David Naimon: Today’s episode is brought to you by Anbara Salam’s haunting novel Hazardous Spirits. Called, “A darkly sumptuous love letter” by Francine Toon who adds that it’s guaranteed to give you goosebumps. “Hazardous Spirits is Cloaked in the moody, beguiling backdrop of twentieth-century Scotland, bringing a sparkling sense of period detail and dry humor to the life of a young woman whose world is unsettled by mediums, and spirits revealing the devastating secrets that ghosts from the past can tell when given the voice to do so.” Hazardous Spirits is available now from Tin House. I’m excited to share today’s conversation with one of my favorite living writers Bhanu Kapil about the reissue of her long-out-of-print Incubation: A Space for Monsters, the only book of hers I hadn’t read, a book that previously you could only find on eBay for hundreds of dollars and which is arriving anew in the United States, and for the first time, in the UK in a revised form and a revised form that’s different in the United States than in the UK. We use Incubation, both incubations as a lens through which to look at Bhanu’s work as a whole across her career. I’m far from alone in finding Bhanu’s work incredibly important and vital, and cherishing it and her relationship to it in the world, whether in the world of performance, poetry, ritual, or teaching. So many past guests on the show, whether CA Conrad, Sawako Nakayasu, Brandon Shimoda, Megan Fernandes, Thalia Field, Gabrielle Civil, Eunsong Kim, or Sofia Samatar, just to name a few of them, are likewise writers who cherish Bhanu’s work and/or find it formative in their own. You’ll quickly notice today how listening to Bhanu talk is entering a universe of language that really exists on its own terms, on different terms. I think of my conversation with Teju Cole and how I felt I just had to leave all the silences in when normally I would take them out because they were speaking that we could hear Teju in them, and here too, the way Bhanu speaks spontaneously but sometimes with an incredible seeming craftedness using phrases from the body, anything from the word proprioceptive or defamiliarizing us to language with phrases like pericardial quilt, her books are extremely attentive to both language and the body, yet their forms defy the shapes we expect from language and the body. Perhaps it’s fitting that one of the long-standing classes she taught on hybrid writing at Naropa, she and her students renamed The Monster and we talk about monsters today among many other things from immigration to the immigrant heart to questions of home, and belonging to gendered and racialized violence in the US, UK, and India, and how the traumas of migration are somatized in the body, and to questions of failure, and creating works with tools that fail us as we create them. Speaking of failure, I’ve noticed over the years—and I’ve been thinking about this conversation for years now—that almost everyone pronounces Bhanu’s last name Kapeel, like an orange peel, yet the rare times I’ve heard her say it most notably in a performance in the voice of her father, it sounded more like Kapil to me. Of course, I asked Bhanu the proper way to say it, yet I didn’t anticipate that the answer wouldn’t be straightforward. To settle it, she goes to her mother and takes me with her, and asks, so here is our exchange.
Bhanu Kapil: And let’s resolve this once and for all. I’m just going to go and ask my mother one minute. You’re coming with me.
DN: Okay, great.
BK: We can document it. [laughter]
DN: I love that.
BK: Hi, [Panda]. Can I ask you a question? Can you say my name? Just say my name.
Bhanu’s Mom: Bhanu Kapil.
BK: That’s not my name. Say it again.
Bhanu’s Mom: Bhanu Kapil.
BK: Bhanu Kapil. Okay, alright.
DN: Okay, Kapil.
BK: Did you hear that?
DN: Yeah. I know I’m not going to get it perfect but Kapil is close?
BK: I’m hearing that emphasis in my mother’s pronunciation. It’s hard to pronounce my first name because our mouths or our soft tissue didn’t form around Bh sound. I can’t pronounce my own first name but my father’s side would pronounce the last name Kapil.
DN: Kapil. That’s how I’ve been saying it.
BK: Yeah, that’s one, Kapil or however my mom just said it.
DN: A lot of Americans or every American I know says Kapil with the long E.
BK: Oh, yeah, I love that.
