RADAR Interview with Kate Zambreno!
As for so many others, Kate Zambreno‘s Heroines stirred me profoundly. Her equally excellent blog, Frances Farmer is My Sister is where the book began: following a move to the middle-class suburbs of the Midwest with her partner, Zambreno launched a search into the relationships of famous male Modernist writers and their less-famous writer wives, in turn interrogating her own position as a wife, woman, and writer.
Heroines is a book of skillful referentiality, not only in revealing the lives of Modern women many of us know so little about, but also in looking at the implications of literary theory and psychology, the history of the way women have been “used” as yet another object of language in these discourses. By placing herself as the subject, the woman, the author, Zambreno further complicates the narratives of the literary female figures she self-consciously imposes on her own life, while also resurrecting women and writing that history has threatened to lose.
RADAR: Hi Kate! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and to RADAR.
Kate: Hi Rebekkah! It is a pleasure.
RADAR: So, as it has been for so many people, your book was incredibly evocative and important for me. Thank you for writing it.
Kate: Thank you for reading it. That sounds trite, but I mean it.
RADAR: No, I think that’s the second part of writing–there’s the doing the writing, and then the hoping and desiring that others will read it.
Kate: Yes–the communion with others. It’s an interesting thing, to realize your book is out there in the world, to let it be out there, to let the readers then do the work. This text especially came out of so much silence, and was about silence, so it’s really beautiful to have engaged readers.
RADAR: Yes, and Heroines seemed to come out of a sense of loneliness and need you had to connect, which is one of the things I wanted to ask you more about: one aspect of the book I really connected with was your writing about going to a lot of very “female” spaces, yoga studios, salons/waxing parlors, high-end clothing stores, watching YouTube videos of women making raw foods. You were going to these places, watching these videos, partly to connect with other women, but simultaneously felt so “Other” to them. It made me think a lot about Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, a book you reference much in yours, writing about how bourgeois life prohibits women from forming friendships in these social situations. I’ve felt that–hair salons and women’s spaces are often filled with this kind of competitive violence.
Kate: Oh, I love that– “competitive violence.”
RADAR: But, you ultimately found connection, via your blog, through the “silent” connection of the internet, as you put it. How do you feel about female friendships, or connections? Do you feel like it’s still a struggle for you? Has writing the book changed/or brought deeper connections, less loneliness? Or will this always be a challenge?
Kate: Beautiful question. I’m not sure I have the answer. But, I am really glad you bring up those sections of the book– I had to really argue my way to keep them inside the book. I was told that I seemed so consumerist, or too privileged, and hence very unlikable and unsympathetic. I argued for the raw food section–where I discuss watching YouTube videos of these privileged women with their glossy manicured nails massaging kale, the oil glistening–and I say in the book, “I worry I’ve become one of those women that I pity.” I wanted to communicate how when I was in some ways marked as a wife on the outside, the way in which I sought connection to other women were through these entirely privileged consumerist activities. And plus I was having health problems, and the raw food, the acupuncture, was a way of trying to seek health or healing in these female spaces.
RADAR: That’s so surprising to me people wanted you to take those sections out. I disagree they made you seem unlikeable–I felt they made you seem tremendously human, and that you were bringing up a tension so many women struggle with. I think many of us (myself definitely) are constantly concerned with becoming “one of those women I pity” because it can be so easy when you’re living in a place that values it. There is such social praise for becoming that kind of woman.
Kate: Yes. But, I wish I had kept in parts of those sections where I meditated more on race and class–the strangeness of only talking to the Japanese woman who administered my acupuncture, or the Korean woman in a nail salon in a strip mall who painted my nails once a month. I wrote meditating on this–on the hierarchy of this–Audre Lorde writing about white feminists at a conference while women of color cleaned their houses–and I was urged by several readers to take it out. But what stayed in was another hierarchy: when I was at the yoga studio feeling swarthy and lower-class, among these much more bourgeois women with their diamond rings and their Lululemon yoga pants. These female spaces are sometimes so much about consumerism, and a hierarchy of class, and yet they can be these really intimate spaces.
