Ben Fama Talks to Trisha Low
Trisha Low’s first book, The Compleat Purge, came out last fall from Kenning Editions, and when the package came in the mail, I expected to find it bound in sandpaper. I’d seen Trisha perform on the Lower East Side around when the book came out. She drew out long-damaged feelings and confrontations, which all showed through her apparent manic nervousness as she wept onto the floor. I introduced myself to her after she’d finished while she was cleaning up after herself (she’d politely declined my help). She had not published the book by then, though still my interest in it bloomed.
The “I” of The Compleat Purge functions in a lineage that includes Simone De Beauvoir, Kathy Acker, Elena Ferrante, and Ariana Reines. A production in three acts, Purge is filled with suicide letters to friends, articles of her will as written during various stages of her life, and fantasized rough sexting between Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Anthony Rossomando of The Dirty Pretty Things. This is an awkward time to be a Poet, no?
I had the chance to talk to Trisha once the book came out, and we discussed her relationship to craft, her writing on Hello Kitty band-aids, tattoos, Fabrizio Moretti and how “pop culture is all about ‘being in love.’” The result is as follows.
I. SACRIFICE AS SELF-CONSTRUCTION
THE BELIEVER: Can we talk about craft? In the first part of The Compleat Purge you’ve embedded epistolary form within the structure of a will and testament. Is suicidal ideation a big part of your life?
TRISHA LOW: Actually, let’s talk about The Craft (the movie) because, unlike craft, suicidal ideation is not something you perfect, it’s something that becomes you, like really good red lipstick. There’s this part in the film where Fairuza Balk decides to force the other girls to do this spell called “Invocation of the Spirit,” after which she becomes super greedy for power. As she gains more and more spells, her body also begins this weird process of molecular declension. Her eyes get wilder, her fingers and her joints get looser, and her hair gets limper and greasier.
The Craft is really about scapegoating. About becoming yourself vis-à-vis destroying yourself; the ultimate sacrifice-as-self-construction. Of course, that sacrificial economy always turns its back on you. It’s the same kind of reversal in Purge, only there’s one Trisha Low that’s Fairuza and another version that’s Robin, the witch who kills her.
I like vacillating between victim and aggressor. Wanting to kill yourself is so banal.
BLVR: Purge starts with an epigraph from Jack Spicer’s Admonitions, which reminds me of the occasions when you invoke it during the first section of Purge. What’s your relationship to Admonitions?
TL: Oh well, Jack Spicer is one of my one and onlys—he’s truly the whore’s whore. Rather than Robert Duncan’s giving oneself up to love, Spicer is more insistent about how love ate the red wheelbarrow, it’s all-consuming—and yet he positions it as a formal device. Love for Spicer is ultimately an artificial framework, a posture to manipulate. He’s a total liar in the strength of his flip contempt—he hates everyone but will say anything to get them into bed.
There’s a story about how Spicer, in response to Allen Ginsberg’s claim that love is a political stance, replied, “You’re going to sell out anyway.” He is not in the business of love; he’s in the business of a defensive erotic position that satisfies the desire of others. He stakes his romantic claims to the point of diminishing returns, because to profess to love as many as Spicer does basically increases the number of people who (painfully) do not love him back. Which is to say, Spicer shows us how he is true to so many, as a means of demonstrating how he is, in fact, untrue. “When you’re trying to seduce somebody,” Spicer writes, ideally the poem you’re trying to seduce them with “will make the person run five miles away screaming.”
Sometimes I almost feel like Purge is only a prosthetic, a paratext of Admonitions, a more synthetic, plastic manifestation of what Spicer accomplished so nimbly. Both of us are interested in this fetishized notion that there is an objective reality, a reality of “feelings” that can be played with. Instead, we try to seduce a reader into sustaining his own fantasy via the work. Think of the femme fatale in a noir whose “cheating husband” is only an excuse for her to make her bid for power. The poem of my “authentic feeling” becomes the toy surface upon which the desires of others are inscribed. I guess the kind of poem I like to make is kind of like a dildo—it blurs the line between prosthetic material and inarticulable sensation, artificial performance and the “real” of libidinal pleasure. It questions subjectivity through its own objecthood.
II. A SILENT VENTRILOQUISM
BLVR: I’m thinking about criticism as band-aid (“a sort of patch put on a leaky tire,” as you quote from Spicer). And I’m also thinking of Laura Palmer as band-aid, un-wrapped from translucent materials (not born), drawing out toxins—the supplement that makes Twin Peaks whole.
