Follow Harriet on Twitter
“But an American female or queer writer can never be allowed, say, to irresponsibly suggest to the reader for even a moment that she doesn’t know where she’s going.”
Eileen Myles and CAConrad—both celebrating new books published by Wave Books–are in conversation over at BOMBLOG. Not too long ago, Myles interviewed Conrad, writing: “Conrad and his creations, I hope you’ll agree, belong everywhere. I’ve never seen him occupy a room—especially one he reads his work in—where he hasn’t affected a sea change in most of its inhabitants by the time he’s done.” Now Conrad returns the compliment: “I think I’m trying to say that YOU, Eileen Myles, write about women in the most important ways possible. I don’t know if it irritates you to hear me say that, but I really mean it. I’m so glad you write. Your writing changes my life. It’s changes the lives of many people in ways you may or may not imagine. Not only writing for women, but for queers.” They also discuss Myles’s novel Inferno, women and writing, community, Allen Ginsberg, and Myles’s experiment living with Buddhist monks on the street. They also place some responsibility on the reader:
CC …Eileen I think this world is so horrible, but it is very much worth losing sleep over. I believe Mina Loy’s Feminist Manifesto is correct when she looks at the women around her wanting the jobs that men have and she says REALLY, YOU WANT THAT? Loy says the only answer is to tear it to the ground and start over. To NOT want what men have. She literally wrote that a century ago, and we’re now killing three children a day in Afghanistan with women and gays in the military and George Bush is STILL lying saying we’re HELPING Afghanistan.
Roberto Rossellini said, “People today only know how to live in society, not in community. The soul of society is the law, the soul of community is love.” He’s generalizing of course, but in a grand, brave way, which is what I admire in his work. The communities of the various queer world I’ve known are being absorbed by the larger machine now, the machine with the teeth to take on entire nations, kill their people, starve them, make them obey. Even Saint Francis wanted community over the societal structures he was born into. There’s so much community in your Inferno. It’s where I linger over the sentences the most, like the writing about WRITING together, taking drugs, writing, showing one another what you wrote. Sister Spit is a community you have inhabited. What is community for you as a writer, how has it shaped you as a writer?
EM I love that Rossellini quote. I think every piece of writing is an expression of your true community. A piece of writing is one thing after another, and you are moving associatively in time, putting moments next to each other, passages that you think are in real congress. It’s your club. Every piece of writing is a club, and it attracts another club to you. It’s sticky.
I think a lot of the apparent resistance to women’s writing or queer writing and definitely writing that doesn’t conform to desires for its genre to be clearly this thing or that—or even look like “hybridity”—what does that look like—is just a fearful projection of some imaginary reader’s horror at being dropped into a vat of female thoughts and sensations that they would naturally recoil from. I think experimentation is okay and valuable as long as it isn’t too female or queer or wrongly classed—I mean not if it’s American. You could do some of those things if you were French or South American or, you know, from Glasgow. You could go right down the toilet then, and it’d be art. But an American female or queer writer can never be allowed, say, to irresponsibly suggest to the reader for even a moment that she doesn’t know where she’s going. I’m thinking about a trembling or waylaid narrative.
I mean the reader doesn’t like to feel that way, not even for a second. People are getting bred to be that reader. The reader’s like the new child. And it’s so dumb, that fear, because getting lost is heroic. That’s what the hero does. She or he falls off the road, gets seduced, hurt, confused. Something happens. Not just in the story but in the writing. And the writing is the story. That’s why I like narrative. It’s a kind of knowing. But it’s a lot of not knowing too. Many editors I think want to protect people from that scary feeling, but that’s life. Too bad. We don’t know! A good friend described my work to me as avant garde lately. I don’t think that’s what I am. I mean I’m often writing texts that I think, God this is so open, so ready to be read by everyone, for all the people in some way (you know, the crazy glee you feel sometimes). I need that high while I’m writing, and I’m a generous person. I’d like my work to be for everyone. But probably I just need to be high some of the time, I mean high on the writing, so that I will keep going.
It’s like believing you will get the award you applied for. It’s like the survival of the race, but it has nothing to do with writing or winning. It’s the thrill of movement because writing is a vehicle and happily we go, we know not where. Which could be inspiring. I like that thought. Because when you admit the presence of a choosing, intervening mind in your writing, if the writing itself lurches a little, stops and starts at irregular intervals, and if in that same time you also look at something ugly or sad for too long—be it femaleness or queerness or age, or poverty—well, people will very likely have to put your book down and you with it. That was something a lot of people embraced when they started out—the looming possibility of disaster or obscurity. Your bike crashed on the side of the road. It’s not the worst.
Our world has come to have its own set of limits—isn’t it like another kind of etiquette club, a nice society of women and men carefully not poisoning the mainstream but saving themselves in some fashion other whether by tenure or a giant award, or a big book? Or having your papers sitting at the right temperature. I mean these are not bad things. Being a big key-note. Ta dum. I just saw my face in the AWP catalogue, and I thought, “uh oh.” I picked up the magazine, and I was about to sneer and there I was. My face. In our avant garde world everyone, I think, wants to be the one weirdo that passes through the shimmering keyhole into the bigger world. I didn’t really want this, they say as they are stepping onto the boat. That would be the dream I guess—to maintain your irregularity, scratching and hooting, and go through intact. Is there any such thing?