I Never Speak Metaphorically

Unless Questioned by the Police

By Jean HarrisOctober 15, 2013

    ANDREI CODRESCU LANDED in the United States in 1966 as an émigré poet and has been writing poetry for more than four decades. He is also a novelist, filmmaker, (retired) professor, magazine editor and radio commentator. Codrescu places his poetic process at the core of the multifarious work that flows from it. In Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes), Romania’s involuntary gift to America reflects on literature’s past and future with an insider’s and poet’s eye.

    The Archives in Bibliodeath’s title points to Codrescu’s personal papers and collections, which have been housed at Louisiana State University Library since 1985. Following the Special Collections page at the LSU Hill Memorial Library site, “this [original] gift [of papers] has been followed by more than 5,000 volumes of contemporary fiction and poetry, many of which are ephemeral in nature or were published by small presses.” So it’s no wonder Bibliodeath opens with Codrescu’s thanks to Elaine Smyth, archivist at Hill Memorial, “who suggested to the editors of a book about the private libraries of authors that they ask me to write a brief essay about my experience with Archives. [...] As soon as I set to the task, I realized that I was holding the philosopher’s walking stick in my hand, and ‘brief’ is not what happened.”

    —   Jean Harris


    Bibliodeath as a Book-object

    JEAN HARRIS: Andrei, your experience with archives begins with the creation of yourself as a writer, and it includes the creation of four decades-worth of papers and e-writings (post-papers). We’re talking about a writing life that spans continents (Europe—with Romanian and Italian phases—and North America) and political periods (communist and post-communist Romania, Cold War and post-Cold War America). This literary experience is immersed to the hilt in key cultural moments, including late Stalinist, snitch-plagued, communist Romania where you read proscribed poets and wrote rebellious poetry and zeitgeist-heavy scenes in New York and San Francisco in the late sixties and after. You began to write in the Guttenberg age, and you have gone on writing and archiving well into the Cloud era. That’s a lot to organize. How did you settle on Bibliodeath’s format: My Archives: With Life in Footnotes? Did the book evolve out of the forgetting and consequent memory searches and surges, which you describe in “A Rough Guide to the Art of Forgetting,” or is there more to the story?

    ANDREI CODRESCU: Thank you for the succinct presentation. I couldn't have done it. Retrospective to me is like looking down into a well with sides of broken mirrors. I can't remember the Romanian artist's name, I saw his piece "The Well" at an exhibit in Prague; the inside was mirror shards and the outside was made from the stiff covers of the "classics of communism." Anyway, the structure suggested itself from a form I discovered in The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess and whatever gets you through the night: a story of sheherezade and the arabian entertainments. This form is an attempt to capture thoughts that occur during writing other thoughts: the subconscious sends up thoughts – or objections—right in the middle of your most coherent (or even your most inspired) typing; I decided to let these thoughts surface, interrupt, and play out, or even take over. I decided they were true, even if mischievous or inopportune, a kind of justifiable sabotage. To make sense of them I put them in footnotes, where they started to write their own book, a "sub-book," which turned out – surprise, surprise! – to be a memoir. I'm not claiming to have invented this use of the footnote; Nabokov and David Foster Wallace used it in brilliant but different ways. Nabokov had huge fun in Pale Fire, glossing a mediocre poem with a brilliant novel. David Foster Wallace used footnotes to diagnose his characters and his own states of mind. The difference is that you can say "Nabokov" and know in one word what I'm talking about, but you have to say "David Foster Wallace" to get an idea. You can call me anything you want. I think that there is a structural flaw in the "essay" as a form: it is produced at the expense of the life that created it. Michel de Montaigne never shied away from the link between the particulars of his life and the generalizations of the form, but after him the essay separated from life like poetry from music. The hybrid form called "literary nonfiction," now taught in "creative writing" schools, is a self-conscious effort to reacquaint life and thought, a bit like rap putting the words back to music.

