Welcome to my new micro-interview series, which focuses on recent releases that I’ve found noteworthy. Past entries are archived here.
In this series I’m asking writers to respond to the two questions I most frequently ask when I’m teaching a book in the classroom: (1) what is the text doing / how is the text doing it, and (2) with what does the text connect?
These questions arise from my particular approach to reading and critical analysis, which is deeply indebted to Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. As they put it, “Literature is an assemblage…a book itself is a little machine…writing has nothing to do with signifying…it has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.”
So, without further delay…
I present Amy Catanzano, whose recent book Starlight in Two Million: A Neo-Scientific Novella has been described thusly:
“Amy Catanzano’s “neo-scientific” novella is a metafictional tour de force: a tour of the forces that compose the cosmos, a recomposition of the music of the spheres. Here, narrative flow becomes a kind of quantum fluid, bifurcating into character systems and poetry. Tinctures of the inhuman spread through this writing, causing language to convulse in forms as vivid and varied as the multiverse itself. Alternately explosive and meditative, at once lyrical and conceptual, Catanzano’s work renews the pataphysical claim of literature on science. In this work, American literature has found its own Jarry.”
— Andrew Joron
“Amy Catanzano’s writing is a vector, releasing sparks. To read her work is to emit/receive—something. From a distant yet intimate point. What will happen next? Where will you go? This novella is a guidebook to a future that has not arrived yet. To “predicate.” To “devolve.” To “shimmer.” In a book that is a like a nerve.”
— Bhanu Khapil
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
Starlight in Two Million: A Neo-Scientific Novella is a spacetime ship that travels. Unlike ships of the sea or rockets to outer space, my book moves by warp drive. What this means is that my book achieves travel through space and time by being stationary while moving spacetime around it. This is how ships move when traveling at warp drive in Star Trek, and scientists are now exploring warp drive for travel in our solar system and beyond. How does my book travel by warp drive? It is written in the form of 4th person narration, a concept proposed by Shanxing Wang in his book, Mad Science in Imperial City (Futurepoem, 2005). In my development of 4th person narration as a form, I use spacetime as a literary device. I unite poetry with the first, second, and third-person points of view in traditional fiction and the fourth dimension in physics, which is spacetime, defined as when the three dimensions of space combine with time. As a result, my book is not only a spacetime ship but a tesseract, a 4D hypercube in geometry. In one dimension, the book presents characters who join forces to stop a war in settings such as a slowing world, the multiverse, temporary autonomous zones, a laboratory, and a library. In another dimension, the characters are presented alongside a nameless “she,” an authorial “I,” and what I think of as U+F+O+L+A+N+G+U+A+G+E, the poetry. In other dimensions, the book is an exploration of our expectations in genres, an investigation into language and consciousness, a love story, an argument against Newtonian conceptions of time and space, an enactment of my quantum poetics theory, a metafictional-memoir experiment where my other books are referenced as is my writing of the novella itself, and so on. Since my book is a tesseract and a spacetime ship traveling by warp drive, it can travel to any dimension and forges new dimensions in its travels.
Having identified your book’s comportment, could you bring it into focus by describing its relationship to other texts? (By “texts” I mean any relatable objects.) Put another way: if we think about a book as a star in a constellation, or a node in a circuit, I’m interested in hearing about the constellation or circuit in which readers might find your book. Put yet another way: if we think about your book as contributing to particular conversations, could you describe those conversations and their other participants?
My book gets its subtitle from a book by Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, ’Pataphysician: A Neo-Scientific Novel. Jarry, who was a significant influence on surrealism, was a French symbolist writer known for his play, Ubu Roi, a subversive, absurdist remix of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He is also known for ’pataphysics, a philosophy and “science of imaginary solutions” that challenges ideology, realism, and more. Like Jarry, I ’pataphysically explore the scientific concepts of my day such as string theory—which aims to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity—with literature and poetics. Shanxing Wang’s Mad Science in Imperial City is significant to me for not only the question, “Is there a 4th person narration?” but for its cross-genre form, which combines poetry, prose, and equation to explore language, war, science, and the body politic. Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, with its present-tense monologues over linear time, interrupted by italicized sections that describe a sun rising and setting over an ocean in a single day, was a model as I experimented with depicting the simultaneity of spacetime. I began writing Starlight in Two Million after being inspired by Laura Moriarty’s novel about a spaceship that is a book that is a spaceship, Ultravioleta (Atelos, 2006). I wrote my book alongside my first speculative essays on quantum poetics, so other influences include Will Alexander, Albert Einstein, Christian Bök, Margaret Cavendish, Alice Fulton, Lyn Hejinian, Werner Heisenberg, Stephanie Strickland, Leonard Shlain, Michio Kaku, Bhanu Kapil, Andrew Joron, Renee Gladman, Joan Retallack, Lisa Randall, Hakim Bey, Rachilde, and Gertrude Stein. My book is contributing to current conversations about science and literature, ’pataphysics, cross-genre writing, lyric and visual poetry, conceptualism, surrealism, poststructuralism, confessionalism, transhumanism, and more.
Amy Catanzano is the author of Starlight in Two Million: A Neo-Scientific Novella (Noemi Press, 2014), recipient of the Noemi Press Book Award for Fiction; Multiversal (Fordham University Press, 2009), recipient of the PEN USA Literary Award in Poetry; and iEpiphany (Erudite Fangs Press, 2008). She recently served as a commentator on quantum poetics at Jacket2. She teaches creative writing at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.