On Sutures, Sutras, Cobbled Bodies And Jovian Goddesses: An Interview With Dodie Bellamy — Natalie Helberg
Dodie Bellamy is a 21st-century, disillusioned, percipient Patañjali, a subject scoping out a sad, disturbed world, which she counteracts with expansive feelings and electric language. Her writing can be described as an anarchic piece of medical tape caught in the act of fusing different tissues, different bodies, different genres. It flirts with opacity just as well as it dares to be straightforward. It is a body of blood and guts and honesty, and it doesn’t care about your germaphobic qualms.—Natalie Helberg
A suture. A sutra.
On the one hand, a stitch-line to bind the flesh together.
On the other, a line of language to bind thought.
In the absence of a word for one who is one who sutures, and when I reach for the name that I think fits the idea, the name my mind goes to and would like to drop, it is Dodie Bellamy. Dodie Bellamy is a 21st-century, disillusioned, percipient Patañjali, a subject scoping out a sad, disturbed world, which she counteracts with expansive feelings and electric language. Her writing can be described as an anarchic piece of medical tape caught in the act of fusing different tissues, different bodies, different genres. It flirts with opacity just as well as it dares to be straightforward. It is a body of blood and guts and honesty, and it doesn’t care about your germaphobic qualms. Dodie has doctor sleeves, but she is still willing to copulate on the table. She is Dr. Frankenstein and so she has doctor sleeves. But she is Dr. Frankenstein with a yoga mat.
Between April 15 and June 1st of this year, I had the remarkable privilege of interviewing Dodie on the subject of her new book. The TV Sutras came out with Ugly Duckling Presse in May. It is a text preoccupied with meaning production: How is meaning produced and what kind of subject gets to produce it? Who gets to be an authoritative subject? The first half of the book consists of 78 sutras Dodie created following this (refreshingly) unlikely procedure: she would do yoga and then tune into her TV, recording whatever sutra the given scene inspired. These sutras are paradigmatic in that they sound like anything you would find while browsing the shelves in a New Age store. They give rise to the question which informs the fictive, autobiographical, essayistic, subsequent half of the book: “what are the texts, classes, conversations, relationships, [and] media-bombardments that animate my channeling?”
As The TV Sutras interrogates these sources, exploring the experience of being in a cult, the experience of romantic/sexual involvement with cult leaders, and even—since it is adept at swapping perspectives—the larger-than-life experience of being a cult leader, it also attempts to suss out the basis for a cult’s—for whatever cult’s—power and appeal: It explores the hole these organizations can fill, the sense of competence, comfort and belonging they deliver, the various ways they can make a life feel rich and satisfying and magical and exciting. And then it indirectly explores life outside of that bubble, fledgling life before the bubble, or life which has lived it, which has rejected it, which has survived and yet mourns it: life disillusioned or simply lackluster, life empowered because able to call a hoax a hoax, but also plagued by fear, doubt and a sense of unbridgeable loneliness.
The interview took place online, as a series of email exchanges. It was truly a conversation and so some of the questions took the form of comments inviting comments. The document which emerged is occasionally and in subtle ways digressive. This made sense because Dodie’s writing, like the New Narrative tradition she is most often situated with respect to, irrigates itself with the extradiegetic. In the simplest terms, this means it envelops its outside. She is Dr. Frankenstein and there are turbines and crackles and buzzing, problematical ‘oms.’ Our conversation ended up being about the work and its characteristics as much as it ended up being about culture and the world.