    JH: As an object, the book itself, Bibliodeath, is a work of art. Did you work with the book designer, Will Perry over at ANTIBOOKCLUB?

    AC: My wonderful young publisher, Gabriel Levinson, understood perfectly how the book might work. We followed, up to a point, the design of Princeton's whatever gets you through the night: a story of sheherezade and the arabian entertainments. (Note that I got rid of that obnoxious "c" in the conventional spelling, "Scheheherezade"; I cleaned her up: now she's She-her-az-ade," a lemonade of woman wisdoms.) I never met the Princeton designer, but he wrote an interesting article about the challenge of making it work. I never met Will Perry either. Gabriel worked with him.

    JH: And speaking of that, is Bibliodeath an anti-book or an anti-book club book?

    AC: It's a book. I wish book clubs would read it. I think that "Antibookclub" is making fun of the fare usually discussed by the thousands of book clubs in the U.S., that is, mainly bestsellers, romanced nonfiction, Oprah's list, etc. It's nice middle-class pap, I'm not knocking it. It's wonderful that people still read and, more importantly, get together in person to drink wine and talk. The internet is also a huge virtual book club and is probably more focused and more diverse. My book doesn't have an identity crisis: it's a book, a beautiful object, but it can be read on a screen, too. I like to touch so I like the feel of paper, but I get pleasure from reading on glass as well. A bit too platonic, maybe, but aging makes Platonists of us all.

    JH: Your book describes several kinds of bibliodeath: the demise of the printed book in the internet age, your own (humorously imagined) death under the weight of your library and papers, the death of messy, sweaty human literature at the “hand” of pristine virtual reproduction, and your own possible literary extinction, either at the hand of a potential hostile biographer or in the mazy ramifications of the digital archive.

    You particularly distrust biographers because, as you say, their profession drives them to uncover the writer’s “real” life under the surface of his or her work and public persona; as if the work and persona were a coverup of something somehow more real than the life lived while working or presenting oneself to the public. In principle, a writer trying to avoid (or even hypothetically deserving) bibliodeath by hatchet job might write an autobiography to justify him or herself to God and others. Only, that’s not the case here. While Bibliodeath’s answer to the question “How did you come to archive your writing?” is “As a byproduct of having written and lived,” the book is essentially a meditation on your writing life in particular. Which facts and trends have you mainly wanted to salvage from bookdeath?

    AC: Excellent question. At rock bottom, I don't think that anything articulated in language can escape "bibliodeath." That said, I think that dis-articulated language (or "poetry" in shorthand) can leave enough space between words to send the possy in various wrong directions. The two acts at work in archival research (shorthand for "the future") are the desire to illuminate the artifact (for the political or psychological needs of the researcher) and the hope of understanding the present (shorthand for "confusion") through a past artifact. These are both wrong directions because, in my opinion, they achieve the exact opposite results: they slow the agenda, whatever it is, and increase the confusion. The proliferation of writing has been a cover since its start, like a jungle reasserting itself over an abandoned city. What that city was, or why it had to be covered up in a hurry by weeds and flowers, is a mystical question. The point is that if the "weeds and flowers" are sufficiently chaotic, fast, and disarticulated, they are harder to employ for justifying smugness or political order.

    JH: Borrowing some phrases of yours, do you see Bibliodeath as: (1) a part of “the writing life…that cleans up after itself, [that] dredges the refuse that refuses to go away, and …orders it in neat piles for disposal,” (2) “a way of elucidating my own constant bafflement,” or (3) “guerilla operation at the root of expression that creates, in mysterious ways, reality itself ”?

    AC: The first tries to answer my own question, "Why write at all, then?" The answer is that I was magnetized by a prenatal or preliterate "something" to always point North. A compass can't say why it's doing what it's doing, but it can declare its distaste for the waste it produces and make a suggestion for its disposal. The second quote posits writing as a form of "revirgination" or "rebirth," but, as we know, it's quite impossible to "un-know." One can always pretend. The third quote is my most optimistic radical insight: if in the beginning was the Word, and then there were other words, maybe my words or yours still contain some of the demiurgic potency of the Word.

