Ben Lerner & Ariana Reines

BOMB 129 Fall 2014
BOMB 129
Lerner Reines 01

Ariana Reines and Jim Fletcher performing Mortal Kombat, 2014. Photo by Stefan Meyer and Alex Kangangi.

Ariana Reines is a go-for-broke artist who honors her traditions by being like no one else. Some of us have made a fetish of our stupidity, pretending to forget history, and some of us have made a fetish of despair, congratulating ourselves on melancholia, but Ariana is too brilliant and too alive for either of those sad luxuries. Her poems and various performances and even her posts are fetishes in a much deeper sense: they are sites of (and screens for) irrational and transpersonal powers. I am convinced of the authenticity of the summonses she receives and the summonses she issues and when I read her I am reminded that all of this is a calling before it’s an identity or career. Her voice—which is always more than hers alone—is a dialectic between the very ancient and the bleeding edge. I just looked up “bleeding edge” on Wikipedia and here is what it says: “A technology may be considered bleeding edge where it contains a degree of risk.” There might be “a lack of consensus.” Or “a lack of testing.” There might be “industry resistance to change.” With Ariana’s art the risks are real and we should run them.

—Ben Lerner

If Ben Lerner has an ethics, or a poetics, it’s this: he always tells from what angle he’s looking at something, and, increasingly, he tells from what angles he feels that the state—but also you—or whatever it is that looks through our world’s many viewfinders—might see him. 10:04, his absorbing and delightful new novel, is basically Time Regained retold as The Odyssey in a best of all possible worlds: a celebrated white male author negotiates the dispassionate passions of doomsday-era heterosexuality by way of Occupy Wall Street, Marfa, and Whole Foods, among many other topoi and tears in the time-space continuum. Like the Hart Cranes and Frank O’Haras before him, 10:04 ’s erudite, not totally hapless narrator does some of his most dazzling contemplatio while standing up and walking. It is what Avital Ronell would call a paternity suit, and the GPS precision of its accuracies is delicious: you can’t put the book down. Suspended between two storms that do and do not quite arrive, sort of in the manner of the Kafkan messiah, 10:04 is a little science-fiction masterpiece, and I love it extra because, thank God, in a manner of speaking, it’s not quite science fiction.

Ben and I met in Fort Greene for lunch on a hot day, July 2014. It was a pescatory meal, heavy on the cocktails, terminating in ice cream: basil chip for me, salted caramel for Lerner. Whenever I’m lucky enough to hang out with Ben I wish it could go on for infinity. As it is, we talked a lot more than space here allows us to record. In a perfect world this conversation might have had a title: “The Emperor of Space Ice Cream,” for example.

—Ariana Reines


Ben Lerner You’re just back from Fire Island, right? Were you just hanging out?

Ariana Reines It was a Frank O’Hara reading organized by the community board, I believe—they were very hospitable and it was actually quite special. There were these deer there, the only underprivileged creatures on the whole island. Can deer be feral, being that they’re undomesticated? They stalk the island like hungry dogs. It’s so odd. And I’d never heard about them, ever, and then I encountered a doe in the middle of the night, and the Jesus in me felt so special, but then everyone was like, “Oh yeah, the deer.”

BL Like along the side of the road? They’re going through garbage?

AR No, but they might as well be. They have that hungry look.

BL Do they startle as easily as other deer?

AR No, they come up to you. Apparently the island lost vegetation after Hurricane Sandy, so the deer became more hungry, and people began to feed them, and now they can communicate disease and things like that. So it’s this strange, sad …

BL Wow, deer have a lot of eye-territory to express their hunger.

AR Totally, and a doe does it differently from a buck. And it’s really painful to see them behaving this way. They’re deer behaving like feral dogs, but also it’s exciting and startling since nobody warned me …. Anyway I would’ve preferred not to speak of your book before we had a drink, but I’m really fascinated by the passage from the line quoted several times in your first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, “You have never seen me,” to the refrain “You might have seen me” in your latest, 10:04.

