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Massy Interviews | Anna Moschovakis & Danielle LaFrance
January 24 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm PST
In anticipation of An Anti-Guide to Foreplay, the double launch of Participation by Anna Moschovakis and #postdildo by Danielle LaFrance, poet and author Hari Alluri interviews Anna Moschovakis and Danielle LaFrance on their two dissertations on desire. Bringing these authors into dialogue invites us to reflect on pleasure, gestures, joy and the act of reading/being read.
Join Massy Arts on January 24 at 6pm for the launch, hosted by artist and cultural worker Kay Higgins. Registration is free, open to all and required for entrance.
Hari Alluri (HA): The event looks like it’s going to be fresh! How did the two of you originally connect and what are some of the conversations that led to this event?
Anna Moschovakis (AM): I’m pretty sure I saw a picture of the cover of Friendly+Fire on my friend David Buuck’s instagram and I ordered it and became an instant fan – then at some point Danielle and I were time-staggered co-guests at another mutual friend, Maged Zaher’s house in Seattle. We missed meeting each other in person by hours, but our books at the time (2017? earlier?) met each other there somehow—I remember a note on a table, a Sorry we missed each other, or just a couple of nice words transmitted in both directions by our mutual friend—Danielle, help, my brain no longer works, gets easily lost, but anyway what I usually remember are feelings more than facts and I recall feeling that one day the two of us would/should be in conversation somehow.
Danielle LaFrance (DL): I was told by poet Maged Zaher that I had to meet Anna. He knew something before we did. I remember he immediately gifted me They and We Will Get Into Trouble for This during that reading visit in Seattle in 2016. I did write a note; I did leave it on the table for you. I had read the poems in one sitting and felt that thing one feels when they are almost perversely too connected to someone they haven’t met yet. I think I read through it in one sitting and instantly felt a sense of familiarity, a connection towards a shared language, shared vocabulary during times of political and personal upheaval; a similar manner of communicating one’s polymorphic and fraught and splintered position in this world. I find these moments in reading really refreshing and soul-fulfilling, like as much as we’re all alone, we die alone, here’s some shared employment of language to help us through enduring struggle. That kind of reading experience, finding communion through another’s words, has me struggling better than without it. We’ve never met in person, but, like so many online relationships, likely share a parasocial relationship and also an affective bond as we’ve started to text more. And soon we’ll meet in person, become a bit more tangible and bodily to the other with this upcoming event.
AM: I love this description, as I also immediately felt these things we shared, but still I was nervous to write to you when I realized that we had new books at the same time again—I think I’m always afraid my sense of affinity will be one-sided—so to read this now is a balm. And the invitation to be co-interviewed has prompted more recognitions—recognition upon recognition, really—for which I’m also grateful. I love this notion of “struggling better” because of the communion that can come from reciprocal reading. Yes!
DL: Hopefully when we meet we don’t implode! Or, hopefully when we meet we implode!
HA: In relation to that, what is something you notice about each other’s work—whether specific to Participation and #postdildo or in general or in previous projects—that moves you, troubles you, snags your attention, invites you to attend to?
DL: I like a book that’s incredibly hard to describe because it means its contents don’t exist within dichotomies. To lead in one direction of aboutness might elide another trajectory, another way through a text, a thought, a feeling. What lives on the precipice of description that can equally take you to a murky place that feels recognizably unknown. Language is the latter when it is near. I’m thinking about genre in relation to Bakhtin’s essays on language and the novel; he describes the latter as an inventory of language of a time, “living mix of varied and opposing voices.” Anna has written a novel that wholly captures this instance of communication we’re in, where we’re always at odds with what to say:
“I described how aware I have become, when writing, of my tendency simply to name the people I’m reading, a tendency I tried to explain through the value (both the false and coercive value and the real, true value) in these times of drawing attention to the things outside of oneself that one likes or finds important.”
Really we’re at odds with words, with things, with signifying chains, because everything means nothing and everything these days. There’s something in this novel too about realizing you’re not just a piece of shit, but a piece of history.
