Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
Andrew: Welcome to the fifth installment of PIXELATED. I’m here with novelists Kate Zambreno, author of GREEN GIRL (Harper Perennial, 2014), and Chelsea Hodson, author of PITY THE ANIMAL (Future Tense Books, also on Amazon Kindle Single and Emily Books, 2014).
GREEN GIRL features girls insecure of their image to the point of obsession (or whatever comes after that). The main character, Ruth, is a reflection of the world around her: shiny, desirous, constructed. James Greer on Bookforum said the book “is by turns bildungsroman, sociological study, deconstruction, polemic, and live-streamed dialogue with Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, the Bible, Roland Barthes and most of Western European modernism by way of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.” That’s, you know, quite a list.
PITY THE ANIMAL also dissects the commodification of the female body, albeit in a mirror that’s already been shattered. These fragments, small and sharp, are put together in a sort of manic rush to reconstruction. We know there’s more than this restoration, however. Like in Hodson’s INVENTORY, a (pictorial and performative) catalogue of everything she owns, we can never use ‘things’ to build an entire person, just one view of them.
Now, I don’t ever want to introduce undue pressure, but I will say that besides this interview the entirety my day will quite literally be spent doing taxes (both personal and business). So, you know, let’s make this good. Now—first things first, would you a) each kindly describe where you are and what you see, and b) confirm whether you have ever met?
Kate: I am in my apartment, at the dining room table. I see rather full yellow rononculus in a jar that I purchased last week on a whim, because this monochromatic winter is utterly depressing me. I see my notebook. Clarice Lispector's cronicas. My dog. No, I have never met Chelsea.
Chelsea: I know this is just a G-chat, but my heart is pounding! I have been a fan of Kate Zambreno from a distance--I attended the release of GREEN GIRL at the Center for Fiction but was too afraid to talk to her. Then I was at WORD when she read with Jenny Zhang for the HAGS release. I remember saying, "Good job!" when we passed each other on the stairs. Now I'm eating pasta in my tiny white room in Brooklyn.
Andrew: Dreams do come true.
Kate: I had no idea you were there! That is really funny. I've really wanted to read PITY THE ANIMAL for quite some time, I hear it's really so delicious and wonderful.
We also both know Cal Morgan, who edited Green Girl, that's how I know of Chelsea.
Chelsea: Also, HEROINES and GREEN GIRL are in my Inventory: http://chelseahodson.tumblr.com/post/72096092386/inventory-368-heroines-by-kate-zambreno and http://chelseahodson.tumblr.com/post/89556967850/inventory-538-green-girl-by-kate
Kate: I definitely have seen the Inventory - it's so great.
Andrew: Were you aware you were part of it?
Kate: I think Cal sent it to me - I think the GREEN GIRL one, because Chelsea is holding it at eyelevel, so you can see the Marilyn Minter photograph.
Chelsea: It's such a great cover.
Andrew: I'm a big fan that there's the small zit right at the edge of the nose bridge.
Kate: Yeah I'm really happy with it. There aren't many variations on Girl on the Cover that aren't boring.
We had to fight for that zit - for the repulsion of it. The zit is my favorite part.
Andrew: I literally imagined that fight when I walked out of the library with it.
Swear on my life.
Chelsea: I have a question for Kate--she seems impossibly well read. Can I ask you what your reading schedule is like?
Kate: It's very promiscuous. I go in phases. I don't finish a lot of things. I think I attack reading with the high energy of a dilettante, which I am.
Now that I'm teaching this semester I am not reading on my own, and I mourn that quite intensely - but I am teaching a grad class on The Fragment, and trying to load it with things I wanted to reread, or read.
What is your reading schedule like?
I read often the first few pages of things and carry books around me like talisman, but I don't read that much. Sometimes I do. When I'm happiest I read a lot.
Chelsea: I go in phases as well, but now that I'm back in school I manage about two hours a day. Sometimes I'll get distracted and stop reading for days and then realize I'm not writing at all. Reading helps me keep my brain in the right space.
