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…
I present Rebbecca Brown, whose recent book They Become Her has been described thusly:
“Rebbecca Brown stands ground with the likes of Kathy Acker writing Cervantes and Dickens. In They Become Her, writing is liquid, spilling over with meaning, never allowing the reader to forget that this is the work of [a] poet[s]. It gathers and drips in spite of the complex interweaving and intertextual narrative among one Delia Bacon and three Reb[b]ecca Browns. It asks, at what point do we reach the confluence of authorship, the merging of writing into literary history, full of anxiety and influence. Must all sentences flow toward the delta of ambiguity? For the characters in this book, the answer is yes. For Rebbecca Brown, well… Who is Rebbecca Brown?” -Heather Momyer
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
They Become Her fictionalizes the life of Delia Bacon, an American woman who in the mid-eighteen hundreds was the first to put forth the idea that Shakespeare did not write his own works. This novel also provides fictional biographies of three contemporary writers that share my name, tugging readers into the authorial circuit as they participate in unexpected interactions that ultimately become them, too. The two contemporary writers who share my name, Rebecca Brown and Rebecca Brown, are extreme in their fictional divisions—one imposes a singular schema for situating the world with demons and apocalyptic vision, the other confounds myth and its relation to the body, writing through landscapes of desire and love. They Become Her relies on an intertextual panorama wherein a multitude of authors long to be stricken by a story like lightning, like the back of an aggravated palm or psalm, memory laden and yearning for a narrative as compelling as Delia Bacon’s, as she is the ultimate madwoman seeking to dethrone the Author-god.
In fact, operating under the assumption of her theory that a secret society collaboratively wrote the Shakespearean works, Delia Bacon planned on digging up Shakespeare’s corpse; as a result, she spent her final years in an institution (the official malady: “talking loudly”), although in her lifetime she was referred to as a prophetess, seer, sibyl, and oracle. Nathaniel Hawthorne paid for the publication of her book. Ralph Waldo Emerson briefly acted as her literary agent. Thomas Carlyle befriended her in England. Catharine Beecher was her teacher; her classmate, Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was friendly with Samuel Morse and had a love affair with a younger man that turned illicit scandal. Her brother and lover were prominent members of the Skull and Bones. All of 19th century New England society seemed to know her.
Initially this book began as a quest to discover why Delia Bacon had been forgotten. After doing my own digging around, I think I’ve found my proof.
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?
The points and angles that comprise Cassiopia’s constellation are not just part of the vain Queen’s body. Some of the stars form the chair that she was tied to while tortured. Sometimes, depending on the season, the chair turns her upside down and those beautiful lights suggest the permanence of punishment writ large. Perhaps I am of this constellation, dealing with the conceit of authorship, which ultimately twists one topsy-turvy, specifically women high with literary ambition bound by innumerable institutions in a fluid world of selfhood that is dangerously symbiotic and transgressive. Beneath the stations and spots, deep objects: star clouds, open clusters, dark nebula—all lie beyond the shallow, shadowy sky. All lie. I can’t deny the anxiety or the influence of the nodes and nebulas that have left their nicks and notches. I leave them as raw figures of a peculiar asterism:
Thus ever writer’s motto reads: mad I cannot be, sane I do not deign to be, neurotic I am.
The Pleasure of the Text
You have acquired some of the privileges of an inspired person and a prophetess—and that the world is bound to hear you, if for nothing else, yet because you are so sure of your mission.
Letter to Delia Bacon
Linda Hutcheon. Hayden White.
The word in language is half someone else’s.
“Discourse in the Novel”
The function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society.
“What is an Author”
The Australian lyre bird.
Robert Coover’s The Public Burning.
E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime.
Katharine Davis’ Versailles.
Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot
Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. . .To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.
—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
“A Thousand Plateaus”
“You!” said the Caterpillar contemptuously. “Who are YOU?” Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation.
Alice in Wonderland
Rebbecca Brown’s work has previously appeared in American Literary Review, Confrontation, 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, Eclipse, Requited, Truck, H_ngm_n and Ekleksographia (among others). She is the recipient of an Honorable Mention from the Academy of American Poets, the Rachel Sherwood Prize for Poetry and First Place in the LACC Writing Contest for Creative Nonfiction. They Become Her, her first novel, received Honorable Mention in the 2009-2010 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Contest. She lives and works in New York City.