I love that the physical space of the basement both is at the center of the piece, but also is the most unstable element of the piece. It’s first introduced to us as a film set, which is perfect in a way. For me, it set up the space as fluid. It’s a frame and a foundation. It’s both practical and fantastical. It’s a crash pad for poets, a press, a salon. How do you view the space of the basement, both as a physical space in the story as well as a space/frame for the story?
TC: I see the basement as a vagina, so your description is perfect, as vaginas are practical and fantastical, frame and foundation. “Basement,” like each of the sections in Maison Femme, was written through a combination of somatic and bibliomantic process. I used my house in Los Angeles as the structure; there is a section for each space in the house and each section includes as many sentences as my foot measurement of the length and width of the corresponding physical space (à la Perec). That said, the sentence is a malleable unit, and can be stretched or condensed to suit any number of rhetorical purposes. I love the sentence. I also love Terry Castle’s excellent anthology, The Literature of Lesbianism, and this is the book I used for the bibliomancy; each section of Maison Femme refers to an entry in Castle’s anthology.
In this piece you mix writers, artists, essayists of different generations as contributors to the space. Gwen Harwood gives painting tips. Dennis Cooper donates furniture. Leslie Scalapino and Andy Warhol lick envelopes and for the Press benefit auction. There’s something so wonderful about the idea of these real-world influences weaving into the building of basement through acts of generosity.
I loved when Marie refers to her friend Franz Kafka, and the reader isn’t quite sure if she’s pointing to the world within the text or out of the text. Was their a through-line between these artists for you?
TC: Many of the characters are based on my friends and named after a writer or artist who influenced their work. Sometimes, I asked my friends to give me a name; sometimes I named them myself. In general, the book plays with naming, and that fluctuating grammatical space where verbs become nouns become verbs. Like lesbians and lesbianism.
Yet naming characters after real-life writers and artists also contributes to the fiction of the piece. I am interested in the play between fiction and non-, truth and illusion, or when a narrative in one person’s head becomes the reason for everyone’s behavior. It’s the hermeneutical circle. How we read the world, and then how we bring our reading—of material reality, including text—back into the writing.
Or, to put it another way: God.
I get the sense that Marie & Louise chose the space and then the space does everything else. The detail of Kathy Acker choosing them is so thrilling in that it makes the space seem so haunted and purposeful. In the same way that the basement works as a frame, I wonder if the frame is echoed in Kathy Acker. Can you speak to how she informs the space and the text?
TC: Kathy Acker knew how to write a vagina. The experience of being seen as a thing to fuck, ignore, minimize, repel, maximize, attract, adore, and/or all of the above. And her writing is so complicated, intellectually dense and relentless. She leans into the illegibility of vagina-ness to create a wonderful, glorious and seemingly messy text. In my writing, I try to create surface smoothness and the appearance of legibility, while just beneath, things get weird, unknown, messy and maybe the vagina has teeth. Ouch! Or, ooh! Also, Acker constantly mixes autobiographical material with whatever she’s reading, and this was definitely a strategy in Maison Femme. After all, the book is a roman à clef about two lesbians who run a nonprofit literary press out their basement. Vanessa Place (#wifeband) and I do have Acker’s IRL desk, carpet, chair, tables in our basement, which is also the Les Figues Press office.
Tell us more about “Maison Femme: A Fiction”. What else are you working on?
TC: Maison Femme is a collaboration with Vanessa; she took photos, I wrote words. It’s coming out in the spring 2015 from Bon Aire Projects, which is a great new micropress out of Buffalo. I am also working on a collection of short stories that explore gossip as narrative strategy.
Teresa Carmody’s books include Maison Femme (a collaboration with Vanessa Place, forthcoming), and the short story collection Requiem. She is the author of three chapbooks: I Can Feel, Eye Hole Adore, and Your Spiritual Suit of Armor by Katherine Anne. She is the co-founding director of Les Figues Press in Los Angeles and a PhD candidate in English/Creative Writing at the University of Denver.