RADAR: That tension is what makes it so complicated.
Kate: I obviously think one can form female friendships without consumerism. They’re so fetishized somehow in our society. I also write in Heroines about visiting Sephora when I was feeling terribly lonely, and feeling I was friends with the girls and women who worked there, although it’s a weird charged-unequal not-really-friendship built upon capitalism. I talk about this in Green Girl as well. Online I think I have deeper connections. Although often when I meet these (mostly) women in real life, who I have established such intimacy with over the internet, it’s strained or different. For me, there’s a struggle to have connections, although I don’t think this is universal. But you’re right–Simone de B. does write about that loneliness as well. All these houses lined up, isolating.
RADAR: Yes, and it’s significant and I think terribly important to write about these spaces because we spend so much time in or around them. One of the challenges I find in being girl/woman is the amount of time to be spent on maintaining appearance, and how that inevitably takes away from cultivation of other aspects of ourselves. But, on the other hand, it can be extremely pleasurable (or I feel it is, like you describe feeling in the book) to buy and put on makeup, to shop for clothes. The “raw food” piece we’ve been talking about in Heroines made me think about how dishwashers and washing machines were invented to reduce the amount of time women might spend on housework, but even with all these conveniences, many women still choose to spend significant amounts of time on cultivation of themselves, their home, etc. This is the component I think about quite a bit–that there’s desire, that a desire still exists to spend a lot of time living like that.
Kate: Yes. It’s such a weird ambivalence for me. I tend to, when I’m feeling the most unhappy or alienated or depressed, become hypervigilant about my appearance. I’m turning 35 this year and I’ve become ridiculous worrying about aging–I’m hoping it’s a phase, it will pass, and that a lot of it connects to depression. Because I am looking forward to growing older, obviously. But I agree. It’s really important to write about our vanity and our relationship to our plainness, to quote Woolf. I think I’ve tried to do that in my work. Is the desire informed by capitalism, or is there desire outside of capitalism? That is the question now I think. How commodified are we, in these desires.
RADAR: Exactly! That question of desire and the way it is produced is one I think about all the time. It’s all become so tightly bound: capitalism, commodification, and desire. It’s very difficult to separate them (which many Marxists, and I think Foucault would argue is how capitalism succeeds). I think you definitely have addressed this “vanity” in your writing, and I think there needs to be an honesty about it. The lack of acknowledgement of pleasure in this vanity is part of what I think has kept so many women outside of “feminism” (whatever “feminism” means anymore…), or so uninterested in interrogating it. There can be a shame, especially in the academic world, the one you write much about, in taking pleasure in femininity.
Kate: Yes. That shame tied with feminism is the question to ask now.
RADAR: You also write a lot about your struggles with menstruation in Heroines, painful, heavy periods.
Kate: Yes. I had endometriosis surgery right before the last rewrite I did for Heroines last September–like Vivienne (Eliot) and her bloody sheets, her insisting that she and Tom (Eliot) wear black satin pajamas and sleep on black satin sheets to disguise the blood, the hotel sheets she would steal and send back laundered, to Tom’s horror.
RADAR: I just read an essay by David Foster Wallace about Wittingstein’s Mistress, a beautiful book by David Markson. Markson writes about this woman (incidentally also named Kate), and refers to her heavy periods. In his essay, DFW writes that many women and women critics objected to Markson’s writing of menstruation in the book–that it felt unrealistic, “clunky,” like a constant reminder to the reader Kate was a woman. I disagree in the sense that it didn’t remove me from the book. I think your writing about menstruation in Heroines was really important–that experience of the body has a profound affect on the way women move through the world, and has been so attacked, rendered shameful. Irigaray writes about this a lot, too–women’s unique relationship to blood. Was their any hesitation on your part to put it in the book?