    JH: You’ve passed through phases of being a preserver of manuscripts, a piler burdened by an overwhelming mountain of papers, and a “Carpe Diem writer.” What is a Carpe Diem writer? What phase are you in now that your papers-to-this-point have escaped bibliodeath? What’s next?

    AC: Well, “Carpe Diem” in the sense that I don't give a fuck about what happens to my "stuff." It's out there for people to misuse. I suspect that writing escapes "bibliodeath" only by successful self-erasure. Otherwise it's just a matter of chance. How many codes have vanished, burnt, shattered? How did any of it make it through fires, wars, rewriting, and even loss of the languages they were written in? Maybe only what rhymes made it. I do mean "rhyme" as in a poem, a mnemonic device.

    JH: You have a lively anxiety about post-mortem literary dismemberment. In one memorable note you write: “Like the disposition of parts in the Romantic Era when body-parts of great men ended up far from each other in various reliquaries, I worry about a nouvelle vague of future archivists who might decide to reverse the classification of knowledge by delegating pieces of a writer’s work to the appropriate new categories, instead of keeping them integral.” Anatomization by archivists with a revisionist agenda really would be a vile bibliodeath, but of course bibliodeath comes in many forms, including embalming by academies and falling into the hands of anthologists-with-an-agenda, not to mention going out of print or being superseded by the next wave. Of course, inherent power is what has always kept writing alive, but isn’t it likely that having influence while alive is the best way to insure continuing effect post-mortem?

    AC: There is a faux-controversy going on right now about the humanities versus sciences. It's phony because it's another manufactured division between "them" and "us," or "a kind of them" and "a kind of us." It never occurred to me that there is any kind of problem between philosophers and scientists. The "quarrel" has to do with a kind of envy by writers who feel that they've ejaculated prematurely. In other words, writing-as-writing seems to have gotten into a cul-de-sac just as science is taking off. "Seems" is the operating word: writing goes on forever, no matter how much its theorists despair. Scientists do what they do and write (often clumsily) about their discoveries. I don't see how writer-writers can be any less than delighted by the mysteries that scientists discover. The "quarrel" has nothing to do with scientists, but it does reveal the hubris of writers-about-writing, namely the imperial greed to claim copyright of all language for "the humanities" and to do any horrid thing whatsoever within one's "critical empire." One of the “humanists"’ most egregious activities is to engage in classification and ordering, which is truly operative only in science. The scientists classify and order because they are resigned to proving by repeating and repeating what turns out to belong, or not belong, within a material or a theory. Writers should be grateful to them for this work instead of trying to replicate it in language-as-language. Post-mortem archivists (almost an oxymoron) give themselves unlimited license to select, interpret, and enlist a once-living spirit. It's, then, better to be alive when you see them coming so you can cut them off at the pass. "Towers, open fire!" as William Burroughs said.

    JH: Elsewhere you write, “When I moved to San Francisco in 1970, my little bit of notoriety and chutzpah put me in another poetic scene that produced maniacally all kinds of material, most of it scripted, but also many chapbooks, broadsides and full-sized books. At some point, every poet I knew had a mimeograph machine and a press that published their friends' works. We never thought our publishing ephemeral, and, as it turned out, it wasn’t.” Forming a gang—school would be the polite word here—and having a thought-out or de facto strategy has almost always worked as a way of avoiding bibliodeath while still alive. As a person hip to the zeitgeist, what strategies do you think might help writers avoid getting lost in the ephemera today?