AM: I’d been following #postdildo without understanding what it was exactly, though I guess I knew it was partly a reading group that I wished I could join—but it was also more diffuse, a kind of companion utterance that would sidle into my felt vision repeatedly, a recognition. I remember having this feeling of it as hot comfort, a fellow traveller, a thought that has no beginning and no end, but it is still pointing somewhere, or pointing away from somewhere, and that is the (only) kind of position/ing that i am able easily to adopt — pointing away, not standing in. So when I read this from the very beginning of the book“— You + I must fashion new fantasies. — Well, I’mma give it to ya.” I immediately feel, Uh huh, I’ll be the You to this I, and the ya as well. When I got my hands on the book—which was after Participation came out—and read the opening essay, I had that great and rare experience of underlining and copying so many phrases and sentences that by the time I was done with it there were more things underlined and annotated than not. Among the underlined: “This reckoning [#metoo and its aftermath] drew lines in the quicksand; some friends are gone now and some friends continue to get whatever they want” and “It feels impossible to exist outside of rape culture, and it seems even harder to divide sexual violence from some kind of pure sexual desire. Maybe just a few glorious bites of pleasure and a politics of desire could be mixed into the bag of suckers” and “Fixed positions are always rubbing up against other fixed positions. #postdildo wants to dislodge You + I from our fixities and become deluded feminists out to stop time.” and #postdildo is not against pleasure; it might find pleasure in refusal.” Again, yes and fuck yes! I also love that there is so much overlap in what Danielle and I have been reading, but there are also new names and texts that I get to write down, leads I get to follow. What a gift to us all.
HA to AM: Among several rave and in-depth-in-their-thinking reviews of Participation, I found particular joy in The Capilano Review one—in which Marisa Grizenko focuses on the questions of the work—and in the Toronto Star review by Sadie Graham, because of its articulation of a volta in the work, because it notes how the book “offers an anti-guide for the current moment: not teaching us how to live, but inviting us to try.” Could you speak a little more about your approach to invitation, in the novel, in your multiple forms of work, in life?
AM: I was so happy to read both of those pieces—judging from the reviews, this book seems to be more legible in Canada than in the U.S., which is interesting to me (it’s a small sample, of course!) I love the idea of an invitation, which was a word that Poupeh Missaghi used in her blurb of the book as well. I think I often worry that it isn’t “enough” to invite a reader to reflect, or to simply put a lot of things next to each other and see what their assembly, when combined with what a reader brings to it, might do. One of the reviews in the U.S.—a review I appreciated in general, for its close and respectful attention—ended by suggesting there might be more pleasure in thinking about this book than in reading it. I think about pleasure maybe more than anything else, and in some sense I don’t care where it comes from, I just believe we all deserve more of it. And everyone’s pleasure comes from a different place.
Even though pleasure isn’t enough to want in a life, there’s no life without it, and we can learn so much (well, I learn so much) by looking at it without fear or policing. The more theoretical work I’ve been reading lately invokes the aliveness of relational uncertainty: Anne Dufoumantelle’s book In Praise of Risk, Avgi Saketopoulou’s Laplanche-inflected work on what she calls “overwhelm” and “limit consent” (as an alternative to consent that implies full self-transparency and an absence of risk), and Jamieson Webster’s ideas around messiness and disorganization in her book Conversion Disorder and essay collection Disorganization & Sex. I think the connection I’m trying to make to your question is that what I crave most when I read is a kind of invitation, so maybe that’s what I would most hope to be able to offer.
HA to DL: This is from your “Notes on Aftermath” critique in ASAP/Journal: “These notes are based on the aftermath of events that brutalize relations (to one another, to theories, to theorists) to the point that they become beyond repair.” Please say more about the after of repair and your thinking about the radical root of things and maybe in the context of this collaborative reading-conversation, the kind of else-type building (radical trajectories of the now?) you’re engaged with beyond or tangential from the (may I say dialectic?) relationship to the type of harmful event you contend with in the critique?
DL: I can say something more about the after of the after, but not repair. There are harmful events that are irreconcilable, can never be repaired, be fixed, be mended, put back together again like a fairy tale egg. I think #postdildo might be more about dwelling, sitting in, revelling in disrepair, but a kind that can also move from resentment towards imaginative modes to suffer better, to talk better, to feel through harm better.
