In her new book, Love Dog, Masha Tupitsyn, known for her genre-defying books and essays on film, continues to impress, as she revels in the critical possibilities provided by the short essay, the fragment and the screenshot. Her hybrid non-fiction has been praised for its dazzling capacity for intimacy while also maintaining a “tender attentiveness, and perceptive humor.” Without exception, Love Dog remains a vigilant and attentive text, one deeply concerned with the project of radical love in an increasingly slick and collapsed world.
Love Dog, which follows, LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film, is the second book in Tupitsyn’s trilogy of immaterial writing. Much like its predecessor, LACONIA, a book of contemporary aphorisms on film that Brain Pickings described as “an ingenious experiment in fragmented film criticism,” Love Dog critically examines the relationships between love, cinema, feminism and digital culture by experimenting with a variety of media and literary forms. As a lover of the paratextual, it’s hard not to fall in love with such a work, which openly declares itself as one to be “read, listened to, and watched.” The decisive rigor and carefulness invested in every page of Tupitsyn’s multi-media manifesto, written as a blog on Tumblr, results in a beautiful and ethically compelling read. Part lover’s diary, mixtape and philosopher’s notebook, Love Dog investigates the ways in which the cultural comes into contact with the lover-as-thinker and the thinker-as-lover. As a writer, Tupitsyn’s intuitive and interpretive eye never misses a beat as she sharply observes the significance of such uncanny, fortuitous, traumatic, and serendipitous collisions. Given her reputation for anticipating future forms of criticism, I anticipate and curiously await the 3rd installment of the series, the sound installation, “Love Tests/Love Sounds,” an audio montage of love in cinema. “So much of what is moving in Tupitsyn’s criticism,” writes Elaine Castillo in Big Other, “is her way of locating, animating and mourning the loss of the material, the loss of texture, the loss of the real—where material, texture and realness are qualities as spiritual and moral as they are embodied.”
Lara Mimosa Montes: Let’s start at “the wrong moment,” as it were. In Love Dog you write, “You have to begin with the wrong moment.” Which moment initially catapulted you into this moment with this project?
Masha Tupitsyn: I don’t know how to answer this question. It’s hard for me because I still don’t have the answer, and I might never have it. It is the great enigma of my life and therefore the book. I am still in suspense over the question of love. Still in the Hanged Man space. I met someone I wasn’t supposed to meet, X—the wrong person or the wrong time—and it rattled me completely. But the encounter was Evental. Through writing Love Dog, I tried to understand why what happened was also about what doesn’t happen, and why what doesn’t happen is part of what happens.
LMM: The swerves of bad timing! You write in Love Dog, “Time all scrambled up. Time at the wrong time.” How does Love Dog as a text formally address this anxiety or urgency of writing, loving and thinking? I remember fondly in your previous book, LACONIA, the first in your immaterial trilogy, you consider a version of this urgency as a symptom of bad timing. Can you explain the links you make between the digital and the urgent, the frustration as you excavate it in these time-stamped forms like Twitter or Tumblr?
MT: Love Dog, as I say in the reader’s note at the beginning of the book, is meant to be read, looked at and listened to because we have to do all three of these things in digital culture. We have to look in a lot of different ways. As Godard once said, “To me there is no real difference between image and sound. . . You have to listen to the image and look at the sound.” And: “You have to start between. A space is the time you need to get to someone else.” Godard is echoing Bresson’s edict about the politics of arrangement: “Each image would be embedded between two other images, the preceding one and the following ones.” Bresson, as you know, is a big presence in the book, so Love Dog is organized with these precepts in mind. It’s full of spaces, interstices and aporias—literally looking at what’s between things. But the book is also, as you point out, a grammar of time. In Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Douglas Rushkoff writes that since we’ve lost narrative in digital culture, we’ve lost the future in a sense. We’ve lost the destinal and we’ve lost ethics and we’ve lost the ability to make sense of our lives, because, as I note repeatedly in the book, if Hamlet is the beginning of ethics—deciding when and when not to act—without narrative time, we also have no sense of urgency or ethical agency either. Presentism throws being and time off completely, so that what you and I think of as bad timing is really the scrambling of our phenomenology. Everyone and everything is off-track, or, as Derrida, referring to Hamlet, writes in Specters of Marx, “Time is out of joint.” Everything feels “wrong.” Things that were supposed to happen don’t. People that are supposed to act and show up, don’t. The Event and destiny fall flat, lead us nowhere. And we are left standing around waiting for things that should have happened, but that can’t and don’t happen anymore. So I wanted to write about love and loss in the age of presentism for these reasons. To do that I had to employ the structure of presentism. For me, the form has to speak to the time, otherwise it’s deceptive.
