Trisha Low siphons the remix culture of social media into the binge and purge cycle of an engrossing read, with the emphasis on gross. She reads the diaries of teenage girls, their blog comments and love letters; she dresses like one in performance then throws up fake blood on herself
Trisha Low, The Complete Purge, Kenning Editions, 2013.
Trisha Low is just another feminist, confessional writer trying to find a good way to deal with all her literary dads. She siphons the remix culture of social media into the binge and purge cycle of an engrossing read, with the emphasis on gross. She reads the diaries of teenage girls, their blog comments and love letters; she dresses like one in performance then throws up fake blood on herself. She once surveyed the reactions of Catholic fathers to scripted confessionals she made regarding rough sex with men, secretly recorded the conversations, and transcribed the tapes. The results were anthologized by a major university press. Her first book, THE COMPLEAT PURGE, consists of the last will and testament of one Trisha Low, who seems to commit suicide annually; the legal documents accumulate into a coming of age story. It goes on to chronicle the sexual fantasies of indie rock fangirls, who may or may not be exorcising the effects of abuse through their blithe avatars (the guy from The Strokes, etc.). Then Trisha Low finds herself trapped in an 18th century romance novel in the most punishing way, but for whom—we’re not really sure. “How is Poetry complicit in the urge to falsely ‘heal’ societal wounds into the silent fixity of It Gets Better? What better place to look than the teen girl, whose cut wrist is an abject fuck-you; whose cute Band-Aid and its artificial ‘healing’ is really just your sentimental fantasy.”
Trisha Low is committed to wearing a shock collar because she has so many feelings. Remote controls are available at Gauss PDF, Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, TROLL THREAD and others. She lives in New York City.
Trisha Low’s The Compleat Purge isn’t really the kind of book that lends itself well to summaries. It’s something more to be experienced: it’s a play on narrative forms, though at the center of the layered narratives is an abundance of howling, mournful emotion. Reading it, I sometimes felt as though I was walking through a deeply polarizing gallery show: the way that form and purpose coincide, meditate on one another, and form something wholly different. Is it fiction? Is it art? I couldn’t tell you — though I will say that, however you choose to file it, The Compleat Purge definitely left its mark on me.
It’s hard not to, given that the book’s first section is comprised of a series of wills by its author (or at least someone who shares her name). What emerges from these is both a kind of coming-of-age portrait, charting shifting relationships with friends, family, and geography — as well as the elephant in the room, which is to say the looming presence of deep depression. From there, Low moves to a bizarre hybrid of forms — half chatroom, in which two participants don indie rock-inspired identities and discuss problematic relationships, and half pastiche of anachronistic literary forms.
I’m probably committing a cardinal sin here by alluding to an author who’s blurbed the book in question, but: I definitely found parallels between Low’s book and Barbara Browning’s The Correspondence Artist. Each plays with notions of the author; each finds the narrator donning different masks — sometimes donning masks atop masks — to get at a deeper emotional truth. And in the case of Low’s book, there’s a gulf between the giddy thrill of adopting other identities and the uncontrolled sadness that’s at the root of much of the actions described therein. For all of the tender moments and bleakly funny revenge fantasies that crop up here, it’s also one that opens with a small child being profoundly depressed. For all that there are experiments in form on display, The Compleat Purge isn’t simply an experiment in form. It’s a hybrid in the best sense of the word, bridging styles to get at something deeper; volleying out a series of cloaks to get at something much more essential. -
Sometimes when I’m bored I like to go to the grocery store or the mall and stand around trying to figure out who people are. Or I’ll try to guess where someone might have been before they came to the store, where they are going once they buy whatever they buy. Every person could have several thousand personalities or disguises inside them, and yet somehow they are here, currently in the persona of “random person shopping,” passing through the same space, meeting my eyes and then looking away.
I imagine something of this feeling came from being a teen who learned to masturbate to the internet, talking to strangers in chat rooms while assuming false identities for the thrill of feeling you could become anything without moving from your chair. Trisha Low’s The Compleat Purge might be one of the most complete internet-age archives of that feeling.
