Dear Extant Text,
After what seems like a strange caesura, I begin again again. I’ve looked at your last long letter repeatedly in the interim, and thought about what all this is about, and how we both seem to be wrestling with the same sorts of devils, though they wear different shoes. I think I told you that I’ve been reading some about American minstrelsy lately, the minstrel show and the use of blackface – it’s all very interesting, but the hook under my skin is the phenomenon of black performers wearing blackface. And though you can’t go around (you meaning me) claiming that all things are all things, or making tortured equivalencies when that’s another kind of conceit, the bit of this that got to me was that sense of yes, if you put on the burnt cork, everyone likes you better, or at least easier, and then you can become someone who is wearing burnt cork: the mask as mask putting the mask-wearer in that excruciating yet liberating position of limited liberty. I suspect that not only do you know all this, but that this is what you’ve been doing all along, and forgive me if you’ve said this is what you’ve been doing all along, and I’ve been too thick or inattentive to notice.
That is a long preface, slightly pointless. What I mean to say is that I’m hoping gender can be a part of our discussion, because gender seems to be mostly discussed by women amongst themselves. And having said that, saying again that the question of the subject-object – because we know that there’s never one without the other, and as you rightly protested being cast as an object by me, I think about how I may not even protest my object status anymore, or rather, like the burnt cork, more figure out what’s the performative version of that status that I can stand and then, better still, try to orchestrate. And again, I think you do this throughout your work, accommodating or acknowledging that there’s a way you are a readymade creature of words, but that in that, you slip in shards of mirror and scraps of sentiment. I think sentiment is a good thing, I even like sentimentality (which you don’t use), just because I find it deeply human, and deeply dangerous.
Why did I launch in to a flatter version of what you are doing? In part, I suppose, over my anger at seeing some of these techniques used towards no different ends than the reification of the poet/Author that appropriation is supposed to upend. Partly because I want something more, the book, as you say, and we agree, to be the container of something that’s not just about itself.
You wrote about the haunting aspects of historical gender, and how you wanted to get away from them spooking the whole house. I don’t honestly know if they can’t help but. In this again, I think we agree in another sense – you want “tons more” mirroring of the culture. And both of us do this in our own funhouse way, and both of us do this spooked by our own ghosts, if I may say. My work tends to appropriate some extant text, but more appropriates extent privilege: I want to put on all sorts of masks and mirrors and make the putting on part of the performance. Blackface, whiteface, detachable penises and rubber vaginas, languages I know little about and some I know a little about, the points of view of small chubby children and sagging old men, it’s fiction on a half-shell, but then there’s the language, which is never ever dead to me, not real poetry. And by real poetry, I mean what Valèry said – the thing that makes you stop. Or say “stay.” This sounds terribly Romantic, and I guess it is. And part of my spooked gendered nature is that I want to be sort of Romantic, to stand spread-legged across the fruited plane (the Euclidean being much broader than even the Midwest, as you know) and go “I am.” And even though, like all petite prizes, there’s not so much there personally, what I’m shooting for here is the countercalling “me, too,” “and me,” “over here,” and “shut up, I’m trying to sleep.”
Maybe this is part of your alternative space; as you note, there’s all the other ways of taking ownership. And while I feel a little silly saying so (because it sounds, like disclaimers tend to, suspect), I don’t know if it’s ownership per se that I’m wanting. Maybe it’s just to make a loud noise. Or to put on the burnt cork so thick and rich that I pale in comparison – I and not-I, all at once, all together. I have this nagging feeling that I’m writing alongside you, rather than to you. I don’t want to. But this might be my version of your last response: cards on the table, so that whatever guide we end up with starts off in the head-shaved here.
You’re right as a reign about the overtly political writing, outdated, yes, and deadly dull, usually. It’s like how the best depictions of hell are not so much endless iterable damnation, but cornucopias of infernal delights and flights of flecked grotesquery. The elitism issue is an issue, unavoidable, I think, and thus, like gender, one to be taken head on -- I get accused of elitism all the time, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the accusation itself doesn’t bother me (except insofar as the accuser’s usually right up there with me) – there’s the measure of truth (white, American, steady relatively well-paying gig, more than most education, uppity to a rotten fault), and rather than try to prove some regular folk bona fides which I have and don’t have in various doses, it seems better to just admit and work with it. The how becoming, as you indicate, the better question.
So I end up at your new forms issue, and maybe the start again again of our conversation. The book, yes, the page, yes, the word, yes. Tell me how you make your books. I’m going though your list, but my autodidactism is impatient. How are you making your book now? How does all this get translated into that?