BR: The Room Lit by Roses is a journal of
your pregnancy and the birth of your daughter Rose. You say at one point: "I need to
consider the ordinary assumptions again about fiction and non-fiction. This interests me.
Having never written like this before." In what ways was
the writing of the journal different from previous work, i.e. was there less planning,
less revision? Did it unfold more easily? Was it intended all along to be a published
work? Having again considered the ordinary assumptions about fiction and non-fiction, what
discoveries have you made? What new questions arose?
CM: Many things about the nature of fiction and non-fiction occurred to
me during the time I kept the journal. One thing was that non-fiction is really just
another construction, with all (many) of the inherent properties of fiction. A series of
choices must be made: where to start a story, where to place the emphasis, etc, etc.
in short, how to convey the essence of the experience. An event once it enters language is
always a fiction, there's no way to purely document. There's really to my mind no such
thing as non-fiction. Anyone who recounts, let's say, the details of their day to another
is in the midst of a creative process. Even the teller is a constructed character in many
waysa presentation of self is unconsciously being worked out in non-fiction's pages.
For me the journal writing was simply done at a
different level of attention and engagement than the fiction. It required a less febrile
position of mind, I think.
Another thing I've come to understand a little
bit better: non-fiction is not necessarily more revealing or more "true" than
fiction. I easily expose myself more completely and utterly in my novels than I do in
non-fiction. I think it is because the novels show explicitly the depth and breadth of the
imagination, which is the most intimate glimpse into a human soul one can perhaps get.
True expression for me resides in
fictionI love the tautness of mind, the edge at which composition takes place. All
my tentacles on end. The level of the intensityfocusthe places one can go,
what can give way. No other form for me is as accurate or precise. Of course I have been
at it for a long timeseriously, as a daily devotion for fifteen years. And so I have
developed certain powers I do not remotely possess in other forms. Finally for me fiction
uses language at a level where I feel most at home.
On the other hand it greatly interests me that
in journal writinga form much minimized, trivialized, and totally ignored by the
patriarchythere is a place where one might escape the tyranny of "the master
mouthing masterpiece." The journal takes things that one would ordinarily bury or
ignore or discard as seen as outside the scope of appropriate or important subject matter
and foreground themlittle off-hand thingswhat is overheard, what is glimpsed,
what passes ordinarily without remark. I love the fleeting, the ephemeral, the incidental,
which a journal and sometimes letters can captureand sometimes fiction can capture
with some ease and effortlessness. Precious, disappearing things. The offhand, the casual,
the things we've been told are not the "real story."
There is a modesty in the claim of such a
projectmodesty in the very best sensenot manipulating, or controlling or
overly selecting the material and effects. I think of the way for instance the last entry
in the journal was written, utterly spontaneously. To my mind it is exactly right;
open-ended, lacking in artifice, not consciously shaped. I might work very, very hard to
achieve that in fiction. It's a strange last moment of the bookopening it up into a
kind of forever and it came I think from being in a certain frame of mind, a certain small
desire to get in one last thing, without the usual crescendos, etc. A book written as a
record, as a keepsake. With no intention of publishing. A book for my child, and for
myself. Without grander schemes or plans for it. There is something so lovely about that
notion to me A ragged book. Scrawled in French notebooks. The progress of two souls in
To write as unselfconsciously as is possible,
given the fact that I am a writer and have published a great deal, was a lovely challenge.
There was a kind of letting go, a kind of freeing upsomething I should like to bring
back to my fiction. Have already brought back, I think.
Finallyand this was a real revelation to
meit had simply not occurred to me before that you can get away in a journal with
something you would never be able to get away with in fiction without immediately being
labeled "experimental," and that is the absence of any real story or plot. This
sort of writing is one of the very few places where this is possible. The conventional
expectation of story is not there and yet somehow in this writing one is pulled
forwardit is narrative on different terms. Still one is held and moved undeniably,
inexorably, on an involving and evolving trajectory. But you couldn't call it plot. This
exhilarates me. I don't think there's any doubt that the time of storytelling has
passedit's a beautiful relic, but a relic nonetheless.