Kate: Oh my god, I’m SO GLAD you just mentioned Wittgenstein’s Mistress! I had no idea that DFW wrote an essay about it. Yes, the woman named Kate. I read that very recently, and thought it hilarious, that Markson has the character menstruate on every page! It’s a reoccurring joke between me and John [Zambreno’s partner]. John, like you, adores the book, it’s one of his all-time favorites. And for awhile I resisted reading it, because, well, I don’t know. I work a lot with heavy referentiality and fragmentation, and so I think that’s why I didn’t read Markson and Maso for so long. But I was totally turned off by all of the menstruating! You know what it is–something turns me off about a male author having that be a character detail about Kate, as if to define her femaleness. She’s bleeding all over the fucking page! But, I do think it’s really important for women to write their bodies. Not that men cannot write the female body–of course they do–they have painted it, written it, for centuries. But all that blood–it infuriated me. I’ve always written a lot about my periods online. I think that defines a lot of the blogs I follow–I’m thinking of Ariana Reines posting her bloody panties on her Tumblr. I actually look at my blog as my menstrual calendar.
RADAR: I think a question to ask here is whether it’s infuriating because a man wrote it? Would it be so obnoxious if it had been a woman writer?
Kate: God, I love that you asked me that! No, not at all. It would not be obnoxious at all. BUT. I don’t think a woman would have had to have her character menstruate on every page, as a way to show the restraints of her body. I wrote a blog post joking about it where I started counting all of the menstruating. It was a lot. I mean, it seemed heavy-handed. We should write of our bodies, even our periods! All the fluids. All fluid. But our bodies also don’t overdetermine us, don’t overdetermine our genders even. I can’t believe I’m in agreement with David Foster Wallace about this, but there you go. I’ll have to go look for that essay. I mean, something about a genius male writer writing of a woman bleeding constantly makes me want to punch something. That might be my own special hang-up.
RADAR: You know, it’s a great essay.
Kate: I’m so excited I’m shouting to John in the other room that this is what we’re talking about!
RADAR: Yes! I’m glad I brought it up.
Kate: I should write a nonfiction novel starring a Kate that satirizes Wittgenstein’s Mistress and 5 people will get the reference. That seems about right in terms of my ability to come up with commercial books.
RADAR: YOU SHOULD. It would be amazing, I’m sure. Okay, I just pulled the essay out. Let me quote a part here; DFW actually writes he’s more concerned with a different kind of misogyny he sees in the book:
“I find in WM the same complex and scary blend of Hellenic and Evian misogyny…it is here the novel falters technically by betraying its authorial presence as thoroughly male, outside Kate and or womanhood generally… It seems very interesting to me that Markson has created a Kate who dwells so convincingly in a hell of utter subjectivity yet cannot finally himself help but objectify her…”
He basically takes issue with the fact that Kate’s madness is related to the death of her child and a divorce, that her madness is explainable because of her female transgression of social expectations, as opposed to just being “mad.”
Kate: Hmmm. Interesting. What do you think of this whole idea that if an author (male) writes misogyny convincingly, that it is somehow feminist? I’m thinking of the dialogue around Junot Diaz (whose new book I haven’t read). I also find it interesting that DFW is the one writing this, although it has been argued to me that he is feminist. But I keep on thinking of how he sends up Elizabeth Wurtzel in The Depressed Person.
RADAR: The Junot Diaz misogyny question is a huge one for me, I think about it a lot: I love DFW, I love DeLillo, I love Bolaño. I love so many male writers/thinkers enormously, passionately, and their work has been transformative in my life and in my reading. But, then I listen to a DFW interview where he says completely misogynistic things, shows an utter lack of understanding, almost a kind of disgust towards women. Reading Diaz, too, I feel something similar. Yet, as Diaz has said, that “misogynistic” experience of women was part of his experience. I get that, but for me, these portrayals are ultimately damaging. They resist challenging anything–I think you can be honest and still challenge. More, it cuts me out, as a woman reader, in those sections. I feel tossed out of the narrative.