BL That’s really beautiful. I’ve never thought of that.

AR Come on! No way!

BL I really hadn’t. I wonder if I’ll edit out the part where I say I never thought of it.

AR I won’t let you!

BL You shouldn’t let me. That’s a lovely observation because that’s the whole movement—a movement from ironically escaping the pressures of character and authorship to the attempt to inhabit them without irony, where the “me” functions as both the historical author of the fiction and the narrator within it. And it does happen. Sometimes it happens in front of cameras, you know? Waving into the spectacular frame—when the narrator slips in front of a news camera after Sandy and waves to the public, the reader. That’s the best thing anyone has said about the relationship between the two books.

AR Well, I’m glad we got it over with at the very beginning.

BL Yeah, I think this interview is done. It’s a way of trying to think about a different kind of relationship to the second person, which is everywhere in the book.

AR Yeah, it’s everywhere, and it’s a passage … As in A Passage to India. All of your books book passage.

BL But also because of all the Whitman in this book, the might is a hedging against the Whitmanic confidence in the future. Because it’s about imagining a second person when you can’t necessarily imagine a readership or a posterity.

AR And it also softens the violence of daring to address the second person at all.

BL That is a really wonderful observation.

AR Well thanks, Ben.

BL It’s like the unconscious key to the whole book. Especially because, in the first book, the “you have never seen me” is a quote from The Lichtenberg Figures. It’s a poem. It’s a real poem from the historical author inserted into the fiction.

AR Which happens again.

BL Which happens again, but instead of using that slippage as a line of escape it’s about the possibility of a correspondence between reader and writer and character and historical author. But that’s also one of our big relationships, you and I: You take up the second person powerfully in your work—I mean both how you deploy it in your poems and how you address the possibility of address in your poems.

AR Everything I’ve done is “about” problems of address, I think, except for the theater.

BL Well, your play Telephone is, in a way, about an “I” and a “you,” when you can’t see each other.

AR I don’t know if you ever read I And Thou—I don’t think very much of it …

BL I did, I read it in college, the Martin Buber book, right?

AR Yeah, Buber.

BL That’s what my brother used to call me as a little kid—

AR He called you Buber!?!

BL Yeah, he still does, sometimes.

AR That’s a great nickname; I had a friend, Maureen, who called me Buber. But Tales of the Hasidim, that’s really where it’s at with Buber. I was thinking, though, about the idea of forged correspondence in your novel 10:04. Because, in a way, ours is a forged correspondence—I read all your books as addressed to me, but I’m not the Ariana you’re writing to.

BL Right, I chatted you once accidentally. Do you remember?

AR No.

BL It was a long time ago.

AR Were you like, “Shit.”

BL I was, but I could’ve divulged all types of—

AR —yeah, how far did it go? Did I answer?

BL No, it was just like, “I’ll be back by 5:30 and there’s pasta.” It was very logistical, but then I thought for a long time about it. Because it is, empirically, an instance of failed address and slippage between Arianas.

AR And it was a long time ago? That’s nice because beginning with that moment we could have forged years of correspondence.

BL One time I read in Topeka and a man came up afterward and asked how my wife was and then started listing her books, which were your books. He thought that we were married … but see, my wife Ariana is Ariana and you’re Ariana. There is a difference in pronunciation that the transcript will fail to capture.

AR It’s a shibboleth. It’s not enough to know the word—you still need to pronounce it correctly. She’s the “Ariana” I’d be if I’d become the Puerto Rican I should’ve been.

BL Yeah, you guys have some things in common.

AR In 10:04 the Alena character redeems or plays at redeeming art by hastening its demise ... it’s wonderful to be in the company of ideas that cherish you and the ideas that you cherish in this book. And I know a lot of pleasure will be had in talking out these ideas, but for me, the prime delight is that it’s hilarious. It’s really, really funny. It’s even funnier than your first novel, which is also very funny.