This is not at all to present an optimal modality to navigate harm and suffering, but rather to admit that there is no wholeness of the self nor wholeness between relations that constitute said self. There’s nothing to repair, we move on with all our scars, all our parts, only slightly showing, these are connections to a past that don’t have to define us but will always mark us. I love Marx. I do not require catharsis, it does not exist.
As for the radical root of things, or “radix,” a unique set of numbers, this was a conceit gifted to me by amorous comrade Roger Farr while I was going through a challenging time. With this gift I tattooed “radix” on my body so that I don’t forget that when things become blurry, untenable, there is a root there, not a root cause, but a root that is absorbing everything and everyone I come into contact with. (I’m confusing radix with the rhizome at this moment, I think my friend was just telling me I have a unique way of discerning things around me.) That it is okay to reside in the base between something whole and something in parts, a fraction of a feeling, a fraction of a thought, the point before and after.
I’m elated there are all these books out right now that mine is in concert with that speak to this kind of curve or shift in a conversation around sexual violence and harm and perversion. Things, the radical root of things, feel less indecisively dichotomous and more decisively contradictory, or clear objectives, a unique set of numbers, through the rough. Alenka Zupančič (author of What IS Sex?) writes how “it’s not about accepting the contradiction, but about taking one’s place in it.” I think I have found a place, it’s mostly interior and sometimes others like to play in it – if I let them. I’m also reading Oliver Davis and Tim Dean’s Hatred of Sex right now, this is one of the texts that’s recently surfaced that I’m convinced is shifting the conversation around #MeToo, any debate about sex, that relies heavily on Jean Laplanche and Jacques Ranciere to complicate any desire, any resolve that ever suggests an ordered and democratic kind of sex. This is all too say, it’s supposed to be complicated, ridden with conflict, it will remain as such even when capitalism crumbles.
HA: Connected to this crumbling, one thing I’m noticing is that both Participation and #postdildo seem to enact a cruciality of shifting imaginative and actual possibilities for ways of relating. Could you each speak to this a bit? Of particular moments / social relations in the now-world that the books are responding to? Of particular ways that this approach speaks to you in relation to yourself, your relationships, and the world? Of particular elements that it brings up in the writing / thinking / being process?
DL: There are these sweet spots of relating, coming into a kind of communion with another, that is so sacred it makes you feel fucking higher than Christ on the cross. It can make you feel like anything is possible, which is what Colette Peignot, or Laure, calls “naked communication.” There’s so much you can say without your clothes on, without your costume, without your performative garb. It’s not at all about validation, that you are here and therefore I am here, but more a sincere trust that the tool we have to engage with, that is language, is concatenating just enough to tip us over in this sublime way. And then there are these bitter spots, these, what Dianna Bonder would call, a Lynchian moment, where suddenly I’ve woken up mid-refrain blonde and clueless. We are not fixed beings enough to stay so sweet. There’s so much we will never know, cannot know, about ourselves and others, to think otherwise is what Lacan would refer to as exercising a discourse of power. Sometimes we have to put our clothes back on. And we have to be fundamentally okay with this unknowing, even if it is lonely and crushing, so as to unbind ourselves from biases, marketable identities and their so-called governable affects, and ownership or mastery over anyone, anything, an idea, a movement. I don’t exactly know what radical decentering really looks like, but I know it when I feel it. Elaine Scarry says it “permits us to be adjacent while also permitting us to experience extreme pleasure.” I guess I’m perpetually pleasure seeking, especially when I am uncomfortable with distant relations to self, relationships, the world. Perhaps there is a different kind of sweetness to sip where nobody knows shit and there can still be trust where we are at the very least communicating towards a shared new illogic that is beyond the parameters instilled in us by colonial capitalism.