LM: I agree. The form must speak to the time. I wonder what the timing of experiencing Love Dog is. Andre Aciman has recommended Proust’s In Search of Lost Time be done in one year, whereas Susan Sontag has said that Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz is best done in three consecutive days. What would the Love Dog prescribe here—the recommended dosage?
MT: As its reader, you would have to tell me what the reading dosage for Love Dog would be. But I am definitely interested in the dosage and timing of projects when I write them. Timing as a form of writing itself. I like creative mandates. LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (the first installment in my digital trilogy) and Love Dog (the second installment) have both been concerned with timing on all sorts of levels. Both books are timed: time-stamped, time-obsessed; concerned with the tracking of culture, the stamping of autobiographical time. But I also put myself on strict idiosyncratic time-lines in order to write both books. Restrictions and limitations were imposed from the start, and both projects were turned into books to give the writing rigor and purpose. Constraint, an Oulipo influence, is applied as a form of freedom. I made both projects year-long because the day is important to LACONIA and Love Dog. With Love Dog, I only posted one entry per day, oscillating between short and long posts. I treated the space—what I was putting into it, what I was leaving out, when I used it, when I didn’t—seriously.
I am annoyed by bloggers who are excessive and indiscriminating with their content. Same goes for Facebook posts and Tweets. I always say, choose your content and your moment (we’re back to timing!), make it count, set your dosage for expression carefully, as if you were setting a timer. Don’t overwhelm people, and don’t add to the cultural clutter. Your work should cut through the clutter. Why should one person read every thought you have? It’s emotionally immature and creatively indulgent. It might be valuable for you as a person/writer to express yourself, sure. But that doesn’t mean it all has to go out into the world. The internet is already, by its very design, the space of and repository for excess, taboo and the pleasure principle, so it’s no longer inherently radical to be excessive—to confront excess with excess. The Livejournal, or public journal, differs from the diary of the past, which was an essentially private or posthumous form, at least in theory. There was a deferral between confession and the reception of confession. At this point, when there is so much confessional material being produced by everyone, we have to be willing to practice some kind of creative vigilance and self-restraint, because the sheer quantity of social media, etc. compulsively invites us to constantly (pathologically) make work and interact. By viewing the creative process as holistic and precise (both collectively and in one’s personal creative trajectory), not individualistic and compulsive, I think creative and intellectual work becomes more, not less necessary. More than the “just write,” or “write every day rule,” I adhere to the precept of writing when it is essential to write. Figuring out when it is necessary and unnecessary. As Susan Sontag wrote in her journal, “When there is no censorship the writer has no importance. So it’s not so simple to be against censorship.” Right now we need to think about not just how can I do this, but why should I do this? Part of the answer, I think, is knowing when to retreat, and when to disappear.