Kate: Yeah I feel like I am a writer who writes because of reading, who writes through reading, and so when I am not reading it's like I'm holding my breath, and then when I read again it's like I can release it.
Chelsea: I have another question burning, for some reason. I want to know what your first AOL Instant Messenger name was.
Kate: I go through allergies though
I didn't have it
I didn't have AOL!
I don't know if that makes me old I'm not sure.
What was yours?
Chelsea: That shocks me! I was ChelsHere3, of course.
Andrew: ChelsHere1 and ChelsHere2 were taken?
Chelsea: They were.
Kate: Yeah when I was in college I had a university email, that I would check when I walked to the library. But I didn't start really emailing as communication until I was like...25?
Were you on MySpace? Wait, is that what it was called?
Chelsea: Oh, yes. Prime flirting location.
Kate: I missed all of that. I wasn't on social media when I was single.
Andrew: Are you married Kate?
Kate: Sorry it's taken me so long to answer that!
I am married, yes.
We don't call each other husband or wife or anything but we've been together forever
Andrew: I just read a piece on a couple who didn't use the word love eight years being together, even though that's obviously what it was.
Kate: or 12?
well no it's love but it's a lot of types of love
Andrew: The word's arbitrary, somewhat
Andrew: I meant love
I mean marriage is a legal term
Kate: I have been thinking a lot about love.
Chelsea: I'd argue that word is not arbitrary at all.
Kate: Love, no
Andrew: Please do
Kate: I just reread Bluets to teach this week.
so much about love and obsession and desire
Chelsea: Oh, such a good book.
Kate: Yeah I'm so jealous of it.
it's really a perfect book
Chelsea: And yes, so much about love!
Kate: I love the moment when Maggie Nelson writes that she's visiting the therapist, who tries to point out that the love she felt for this beloved was pathological, and ruminating then any love could be viewed as pathological, which I think, honestly, is true.
I think literature - maybe especially the lyric essay - is that space to be able to try to find language for love and desire.
how it reveals such a contradictory self
Chelsea: Yes, I absolutely agree.
Kate: Have you read Plato in a while?
Chelsea: I haven't since college. I'm obsessed w/ Seneca though.
Kate: I feel like you would read Plato.
I just recently started reading Plato's dialogues, because I'm obsessed with ugly Socrates who everyone fell madly in love with. They are really such tricky interesting creations, such layered and bizarre point of view and contradictions.
The Symposium is crazy, it's like an orgy of white men.
so much sex and desire in Plato's writing of love, in even the idea of Platonic love - that is extremely erotic.
feel like what I've read of your book (I am kicking myself for not reading it! It's on my list) it's a complimentary work, maybe.
Chelsea: I read The Symposium in a class about love that deeply affected me. We also read bell hooks. I'm interested in female desire--what makes something taboo, what drives us to act, and love's relation to it, certainly.
Kate: it's so important to write about
how love and desire can be almost contradictory to personal politics or a social sense of self as well
There's a quote I love by Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, that was an epigraph to a failed novel I once wrote: "Sexuality is that which is incompatible to the structured self."
Chelsea: Oh that's so great.
Kate: Yeah I feel like our job is to make language for what is kind of impossible to make language for.
especially female desire
Chelsea: Well, I don't know if it's my duty, but I am obsessed by it. I'm reading about Sylvia Plath's journals at the moment, I'm curious if you keep a daily diary/journal.
Kate: yeah duty is the wrong word!
Kate: I do. I did. It varies.
Kate: For a while my diary was the most important part of my life, it's how I became a writer. But I go in and out. And I keep various notebooks now and kind of scatter things into them, it's been very disorganized. And when I'm trying to work on a book I tend to abandon the diary, while still thinking of the diary - the sense of the daily, of the small, is what has been intriguing me lately. Do you keep one besides the inventory project? (is that over or are you still continuing it?)