AM: This is all so resonant for me, the stripping and re-dressing—redressing?—and the insistence on finding a way toward okayness in unknowing, or in the un-okayness. I consume as much self-help (I mean the suspect, essentially neolib kind—I find that this category, like most, doesn’t hold up under real pressure) as I do “legit” theory, and I do it under the guise of “research,” but it’s equally about a kind of testing of myself, to make sure that I won’t succumb to the shit of it. But also, it’s about being open to there being something worth noticing there: ideas find expression where they can, and the marketplace of ideas isn’t equal access, as we know. Lately I’ve been dreaming a lot about being lost—about not finding my way back to whatever temporary location is playing the part of home in the dream—and about moving across these confounding and exciting unknown terrains with unusual means (rolling, sliding, gliding, skimming) and I think there is a connection between the feeling these dreams are getting at—essentially a loss of bearings, leading to a centering on the present and the immediate surround—and a focus on relationality as a shifting center of gravity that might nonetheless be the most grounding place to live. And the sweetest, and maybe the most painful. But there are certain emotions that are less desirable, to me, than anything else (even acute pain, grief, and loss). Those emotions—bitterness, regret—seem to me to be more connected to the things Danielle is calling out above: fixity, mastery, governability, ownership. Like in the dreams, I think in the now-world I slide around, lost, looking for everything but that.
HA to AM: In Participation, there’s a kind of turning of the act of reading, where the work being read reads the reader. I feel like, going back through some of your poetry, you’ve been juxtaposing and contending with fields of practice, bending genre and form for quite some time. The act of questioning and implicating the reader is already clear, for example, in [The challenge: to start]. How did this kind of reflexivity arrive for you, whether it was first through your thinking-feeling or through the writing process? And how do you feel like your relationship to questions like this and your embodiment of them in your writing has shifted and grown over time?
AM: Thank you for this question! I think about both of these things—reading/being read, and implication—pretty much all the time. As to how this kind of reflexivity arrived, it’s hard not to provide an autobiographical hypothesis: Raised by two mathematicians, in a house in which not a lot of room was made for uncertainty (to my mind as a child, at least—who knows what adult complexity I was missing, let alone what mathematical complexity) I rebelled by becoming someone inclined toward doubting any position that claimed authority or finality, toward pulling the exception from any generalization and shining a light on it, as if to show how nothing could be fully named or known. (This was all gendered, of course, and related to my bicultural background and assimilation experience, in so many subtle and obvious ways it was hard to see / I am still learning to see it.) But these gesture seemed to temporarily relieve the chronic anxiety I developed very young (but didn’t identify until adulthood), so I must have instinctually sought out modes of thinking and being where doubt and critical pressure on the one hand, and ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning on the other, were encouraged and valued.
So: philosophy, and artistic practice, the wilder and more experimental and self-reflexive the better. I had read a lot of philosophy before I encountered Wittgenstein, and I encountered him through his late work, On Certainty, which I think is really what provided a kind of model or permission to include the recursive gesture within my writing itself and to turn it on myself, as well as on the world (he reminds himself, in that book, that “a doubt that doubted everything would not be a doubt”). Again, so much of this is anxiety-management, and relief: I also found a kind of Beckettian humor wherever I found compulsive gestures that questioned and re-questioned utterances made, at first, with total conviction. I guess I felt like passion, even righteousness, and the admission of wrongness both needed to be able to exist in my world—I didn’t want doubt to cancel out the energy of conviction, or make it muddy or soft. I guess what I was looking for was a fair fight.
I don’t know how much this answers your question! I can say that the more I think about the ways in which this reflexive gesture has developed over the years in my writing, the more I want to examine it and make sure that as I change (partly as a result of reading, and of writing, and of being read!), the gesture changes too. I have been trying lately to more overtly deal with how conflict-aversion might be at the root of some of my habits as a thinker and writer, and I’m doing some writing on the challenge of “un-repressing my anger” that is also related to an increasing immersion in psychoanalytic ideas. None of this, of course, is anywhere near as consciously present as in these descriptions. Mostly when I write I am caught up actively in some kind of inner struggle between my psychology, my emotional makeup, and my political desire, which makes me desperately seek a solid position from which to scream, and then contend with the blur I inevitably see inside whatever solidity I find. Also, I shouldn’t answer this question without mentioning a much more recent book, Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk, which I pretty much carried around with me for more than a year, and which I now realize could be cast as the counterpoint, in my middle-aged life, to that first encounter with and influence of On Certainty.