DN: You love that. [laughter]
BK: I’m like, “Carry on.” [laughter]
DN: Because today’s conversation is partly engaging with failure as practice and because I discovered, just before we began talking together, that I was pronouncing it all this time like her father, yet having just heard her mother speak it directly to us, I felt like I had to at least try to speak it for the first time in a new way to honor her mother’s way. I’m confident I’m doing it wrong, just as Bhanu herself says she is. Even though she loves how we all mispronounce it, I thought at least I could say it less wrong if wrong nonetheless. The same day we talked that night late at night with everyone in her household fast asleep, her mother included, Bhanu records in very hushed tones an extended reading for the bonus audio archive. She not only reads from many things, everything from Annie Ernaux’s book Remain in Darkness about Ernaux’s own visits to her mother in a care home to past Between the Covers guest Eunsong Kim’s piece called [asian] to the co-written book Tone by Kate Zambreno and Sofia Samatar to Bhanu’s own notebooks reading recent entries about impasse. She reads all of these things for us but also talks to us very intimately about the meaningfulness of each of them too. This joins bonus material from so many past guests from Dionne Brand, Christina Sharpe, Alice Oswald, Jorie Graham, Natalie Diaz, Laylee Long Soldier, Kaveh Akbar, and many more. The bonus audio is only one possible benefit of joining the Between the Covers Community as a listener-supporter. Every supporter can join our brainstorm of future guests and every listener-supporter gets the resource email with each episode, then there are a ton of other things to choose from, from the bonus audio to the Tin House Early Readership Subscription receiving 12 books over the course of the year months before they’re available to the general public. You can check all this out and much more at patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Now, for today’s conversation with Bhanu Kapil.
David Naimon: Good morning and welcome to Between the Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host. Today’s guest is the uncategorizable Bhanu Kapil whose work, often called poetry, also arises from or incorporates performance and ritual, fiction and mythology, history and memory. She grew up in West London, moved to the United States in the 90s, getting an MA in English literature at SUNY Brockport and taught creative writing, performance art, and contemplative practice for two decades at Naropas’ Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She also taught on the low residency MFA program at Goddard College and at the University of Vermont where she’s co-piloting a doctoral program in transdisciplinary leadership there. Her books include The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Humanimal: A Project for Future Children, Schizophrene, Ban En Banlieue, of which Sueyeun Juliette Lee said, “Trying to offer a clear critical comment on Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue is particularly challenging because it so stridently seeks to side-step the rational, hierarchical, closed-system imaginations which generate race riots, which churn women’s bodies into sexual fodder and carcasses tossed out of vans, which demand that we see mental illness as an individual disorder rather than as a human soul crying out amidst inhuman cultural paroxysms. ‘Centered’ around a race riot in 1979 London, Kapil’s text belies the notion of fixed centers or single origins of cultural violence. Instead, she offers a variety of emotional, psychological, and spiritual loci around which her text coalesces. To cry out. To fail. To rise like diesel smoke in a hot summer wind.” Long a much beloved and iconic figure in the world of experimental poetics, it was with Bhanus’ return to the UK in 2019 and the publication of her first book in England How To Wash A Heart, that suddenly the larger world seemed to take notice. Kapil received a year-long fellowship at the University of Cambridge where she remained and became a fellow at Churchill College. She was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she won the Windham Campbell prize and How To Wash A Heart was the winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize in poetry whose past winners include Anne Carson, Alice Oswald, Sharon Olds, and Derek Walcott. Sandeep Parmar says of her first UK-only publication, “Bhanu Kapil’s How To Wash A Heart catches the thinning smile of that ancient human ritual: hospitality. In a time of increasing hostility against migrants, Kapil demonstrates how survival tunes the guest to its host with devastating intimacy: ‘It’s exhausting to be a guest / In somebody else’s house / Forever. In these lines an ancestral trauma pours from the heart of the unwelcome across a warzone, a threshold, into a spare bedroom edging its occupant out. Ultimately what Kapil teaches us is that although the heart might be where desire, gratitude, even love exist, it is an organ to which, like a country, we may never fully belong.” Bhanu joins us today to talk about the new additions of her long-out-of-print classic of diasporic literature Incubation: A Space for Monsters, a book appearing in the UK for the first time with prototype and returning to the US after a long absence with Kelsey Street Press. With new but different material written by Bhanu in each Edition, Eunsong Kim says in the new US edition, “In Incubation, we are offered a migration narrative that contends with histories of the colonized, in which an immigrant ignorant to the violence that is the United States, arrives to give birth to a monster. Kapil constructs a loose tool for cyborg/monster travelers: for those who have assimilated and are suffering because of their insides, and for those who cannot adapt or refuse to and thus, do not survive. She reminds us that one’s becoming is not and never our own, but rather, tortuously prescripted,” and Ocean Vuong adds, “I read everything Kapil writes and each time am left in awe at her erudite dexterity to see the book, not as a medium of mere knowing, but of questing. Here she casts the dialectical inquiry between continuity and rupture, deploying cyborgs and monsters to overlay and amplify existential questions for the Anthropocene. The result is an ambitious work of complex yet coherent semiotic prowess I can’t wait to teach from.” Welcome to Between the Covers, Bhanu Kapil.
