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The Conversant likes to publish multiple interviews with a single artist. Vanessa Place also appeared in a piece from our May issue.
“I embrace my not understanding. To the point of overlaying my ignorance with yours. Yours meaning ours. There’s no reason to differentiate, after all, leather-bound as we are by the blessing of eternal hate. I don’t mean hell, of course. Just the indoors. Domestic violence, some say, as if there’s any other. Oh, I know all about war, countries going at each other like blood brothers. But honestly, and just between us, there’s enough mutual disregard and self-concern to supply a marketplace of bombings. Between us meaning between them, of course.”
—From Vanessa Place’s ONE (with Blake Butler and Christopher Higgs)
In the work of Vanessa Place, the constituting effects of regulatory power on the subject’s body and mind occur within either self-referential or indexical (world-oriented) language—not mimetic, per se, but a language whose referent is the outside, or the other, assuming an exterior phenomenological reality or other even exists. Place’s texts don’t confront the law of the father: They explode it, by treating participatory dialogue as an a priori “infelicitious utterance”; by differentiating between an “act of rhetoric” (law and poetry) and a “rhetorical act” (nullified verdict); and by manifesting language’s total and real subsumption by capital. Place’s ironized forms, post-avant allegories and formal strategies of appropriation, collage and proceduralism deploy legal performatives (citation, witness statements, documentation) to parody and critique civil exigencies.
In her anti-or ante-epistemology, there is no “possible truth, just things that could be true” or that have an “appearance of truth”—a rejection of empiricism as much as a concession of finitude.
“One” begins to wonder: How can a subject position of dissent (“My register lies in objection. Constant objection”), or a negative or reductionist dialectic (her Bataillian-inspired “a-poetics of radical evil”) evade the sound and fury of a Hegelian bad infinity? If the text’s motor isn’t self, or world or even other texts, how does Place reflect on her own process (e.g. the Tragodia series), as well as on representatives, in the courtroom, and books, of the defendant/Law/author/Authority?
A poet, fiction writer and criminal appellate attorney, Place is the co-director of the Los Angeles-based Les Figues Press, a regular contributor to X-tra Art Quarterly and has lectured and performed internationally. Her published works include Dies: A Sentence (Les Figues, 2006), the epic post-conceptual novel La Medusa (FC2, 2008) and the experimental prose trilogy Tragodía (Blanc Press, 2010). Newly published by P-queue Editions, The Father & Childhood is a selection from a second serial work, Boycott Project, with the complete work, Boycott Project, forthcoming this year from Ugly Duckling Presse. With Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Brown and Teresa Carmody, Place collaborated on the recent anthology, I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women (Les Figues Press).
Virginia Konchan: “I am a font of stories,” you say in The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and Law (Other Press, 2010), a book describing your experiences as an appellate defense attorney prosecuting rape while withstanding the temptation to judge even convicted rapists from a stance of moral absolutism. In your inter-genre trafficking as a writer, poet, attorney and performer whose work elides categorization, do you find narrative, as a system of equivalents and metonymies, more yielding to the neutering language of legalese than poetic language, and, if so, does it also contain a greater potential for hard or soft subversion? I’m thinking of Barthes’ quip in Elements of Semiology that narrative is “legal tender,” subject to contract and economic stakes, as a form of saleable merchandise.
Vanessa Place: All language is currency. There is no one conversation that is more or less capable of either carrying one along or serving a measure of tendresse.
Over the summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Place’s book Boycott (Ugly Duckling). Recorded June 18th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: I have questions about the book’s origins. That might seem counter to conceptualist emphases upon reader reception, but could you give some background on your preceding engagements with (or provocations by, or responses to) these canonized feminist source texts? Do you see Boycott crystallizing tendencies latent within these texts? Did the decision to replace female-gendered terms with male-gendered terms simply start as an intuitive gesture that happened to work out well, or did you arrive at this plan over time? If I seem to be searching for an originary myth to a form of writing that precludes one: for me the pleasures of reading conceptual books often do involve this triangulated apprehension/projection of what a specific poet deliberately has done with a particular discourse or idiom or anterior project. So feel free to intervene in that triangulation however you see fit.
Vanessa Place: In terms of this specific manuscript, I don’t know if you could call it intuitive, as much as I had absorbed Lee Lozano’s fascinating Boycott Piece—executed at the same time as second-wave feminist texts were being promulgated right and left. Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone and Angela Davis published celebrated books around that time, even as Lacan delivered his Seminar XX, where he says la femme n’existe pas (the Woman doesn’t exist). To my mind, if you combine these contemporaneous claims, taking Lacan at his word while reading those iconic feminist texts, you can’t help but understand their main topic was men. They don’t address women. They address the male imaginary. So to literalize this operation. . . for her part, Lee Lozano literalized the operation by refusing to speak to women, refusing to recognize them, which produces its own revelations. Likewise, my first Boycott intervention, Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto, seemed to reveal both more and less than the original text. That became fully clear when I started working with de Beauvoir. I felt thrown into some kind of ontological abyss by the easy essentialism, the easy gender constructs. As an undergraduate I had minored in gender studies, so I had read these books over and over, yet suddenly they became unfamiliar. I couldn’t tell if I considered certain sentences true, even provisionally. When I would read, in de Beauvoir, for example, “it’s the dream of every young girl to become a mother,” I could accept some part of that sentence, at least historically. But when this sentence became “it’s the dream of every young boy to become a father,” suddenly the gendered aspect seemed thornier. Reading about puberty as a male trauma raised related questions. Of course, I still could default to the notion of pure constructivism you’ve described, throwing questions back onto the person encountering my Boycott text, such as: do I believe this assertion? Did it originally refer to a woman rather than a man? Why do I care about that? What part of ontology (everybody’s biography) is simply the failure of symbolism, the failure of the Woman as such? S.C.U.M. Manifesto has this great line: “Women don’t have penis envy, men have pussy envy.” Through my Boycott that became: “Men don’t have penis envy, men have dick envy,” which sounds much more accurate. Latent intimations and revelations kept bubbling up, but these don’t come from Solanas’ text. They completely derive from my reception. They remain, like gender, interior to me. An older male poet has called this project a feminist screed, yet I consider it quite the opposite—not because it’s anti-feminist, but because it reopens basic questions of gender.
In honor of Litmus Press’ forthcoming collection of Leonard Schwartz interviews with female poets, we will offer an ongoing series of transcribed talks from Schwartz’s “Cross-Cultural Poetics” archives. This month we focus on poets’ innovative publishing projects.
Interview with Teresa Carmody, from CCP Episode # 196: Place. June 14, 2009. Transcribed by Kelly Bergeron.
Leonard Schwartz: Today’s guest on the phone, from Los Angeles, is Teresa Carmody. She’s a writer and the publisher and editor of Les Figues Press, based in Los Angeles, publishing very interesting work, largely in prose, largely experimental or innovative prose, I would say. But what is really interesting to find out is what Teresa Carmody would say. Welcome Teresa Carmody.
Teresa Carmody: Thank you.
LS: Great to have you on the phone, on the line from L.A. Can you say a little bit about the publishing vision for Les Figues Press?