Here Comes Kitty: A continuous intimacy, in and beyond worldness

Affinities, Book Excerpts, Library

November 24th, 2014

 

Richard Kraft and Ann Lauterbach in Conversation

Forthcoming in Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera by Richard Kraft, Siglio, 2015.

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

 

AL: Is there a particular image, song, text or event from your childhood in London that you think had a direct impact on this work—or even has affected your thinking about the world? I know this is a big question, but I ask it because one of the recurring figures in this work is a young boy.

 

RK: I’m increasingly finding that many of the visual motifs and ideas that permeate my work are rooted in my childhood. When I first read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, it made a deep impression on me, but being so young at the time, I didn’t really understand his comment to Franz Kappus that one could always find a way to work by drawing on one’s youth. Now I find that my childhood percolates to the surface whether I intend it to or not. The young boy you speak of is actually several young boys, all of them singing (their faces come from a single photograph of an English boy’s school choir). Growing up in London, I was—very reluctantly, and briefly—in my school choir. Yet one of my most vivid memories was the first time we sang William Blake’s Jerusalem. It was a defining moment—the first time I experienced the enormous emotional power that art can have. Now, in Here Comes Kitty, these singing boys are a metaphorical chorus of sorts, as if commenting on what’s taking place around them. They are also a way of reminding the viewer that, as an opera, Here Comes Kitty is a work that’s being sung.

There is also a biblical thread that runs through the book (primarily through numerous speech bubbles which are appropriated from Jimmy Swaggart’s comic book of Bible stories). One of my favorite things as a young child was having my grandmother read to me from an illustrated book of Old Testament stories. I always asked for the same two stories to be read over and over again: “Tower of Babel” (one of my favorite artworks to this day is Brueghel’s eponymous painting) and “David and Goliath.” In the “Tower of Babel” I loved to imagine what the cacophony might sound like! And even as a youngster, I seemed to grasp that meaning is tenuous and fluid, and that language is often deficient when truths become evident in other ways or when alternative means of communication can be discovered. The relationship between sense and nonsense is one of the main threads in Here Comes Kitty, and ultimately I agree with John Cage who said that the beauty of nonsense is that it makes multiple kinds of sense.

“David and Goliath” may be even more important in the broader arc of my work because it’s about the refusal of authority and the rejection of those who abuse their power. Most obviously, Here Comes Kitty interrupts and undermines a comic book story about Nazis (it’s really fun to put words in their mouths), but I also aim for the work to be subversive in deeper ways, particularly in its refusal of a fixed linear narrative and the idea of a single meaning or truth. For as long as I can remember, I have been very suspicious of nationalism, patriotism and all types of religious fundamentalism because these viewpoints attempt to define and thus constrict the actual experience of life which I find most beautiful and compelling in its paradoxes, its inconsistencies, its wide swaths of gray.

 

AL: I’m sort of overwhelmed by the numerous threads you are pulling through, staring at them in their unwoven abundance. I’ve just been reading the writings of Louise Bourgeois, another artist whose work not only draws deeply from childhood but also attests to a refusal or subversion of authority: the name of the father, so to speak. This includes, I suppose, her repeated assertion that she is not interested in art history, if “art history” is another way of thinking about authority.

Here Comes Kitty has a complicated relation to narrativity. The logic of narration is totally skewed, so that how or why something follows something else is nearly impossible to tell. Your charming use of temporal signs—“dawn,” “wind ceased,” “shortly after,” “in the morning,” “on the sixth day,” “later,” “one hot day”—and other kinds of locators give us a sense of how arbitrary, or fictive, narratives are. I think this is one of the crucial insights of postmodernity, the sense that history is multiple and layered, not singular and linear.