Kate: Yes, “cuts me out, as a woman reader in those sections”–that’s lovely. I’ve felt that cutting, too. With Heroines, I’m trying to wrangle this. Jessa Crispin teaches, or taught a class, on Wonderful Writers Who are Horrible (not saying any of the contemporary male writers we’re talking about are horrible, they’re not). I think that’s partially what I wrangle with in the book. My love of D.H. Lawrence or Henry Miller or Gustave Flaubert. How Flaubert just seemed to absolutely despise women and the feminine.
RADAR: Yes, your book absolutely does wrangle this–one of the reasons I loved it so much. I remember reading The Second Sex in a philosophy class and all the young men saying it felt “too dated,” that the problems she addresses aren’t problems anymore, they’d been “solved” (while, I might add, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness was lauded in that same class as incredibly truthful and pertinent in its portrayal of sexuality.) And just the other day, in fact, in a grad school seminar, I was struggling to communicate the significance of Cixous and Irigaray’s work. There’s a failure to understand why feminist projects are important, a continual need to defend their place. And when I read parts of Diaz, or DFW, it’s so, so, so flagrantly necessary.
Kate: Right. I like what Simone de B. said, even though I disagree with a lot of The Second Sex, or at least her conclusions, and both Green Girl and Heroines wrangle with her concept of The Young Girl (in both) and The Wife (in Heroines), that by and large, equality has been won, but it’s the small, subtle communications and rhetoric that still creates this hierarchy. These feelings of inferiority we are just supposed to swallow, to internalize. I think that swallowing is a violence. Even the young men saying that in that class–that is a violence. I’m not of the liberal feminist camp that thinks that it should all be about equality in laws and institutions. People just want us to shut up about it, though.
RADAR: Yes, yes, exactly. It is a kind of violence. And as we talked of earlier in the discussion of housewifery, the fact that even though choice is available, women still, much of the time, choose to remain in situations that suppress them. That fascinates me, and I also struggle against it myself.
Kate: It’s true. What we desire is often not what is the healthiest for us. But, I think Freud gave us something very liberating–probably his most liberating, despite serious issues–we desire what we desire. I think that’s why I’ve often felt more kindredness with queer or affect theory than a lot of feminist theory (which often can be about empowerment, or almost a prohibition about speaking about not being empowered). I am sometimes not the best feminist. I don’t think many people are.
RADAR: I agree completely. You know, I’ve also always been drawn more toward queer theory–I find it more willing to explore the complexity of sexuality and desire, less prescriptive. I had a female professor in undergrad whose class was incredibly influential for me. That was where I read The Yellow Wallpaper for the first time. She said that one of the reasons feminism fails is because neither party (men nor women) see it as ultimately being beneficial to them, and that it needs to become something that could be seen that way in order for it to succeed. This idea haunts me. Any thoughts on that?
Kate: That’s interesting. I am interested in the relationship of feminism to desire. I think sometimes people in our contemporary moment boycott feminism because it might stand in the way of their desires (for passivity? for suppression?) Or they perceive it as standing in their way.
RADAR: Yes! I think that’s absolutely the case much of the time.
Kate: I think sometimes the impulse towards passivity can be very strong. For myself, at least. And Second Wave feminists, and hell, even young intersectional thoroughly contemporary feminists now, often dismiss women seen as passive, or female fictional characters seen as too passive. I was going to write a book about it–I mean this is my next book of essays, if I can ever rebuild myself to write essays again. But, I think though–to counter your professor–The Yellow Wallpaper is a thorough satire. Gilman is writing this clear-eyed satire of the poisonousness inherent in the traditional heterosexual couple. Sometimes people have read Heroines–good readers, thorough readers–and don’t get I’m actually trying to critique heterosexuality and the fascism of individual relationships and their rhetoric. I have been asked–by brilliant readers–why don’t I just leave my husband? Which, of course, I mean, John and I have a very loving and equal partnership. I am theatricalizing a lot of it in the book. But we desire what we desire…
RADAR: And a lot of homosexual couples fall into the same pattern of one taking on a more passive or “hysterical” role, the other domineering or placating, which can be seen as a product of heterosexuality. Do you think that’s more about heterosexuality, or more monogamy?