HA to DL: When I read your work from #postdildo on the page, I feel a kind of velocity, it’s multi-rhythmic, it feels like it sets up and bends and pivots its own vectors. To be blatant, momentum like that kind of imperatives me to listen for similar starts and steps and write them down. I’m gratefully vulnerable to how the work off-juggles my rhythm. Thank you. Could you speak a little on the process that leads to this wonderful energetics—and also on what this does for you and for the poems?
Process related questions always have me thinking about material, the objects I use to write and the conditions by which I write under. Time has become that much more alinear, with writing being both enabled by moments of time’s convenience and the cycles of thought having nothing to do with a structured timeline other than sometimes thoughts have to wake up.
I like how Jamieson Webster (author and analyst Anna and I are both obsessed with at the moment) nods to time being “evanescent and capricious.” #postdildo “off-juggles” rhythm so as to ensure no one, including the project’s author, namely me, this/that I, never sits too comfortably, even when finding its beat while it’s beating you and I under the feet. That “imperative” mood eschews that sense of “velocity”: there is slowness in this writing when the reader can reduce the level of speed by having an idea of its track rife with obstacle courses. This is why there is an essay that introduces the text and penetrates it. This is why I have a tendency to include notes in previous books–to not prescribe direction but to initiate one of many that recognizes it is safe to come up and out of the text displaced with respect to time.
I am often hell bent on not easing up on content so as not to sacrifice every possibility for intermittent critique, thought, reflection, function creep–everything/everyone belongs to everything/everyone. We’re all hurtling through space while sitting perfectly still. I write in a way where my relationship to the text is both positioning myself outside of it so as to witness its speed, overcome by its overwhelming mass, and also inside of it, meandering through disorganized content that is put in some kind of intentional shape of my own construction that is relating to, synthesizing with, other constructions, human endeavours, psychic tendencies.
I would love to lie and say I walk the blocks and seasides to wind down this process, but, fortunately, I’m only ever turned up/on/off. For some it might be a headache, for others it might look like how they also navigate the overabundance and rapid range of free-floating signifiers that find temporary home, respite, refuge within concepts, politics, good conversations between new friends/comrades …
HA to AM: I appreciate the way in which your work contends with messiness, embracing messiness over adhering to the borders of genre, both subverting and multiplying them (even in your reading pile on The Annotated Nightstand and the way you think about each book in relational ways). And there’s an attention—to a particular artifact, to naming, to the complexity of citizenship, inheritance, and family for example, in your contribution to This Long Century—in relation to what you’ve already said about resistance to certainty, could you speak a little more about the messes and messinesses holding your attention, and what this holding of messiness offers—to you, to the the work, and perhaps from?
I can add that my rejection of borders goes “all the way down” — and, at the same time, my compulsive and anxious side needs to categorize things as the first stage of understanding them. (I did two years, very young, at Montessori school, literally sorting wooden blocks into holes of the same shape.) So, categorizing and then moving beyond the categorization to break it—to break the idea of it—is the only way I know how to go from complete stumbling in the undifferentiated mass of experience to something a little more livable and apprehendable. But that second step, the breaking part, is not negotiable. I think this can look and even feel like a totally incoherent commitment, and it can certainly be described as a holding of messiness (I actually love that description). But it’s a struggle, it’s not gentle. It’s like holding something that’s on the verge of being too hot for your hands. That’s what writing can feel like when I feel like it is doing something, even if only to/for me (though the hope is always that it can do something for at least one other, too.)
HA to DL: One striking element of your poems—I’m calling back “Drunken Worm” and “Education Is Only Valuable for Keeping a Cunt” in the Spotlight series by rob mclennan as well as “MANAGERIAL MATERIAL” in antilang—is how they enact word-combination: sometimes seamless sometimes seeming to be intentionally seamed (that was an admittedly fun phrase to write). What type of word-play is alive in this for you—and if you like, in the way your poems emanate various forms of research? What are the effects on you when you experience the poems back?
The word-play (world-play) is honestly like a compulsive behaviour, more like a compulsive speech-act. I can’t recall an idiomatic expression for the life of me, these conventionally understood turns of phrase, instead I’ve allowed myself some courage to just say whatever comes out of my mouth hole.