For example, the presence of a “Nazi,” such a specific reference, here begins to break free of its historical setting; you seem to imply that the figure of the “Nazi” is universal, that it exists at all times in all places: Goliath, an archetype. I’m working up to a question here. I suppose I’m trying to get a grip on your relation to change (not “progress,” which Cage so wonderfully disavowed even as he radically altered our sense of, well—the sounds of silence). Looking and reading through your comic opera, I am attempting to discern what or who you believe in, in relation to the future. Maybe I need just to ask: who is “Kitty”?

(As an addendum to that final question: I want to ask how you think about animals in relation to humans. This seems central to this work, but it’s a little too broad a question. I am however imagining that your answer to “Kitty” will perhaps engage this greater question.)

 

RK: In the last ten years or so I have spent quite a bit of time in the desert looking for petroglyphs and pictographs. Quite often at these sites one finds that the same panel has been worked over and over again, by different artists at different times—sometimes possibly hundreds of years apart—and what results, to my eye, is a single, teeming work that suggests narrative at the same time as it refuses it. When, for example, I look at the Rochester Panel (next page), I feel as if I am confronting an entire universe, and while it doesn’t make any kind of rational sense, it does make a kind of emotional or what the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky called “poetic sense.” It illustrates—to add to your observation about the layering of history—the multiplicity of time, which we now understand isn’t singular either.

 

Kraft_Rochester_PanelTHE ROCHESTER PANEL. Photograph by Richard Kraft.

 

My goal in Here Comes Kitty was to create such a world. It might be difficult, at first, to discern how the many threads weave because they resist the linear pattern we associate with narrative. I think of that weave, so to speak, as diagonal (which is how Danielle Dutton’s interpolations seem to be constructed as well). I see these visual and verbal threads as songlines of a sort, stretching across time and space, traversing the terrain of the book so that you can navigate an unexpected way through. My understanding of Aboriginal songlines is that they are invisible, multiplicitous, simultaneous stories that are sung. They are also a kind of map, a means of naming the world (but one not confined to our literal, physical present), a way to define and navigate space, as well as a method of communication. One songline may stretch across the entire Australian continent but incorporate a number of different languages. That means while each person will know parts of certain songlines, no one person can sing the whole. Together, as everyone sings, the world is (constantly) being sung into existence.

I’ve experienced another and perhaps more influential kind of multiplicity in my many travels to India (my mother’s side of the family are Indian Jews). One of the things that I love about India is what Thomas Mann, in his book The Transposed Heads, refers to as the “all-encompassing labyrinthine flux of the animal, human, and divine.” Relatively few people in India keep pets, yet animals (domesticated, feral and wild) are present everywhere: on the streets and rooftops, in every nook where humans exist, particularly and especially in the temples. This is both extraordinarily beautiful and sometimes brutal as the animals’ lives and suffering are plainly visible and rarely attended to.

From the very beginnings of human civilization, the animal and human worlds have been intricately linked. The animal population of Here Comes Kitty reflects the many ways in which animals persist in inhabiting the human psyche—as real and as imagined (both seem to be present in the Rochester Panel). It’s a kind of refusal of what we call “progress” in the West—our ability to make very distinct, separate spaces for humans and animals and, particularly, to sanitize our places of worship. It’s also, as Mann points out, about the rich complexity of dissolving various kinds of borders and connecting disparate things.

I have to admit that your question initially induced a panic in me, largely because we’re told we’re supposed to believe in something. Instead, isn’t faith really about surrender? I believe that our great capacity for wonder can be tapped into when we relinquish a need for rational meaning. Thus, I have faith in questions rather than answers because questions, on one hand, can be inspired by the embrace of what is ultimately inscrutable, and on the other by an irreverence, a skepticism of what we’re convinced we already know. In posing those questions, if we’re lucky, we might get a momentary glimpse of a truth—and I think its fleetingness is as meaningful as what that truth might tell us. In Here Comes Kitty, I’m asking the reader to surrender and get lost in the act of looking—to be open to the possibilities of reverie, to the strange alchemy of one thing brushing up against another, to letting go of “sense” in order to discover different and multiplicitous truths. And as for Kitty, she is that multiplicity—she is many creatures, some monstrous, some sweet. She is akin perhaps to the Indian goddess Kali who destroys as well as creates.