LMM: Yes, the desire to disappear was one of my motivations for starting the Tumblr, WORN OUT JOY. I named it as such because I felt, like Will Oldham’s character in the Kelly Reinhardt film of the same name, worn out. I was worn out by the cultural compulsion to confess. With “Love Dog” as your Tumblr handle, how did your project, and subsequently the book, come to take on this screen name? When I think about it, you could have just as well called yourself Romeo, but that’s pejorative, isn’t it? Or, like Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Love Dog or not, it seems degrading to be recognized as The Lover, but Barthes was a love dog, too. You remind us—in A Lover’s Discourse, he writes, “Love. . .an illness from which the lover must recover.” I remember, when I first started reading Love Dog, I didn’t know what to make of the title, as in, it seemed self-defeating and defeated from the outset. Early on in the book, you explain, “How Hamlet is also about a self-naming dog and so am I. It’s important to make a name for yourself in a world that calls you names.” What other name(s) could you have called yourself?
MT: Honestly, there is no other animal or name for this book, as no other animal or name came to mind. The name, Love Dog, as with all my dialectical titles, just came to me and stuck before I had any say in the matter. If, as Derrida said, “A title is a promise,” I could say that the title of Love Dog is a promise that I made to myself in the form of a book. Second, since “animals are good to think with,” writes Dominic Pettman in his new book, Look At The Bunny, love dog became my totem animal and my autobiographical animal—the animal through which I tell my story and become both animal and subject. The dog establishes a structure of high-low identification. Faithful and quixotic. Defeated and triumphant. So rather than investing all our human love ideals into dogs, which we do as a culture of dog lovers, I wanted to put the dog into love. It is the difference between the consumption of love and the essence of a type of relation that would benefit humans in their bonds with other humans. Love Dog is degradation and exaltation, aloneness and devotion, shame and honor, and, of course, cultural vagrancy—stray.
By assuming and conjuring the totem of the dog in Love Dog, I fashioned a totemic position of “dogdum” for myself that not only establishes my relation to love in the digital economy, but that preserves and protects that relation. But love has always needed the dog, and that is why the dog is the very embodiment of belief in love. The dog is the house of love. Where love is a high ideal, the dog, both common and dependable, is the bridge between the sacred and the profane. Love Dog simultaneously protects, watches over, guides and democratizes love. Since Love Dog is a digital project, it seemed impossible to think about the post-human, technology and the virtual, without thinking about totemic animals and animal-being. This goes back to Odysseus and Argos The Great Dog, the one who even after 20 years never forgot him.
LMM: Is there a relationship between dogdum and shame? There’s a tension in Love Dog where the notion of hiding (“The Hermit”) is set against the sickness of wanting to be found. Hide and seek, if you will. It’s a kind of fort-da game being played out here, isn’t it? You are also interested in vanishing acts. You write: “But writers used to disappear all the time. Lovers too.” Why for the lover, writer, is it essential to cultivate spaces of silence, as well as speech? Why also might it be more vital for the woman writer to abstain, as Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, and to intellectually assert “A Room of One’s Own”?
MT: All of this really interests me. I have always written about abstainment. Just as I started off being interested in the fissures between onscreen and offscreen in Beauty Talk & Monsters, I am now equally interested in the fissures of on and off the page, material and immaterial, memory and loss—hence all the writing about mourning and melancholy in the last year. So absence-presence, saying and not saying, public and private, veiling and unveiling, hiding and seeking, as you put it, is also about contending with the nature of internet writing and performativity in today’s culture, especially as it relates to gender and desire. These gestures are not static or either/or. Taboos fluctuate and so do transgressions. What bothers me about a lot of contemporary internet writing, and writing in the internet age, is this insistence that the only kind of subjectivity we should practice is an exteriorized one, particularly as it relates to women. That because we were forced to be absent and silent for so long, the only solution to that is the total exteriorization of our subjectivity, of what it means to be female—so Marie Calloway, for example. It feels like after being pathologized for centuries, we now self-pathologize, and this is supposed to be liberating in commodity culture where everything is spectacle. I mean, the whole culture does this: Look how fucked up I am. Listen to all the fucked up shit I do.
