeological or historical sense, that it is this artifact from the past, which personifies human suffering and struggle. It was not so much specifically about Hitler, but rather, an iconic male voice of power, but it is extremely difficult for the viewer as you can’t or shouldn’t detach him from his violent context - it’s not possible.

JP: It was very blunt as you had all these other messages going on that culminate with the image of the lava and the burning of Joan of Arc and then suddenly you hear Hitler’s voice and you go, “whoa.” It is strong. I can understand why you would pick for that effect, but I wasn’t sure if that was what you were going for.

CT: What do you mean by that? 

JP: Were you drawing a straight parallel or was it more of an atmospheric allusion linking it to the idea of male repression or was it neither of those? 

CT: The idea of male repression is definitely linked but I’m not trying to distinctly say it’s just about Hitler. There is Hitler’s voice but there are also other cultural references; there is a line from a James Bond movie where he says, “the job is done, the bitch is dead.” Obviously, I was specifically using Hitler, but it can go both ways. Some people think it’s a cheap shot and others have been offended.  

Recent collage by Troyan for a mail-art show at Skylab gallery.

JP: Do you view your work through the lens of activism? Does it have an activist component to it, in terms of enlightening someone towards some goal? Or are you just “investigating?

CT: I wouldn’t say activism so much as I would say that it is political. Most of my work is political but I don’t necessarily know how much my work is propelling others to act. I am very much making statements, that to even watch this video initiates a conversation beyond itself by re-presenting everyday ideas and images in a less obvious manner. I hope that through my investigations I am informing people and making a statement and that it’s not just completely obvious and inconsequential. I want people to realize the power of these images and the ways that we use them and how we are affected by them and how we can be more conscious of the ways they are used against us or persuade us.  

JP: If making statements is one of your goals, wouldn’t it help the comprehensibility of those statements if your films weren’t in such an aesthetically radical vein? It seems that only a certain subset of people would actually be interested in watching it.

CT: I think the way in which they are created helps, even though they are not narrative, they all move pretty rapidly, and have stimulating variety.  I have shown these to people who have no background in experimental video or film, and they actually quite like them. Maybe they don’t see everything that I see but that is alright with me. There are multiple levels of understanding, even if you only find it intriguing on an aesthetic level, there are still a lot of political elements even in the aesthetic portion. That is also my interest for making it readily available by putting it on the internet and making it accessible to more than just the extremely classified experimental genre of filmmaking. I show these to my Grandmother and she likes them and understands them.  

JP: What do you view the end goal of feminist thought to be?

CT: The point and conflict in the structure of current feminist thought comes from the fact that there is no single unifying goal, we don’t have suffrage or basic reproductive rights to fight for. I think feminism is much more of an abstract construct now since it isn’t specifically goal-oriented, which makes it more confusing. Now, for me, it’s about initiating a new feminine discourse and the different ways that the body can be articulated through this performing of the pleasured female body. There needs to be more representations of this embodiment, showing the body in the way that it doesn’t have to be in pain, or making it the alien, distant object. One of the people who I think is succeeding and doing this best is Pipilotti Rist.  

JP: So to clarify, for you it’s about the idea of regaining the body as a site of pleasure and not regarding it as something that’s alien? 

CT: It’s also about looking at desire and how it can be a part of the body. There is a tendency to examine the body intellectually until it is theorized to death but in the end we still have to face that we have bodies.  

JP: Are you viewing feminism strictly from personal interactions or through a political context or a media-viewing, spectatorship perspective? Which “level” of feminism are you referring to? I feel you are not talking about distinct political goals but of an idea of being able to get to a point where you can reclaim how you view and are viewed - or is it that this personal viewing is a larger political metaphor?  

CT: It is very much a personal is political idea but it is cultural politics as well. I really love and admire the work of Judith Butler but her texts almost stray away from the physical body at times through the terse language of academia. I think there needs to be something of the sensual, like in the work of theorists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous. I want to articulate the problems of the body through the body, with video. Much of my thought is based in a theoretical discourse but I am interested in the different possibilities that the body can enunciate better than the written word.  