BL I’m glad you think so.

AR I’m just wondering if you’re a funny person, like in real life? Do you make people laugh?

BL Yeah, I am actually funny. Yeah.

AR What kind of funny are you?

BL Well, it depends on the person.

AR Do you play the fool?

BL I play the fool in my family and sometimes when I teach I’m funny. But in my family—I’d tell all these jokes when I was a little kid, I would overhear off-color jokes and then I’d repeat them at the dinner table, clearly not knowing any of the sexual references or whatever. But I was aware that people were laughing at how I didn’t know the content of the joke. And that became my way of stretching the limits as to what was age-appropriate.

AR I ask because, for me, there’s a lot of stand-up comedy necessitated by my job. I’m a stand-up, vaudeville poet. So a certain kind of comedy is inescapable for me in the scene of literature. I’ve never seen you read.

BL I’m not really funny when I read.

AR You might be able to become funny if you had to. Say you were forced onto the road by some grave demotion of circumstance. You had to go out on the road to support your family. Into the Borscht Belt.

BL Are you funny? But don’t you also have a ferocity?

AR Well, I can’t speak about that—that would be obscene.

BL I’ve seen you read. I’ve listened to a lot of your readings.

AR I’m sorry, I’ve never listened.

BL They’re good. They’re serious. There’s a recording—unless I’m making this up and have only read it on the page—of you reading “The Perforator God,” which is a poem I really admire. I had that on my phone for a while.

AR You had it on your phone? That means a lot to me.

BL I think there are a whole bunch of obvious things to say about humor as a moment where language affects the body. And I’m not very interested in calculated laughter that’s a sign of—

AR —I don’t need you to praise humor as a literary device.

BL I’m just saying that the biggest embarrassment about prose is the dialogue. The reason why I never thought I’d write a novel was because dialogue was so embarrassingly stupid. Like it’s not how language is processed and since it’s also the biggest investment in realism, it fails the most spectacularly. It ends up being very conventional theater.

AR But in your novel it succeeds as comedy.

BL Right, so humor is a structure of acknowledgement of the failed realism of the novel. In a way, that is mimetic of how all kinds of staged dialogues fail in real life.

AR Another pleasure is the constant mimesis and substitution in what you write. One way I was thinking I could describe 10:04 is as a burlesque of the poem near its center.

BL Say more about that.

AR Well, everything that is in the poem, all the ideas that are there in compressed form … it’s like the pill version that has dissolved—

BL —like one of those dinosaur pills that you put in the water and it—

AR —exactly; it sponges.

BL And it was written first, and I think the novel was, in part, formed around the poem.

AR I’m glad you said so. I wondered if it had been written first. I also thought that it was very clever that the novel does all of its reading for you. It reads itself for the reader again and again, with agility and charm, so we never need to bother to analyze or abstract from it. And there’s also little Roberto, whom I thought of as Creeley and Bolaño reincarnated.

BL That’s nice. I hadn’t noticed that either.

AR Roberto Creeley?

BL I only noticed that in passing, as I was making up a name for a character, which is another big embarrassment in fiction. I only noticed in passing that it would be a Hispanicized Creeley name. I didn’t think of Bolaño.

AR You didn’t? How could you not?

BL I’ve already demonstrated my ability to repress things. Maybe there is something about writing fiction, where if you didn’t repress the obvious significance of certain echoes, it would be impossible to go on.

AR Right, but instead they’re made light of in 10:04, really, in the best way. I wondered … okay a few short questions—

BL —but wait, I wanted to ask you something. We talked about the second person earlier and I want to go back there because I think that’s one of the ways your poems are important. There’s an effort to imagine address as something other than an exercise in ironic detachment. And to think about the “I” and “you” as sites for love poems, to be aware of the love poem’s history, but not to be disabled by it, not to end up just demonstrating the tiredness of certain tropes. So I want that in our conversation—because when I was writing this book and thinking about the second person and thinking about the poets who mattered to me around the second person, you were definitely one of them. So would you say something about the “I” or “you” in your poems? I’ll leave it at that level of generality.