Right now, we have a completely non-dialectical relationship to content and subjectivity, which is why we focus on female subjectivity and empowerment without relating it to capitalist patriarchy—or individual men, for that matter. Like, as long as you write about and expose how men treat you, it’s okay to let them continue treating you like shit. I mean men are shameless and women are shamed, so how exactly is this supposed to work? I don’t think everything has to be performed or made explicit all the time. I don’t think being explicit is the only way to be transgressive, radical, open, or honest. I think you can perform what you don’t perform. Sometimes the words are about how you don’t have the words. Sometimes subjectivity is about what you don’t do. It’s who and what you stay away from. As Richard Hell put it in his essay about Bresson, “If you don’t know Bresson, I’ll try to explain what sets him apart. The first thing is, how apart he is.”
Authenticity and honesty—the force of revelation—are not the same thing as the performance of transparency. We are too in right now, too with. We need to start getting out and retreating. It’s corrupting to be this close. We live in a culture that pretends that, because it shows us everything all the time, we see everything. But as Peter Sloterdijk points out, modernity has entered into a terminal phase of “‘enlightened self-consciousness’ whereby all forms of power have been unmasked with no change in behavior.” This recalls Brecht’s, “As crimes pile up, they become invisible.” Today, as confessions pile up, truth becomes invisible. Instead of thinking through our shame, we’re mostly just shameless about shame, which is like the flip side of repression. And that’s really not that interesting to me. The symptom is still the same, only now we show instead of conceal. We are apparently only as funny, smart, talented, desirable, successful, or feminist as we are willing to be humiliated or chronicle our humiliation. This is the way most mass entertainment and art function now.
Most people approach women’s confessional writing in the blogosphere as though it were a purely inside/outside formulation. Whatever is in should be out. Whatever we historically veiled should be unveiled. I think we need to re-think both the confessional and the transgressive as it relates to subjectivity and becoming-subject. If everyone is confessing and being explicit, what does it mean to confess and be explicit? What makes something transgressive today as opposed to in the past? Is the confessional always and inherently feminist? If anything, I think the internet is post-confessional. To me, the Web is a hyper-exteriorized space that has obliterated any dialectic with interior, resulting in a double-exterior. Instead of an interior/exterior dialectic, we get exterior/exterior. So Love Dog is partly about this.
LMM: Totally. We do need to re-evaluate forms of confession, neo-confession, post-confessional poetics, as if we could get post- or past this issue. I had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing another typical male writer’s faux pas in a graduate classroom recently: He had mixed up and really blundered that distinction between confession and feminism. As this writer, who is not a poet, was complaining about having to read some very recent confessional female poems on motherhood, he said something along the lines of “I’m tired of these Emily Dickinson-esque abortions in the freezer poems.” Masha, I saw the look on my graduate colleagues faces searching deep inside themselves for that Emily Dickinson poem this person was referring to. Of course, that poem was by Anne Sexton, not Emily Dickinson! You can imagine everyone’s confusion, but that this person confused the two, Emily and Anne, says something to me about our inability to carefully and critically consider what makes Emily Dickinson’s private confessions different from Anne Sexton’s. Or even Marie Calloway’s from Chris Kraus’s. So, I share your suspicion about the claim some make, that the confessional act is always and inherently feminist. But try telling that to people who work on Anne Sexton. She’s one of those poets that readers get very proprietary about with respect to her confessional-political intensions. I don’t think she had any, but I still love the nature of her performance! I mean, look at Sean Landers whose notes were just up at The New Museum. I bring it up only because those function as contemporary confessional documents, but they’re hardly feminist. It’s funny—in one of the entries, Landers confesses he wished Ann Sexton was his girlfriend. The dumbass spelled her name wrong.