Kate: I think (and I’m not an expert, and cannot speak of others) that often monogamy mimics heteronormativity. A heterosexual dynamic I think is intrinsically hierarchical. Maybe people have totally equal partnerships, maybe queer partnerships are more equal, but in my observations that has not been the case. I liked what Jeanette Winterson wrote in Oranges, how she needs someone who can destroy but also be destroyed, and that in the male-female relationship, that is more rare, to find a partnership where each one destroys but also allows themselves to be destroyed. But this is essentializing. Maybe nonmonogamous coupledoms are more equal, I don’t know.
RADAR: Right. I have definitely heard women specifically express something similar to Winterson about being with other women. Many people desire to at times be dominated, or dissolve into someone else. It can feel like a relief, a literal relief of self to let someone else be in control. To clarify, or be fair to my professor, her comment wasn’t directly in relation to The Yellow Wallpaper itself. She made the comment on feminism needing to be beneficial in speaking of Sex in the City and Ally McBeal. She criticized those shows as expressing “false feminism”, depicting women in positions of power and freedom economically, but still obsessed with being loved by men and seeking traditional partnership.
Kate: Yes. The whole postfeminist debate. Is it false feminism? That is one view, I mean that’s the major view. But when you have most younger- generation feminists still drawn to these narratives of romance, are they all bad feminists? This is something that obsesses me and I don’t know the answer. I mean, Carrie Bradshaw and Ally McBeal are not feminists, I don’t think. But maybe the girls or women who watch them are.
RADAR: Very well put. I know–these are narratives certain women and men still not only ask for, but again “desire.” But the problem is, as with our discussion of Diaz and DFW and the way they write about women, do these books and programs reinforce the narratives of how we live? How we want to live?
Kate: Right. That is the big question. It is the main one I’m obsessed with. Susan Brownmiller.
RADAR: I don’t know her…
Kate: She wrote that 70s book about rape–Against Our Will–she argues that Little Red Riding Hood is a rape narrative, that we are inculcated into passive positions from childhood.
RADAR: Ahh, okay, I’ve heard of that theory.
Kate: One of the best critiques I ever received was from Lauren Berlant, who met with me for all of 15 minutes when she advised my Masters’ thesis. And she told me that I must remember that people can be reactionary and critical with popular culture, that they can speak back against the screen, while still finding immense pleasure in these narratives. I think that’s true. So the books and programs might reinforce narratives, but I think we can watch but still be resistant. Maybe.
RADAR: That is so, so true, and I think part of why so many turn away from theory and feminism: they fear these other narratives being “taken away,” told they’re stupid or shallow for watching and enjoying them.
Kate: Right! I think Jack Halberstam is writing about that with Gaga Feminisms, but I have only read his blog posts about that. I haven’t read the book.
RADAR: So, how was it for John to have had you write this book? Did it change your relationship, or the way you viewed remaining in a heterosexual relationship?
Kate: No! But the thing is, it’s not like I tucked in for years and never showed him anything.
RADAR: I think your conscious struggle/thinking/obsessing over the relationship is actually one of the most beautiful things about Heroines. As we were saying about the possibilities for watching narrative, you never stop questioning and considering yours, yourself in the relationship, lifestyle. I think that’s vital.