— Natalie Helberg
Natalie Helberg (NH): Some of the material you’re exploring in the latter half of The TV Sutras is material you’ve treated before. Some of your readers might recognize, for example, Neva, the captivating, übermensch/goddess-character from Jupiter, in Anya, the Venusian, from your earlier story “Spew Forth.” You’ve used the sutra as a form before as well. I’m thinking of your “Sexspace” piece in Academonia. The childhood friend/lover material will also be familiar to your readers. I thought I would start by asking you about your impulse to return to material, to rework and recontextualize it: Feminine Hijinx reappears as two shorter, separate pieces in Pink Steam; Mother Montage gathers the mother-related material from several works; your newer work the buddhist shares with The TV Sutras a preoccupation with mourning, meaning, and infinity: the possibility that mourning, like meaning-quests, will lack resolution…
Dodie Bellamy (DB): Your question about recontextualization is fascinating. The basic unit of my writing is the paragraph: I write with semi-self-contained blocks of text that I rearrange until a pattern pleases me, knowing that other possible arrangements could work as well. When I first moved to San Francisco, my friend Ken (who was also in the cult) taught me to steal milk crates that were left outside of stores. We stacked them into bookshelves, TV stands, cubicles to hold clothes, kitchen cabinets, and even a bed frame. Ken referred to them as “modular furniture.” I guess I see my memories and the masses of cultural information that flood my brain as modular as well.
The recontextualization that happened in The TV Sutras was in some ways accidental. The focus of The TV Sutras—this search for meaning and spiritual connection—is what’s been left out of, or occluded in, much of my writing. So, with this lens uncovered, situations in my life I’ve discussed before are revealed in a new light. I’ve written many times about college life in Indiana in the 70s, leaving out that these were episodes in the life of a young woman who was in a cult. It’s sort of like when somebody gay comes out in their writing and all those vague pronouns in previous work suddenly pop into a new meaning. I never wrote about this stuff much before because I found it embarrassing or I felt inadequate before the enormous task of trying to get the experience across. The TV Sutras took five years to write, partly because I knew I’d have to come to actual conclusions at the end. In the beginning, I ask some questions. Formally, then, at the end, I have to reveal what I’ve discovered. In general I’m phobic of revealing conclusions in writing, but, when I began this book, I couldn’t imagine what a conclusion would even look like.
Up until I was pretty close to finishing the manuscript, I had been planning to include a third section to the book, an appendix, which I called “Documentoids.” While working on The TV Sutras, I wrote several shorter pieces addressing specific aspects of the material. There’s a piece called “Rascal Guru” that is a collage of guru sexual and financial scandals and the language followers use to rationalize their behavior. There is another collage piece of episodes in the life of Neva, the woman from Jupiter. I imagined I’d started my own cult and did a flyer for a workshop. I did a procedural piece where I put a sprig of mugwort under my pillow and each morning wrote about the transition from dream to waking and about what messages I could bring forth from the other side. There was a long serial poem I wrote in 1981 that chronicled my spiritual history. And I was also thinking of reprinting “Spew Forth,” which, as you note, recounts situations that occur in The TV Sutras, but in a more fictionalized manner. Not that The TV Sutras isn’t fictionalized; it is. Its relationship to lived experience would be comparable to mainstream movies that are “inspired by actual events.” Ultimately, I decided all this extra material would water down the impact of what I’d managed to evoke in the essay section of the book.
As far as the buddhist goes, the person of the title entered my life while I was in the midst of writing The TV Sutras, and I couldn’t resist this public spiritual teacher revealing his secrets to me. It’s like my book reached out its arms and embraced me. The energy of the loss I experienced in that situation definitely fed into the larger loss of the cult leader I discuss in The TV Sutras.
NH: The modular crate analogy is interesting—I’ve seen the term ‘modular text’ used in a similar way with reference to some of Robert Coover’s work. To clarify: Do you shift the material you’re using within a paragraph around, as if its constituent bits were modular crates, and shift paragraphs around this way as well? Working with semi-self-contained units, as a technique, seems very consistent with what you’ve written in Barf Manifesto about writing that proceeds associatively, by chords rather than by discrete notes. You also mentioned, in another interview, that your organizing principle “is more conceptual than plot-based,” and it seems as if the paragraph, as an idea-unit disjoined from other idea-units, allows you to mobilize a host of different thoughts and thought-settings; they begin to resonate and it becomes possible, as a reader, to sense a kind of conceptual continuity through discontinuity. I think that things get wilder that way towards the end of The TV Sutras: the paragraphs there wear their disconnectedness more flagrantly.