AR I mean, it changes. The earlier “you,” the one in the first two books [The Cow and Coeur de Lion], was the Bush-era “you.” It’s the “you” of YouTube and advertising. It’s really brutalized. It’s what the impoverished “I” is made of. The “I” is just the object of the address of advertising, of George W. Bush, of ATMs. And the weird thing is that “you,” like the “thou,” the divine “thou,” isn’t expected to respond, only to buy in. You’re not expected to answer, just to ante-up or pay in. Even if there’s a comment box.

BL And the last thing the ATMs say to me is: “Press enter to exit.”

AR I’m sorry to wiggle out of the answer, but the figure of proprioception, which is an organizing figure of your novel—I couldn’t help but think that you were forming 10:04 while your daughter was grabbing your finger the way babies do.

BL I was revising it while she was doing that, and I was writing it with the imaginary deadline of her birth being the end of all writing, which it hasn’t proven to be.

AR You’re not free?

BL No, not at all free. Proprioception is also [Charles] Olson’s word. So I guess it’s at the threshold of the new American poetry.

AR I can only take Olson through [John] Weiners.

BL That makes sense. I liked the idea that you could possess proprioception for the wrong body. That you could have proprioception in advance of the formation of a social body. That you could have it as the legacy of some other body. Like, an organ whose function is no longer known. That, for me, was very much about the weird Whitmanic task of grounding your ability to speak for all people in the body. I mean, what is proprioception once you collectivize the first person? Like the octopus, which is a link—

AR In an email you called it “compoctopussy.”

BL A link in all types of ways. He eats the octopus and feels like he dreams the octopus’s dreams. But also the octopus doesn’t have proprioception because of the distribution of all of its neurons in all of its limbs.

AR She gets it through him. Through his aorta.

BL Yeah, like what is the poetic equivalent of the distribution of the octopus’s neurons all over the body. Maybe my fantasy is that fiction can let us have perceptions of a body that doesn’t empirically exist.

AR To dilate, to dissect, to delete: the novel’s signal verbs.

BL Yeah, dilation of seas, aortas, cervices, time, etcetera. Speaking of animals and collectivity: at the very end of my novel there is a mention of bedbugs—you have an amazing poem [“The Black Earth” in Mercury] with your brother and bedbugs. In the very last moment of 10:04, the narrator says to his best friend, Alex, that he thinks of bedbugs as a figure of collectivity, your blood being carried away, dispersed socially.

AR Another little proof that we’re family.

BL I did that after I read your poem.

AR You know it’s funny, I was thinking about the disrupted infinity figure that appears in your poetry book, Mean Free Path.

BL Yeah, the glyph that separates the sections.

AR I use a very similar glyph in Mercury, but I hadn’t read… I was late in reading Mean Free Path.

BL I hounded, I pursued youI tried to inflict my writing on you.

AR I’m so glad. I mean, I was very drunk when we first met.

BL When did we first meet? Oh, I remember. The first thing you did was extend a hand to shake my hand and you spilled ice-cold water on my lap.

AR That’s right! I forgot.

BL And then we talked at the bar.

AR The extending hand. Another important figure in all your writing. But I was going to say before about arresting the moment of being called, because that’s what Vermeer did and that’s what—insofar as the moment of receiving the letter is analogous to the moment of being called—that’s what happens in the Bastien-Lepage painting at the start of 10:04. There’s a lot of hands that wave—there’s the wave to the false Creeley. Or I don’t remember if the wave happens, or if you just think you’re waving to him.

BL He does wave. But he doesn’t know if he’ll be seen, since it’s awkward and in the dark.