TL: Oh Laura. The fantasy of a feminine object that the village wants to fuck and burn is also a formal emplacement around which the community creates their collaborative narrative. In the case of Twin Peaks, of course, it’s all about the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” And like you said, Laura isn’t born and doesn’t have a plot until everyone builds one around her death. Laura’s stolid suspension between death and wet dream is the means through which other people’s symptoms are expressed, sustained, given life.
Purge was made of a similar kind of unborn material—material that incites the kind of cross-genre, swapped-space parallel narrative that Laura’s corpse does. For example, I got in trouble for some of the initial dedications in the book that were kind of aggressive. The antagonism created by these initial dedications was successful, but so successful that their aggression exceeded the bounds of the printed project and extended into my social life. There became reasons for these dedications to not be made public. Of course, the reader doesn’t know anything about this at all, it only ever plays out invisibly. Which is to say, the success of this initial antagonism is what disarmed its offense to begin with—it’s always already debilitated, failed, suspended in that way. Like Laura’s girlish body. And the book does hold that, in its own way. It holds those secrets knowingly.
I’m very interested in what one might consider a silent ventriloquism, or a ventriloquism that, while deeply vacant, is still effectively mesmerizing. Mining dead source images can create a psychic energy field because of a saturation of association or because it becomes a lynchpin for an entire field of reference. Like Laura.
III. ALL ABOUT BEING IN LOVE
BLVR: You seem to be ventriloquizing musicians Fabrizio Moretti and Anthony Rossomando (or fantasized versions of them) in Purge. I’m “in love” with this use of pop culture. I’ve also heard you discuss this in terms of documentary films: Katy Perry’s Part of Me, and One Direction’s This Is Us. What can you tell me?
TL: Pop culture is all about “being in love,” isn’t it? Pouring my feelings into these person-shaped templates in a bizarre repetition, like filling up celebrity ice trays. That’s what pop culture is, the best kind of Dear Diary. My love of Katy Perry will probably tell you more than whatever I wrote in my diary yesterday. And Part of Me is scripted to be such a classic arc of the tragic feminine confessional, Cinderella meets Juliet meets Elizabeth I. Forms forging forms in a feedback loop of composite parts.
Once I met Fab Moretti in Cecilia Corrigan’s apartment and shook his hand once and then dodged him the rest of the time we were in the same 500 sq. foot radius because it’s just awkward to meet someone when the whole second section of your book is made out of porno you wrote about him. Plus I didn’t understand the way the outlines got all three dimensional.
I’ve gotten really obsessed with One Direction recently because that fandom has become notorious for their hyperbolic death threats, and their predilection for self-harm. They cause all kinds of fourth wall drama. I mean, it’s like a decade since I wrote a piece of softcore about Fab Moretti and I could barely shake his hand. Recently there was a campaign spearheaded by One Direction fangirls protesting the engagement of one of the band members—they called it “Cut For Zerrie” (Zerrie being the name for the relationship between Zayne Malik and Perrie Edwards). They threatened to self-harm if the engagement went forward. Both the protest and the counter-protests were rabidly well organized on social media. These girls are literally arresting the adult development of four boys who have basically been reduced to the epitome of white boy privilege, a template. It’s so fucking impressive. There’s an amazing moment in the One Direction movie where the boys’ mothers buy these cardboard cutouts of their respective sons because they miss them so much, because they belong to the fans now—or perhaps it’s what the fans have reduced them to.
Because fangirls are also picture-perfect examples of prosumers, the results of an explosion of self-production technologies that encourage crowd-sourced and fan-made products, fictions and identities to be re-consumed and spat out in a claustrophobic cycle of disembodied virtual intensity—and intensity as capital. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write of this new model, “the great industrial and financial powers thus produce not only commodities but also… agentic subjectivities within the biopolitical context: they produce needs, social relations, bodies, and minds—which is to say, they produce producers.” Gotta love pop culture when what it really means is that feeling good becomes the most efficient form of facilitating sheep-like, sleepwalking labor. I don’t know. I don’t think I really believe all that, even if it is kind of a smart argument. Maybe what it all comes down to is that basically I believe in demonic possession. Like in The Exorcist when Linda Blair just projective vomits pea soup for longer than humanly possible, I want to be able to spew meaningless waste into platforms generated via my objects of desire. And then I want the world to drown in it. Is that so much to ask?
Ben Fama is the author of the artist book Mall Witch, as well as several chapbooks and pamphlets. In 2015 Ugly Duckling Presse will publish Fantasy, his first full length book.
Photograph by Nick Salvatore