    AC: A gang is a community. We made ourselves families. We could have been growing vegetables, but we made books instead. At the time (1970-1983) there seemed to be a greater demand for manifestoes and artistic performance than for organic spinach and free-range chickens. (At least for those of us raised in the belief that poems were fun to make.) Today's zeitgeist is a marketing collage: it might be a matter of mimicking the languages of marketing until they mean the opposite of what they broadcast. Good work in this direction is being done by "The Yes Men" and RTMark.com. On the other hand, being silent and watching spinach grow may be more apt.

    JH: Like other Orthodox Christians, Romanians have a tradition of honoring the dead that entails weekly, then monthly, then yearly commemorations of the dearly departed, which eventually merge into an annual commemorative rite – all variants of the ubiquitous Romanian parastas. Ritual foods are prepared and distributed to friends and the poor, and one main effect is to keep the deceased with us for as long as there are old folks in the family to keep memory alive. Can you imagine a cult of literary parastas that would humanize literary memory? Or is literary cult formation a bad idea?

    AC: The rituals for remembering the dead are beautiful, but they don't necessarily mean that we love the dead. They have a lot to do with the dread of the dead. We honor them because we will soon be among them and aren’t sure how we'll be received. There are a lot more of them. That said, we also honor them because they made us who we are. The Dias de los Muertos in Mexico, All Hallows' Eve and parastas are also cleansing rituals: the living cleanse the graves and the people in them; they publicly absolve the dead for all they've done wrong while alive. These public displays of the cleansed dead are beautiful to the living because they are for the living. This tradition affirms the collective identity of a tribe or a family. Artists have the luxury of choosing a family; we make our canons. The Surrealists introduced Jarry, Rimbaud, and Lewis Carroll into theirs, and, after that, they entered everybody's. Once forgotten, they were rebirthed by an affinity family. Insofar as writing (poetry, in particular) is a religion, the rituals are infinitely malleable. I commemorate Apollinaire by visiting his grave in Pere-Lachaise every two years to write a poem to leave there. I've encouraged my students to take on poet Ghost Guides and visit their graves.

    The Two Oceans

    JH: In the essay that opens this book, you write about a bibliodeath orgy that takes places on an island between two vast bodies of water, the Archives Ocean and the Sacred Ocean “where the majority of people on earth live and fish for their subsistence.” The bibliodeath orgy concerns only the Archives Ocean, and particularly the part we might call the Gutenberg Shoal. What is Bibliodeath’s relationship to the Spiritual Ocean?

    AC: Good question. Artifactually, it belongs to the condemned on the island, waiting its turn to the scaffold. Sentimentally, it's a prayer, something fished out of the Sacred Ocean.

    JH: As an adolescent, you plunged into the Spiritual Ocean in a youthfully maudit way: “As soon as I was in possession of my communist-bookstore-originating-unlined notebook, I proceeded to write in it thoughts and verses that were filled with religiosity, decadence, disobedience and profanity—things that defied the communist ethos as we were taught it.” “To emanate religious sentiments was to align myself with the traditional mystical poets of the pre-war era: Lucian Blaga and Ion Barbu, to name two, who had been right-wing ideologues using mysticism to reinforce their theories. I didn’t know anything about this aspect of their interests, but I was genuinely moved and chilled to my depths by their verses; they hinted at the possibility of existence outside the body, and the presence of a universal Panic god that made all things both material and immaterial.” Even today, the Panic god labors in your poetry. The last lines of the last poem in So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012 go like this:

    the tourist clubs are strung like pearls
    along the coasts and on the peaks
    they thrum they glow in the minds of tourists
    lugging an ocean of myth in brochures
    heavy as mountains of longing
    palm pilots full of internet sadness
    churches cafés sex clubs on cliffs or caves
    blood quickens in an agglomeration
    of postcards of ancestors smothered
    by desire to return ectoplasmatical and refashioned
    from their old countries with advice and smoked sausages

    And these lines come from ”the view from the baby seat”:

    I was once small and scared in my father’s
    Black Packard in the 1950’s
    everyone was afraid of my father
    because my father had a car
    I was scared because there was
    someone else in the car with us
    sometimes there were five or ten
    other people in the car with us
    I see the invisible passengers
    without eyes
    without hands
    without noses
    without bodies
    they ride inside our cars
    the consummate passengers
    the perfect invisible hitchhikers
    you don’t remember you stopped for…
    The Timing Passenger has a nemesis
    The Perfect Bad Timing Perfect Passenger
    his name is Death and he’s thin like cigarette smoke
    he survives the folding of the backseat
    he lives in-between the squeezed walls of the car
    hitting a tree or another car

    It seems to me that in your poetry the Panic god that makes all things material and immaterial does a land office business in revenants, shades (of the yet unborn) and heavy duty personifications. Whom do these phantoms serve?

    AC: They are guests at the parastas. I'm not sure they serve as anything more than the terrifying reassurance that we are part of a living universe. The unborn wait in line, too.

    JH: Is the Panic god born of history (past, passing and to come)?

    AC: Only insofar as it's told or written. There is a lot more story than history. And what of prehistory? The scientists are good here. Told/written history is a discrete corpus: it points to the immensity of what hasn't been said, can't be said, was lost, is hurtling toward or away from us. In terms of Pan-ic, which is both orgiastic-delightful and cannibalistic-dreadful, we can find more in the history of religions than in the stories of the rise and falls of states, people, and feelings. If we stay only in chant and paleolithic caves, for instance, we can get pretty close to the panic(ked) birth of language/art.

    JH: As readers, are we to take the revenants and personifications in your poetry literally or in a manner of speaking—or do you care about that at all?

    AC: I'd say literally. Pop culture agrees. Halloween has practically overtaken Christmas as the biggest holiday in the U.S., or to paraphrase John Lennon, Dracula may be bigger than Jesus Christ. (Both of them revenants, incidentally). I've written about this, sometimes figuratively (for grownups) and many times literally (for the wise). In this sense, cultures with a great many revenants stand a better chance of success in the new media world: there are more of them and they'll get wider distribution. Look for India and China as the Revenant Superpowers. And to Surrealism (ghost-cult, par excellence) for mainstream dominance of culture (if it isn't already!)

    JH: In Romania, before you moved to the United States, the poetical side of the Spiritual Ocean flowed mainly to the right. In the 60’s and 70’s in the US it flowed to the left—in the memorable poetry of the period, anyhow—and got itself mixed up in all kinds of gonzo operations. In your first American book, License to Carry a Gun (first published in 1970), your personae Julio Hernandez (the radical) and Peter Boone (neo-fascist) swim in opposite directions in the Spiritual Ocean: Hernandez, left; Boone, right. Did you/do you distinguish between the Blaga-Barbu right and the post-Viet Nam spiritual right?

    AC: Probably. I was generationally committed to the Left –which was the only place to get laid – and spiritually inclined to the Right (where most of my overt enemies, i.e, anti-Semites, dwelled). That was in the 1960s, when left and right still made some kind of sense. I was conflicted, but it was a generative, productive conflict. That bipolar world died pretty definitively in the 1980s, but some of its more stubborn figures stayed behind to take on new jobs.

    The writer on writing

    JH: You write: “A book, sacred or not, is in fact a virtuality that has somehow, at some time become a relic…” Relic is a primal word, a medal with two faces. It describes both a surviving trace, or memorial of something in the past, and a miracle-working body part or possession of a saint or other wonder worker. In this canny/uncanny context Bibliodeath is both a surviving trace of the act of writing and a memorial to the act of creating the huge mass of writing housed in the LSU archive. Is this book a relic-as-shamanistic-object? If it is, what differentiates this incantatory object from others you’ve created?

    AC: It's my latest. I fetishize it more because it's new and pretty. The other ones had their day. I have a harem of these Eliza Dolittles. And you're right: they are things. And they are leftovers.