I should also admit I work very intuitively much of the time. There was no intention in creating a Kitty-Kali matrix. But there it is—and you intuited it too.

 

AL: Well, we seem to have wandered into some deep waters. I’m going to swim about in them for a moment, and then come back to shore with some direct and perhaps more pertinent questions.

A friend of mine just returned from Turkey. She spent a couple of days in Istanbul, and then sailed along the coast—one of the most astonishing landscapes, rising up over the azure sea. I was there many years ago; it was my first experience of being in a culture that, despite the efforts of Atatürk’s modernity, reveals an ancestry and an aesthetic that is thoroughly not Western. (I have never been to India. I envy your direct affiliation with that other tradition.) While in Turkey, I thought about patterns, of course, looking at the mosques and at the intricacy of the woven strands of color and shape which seem to point toward an infinity of eternal relations: a cosmos. It impressed me as quite different from the Judeo-Christian insistence on narrative—in the beginning was—or on a specific relational link between human and divine which, located by or in Logos, is always somehow at odds with the sensual, physical, materiality of mere life. My neighbor has a sign on his lawn, “Christ died for our sins.”

Anyway, the visual language of Islam gave me a different sense of an Elsewhere, simultaneously remote and near, captured in these radiant designs, not entangled with any particular story. Come to think of it, doesn’t something similar happen in Indian miniatures, with the intensity of combined elements of pure patterning with story? The depicting of Event seems to be right next to an abstracted repeating detail, or set in an uninflected sheet of pure color, so that the pictorial suggests something that is both out there—in and beyond worldness—and in here, in our imagining. It’s as you say about the wonderful palimpsestic Rochester Panel—“a single teeming work that suggests narrative at the same time as it refuses it”—linked not by Language but by a kind of sensuous blur, a layering of perception that somehow conveys a continuous intimacy. The Western philosophical tradition seems to have been determined to keep these categories separated, antithetical: idealism vs. materialism, subjectivity vs. objectivity, and on and on. Well, as our mutual hero and master of parataxis John Cage would tell us: it’s not a matter of either/or, but both!

In Here Comes Kitty, we notice this layered temporal-spatial world, as well as a movement between kinds of signs: quasi-symbolic, like the raven and monkey, mythic figures and creatures not quite of this world, and humans who seem very specific. There’s a distinct emphasis on the facial characteristics of these persons, and I feel some of them are portraits of real people. I am sure that’s Margaret Thatcher, and Gandhi, smiling out from a porthole. I think I should recognize many more; it’s tantalizing. Who is that rotund fellow with a face like a genial baby? But the main thing is your attention to portraiture, which pulls the piece into another hybrid space between fact and fiction, real and imagined.

The surrounds operate similarly: some seem “normal,” realistic spaces, with foliage, or walls and floors, bookcases in rooms, while others appear to be abstracted patterns of swirls and, often, stripes, sometimes radial, sometimes vertical. I’m wondering how you think about this mixture of elements, the real and the abstract or symbolic? Is this just another way to establish or, better, to evoke a sense of multiplicity within singularity? Or is quantification the wrong idea altogether? Maybe it’s less about the many and the one and instead more about some kind of simultaneity of vision.

Well, all that by way of a reply to your invocation of a “poetic space,” suggested by the Rochester Panel and its “entire universe”—not so far from my evocation of Islamic patterns and Indian miniatures. I didn’t mean to press you into some confession of faith, or belief, but I suppose I have an interest in how thwarted the secular world is in relation to spiritual longings, what William James called “the will to believe,” which seems maybe an important part of the human experience. It certainly seems to go on causing mayhem. I don’t mean belief in a god or even a sacred space but just something that allows for that surrender of which you speak, and which I have come to think of as the Open.  And I suppose if we agree that there are, still, more unanswered questions than there are answers (not sure everyone would agree), perhaps there is still something like hope. But then when I think of the ecological disaster we humans seem to have affected, my sense of the relation between questions and answers is confounded, less sanguine, more confused.

