Vanessa Place: Threshold, Failure and Stupid Challenges

An annoying thing about publishing is space; particularly, what is left out.

In our new issue, I interviewed Vanessa Place during the 2011 Summer Writing Program. Fifteen pages made it into this issue, but the other eight are collecting cyber dust on my computer. At Bhanu Kapil’s suggestion, she said this should be published as a two-part interview. One part Bombay Gin, the other part elsewhere…(Elbow, elbow, nudge, nudge: any takers?)

Yet, aside from this, there are still many details left out.

In our nearly 2.5-hour-long interview (which was incredibly generous of her to let me steal that much time) we laughed.

A lot.

Place is funny. I noticed this not only during our talk, but also when I was transcribing our interview. Among our serious discussion on threshold as a site for potential encounter, what threshold signifies, the futility of the Real, the desire of readers/of being human and more, we also laughed about stupid challenges, moving one step closer to hell, Blake Butler drinking as he read Dies: A Sentence, me stealing her definition of poetry and/or prose, Tweeting Gone with the Wind

You get the picture.

Other things that didn’t make it into our interview:

Place gave an incredible lecture on ECHO where she discussed radical mimesis. She did not speak during the first part of the lecture. What we heard was a recording as she sat silently on the stage before us. I have eight pages of notes on this with scribbles about how “speech calls for more speech…the real representation of the real…I’m a mouthpiece refracting.” The second part of her lecture was from Statement of Facts.  This is when she began to speak.  After the lecture, Place answered Q & A’s several times stating, “I’m placing hot content in a cold container” by curating the encounter of rape via public court records on rape: A rape is a rape is a rape.

After our interview, we discussed performativity and I asked her why she gave toasters and doughnuts to students prior to her performance, which were used. She said something to the effect of wanting the sense of smell in her performance.

Bhanu gave me a plastic baggie containing items Place selected: dirt, an orange colored pencil and an orange/reddish rock.

The last night at the SWP, Place gave an incredible performance, reading from several works including: Die Dichtkunst (u, u, u, u…), the pussy section from La Medusa, a section from SCUM Manifesto, Statement of Facts and another section that I don’t recall the name of, but I do remember it was about time. Or maybe that’s just my impression.

I cannot perform without thinking about Place’s performance that night and during the lecture. She has purpose in presentation and thinks about the form first. To her, as she said in our published interview, she always beings with form. It’s like making sausage, she said, first you must begin with the casing and then cram the other stuff in. See? Funny, yet simple. Banal or stupid, as Place would say. Either way, I like it.

And now, a snippet from what is not (yet?) unpublished:

VANESSA PLACE: Some of the most fascinating things happen by mistake.

HEATHER GOODRICH: The Big Bang.

VP: Yep, or mishearing. For me, all of psychoanalysis a fair chunk of psychoanalysis is about the slip of the tongue—the misstatement—the misunderstood—where the unconscious betrays itself. You can attempt to manipulate that or not and see what it happens. Why not?

HG: Yes, why not?

VP: One of the things I think is very important for, especially young writers to realize is this not brain surgery.

HG: Imagine that.

VP: There will not be a pile of corpses at the end for all of your little failures. (We laugh) It’s the dead baby thing. The metaphorical pile of corpses is fine. Just do it. See what happens. I do believe that.

Willem de Kooning’s Woman, I is one of my favorite paintings. He was the artists’ artist in his group. When Pollack was in ascension, de Kooning was older and couldn’t get a show. Then finally, he sells excavations to the Chicago Museum. All of his friends say, ‘This is great, Pollack is on his way out, you’re going to be the poster boy for abstract expressionism, good for you.’ de Kooning immediately spends the next two-and-a-half years painting Woman, I — which is not abstract expressionist in the strict sense. It’s not abstract — it’s figural. He paints this painting every day and at night he scrapes the paint from the canvas. When the canvases got too crusty, he threw them out and started over. The painting that became Woman, I — he had rejected. He stuck it out in the hallway to throw out the next day, and I think his gallarist came by that night, pulled it and said, ‘This is great. This is going.’

What I love about this story is he didn’t do what he should have, which is immediately do another excavation because excavation worked. He didn’t do that. He went back to another thing he was interested in solving. I also love this story for the willingness to humiliate one’s self and fail and fail and ended up creating a great work of art. But even if it hadn’t, the point of interest to de Kooning was the engagement between himself and paint; himself and composition; and composition itself.

If you want to make the world a better place, volunteer at a soup kitchen. If you want to have a therapeutic experience, go to therapy. If you’re really interested in doing stuff with text, then write and don’t worry about it. And fail. Just fail, fail, fail and you’ll be fine.

Heather

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