MT: Yes, exactly. And yet people continue to act as though the confessional—poets like Sexton and Plath, diarists like Anaïs Nin, the great female performance artists of the ’60s and ’70s—means and works in the exact same way today as it did in the past. There is a reason that that work feels so transgressive and powerful, and it has everything to do with the time in which those works were being made and the things those artists/works were responding to. Art and politics don’t operate in a vacuum nor are they static. We don’t put things into historical context anymore, which is a problem. This became very evident to me when I saw the Marina Abramović retrospective at MoMA in 2010. Abramović’s early work was intelligent, radical and context-specific, while her new work is gimmicky. But even she couldn’t understand the important historical specificity of her earlier work because she recreated all these old performance pieces using other people, and it didn’t work at all. She turned her work into a prop. In a different setting, time and cultural context, the work became something entirely different. Yet she was acting as though the performances still functioned in the same way; as if the performance then is the same as the performance now, and all you have to is transpose it. She acted as though those new conditions were not at play: that it’s 40 years later, MoMa is a huge, elite (corporate) institutional space. And she is famous, so the drive of making work and having your work received is very different, and the bodies are now the bodies of others—not her own, and not her lover’s. The bodies are hired. They are not intimate or personal. That matters, too. Many of those early pieces with Ulay were about private sexual dialectics made public, which they enacted with and without each other. Now she sits herself on an institutional throne, wearing a long monarchic-style dress and being “present” as “the Artist”? That is such a power move. And power is a very dangerous and problematic thing, especially in this country. It’s also just profoundly boring. Confessing and using your body in commodity culture, a culture that has learned to market and sell everything from the ground up, including confession, and most especially the female body, makes confession, exhibitionism, presence and transparency, into something far more complex and suspect. I am more interested in candor and radical engagement than I ever was in confession or exhibitionism. That’s one of the reasons I believe in occasional retreat and non-participation as a radical gesture of cultural defiance.
LMM: It seems to me that one of the ways in which Love Dog deals with or retreats from the strains of confessionalism is by way of diffusion. For instance, you make use of subtext, hypertext, screentext, paratext. . . I attributed this particular implosion of language as an effect of the digital, and how the digital seems to now be informing what is possible in print. For example, Wayne Koestenbaum’s The Anatomy of Harpo Marx or Dodie Bellamy’s the buddhist. These projects all require a sensibility of the page, as well as the idea, as inhabiting a digital space, one that is multimodal, haptic. . .how does your project make do with that?
MT: In 2009, I started a trilogy of immaterial writing on the internet that began with LACONIA. It experimented with new modes of writing and criticism, updating traditional literary forms and practices like the aphorism and the fragment. It was also the first book of film criticism written entirely on Twitter, and an exercise, as I explain in the book, in criticism as a form of living. At the time I did not know that LACONIA would be part of a trilogy. Nor did I know that Love Dog would be the second installment. I only knew, each time, that these projects were bigger than me just tweeting and blogging; that I had no interest in doing those things, in using social media, without staging some kind of critical intervention. So both became books and conceptual projects pretty early on. In the case of Love Dog, despite my deep ambivalence towards the internet, I wanted to write about love in some roundabout, multi-track, uncategorizable and contemporary way. I realized that Tumblr would allow me to write the kind of intertextual, associative, experimental and discursive criticism that I have always wanted to write and that the internet makes possible. More importantly, one that would directly respond to the digital structure that now informs and organizes our lives. So a fractured love narrative at a time when things like time and narrative have been obliterated. When all we have is precarity and the present, so no catharsis, resolution or stability of any kind. Love Dog let me engage with and archive all the things that interest me, looking behind, around and through things—the onscreen and the offscreen—only I now I could directly import and employ the media (images, films, songs, etc.) I was commenting on as the structure of writing/thinking/feeling/time itself, creating multi-media texts that not only excite me, but that actively respond to the fractured world we live in. I wanted Love Dog to be a book in and about its time, both in its form and content.
Masha Tupitsyn is a writer and cultural critic. She is the author of Love Dog (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (ZerO Books, 2011), Beauty Talk & Monsters (Semiotext(e) Press, 2007), a collection of film-based stories and co-editor of the anthology Life As We Show It: Writing on Film (City Lights, 2009). Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her blog can be found here and her press, Penny-Ante Editions, can be found here.