I guess I’m interested in your non-rational poetic space in relation to the last of Mann’s triplet: animal, human, divine. I’ve been meditating on this sequence for some time and trying to grapple with the ubiquity of a fourth term in the sequence: machine. In fact, it occurs to me now that your world of simultaneity/multiplicity is perhaps imitative of the virtual, with its capacity to move among different realms of experience, all of them somehow in the “foreground,” none of them prioritized. It’s all just always-already there. Or is it here? The real question now becomes quite urgent: how do we know which or what among these diverse ideas and images are significant, important, relevant? How do we form judgments, like the Old Testament God, within a matrix of everything all the time?

To come back down to earth, your response to my question about “Kitty” (now forever, in my mind at least, “Kitty-Kali”) raises for me perhaps a less luxuriously ambiguous or classically metaphysical set of questions, having to do with scale and process.

I wonder, then, if persons who have been looking at big pictures—at Rothko, or Pollock, or Richter, for example—can find their way to the kind of immersive, rich, varied experience of reverie you suggest that you want in Here Comes Kitty? Can readers stay long enough within one small framed rectangular box, usually associated with comic books or graphic novels meant to be read through quickly, to find the layers of meaning—the surrender—which you are intending or hoping to conjure? And from the opposite, perhaps more relevant direction, can persons who have become accustomed to reading/seeing on a screen perceive the depth or variety of field you intend? Can they scan and focus at the same time? Books and reverie; screens and quick shifts. I suppose you can’t really answer this but perhaps you have asked some of these kinds of questions. I know I have, in relation to my poems.

This brings forward a correlative thought/question, which would be about your process. I love your reference to songlines and to the notion of a diagonal read. What I would like now to know is: how did you compose these pictures/words/images? Were you working from a large layout on which there was a grid, so you could move across and through it, intuitively, as you say, as if you were playing a game of tic-tac-toe? Thus, treating the page as a kind of traditional painter’s canvas, moving and changing and adding? Is the book a small-scale reproduction of a larger format, or is the ratio, so to speak, exact? What is the medium?

Well, this has gone quite precipitously from the sublime to the mundane. Hopefully, we can travel back again by other means.

 

RK: That’s amazing, Ann! I love your term “the Open” which conjures an extraordinary image for me: a vast field of the possible stretching out far, far beyond what the eye can see. I had an experience in Death Valley a few years ago in which I performed a very simple action, walking out across an enormous salt flat (wearing a suit, bowler hat and a sandwich board with an image on front and back). My sense of the space itself as well as of time unfolding was tumultuous, constantly shifting with every step. The salt flat seemed to go on and on—driving my desire to keep walking, to go further and further. I actually had to force myself to turn around and head back, and the landscape (its stark whiteness), the wide, open sky and the draw of the horizon have been etched on my consciousness. The feeling of walking—of not stopping walking—stays with me too.

 

Kraft_Death_Valley_WalkDEATH VALLEY WALK. Photograph by Lisa Pearson.

 

The beautiful way in which you describe Islamic art is very akin to that feeling—to see (and to follow) those patterns extending outward, toward infinity. That human instinct to keep going, to reach into the unknown is very much in the “Tower of Babel” too, but I think you really strike what it is in your description of Indian miniature paintings which suggest something “that is both out there, in and beyond worldness, and in here, in our imagining.” Indian miniature paintings have been a very direct inspiration for Here Comes Kitty in all kinds of ways, but particularly for that kind of simultaneity of the ineffable and the profane. There are even several elements in the book—mostly abstract patterns—which are directly appropriated from them.