JP: So you are not speaking of feminism in the sense that we need to pass such and such legislation, which relates more to the first and second generation of feminists. 

CT: Right, I would say that I am invested in the instance of change, where I think it can exist beyond legislative means - the other places where it is more likely to occur. Most of the problem is that women’s bodies have been dictated to us by so many other people and organizations for so long that we haven’t had a chance to speak for ourselves.
People, especially pop-culture icons, then choose to perform certain ideas through the body, by coming forward and saying that they are feminists or particularly strong women, but they are saying it with their bodies in really sexualized ways. To me, that becomes concerning in that we are now in this weird limbo where the word “feminist” doesn’t mean anything and many of the women who I know who are feminists are too afraid or confused to say so and don’t know - are we third wave, are we fourth wave, what’s going to happen? Do we need to completely drop out and begin again? Some of these media figures seem to be strange scraps of an empowered moment. Now all we have is, “yeah, look at me, I’m so empowered with my razorblade sunglasses.” Bizarre fetishism is not an answer to the question and who is it that they are performing for anyway?

JP: I wonder how much of that confusion comes from the cloistering of political thought into hyper-specialized departments, like Women’s Studies or Peace studies. And perhaps the way to differentiate yourself in that environment is to make experimental films or other esoterica for people who “already know” – like maybe the isolation is not as productive as one may think. Perhaps it would be good to have an anarchist in Fisher Hall. Or at least there needs to be some non-specialized articulation of feminism in the public sphere that isn’t so amorphous as to include everything or so specialized as to be indecipherable so people in the mainstream media can’t pass the “Lady Gaga is a feminist, she wears weird clothes, she must be empowered.” 

CT: I mean, that is what she said about her razorblade sunglasses, she said they made her feel strong and sexy and empowered. Or another pop culture figure like Megan Fox, who also claims to be a feminist by claiming that she is a bitch and she knows it, which is strangely transforming into this embracing of… 

JP: Girl Power.  

CT: Yeah, exactly! This empowering through the act of “girling.” This Spice Girls resurgence of female identity is coming back in a frightening way, since it is the essentially the same. It’s only a façade.  

JP: You were a History of Art student? 

CT: Yes and Film Studies minor.  

JP: You have always lived in Columbus? Grew up in Gahanna? 

CT: Yep. Born and raised. Except for living in Paris, France and Berlin, Germany for a while.

JP: Are you going to continue doing film as you leave for Chicago and Stacie stays? 

CT: Yeah.

JP: Are you going to work without a partner? 

CT: I do other projects by myself. I just recently traveled to Scandinavia for the summer and did a lot of filming there. I’m working on a piece from footage taken in Sweden. I am also collaborating with Ola Stahl who is also a member of Red76, and we are doing this multi-disciplinary project with several people. Ola is a writer and sound artist, Kajsa Thelin is an archivist, and Jesse Kauppila Boardman is a printmaker, and I’m doing the video portion. Each of us is enlivening the written and translated text of Ola’s great uncle who was a journeyman in Sweden and the Pacific Northwest in the early 20th century. The journal is being used as an experimental template for utilizing the poverty of this uneducated man’s language in an abstract way, through multiple translations. 

       A recent video by Troyan.

JP: And you have a blog? 

JP: What is it about? 

CT: My blog is a reflection of my practice, which is largely collaborative, and highlights that and links to work that I did last Fall at CCAD as I was the Bureau for Open Culture Correspondent for the show Descent to Revolution. There were five artist groups who were in residency, from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Mexico, as well as Red76 who is pretty international. I performed a text for Learning Site, workshops and collectives, such as MFK, the Malmoe Free University for Women, which was held at 16beaver in NYC.  

