Nada Gordon

Adeena Karasick
Interview

Nada Gordon:
Tell me about yourself. What’s been your trajectory?

Adeena Karasick: i grew up in Vancouver on the threshold of a number of different / differing communities and writing practices. A time when Steve McCaffery and the Four Horsemen were still performing "collective sound experiments" demystifying the fetishistic referent; reading / writing in the wake of the Tish cum Black Mountain imagistic focus on polis, place; the extatic nonlexical hâute écouture / verbal soundtexts of bill bissett, bp Nichol, their visual: pattern, poster and concrete poetry; technopaignia, poesia artificiosa, poetry that treated linguistic components, all concerned with the physicality, materiality of the signifier; the ‘pataphysical explorations of the TRG (who i blame for my thinking about how meaning is produced through an inflammatory paradox of legitimacy and delegitimacy; slippage, elision, differentiation and undecideability); and of course the Kootenay School espousing filtered L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E dogma. For 5 years i co-edited a journal called Anerca / com.post — which at that time we considered a magazine of experimental writing concerned with language and alternative forms of meaning production. So there was all this activity swirling around and i found myself drawing on all of it yet always a bit resistant to attach myself too closely to any one community. i was starting to read a lot of theory, and increasingly became obsessed with Kabbalistic conceptions of language — which launched me into other ways of thinking about how meaning could be produced in new and varied ways.

NG: You’re very much at intersections of various modes — language & performance, the academic & the theatrical, the theoretical & the erotic …

AK: Though i object to the word "performance" as it is so loaded ((like how the word "experimental" has become synonymous with dismissible, unreadable, untouchable, and cdn’t possibly have any textual interest)), and though the text is itself performative, embedded in its own theatricality, i think there is a whole other dimension of meaning production available in what is sounded, heard, and even more interestingly how it is received when this conversation is public, and becomes a socio-political act…. i never really bought the argument that one should read as subtly (read: as monotonous) as possible for fear of overshadowing the language — as if it alone was something pristine that could be contaminated by an overly-zealous voice — which on one level I understand, but for better or for worse, i am embodied in my physicality projecting to a living, breathing audience. i am in a room with dimensions, duration, texture. Locked into temporality (even if time is contemporaneous with itself). And as much as i’d like to foreground the text and only the text, i am this body of difference, desire. And as i read to you in this room, my body’s boundaries blur, bond, blend, band into a social body. A blemished body of emissions, secretions, discharges, pollutions. a body of orifices, folds and contaminations…

NG: Yeah ... or a flawless (as anything "natural" is flawless) body of precious fluids, blessed with antibodies and built in cleansing processes to deal with pollutions & contaminations … i guess this would be the "for better" side of embodiment. What’s the anguish in embodiment for you? Just the old desire / suffering / mortality continuum (cycle?)? Or something more connected to aesthetics? You say you’d like to foreground the text and only the text … why?

AK: i just meant that its not an option. i can’t divorce myself from my physicality, and therefore this body — this body that both cleanses and defiles — heals by making sick; this body of desire and overdetermination (a perverse dynamic which houses a multiplicity of culturally-produced abjectivist tropes); this body which before you becomes a glossematrix of openings, pulses, pursed entrances, mounds, crevices, cavities, and throbs in fluent effusion—necessarily has to become part of the package. And as i am standing there reading a text and am so overrought with / aroused by how every word, letter, lexicological moment bleeds into one another. how they carry each other from context to context. how they curl up against and form meaning through a shifting sense of productivity, constituted across a number of historically-produced and often contradictory material sites — and the process of reading becomes a moment of passion, of torment, of desire, simulacric of the interface of language and social context.

NG: In "Alefbet" you deconstruct Hebrew to remarkable effect. Judaism imbues your work in a number of ways. It seems that, compared to many poets of our generation working in formally innovative ways, you are strongly connected to theological tradition. What is your religious background? How do you feel it affects your writing?