There’s an anecdote here where I responded to my sweetheart, Josh Rose’s teasing, post first date mind you, with “are you pissing on me” instead of “are you taking the piss.” This is all to say the word-play comes without too much effort and also intentionally when I’m editing. I get that dopamine hit when I recognize a pattern, a proximity with words. It goes without saying we are meaning-making beings–to pull a part meaning, suggesting new meanings by suggesting a signified could represent so much more…in a neo-liberal landscape where signifiers mean fucking nothing, I’m churning content, signification, so that more than my/our brains light up. I mean, jesus fucking christ, I’m punning like a mother fucker all the time, and this is in the service of problematizing words, not exploitation. None of it is landing on a t-shirt–yet. The word-play, at the very least, is a necessary vehicle for me to move through my research, to bring friendly + fire together, these words require more than juxtaposition, but complete mutation.
By definition a “problematic” is not just about something that poses a problem, but something that is difficult to solve or decide. Research often results in adding more to stoke (stroke) an already ever growing problem. Making connections between seemingly disparate things lights me up, lights up pathways in the brain. There’s a dopamine hit when we think we’ve figured it out–so I aim to not sit there too long, amidst the hit, the possibility of elation, so I never get satisfied enough to marry an idea. Albeit my fidelity is always to anarchy: no masters, no slaves, no bosses. And, yet, I’m a boss–this is why I have to stay loose, to allow all the room to negotiate and navigate problems without recourse.
How to tie, intentionally seam, all of the problems together into a problematic? I re-read, re-research, re-underline–things, words, ideas start to bleed and blend, they become muddled while maintaining their charge, which is the opposite of how it happens in institutions, governments, campaigns, where signifiers retain their superficiality, a surface meaning with no capacity to ignite agency. Sometimes I feel like my research practice is not unlike a pool vacuum, sucking up all the dirt, including other poets and thinker’s dirt, and emptying it out into the trash that is a book. It’s important to re-examine the dirt.
HA: To follow this beautiful irreverence, could you treat us to a short-short excerpt that’s not published elsewhere if this feels right? Maybe something that speaks to what your current book learns alongside you that you hope you get to bring into the spaces where you share from it?
DL: I want to share this from the introductory essay in #postdildo:
Dildos are not the enemy, but they could be if You + I want them to be. #postdildo is in no way against dildos; in fact, it believes in the ubiquity and proliferation of them. I am greatly indebted to Paul B. Preciado’s body-essays; he gargled and spat out new life into how I imagine dildos: as just another tool. The dildo is a split possibility, just as every organ becomes something else with a little imagination outside the old heterosexual regime. You + I are ensnared in the logic of these dreaded scripts You + I are ready to burn over and over again until You + I get it right. Preciado describes the dildo’s logic as one that first terrifies, “It’s death stalking the living penis,” then possesses – “loss of sexual sovereignty in order to finally gain a plastic pleasure” 2 – and finally sublimates and surpasses all organs, returning to the body in order to multiply its pleasures. It is so good to be fucked by death. It is so good to be fucked without anything to show for it other than a persistent UTI. I wouldn’t have it any other way. #postdildo presents a cacophony of living and resurrected octopus arms reaching out to love You + I with their three hearts, laying their eggs in our welcoming orifice as they die another day after birth. If a dildo turns prosthetics against organs for the transformative purpose of deterritorializing them, #postdildo is the shared cigarette smoked with a dildo after they tell You they’ll never leave You.
I’ve been writing these shorter prose pieces on my flog:
Recently I held onto the longest breath possible to examine how long I could last. I doesn’t offer too many tickets in, only when provoked. I paid a tattoo artist to cut a solar plexus wide open, wide enough to show off all the nerves in lacking charm. I got sick off I the other night, too many introspective expectations anticipating the rollout of a new true I. Cut off I for the sword is the footbridge to a clearing in the forest lacking all clarity, all fascistic logic models need not apply. We must escape our heads like prisoners their prisons. We must escape our inboxes like mourners their melancholia.