BR: Roses father, the "mysterious letranger
from a far-off land who had uncannily existed in my pages for years," assumes
relative unimportance after conceptiondisappears off the pages, in factalthough you believe your coming together to bring forth the child was
predestined, as you say. Was he someone youd never met until that one night on a
plane? Does he fit in the picture at all now? Does he even know hes the father? I
cant help picturing Lucien [The American Woman in the Chinese Hat], but that
of course is my fantasy.
CM: Yes, the mysterious stranger... It's not possible for me to speak
about him. The journal, and all discussion around it, must, of course, honor Rose's
BR: Someone wrote of Jayne Ann Phillips
latest novel Motherkinda book dealing with the same topic of pregnancy
and birththat the protagonist seemed to think she was the only woman ever to have
had a child. Your journal is intensely more personal so one might think beforehand that
this same criticism might apply, but it had quite the opposite effect: one is left in awe
of the female bodys creative powers. Im amazed at how you pulled that off.
Apart from the obviously different writing style and genre, I think it helps that
youre not writing from the suburban, or "hetero club," point of view; it
gives a refreshingly new perspective.
CM: Jayne Anne Philips's Black Tickets mattered a great deal to me
when I was a young writer struggling to write a first book. I haven't read Motherkind.
I think "the novel" in critics' minds often speaks from a more authoritative
place, with more grandeur and self-importance and so perhaps opens up the way to this kind
of criticism. The journal has much more humble aims and sets up far fewer expectations in
the minds of readers maybe. Also, I think that Roses, like most of my work,
provides a lot of space for a reader to exist, think her own thoughts, participate. And
this I suspect goes a long way in a reader experiencing "the female body's creative
powers," because the reader too has had a creative role in dreaming, in birthing the
piece if you willbringing her own meditations to it. And emotions. I find this the
case in Woolf's journals. There are sufficient places to stop , reflect, imagine, recall,
replay. The allowances in more open-ended forms are different from those of the
conventional novel with its rigid structures.
While I can't speak to Motherkind, the
"hetero club" point of view is a bit tedious after awhile, God knowsits
assumptions, its claims on the psyche. The arrogance and enormity of that agreement. Still,
of course anything can be written about well given the exact, right confluence of factors.
And certainly pregnancy and childbirth under any arrangement are among the great,
BR: You say that it was difficult to read the
proofs of your novel Defiance while you were pregnant, that you could scarcely
believe you were the person who wrote the book, so filled with rage is the protagonist.
Has this need to avoid the book gone? Do you feel more in touch these days with the Carole
Maso who wrote the novel? That rage of Bernadettes against class and gender
inequalities and all the subtle and not so subtle ways it forms characteris a
legitimate, just rage. How do you cope with it now?
CM: I don't re-read old work, simply because
by the time a book is between covers I am elsewhere, and as always feeling the terrible
constraints of time, how it is running outand I too perhaps am running out. Reading
them would be to be drawn back in, which seems counter-productive. It's a kind of discipline not to look back, not to
repeat oneself, not to linger with past work. However, yes, I do feel in touch again with
the person who wrote it. The withdrawal of the "happy hormones" after Rose's
birth was one of the most violent and unequivocal shifts of my life. And so the mildness,
the passivity, the sweetness was replaced by the old intensities. I think I describe in
the journal somewhere the oddness of the predicament from feeling "no one can
hurt us" (while pregnant) to "no one can protect us" (after the birth). It
was the most breathtaking and dizzying shift really. I've never felt anything like
itto be slammed back into that other world again, and in an instant.
Defiance was a harrowing book for me
because I never allowed myself before to write so fully from a place of rage. To sustain
that level of emotion on a daily basis over the years it took to write and to continually
invent structures and forms to get at it, was completely exhaustingand, at times,
frightening. Act V in particular was very difficult for me. It made me sickmentally,
physicallyto write. I am working on a novel now in which in one way or another all
those concerns will surface again. It's a sort of history of the twentieth century.
BR: You also say you can no longer relate to the
protagonist in The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, who suffers a mental
deterioration set off by her lovers abandonment of her. Do you often think of
Bernadette and Catherine though? Are they still alive for you, still important?
CM: Of course I do still think of them, though not directlymy
characters for me are never really living people and so I don't relate to them in those
ways but more as figments of the psyche and so they are me, and live in me, not in
their Bernadette and Catherine shapes exactly, yet they are nonetheless utterly present.