AK: Connected to a theological tradition only insofar as i question its foundations, its structures, and push the boundaries of that in new and interesting directions. A lot of my work draws from both Kabbalistic and Jewish feminist deconstructive discourse. Sometimes that means putting into praxis a post-structuralist-feminist methodology, a "libidinal feminist economy", which through processes of ambiguity and displacement, rupture, bleeds through a series of folds and envaginated surfaces. And sometimes that just means i’m focussing on the freaky Kabalistic combinatory methods or Abulafian notions of linguistic "jumping" — remembering how one has to read not only through semi(o)tic strategies (from various socio-eth(n)ic, political, economic or gendered positions), but through sublexical, graphic and phonic units. How text becomes a vortext of numbers, nouns, appelations, inscriptions and silences; and language is reassessed as a palimspsestic abscess of multiplicity, divergence and inconclusivity.

So, my Jewishness gets played out in a number of different and often conflicting ways. As you point out, a certain brand of it gets foregrounded in the Alefbet section of The Empress Has No Closure, which is kinda like a testimony to language. Mimicking a Midrashic methodology of script in dialogue, in conflict, it celebrates language as always already a heteroglossic enunciative process — always in the process of becoming. The alphabet itself becomes a narrative, and as each of the 22 letters a subject in an ever-shifting context, it explores how identity, a socio-linguistic construction, a semiological function gets inscribed through a differential chain of nonsynonymous substitutions.

i’m particularly interested in notions of revealment and concealment — and find it fascinating how historically Kabbalah was seen as a "secret" discourse — not available to women, and certainly not available to young secular Jewish women. With this said, i think it’s necessary to re-view the notion of what’s historically or normatively seen as "secret" as that which can not be possessed, contained or understood, so a lot of my recent work plays in the hiatus between what’s manifest, divided, what’s common or contaminated, impropre, propre, appropriated, private and public.

This is kinda like Derrida’s definition of "mysticism" as that which does not fit into the system; is that which cannot be absorbed. As historically, the Jews were often unable to "fit in" or be accepted into national cultures, their writing necessarily becomes a "mystical" act, performed through exile and exclusion, alienation and difference. Often i see my writing in this way, the mingling of letters, "all the letters, their shapes, combined and separated, swaddled letters, curved ones and crooked ones, superfluous and elliptic ones, minute and large ones, and inverted [ones, the] calligraphy of the letters, the open and closed pericopes, the absences, scissions, ciphers and vacancies" (Genrecide) A MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE.

Also, just as Jews historically had to often conceal their identity ((((which last year when i was living in Cairo, became a really prominent trope for me)))))) i started to call my work "marranic" (from the Spanish Marranos). [[[incidentally Marrano (Spanish for "pig", "swine" or "filthy one") was the pejorative term applied in Spain and Portugal by the Christians to further humiliate the Jews who were forcefully baptized. Similar to the Arabic "mahram" (forbidden), and the Hebrew "HeReM" (banned), it literally means "one who pretends to be a convert"]]].

So here i was as a Jew living in this space. it’s my mom’s yahrzeit i want to light a candle, go to Synagogue, it’s Hanukkah, i want to light a menorah, and there are no synagogue’s left, there are no menorah’s to be had, let alone yahrzeit candles. And i am warned to conceal my identity at all costs. And thinking this is what it was like for those Jews of the 13th C. living in secret. Conducting passover seders in crypts, hidden attics, underground tunnels. Inhabiting a syncretic space, both a part of and a part from colonial tyranny, condemned to a life of masquerade, simulation, mimicry. Apparently there are 80 jews living in Cairo today…. And i was just so totally shocked to see how after all this time it’s not so different...And so it’s not surprising that here i was writing a writing that was simultaneously revealed and concealed, tentative, indirect, oblique and tortured. A writing where what is "received" is never transparent, clear or defined, but calls into question what is esoteric, hidden and manifest; trying to acknowledge a transnational dimension of cultural transformation, migration, diaspora, displacement, re-location; which gets discursively re-articulated as contestation and negotiation performed at the liminal edge of identity. (And in-so-doing subverting any notion of a Jewish heteronomy).

NG: You’ve lived all over the globe. In which countries? What were you able to glean from your expatriate experiences? How did it feel to be "elsewhere?"