DB: First of all, I can’t believe I used the modular furniture analogy without bringing up Jack Spicer. Since I’m married to Kevin Killian, an editor and biographer of Jack Spicer, Spicer’s influence runs deep. Spicer described the poetic process as ghosts moving around the furniture in the poet’s mind. The ghosts don’t bring any new furniture; they just rearrange what they find. This beautifully addresses the relationship between research/knowledge and inspiration, the way I’m continuously surprised at how things I know emerge in my writing. I’ll have plans to write in one direction, and suddenly I’m going on about sacred geometry or Nazi Zombies.
As you’ve noticed, in The TV Sutras my approach to sentence modularity varies depending on my goal for a paragraph/piece. “Cultured,” the essay section of the book, begins with a pretty conventional autobiographical “I,” and the sentences conform to narrative organizational expectations. The reliability of this autobiographical “I”—in terms of being accurate to my personal life—varies wildly. Frequently I’m collaging in other texts/other experiences, but I didn’t want the text to suggest that. I had a vision when I started the essay that I wanted to take a singular autobiographical “I” and morph it into a more global “I.” Therefore, as the text progresses and the singular “I” begins to get shaky, more of a sense of “disconnectedness,” as you say, becomes apparent in the text. The sentences in some of the paragraphs towards the end are, indeed, modular, arranged mostly intuitively.
Morphing from one mode to the other was the biggest challenge in writing “Cultured.” When I was a child, I loved to sit with my grandmother and crochet lace onto pillowcases and hankies. My favorite thread to use, called “variegated”—and I loved that word, it sounded so sophisticated to me—consisted of at least two colors blurring into one another—purple smearing to yellow and back again, etc. That’s what I was aiming for in “Cultured,” to smoothly smear one take on the first person into a very different first person. I didn’t want the reader to particularly notice the transition process. In general, I’ve found smoothness more difficult to pull off than raggedness.
NH: You do include an echo of Barf Manifesto in The TV Sutras— “No singularity, no verdicts, only chords and this endless accrual”—and I feel that The TV Sutras avoids something like a tidy conclusion because it proceeds this way. That being said, I find it interesting that you set up the text with a question you felt you should wrap up. There are so many versions of the claim that the text knows more than the writer. I wonder what your own relationship to that idea is.
DB: Through the process of researching and writing the book, I did come to a few conclusions. That we’re programmed for ecstasy and nobody owns that. That meaning is not static, but evanescent, appearing and fading and reappearing. That the only difference between a cult and a religion is size. I embraced a sense of skepticism toward all forms of charisma, while also realizing that it’s impossible to avoid cultish behavior. But we all love the spectacle of spiritual frenzy, so I wanted to play around with that as well, to embody this fraudulent persona and let her rip, which was so fucking much fun. I was sick when I wrote the book’s crazy ending—with bronchitis—too sick to get out of bed, and my feverish state aided the process enormously.
NH: The question of what kind of subject gets to produce meaning (not to mention the question of what meaning you can glean from these memories you are treating—“Do I know any more now than when I was a child lying on my back, gazing out at the vast night sky, overcome with awe”) is not one the text ever fully puzzles out: The cult leaders at times seem able to produce meaning, whether this is through sheer will power or by levering their charisma, but at other times meaning, even in cult-lore, is said to be ‘found’—it inheres in a culture we are thrown into, or, as cult-lore would have it, comes from “the temples of learning on the Etheric Plane, wherein is stored all knowledge.” Narrative-speaker-Dodie asks if a depressed, middle-aged woman in pajamas can create meaning and, in the end, renounces all authority to say whatever it is the text says. But by that time, she has already created the sutras. She has also become Azule Linga, which is to say a goddess-leader-poet-channeler herself.
