Static Palace, Punctum Books, 2022
How did this book come about? What were you thinking about, how is it the same or different from previous work? How long did you work on it, how did the pandemic affect the process of writing it?
LEORA FRIDMAN: In many ways this is a totally pre-pandemic book, or, it ended with the pandemic, or, it is from a pandemia of another kind.
I began writing this book when Essay Press asked a number of people to write something in response to the 2016 US Presidential election for a collection they were putting together. I wrote a brief essay about what was — and wasn’t disjunctive about that moment, also framing it through an experience in the emergency room that I had very soon after the election.
Previously, I had been making work primarily in poem-form or in the form of participatory performance. There was something about that moment that made me move into prose — yes, disjunctive, fragmented prose, but prose. I believe I did this because I felt I owed something truth-y to my reader — or, more than truth-y, something that was conscious of the dominant narratives and dominant forms with which it was engaging. I wanted dominant narratives and forms to be visible while being resisted.
I was writing about a moment (personally and in some ways collectively) that shifted what I understood about linear progressions — toward and around reproduction, toward and around revolution or radicalization, toward and around wellness and well-being. I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, and heavily influenced by anti-racist organizing of the time as well as the ancestries of New Narrative and politicized and embodied inter-genre writing that I was amidst.
Once I wrote that essay, I was captivated with (captive of?) versions of that form. I wrote essays like it for about five years, and began to see how they built on one another, on my own interactions with other sick and disabled artists, and on an emerging — continued? Maybe! — collective consciousness of illness, care and vulnerability. I wrote the outer-wrappings of this book in the depths of early spring 2020.
What was your favorite thing about writing it? What gave you the most satisfaction, what was energizing or enlivening about it?
LF: What a great question! I love how this draws me toward joy, enliven-ment, energy in the writing. You could argue that this is a collection of essays about quite a bit of suffering, but I don’t entirely see it that way. As I elaborate on in the book, the writing of these ways was a process for me of escaping my own sense of the individual-warrior-figure “battling” illness, “battling” evil forces, one against the world. Poetry had always gifted me with an innately porous understanding of language — a knowledge that it was always moving through me and through others to get to me, and that the sonic and intellectual and narrative qualities to which I am drawn are not my own, entirely, ever — they are always collective reinvention.
What satisfied me and energized me about writing this book was its intertextuality. In the prologue to this book I cite Tisa Bryant, who writes in yet another excellent Essay Press collection about how intertextuality carries the possibility of thwarting narcissism. The form I found for myself in these essays is citational, hybrid, personal, critical, lyric at times, at times more straightforward in its prose. This form allowed me to enact a kind of porous thinking that I could believe in. That made me believe I could believe. That made me believe in writing and reading, again.
Was there a section or poem or part of the book that you felt doubtful about including? What made it so? How did you come to the decision you did?
LF: Actually, precisely because of what I was just mentioning — these essays are thinking in progress. I would probably write them all very differently now. I found a form in them, through them, and I found an ethics through them, with them. I felt (still feel!) doubtful at times about including them in a book at all! Because they are past selves of mine at work.
But I decided to keep them as a book and to stand behind them in this way because I believe in thinking that stands — if it can stand, if standing is accessible to it, or, if not, sits or lays where it can — and then re-places itself as it learns more, as it encounters other people and ideas and experiences. A constantly re-cracking text is the kind of text I can believe in.
What are some lines, phrases or images from the book that stay with you, either because they capture something that feels very true, or they came to you in a way that felt whole and generative, or some other reason?
LF: Towards the end of the book (I promise this isn’t really a spoiler) I write about a dream I had that involved making my own fermented vegetables. Which is something that I do and have done for many years. But the dream came to stand in for a kind of die-hard self-sufficiency that the book seeks to challenge, even as it admits how addicted I am to that self-sufficiency, and how difficult it is for me, still, to invite myself away from it towards forms of community care.
This dream stays with me from the book because I’ve always been warned not to tell other people about my dreams — especially not in writing — everyone says it is boring for readers — but I do it ALL the time. Sorry guys!
I believe in dreams. I have recently grown interested in investigating dream work further — thanks in part to the work of mystics from my inherited and learned Jewish ancestral traditions including Jo Kent Katz, Jill Hammer and Rodger Kamenetz — and I’m working on a children’s book about insomnia and dreams.
Can you share a few other works that influenced you in the writing of this book? Do you think these influences will be visible to your readers? Would you like them to be?
LF: This is the kind of book where the influences are very visible because they are there on the page! They are all over the place in the footnotes and endnotes and sentence habits and even the belief that prose might be a place to do the kind of exploration I want to do. Just as I don’t believe humans survive on their own — but rather supported by an enormous branching network of care — I don’t believe texts are made on their own. Some very few of the many thinkers and makers and be-ers cited in the book include Johanna Hedva, Sara Ahmed, Caren Beilin, Hilary Plum (who also has an excellent new book out!), Dodie Bellamy, Wayne Koestenabaum, etc, etc forever. I do think these influences will be visible, though maybe any reader will encounter this text with their own text-ancestry and influences that shape it differently than me. I hope that readers actually find their own ideas here about influences, ancestors or distant relatives of this book. I hope it is a book that helps people find their way to many other books, artists, performances, thoughts, etc. And I hope it is a book that helps people find their way to many other forms and works in themselves.