As below what does it mean to be headless? For Bataille et al it is about a response to political madness’ reified logic, on the right, on the left, suffocating the masses by its strangle hold in perpetuity. Off with logic’s head, off with dichotomies rendering the subject nil, the Achéphale posits an old religion with a new program. Take up perversion and crime. Remind every reader that Bataille, Masson, Klossowski never sacrificed anyone, but anticipated the possibility of death at the hands and feet of friends. Wonder why this annoys. Maybe some Is are bound and don’t hate fixity as much as some academics might aspire. The Kobe Cannibal casts a shrug from above. I prefers to traverse the contradictions on no sides for no one.
Headlessness is not to give up our imaginary position as the centre but to refuse the polarization of politics, dichotomies of any ilk, and rather open up to madness without losing oneself down and towards a bottom. Like a clever pole trick, Angelos Evangelou describes this as an ‘an exercise in acrobatics’ and I concurs. With so much attention to wellness, something in I prefers to tend to madness, because madness disturbs as well as arouses release. More often what disturbs is other people’s madness especially if it gets in the way of I’s own. That ego response is for an I with a head … how might an I without a head take it? At the root(s) of every sensibility without any claim to reception. Nevertheless, life demands to be freed no less from the past than from a system of rational and administrative measures. I without a head owes no one their introspection on demand.
I, in all its headlessness, is not willing to transgress towards an imaginary radical and communal past (the left has taken on nostalgia just as much as the right albeit all the more led by rational hopefulness the right rejects) nor willing to traverse old contradictions to get to no where. It’s all negation, all the time, because it’s the only way to sidestep ghosts and principles, traditions and costumes on all sides, the only way to refuse a future bound to a past, which is why I must turn always to literature, or the prospect of sex and death, to be free.
AM: And I’ll share a bit from something in progress called “At Some Point I Became (a fiction)” (an early version was printed as a chapbook by MO(O)ON.IO:
AT SOME POINT I became one of them, by which I mean that those who were not among them came to see me as one of them, while they themselves, and I, knew this claim for what it was: a lie.
A useful lie. Useful to them, to me—as if usefulness is the measure of anything. You say But isn’t it, But what is left for us to trade? You have hoarded usefulness, as have the rest of us. You have tended it, and you like the way it smells. You find its edges to be smooth and easy to run your hands over, you find its surface complete and charismatic, now and then you test the softness at its core with a gentle pressure from your palms, the way you’d give CPR to an infant. Your usefulness spits up in your face, and you smile.
Then this isn’t for you. Then you should do something else with your day. It’s beautiful out. The cherry blossoms are half on the ground. Find some still clinging to branches, let them fall on your hair and shoes. Close your eyes and turn your face to the sun, put your arm around your seldom-seen friend, stick your hand in the back pocket of your lover’s jeans, stroke the fuzz-headed babe strapped to your chest like a bomb. Breathe in through your nostrils, out through your mouth. Make the sound you make when you’re letting go of something. My sound is “mmmm.” Yours is “fffftttttttt” or “cchhhhhhh” or “ahhhhhhh.” Whatever it is, it’s okay. Your sound is okay. The sun is okay and the cherry blossoms are fine, even the dead ones. Even the ones that are about to die. The lie that made me one of them is like those blossoms, and it’s like the sound you just made. The lie is your okayness. I understand: until it spent itself, it was also mine.
and, a bit later in the piece –
There is something else to say about the assumption on their part that one day I would certainly become one of them, that both I and they would feel this to be an agreeable if not an inevitable state change lurking somewhere in the near-to-middle future, and that something else is the fact that when they make this assumption, when they think it or when they say it aloud behind closed doors, what they are saying is that they do not see any clear obstacle to my accomplishing such a change. They are offering what they feel is a compliment to me by saying or suggesting that they do not see any clear obstacle to my being eligible for such a change in the near or middle future. They may, behind closed doors, be wondering why I am not doing more to hasten my state change, and they are right to wonder. I believe there are things I could do to hasten my state change and that there would be valuable benefits to pursuing such a change and to joining them after all. After all, I do not hate them. I do in fact often vote for initiatives that favor them, or that favor some subsets or individuals among them whom I not only don’t hate but actively love, whom I respect and admire and in some cases near-idolize. I often vote to favor them because they too need to be defended, because among them are many rejectionists who have chosen to reject from the inside, and just as it is unfortunate but necessary for some people to pay to find the cherry blossoms in order for there to be the one day per week in which finding the cherry blossoms is free and open to the public, it is unfortunate but necessary for some of them to be defended as they reject from within.