Kate: John has been always the first reader of my writing–Heroines is in so many ways a collaboration, like Vivien(ne) reading The Waste Land for Tom, and writing ”Wonderful, Wonderful” next to the lines of marital discord in “The Game of Chess.” That was John. Always scribbling, “Wonderful, Wonderful.” Although he is such a critical bastard reading my writing–we get into a lot of fights when he’s reading me. But he’s still the best and most empathetic and brilliant reader and editor I’ve ever had. When the work was a novel–Mad Wife–the whole book was about editing, the husband editing the wife. Some of that got lost when it became this work for Semiotext(e). Maybe someday I will still write a work about editing. Some of the self-consciousness was lost.
RADAR: That would be a really interesting interrogation–it’s like the question of translation….
Kate: Yes–have you read Nicole Brossard’s Mauve Desert?
Kate: Oh, you have to read it. Brilliant postmodern work about translation. She’s the Canadian Cixous. Three versions of the work, all about translation. It’s a work I was really inspired by when I was working on Mad Wife. Someday I’d like to go back to that idea–this work about editing.
RADAR: I will absolutely look it up. Translation theory is one I am most interested in, part of what I’m pursuing a graduate degree in.
Kate: Yes, Nicole Brossard! Also Yesterday at Hotel Clarendon! Queer, brilliant, totally referential. Brossard’s characters are obsessed with writing, with translation, with literature.
Kate: That’s my RADAR recommendation!
RADAR: You mention your mother a few times in Heroines, that she, in struggling to deal with her terminal cancer, was hospitalized for mental instability. Is that right?
Kate: Yes. It’s one of my narratives I keep on trying to exorcise.
RADAR: That must have contributed to your interest in wanting to research and write about madness, too?
Kate: I wrote an entire work–The Book of Mutter that is coming out in 2014–that circles around this, trauma, madness, other characters like Henry Darger and Marilyn Monroe. Yes–my experiences with psychiatry have radicalized me. When I was a psychiatric patient, when I had a breakdown during college, and then when my mother was institutionalized while dying of cancer. I would not have been a writer, I would not have written books, if my mother hadn’t died, if she hadn’t died in such a way.
RADAR: You being told you’d “always be spinning your wheels” by that psychiatrist in college….
Kate: Yes. I was put on a cocktail of medications–Lithium, etc. I was supposed to be institutionalized myself, until my mother and father intervened. There are many people who struggle with mental illness and with issues with mental health. But I was being disciplined–for being a fuck-up. I mean, I still have mental health issues. I have struggled with depression my entire life. But I am someone who drugs do not help.
RADAR: Right–there’s a line between having a genuine mental illness, and/or having deep struggles with the world and yourself in it. It can be hard to make the distinction, and our society has, I think, very much over-diagnosed, over-medicated, over-prescribed. So, it’s fascinating to me you decided to go back to a psychologist, when you were in Ohio?
Kate: I always am trying to go to a psychologist. It has so far disappointed me. Currently, I just was in weekly treatment, dialectical behavioral therapy–a lot of emphasis on mindfulness, which I am shit at. I am shit at mindfulness. It is very hard for me, often, to exist in the world, without worrying or feeling like I want to escape somehow. I just fired my therapist. I am not against therapy, by any means. But I sometimes wonder at how all the institutions–of social work, psychology, psychiatry–are about personal responsibility, as opposed to looking at a fucked-up society.
RADAR: I have that exact same frustration with psychology. My mother decided to become a therapist some years ago, perpetuated partly by very difficult changes in our family, and her desire to seek a new career, part of herself. She is very interested in mindfulness, Buddhist psychology. It ultimately has helped her so much, she’s found it tremendous in understanding herself, her marriage, her family….but, I disagree with so much of what therapy is about. I think a lot of it allows very easy explanation, “He’s a narcissist. Period.” Or, “that’s transference.” For me, this doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t really explain anything.
Kate: Right–it’s one system for explanation. I worry at using other’s language to describe our experience.
RADAR: Exactly! It becomes a way of “reading” the world via someone else’s reading.
