Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press and included work by Bhanu Kapil (“Monster Checklist”) and Ching-In Chen (“bhanu feeds soham a concession”). They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss dreams, threads, fungus, marigolds, soft-tissue sites, and writing as a form of pilgrimage. Michael Martin Shea: Hi Bhanu! Hi Ching-In! One of the things that’s striking about both of your texts–and part of the reason we wanted to interview the two of you together–is how they’re in conversation with other texts: Bhanu’s quasi-syllabus mentions a variety of other books and thinkers, while Ching-In’s is, in part, a response to Bhanu’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters. Do you see your work as a form of conversation?
Bhanu Kapil: I wrote the “handwritten preface” to Incubation in a cafe, with my friend, the poet Melissa Buzzeo. I put my head down on the table; in that time, she wrote or sketched her What Began Us (Leon Works.) I woke up, ordered some toast and coffee, and wrote the preface as she was completing her book. She took what I wrote back to Brooklyn and pinned it to her fridge; I had to get her to mail it back, a year later, when I realized what my own book could be. This, in fact, was not a conversation, but dreaming, what it is to feel so safe you can fall asleep while your friend is writing a book and to also dream your own book as they are writing their own.
Last summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Kapil’s book, Schizophrene (Nightboat). Recorded November 1st. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: You’ve described this edition of Schizophrene as a mutation of its predecessor. Could you discuss what has changed, and the motivations or circumstances behind those changes? What only can be arrived at through mutation? How does mutation-based composition facilitate and/or complicate your ongoing efforts to develop a book or sentence or narrative that “never arrives”?
Bhanu Kapil: Before you called I tried to find a copy of Schizophrene. Fittingly, I found one that is neither the first nor second edition, but a literal mutation that Lucas de Lima sent to me with a letter. Hang on. I shall open it. It says: “Enclosed is an occult copy of Schizophrene. Hope you don’t mind me saying that I love both versions of the book. So did most students, who thought the repeated pages were intentional, as did I.” Around page 19 this version repeats. Following the line ” ‘Reverse migration. . . ‘ Is psychotic,” the book just starts again. But not only does it restart. It condenses and excludes some sections. Perhaps 100 similar copies have circulated. Lucas has written about it on the Montevidayo blog. Though my own emphasis upon mutation comes from the thinking of Elizabeth Grosz, as communicated to me by her protégé Andrea Spain. Andrea and I will teach a workshop on this topic next summer at Naropa. From Grosz I take the notion of non-reproductive productivity. The larger the number of generative acts that do not result in “progeny,” the faster a species’ outer boundaries evolve. Mating need not involve childbirth. The mutations always occur in another place, a place not visible as a boundary, but which precedes a boundary. This pre-space or activity vibrates with the limit of what that space will become. Schizophrene, in its notebook form, presents both an installation and a staging ground. In fact the bulk of this project does not reside in the finished book, but in many notebooks and documents that contain my research on psychosis, immigrant experience, touch.