DB: It was important for me to have strong female figures in this book, to balance out the male spiritual predators with their doe-like female followers. The process of writing this book became a spiritual quest for me—I was in search of meaning I did not have—so I needed female avatars to reflect that. Women’s spirituality has always been a contested site; women have been denied authority in so many religions, denied religious training, dismissed as being too gross for the spiritual. And then there were all those female pagans burned at the stake. Acceptance of women as meaning producers is an ongoing struggle, not just in the religious arena. I’ve met so many brilliant women who are plagued by insecurity it makes me ache. My own insecurity as a meaning producer pulses through The TV Sutras. What’s a female subject to do when plagued by insecurity? You can keep quiet or use that insecurity as a sort of launching pad. If you hide your insecurity or deny it, your writing goes wrong. You end up with stilted pretentiousness, or whatever.
In the 80s and 90s, I was dedicated to exploring a female-centric spirituality, so I read tons of goddess stuff, and as dopey as some of that material is, its impact on me was profound, ultimately resulting in my portrayal of Mina Harker (the protagonist of my first novel—and of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) as this liminal goddess figure. During a time of psychological crisis, female descent myths—Inanna, Ishtar and Persephone—sustained me, gave me hope I’d find my way out of it. So in The TV Sutras I create two powerful female spiritual leaders—Neva, the walk-in from Jupiter, and Azule Linga, the transchanneling poetess. Azule has “attained vector equilibrium.” She defines who/where she is. Though she’s totally unreliable, she inspires me.
NH: The ‘sutra’—quite literally a thread that holds things together—has very domestic overtones, and so using it as an organizing concept is one way you’ve flagged the text as the particularly feminist exploration you’re describing. I found myself wondering if you were thinking of The TV Sutras as a text with class-related concerns as well (not that feminist exploration and class critique are mutually exclusive—far from it). I come from a working-class background and it’s true that a sense of insecurity—a discomfort when it comes to claiming authority and even dwelling in, or owning, certain vocabularies—can continue to plague those who, coming from that background, suddenly find themselves circulating on a higher social rung. There is that moment towards the end which suggests that most of ‘meaning’ is accessible to all, even if it is sometimes rendered elite: dressed up so as give the impression that it is the domain of the elect: “[In this world] we need advanced degrees, specialized vocabularies to hide the sad fact that what we’re saying is obvious and not necessarily experiential, that some near-illiterate Christian mother in the boonies may ‘know’ more about the nature of reality than we do.”
DB: In Catherine Clément and Julia Kristeva’s epistolary exchange The Feminine and the Sacred, Clément discusses class in a way that’s been a touchstone for me. Clément makes a distinction between caste and social class. In her schema, caste resonates with Marx’s concept of class origin, “that mental file drawer that determines the drives and thoughts from birth. For Marx, you can obviously change your social class, but you cannot rid yourself of your ‘class origin’ any more than, according to Sigmund Freud, you can rid yourself of your unconscious. That being the case, the ‘caste’ of origin plays the same role as the return of the repressed: the slightest opening and it comes out. Impossible to get rid of it. A little emotion and it reappears.” I love this idea of caste as a psychological imprint. Class is such a tender issue for me. Whenever I think about it, I get upset. I chose to take on a more middle class lifestyle but I’ve done so kicking and screaming all the way, and in my interactions with people I often feel that socially I’m wearing the equivalent of a girdle. I originally mistyped “girdle” as “griddle,” which I find funny and a bit uncanny, since I worked as a grill cook to help pay for college. Caste versus social class becomes griddle versus girdle—that pretty much sums up the difference between Clément and me.