I love reading diaries too
Chelsea: Inventory ended in October when I completed the catalogue of everything I owned, but I miss the project sometimes because it was so helpful for organizing my thoughts of any given day. It wasn't like, "Dear Diary," but I can still go back to a certain day and read the Inventory entry and know the event it's referring to. During Inventory and now, I keep a journal, on and off, similar to the way you mention. Sometimes I'm hyper-organized, other times I shut down completely.
Kate: there is somewhat of a distinction too between a public and private project
but the sense of transcending the day is still there - of marking it somehow. but a different charge in public rather than private.
what was the concept/spark behind the Inventory project?
Chelsea: Yes. And in writing about myself, it can come off as the whole truth, according to me, at least--when really, it's highly curated.
Kate: yes it's always a Not-I, a constructed persona
I think the essayists I'm interested in are the ones most aware of that - of the impossibility of a coherent self.
Chelsea: Exactly. And in terms of Inventory, I'm interested in writing within rigid structures--a clinical catalogue like Inventory became very appealing to me. Instead of feeling constrained, I felt free.
Kate: I admire that.
Chelsea: Do you ever feel that way? Or make rules for yourself to write?
Kate: I am slowly starting to realize that constraints and "projects" can be a way to be more freeing, to be able to write the self or obsessions but have a necessary distance, a window.
I am working on a set of things that are kind of fun, they are these short pieces that are like Screen Tests or Cornell boxes, and I do have some sort of constraint to them (a repetition of names etc.)
I am becoming a lot more cognizant and thoughtful about form and constraint in new work, I think.
Chelsea: Oh that sounds so interesting. Have you read any of CAConrad's "(Soma)tic Poetry Rituals"?
Kate: I've read some of them - I love his work - I love Book of Frank
Yeah I think I'm thinking more of writing like a poet. While obviously not being a poet. And a book I wrote that I'm still working on - Book of Mutter - I did have some constraints in it, in terms of space on the page, a movement of freezing to melting, but I think I'm beginning to recognize the joy of daily assignments or rituals.
What is your writing process like? Do you give yourself a lot of constraints? Do you write daily?
Chelsea: I freelance, so my schedule is always changing and I have to give myself rules or I'll never get anything done. With the exception of a few days here and there, I write every morning for about two hours. The morning is the best because I don't have anyone else's voice swirling around, and sometimes I can still access my dreams. I have to write a lot to get to what I actually want to say, and then once I have a draft of something, I'll tear it apart, keep like 20% of what I started with, then build back up. What about you?
Kate: When I first began writing I was extremely disciplined - I mean when I first became successful at writing. And I lived inside the "project" - I would wake up, write for several hours, even go back to it. Then when I started the blog, the blog became a sort of public notebook for me, and I felt that I was really working on writing - in a way - not giving it shape or form - but that sort of longform inquiry, having readers on it, interrogating it later. But after I finished Heroines, I have tried to stop writing in such a disciplined way. I went back to the diary for a while. I began to try to think of writing as not a project, or a book, but a process. Because I wanted to change what I was writing, I wanted to think seriously about form, and not feel like I always had to have a book to work on or I would die.
For the past two years I've been rather obsessed with what I was working on though and a lot of the work is constant lists - constant notes, scraps, lists. I feel they are slowly maybe forming into things...I am actually very slow in writing lately. I write very long beautiful letters to writer friends, to my correspondents, but my own output has become much slower.
It is so good to write though without having anyone's voice swirling around - how important. When I am disciplined, I try to do that. It is wonderful to have writing for a ritual, to have writing as a way to live through things. But like reading I go in phases, where writing is impossible, an allergy, a dread-concern.
Chelsea: There is something about a letter that is so unthreatening. I write long emails to two writer friends as well. And I love that Chris Kraus quote of course: "Isn't every letter a love letter?"
Even if I can't bear to write one day, I can always write a letter.
