By Thomas Fink and William Cruz, Jr.
Thomas Fink: William Cruz, Jr. and I will conduct this exchange in reverse chronological order. First, he will discuss the long poem Notes Between Notes (Otoliths, 2017) with you, and then I’ll pose questions about Appearances: A Novel in Fragments (Moria, 2015).
William Cruz, Jr.: I’ve noticed that there is dialogue between the speaker and what appears to be the speaker’s conscience in Notes Between Notes. Is there a battle between the speaker and himself?
Tom Beckett: There is something resembling dialogue going on, but I wouldn’t characterize it as being between the speaker and its conscience. More often than not it is between a self and that self as other. Often one finds oneself to be a stranger (and even stranger, strangers) to oneself.
Repeating myself (6-7)
Cruz: I am haunted by your mention of ghost, which I noticed you used in some of your other work. For me a ghost can represent something that cannot be seen; however, a ghost of your past can materialize, giving a very real presence. Why does the trope of the ghost manifest in Notes between Notes?
Beckett: I’ve come to think of persons as palimpsests, as sites where things bleed through what is immediately present. If you live long enough you will become a haunted house.
Cruz: I also noticed there is duality and are paradoxical/contradictory lines in most of these sections. For example:
I’ve found (17)
In this section, the speaker uses “lost” twice, referencing himself and “others”; however he ends the section with “or so I’ve found” which contradicts loss. What do you think?
Beckett: In order to attempt a cogent response to your question, William, I think I need to bring out 3 short sections of the poem which immediately precede the part you just quoted:
“The antinomies/Of mirrors” translate to an erotics of self-as-other-self-knowledge present in the absence of a truly unitary self.
Finding that one is lost to oneself and others only seems seams paradoxical. It is part of the human condition.
Fink: One of the most sustained narrative drifts in Appearances is about the “Chalk Outline,” a very porous character, but most narrative motions are over quickly. If you are fully serious about the designation in the title, what do you think makes Appearances “a novel in fragments” and not a long poem with fragmentary narrative elements or a hybrid text with poetry, prose-poetry, fiction fragments, and drama? Or does it matter?
Beckett: There is, for sure, genre fluidity in Appearances. I think of it as a novel because it is driven by constellating characters. I’m OK with it being thought of as a poem, though, or as a hybrid text. There are sections of the book that I envisioned as dances.
Fink: What do you mean by dances? Are you referring to parts involving dialogues—for example, between “History,” “Politics,” “the Virtual,” “the Real,” and “Love”? Or is this about a kind of narrative choreography?
Beckett: I was thinking of dance pretty literally, in passages like these:
The two Chalk Outlines are, apparently, dancing. And apparently talking to one another through their plumped speech balloons. Their communications which materialize and dematerialize quickly can only be described as runic in appearance, and cannot be deciphered by any of those looking on.
Politics, History and Love are still part of the crowd surrounding the incomprehensible Outlines, but after a brief discussion they decide to return to the Cave.
The Real is walking around in the Cave in a clockwise pattern. The Virtual is walking around in the Cave in a counterclockwise pattern.
There are no shadows to be seen.
The chalk dust on the dance platform is a muddled mess. Viewed from a distance it looks like the fossil of a struggle.
And these passages:
The Virtual and the Real are still making their circuits. While the Virtual’s pace is becoming more frenzied, the Real’s is measured. When they meet, they stop and embrace. Then they continue on their opposing, yet regularly intersecting, paths.
Politics and History are snoring away, but Love is stirring.
Love leaves the Cave. All else therein continues as before: the Virtual and the Real persist in their ongoing circuits and in their regular but brief embraces of one another.
Politics and History snooze on.
The chalk dust on the dance platform undulates in the wake of the Virtual and quivers after the passage of the Real. The dust seems on the verge of becoming a wave.
Chalk located, Love traces an outline of the body of the Real, and an outline of that outline, and so on…Each outline gets bigger and bigger and more distorted than the last. Soon the Real is enclosed in a rippling web of chalked lines.
