Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches through memory, the monster and experimental prose at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She also teaches in Goddard College’s lowresidency MFA. She has written four full-length works of poetry/prose: The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works), humanimal [a project for future children] (Kelsey Street Press), and Schizophrene (Nightboat Books). The following is excerpted from the full interview featured in our 2013 issue Obsession.
Lately I have been reading and rereading Schizophrene and I am struck by a theme of permeability. Right off the bat, it seems that there is a desire to make the manuscript permeable to materiality. Even before the book begins, you write: “On the night I knew my book had failed, I threw it—in the
form of a notebook, a hand-written final draft—into the garden of my house in Colorado.” And this is how the book begins, with something like a chance-based procedure, where you relinquish the book, which “makes…an axis, a hunk of electromagnetic fur torn from the side of something still living and thrown, like a wire, threaded, a spark towards the grass.” I also noticed the fear of permeability communicated through a woman and her daughter, who were hospitalized for this fear. You say that if a spoon touched her lips, she had the terrible sensation it was slipping down her throat, or if one of her children brushed against her thigh, she felt as if she were going to swallow them. What are the risks of living a more permeable life? How do you make yourself more/ less permeable?
The risk of permeability is psychosis, if the outside and inside are merged or flipped. That
is the extreme state displayed in Schizophrene. For ordinary life, the risk is not being able to stop yourself from doing something even you don’t understand. I think of writing in a cafe on
a Thursday evening. Ordering the tiny fragment of wine in a glass the size of a small house. I sip that wine and drift further and further from what I thought life would be. When I was younger, I used to do this by walking. Stand up and start walking toward a church in the East, says Rilke. I did that. Permeability in this sense is the crux of longing and action. So, it could be the kind of risk that brings immense pleasure, a soft future. But what I write about in the book you have read is a serial account of what happens: when the boundary of the body is transgressed by the sensation that what is happening beyond the body is happening within it. The book is relinquished, as you write. And begins to stir, birdlike, icy, in the garden. Just as writing does, in the body of a person “still living and thrown.” Toward the grass.
While we are on the subject of borders, what about language as a border? It seems that something
about this is happening in humanimal. Also, were you thinking about Joan Retallack’s Poethical Wager in this passage when you mention “swerve” which Retallack sees as being necessary in a poetics to break us of habitus, which she defines as culturally congealed thought? And again, in your passage, the habitus goes back to regulate the body.
No, Retallack has not been an influence. The swerve, for me, is not a poetics; it is a movement—the condition, that is, of a reversible or concurrent trajectory. Like a double life line. I think here there is a sub-question for me about experimental lineage: who do you read in order to become a writer? In the U.K., I read—exclusively—contemporary British, South American and European fiction, for example. The swerve was the frame: Indian writing in English, for example. Or writing translated into English that did not begin as English. Now, my theory people are: Elizabeth Grosz, Donna Haraway, Alphonso Lingis: people writing about biology and society in the same space.
On borders. I know that I want the border in a book to match up, somehow—directly or indirectly—to the fact of the border in the world. I’ve written and thought about this extensively in other places, and I teach through this fact: the border is not a metaphor. I think this is why sentences and forms are the way they are in what I write: the place where the border is registered more than it is constructed or made visible. Syntax is primal, inherited, an ancestral vibration coded as movement: ease of movement but also restriction, refraction, abandonment, warfare’s bed. I think of the commas and semicolons, for example, as butcher’s hooks; sites of visceral comprehension. A way, also, to point away from the forward movement of time in a narrative; towards history. That meat shop. Writing a sentence is thus a way to think about land mass, colonial history and the body at the same time.
Looking at the sentence from humanimal, what I notice is the way that expression balks. I do not like to analyze my own actual writing. I like your use of the phrase: “regulate the body.” I definitely want to have that in my books—these immense forces that I feel, sometimes, have pinned me to the ground. As myself. What I write is not autobiography—or intended as such—but I seem to have accidentally written one.
What haunts you?