Drawings by Ria Brodell
FOOD FACES: TRAVIS JEPPESEN
In this series, Shane Jones looks at the diet of some of our favorite writers. In this installment he talks to Travis Jeppesen, whose most recent book, The Suiciders, is about seven criminal teenagers stuck on a loop of permanent exile, a book that shows how, as Jeppesen puts it, “art is something that vibrates when you throw up on it.”
THE BELIEVER: I like how your diet starts fast and light and generally slows down at the end with the heaviest of food, a kind of layering before the Jameson and ending the day. Is this a conscious decision on your part? Or is it reflective of the Berlin diet/lifestyle?
TRAVIS JEPPESEN: I don’t think it’s a conscious decision on my part. As I get older, I think about food a bit more. My whole life, I was super skinny and I could always eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, no consequences whatsoever. Then, as I reached my late 20s/early 30s, my metabolism began to slow down, suddenly it all started to go straight to my belly—not my arms or my legs, just the belly. Since I didn’t want to look preggers anymore, it was time to start paying attention to what I stuff down my throat. I guess the diet I outlined for you conforms to the ideal rhythms of my daily metabolism, which also corresponds to my work schedule—I’m usually able to get a lot more done earlier in the day now, whereas in my early 20s, I’d stay up all night writing. Now I start to slow down as the day starts to fade, so it’s time to shovel the heavy stuff in—and usually, I’ve been to the gym by then already, so I feel it’s safe to reward myself.
BLVR: I have the same issue with my stomach. I can look simultaneously fat and skinny. Richard Brautigan, later in life, had the same problem. He had these tiny arms and wrists and then a belly like a Texas truck driver. Do you think eating better yields better writing results?
TJ: Yeah, it’s all tied to writing for me. Especially since my whole project is rooted in this tradition of a writing of the body, to the extent where body takes precedent over mind. So my body is a vehicle, food is my main fuel. I try not to put too much junk into it or else it malfunctions.
BLVR: Can you talk a little more about writing from the body? It makes sense—The Suiciders is a very physical book where the sentences and images really push you around. There’s also an insatiable feel in the drive of the images and characters, always wanting more. It’s not cerebral Javier Marias, it’s fuck you Burroughs.
TJ: For me, body takes precedence over mind, because mind is but an extension of body. So I’m a body-mind machine, a vehicle, moving across a terrain, and the exhaust or by-product that my vehicle produces along the way, that contaminates the stratosphere, that’s the “work.” And it’s always happening. This is the thing that most people don’t understand about writers. I’m “at work” 24 hours a day. Even when I’m dreaming—especially when I’m dreaming—I’m really writing. Writing is something that happens, it’s always going on, not just when I’m sitting there with a pen in my hand and a notebook in my lap.
I don’t mean to conceptualize process, because really, it’s all about inspiration—and I’m an old-fashioned romantic, so I feel no compunction about using that word. It’s more about programming yourself so that inspiration becomes a generative force—it’s built into the machinery, and hence, happening all the time.
BLVR: Are there writers or artists that use the body in their work that you admire? I immediately thought someone like Rothko, his use of large blocks of color to kind of drown you, but maybe he’s more cerebral because his works were very personal, especially at the end with those black paintings.
TJ: I think Bataille, Guyotat, and Acker are obvious examples of this attempt to author a writing of the body. Rabelais, as well—he’s certainly a much bigger influence on The Suiciders than Burroughs, the writer with whom I am most often conflated. There is certainly the example of Luce Irigaray and écriture féminine in France.
The Language poets—most of whom I adore and have been reading ever since I was a kid— attempted something similar, which was to shift the emphasis from the signified to the signifier, and hence allow meaning-formation to occur on the level of the physical body of the word—its sound, appearance, and context. The problem with many of those people is that they’re so goddamn doctrinaire, they can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that anyone has ever attempted anything similar in fiction, let alone admit to having ever read a novel! For writers that have taken such a radical approach to language, I’ve always found it odd how insistently they cling to market-generated categories of genre. The writing itself, though, is great, if you can ignore their weird orthodoxies.
A more recent example would be someone like Ryan Trecartin. He’s not even an artist—what he does is total writing. Writing in the expanded field, okay, but still writing.
BLVR: In college I took an undergrad class with Charles Bernstein. It was intense—once a week for 3 hours in his office. He drank tons of coffee and just talked language poetry, many times inviting in writers/friends from the early days when he founded L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. You would have loved it—always a pot of strong coffee brewing. One class I said something like “writing needs to reach the common man” (I was 20 years old and reading realist stuff) and he said something along the lines of “but there is no common man reader so just write what you want to write.” I hated him for saying that then and I kind of love it now.
TJ: “Write what you don’t know.” That’s what I always say.
BLVR: How does the editing process work for you in regard to your philosophy? Does the mind ever try and edit the body?
TJ: No, because the body-mind machine, it’s one thing, they’re not separate. So the one can’t “edit” the other. For me, editing is the same thing as writing. I don’t really see much difference between the two—they’re both part of the same process.
BLVR: I love this line from The Suiciders: “Let’s go eat us some fast food,” which fits perfectly amongst the whole junkyard surrealism going on throughout the book. So I’m curious: Do you ever eat fast food? A very healthy all organic food-stand just opened next to a McDonald’s where I live and it’s pretty amazing to see how people choose where to eat. Everyone in the McDonald’s line looks a little guilty, a little darkness around them.
TJ: It is in many ways a landscape novel—the novelization of a landscape painting—and so it makes sense, because fast food is so much a part of the physical American landscape, as anyone who has ever taken a road trip will tell you—every exit is chock full of fast food offerings. The last time I ate fast food, I didn’t feel very well afterwards. But I’ll always fall back on it in a crunch, when I have no other options—you know, I do travel a lot….
BLVR: Is there anything you won’t eat?
TJ: In China, I tried tree worms and a fried grasshopper. In Beijing, they have an all-penis restaurant, where you can eat the penis of various animals. I would never eat the endangered tiger penis.
BLVR: Is there a penis you would eat?
TJ: I’ve had lots of dicks in my mouth over the years.
BLVR:I’m going to keep you in mind for my next interview series about writers and their sexual habits. Anything you’d like to add regarding food and writing? I’m having coffee and an orange right now.
TJ: Don’t eat the sun, I might need it for something.
Shane Jones lives in Albany, New York.