Saturday, August 14, 2010

290) kate braverman: "writing as a criminal act"

the literary life 8/14/10

So I spent some time recently googling and reading up on Kate Braverman because I've heard a lot about her; she's both a fiction writer and poet. I read her poems online and watched video clips of her reading her work and discussing the writing life. She adores Plath. She believes in alchemy, writing as an act of discovery that transforms a work into real authentic being. She advises the writer to view the page as three dimensional, a place where they "sculpt" out characters/settings. Writing, according to my reading of Braverman, should not be imposed on the page, but formed in cahoots with it: the page should "talk back." She sees genre distinctions as a patriarchal perspective on writing. She doesn't care about "distinctions between categories"; she just cares about "brilliant writing." She thinks we have enough writers, but we need more great readers of literature. I'd like to read more of Braverman's work. She's intense, intimidating, and inspiring to read. I think taking a workshop with her would be like walking through fire. Here are some quotes of interest clipped from various interviews with Braverman to get a sense of writing philosophy:

1) Is there a fine line for a woman writer between writing about controversial issues and relying on shock factor?

  • Women are not allowed, by The Corporation, to inhabit the page as they truly are. They must think and act as conventional women. They can be professors or the wives of professionals, but they must engage in traditional female roles. If you can appeal to a special interest group, lesbian or of denoted race of ethnic status, you are permitted some slack. But actually white women are quite inhibited on the page, restricted. That's why I'm teaching "Experimental Fiction: Improvisation and Related Criminal Activities." Women simply don't have the attitude of ruthlessness required, the stamina, arsenal of weapons. For women, writing is supposed to be a refined activity, like something done at a desk with a lavendar pen, a love letter, perhaps. I refuse. (from Read the complete interview here: )

2) Should writers be modest?

  • Writers must be everything and modest doesn't even make my long list. Fearless. Ruthless. Willing to die for it. Write like a criminal. Embrace your female criminality to have the same repertoire of writing options that men do. Writers engage in acts of crime. Break and enter. Trespass. Confession. Exhuming the dead. Stealing. Identity theft. Assumed names, aliases. Lies. A real woman writer doesn't write or live like an ordinary woman. How could she? (also from
3) Why do you think you are repeatedly drawn to dangerous subjects in your work?

  • The conventional does not amuse or sustain me. I must have thrill. I need it for my work. I have a scientific perspective and recognize in a way most artists don't that we are living in post-historical times. It's a historical singularity. We are the event horizon. The ordinary laws, expectations, rewards, admonishments, taboos, borders, all the fundamental assumptions are irrelevant. As a character says in my San Francisco Noir (new Akashic anthology, edited by the above mentioned and ever charming Peter Maravelis) story, "The Neutral Zone" -- my most recent and most truly, shockingly autobiographical story, it shocks me -- "Human perimeters are collective background razor wire. We're too hip for that shit. It's residual static from a Baptist radio broadcast in Mississippi. Irrelevant and obsolete." Danger and criminality are the most taboo subjects for a woman. This is forbidden male-only land. In my relentless attack on the male dominion of literature, which consigns female characters to be teachers, wives and nurses, I am obsessed with gaining entry to their citadel. I am a guerilla fighter and I don't accept the Geneva Code. (from a Bookslut interview. Here's a link to the complete interview: )
4) What advice would you give to an unpublished aspiring writer?

  • Ask yourself, young writer, if you want to spend 30 years incarcerated with yourself, engaging in brutal self-examination, autopsying yourself on a daily basis with little chance of entering what used to be the writing life. Do you want to starve, work at other jobs to support your full time writing, deform your relationships, and erase most of the world around you because it doesn't serve the page? One must select out so much to keep connected to what Lorca called the dark sounds, it's like giving up citizenship and voluntarily entering incarceration. When I came back from pre-collapse Russia, I noted (in my Time interview) that in Russia, they put their poets in labor camps. In America, we put them in limbo, where they create their own labor camps. Do you wish to be a resident of a gulag? (also from the Bookslut interview)

5) Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

  • You can’t choose to be a writer anymore than you can choose to be a gymnast or painter. It isn’t a choice, but an ineluctable inevitability. You can attempt to choose to be a writer, but if it doesn't open in an act of alchemy, you will fail. There is a process where the page reveals its infinite complexity. It’s not a flat surface but three-dimensional, with an audio track, scents, seasons, an entire substrata of sound and cadence. The page is a unique kingdom, vast, mysterious and eccentrically indigenous. It's like a dance, you do some and it does some. To have the page open itself, to shed its skin and allow you to autopsy the living and the dead is an inexplicable experience. Most writers do not have this experience, this star-hewn brassy vertigo, and their writing feels like work rather than elation and communion, discovery and revelation. Most inflict themselves on the page, without recognizing it is the embrace and caress that must occur for acts of passion and abandon, for books that matter, for blood books, built from your own molecular structure. (from an interview at Bella Online, the full link is here:

6) Q. In a world where poetry is considered nonessential to even many cultured persons, what do you see as its role? Does the world need more poets?

  • I think the world has the right amount of poets. More people would turn to poetry if the poetry that was available were more exciting and spoke more to their lives rather than the anemic, base, listless, redundant poetry that apologizes and hates itself. People do read poetry in times of crises. Writing has a healing power. But in all times, there are few real poets. (from an interview with Tropic of LA Time Magazine. The full link here: )

Here's a link to Braverman's website:

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