They feel like specific aspects of my disposition and also, oddly, they break from me and
join a kind of collective universal human dimension. A humanity which murders in order to
live, for instance; has a mythic need to survive; cuts off violently, maims, hurts, and
has been hurt, offended, violated, in small ways and in large ways. Suffers. And the
Catherine aspect: she is the one who turns away, who wanders off, who refuses, retreats,
who does not come back. Also of course dramatized in Catherine's plight are the struggles
of languageits redemptive qualities, its limitations and failures. There is not a
waking moment where this is not playing itself out inside me. I can't explain the enormity
of the silence against which I write, and must be accountable to. And in both women, and
in all my fictional figures really, there is the isolation and the solitude which is part
of my sensibility's daily drama. These figures are more than important to methey are
profound parts of who it is I guess I must be, and reflect my fears, hopes, joys, dreads,
wishes. These characters are also events of language and exist as language shapes inside
my body. It may sound a little abstract but it's really notit's visceral, palpable.
Hard to describe.
BR: You quote Virginia Woolf: "I shall make
myself face the fact that there is nothing nothing for any of us. Work, reading,
writing, all are disguises; and relationships with people. Yes, even having children would
be useless." Elsewhere you mention that Woolf had a desire for children. Do you
think if she had had a child it might have proved a "solution" for her as it did
CM: I think I said that, in response to mental breakdown, and breakup,
and the deaths of loved ones, a child always seemed a solution. As if there could be a
solution. Knowing it would be useless, that there is no way to replace. Knowing always
that a child could never be a solution. Knowing full well there are no solutions at all.
And Rose of course has not been. The sorrows will still come. She has enlarged the world
in many ways (including my understanding of sorrow) but she has not "solved" it,
alas. Though in moments of great despair it always seemed as if it might be the only hope.
The desire to begin again.
I think that the stress of having children is
one of the best kept secrets there is. The toll is enormousthe burden and demands of
the emotion, the nature of the worry... and it makes me wonder whether Woolf could have
borne the stress of it. I'm not so sure. I think she might have found the inability to
have the same interior life as before intolerable. I think she would have found it
extremely difficult the way time needs to be constantly divided and parceled and hoarded.
It would have been difficult though who is to say it would have been impossible? Also,
being double in the worldnever singular again, no matter where you walk or how far
you go, or how deeply you are writingis a strange feeling. There's a level of
preoccupation and distraction that's simply inherent in the set-up. For a writer who
writes in order to be well, who writes in order to have some degree of sanity and
something like wholeness, the toll a child takes is immeasurable. Of course there is a
deepening of feeling, and a certain kind of knowledge that comes too. And she would have
adored that window onto things. But this is a sly question and I have ended up
inadvertently talking about myself, I suppose.
BR: I gather from the journal that you took more
flack from the lesbian community than the hetero one over your pregnancy. Is this correct?
CM: I don't think the flack came from any particular community. It was
more from those who are offended by the notion that it might be possible to invent one's
life on one's own terms. It's appalling to them. It's frightening.
BR: How do you respond to those who say that
there are too many people in the world already? For many people, like the late Allen
Ginsberg, the decision not to reproduce is yet another alternative to the hetero
club cycle. His principal concern, of course, was overpopulation. This is one point you
never raise in the journal.
CM: It never occurs to me that there are too many people in the world. I
think of those places like Montana with one person and a gun every million miles, or
Australiathe world feels a remote, deserted, vast place to me. I guess I know that
it's not the case. But Africa dies off as we sit here.
BR: Did you ever finish your book on Frida
Kahlo? You record in your journal how you had wanted to complete it before Rose was born
but the writing proved difficult.
CM: Yes, I did finish the Frida book. It's called Beauty is
Convulsive, and will be published in fall 2001 by Counterpoint.
You take on the literary mainstream in your book of essays, Break Every Rule,
making a plea to the literary establishment "not to discard the canon, but enlarge it
. . . . to acknowledge, for starters, the thousand refracted, disparate beauties out
there." Butand this is the
fault of big-house publishers as much as Harold Bloom et fils, as you note doesnt the future look rather bleak in
this respect, especially with so few independent publishers left in the wake of
multinational mergers and buy-outs? Who poses the bigger threatthe academics who prescribe policy or the commercial publishers focused on
their profit margins?