AK: A trope that seems to be pretty pervasive for me — which i’m sure stems out of my Jewishness — is that of exile — maybe just that i have lived so many places — spent so much time travelling and living in strange environments ranging from Buddhist monasteries in the Thai jungle to Chasidic Yeshivot in Sefad, a couple years in Malawi (SE Africa), and most recently last year i spent in the Arab States. So, out comes a writing of vagrancy, migrancy, middles, madness and monstrosity. i want to say that a lot of my writing, or my sensibility stems from that sense of otherness, alterity, defamiliarity, but then that would imply that i hold onto some sense of deep-rooted "hiemlichness" or some stable containable identifiable identity, but no — because everything IS always so shifting, so other. "Verfremdungsteffekt," i think, has to be understood as a matter of degrees, relations. … And it’s not about MAKING it strange. it already IS strange (and strange, an economy, a mode of production).

And necessarily the environment bleeds into the text - the issues i draw on, the vocabularies, lexicon, rhythms. For example, while i was living in Africa i was so totally struck with the whole notion of "colonial mimicry" and so it kept appearing in the text though all sorts of bizarre internal rhymes. Or, the city i was living in was called "Lilongwe" —

As linguae grinds
in the magnate of rhetorical invasion. A ravinous graft
or traumatic masque acts
in Lilongwe. takin’ la langue way. plus de langue, lingers. As her tongue. kiss*. mouth. closed around ellipse slip. tasting the tongue of a tongue, a tome. L’anglais en Lilongwe. No lily-livered sasparilla suckin’ swill way. sways as her tongue, teeth, lips part, solypse sip in prolixis licks; a ventilosquist kiss. in the darkness of slick kissery articulate, as accessory synnexes in the nexus collapses into meconnaises kenosis kinesis askance.
Lilongwe, le langelait. In the intimacy of borders tongue.lick.taste. As
clavicle hollow slack ex-schize kiss caught in the covets risks la loi of
Luangwa lingers as hwenge chitenge, Lilongwe or Longueille, eh. As slick
limits lip clots distance with desire limits lip clots distance with desire
où est Lilongwe, l’angue way.

"Flughafen" (from The Empress Has No Closure) was written when i was living for a year in Germany. i was Visiting Professor at the Gutenberg Universitat Mainz, teaching Canadian Literature and cultural theory. At the time i was totally obsessed with airplanes, airports, moving in general (notions of betweenness) — fluging. Or in French "voler" (to fly and to steal) — wanting to fly into language, steal away in it. In retrospect this was probably just a fanatical response to being a Jew girl in post Nazi Germany. i loved especially when i realized that in Dutch "über" translates as "via" which meant that Nietzche’s Übermensch was not a Superman at all, but a mensch in process. i wrote a poem called the "Frankfurt Flughafen" and the first couple pages were totally consumed with breakfast — i didn’t know any German and the first words i learned were for food, and days of the week. frietags and toast. mushroom umlaut. i lived on top of a weinhaus and spent most of the time there totally obsessed with the idea that the ghosts of dead holocaust victims were parading around in my attic above my room. i wd listen to them tiptoe around. Breathe at nite. it was often surprising i cd hear this over the neo nazi uprising marches. i was totally living in fear all the time. Everyday i had to walk through the desecrated jewish cemetery — i remember an early version of the text had me passing the Krematoria looking for ice cream. i remember there were signs everywhere pleading: "gieben nazis a kleine chance" (give nazis a small chance). no chance, i sd.

NG: Your writing is at once incredibly oceanic and focused on the materiality of individual words. How do you construct your poems, generally? What’s your process?

AK: Though a lot of my writing situates itself within the intersection of conflicting dialects, lexicons, vocabularies, and experiencing how meaning production arises from its (n)e(u)rotic body — how meaning is produced in disjunction, conjunction and are synechdochic of the links within socio-political matrix — i’ve never used the sentence as a unit of structured text. mostly i am interested in the minutiae of the letters, how they intersect, how they brush up against and caress each other … these letters which t/ravel together, mysteriously united, one stretched towards the other, one emerging from the other’s side, one suckling the other; folding in on these letters i belong to that carry me and dance both within the pages of this text and as social, historical effects of reference.