An Interview with Cassandra Troyan about the EAR EATER Reading Series

Cassandra Troyan & Sara Drake run a (somewhat) monthly reading series out of their apartment in Chicago. Having attended a few of the readings myself, I found myself particularly interested in what Troyan & Drake have accomplished: each reading series brings together (mostly young) people from various backgrounds (though mostly related to the arts/humanities) into an enclosed space to hear 4 or 5 readers. The events straddle the line between house party & art opening (and indeed, at one event there was art displayed on the walls), but it’s the words that get center stage here. I sent Cassandra a few questions through Facebook about the reading series, and hey here they are:
M: I am always interested in the way that people who take a D-I-Y approach to life manage to turn private spaces (the home, for instance) into public, communal spaces. Living in a “college town,” as I’ve spent my entire life doing, it seems more likely to find people at a huge house party than a bar or “club.” When it comes to event spaces, I also often find the non-affiliated to be more comfortable, even more rewarding. People have art shows in their apartment to escape the realm of an institutionalized sense of curation, people have bands play in basements to crowds of many to avoid booking agents and dealing with venue crap, and now you & Sara Drake have opened up your apartment as an area for readings, something that seems to happen most often at bars or academic spaces. What circumstances found you guys deciding to start the Ear Eater reading series?
Cassandra: Much of the circumstances you mention are similar to the experiences and situations shared by Sara and I, which all influenced the desire to create EAR EATER. I went to undergrad at the behemoth institution, Ohio State University, in the notoriously college-run town of Columbus, Ohio. I think precisely because of this, most of my social interactions turned more traditionally private spaces into sites of collectivity.