    JH: Is this relic a guide to the archive, a defense against the archive, or an adventure in which you discover an array of things about your writing self and the world in relation to the archive?

    AC: "an array of things about your writing self and the world in relation to the archive"

    JH: Should we read this relic as a guide to your collected work?

    AC: I wouldn't do that. Not only is my memory not what it used to be, but it doesn't want to be. Hence "the art" of forgetting. I just want to make new things. Guides are for things already there.

    JH: Elsewhere you say: “The writer’s job wasn’t just making the thing, it was also creating the context in which the thing could do its magic. You can’t make language without creating a 'self' to house it in. That 'self' the poem’s context, is a mystery whose only job is to remain mysterious. The best work continues to surprise forever after it’s written because it brings with it a new 'self’ every time it is read, a 'self' that’s none other than the reader’s.” There’s “magic” and then there’s magic. Are you speaking metaphorically or literally?

    AC: Literally. I never speak metaphorically except when questioned by the police. The magic in question is the medium best suited for its performance, i.e, the self, made for it.

    JH: When you say that ideally the poem/essay/ autobiography, and hence relic of your writing experience, creates a new self in the reader, every time, you point toward the creation of immortality through writing. Might you address this issue—if it isn’t too much of a humdinger?

    AC: It humdings deeply. If a writer can create a new self for her best expression, the ideal of this (magical) operation is to create a new self for the reader. This operation confers immortality on the reader, because there will be many readers (hopefully) long after the writer died. A work of art is "immortal" only as long as it makes its readers alive. "A-live," meaning with a "new life," a vita nuova. The writer, on the other hand, is dead (unless she's writing).

    JH: You write: “I had come to America with a sack full of identities: Jewish Romanian, Transylvanian, Dacian, Roman, poet, reader….I was at war with any identity that thought of itself permanent, and I was determined to reveal such abundance of identities that the idea of identity would seem absurd.” In what ways has your notion of your own poetic identity solidified or remained fluid in the ensuing American years?

    AC: I try to keep it fluid. Sometimes I have to use additives: pseudonyms, gibberish, jokes, technology. I am lucky to bear a nearly unpronounceable name (for Americans). They tend to switch "D" and "R," and the "-escu" is confusing: I'm often addressed as "Mr. Ceauşescu." I correct them: "It's Comrade Ceauşescu." "Codrescu" was my best invention.

    JH: You write that your primary talent is “making holes” and that making holes is, for you, the essence of poetry. From a very early age, you write, “I made it a mission to poke holes in: reality, flawlessness, reason, certainty of any kind, and language(s)…..Now Sisyphus and Freud, talk amongst yourselves for a while. It is possible…that in ‘making a hole’ I was only unveiling the dark twin of the history buried in the Archives of amnesia; what came out of these holes were the figures of my murdered kin. There is no technology for digging deeper than that. Beyond the figures of one’s erased self there is nothing.” The term “murdered kin” is, perhaps deliberately, ambiguous here. Are you talking about doppelgangers or relatives, the murdered grandparents, for example, that you mention in your “Rough Guide to the Art of Forgetting”?

    AC: I'm talking about my aunts, my grandmother's sisters, who were murdered at Auschwitz.



    JH: Please comment on crime, covering up and guilt in the context of your statements from Bibliodeath: “Au fond, aren’t all writers’ biographies hostile?....The deeper the researcher digs the more evident it becomes that the literary, recognized work for which the author gained recognition, is in fact an elaborate coverup. The literature was a means of hiding the true life that can now be reconstructed from studying the unguarded material”—e.g., notes, marginalia, correspondence, remarks of family and friends.

    AC: That's pretty clear. A beautiful lie is not necessarily a coverup, but in celebration of tradition, it can be just a cover, like a manhole cover, or a doily. If a beautiful cover like that sits unmoved for a while, something nasty's bound to start living under it. So whatever the writer's intention, by the time the biographer gets there, something hidden wiggles there.