AR And then there’s Walter Benjamin’s “Angel of History,” and I don’t know why I never thought of this before until reading 10:04, but in that Klee painting the angel’s middle fingers are so pronounced. So I thought one day, if I had the energy, I could propose a new way of flipping off the past, or the future—

BL —yeah.

AR He’s flipping the bird—

BL —waving is really important. I have a line in a newer poem about the phenomenon of waving to somebody who in fact was waving behind you. Or someone waves and you can’t decide if they mean you. That to me seems to be a great figure in all kinds of ways for the embarrassment of receiving or performing poetic address. Poetry as overheard, in the traditional formulation. It can be hard to know if you’re being hailed, whom you’re hailing. And there’s also delay and an awkwardness and a sociality to it. It’s both a breach in communication and a way of imagining, albeit accidentally, a second person plural.

AR And sometimes the person acknowledges that, although they didn’t mean you, you did receive their greeting, and they find a way to comfort you in your having not been their addressee.

BL They include you after the fact in the “you.”

AR But some people obliviate on a level that I find kind of amazing. I mean, surely, at least visually, they can see that you saw them greeting someone.

BL So, when in doubt, do you wave or do you protect yourself from the—

AR —I feel like sometimes in my sad experience with obliviating—all the self-denial, either of presuming that whatever greetings I do receive aren’t really intended for me, or of steeling myself against the anxiety that my own gestures will fail to arrive, or fail to arrive to their intended—what fascinates me is that the moment of recognition can’t be canceled. It’s very possible to fail to recognize a person you know, a greeting meant for you, even a blessing, or an opportunity. We can fail to recognize these things anytime for any number of reasons; it could just be a hangover or PMS or a general spiritual deficiency or whathaveyou, but when we do recognize a greeting, take a call—whether it’s something on the sidewalk, the glint of a lucky penny, or the appearance of a true friend, however we find these things—something happens, a physical thing in the mind and body that cannot be revoked.

BL Yeah, the trivial social equivalent of how recognition can’t be canceled—maybe it’s not trivial, actually—is that thing where you see someone you know and you know that they have seen you and yet you both pretend to be unaware of the other’s presence. When I go shopping at the food co-op, a big part of the exercise—at a co-op!—is pretending not to see other people I know who are clearly joining me in that shadowy contract.

AR About the co-op—there’s a kind of continuum between Whole Foods and the co-op in the novel: they’re like the mouth and the anus of a single torture site, with different stylings of bourgeois overcoming, fantasy, repressed crueltyconnected by an intestinal passage.

BL Ha. Yes.

AR Have you read Testo Junkie?

BL No, I haven’t. What is that?

AR Beatriz Preciado.

BL Is she in Spain?

AR S/he’s Spanish, but I think s/he’s in Paris. I’m bringing Beatriz to Boston this fall. Testo Junkie is a book about the traffic of hormones, among other things, as in 10:04 the mango, the sperm, the coffee, gender, and paternity—

BL Yeah, the other person who recommended Testo Junkie to me recently was Maggie Nelson. That’s a pretty good set of recommenders. You wrote that poem for a catalogue of a show s/he was organizing.

AR That’s right.

BL What’s it called, the poem?

AR “Ramayana.”

BL The word document was titled “The Definite or Indefinite Articles.”

AR Sorry.

BL Don’t be sorry, it’s a great poem.

AR It’s an okay poem.

BL It’s pretty great.

AR Do you know Carol Rama? Do you know her work?

BL No, I googled it when I read your poem.

AR That’s like a T-shirt. Rama’s wonderful. The art world is doing this thing now of heaping accolades on underappreciated female geniuses right before they die. The Hindu Ramayanabeing a gigantic epic, I wanted to compress the lifetimes of praise Rama deserves into that one skinny little poem. It’s kind of a nauseating elation. People who take pills or do drugs would know what I mean. Or people who write poems. Another family moment between us is your reference, in Angle of Yaw, to the book in the belly of the cow.

