Monday, February 18, 2008

interview with Vanessa Place regarding Dies: A Sentence

1. Why did you want to write an entire book in one sentence?
I thought of the one-sentence form first, in part as a respite from
the fractured/fragmented book I was then working on (La Medusa, which
will be published by FC2 this Fall)(the challenge of the fragmented text
is to keep it together without it coalescing, like an Impressionist
painting; the challenge of the single sentence is to keep it falling
apart while continuing its momentum, like an Abstract Expressionist
action painting), and in part as a way of challenging the fundamental
unit of prose -- the sentence. (The title is a multiple pun, one being
the death of the sentence.) Having thought of the form, content was
next, and the sentence (as in fate/punishment) of humanity appears to be
endless war. Or time ongoing punctuated by particularly bloody periods.

2. Did you have any influence on the unique design of the book?
Some influence; I am one of the co-directors of Les Figues Press, and
we envisioned the long/lean design of the series as a series. (See However, I was lucky in that the design mirrored the
trenches of WWI and the long bloody rut of war as a specific form of
human existence, and existence, pocked with story and tragedy, in its
human form. We are vertical creatures.

3. You've included many French phrases. What is the significance?
Many French phrases, yes, many other languages as well (German, a
touch of Vietnamese). The easy answer is that I know French next best to
English, and can do more by way of punning, riffing, etc, with French
than other languages. Also it was very important to not have this be
particularly locatable as a nationality, and French, like English, has
the (Western historical) reputation of being an international language,
and the language of the Empire/colonizer. In terms of nonspecificity,
note the mutation of the name John in this regard, so the Doe aspects of
John should become more pointed as the sentence moves on.

4. What is the significance of the soldier's boots, and what are the different places the boots take us back to?
It is a journey story, or allegory; the errant hero must be able to
move, yes? What happens when you take away his boots? I can't recall all
the places the boots go, but believe that there is an ironical movement
in having the footwear go farther than the foot (now blown to
smithereens), just as the commercial product transcends its consumer,
who loves the product much more than the product cares for its
purchaser, just as the things of life outlive, and thereby own, their
owners. Too, I am playing with the Irish tradition of the amputated
anti-hero (Beckett, O'Brien). And the unspeaking John has no hands, no
mitts or mittens, and can thereby signal nothing. Between them, they've
been fully ravished, and ravishment is a trope that suggests ecstasy
(transcendence) and rape. The speaking in tongues of the saved and the
silence of the damned.

5. Does the book take place during one time period, or is the narrator shifting to various time periods?
Shifting time periods, no time period, note shifting verb tenses in
certain scenes, so time is circular, a conceit.

6. What was most challenging about writing this book for you?
It was an oddly easy book to write, the greatest challenge perhaps
being the need to backstitch, to use certain words or images repeatedly
in order to keep a constant thread and the feeling of ongoingness in a
book where no one moves and nothing changes.

7. If you had to choose what category to place this book in a library, what section would you put it under (poetry, fiction, etc - assuming "long sentence" is not a category!)?
That is the question. There is prose, and poetry, and I've been
called both and neither is the whole story. I'm working on an essay on
post-conceptual writing with appropriation poet Robert Fitterman (to be
published by Ugly Duckling Presse), and perhaps this is the point where
we realize genre is a medium (like oil paint) and start to look at
writing the way people look at art -- classifying by type sometimes,
like sculpture, and period others, like Constructivism. You could think
about what you would put on the shelf next to it instead. I know that
in one class it was taught in conjunction with The Waste Land, and in
another, The Inferno. What do you think?

-Megan Stokes, Becky Slinger, Meghan Corcoran, and Jody Brezette


Lily Hoang said...


Genre as a medium... I love it! Beautiful, succinct, & unimaginable in so many ways... We've been taught to think of genre, in many ways, as the ends. As a writer working in the academic world, having come from an academic world, I've never even conceived of genre as a means. (For some reason, I feel the need to blame the academy for this, although I'm pretty sure it's more insidious than that!)

What is amazing to me is that even though many of us--here on this blog & all over--may challenge genre for any number of aesthetic, philosophical, or political reasons, we are all still working within the confines of it in some way or another. To think of genre as a medium, however, takes away certain constraints, while adding so many new ones.

This is a lot for me to digest. I'll have more later.


Anonymous said...

Lily: Thank you, and I look forward to more thoughts. Genre as medium of course leads to a whole discussion of conceptual and post conceptual and sort of conceptual (as Rob Fitterman puts it)writing, but that's another thing to think about altogether. Prose is paint, poetry statuary -- that's not it exactly either, but it's a place to begin again again.


John said...

i came to your altar call at awp. almost singing "just as i am", resisting the urge to fall on my knees, i had eaten the bread of life and thanked you. i'm 6'7" and told you my dad was a baptist preacher. i asked about getting the text from your sermon, you referred me to fc2. this is as close as i've been able to get to you.

i've been reading la medusa. it has allowed me to stay loosely, mysteriously, connected to the awp experience which was for me . . . incredibly surprising, trampling, stretching, inspiring, and humbling. i'm a high school language arts teacher, not a writer, not a genius. i found myself exposed to intellect and language on a level that i didn't know existed and somehow within all of that, i felt connected, touched in a very private place. lydia and you were the climax of an overpowering weekend for me. again, i thank you.

and of course, i want more. the transcript of that session, an email address, a conversation that would include asking if you happen to know michael garvey (a friend and amazing artist/human in venice beach, you tube: letters to the president), a schedule to see if i can make our paths cross again . . .

and now i realize i've crossed into stalker territory and will close with another thank you.

this do in remembrance of me.