    JH: You write in Bibliodeath: “After slogging through the writing of a biography, the poor scholar sometimes “gets wiser and begins herm [i.e. his or her] next job as a literary critic instead of a biographer, sacrificing [the large number of] readers [who buy biographies] to the cause of uncovering the crime that is surely there wherever writing is committed.”

    AC: That's true, with very few exceptions, for every biography I’ve ever read. At some point, the telling of the life gives way to a detective story that has more to do with the biographer than with her subject. Even more radically, I'm sure that there are biographers who started writing crime novels. I don't have an example handy, but I'm sure our readers can supply some names. There is probably a beehive of angry ex-biographers in Hollywood right now belaboring episodes of NCIS.

    JH: You write in Bibliodeath: “Who can blame the biographer who…finds herself cheated by…a fate no other than herm altruistic-modesty-cum-hero-worship turning into dismay and resentment.”

    AC: I have an ex-graduate student to whom this happened under my very own thesis-watching-eyes. She teaches at NYU now.

    JH: You write in Bibliodeath: “Biographers learn from the authors they study what the techniques are, exactly, for turning life/lives into myth”

    AC: The smart ones, anyway

    JH: You write in Bibliodeath: “My made-up poets [in License to Carry a Gun] may have been written in order to discover their crimes in the process of writing them. The tantalizing aspect of producing imaginary people is being a good enough detective to find out what crimes their words cover.”

    AC: Here, I practice "deep empathy." Of course, by using "real" criminals, I can hand them over to the penal system (publishers, critics) pretty fast.

    JH: You write in Bibliodeath: “The biography of a thing [which you define as that which remains itself while in use] liberates the researcher from the guilt of feeling any impingement on one’s writing self.”

    AC: Yes, a biographer can submerge her (smaller) crimes in the major criminal syndicate that is an oeuvre.

    JH: You write in Bibliodeath: “The blameless self of a thing’s biographer absolves writing itself [which disappears in the act of being] from not being a thing.”

    AC: Right. The material presence of good writing relieves the biographer of the need to be as good a writer. (I feel like I'm interpreting the I Ching here... am I Ching?)

    JH: I am struck by the sometimes ironically expressed notion that writing itself is in some way a guilty, criminal action, evidently because the act results in feeling a sense of impingement on the writing self, which seems to react by overtly or inherently dissecting the subject of writing. The biographer dissects his or her subject. The “creative” writer dissects or detects the crimes committed by his or her [herm] characters or subjects.

    AC: You found the nitty-gritty. Writing is a crime; it illegally confines experience to the prison of articulation. I confess.

    JH: What “crime” does Bibliodeath commit? Or is there no felony involved?

    AC: It turns in writers to the authorities in hopes of a lighter sentence.

    JH: Is Bibliodeath the biography of a thing?

    AC: Yes, but that "thing" is a "verb."


    And A Final Question

    JH: Following along from “A Rough Guide,” how is poetry your instrument for cutting into the flesh of your sick time?

    AC: Here is how, in a poem for you called Groucho o Carlos:

    readers struck dumb
    reach for the fallen book
    cut themselves and trip
    upset the cat on the hook
    and the larks on the roof
    reader is killed by a marx

    LARB Contributor

     Jean Harris is a novelist, translator and essayist now living in Bucharest, Romania. She has been the 2007-2008 winner of the University of California, Irvine’s International Center for Writing and Translation’s translation grant for her translation of Ştefan Bănulescu’s “Mistreţii erau blazi.” Director of The Observer Translation Project 2008-2009, she has been guest editor of Absinthe 13: Spotlight on Romania (2010). Her translations have appeared, among other places, in The Guardian, Habitus: a Diaspora Journal (2012), and Jewish Fiction.net . Harris holds a Ph.D. in British and American literature from Rutgers University.


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