It’s a writing of hunting and gathering. An epistemic interzonal assemblage of perky insertions that infinitely enfolds into itself and produces an on-going cultural performance — a contingent and liminal space, a multiaccentual politics of desire which confounds the ordering of a cultural hegemony.

ok that last bit sounds a bit pompous

NG: Deliciously so.

You may disagree with me completely, but i think your work has a lyric streak. Bear with me while i support this assertion. First, it’s lyrical in that you actually sing or chant some of it when you perform. Second, in that you dance around identity — as Canadian Jewish woman (you even deconstruct your own name) — granted, the self in your poems is something you constantly deconstruct, but I sense it always present. Third, in that there actually is consistency (in both senses of the word) in the feel and the position of your writing, if not always the form, per se. Which is not to accuse you of being monologic, or worse, linear, but still somehow in control of your argument and materials. You seem to adore chaos, and flirt with it, but artfully, I think, even somewhat … bardically (and pedagogically, too — that is to say, I feel like I learn things — new words, facts about language, facts about being, when I read you). Fourth, in that the pleasure principle is everywhere evident — in the luscious articulations, in the wordplay, in the seductive/sensuous content. Am I completely missing the point(s)?

AK: Lyrical, insofar that it’s sonorous, sonic, aware of its own melodic nuance, but i always understood a lyric sensibility intricately connected to some notion of a static subjectivity, some transcendental "I" locked in a metaphysics of presence. And as "I" become these letters, these words, it’s more of a mobilized referent point, a component in a poetics — synecdochic of the flow of all the letters, investments, recordings & distributions. What i am interested in, however is the fine line between language’s ability to communicate something particular, yet simultaneously have that enfold in on itself in the process, exceed its own structure. … Revelling in some linguistic euphoria with a will that is both in and out of control, both arbitrary and constructed, provisional and committed.

(mounting in the throbbing impetus of ipseity illeity lay he who)

And, in regard to my relationship with chaos, i think Gary Snyder says it best — that "language does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back."

NG: I guess I’m defining lyricism as a kind of bodily impulse to song, you know, like Milton: "SING, heavenly muse ..." — almost a commandment that sweeps you into a rhythm that controls you rather than you it, or there’s an exchange of control, as if lyricism can only happen when you allow your ear to open. and then: sway — as you literally do when you read your work.

AK: ah … as i adhere to my own private 11th commandment — which urges me to give up or supplant some worn out assumption of consciousness, intentionality, ideas of transmission, transparency, with a desire to allow the writing to be so other ((which often translates as: difficult within some normative formulation of semantic/syntactic understandability)) that inevitably the rhythm, the music, the flow of the language sweeps me into some graphemorphous sonata of fugitive mutants. And, between the body (text) body (corps) [encore], i am SINGIN’ not heavenly muse but a heaving maze. meisme. miasma. Inscribed in and through language.

NG: Can we talk about neologisms, neo-orthographies and lexis in general?

Lagubrious, prospicuous, forago, umbel, hypostacy, katabatic, sparoid, —

I just pulled these from the first two poems in Genrecide. My word processor is going crazy with the transgressive unrecognizableness of these words, underscoring them with little neurotic squiggly red warning lines. You are the only writer besides me that I know of who has used the word "felch." Your writing is strewn with theoretical terminology, a lot of it French or latinate, that normally would ask a reader to be well-versed in Derrida & Kristeva, et al. — but in your work the jargon seems to undergo a kind of sea change - like it becomes your own — and I know you’ve read at Lollapalooza, one of the least academic gatherings I can think of … where do you get your words?