BL That’s true. And also, to dilate it, the cow as a signal of the concept of religious address, right? To a certain degree. And the Whitman is very much a King James Bible-influenced attempt to secularize address. And to solve the problem of response—in the sense that the reader is invited to imagine herself as the “I” and “You” simultaneously.

AR Exactly, but that was Whitman’s practical problem as a poet, because in solving the problem of address, as he continued to expand Leaves of Grass, he ruined it more and more. The more he answered himself, the more he fattened/ruined the book …

BL He’s a total failure. But if you look at these periodic defenses of poetry in mainstream magazines they all have this implied nostalgia for Whitman, as if Whitman solved the contradictions of—

AR —are they all nostalgic for Whitman?

BL I’m writing this monograph about the hatred of poetry and what the hatred reveals. And the denunciations that I’ve looked at—like this big one in Harper’s recently—all say something about poetry having abdicated its responsibility to speak to the masses and realize a more perfect union kind of thing. It’s all based upon this notion that there was this moment where the impossible Whitmanic project—

AR —ever happened.

BL Yeah, was realized. I’ve read your Semiotext(e) book, but I haven’t seen any of your performances. I worry about what changes in terms of address, the imagination of or thinking about audience, when you move from poetry to performance.

AR I worry about that, too.

BL What’s your worry about it?

AR But wait, I interrupted you. You worry about the concept of audience.

BL Well, the incredible thing about your poems is that they are really, fundamentally involved with an archaic poetic challenge of being totally individual and totally obliterating individuality. Like there’s a force that speaks through you, there’s a you that’s a person that’s a real body that you’re in love with, and also a sense of that being somebody you’re waving beyond. I don’t know how that works in a performance that takes place in a gallery. Not just in terms of the empirical fact of the number of people who can see it. Does address translate as a concern from poems to performance? Is it a deepening, or a limitation, or a stepping aside from that particular way of framing the problem?

AR It’s an exacerbation of the problem, but within a total disgust with or acknowledgement of the limits of the space that contains it. I mean, the performance with the spider, which forms the core of The Origin of the World, part of the pleasure of accepting that invitation was thinking, This is an opportunity to do something with text while refusing to write. To try to stage a scene of reading. It was just a test. And all performance—I think it’s Vito Acconci who said this—is what artists use to break something open for themselves, and that’s the only time performance is any good. Performance is not something to professionalize, or to aspire to. But I do receive these invitations. In a way my job is to receive and respond to invitations. My intentions with performance are much more private than with writing. But the hospitality necessitated by writing with care taught me to try to be hospitable with performance also. Like, I don’t know why anybody would want to come to these things, honestly. I’m surprised anybody comes. But I’ve been learning a lot from them.

BL Part of the interesting answer I hear you giving is: “The gallery is hailing me; the gallery is waving at me—or at least thinks it is.”

AR I don’t think I’m performing address, insofar as I’ve never imagined, when I do something in an art space, that there’s anyone to address. And when I collaborate with Jim Fletcher, we’re both rigorous about honestly being with the audience while never buckling to any pressure merely to address them. It’s more about testing things out for myself in company, with others. I can’t deal with the embarrassment of wondering why people do come: If I’m a fetish object for “sincerity,” or a chump, or the court jester, or what. It’s more that I’m staging a situation in which I can try to sound out for myself modes of address as I discovered them in literature and as they unfold bewilderingly in life. A good thing about performance is it’s allowed to be boring. It needn’t give pleasure. I learn from it.

BL That’s a really important distinction that is, to me, fundamental to poetry, too. And this is Whitmanic again in all of the complicated ways: the idea that poetry, even though it’s also about addressing whoever is the ostensible person on the other end of the telephone, is also just about opening a channel, about making a space for the possibility of address more than communicating any particular thing. I think of your play—how you do that great work with the difference between want and need, whether Bell said “Watson, I want you” or “Watson, I need you” in that first phone call. Much of writing is tapping the mic, “Is this thing on?” It’s about exercising the faculty of address in the abstract.

