I recently conducted an interview with Joan Didion. We spoke over the phone; she from her hotel in Washington. She was on tour for Blue Nights, a reminisence about the life and death of her daughter, Quintana, and Didion’s thoughts about her own mortality. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting highlights from this interview, then it will all be posted on The Believer website.
- Sheila Heti
THE BELIEVER: When you were a little girl you wanted to be an actress, not a writer?
JOAN DIDION: Right.
BLVR: But you said it’s okay, because writing is in some ways a performance. When you’re writing, are you performing a character?
JD: You’re not even a character. You’re doing a performance. Somehow writing has always seemed to me to have an element of performance.
BLVR: What is the nature of that performance? I mean, an actor performs a character—
JD: Sometimes an actor performs a character, but sometimes an actor just performs. With writing, I don’t think it’s performing a character, really, if the character you’re performing is yourself. I don’t see that as playing a role. It’s just appearing in public.
BLVR: Appearing in public and sort of saying lines—
JD: But not somebody else’s lines. Your lines. Look at me—this is me, is, I think, what you’re saying.
BLVR: And do you feel like that me is a pretty stable thing, or unstable? Is it consistent through one’s life as a writer?
JD: I think it develops into a fairly stable thing over time. I think it’s not at all stable at first. But then you kind of grow into the role you have made for yourself.
BLVR: How would you gauge the distance between the role you have made for yourself—
JD: —and the real person?
JD: Well, I don’t know. The real person becomes the role you have made for yourself.
yes to writing as performance, but i am politically opposed to stable roles. related: fuck twitter and having to be marginally clever in the exact same way 1-15 times a day.
(Confidential to karaj: your posts on self-care have been a revelation. Ironic considering that I am running screaming from a certain world/paradigm.)
this post made my night.
julia kristeva, powers of horror
Chris Kraus: And that’s why this book is a strategic confession. I’m very drawn to the use of the first person. When I started the Native Agents series of books for Semiotext(e) seven years ago, it was to publish the kind of writing that I liked — and that writing was entirely in the first person. And yet it was not an introspective, psychoanalytic “I.” It was an “I” that was totally alive, because it was shifting.
…Interviewer: So you think, like the ’70s feminists thought, that the personal is political?
Chris Kraus: The personal pursued for its own sake is no good. The “I” is only useful to the point that it gets outside itself, gets larger.
1990s Art Net Interview with Chris Kraus on I Love Dick.
Fan-made trailer for Sarah Jacobson’s 1993 I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER.
“See the horror of righteous dismemberment! Feel the triumph when sexist pigs are wasted! Hear the screams of terror! Join Mary, America’s favorite female serial killer, who kills off dumb men.”
What I want for Chanukah is THIS MOVIE.
WHERE DO WE FIND IT?!?
Sarah Jacobson passed away in 2004 (at 32 years old) but according to the person who made the trailer above, you can buy I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER for $10 from her mother, Ruth. Contact info can be found at the wordpress site for the film grant created in her name.
Additionally, Jacobson’s work and papers are housed at NYU’s Fales Library (the guide to everything in her archives is here). Eyeing the list, I can’t help but feel this loss that is a gaping space, although an unexpected one, given that up until 2 days ago I had never heard of Sarah Jacobson. This list of books, zines, comics, magazines, and movies Jacobson owned conjures up a really intriguing version of who she might have been, and I’ve got that frustrated racing sense of someone who desperately wants something definitively out of reach. This is to say that suddenly I really want to know this person who is gone, and admitting that is disorienting.
The following are some entries in Jacobson’s archive guide, which for all kinds of reasons caught my attention:
Doucet, Julie. Dirty Plotte. # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Homopunk World, #1; # 2, Summer 1999; # 3, Summer 2000.
Dangerous Pussy, # 2, 3.
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.
Lamarr, Hedy. Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. New York: Fawcett Crest Books, 1967.
Random Letters to Ransom Girls, n.d.
Huber, Cheri. The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth. Murphys, CA: Keep It Simple Books, 1999.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial Library, 1990.
Katz, Robert. Love is Colder than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. New York: Random House, 1987. (2 copies)
Linklater, Richard. Slacker. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
Nin, Anais. The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume Two 1934 - 1939. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967.
Playboy, vol. 39, no. 9, 1992; vol. 41, no.3, 1994.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.
Waters, John. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. New York: Delta Books, 1985.