AK: As i sd, i love the intersections between different modes of discourse. juxtaposing the theoretic or latinate with the vulgar, the downtrodden and all that is unrecognizable. For example, my new book (coming out from Talonbooks in April) is called Dyssemia Sleaze: Dyssemia: (flawed information reception) Sleaze / sli:z/ v. Rough with projecting fibres.) and i think it’s particularly interesting when sometimes even the most familiar is twisted and then yr forced to start reading every word, every lexigraphical or graphological moment as "other" in a socially erotic continuum. And i am borrowing these words, lexicons, vocables, bits of speech, from everywhere. A vocabulary that draws from and vamps on all that is kinky, swank, groovy and irritable. all that is trivial, tragic suffocating and oppressive / sacred and elliptic wresting in jagged syntax and erupts in liminal immanence. in [[a vocabulary constabulary / In the simulation of the cumulous]].

And i love breaking those words apart, defiling them, contaminating them, re-sp(l)icing them, enabling them to articulate a number of things simultaneously, and thus calling into question the de-mystification or the de-sedimentation of the autonomic hegemony of language. And as these words of different histories, contexts, textures, one annexed to the other, swing through some paratactic axes of micro-syntactical anxiety, there they are forming this world, a place of ecstasis and terror, of beauty and bitter anguish. A beggarly and phantasmagoric arena of lexical gradients, passages, cryptog®ammatic networks of complexes and neuroses questioning the basic function of meaning production.

NG: One of my favorite instances where you enact this kind of breakage and hyperhermeneutics is your exploration of the Meme. I’ll quote from it here:

A Meme is an irrecoverable and slightly innacurate self-replicating (id)entity with almost limitless power.
Memetics is concerned with how the message is translated.
MEME "a unit of cultural transmission or a unit of imitation"
MEME (French): the same. La meme chose. choise. chosen.
MEME me replicating myself virally in language
Never alone: Me and Me
MEME =Me x 2 Me too. the same and other than

You then go on to quote some archaic texts exploring more homophones of Meme, the phoneme a magnet for multiple meanings. Is the definition of the Meme as "a unit of cultural transmission ..." your own or is there a source text for that? Can you say more about it, maybe give some examples? I’m intrigued but don’t quite feel clear on the concept …

AK: it’s a cybernetic term that refers to a unit of cultural meaning that gets virally replicated in language. It became a bit of an obsession because of all its translinguistic cognates. i loved the interplay and resonances with its connections and linkages to the French Meme (selfsame), the Hebrew letter Mem {which though situated in the MIDDLE of the alphabet, actually refers to both beginnings and endings, codes of entry, escape — how its name itself is formed of Mem-Yud-Mem and functions like a virtual palindrome (read backwards or forwards, it re-interprets itself through an (in)finite process of self-replicating metastability; a virally multiplicitous linguistic praxis)}. And, as i traced it through what seemed like an endless barrage of socio-political, historical linguistic references, each carrying the specter of its previous contexts it started producing, what i started to call meme wars. or memoirs (as the case may be).

NG: I’ve already mentioned the sonic textures of your performed writing. Your books — especially Genrecide — present a visual equivalent in the form of collages, a profusion of typefaces, doctored comics and puzzles. Do you see yourself moving more and more into graphic dimensions beyond writing into image?

AK: i think the graphic elements provide an interesting supplement, and sometimes you can accomplish things visually that you can’t quite do as fully when yr working just with language. Like, during the Holocaust, turns out that the word "Canada" signified all the prosthetic limbs, the gold crowns and teeth, the shaved hair etc. that were extracted from the prisoners in the death camps. Originally it was thought that as Canada was a distant and wealthy country, the body parts could be sold there for a great price. Thus, the mounds of disembodied matter came to be known as "Canada"—so HOW ABOUT placing a photo of that next to a "Canada" of mounties and maple leafs @#$%^&*()!! And do i see myself doing more of this?? absolutely. In fact this next book has an extensive full colour poetic essay on how the Wall (the Wailing Wall) is structured like a language. And i find that working with different typefaces, fonts, layering letters upon letters in a very physical way certainly helps to foreground language as a material body which of course i like. And, all the collages, assemblages, graphic intrusions are all constructed with purple gluestick, manicure scissors & transparencies. some people go to fetish bars. i go to kinkos.


Adeena Karasick's Home Page:

http://www.library.utoronto.ca/canpoetry/karasick/index.htm

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