In my writing, I’m determined to stay true to my class origin, but without denying the education I’ve acquired since I was a working class girl in Indiana. I resist certain vocabularies because I think they’re fucked, not because I feel I don’t own them. I also don’t try to dumb myself down to seem more proley. Does language belong to anybody? When I studied feminist poetics in college we talked on and on—influenced more by the French feminists rather than, say, Adrienne Rich’s Dream of a Common Language—about rebelling against the language of the patriarchy, and then women would leave the classroom and take on the very elitist vocabularies we critiqued. Because they wanted to be taken seriously. Just because we railed against the ways of the patriarchy in a classroom doesn’t mean the patriarchy and its social pressures ceased to exist.
Class isn’t forefronted in The TV Sutras, but since it tracks experiences from my life, class is woven throughout. Most of the characters are working class—and in the case of Neva, dirt poor. I would say my fascination with Ned’s red diaper baby lifestyle—and his feminist mother—was a longing for what I saw as the sophistication of middle class life. Bokharas on the floor rather than sculpted wall-to-wall carpeting. I was surprised when I defended the illiterate Christian mother, but I was committed to honoring the lower classes as producers of meaning. Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (which Meredith Quartermain recommended) was important in my thinking about this, with its wave upon wave of charismatic leaders arising from amongst the poorest of the poor. After a couple hundred pages of this, it seemed that anybody could lead a religious revolt. Disappear into a forest and live as a hermit for x-amount of time, then reemerge tattered with a crazed look in your eye, and you are good to go.
NH: I want to return, too, briefly, to the idea that you were ill while working on the conclusion. I find it interesting that you let your readers in on the very bodily-based procedure you used to generate the sutras—you would do yoga, and then tune into your TV—while making no mention of the illness that animated the prose towards the end. The yoga practice is perhaps one way you’ve managed to ‘bring the body into writing.’ That gesture—or that concern exhibited, say, by writers influenced by the French feminists—bringing the body into writing—remains rather mysterious to me. What could it mean? In a way, you’ve grappled with this question before, a few times asserting that the physical body is not text (Mina Harker insists her body is not the text, and you’ve spoken elsewhere about the impossibility of capturing sexual experience with language and your alternative focus on making the language, the writing, something that is in and of itself engaging). I’m curious, then, about what compelled you to gesture, in the text, towards the yoga practice in the way you do, to mention it in a fairly nondescript way, to pay a kind of homage to it, as opposed to the other corporeal experiences, habits and routines which presumably must have also (and equally) subtended the writing.
DB: The yoga and meditation practice preceded any plans I had to write The TV Sutras. After doing yoga, when I would switch my TV from DVD mode back to TV mode, I was often amused by the first line of dialogue that would arise, but I didn’t think of doing anything with those lines—or even jot them down—until Paolo Javier sent me Alan Clinton’s call for contributions to the Occult issue of 2nd Avenue Poetry:
Paolo Javier and I believe in the power of spiritual energies (whatever their source), prophetic utterances (whatever their destination), and magical rituals (particularly practices that haunt a space by introducing the element of chance or producing altered states of consciousness) to intensify artistic events for the producer/practitioner as well as the observer/collaborator.
We also believe that the results of divinatory practices are more often than not merely a new topography of the unknown rather than a definitive revelation. The interest for the spiritual adept as well as the avant-garde artist lies in the uncanny parallels, the wrong turns, the polyglot or inscrutable marks, the visual and aural blurs and scratches, the cracks in the shell produced by the divinatory event.
I took this to heart and generated the first sixteen TV sutras, as well as a draft of the short preface that’s in the book. That was in 2010. And then I just kept going. The sutras grew organically out of my yoga/meditation ritual, which I was doing with the hope of changing my life, of moving out of depression into a more open engagement with the world. But the text would not exist without the hailing of these editors. It wasn’t until I finished all 78 sutras that I decided to write an essay to contextualize them. Since one of my goals in “Cultured” was to move from a singular autobiographical “I” to a more blurred “I,” I wanted to gradually occlude the Dodie POV rather than emphasize it at the end. By the time Dodie the writer was ill, the text was moving beyond her. The body comes into the text though all the erotic encounters between young me and others, and between spiritual teachers and their students. And through my fascination with the body of Neva, the woman from Jupiter—her beauty, her sex appeal, her strange Jovian physiology. There’s also that one long collaged paragraph of all the weird/extreme things a yogic adept can perform with his/her body. At the end, Azule Linga, the charismatic poet, nurses her followers with her magnificent nipples. Over and over in the book, religious fervor creates a freakish body. I was inspired by the Flagellants, for instance.
