The latest installment of Converminsations features hybrid forms specialist Allison Carter. Photo by Harold Abramowitz.
JIM RULAND: What are you going to read on June 14?
ALLISON CARTER: I plan on reading some work from my book, A Fixed, Formal Arrangement, and some work from the project I'm working on right now. The project might be called Ways For Going (Or For Making Go). It's a project of ghost poems – poems for and by ghosting subjectivities.
JR: That sounds really interesting. Can you tell me a bit more about “ghosting subjectivities?”
AC: I think of ghosting subjectivities as minds or parts of minds – or maybe 'wills' is the better word – that, for reasons beyond their control, flicker in and out of a situation, either by accident or on purpose. A will that can absent itself at will. That situation could be life.
JR: When you teach your class on hybrid forms, what do you tell your students they will be doing?
AC: Instead of focusing on the word “hybrid,” we tend to talk more about the idea of inventing new forms.
JR: Are they resistant? How do you make them comfortable?
AC: Because I have always taught this class in an art school with awesome students who are well-versed in traditions of experimentalism and interdisciplinarity, most of my students have been not just comfortable, but totally excited about the idea of discarding structures like “short story.” They find the class to be a useful venue in which to explore concerns they are pursuing in their native métiers (music, film, etc.) in another format, and many bring their sonic, performance and visual skills to the table, both as writers and as critics.
JR: What kind of models do you use?
AC: This past year we started out by reading Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School. This book demonstrates over and over what kinds of formal inventions the class is intended to foster – the idea that with every character, story, concept or theory, there is an appropriate form that a writer/artist can derive from the materials they are dealing with. This kind of loose modeling, I think (hope!) makes experimentation safe, and demonstrates that experimentation can have a very definite purpose – that it doesn't have to be a negative act (non-conforming), it can instead be actively coming up with what, formally, needs to be done in order to accomplish a particular kind of communication/action.
JR: I think I already know the answer to this, but does it bother you when you see work labeled as “experimental” as if “experimental” is a genre unto itself with its own rules and tropes?
AC: Yes! CalArts put on a conference a few years ago in which I think it was Matias Viegner who proposed that we reconsider the idea of the experimental in terms of the scientific roots of the word. I like to think that a literary experiment is writing that, like a scientific experiment, combines new materials or speeds or sizes or methods to discover or demonstrate something integral to the fabric of the world.
JR: Is there a specific work that, for lack of a more precise phrase, gave you permission to experiment with form?
AC: The Autobiography of Red by Ann Carson. The way Carson uses lyric to compress and then explode her story was amazing to me when I first read it, and continues to amaze me every time I reread it. There is a strangeness, a simple strangeness to her writing. Her language works like an extraction - the nucleus from the cell - and then her storytelling becomes a series of nuclei bumping and ricocheting instead of just a man walking along. You still have the teleological movement of narrative, and the story-pleasure, but underneath that is this tension and, again, ricochet. It still blows my mind.
JR: I love how you use ambiguity, like how "Sometimes" in The Nests is used as a refrain. And in "Either/Or" you say "Either/or is not a holy construction but a human one." Is your work a response to this?
AC: To put it flatly, I think that the state of humanness is often characterized by a state of both-ness. I am interested in language that allows for a both-ness (again, a ricochet) and that still enables forward motion. For the last several years I think my writing has been struggling with a sense of an inward collapse of both-ness. In The Nests I try to consider the nature of the pull that draws people to stagnate -- how we can slowly lose a sense of inner tension, or freeze into the tension, like carefully placed magnets (an always-sometimes). With The Nests I am looking at domesticity, as I was in A Fixed, Formal Arrangement, an obvious, but I think still very important locus for questions of movement and freeze.
JR: It’s kind of ironic that domesticity is a trigger for the collapse of both-ness since it involves the union of two people. Or maybe it's not ironic at all...
AC: I think that domesticity is a perfect place to examine how hard it is to keep up two-ness. For some reason, for some people, the instinct is to collapse into one. It's not possible for two people to actually crawl inside each other (try drawing that!) but often we want to. You're left with two grownups sort of half sticking out of wombs/nests that they've fashioned out of their partners. Or one person made up of all eyes, and one who is all mouth and hand. And then what happens to desire? And movement or the potential for change - a necessary condition for desire?
JR: Western culture has been on an either/or track since at least Aristotle and its only speeded up with the integration of Boolean systems in our machines. It’s a binary world!
AC: In "Either/Or" – and in a lot of this new project (Ways For Going (Or For Making Go)) I am trying to look at how to balance a both-ness, a tension, a conflict, and still move, but not with the purpose of resolution. Ghosts are interesting to me for this reason - their desires that aren't bound by death.
JR: What's the strangest experience you've had at a reading?
AC: The release party for Maximus Kim's One Break, A Thousand Blows! featured fish being squeezed out of the inside of a paper box (Gina Clark) - and wrestling (Daiana Feuer & Gerard Olson). So far, when I've read, things have been pretty tame. Probably the strangest thing would have been a collaboration with Beth McNamara that involved fabricating a life-sized doll in front of an outdoor music festival audience in Eagle Rock. Maybe this reading will take the cake?
Come hear Allison read from her work on Sunday, June 14 at 8pm at the Mountain Bar.