The book consists of three primary modes: a series of last will and testaments written and rewritten yearly in the author’s name; a number of hyper-stylized cybersex logs with indie rock fantasy icons; and a novelized envisioning of the author in a somewhat more daily life, riddled with narrative tricks and interruptions somewhere between Kathy Acker and what it might feel like if one of the Bronte sisters had lived to see Wi-Fi. The end product reads like an encyclopedia of fantasies and self-destructions, each with countless little tricks and traps and windows. The lists of DVDs and albums the author wants to be given away after her suicide at age 17 somehow bleed against the Tumblr-like self-reportage as she attempts to clear her mind a final time. And that mind clearing, in turn, melds into endless sadistic contortions of ongoing internet sex and confession, continually shifting wishes for life to be altered at one’s will.
Trisha was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the book and give us a short excerpt.
VICE: I’m not sure if the content in this book is real, or if it is a confabulation made to look like something real, or some synthesis of the two. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, though, because reality is a waste. I think what I’m trying to ask is how you began working on (or building the concept of) this book?
Reality is a waste is a good place to start. Or maybe more specifically waste is a good place to start. Right now I’m dealing with an ex-boyfriend who is harassing me because he had a psychotic break and is threatening to kill himself if I don't call him back, which is, I guess, in the simplest way, what the book is. I don't think I can say that Purge is a “meditation” on anything, but it's definitely a revenge fantasy.
Maybe I’m also just interested in being ventriloquized by those I'm supposed to be grateful or indebted to (those are my daddy issues talking, duh). So for me there's this tension between alienation and exclusion, victimization and aggression that I wanted Purge to live in, or rather, that the feminine needs to live in by default.
The sense of ventriloquism is strong, I think. Besides using yourself at various ages as a speaker, there are also the sections where you took another text and annotated it with a wilder, more violent tone, like the spells in the Book of Spells, and the
Speaking of ventriloquism, I have a friend who used to just bring me to parties and talk for me—like literally speak on my behalf. It was the best thing, but I think she got too confused about whose stories belonged to whom after a while.
I pick texts on a whim, but also for how much fun I can have in the process—I like things that seem wasteful, or frivolous, or “messy,” but have a process that they can be ciphered into inherent in their underlying structure. So, for example, with the spell poems, the end goal is “love,” this abstract thing, but I used a ton of text from a book of voodoo spells where the ingredients are materials. I think the sort of “annotative” process you allude to is apt, but maybe a better word is an oversystemization. I want to keep making people fall into buckets and buckets of tears, or blood, or fluid, even if they start from a formula or at least mess up their chicken and egg sense about which comes first. Once I actually ate some pages from some texts and barfed it all up along with some milk.
All of these ciphers are interesting, I think. The book makes it seem as if it’s all you—your life, your wills, AIM chats, etc.—or at least it pretends to. I wonder how much of yourself you see in the speaker, and the resulting sort of mythos that automatically surrounds it?
Well that’s the thing, right? I don't want to make you understand the book per say, or even necessarily identify a speaker. I'm saying a ton of shit—both in the book and now—some of which probably makes sense to you and some definitely doesn't and is misleading. I was at this rope bondage workshop the other day and the instructor was like, “it's so funny because rope bottoms, before they're tied, always try to assume the position—hands behind back, clutching opposite elbows… but that's so silly and contradictory to the fundamentals of the S&M scene, because your partner is supposed to handle you and put you into the position they want you in.” I kind of feel that way about interviews, I guess, or answering questions like this one. I want to be handled, kind of—like there is no position I want to assume apart from your assumptions to begin with. Do you really feel like there's an automatic mythos? But it's all so banal! I guess the voyeurism always yields in that way, though. Fetishistic disavowal and motel vacancies, or something. - Blake Butler
An Excerpt from The Compleat Purge
Last Will & Testament of Trisha Lowdear mom and dad,
i’m afraid this isn't going to be a very interesting letter. it might even border on scary. i would like to pretend like i'm doing well, but i don't really have it in me to front. you’re probably not even going to get this letter, but i can't really tell anyone else this stuff, let alone you guys in ‘real life’ i guess, because everyone's just as stressed out as i am, or more emotionally traumatised, and it's rubbing off a little, if anything. if you’re reading this, then somehow i’m gone – maybe something awful happened or maybe one day i broke, or someone broke me, but this is just in case – maybe so you’ll have some answers, or explanations, or maybe you could even just imagine a little bit of what my life has been since i’m so often so far away.