AR Totally, and this is why Whitman is the tragic double of any speaker, of all political speech, of all advertising, of all ATMs. He’s always the shadow because he dares to demand that you and I are the ones he’s addressing. But there is something about that violence that is also erotic; it’s inescapably powerful. I had this experience two weeks ago where someone, who doesn’t have the right to, called me Ari—I was completely undone by it.

BL Yeah, it’s a big deal.

AR I wouldn’t dare, you know? There’s something about doing that violation winningly, as opposed to doing it violating-ly. It’s a real mystery, and you do have Whitman on one side and George W. Bush on the other. And it’s peculiar because it’s also the fastest way into a person. The fastest way in is to speak their secret name; address them the way only a lover or a comrade-in-arms has the right to, even though you haven’t earned it. Maybe that’s our one real specialty as a people. As Americans, I mean.

BL That’s why pseudonyms are such important forms of protection. All the porn stars who used to take the names of saints and saints themselves jettisoning their names. I mean, maybe it’s horrible to be addressed by a god or by a masturbating audience because it obliterates your particularity in the same way.

AR So you locate names and pseudonyms in your work.

BL Well, I don’t have any political pressure to escape, given all of the normative categories I inhabit. But for me, to a certain degree, the issue is to acknowledge the name as a fiction in the first place.

AR Any name?

BL The name of the author in particular. Ben does appear at one moment in this book, in a fake letter that’s addressed to me. And I actually made this change really late. In Leaving the Atocha Station, the narrator’s name was Ben or Benjamin until the last edit, and then I changed it. And I actually thought it was a bad decision. I changed it because my mom told me to change it.

AR It was the right thing to do. It protected you.

BL 10:04 is dedicated to my mom, is for her. Kind of quietly. But it’s to the second person plural on the perennial verge of existence.

AR Did she read you bedtime stories?

BL Yeah. And she sang. And we used to play this game about how I couldn’t recite poems. I couldn’t memorize the “Purple Cow” poems properly. Do you know those poems? The uproarious bedtime ritual was that my mom would try to get me to recite them, and I couldn’t recite them, and that would be very funny—that was like our game.

AR That is very sweet. For me, the cow is a real modernist figure. I feel like after God died, the cow became the onlooker in great works of modernism. It’s the witness in Joyce, it shows up again and again—for me, it’s like the residue of the divine in the twentieth century.

BL Yeah, the cow in your work is like the cat in Chris Marker—like the thing that’s there, but also walks out of history.

AR Yeah, right, it was allowed to stay behind, but it will be able to walk out.

BL And also it’s like the feral deer. Like can you imagine the feral cow? There’s too much gaze, too much horrible, passive witnessing … it’s bearing witness to everything except its own imminent slaughter.

AR And in that, too, it is divine.

Colson Whitehead by Suzan Sheman
Whitehead 01 Body
Mary Robison by Maureen Murray
Robison 01 Body

carRobison’s dead-on depictions of fractured lives, her unusual narrative strategies and sparkling dialogue have won her critical acclaim for the short story collections, An Amateur’s Guide to the NightBelieve Them and Days, and her novels, Oh! and Subtraction.

Confusing and Accurate and Deadpan: Trevor Shimizu Interviewed by C. Spencer Yeh

The New York-based painter and video artist on the tragicomic nature of wannabes and scenesters.

Digging Beneath the Polite Veneer: Eileen Pollack Interviewed by Taylor Larsen
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The writer discusses growing up in the Borscht Belt, the prevalence of literary humor, and the power of feminist punch lines.

Originally published in

BOMB 129, Fall 2014

Featuring interviews with Moyra Davey, James Hoff, Claudia Rankine, Matthew Weinstein, Ben Lerner and Ariana Reines, Valeria Luiselli, Tyondai Braxton, and Nicole Cherubini.

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BOMB 129