NH: So, just to be clear, in each of these cases, the body ‘enters into,’ or is simply in, the writing on a representational level (the body is ‘described as’ and is ‘described as doing’)? I was reading your Answer chapbook, which, among other things, explores the nature of the body coursing through The Letters of Mina Harker. This is a Frankensteinian body: Mina Harker’s body cobbled up using bits of other bodies, including whatever reader happens to be animating the text’s (bio)rhythm (functioning as its live context), and including Dodie’s body, a character/author’s body, which it is absorbed into, which it possesses, and which it sporadically and like a spirit, arises from. The TV Sutras, as you’ve implied above, is also a text made up of multiple bodies, though I feel those bodies are more discrete than those partaking in the texture of Mina Harker: In this respect, the text feels like a collage, or a patchwork which shows its stitch-lines, whereas The Letters of Mina Harker feels partially puréed: made of chunks but almost homogeneous, smooth but for what the blade misses.
DB: As with most of my writing, the central problem in The Letters of Mina Harker and in The TV Sutras is that of boundaries. Despite its frenzied salaciousness, Mina is a horror novel—there is a desire for penetration but also a terror of it—and of the self-dissolution that hot sex brings on. Orgasm is not called a little death for nothing; there’s always this shadow of fear involved in it. Mina is also a being penetrated by the culture she finds herself in. Her boundaries are spongy, and she absorbs whatever she encounters. Thus her body and her psyche become collage. The Letters of Mina Harker maintains this same level of constant bombardment, constant possession, throughout. In The TV Sutras, loss of boundaries is more insidious, a shift from relative stability/normality to psychic colonization that happens so gradually you’re barely aware it’s happening. Rather than the operatic violence of invasion that we find in Mina, here the violence is more banal; the cultist is coached into willingly giving up her boundaries through a series of tiny crossings of lines. In the book, when the Teacher and the student meet repeatedly to drink tea, she doesn’t register how he keeps dialing up the inappropriateness of their interactions. So, when they fuck on the floor, it’s obvious to the reader things have been heading in that direction, but not to the girl. I chose to title the essay portion of the book “Cultured” as a nod to the word “cult,” but also because “culture” as a verb implies a gradual process of transformation. You enter a situation as fresh cabbage and exit as sauerkraut.
NH: The TV Sutras’ focus on negative sexual encounters and experiences (on the mild end of the spectrum, the pain of penetration and the inability to achieve heterosexual orgasm, on the severe end, rape), notwithstanding your comment on Mina and terror, feels very fresh: it is not entirely new to your work, and yet I would say that, in this text, compared to any of your others, it is given much more space. So much of your other work is committed to priming and exploring sexual pleasure, rampant desire. Frenzied salaciousness, as you said above. That commitment doesn’t go away in The TV Sutras, but it is tempered there by something much more sinister. I’m curious about this shift in focus. Was it just the natural outgrowth of the research you were doing for the project, or was there a more specific impetus behind it?
