Deleted Scenes from an Astonishing Interview with Lisa Robertson in The Capilano Review

By Harriet Staff


The Capilano Review is at it again! They've just printed "Deleted Scenes" from Ted Byrne's interview with Lisa Robertson, which opens TCR 3.15 (Fall 2011) and is called "This Animal, the Pronoun: An Interview." We need to purchase the physical issue to read the entire thing (those contents are drool-worthy, so no problem), but we've got ideas for weeks based solely on these "outtakes." You'll note the cinematic tack; yes, it's relevant. Robertson discusses Marguerite Duras' minimalist masterpiece Natalie Granger, George Cukor's The Women, filmmaker Michael Haneke, and other things Netflixable. But there's more! Byrne manages to touch on most of Robertson's oeuvre, including Debbie: An Epic, The Men, and the recent R's Boat:

LR In a pretty big way in most of The Weather, and definitely in a lot of R’s Boat, it’s not the content of the sentences that’s particularly interesting. I wasn’t aiming to write or select or work with “good” sentences or interesting sentences. I was much more interested in working with very banal or “bad” sentences. It’s banal yet true to observe that any æsthetic and stylistic judgment that you might make about any unit of literature, from a body of work to a book to a phrase, is completely contextual. There’s no real value in any content. Value’s just what relationships are built through sequence, through temporal distribution. Whether you’re talking about an institution or a paragraph it doesn’t really matter what the units are. It’s what starts happening between the units, and across the time structure that’s interesting. . . .

TB Yeah, okay, but I still think that the procedures that were involved in constructing The Weather…I certainly know more about The Weather now than I did before you told me some of the things you told me.

LR But does it change your reading of it? Does it become more interesting really, or…?

TB I don’t know.

LR I’ve never tried to hide my…as far as I have methods or techniques, I’ve never been coy about them.

TB No, in fact you’ve described them.

LR But I don’t think it’s really necessarily that interesting. If you could actually narrate to somebody the way you actually wrote this book, it’s always going to be a little bit of a snow job, because how can you actually narrate the way you wrote the book? You represent certain parts of how you did it, but what does that give anyone? Does it give somebody the sense that they could go and write the book, or does it give them the sense that that helps them as a reader, in some sense, to get to the “real” meaning of the book? I don’t feel that it’s useful to be mystifying and secretive about what writing is, and so that’s why I talk about it, because people seem to want to know, but I actually don’t think it’s very interesting.

TB I don’t have any need to take issue with that, but…

LR If Sir Thomas Browne could tell you how he wrote “Urn Burial,” do you think that would make the text that much more amazing, because Sir Thomas Browne said “Well, you know, I cut my quill, and these are the books I was reading, and I had this conversation with this guy and…” It wouldn’t change the way you read the text.

Then there's the city and the country, and living "beyond the beyond." Byrne says: "There was a comment in 'Lastingness,' or a quotation from Flaubert, from The Dictionary of Received Ideas that–what was it? Something about the suburbs in relationship to revolution. That when things start going wrong in the suburbs, the order may really come to be shaken...."

They also discuss Algeria and the 1968 uprisings; Marx, Lacan, Benjamin, Violette Leduc, Jean Genet, and Rousseau. Byrne even brings her a book to talk about:

Les Girls

TB I brought this to show you [Petrarch’s Four Dialogues for Scholars]. I’ve had this book for years‒maybe I bought it from your bookstore, I don’t know, but…

LR The cover doesn’t look familiar…

TB I never noticed the inscription before and I thought it was really funny: “To Dean Eagles from Les Girls.” You imagine Dean Eagles, the classicist, having a little collection of girls in his class, who stuck together because they needed to…

LR A chorus, a little chorus line. Great. This is nice: “I did not steal but inadvertently took a few words from him who often stole so much from Homer, Ennius, Lucretius and many others.”

TB Which essay is that? Which dialogue?

LR Appendix, Three Letters. “To Boccaccio.” Oh my goodness. It’s just so amazing that it’s possible to read something like that.

TB They were threatened by literacy. I recognized in one piece, on the multiplicity of books, or something, there’s a dialogue about…the dialogues are always between Joy and Reason. Of course, Joy is a woman. In these mediæval and renaissance dialogues, Folly is always a woman. Folly would dialogue with Reason. But this is Joy and Reason, discoursing on different topics. And there’s one on how there were too many books being written. And so many people writing books who really don’t have the right to write books.

LR It’s hilarious if you just read Joy’s first lines. “What do you think of the fact that I myself write books?” “I write.” “I do write books.” “Books I do write.” “I write ardently.” “I write much.” “I write, and this is my only enjoyment.” “The urge to write is enormously strong.” “I have written much and am still writing.” “Much I have written.” “I write and hope to become famous by writing.” “I write nevertheless, yearning for fame.”

TB What is he saying to her?

LR He’s saying all kinds of hoo-hah. (In an affected, pompous voice:) “As I have said before, perhaps you might better plough or hoe.” (Laughter) “A great many roads often mislead the traveller.”

TB Well, fuck you, I’m going to write! She doesn’t give it up, does she?

LR “I have an abundance of books.”

TB What’s her last word?

LR “I write nevertheless, yearning for fame.” That is so great. “O distinguished Folly! No wonder parchment is more expensive than it used to be.”

TB Everybody’s writing! It’s the demand.

LR This is great. The illustration of the scriptorum. “I have a goodly number of books.” “I own books which are aids to study.” “I keep many excellent books.” (Laughs) It’s kind of like Dépardieu selling a vacuum cleaner! [cf. Nathalie Granger] “Did I mention my books?”

TB Except in this case Reason just keeps talking! (Long pause) I like the sense that you get from Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia that he’s not that bright. You’d be making a mistake, I think, if you just extended it to his period, that everybody just made arguments that were based on false premises and that was it. But he says things that, as you read them, you sort of laugh. You’re laughing from a position of modernity, and there’s a kind of foolishness that you’re recognizing. There are also really brilliant moments, but Cavalcanti’s little treatise on love, “Donna me prega”…

LR I haven’t read it…

TB …is just so much smarter than what’s going on here, it’s just…

LR Well this was not published.

TB No, it wasn’t even finished.

LR It wasn’t finished. Just, you know, to vaguely defend Dante. Maybe he realized it was a crapola text and ditched it.

TB It’s possible.

LR But it’s one of the pleasures of reading it, too, that it’s just so rife with paradox.

Enjoy it all here, and check out TCR's past interviews.

Originally Published: November 10th, 2011