Sara and I both came from a specific mid-west DIY/punk mentality, based in communal living or punk houses. We often say we don’t trust anyone who didn’t go through a “punk stage.” I’ve spent a lot of time in basements.
I think much of our desire was precisely to find a way to bridge across the realms of stilted boredom in more traditional academic settings, or the kind of distracted drunkenness of readings in bars. People are often more interested in getting their next drink rather than the reading itself. And yet, I don’t think trying to ignore the social register by inserting the situation into a lecture hall with a podium helps either. Having it in our apartment allows us freedom in creating an appropriate structure and atmosphere. There is still drinking, where one particularly infamous EAR EATER was kind of curated around this drink that Megan Boyle invented called “the Tully Bomb,” a shot of tequila dropped into a glass of Four Loko named after Stephen Tully Dierks, dear friend of mine and editor of Pop Serial. What happened after that is a bit hazy besides eating numerous bananas with Sam Pink and talking about Lacan and waking up in a pile of Dada books, but basically what I’m saying is that the home provides a space for experiencing the lived-in chaos of the everyday. It becomes a space that is auto-poetic, in that through its’ organizing it also continually produces and reproduces itself.
M: In a sense, you (& Sara) are “curating” the authors that you have read during the Ear Eater events. In my experience, a majority of readings that are held tend to be tied to either presses or magazines, and, in a sense, they serve (whether indirectly or directly) as promotional events. Do you feel like having carte blanche to try to get whoever you want to read allows more of a focus on the communal aspects of literature? Do you think it helps to highlight the individual authors themselves as opposed to presses or magazines (not that drawing attention to presses or magazines is an inherently bad thing)?
Cassandra: Yes, I do believe the carte blanche aspect is simultaneously freeing and challenging, yet that is the fun of it. The particular curating guidelines I see as getting increasingly specified, or allowing them to provide an alternative perspective to the work itself. Such as for the last EAR EATER, which existed within the concept of “performance,” I was intrigued by readers applying their own definition of the term, and possibly even taking it upon themselves to do something truly performative in the truest sense of the word. Yet, for someone like Jac Jemc, I wanted her to read for the sheer performativity of the language in her poetry. I think investing in intensities provides a much more exciting dynamic for viewers, myself, and even the reader. I think seeing one’s work in a new context is beneficial in a communal sense, in terms of connectivity, and bridging something basic, like the overly specific terms of even allowing poetry and fiction within the same reading event. I am a fan of the anything goes model, yet within a certain frequency, if that makes sense.
For example, I read at the first EAR EATER, and during the event, it was also Mexican Independence Day, and as we live in Pilsen, there was a festival that basically went non-stop on the street right in front of our apartment for three days. I felt I didn’t want to fight against the Mariachi music, so when I performed/read I used a megaphone and went outside and had children read the poetry through the bullhorn to the audience inside. I also played a T.I. song and carried in a light-up Virgin Mary statue with a broken head that Tao Lin put his hand inside. Opening up the aperture for absurdity lets authors explore outside their comfort zone by changing the framework of what is expected of them, and expanding beyond the specific aesthetics of a journal, or the type of work they normally produce. For future EAR EATERs, I am thinking of guiding the curatorial choice with more abstract decisions. Such as, an evening based on the idea of stuttering or stammering without just mimicking the tropes, but rather thinking of what language could sound like that, potentially anything resonating in the historical mode from Thomas Bernhard to Gertrude Stein.
M: And to continue with the idea of a “total freedom” in terms of inviting authors, you guys also regularly have readers attend the events via Skype. This allows a sense of exposure across the country (hell, even the world is possible), and in a way, mediating via digital technology, we can “hang out with” and “interact” with someone who could not physically attend. I feel like this is something that an event organizer who felt like she had to take herself “more seriously” or “professionally” would never do. What made you decide to incorporate readers via Skype?
Cassandra: Well, you have nothing to lose when you have no one to impress. I feel there is no investment of potential failure for myself in my endeavors in this community. I am currently in graduate school at the University of Chicago studying Visual Art, so even though I have been writing for years, my practice has always been a multidisciplinary jumble of video, performance, poetry, curation, music, sound, etc. I am always drawn to the wrong thing to do. It feels strangely more comfortable. Or at least I feel that the art world proper where I am expected to reside feels so stilted, and limited sometimes, that to make EAR EATER happen is the release. I just want to share the work of all these brilliant people through the U.S. and potentially beyond, and this is the most financially feasible way to do so. Plus, it is also engaging in a kind of fantasy hour, or indulgence. Some of the people I have asked to read via Skype I might have had slight internet interactions with, but had never really talked to, or let alone met in real life. It brings admiration into a new space, as the assemblage of the indie lit community is not spatial localized, so why should the presentation or readings be either? And for the Skype readers, if possible we let them hang out for the entirety of the evening as well. At EAR EATER #3 Christopher Higgs stayed for the entire evening, and many people commented on how they loved going over to the laptop and talking to Chris if he looked bored on his couch, and they were able to talk to him as if he were there.
M: The Ear Eater events have traditionally maintained the comfortable feel of a small house party, yet when people are reading the crowd is very attentive & quiet. This is something rare, as even in bars there is often a surplus of white noise brought to the room via customers who are present just to drink, or even from the staff of the bar itself. Similarly, six years ago or so, when I lived in a party house, we actually invited a puppeteer to perform at one of our house parties, and much to our surprise, a group of 50-60 drunk college kids sat down and stayed quiet throughout his entire performance. Do you think the casual environment that a cozy apartment offers helps people to focus?
Cassandra: Absolutely! I think it helps that since I usually serve as MC, I am not shy in telling people to shut the hell up, or sit down, or put out their half smoked cigarette on the back porch and come inside when someone is about to read. If people are on good behavior they do get breaks in between for drinks or snacks. The intimacy makes you responsible in a different way too. Even if you just come to listen it is never passively. Everyone is an active participant just by the fact of their being there. Plus, what is better than live, personal entertainment? Hearing poetry in someone’s living room, you can’t help but feel that it’s actually for you. Or that the pleasure of reading or being read to is so much a part of that.
If you’re in the vicinity of Northern Illinois this Saturday, check out Ear Eater #4: The Apocalyptic Absurd, featuring Lindsay Hunter, Blake Butler, Richard Chiem, Emily Jones & Me. Cassandra & Sara’s apartment is located in Pilsen in Chicago, click the link to the Facebook event for more details!


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