The presence of portraits and pieces of documentary photographs creates a different and perhaps more precarious kind of simultaneity—invoking specific times and places and then collapsing them so that one can see through one world into another and another. The “where” and the “when” is upended, no longer fixed or finite. (Something close I think to a line in your prose poem “Task: To Open”: The far is always already near.) So, yes, that is Margaret Thatcher and Gandhi—and Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell, Joan of Arc and Amrozi bin Nurhasyim (who planted a bomb that killed over 200 people in a nightclub in Bali). The gods are also present (Brahma and Parvati, for example).

And photographs from Nazi rallies reappear throughout: they are reminders (however ribald or non-sequitur-like their placement may seem) that Germany in the Nazi era was overtaken by a national madness and that approximately fifty-six million people died as a result of that. I remember hearing an interview with the actor Ralph Fiennes regarding his role as the particularly brutal and sadistic Commandant Goeth of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp (in the film Schindler’s List). It was many years ago so the details are a bit foggy, but Fiennes said that as he prepared for the role, he focused on the fact that Goeth had been a baby once. I was very moved by this realization that a child can become a mass murderer and conversely a man who tortures and kills on a daily basis can come home, pet the dog, play with his children and make love with his wife. The multiple layers in Here Comes Kitty—both the collages and Danielle’s interpolations—point to the fact that there are no conclusions to be made, that as you say, “there are more unanswered questions than there are answers.” The world is terrible and beautiful, delicate and coarse, tragic and funny. Thoreau puts it perfectly I think: “Yes and No are lies. A true answer will not aim to establish anything, but rather to set all well afloat.”

It’s interesting that the three painters you mention all tend to work with a flat field in which no single element of the picture is more important than another (in the case of Richter I’m thinking specifically about his abstract works). Here Comes Kitty shares this characteristic, which I’m very drawn to, both visually and philosophically. I’m thinking again of Cage here and his resistance to being told what to think and by extension perhaps, where to look. As you say, this does create an unprioritized space, but it allows the reader to determine where and when they look, and thus “to do their own work,” as Cage says. In Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky talks about the ways in which thought itself develops and moves, and he argues that this should be the basis upon which image sequences are put together. While he was talking about films which are time-based and linear, his notion of “laying open the logic of a person’s thought” applies here because the goal is to leave things open, unsaid, thus making the viewer more active: “a participant in the process of discovering life.”

When I was working on this piece, I had all thirty-two pages laid out on a very large table (each is an individual collage and slightly larger than the book pages here) so that I could see the entire work at once—a flat field. In fact, the work takes two forms—this book and a single wall piece. Naturally, the two experiences for the viewer/reader are very different. When the piece is on the wall (or table), you can, as you say, move intuitively around the whole piece at one time, in any direction, without turning pages. The formal structure of the entire work becomes visible (possibly at the expense of the text and smaller details which can only be seen and read from close up).

In book form, the experience is shaped by time and turning pages, by accumulation. That said, I was similarly very aware of the formal structure of each book spread, hoping to encourage the same type of visual movement within that intimate and contained space. In order to do that, I composed each spread independently: I removed the two pages I was working on and took them to another space in my studio so that I could refer back to the whole—but not be entirely beholden to or dictated by it. I worked from the premise that a rigorous formal structure helps viewers, seduces them almost, into finding a way in. One of my favorite works by Cage is Roaratorio which is incredibly complex and dense, yet it is also remarkably coherent, which I think owes a lot to the structure of its composition.

By way of a corollary, I’m currently working on compiling Cage’s Diary: How To Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) for publication, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the dichotomy between his uncanny ability to predict the future (he started the piece in 1965 and foresaw, I think, the ecological predicament we now find ourselves in) and his optimism. As you say, it’s difficult, in the face of disaster to remain sanguine, yet Cage was able to point to our frailties, our wastefulness while retaining absolute faith in our ability to find solutions. I’m in awe of his perspicacity as well as his optimism which, having just glanced at today’s paper, I find hard to summon. While I do find myself often making judgments, I wonder if this stunts possibility, that instead Cage has this right: discover solutions! In the face of all that is intolerable, of all that we are driven to judge, does art have a real role to play if not in creating actual solutions then at the very least creating possibility for them?