As the outlines of the Real enlarge, the Real begins to writhe.
The writhing of the Real becomes violent, convulsive. The thrashing accelerates, whipping the surrounding outlines into twisting ropes of concentrated powder.
That’s a lot of quoting, but I wanted to demonstrate a few of the places where stylized movement becomes integrated into the fractured cartoonish narratives.
Fink: I see now. Thanks.
One character is the Author, and another is Art(hur). Art, an abbreviation for Arthur, refers of course to aesthetics as well. But Arthur reminds us of any number of luminaries. Well, not President Chester A. Arthur so much as Arthur Rimbaud and the historically unverified King Arthur. At one point, we hear that “The Author, Art(hur),// and the Other// have a tendency to elide.” What do you as a reader of your own text make of this?
Beckett: The Author, Art(hur) and the Other at least sound a little alike; but, well, my text is what I made of it. I’m reluctant to explain too much and potentially close off different interpretations.
There are a lot of characters in Appearances: the Ventriloquist, the Hypnotist, the Projectionist (together these three comprise Vaudeville without Organs, a performance art power trio), Desire, the Subject, an (occasional) Other, Science, Art(hur), Politics, Love, History, It, the Author, the Virtual and the Real, Chalk Outlines, and two shadows (one wielding a pair of scissors, the other a knife).
The characters operate individually, as dyads, and as groups. They elide, collide, metamorphosize, even harmonize.
The members of Vaudeville without Organs talk to one another in their sleep and snore in three part harmony. The Author and Desire both disappear from Appearances after their chalk outlines come to life.
Art(hur), Politics, Love and Science are a joking nod to the four independent truth procedures from which Alain Badiou claims philosophy is suspended.
Politics and History are a dyad. As are the Virtual and the Real, the Chalk Outlines and the shadows.
Love is a connector:
The Virtual has Love by the wrists. The Real grips the ankles. Love swings between the two like a hammock.
I think I’m going to end this response with that image of Love’s movement.
Fink: Aside from the nod to Badiou, “The Subject,” “the Real,” “Desire,” and a modification, “an (occasional) other,” which might be like l’objet petite a,” can be taken as a bracing dose of Dr. Lacan, to whom Badiou’s thought is substantially indebted. In his work, “the Real” is unrepresentable, and you often subtly address that articulation of impossibility: “The writhing of the Real becomes violent, convulsive, whipping the surrounding outlines into twisting ropes of concentrated powder.” Well, your use of particular words close to other words dares us to rewrite: “the writing of the real” and “tropes of concentrated power.” “The Virtual” isn’t so far from one member of Lacan’s power trio, the Imaginary, and his Symbolic seems all over the text when you refer to the Subject, who “appears to itself as a palimpsest built up of layer upon layer of nearly invisible writing.” There are pronouncements like “The Subject is a map/ drawn by desire” and “Desire instructs the Subject to undo itself.” Since desire is lack, chez Lacan, it’s fitting that desire would vanish when its chalk outline begins to “live.”
As you were writing Appearances, were you reading or thinking about Lacan? Is it possible that this text, at least to some degree, is eliciting him as “occasional other” or an “other of its occasion”?
Beckett: Many years ago, in a letter, Charles Bernstein wrote that he couldn’t decide whether I am laconic or Lacanic! I really liked that comment but was unsure why it was an either/or. I kind of go both ways.
Appearances was written over the course of three and a half years. I definitely read some Lacan and a lot of Žižek and other theory influenced by Lacan over the course of that period of time. It is a real interest of mine. Lacan strongly influenced but didn’t drive the project. Anymore than the Object Oriented Ontology or Actor Network Theory that I was reading a lot of then too.
Lacan was not envisioned as one of the characters. Vaudeville without Organs was my starting point. The Hypnotist, the Ventriloquist and the Projectionist constituted the trinity which guided me through the composition of the book.