Thursday, March 10, 2016

TtD supplement #48 : seven questions for Katie L. Price

Katie L. Price’s writing—critical, creative, and other—has appeared in such venues as Fence, the Journal of Medical Humanities, Canadian Literature, and Jacket2, and with such presses as No Press, above/ground press, and Manchester UP. She currently serves as Interviews Editor for Jacket2, and co-directs the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium. She is the author of two recent chapbooks with above/ground press: BRCA: Birth of a Patient (2015) and Sickly (2015).

Her poem “Alchemy” appears in the eighth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Alchemy.”

A: Alfred Jarry’s painting machine Clinamen has evolved into a poem machine. It lives online, in your home computer, in the dark shadows made by 1’s and 0’s. “Alchemy” is a collaborative piece of writing—written by Clinamen and Katie L. Price. It is not about serendipity, happy accidents, and creativity (in the sense of creating, a new creation), but rather documentation of serendipity, accident, and creativity. It is material evidence that creative forces exist outside of human creativity. To read “Alchemy” is not to read me, but to witness proof of Clinamen’s perverse sense of humor in regards to productivity, and the pataphysical processes that structure our existence.

Q: Is the “happy accident” an important element in your writing? How does this differ from what else you’ve been working on?

A: Happy accidents, no. Accidents, yes. Especially its meaning in the 13th and 14th Centuries. My work has often addressed unfortunate incidents, symptoms and exterior signs of vicissitude, non-essential qualities, and contingencies.

Q: What is it about the nature of such accidents and their contingencies that appeal?

A: I’m interested in writing that has no author, or complicates or implicates or distorts the role of the author. The accidental appeals to me because of its unlocatability, its lack of reason, its uncontrollability. Its lack of authorship. Yet, accidents can be revelatory. For Lucretius, accident is, in fact, the only way to truly create. In the accident’s irregularity, we continue to find the new.

Q: How does this piece fit in with other work you’ve been doing lately? Is this poem part of a larger structure or trajectory, or a stand-alone piece?

A: Yes. It continues a theme that compels me again and again: precise investigation (in/of language) of the circumstantial, the contingent. You might say I’m interested in the inverse of chance operations—surgical operations on extant language that largely occurs by chance, but nevertheless has serious, real-world implications. This piece differs from the work in my above/ground chapbooks BRCA: Birth of a Patient and Sickly in its content, but I’m not yet done exploring these themes in my writing.

I’ve been watching HBO’s The Leftovers, which just ended its second season. The show explores what people do when they can’t explain something, when they are faced with the fact that there is a hidden logic behind the cosmos, but they don’t know what it is. My writing tries to examine the structures that we build around ourselves to make ourselves feel better, to calm our psyches, to make sense of the world—and show them for what they might be: aesthetic sculptures (crafted imaginaries) of existence.

My writing—and pataphysical writing in general (if one can say such a thing)—offers an opportunity for us to examine language that impacts our lives in a concertedly inconsequential setting. What can we learn about how knowledge is formed (by particular discourses and disciplines) by examining their languages, vocabularies, and structures, outside of the contexts that render them ubiquitous? What can we learn by reading a medical report with the same attention we might pay a sophisticated sonnet? What can we learn about how technology structures our lives by close reading a series of glitches?

Q: With a small handful of chapbooks over the past few years, how do you feel your work has developed? What do you see yourself working towards?

A: Publishing two chapbooks last year gave me the fantastic opportunity to share my work more broadly and with a new audience. It has sparked several conversations and ignited several new relationships. One of the pleasant surprises with publishing BRCA: Birth of a Patient and Sickly was the diverse range of types of writers who were interested in the work, quite often for very different reasons. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to discuss my work with others. Both of these chapbooks examine the moment at which a body is de-animated: transformed from a living thing into something dissectible, analyzable, diagnosable, speakable. Conversations re-animate the textual body; in a very real way it feels like witnessing the ghost of a body that never truly existed. I am continuing to work toward a book in hopes that I can raise even more ghosts.

Q: Given that most of what I’ve seen of your work so far comes from those two chapbooks (as well as the poem “Alchemy”), I’m wondering how much of the “de-animation” you reference is a particular thread that runs throughout your writing, or was this was something new emerging through these two chapbooks? Are these two chapbooks part of a singular, larger work, perhaps?

A: De-animation, or perhaps more aptly the mechanical, has been an interest of mine for at least a decade. I am particularly interested in the moment when opposites converge—death and life, the inorganic with the organic, systematicity with chance, logic with irrationality. Jacques de Vaucanson’s mechanical duck fascinates me as much as Adam Dickinson’s cataloguing of all of the toxic materials in his body; while Vaucanson invented a machine that could digest, Dickinson shows how our bodies, like engines, are full of oil. As a reader—and a thinker—I am interested in things that aren’t supposed to go together, but can and do. And I like writing in a way that accentuates or highlights the incongruous. 

I honestly struggle with whether or not BRCA and Sickly are in fact one project and I oscillate. They both investigate the discourse of a certain kind of vocabulary and the ways that language can de-animate a body as I previously described. But I also find them to be very different. BRCA might be the single most personal text ever written—it is the ultimate confession. It is extraordinarily intimate in its coldness. From reading, a reader learns about my heart’s rhythm, my weight fluctuations, my blood pressure, the texture of my breasts, my menstrual cycle, my fears and anxieties—and I didn’t write a word. The most intimate document that exists about me was written by a host of paid, trained professionals. That is profound to me. This is writing that matters, in a real, material sense. Sickly moves beyond, alongside, and within the personal to look at medical discourse and language more broadly (and, ahem, less conceptually)—it manipulates medical language into new shapes to reveal something new. The individual is construed differently when broken into pieces, rearranged, and spliced. I suppose it’s a more conventionally poetic (i.e. “made thing”) than BRCA. It moves from the world of the clinic to a world of cultural discourse about sickness and health.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Atelos
Coach House
Drunken Boat
Information as Material
Les Figues
New Directions
Singing Horse
Ugly Ducking

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