I picked out some of these items, like John Waters and Zora Neale Hurston for instance, because they’re charged with special meanings for me. Hedy Lamarr’s memoir simply fills me with wonder, generally. Cheri Huber’s The Depression Book 1. reminds me I really want to read Kristeva’s Black Sun; and 2. gives me an opportunity to guess at how similar we might have been, and thinking about myself thinking about that makes me uncomfortable. But still, I do. What would she have thought of a book like that? Did she read it and hate it or did she say Well it’s got a lousy title but makes a few decent points, although it’s not the kind of thing I want to tell friends about. Were her struggles deeply private?
Some items in the archive remind me of friends, of college, of a trip I went on, of blogs I read, and of people I fleetingly and embarrassingly have projected desire on. Some of the self-help books not listed here seem to me almost too private to be displayed as they are, revealing dimensions of Jacobson’s life I feel I’m not supposed to know; and there’s this moment of cringing on my part to see such private things aired out like that—and this is me—and then I understand that as humiliation is conditional one of the conditions is probably the original humiliated subject being alive.
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People clearly provoked a walloping ”what.” Maybe someone gave it to her as a joke, or maybe she wanted to know what all the hype was about. Maybe she would have incorporated it into one of her films. I thought these things and I also thought of my high school boyfriend, who in the year that we dated I was never allowed to call my boyfriend (fyi: when there was a mouse in the studio last year I named him in honor of the non-boyfriend because of the “rustling” sound he made. While I understand generally not wanting to name un-domesticated rodents, I think if one going to said rodent should always be in honor of those one has been jilted by). His dad once gave him a copy of that book. It never seemed a believably sincerely given gift but also not obviously a joke, and I didn’t ask. For whatever reason that book has become a stalwart vividness of a time I mostly know obliquely.
There are multitudes of potential stories behind every archived item. What does it mean to get to know someone primarily through her archive (rather than for instance read about someone or read her work and then seek out her archives for supplementary info)? What kind of representation of a person does the archive (as a repository of things she owned, or works she made) conjure?
Something that interests me about the archival representation, and I guess archival knowledge more broadly, is the part the seeker plays in creating it. The knowledge I’ve gleaned out of Sarah Jacobson’s archive reflects the time and place I’m in, as well as the experiences I bring into the act of looking. When I make my lists I am able to see this broken down more clearly: how an imagined subject is always somehow made of others. My accumulation of events, people, desires, objects, and opinions situate me uniquely to see those of another person, and to consider what the connection is between such an accumulation and the subject. Alternatively, the act of virtually rifling through another person’s accumulation shows mine differently, and has me wondering myself about how my own desires and objects and all of that constitutes who I am.
Maybe this is because I have a blog but maybe also for more reasons, I like an idea of knowledge that grows out of permission to not focus. Considering my own process of looking at Jacobson’s archive reveals a way of knowing in which distraction is productive. In this context of the archive the wandering, undisciplined, and let’s be honest, self-involved mind achieves real insight. What I know of Sarah Jacobson is clearly incomplete, probably distorted in several ways, and perhaps disproportionately about myself. While these would be methodological concerns for some kind of biography I think for other purposes they make for strange and enhanced inquiry.
i love this post so much i have to reblog the whole thing.
tonight my uncle who i adore but haven’t seen in 10 years told me a story, twice, unprompted, about how there was this one time when i was a kid that other kids were making fun of me on the bus (which made me bristle and ask, on the inside, wait, someone(s) made fun of me on the bus?) and when i got off i breezily said, “oh, they’re just immature.” he teared up the second time he told me, and so did i, and i was like, “thank you for telling me that story” and then i thought, does oprah’s magazine exist anymore and do they still pay $3 a word, and also that this is the actual best story about myself i’ve ever heard, and fuck those kids on the bus. he also said, “you were always such an individual, you never cared what anyone thought, you were always COLD INSIDE THAT WAY, i’m proud of you,” and whenever people say “i’m proud of you” or “i’m proud of myself” i want to throw up, but this time i was like, me too.
later, when i told my brother he was very thoughtful for buying me a blanket as a gift, he said, “well, you’re always freezing,” and i laughed.
mh: it is so brilliant. julia kristeva would love it.
wayne koestenbaum, humiliation. related.
this. first i was appalled, then i was amused, then i was elated. i think my discomfort paper just got a new lease on life, though indirectly, since i still won’t be reading the marie calloway story because #whocares #feministboredom. 95% of this makes me want to throw up and that’s great. “i’m glad you liked my writing.” dying. “read your pieces as critiques of narcissism and self-absorption.” shut up, dude. really, it’s wonderful. (and thank you, mikki, for brightening my day with it.)