DB: You’re correct in observing that in The TV Sutras there’s a focus on sexual manipulation that isn’t very present in Mina. In the New Narrative aesthetic that I was enmeshed in while writing Mina, sexual manipulation was seen as positive, as a sign of power. I’m grossly oversimplifying here, but I wasn’t emphasizing the manipulative aspects of sex in that book. Mina was about being ravenous with desire and trying to embody a sexual agency that my gay male mentors modeled for me. It wasn’t a comfortable fit because sexual agency for women is much more complicated than it is for men, given the pervasive misogyny we have to figure out how to somehow thrive in. Sexual agency—in a heterosexual context—was pretty much incomprehensible for me when I was writing that book. To even approach it, I had to take on the persona of a vampire goddess. In The TV Sutras, since I was exploring cult indoctrination, it seemed important to include sexual manipulation in that. When I was researching “Rascal Guru,” the collage of guru sex and financial scandals I mentioned above—I’m hoping to include it in the collection I’m publishing with Semiotext(e) in 2015—I read of so much sexual manipulation and rape, dozens of incidents, that these things started to feel like the norm for these guys rather than the exception. Since I was avoiding simple equations in The TV Sutras—e.g., cult sex = manipulation—the sex I gave Dodie—the sex with Nance or the Hare Krishna or Dietmar—tends to be more egalitarian, based on mutual consent and respect: “We were not bigger than life, we were not higher initiates or incarnated beings from a more advanced planet—we were little people having ordinary Earthling sex.”
While I was writing the buddhist, I was seeing a therapist who’d been a student of Zen for 30 years. He had a very negative attitude towards male teachers on the spiritual lecture circuit. They never talk about their personal lives, he told me; they’re like a blank slate. They never acknowledge the sexual atmosphere generated between them and female students. He said that lots of lonely middle aged women turn to Buddhism, women who thrive on the attention they receive from spiritual teachers. Such attentions make them feel special, excited. When something sexual happens with a student, the teacher never takes responsibility. “She came on to me—I was just going with what was happening in the moment.” While expressing his skepticism and disgust with these men’s narcissistic manipulations, my therapist made spiritual-seeking women sound pretty pathetic. And I couldn’t stop myself from taking on that attitude, even though I knew it was fucked. So in The TV Sutras, I wrote in strong female religious figures partly in order to counteract this projection. Neva, the woman from Jupiter, is more than simply laughable; she’s a powerful charismatic leader who feels comfortable with her body and her sexuality. The same goes for the blogging mystical poetess. Within the skewed reality of the book, these women are the heroes. They own meaning.
NH: To wrap up, then, how do you make sense of the relationship between your writing and the world it emerges from, embellishes on, and loops back to criticize? I can’t help but think of Kathy Acker when she writes that she realized quite early on that, as a girl, she could not be a pirate, and claims that she started writing fiction so that she could become a pirate. ‘Pirate’: a word which captures more than just the idea that, as a fiction writer, she would be able to pillage other texts. Her statement almost implies that she could renovate the world itself, and the constellation of ways it is possible to be a female subject in it, through her own creative activities.
DB: The relationship of my writing to the world—this is the most challenging of all your challenging questions, Natalie. I know this sounds corny, but my answer would have to be something about love—and I think that’s true for Acker—all that stuff she wrote about wonder, especially at the end of her life, is about a deep love for existence. In Mina, in the letter about the death of Sam D’Allesandro, I wrote that to look—to really look—is to love. In my writing, I can look deeply at the world, and the world is never going to turn away from me. Even those who have turned away from me—when I write about them, I get to love them again.
—Dodie Bellamy & Natalie Helberg
Dodie Bellamy is the author of numerous chapbooks (including the acclaimed Barf Manifesto, which came out with Ugly Duckling Presse) and numerous full-length works, some of which can be categorized as experimental poetry (Cunt Norton, Cunt-Ups, and Broken English), many of which toy with or challenge the boundaries between poetry, fiction, autobiography and the essay form (Feminine Hijinx, The Letters of Mina Harker, Pink Steam, Academonia, the buddhist—which also makes creative and reflexive use of the blog form—and, of course, The TV Sutras). She is based in San Francisco and is often associated with the New Narrative movement.
Natalie Helberg is from Edmonton, Alberta. Some of her experimental work has appeared on InfluencySalon.ca and in Canadian Literature. She recently completed an MFA in Creative Writing with the University of Guelph. She is working on a hybrid novel.