 

AL: I’m assuming that the bowler hat is a nod to Magritte, someone whose work also opens up the space between what is real and what is true—which was perhaps at least partly engendered by his awareness of how language negotiates and often confuses these terms. Magritte was determined to make us believe and not believe at the same time; I suppose this is one of the actions of all fictive imagining. But there you are, not Magritte, but Richard, walking across a salt flat with a placard of a hare on your back. I’ve been thinking about this flatness you cite, and about the quandary of the nearly literal loss of a horizon in our perception of distance as we now stare endlessly at—not into—virtual timespace.

I hardly know how to look any more in the simultaneity of the foreground. Oddly, this is akin to what Erich Auerbach connects to Homer, in the chapter “Odysseus’s Scar” in Mimesis: a depicted world in which all things, all events, are known and knowable; whereas, in contrast, according to him, the Old Testament leaves so much out that those who read it must interpret, must search for meanings because so much is unknown, unstated. It’s a compelling argument, tied very specifically to his thinking about Hitler’s Germany. Evidently, he wrote Mimesis while in exile in Istanbul from memory since his library was unavailable.

The possible. Well, this is a core, a fundamental, idea for democratic thinking, isn’t it? You remind me of one of my favorite passages in Wallace Stevens, from Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (it’s from Canto VII of the “It Must Give Pleasure” section):

To discover winter and know it well, to find,
Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
Out of nothing to have come on major weather,

It is possible, possible, possible. It must
Be possible. It must be that in time
The real will from its crude compoundings come,

I’m not even sure why this insisting moment means so much to me. I suppose it is because Stevens, like Thoreau, and like Emerson, was searching for how to think “the real” without recourse to the transcendent, which nevertheless seems to hover around the edges, just out of reach, and appears here as the possibility of the discovery of “major weather.” I am not at all sure what I make of this aspect of the human quest, but I do think it is one of our deepest quandaries, and the art I most care about implicates it. Perhaps I am just wondering about the necessity of the imagined within our secular, empirical world. So I think of Giotto, of Matisse, and of William Kentridge—three entirely disparate figures—and now of you! In each case the “real” is jilted into a new kind of seeing, and the visual becomes a vision. Maybe abstraction itself is the essential element, both for poetics and for the plastic arts.

As a final question, I wanted to ask you about the role of language in Here Comes Kitty. I’m interested in the way you use dialogue, thought boxes and those narrative markers like “apply match to smoke,” “kitty is here” and “yielded no fruit,” as well as soundings—“Ding! Ding!”—to mark or sign discontinuous verbal ejections into the pictorial content. The piece begins with a kind of scream: eeoeeooo—or perhaps it’s a siren—? A sense of emergency.  Anyway, I am wondering how you think about these linguistic elements in relation to some of the things we have been talking about. What do words do or mean for you within the patterning of the piece?  They seem to imply a different register, not quite simultaneous with the images, and that makes me wonder if you think language has any real traction or efficacy in our present world?

 

RK: Yes, the bowler hat is unavoidably a nod to Magritte, but he wasn’t explicitly on my mind when I decided to use it. As with many of the themes in Here Comes Kitty, it’s rooted in childhood memory; in this case, English men in suits and bowler hats taking the Tube to jobs in the City and a rather extraordinary man, named Stanley Green, who used to patrol Oxford Street every day with a sign exhorting passersby to curb their lust. I like the idea of combining two stereotypes—an upper class banker with a lower class sandwich board man—and transplanting this hybrid character into a completely foreign landscape. I’ve done multiple iterations of this piece in urban and rural locations with varying numbers of walkers. In the case of Death Valley, of course, there was no human audience at all.