CM: I'm not feeling as bleak as many on this one. I do believe that big
publishers will become more and more absurd, publishing less and less of any value
whatsoever and it will become increasingly clear that this is simply not where serious
work is available anymore. It will become more and more vulgar and trashy and formulaic, I
think. Today you see all kinds of so-called serious fiction that is nothing more
than pretensions versions of Hollywood movies and soon enough big time publishing will
just be one arm of that miserable industry. Publishers of the usual crap which masquerades
as innovative or cutting edge or "transgressive," whatever which they
justify by economics, market research, the buying public etc.will become archaic,
obsolete and even more ludicrous than they are already. And far more transparent I think.
So then what? There will be a huge gap that
will need to be filled. Real readers aren't going to just give upneither are real
writers. No book, no matter how daring or noncommercial, will go out of print as the
Internet moves into maturity. This is a remarkable thing. I believe the electronic future,
which there is obviously no holding back, will be where the action is. There is no
question in my mind that the salvation of past and future literature lies in the
electronic realm. Harold Bloom mourns the end of the reading experience as we have always
known it, and I do too a little, but whole new ways of reading and perception will open
up. Also the electronic world will be a more democratic one. Publishers won't be able to
keep out or impose their "tastes." Of course there will be a lot of junk, but
very quickly there will be ways to deal with it, I think. I worry a little about the loss
of thought as we now know it. We are on the cusp of such radical changeit's like
1900 all over again. One once feared that the Machine Age would mean the end of silence
and would change the reading experience and it did change it, irrevocably, of
course. I think there is always fearand not without reason. And there is always
mourningthere's no way around it. But I think the future is electronic and there's
no reason to get all freaked out about it. Why, look at your fabulous Barcelona Review!
Most of the independent publishers can't afford to publish much experimentation
anymore and so the loss of them does not seem to me as keen or profound a loss as it seems
to some people. It seems we've already lost them somehow. One wishes it were
otherwiseand yet, I think of how Ulysses was published, and there are any
number of examples. I guess I am secretly hoping for a small press resurgence of some sort
through partnerships with the Internet. Suffice it to say I'm not all that gloomy about
the future of literature. I guess that's pretty evident though in an essay like
"Rupture, Verge and Precipice."
As far as the Academy goes, as long as it's
possible to be turned on to Theresa Cha's Dictee or Susan Howe's My Emily
Dickinson or Monique Wittig's Les Guerilleres in its hallowed halls, I'll put
my money there.
BR: You say in one essay that "Women,
blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc., are all made to sound essentially the samethat is, say, like John Cheever, on a bad
day." We know this is partly the fault of literary dictates and the lack of vision of
"literary" editors, but this homogeneity reflects American culture at large,
doesnt it? In a country where you can hardly tell one town from another for the
chain restaurants, malls, discount outlets, etc, it seems inevitable that the literature
will reflect a sameness. Is this some kind of American curse?
CM: I think generally what you say about American culture is all too
true. And yet people still, against all odds, maintain some vestige of individuality, I
think. It is deep-seatedit's not so easily given up. All people to some
degreeand artists, with any luck, to a much greater degree because it is their job
not to be homogenized, Hallmarked, etc.will not succumb to the numbing and
stultifying effects of American life. I'm not speaking of the individual genius or
nobility of the artistfar from itbut the essential dignity and complexity of
the human spiritdespite everything. Many who are doing interesting work play into
the notion of our essential sameness and interchangeability, saying there is no original
expression and disassembling the individual as we have constructed it. But these are hard,
provocative questions you ask and woefully inadequate responses, I'm afraid.
I do think the economic and emotional lures of
publishing are much more seductive and much more insidious, and therefore a much more
serious threat to serious writers. I think what is being asked in terms of acquiescence
and compromise under the guise of a serious literary career is far more dangerous
than are the more explicit and obvious blights on the physical and spiritual American
landscape: stripmalls, chain restaurants, Disneyfication etc., and the usual assaults on
the American heart and mind and spirit. This sameness can be easily identified and
therefore dealt with but not I think the sameness of the demands which are much more
artfully closeted by the publishing houses.