damn. i'm tired, i can't sleep (and i've tried everything). I've taken to making assorted baked goods and custards in the dead of night and giving them away for brunch in the mornings. i take a shower at two am and then i laugh hysterically at myself because my next thought is usually something like 'maybe i'll make crumb cake. maybe gabe will want some to take to school tomorrow'. i've turned into a parody of myself, and it feels a little raw around the edges, like when my lipstick has blurred and that couple of milimeters of colour changes me from 'put together' to 'crazy, possibly a slut'. i don't know, things are going well work-wise. tonight i will probably make tapioca cake. maybe i will finally figure out how to make a perfect sixty degree egg. i’m tired of having to talk to other people about their lives - i'm tired of talking about all that. man, even hal freaked out the other day and she's the calmest most evolved human out of anyone i know. show me the drugs already, anything that’ll get me to sleep.
i've been having strange dreams, but not bad ones; between the magpies scrabbling beneath my skin to find some microscopic treasure and infant beauty pageants and being stabbed in the belly by a clan somewhere between the westboro baptist church and a group of hairy biker men,
i walked to work really wanting to listen to iggy pop, so i did. street-walking cheetah/with a heart full of napalm and all - i never understood why that's always been the canonical iggy pop lyric, but recently, thinking about entrance wounds/ text/ no exits, fragments and glass growing arduously through performative skins, perhaps things are coming to a head and i should just sit down and write something. searching and destroying always seemed mindless to me, and searching-to-destroy such a masculine sentiment. searching is destroying, already, maybe, who knows.
“to study the way with the body means to study the way with your own body. It is the study of the way using this lump of red flesh. everything which comes forth from the study of the way is the true human body. […] The coming and going of birth and death is the true human body.”
my piece on BDSM went up on carnal nation today, which i could barely believe – and i guess if you’re reading this i know you’ll end up finding out some things about me that you might not understand, or want to understand – things like swapping out razors for other kinds of bruises and going to work at a place where there’s bad industrial music, too-young girls giggling at men with scary eyes and a lot of money under the table. i guess i never really had a bad experience there, but never a good one either - i always just felt compelled to go, like it would make me older or wiser, or at least teach me something about someone i didn't particularly care for, and if not then being paid to try felt good. someone's little fetish toy for an hour or so. A denial of one’s own ‘real’ body for a dream is also to open yourself up to an intense awareness of the emptiness of a flesh-core.
“in themselves, no. each one of them is a mirror, dedicated to the person that I particularly want to look into it. but mirrors can be arranged. the frightening hall of mirrors in a fun house is universal beyond each particular reflection.” it is not about making mirrors, for me, or bringing people to them, it is to refract into vitrious membranes (and so the maze becomes a labyrinth, warped and unpredictable, but escape never crosses the mind).
“she'll be losing her mind to a tricky voice and a full moon, and like as not, i'll be saddled with the consequences.”
i have been reading a lot of badly written detective fiction - i like the idea of a macguffin, this absent thing, this weird hole that entire plots are constructed around, when it is barely a glimmer, and because of it, stories falter and firmer surfaces give way. things resolve upwards, not downwards into some kind of interior, some kind of core (value).”'first, you find a little thread, the little thread leads you to a string, and the string leads you to a rope, and from the rope you hang by the neck. what kind of a girl was she, this friend of yours”'. but the implications of this stretch beyond the theory of gravity all the characters maintain - instead, steamy dissipations. 0ne absurd logic debunking another, exhuming stories from a hybridised flesh. the thing about noir is, everyone is a fugitive from the laughing house and the ashtrays are always full.
i've been thinking a lot about old friends and how much i've changed - some of them probably wouldn't recognise me. but hey, i'm not sure i'd like them too. i like my different worlds, but it's good for them to scrape at each other once in a while. i guess i’ve moved around a bunch and it's always this sense of feeling like a ghost-person before i decide i want to walk on the ground instead of just above it and anchor yourself in something, someplace, for me, usually someone.
it feels like the world is going to swallow me whole.
if you’re reading this, i just wanted to say – i’m sorry if anything i ever did ever hurt you. i’m sorry if i’m so selfish so often. i’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for me. i really am. and never doubt that i loved you because i did, maybe more than i ever let you know.
PS. If you need to get into my email, the password is stayBeautifu1
My house/mailbox/bike/everything else keys should be in the dish on the coffee table by the door
The bank account numbers are in my wallet and in case you need it, my ATM PIN code is 2028 (UK and US)