Also, I have friends whose lives have materially improved and who have been better able to take care of themselves and their communities as a result of joining them and becoming counted, accurately and not erroneously, as in my case, among their ranks. I love my friends and I have an impulsive desire to vote for initiatives that favor them. I have an impulsive desire to vote for initiatives that have a certain short-term effect that will favor my friends, and I have an equal and opposite impulsive desire to vote against initiatives that have a certain short-term effect that will favor some of my friends over others of my friends. You’ll notice I’m leaving out, for the moment, the question of which initiatives favor me and my access to ways of taking care of my needs. This is because sometimes I have to tend in the immediate term to my okayness, false and partial as it may be, I have to tend immediately to my okayness in order to last the day, especially when there is something threatening in the air. An example of something threatening in the air is the way I began to notice the air thickening around me at the point when I became one of them, by which I mean the point at which those who were not among them came to see me as such.
HA: Returning to the event, it feels like there’s some joyful subversion being enacted. Were there moments of feeling this kind of joyful subversion as you worked on the projects? Share a little about one please?
DL: Thank you for recognizing joy first. I can get a bit overwhelmed and overly preoccupied by the pain of writing projects that I neglect the pleasure derived from stringing seemingly disparate (and desperate) concepts and ideas and feelings together, molding a negative impression of my own (un)doing. As if pain and pleasure are mutally exclusive. But you’re not asking about pleasure, you’re asking about joy, about “joyful subversion.” I’m looking up how to clone-a-willy: once inserted, you’ll want the mixture to set-up right away so you won’t have time to lose your erection. Your question has me thinking about the title of Félix Guattari ’s collected essays, lectures, and interviews, Soft Subversion. There’s a reference to “soft repression” which is how he describes the way in which the state enacts power to keep people in line: gently, softly but “more systematic and deceptive.” A conceptual point in history where people are complicit in their own domination; the shift from a disciplinary to a control society. (I’m really going with your loose questions here, meeting it with my own looseness.) “Joyful Subversion,” then, could be a concept that is antagonist towards “joyful repression” that is the way people come into “joy” and even “pleasure” through manufactured dopamine hits intentionally captured by corporate interests, institutionally encouraged self-care routines intentionally offered to workers so that they may return back to work refreshed after drowning in their bubble baths … there were indeed moments, more so sustained durée, while working on #postdildo where merely holding the good conversation a part from social media became a joyfully subversive act, relishing in what can’t fit inside an infographic or can’t be articulated by a white font on black background musing, or offering just enough parts to the machine for others to assemble their own understandings of the project, in turn making their own project out of some otherwise nasty and funny and acerbic, affectively and intellectually charged, material. It’s everybody’s #postdildo.
AM: Danielle, I am intimidated and attracted by your ability to make this totally apt connection to Soft Subversion—another reason to return to Guattari—and to coin Joyful Subversion. Earlier I mentioned neolib self-help, and that’s where my mind goes here (oh, the number of apps and programs that combine ‘mindfulness’ and ‘self-care’ with ‘productivity’!). I also think about the fucked-up ways in which I have managed to preserve writing as a joyful activity for myself—how I was once told (I’m sure this was something said by a famous cis-male writer, but I have no idea which one) that writing should feel like you’re ‘having an affair’, and no matter how much I hate all of the ideological ground of this metaphor I can’t ever quite get it out of my head: the joys of writing for me have always been connected to ‘getting one over on’ productivity capitalism (look at me here ‘spending’ ‘my’ time writing poetry!) But, more than that, I would echo what you say about how ‘holding the good conversation’ is a joyfully subversive act. I think for me there is something about writing into my own confusion and complexity that is similar to having the good conversation with others—these things are interconnected and sometimes are one and the same—and that similarity might be described as the relief and release that comes when you start to actually fucking talk about the thing that feels impossible to talk about, when (whether alone or with loverscomradesstrangers) you hold your breath and plunge in.
HA: Thank you both for your immense generosity and, frankly, your brilliance.