BR: "The future is feminine, for real, this
time." I like the optimism of this, yet one sees so many females following the old
male role models (clawing their way up the corporate ladder, pumping out fiction for the
market, publishing fiction for the market) that its difficult to feel hopeful
CM: Yes, it's difficult to feel hopeful sometimes. There will always be
those women who will try to emulate male models. Having been marginalized their whole
lives, they want to be on the inside for once. And never has there been more opportunity
to get there. It's only human nature. Still, I think sensibilities are changing. I think
there is a shift toward the feminine, which is not, by the way, the sole possession of
womenfar from itbut of everyone. There is something increasingly ludicrous
about the traditional male claims, not only on literature but on the world in general. The
power is eroding. Everyone senses it a little I think. There is a kind of panic in the
air. Cloning alone! I felt it a lot with men around my pregnancy. They sense increasingly,
I think, that the party is over.
BR: In your journal, you wrote: "A gift
unanticipatedthis ability to shed all that once disturbed so. My war with the
literary mainstream ended. I have no desire to press against them. It is part of this
great letting go now. It clears the path for me at 42 to begin my real work, my real
writing." This was written during your pregnancy. What are your present feelings? You
say you once needed this war to keep up your edge, to push yourself, "to write up
against." That tension cant have all dissipated, can it?
CM: I am now finally ready to do my own work after a long, hard
apprenticeship. Directing my fury at the mainstream was part of that apprenticeship, I
believeuseful, yes, but now I have finally divorced myself from their weird
directives and so cannot be affected by them in quite the same way. Part of the
performance of my dismay has allowed me, I suspect, to make the final break, and now I can
serenely work, doing what I must do without care for my "career" or
"reputation," or any of it. I feel a glorious indifference now to what's going
on there. The pregnancy and birth helped rearrange priorities and made time much more
precious even than it had beenalso it somehow dawned on me, after the birth, that I
was fighting a war that I had already won. I don't know.... I just knew I had won. I can't
describe how extraordinary a feeling it is to be finally ready to write something of my
ownafter all this time. Free finally. No longer dancing that elaborate and asinine
dance with the devil.
BR: Who isnt getting read and reviewed who
CM: Anyone published by a small pressand these presses would
include New Directions, Sun & Moon, Dalkey Archive, City Lights, Four Walls Eight
Windows, Graywolf, CoffeeHouse, Copper Canyon, Fiction Collective 2, Kelsey Street,
Zoland, to name a fewaren't getting reviewed. Anyone who violates the formula is not
reviewed, anyone who experiments with form is not reviewed. Form is the great taboo these
days, not subject matter. In fact the more sensational and forbidden the subject matter
the more in line you will be with the dictates of the mainstream (create a Hollywood
text). Anyone who writes poetry is not reviewed. Anyone who challenges the notions of what
literature is, what the book is, and what it might beworking within that
spiritwill not be reviewed extensively. When they are reviewed they will be treated
for the most part with dismissal, condescension, fear, indifference or, if you're lucky,
loathing. Reviewing in America is in abysmal shape. Regular writers essentially do not
have the time to do the job any book deserves. And there aren't many professional
book reviewers anymore. And there should be. I am right now trying to get through the
unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath to review. I must be crazy.
BR: Back to Defiance: lines, partial
lines and reworked lines of Eliots run throughout the novel and in other writing of
yours and the rhythms work marvelously, as does the image of the "patient
etherized." What we have is The Love Song of Bernadette Joan OBrien, isnt
it? A feminine perspective, which provides a whole new construct. Did you consciously work
at deconstructing Eliot? Or is "reconstructing" a better term?
CM: Oh, I like the idea of Bernadette asking, Do I dare disturb the
universe? Perhaps, yes, as a girl she might have asked this in earnest. And the
resounding response finally. Yes I do!
You know I love Eliot, and I love your idea of Defiance
as a reconstructing of Eliot. And yes, I was aware all the way through of his
presence. Defiance was written simultaneously on quite a number of levels and that
was one of the profound pleasures of the book for me.
BR: Could Beatrice have saved Bernadette if
there had been a physical intimacy in their relationship? Or, put another way, if Beatrice
hadnt married, which came as a slap in the face to Bernadette?
CM: Alas, I do not think Bernadette could have been saved. I do not see
her capable of physical intimacy in the end. She may have tried but I suspect it would
have been an awful failure. Every ordinary means of escape is unavailable to her. I was
playing God and I stacked the deck, I'm afraid.
