Welcome to my micro-interview series, which focuses on recent releases 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…
“Cassandra Troyan’s writing, here in these non-stop great, coruscating poems and everywhere else, is one of the total wonders of contemporary lit. It can make every form it wears seem at once perfected and helplessly corrupted. So, it’s like an ongoing R.I.P. to the historical models. But she’s not just a writers’ writer. She seems to know so much so unusually and feel everything so complicatedly and yet concisely that reading her is something new and gigantic.”
“Writing that is so hot it turns to lava in your mind!”
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
I’m going to make an attempt at the unnatural task of talking about both of my books that came out this year BLACKEN ME BLACKEN ME, GROWLED (Tiny Hardcore Press) and KILL MANUAL (Artifice Books) somewhat simultaneously. Although stylistically they are quite different, I see them working in tandem and along with my first book THRONE OF BLOOD (Solar Luxuriance), which completes a suite of works.
To think about what these books do, it’s important to consider the conditions under which they were written or what felt vital about that process. I wrote most of BLACKEN ME in 2010 then went back and rewrote much of it this past winter before it was published. Reading then re-writing/re-working a text like that can be a psychologically demanding task, (or at least for me) in that it requires a re-encountering with myself, a self that often registers as distant, obscured, worrisome. Jennifer Tamayo talks about inhabiting this kind of space, or to write in a way that is worrisome, to have people worry about you because of what or how you write. There is a limit of what is too much and I go past it not just because I can, but because I have to.
With THRONE OF BLOOD and in BLACKEN ME there are sections that I first wrote when I was 18, which was a very emotionally tumultuous time for me. I feel this process of return is related to how the book functions as a whole, a re-convergence on the site of young queer subjectivities. For my purposes, rather than conforming to a rubric of identity politics, I see it opening a site for an honest erotic imaginary by not cleaning up the embarrassing mess of juvenilia. BLACKEN ME is more raw in the sense that violence doesn’t serve as a potential shelter for certain vulnerabilities. KILL MANUAL is a survival guide, both for the reader and myself. Laced with the intensities of domination, BDSM, sexual violence, online intimate commerce, it is a mapping of the flows of desire in late-capitalism. In order to break from hegemonic systems, KILL MANUAL does a lot of genre-fucking: internet forums, Master/slave contracts, clinical analyses, suicide notes, operation procedures, etc. The contradictions of these conflicting forms endemic to repression contain within them the possibility of release, “I don’t feel alive unless yr / boot is on my skull / but this is not an invitation to the state.” This line from KILL MANUAL captures the ethos of the project by complicating sites of violence and pleasured interactions.
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?
This is an excellent question Chris, and very much in relation to the lines of flight my thinking takes. I write through the form of constellations, or similar to the Deleuzian structure of “probe-heads,” which are essentially alternative modes of organization, any form of practice breaking down regimes of the dominant discourse. A probe-head is like a McLuhanian statement where knowledge is an instrument of exploration rather than finality. This is the form the book takes on for me, as I never actually know when I start a project. I usually gravitate towards a specific cluster of influence and then a 100 pages into my research, notes, and writing I’ll see the impetus hopefully reveal itself as an element intrinsic to the work. I’ve become more aware of my tendencies though, so I now try to break with what is easiest or most comfortable. In the back of KILL MANUAL I included such a list, since I view the act of “footnoting” as a kind of political practice that I try to adhere to. Lauren Berlant refers to the task as giving credit or paying tribute to influence by viewing it as a type of world-making.
My Mother: Demonology: A Novel, Kathy Acker; Saute ma Ville, Chantal Akerman; “The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade,” Georges Bataille; The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, Franco “Bifo” Berardi; Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant; Desire/Love, Lauren Berlant; The Last Mistress, Catherine Breillat; what purpose did i served in your life, Marie Calloway; It Then, Danielle Collobert; Murder, Danielle Collobert; The Sluts, Dennis Cooper; Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty, Gilles Deleuze; Leash, Jane Delynn; Trouble Every Day, Claire Denis; The Hole, Thom Donovan; “Masochism, Submission, Surrender—Masochism as a Perversion of Surrender,” Emmanuel Ghent; Vivre Sa Vie, Jean-Luc Godard; Airless Spaces, Shulamith Firestone; The Soft Appeal: Sentiment in the Age of Cybernetic Disclosure, Jackqueline Frost; Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari; Chaosmosis, Félix Guattari; Eden Eden Eden, Pierre Guyotat; Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers, Pierre Guyotat; Prostitution, Pierre Guyotat; The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke; The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore, Jean-Luc Hennig; Ma Mère, Christophe Honoré; Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy, E L James; Suicide, Edouard Levé; The Compleat Purge, Trisha Low; WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Dusan Makavejev; In the Realm of the Senses, Nagisa Oshima; Mamma Roma, Pier Paolo Pasolini; Mercury, Ariana Reines; The Story of O, Pauline Réage; Christmas on Earth, Barbara Rubin; The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry; The 120 Days of Sodom, Marquis de Sade; Peggy and Fred in Hell, Leslie Thornton; Unknown Pleasures, Anna Vitale
I hope my work is contributing to conversations about violence: structurally on an economic, social, and cultural level, while including the softer forms of violence flaring up in the everyday. To choose to actively exist against these conditions is an act of resistance, especially if you do not align with the normative protocol in white heteropatriarchal Amerikkka. You have to believe and continuez. As Jackqueline Frost notes in Young Americans “As it was in that time I came to believe that every woman had made up her mind / to live / that I was not the only one, and not the last.” Not only did I have to decide to live at times when death seemed so near, and continue to decide, I had to know that I was not singular or finite in my experience. To know a collective body of pain existed and was presently pulling resources like an affective blood bank refueling organs of agency; emergence. The participants in this conversation are those who don’t belong, those who experience the feeling of being unfit for the world. As sites for collective resistance they fail, as a book is not a struggle, but maybe they can be a rehearsal.
Cassandra Troyan is the author of THRONE OF BLOOD, a poetic novella from Solar Luxuriance andBLACKEN ME BLACKEN ME, GROWLED (Tiny Hardcore Press) and KILL MANUAL fromArtifice Books. She curates the reading and performance series ARTIFICIAL EAR, in Chicago, IL.