The “virtual world” has come up a few times in our conversation, and I’ve been thinking it through this whole time without knowing exactly how to respond, partly because my engagement with the digital world doesn’t really approach what I think you mean by “virtual” (I use the computer and internet extensively as practical tools for working with images and gathering information, rather than delving into whatever possibilities they offer as conveyers of experience). If I consider the phenomenon of the virtual and the way that one can leap from one thing to another, it’s very intriguing. But, for me, there’s a gap between the theory—the idea of it—and at least my own engagement with it. Because of this, I don’t think of the virtual as akin to a flat field. While it may all be (or seem to be) out there—or in here—you can’t actually see it all at once: there may be the possibility of traveling through one layer to many, but one’s attention is always focused on whatever can be contained by a single window.

As an aside, I recently saw a photograph of “The Cloud.” This particular facility is a massive warehouse surrounded by acres of new construction. It isn’t in the slightest bit light or fluffy, and there isn’t a drop of moisture in sight. So, I hope that Here Comes Kitty isn’t “imitative of the virtual” but rather imitative of life, in that new things rise to the surface, capture our attention, and fall away, and that the unknown, the inscrutable are always present in mutating forms. Not to actually compare Here Comes Kitty with the Bible, but I do hope that readers relish their engagement with it as an interpretative one.

I’ve never really been a practicing Jew, but I’ve always connected with the Jewish predilection for questioning the Torah (indeed for questioning everything—it’s definitely a characteristic I inherited) and for admiring the beauty in the labyrinthine layers of interpretation this has produced. It’s moving to me that the Bible, which so many people look to for solace in the form of answers, has been the subject of thousands of years of speculation. When I visited Israel in my late teens, I sat in on a discussion in a religious school, a yeshiva. The group spent the entire three-hour session discussing the possible meanings of a single sentence. I was completely blown away by how much a single sentence could yield, how much uncertainty it contained (and how willing the students were to delve into that uncertainty), despite—or because of?—it being the word of God.

So while I do certainly believe that language has traction and efficacy, I am also keenly aware of its fluidity, its elusiveness, its potential for deceit—that meaning is a kind of consensus that may be built on falsehoods, blind trust, obedience to authority. Language plays a pivotal role in my work in the ways in which I’m subverting “meaning”—in interrupting the relationships between signifier and signified—but also in creating new relationships because language has extraordinary, other (often untapped) powers that speak not to the rational part of our brain, but to the imaginative, the emotional, the generative.

For example, when children are taught to read, they are shown a picture of something next to the word we use to name that thing. I’ve always been fascinated by this illustrative, explanatory relationship: the little leap of faith, the act of obedience to believe that the picture of the round, red (or possibly green) fruit that grows on trees is an “apple.” This works, of course—it has to!—but that relationship is really quite fragile, tenuous. What happens if that round, red shape we recognize as an apple is named “umbrella” or “turncoat”? The functional relationship between word and object is usurped by something more mysterious, something suggestive rather than finite. The word “apple” in its familiar context is drained of any resonance, but the thing we know as an apple and is now named something else suddenly yields an opportunity to see the everyday anew. In the hands of a master like Magritte (or differently with another Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers), something magical (alchemical, really) occurs: a thing and its (new) name is greater than the sum of its parts, and the world it exists in now has unfamiliar rules governing it.

In Here Comes Kitty, I also use language for its purely sonic pleasures. I love your description of the “eeoeoooo” on page one as a scream or a siren. For me it harkens to Dada sound poems—strings of letters which we’d normally look to for meaning that can, in the hands of someone like Kurt Schwitters, become music—when we listen—and graphic (like concrete poems) when seen on the page. Language can sometimes seem the most immaterial and plastic of media, and yet it is laden, not simply with meaning, but with its own power to transform something utilitarian into something with more meaning, more possibility. It’s a completely mysterious process to me, and I’m in awe of how you do that in your poetry. I think Danielle does it here, too, in her interpolations. While her texts in some ways are extremely concrete, the leaps she makes between sentences illuminate a space between things, connecting the unlikely and unexpected, to make something that’s, on one hand, sculptural and, on the other, cosmological: here is a new world conjured from our own.