Would Ava Klein [AVA] have recognized Bernadettes uniqueness? How
would Ava have perceived her if they were, say, colleagues at the same university? Ava
instead of Elizabeth. Say they were thrown together on some committee.
CM: Yes, Ava would have recognized that brilliant wounded extraordinary
thing in Bernadette. I think Ava would have adored her in some way and felt keenly for
herespecially her inability to experience pleasure of any kind outside the
numbersbecause Ava to my mind is, despite everything, a person devoted to pleasure,
and to life. I think there would have been a strange attraction between the death and life
forces within each of them. It's an intriguing notion to me. I think Ava would have been
completely wowed by Bernadette's mind. And I think Bernadette would have been a little in
love with Ava's joie de vivre. AVA's original title was In the Joie de
Vivre Room. There's a room called that at the Musee Picasso in Antibes. A room I've
spent a lot of time in.
BR: "So that form takes as many risks as
content " from AVA. . .
I happened to have a copy of AVA with me one day when I ran into local
writer Nuria Amat. Nuria speaks very little English, but she looked at the cover, looked
at your photo, then opened the book and raised her eyebrows in surprise: "I like this
author," she said, and made note of the name. She was responding only to form and the
odd word she could identify on the page.
CM: For me the way in which the story is told is the story. This is at
the crux of composition for me. Form is my obsession. You know I love the story you tell
about the writer Nuria Amat. I think it is possible to know a great deal without
necessarily understanding any of a language's literal meaning. It's only one small part of
the way language and form work on us. Its sounds, its silences, its surges, its
reticences, its wholeness or fragmentation, its energyall play directly into the
meaning it carries and conveys. Literal meaning is just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes
with my students we will listen to a text written in a language we do not understand and
see what secrets the language might give up.
BR: Of Defiance you write: "I
knew even then that I was writing for the last time in a quaint, and fast-waning
tradition: the conventional novel." But it certainly isnt that
conventional. What direction is your writing taking these days?
CM: For me Defiance critiques the very conventions it employs. And
I think it plays into and often mocks such mainstream notions as character, voice, and
plotwhich in this case functions like a vice, point of view, climax, etc. It's on
one level a rather preposterous and cynical project, which I believe through these kinds
of decisions speaks to and adds to the book's general tenor and concerns. As I said
before, I was playing Godone of the more persistent and annoying mainstream
conventions, and a stance I disapprove of strenuously. Defiance does enter the
traditional bargains with the reader, it does rely on buying into the "fictive
dream," it plays on an unquenchable desire in mainstream fiction for event and
actioneven as it belittles it. It takes any number of mainstream formulas and
exaggerates them, mocks them, makes them ludicrous, and at the same time rather riveting.
I was interested to see what putting these sorts of limitations and restraints on myself
might produce. I wanted to take a certain kind of narrative to its logical end. I've
exhausted my interest in this now though. It sounds as if I don't like this book, but I do
actuallyit astounds and shocks me a little. It's a cynical triumph, I think.
But I leave that world behind entirely
nowI'm just not interested in writing books that resemble other books anymore. I am
attempting now to find the abstract shapes and patterns that will convey and hold extreme
emotion. I am interested in combining more completely and convincingly disparate forms:
essay, poetry, and the visual arts with the fiction. I am interested in dissolving
character and working more in multi-voiced, polyphonic sheets of sound. Of incorporating
different fields of narrative. All the while re-imagining for myself what narrative is,
and how to keep a grounding element present in some way. I am not interested in writing
inscrutable texts, but ones that will engage me and enlarge my notions of what is
possible. I feel so isolated and disinterested in what passes, for the most part, for
fiction now. It all seems so transparent. So obvious. Making too little and too much sense
at the same time. I think a book is capable of almost anything. I don't think we've even
scratched the surface yet.
I'm working on a large novelhave been
working on it on and off a long time nowover ten yearsit may take another ten,
I don't know. It is called The Bay of Angels and is part of what I imagine to be a
literary triptych of which my novel AVA is the first panel.
BR: Do you write with a computer? How has your
schedule altered now that you have a child?
CM: I write in very large black spiral artist's notebooks. I need the
space. And I love to write by hand. After I've gone as far as I think I can go, I enter it
into the computer and do another draft, sometimes two, sometimes more. But I try and stay
in the notebooks for as long as possible. It's a great joy.