Kate: I think Maggie N. talks about that too - everything she writes as a letter. It is something I'm thinking intensely about lately - along with The Symposium, the idea of the dialectic, of friendship and community, Blanchot on friendship....the idea of needing an addressee to write. And it's what I'm working on - but I don't know yet how to write a book with the force and energy and intimacy of a letter. I love how Maggie N. does it, and how Chris Kraus does it, how I Love Dick is a letter, is a series of letters. Also I read a book this summer, Last Words from Montmartre, kind of a queer Taiwanese I Love Dick, that was a series of letters, so intense and emotional and Goethe. Everything I'm thinking of lately - aesthetically - how to write a book with the force, beauty, and intimacy of a journal or a letter.
I keep a rather involved correspondence with writers, it's one of the great loves of my life, to write letters to other writers, to receive letters from them. Perhaps it replaced the blog for me.
What are you working on, with writing now Chelsea?
Chelsea: Do you ever think of your letters as publishable? I don't. They're freeing, but only because they will stay between us.
Kate: Two summers ago I read the Ingeborg Bachmann/Paul Celan letters, and there's something so deeply romantic about them, how Celan was not established yet as a poet, how we now can read them, or like the letters that Rilke Marina Tsaetaeva and Boris Pasternak wrote to each other, such intense love letters, really, and they are my favorite things to read...I don't think I will ever be or ever want to be famous enough to have my journals or letters published. But in a way they are published - you're writing to one, you're writing to be witnessed, to be recognized, and there's nothing more intimate or beautiful than that, nothing more than the force behind all literature. Like Kafka's letters to Felice as well.
I have had to make the decision lately whether to have my emails archived or not, and it's something I'm thinking about in a bemused way - is it better to archive everything or more radical to refuse and throw everything away - which is what makes your project so intriguing/beautiful.
I think the distinction between - what should be published and what could be published - is a line I like thinking about, especially since I write so often from the self.
Chelsea: Yes. I'm a big believer in throwing things away--drafts, emails, memories, clothes. So far I haven't regretted it. It's like this line from Sarah Manguso's new book, ONGOINGNESS, that I love so much: “And then I think I don’t need to write anything down ever again. Nothing’s gone, not really. Everything that’s ever happened has left its little wound.”
Kate: Oh that's so wonderful.
I think throwing things away is maybe being a poet or lyric essayist - maybe novelists try to keep everything
(I'm joking, kind of)
It's very difficult for me to throw things away. But it's freeing I agree to think that one doesn't need to write again - there is something delirious and beautiful about erasure, about disappearance.
Chelsea: Well, I like things to be neat. My mind is a mess, my memory is impossible to navigate, my email folders are gross to look at. But I can pull things out and try to make them beautiful, neat. That's extremely pleasurable to me.
Kate: What I marveled at in your inventory project is its great economy - which is a feat I also marvel at with writing. What can be born when one strips away.
I love the idea of only having a set list of things, and I have so many things - I am like the writer's equivalent of Collyer's Mansion. I'm a hoarder.
and the writing of course of the project
Andrew: Hate to do this, but we're nearly at time, so I'm going to ask for last thoughts
Chelsea: I mean, there's beauty in that, too! I am just so easily overwhelmed. Speaking of which--do you have a favorite stress snack? I love to have a bowl of something keeping me company while I write something I'm afraid of.
Andrew: The final snack thoughts.
Kate: when I am healthy/when I am not healthy. When I am healthy: dried mango, avocado on toast, things like that. I like to eat constantly when writing. When I'm not healthy: chocolate, coffee, cigarettes.
Chelsea: Kettle chips. Any flavor, any time.
Kate: the packaging too
Chelsea: Yes. Snack aesthetics are important.
Kate, it's been so nice to chat with you.
Andrew: Well, you two obviously hit it off.
Chelsea: I will go up to you next time I see you. I will be unafraid.
Kate: Yes it's been really lovely. Going to order a copy of PITY THE ANIMAL today, I've been so looking forward to reading it, as a gift to myself.
Andrew: Thanks for playing guys!
Chelsea: Oh thank you! And thank you, Andrew.
Kate: This was great, thanks Andrew