Kate: I like mindfulness. I think in our society now, with the Internet, etc., being in the moment is very important. It’s just not the only solution. I like DBT too. I like the idea of dialectic, because that’s so much of what we’re talking about. The idea of “acceptance” and “change” and how these both can exist. But, I’m very resistant to change.
RADAR: Yes, and I feel like so much of writing depends on being nostalgic, or melancholy, or dissatisfied.
Kate: That’s interesting. Must be interesting to have a mother who’s a psychologist.
RADAR: It can be frustrating at times, but we’ve productively challenged each other on a lot of topics. I also wanted to express how terribly sorry I am for the loss of your mother, and didn’t mean to gloss over it.
Kate: You were beautifully empathetic. Don’t worry. It’s now almost a decade. It has just become part of the skin. It is in the skin. It is not raw or sensitive.
RADAR: I also wanted to ask about your upcoming projects. You have two, at least, right? The book in 2014?
Kate: The Book of Mutter, which I wrote a while ago, was one of my first books, and it comes out in 2014. I am working on a series of essays in a book entitled Slapping Clark Gable, circling around feminism and desire. I just wrote a long essay about the actress-director Barbara Loden, the notion of the depressed muse, and failure, for Two Dollar Radio’s Frequency–that’s from this work. And then I am starting to get back into a novel project I abandoned when I began rewriting Heroines two years ago–Under the Shadow of My Roof –which is a parable of the hidden girls in society, starring a libertine named Monkey trapped in the cellar by her father.
RADAR: These all sound absolutely amazing! I can’t wait to read them.
Kate: Well, I told myself no more essays for awhile. But now this conversation is reinvigorating me! And of course there’s my satire of Wittgenstein’s Mistress, which I will self-publish.
RADAR: You must, must, must do that!
Kate: You can be my one reader
RADAR: Ha! I bet you’d have more than just me. I’m sure there are other Markson fans. Kate, I could do this all day, but one more question I thought of when you described your upcoming projects: how does the process of writing a novel versus writing memoir/personal writing play out for you?
Kate: I’m still trying to figure that out. I don’t think of my essay working as memoirs–I think of them as essays –because I’m so interested/engaged in the movement and work of an essay, the notion of an attempt, a failure, within an essay, after Montaigne, but subverting Montaigne. I think of them as critical memoirs. I think the critical memoirs are fed more by the blog, by diary work, by reading. I don’t know. I know the essays require more critical faculties, in a way. The novels can be more ludic. Although my novels have essay elements in them. I need to go to therapy to figure out my writing modes!
RADAR: Haha! It’s such an important question in Heroines, too, of needing to write the personal. That scene in the book of you teaching Jean Rhys in a class– and the negative reaction of the women in the class invalidating it as not a real novel, but merely her “diary” –haunts me.
Kate: I love that Rhys scene. I think that scene–the woman in the Continuing Adults class claiming that Rhys merely wrote a diary and Ford Maddox Ford edited her, and my passionate, almost violent reaction to them, is a lot of stuff of the book.
Kate: Yes. We need to reclaim these ideas of the “minor.”
RADAR: I think that’s what Jack Halberstam’s book [The Queer Art of Failure] is about that too, reclaiming failure.
Kate: Yes –I am really into that book. It is really informing a lot of my recent ideas of not only the essay but writing experience, writing the girl. I think the girl is a failure. I think feminism is a failure. I’m always drawn, intrinsically, to failures.
Kate Zambreno is the author of the novels O Fallen Angel and Green Girl, and the critical memoir Heroines. Her anti-memoir of broken myths and orphaned women, The Book of Mutter, will be published by Counterpath Press in March 2014. She lives in Carrboro, North Carolina with her partner John Vincler and her puppy Genet.
Rebekkah Dilts is a lover of literature, poetry, film and theory. She lives in San Francisco, where she is currently pursuing a graduate degree in French and English Comparative Literature. Her work can be found on RADAR’s blog and on her own, at TheSinclairProject.com