I used to work whenever possible from the time
I woke up for the next five or so hours. At night I would prepare for the next day. All
day I would carry the project in my head. This was my ideal way of working. Now I am up
with the baby from 6 until 10 in the morning and then work until 3pm when the woman who
comes to the house to look after Rose leaves. This is 4 or 5 days a week. We spend the
rest of the day together until she falls asleep at 8. After that I find I am just too
depleted and distracted to do any more work. Of course I teach one semester a year as well
and in those 4 1/2 months things are a lot less predictable.
BR: Your partner Helen thinks Almodóvar would
be the perfect film director for a screen adaptation of Defiance. He once said
hed never consider doing an American film unless it included transies, but . . . if
he could be persuaded? Would he be your first choice? What other of your novels would you
like to see in film, if any?
CM: I think Almodóvar proved with his last film that really he can do
anything he wants. His vitality, his passion, his intelligence, his range, his willingness
to continue to change and evolve all move me terribly. Defiance seems a
quintessentially American bookbut I don't think he'd have a moment's trouble with
it. The cultural distance would be a plus in this case, I think. The book is in many ways
a black comedy: garish, outrageous, over the top, often bleakly hilariousit is also
a tragedy. Few directors can really handle both well. Almodóvar can turn from one to
another on a dime. I adore his work. Defiance is also a book without redemption. I
think Europeans in general are much more attuned to this notion than Americans. Americans simply
cannot get their minds around such a thing. They refuse to believe that such a thing is
I can see Ghost Dance and The
American Woman easily turning into films. Ghost Dance, sadly enough, remains
all too topical, what with the latest Firestone/Ford antics. There has been interest on
and off in The American Woman in particular. All that French Riviera!
BR: How is baby Rose anyway and how are you
handling the Terrible Twos? Is there any of the "Buddha spirit" left that you
experienced during pregnancy?
CM: Baby Rose is fabulous. Two is an amazing age. Watching her acquire
language has been one of the great thrills of my life. She is now practising conjugating
verbs. Yes I am, she says. Yes I will. Yes I do. Yes I did. She says them over and over in
a row and then tries them out in different places in a conversation. She's a little
Joyceanher word combinations are amazing. Of course! She was born on Bloomsday after
all. It's also extraordinary to watch her becoming autonomous. One of the refrains of
these days is "Baby do it." The Twos are not quite so terrible as they might be
because she is quite free of temper tantrums. We are still breastfeeding, and my theory is
she doesn't feel the usual betrayal and frustration and senselessness of having the breast
taken away arbitrarily.
BR: Off the cuff . . .
Favorite dead white males (of the literary kind):
Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, Melville, Mallarmé, Flaubert, Proust, Kafka, Beckett,
Stevens, Nabokov, Calvino, Hemingwaythe list really is endless.
Living Female icons:
Agnes Martin, Meredith Monk. Monique Wittig, Hélène Cixous, Patti Smith, Chantal
Akerman, Adrienne Rich, Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, Nicole Brossard, Martha Argerich,
Rosemarie Waldrop, Doris Lessing, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Tipper Gore (only kidding),
Nathalie Saurraute (OK she's dead), Diamonda Gallas, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau,
Agnes Varda, Gong Li, Alicia de La Rocha, Leontyne Price, Courtney Love, P.J. Harvey.
Ideal Night Out:
To see something beautiful and endless: Tarr's Satantango, Wagner's Ring,
Glass and Wilson's Einstein on the Beach, Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz,
Favorite Recent Films:
Flowers of Shanghai, The PuppetmasterHou Hsiao-hsien
Histoire du Cinema, JLG/JLG, Germany Year Nine Zero, Nouvelle VagueGodard
All About My MotherAlmodóvar
Eyes Wide ShutKubrick
Autumn Tale Rohmer
Fallen Angels, Happy Together, Chungking ExpressWong KarWai
Lovers on the BridgeCarax
Close-Up, The Wind Will Carry UsKiarostami
Irma Vep, Late August, Early SeptemberAssayas
Decalogue, Red,White, BlueKieslowski
Forgive me . . . . Im a film addict. I could do this all day!
Three things yet to do:
Write something in my own handwriting.
Shepherd my parents safely to the other side.
Help Rose to become a free person.