Bhanu Kapil: Thank you, David. It’s such a beautiful introduction.
DN: So when you first wrote Incubation, the book of yours that most directly engages with America, your move to the United States, your move to the United States was meant to be one of never looking back, of leaving England forever. In your previous book The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers where you interviewed Indian women in the UK, the US, and India, there’s the line, “If England is a test, then I failed it,” and across your books, we learn that despite being a British born UK citizen to Indian immigrant parents, the country never saw you as part of it as English, whether the race riots of 1979 where you remember saying to yourself, “I’m no longer a child,” and wondering if this thought were your first sentence or the anti-immigrant speeches of Enoch Powell, the fraught dynamics of your father, or as you detail in the new UK edition of Incubation, that after a one-year stint in the United States, you came back to England, applied for an entry-level editorial position, then were told afterwards, “We would never hire someone like you,” then you left for good or seemingly so. But here we are now, me in Portland, you in England again 20 some years after your departure and in our email correspondence over the years, you told me that How To Wash A Heart was intended as a dart or arrow, something that could arc through the air and lodge in an English space, something that could make possible your reconnection to your birthplace or home. Now, from this English base, we’re discussing the reissue of your most America-centric book. Its return is a doubling not only because this new US edition is different than the original with an introduction by past Between the Covers guest Eunsong Kim and a new Coda by you, but this is the first time it’s coming out in the UK, and the UK edition has a different Coda and it’s a Coda addressed to an English audience, so the new addition exists in two forms. But also Incubation in some ways is a doubling or inversion of your experience in England with your avatar, the fictional Laloo, now as the parent immigrant coming to the US to give birth to a monster. Likewise, there is a person, a so-called medical curiosity from the 19th century who shares Laloo’s name who was in a sense a duplicate within himself with an extra pair of legs dangling from him. In that spirit of the monstrous double, I’m going to uncharacteristically start with a question from someone else presented in the aura of my preface, to make a double out of my thoughts and those of Kate Zambreno.
Kate Zambreno: Hello, dear Bhanu. I am recording this in a car with my elderly dog on my lap, watching my two small children pee behind a tree at a sole playground while their father tries to keep guard, so that’s my setting. Hello, how are you? I think of Incubation mythically as the work you were writing when thinking of new parenting. I have this vision of you in a library pregnant. Is that correct? That’s the vision I hold in my head. I’m wondering what is it like rereading the work and what was it like writing that work while thinking of this other new life, then what is it like rereading it now? I guess my other question, sorry, followup is you keep on writing to Ban, in Entre-Ban, in more notes towards Ban. Are you still writing through Incubation? Does this republication jostle something new for you? Okay, love you. My youngest has just stolen a daffodil and is now running around the tree with it. [laughs] I’ll leave you with that, the daffodil, like the daffodils that you plant as memorial in Ban En Banlieue.
BK: Oh, number one, there has been a surge of norepinephrine, that is a hormone through my entire bloodstream to hear Kate Zambreno’s voice in the middle or before this podcast vortex has truly consumed the possible language that we share and can never share, David. [laughter] I’m sorry, Kate Zambreno and her elderly dog Genet, I recently came across a photograph that someone took from an administrative building at Naropa University where Kate and her partner John Vincler, as part of the collaborative La Genet had hung fuchsia, not human size but beyond the human, fuchsia wombs, fuchsia uterine tissue on hooks from a beam above the place where the bursar, the human resources, or other kinds of talent, talent being the wrong word, reside in the University, just catty-corner to the Allen Ginsberg Library and above the tree where Allen Ginsberg used to give his lectures on William Blake. Number one, I see in this strange mordant belated photograph that ruptured [inaudible] feed, I see Kate in the chair and I am behind her, and my hands are on her shoulders, I too am wearing fuchsia. Kate, am I alluring? Are you? Anyway, we went through that in 2011, so I won’t go back there but number two, wow, [laughter] number three, oh my God, number four, Enoch Powell and the archive, maybe as a way to build a relationship to these saturated notes and pre-memory or lagging moment of the book, maybe I can just begin with Enoch Powell and the vector of the monstrous in Incubation, the moment that England, or so it felt, expelled me, for me in a way that comes a month before my own birth. I’m talking slowly because I’m just trying to gauge how much of the story I can tell because to tell a story of my body before I was born is also to tell a story of my mother’s body who is sitting in the next room, crocheting a cardinal for a poet friend to be affixed to a navy blue sweater. I’m not sure that I can tell that part of the story. No, I can’t describe what it was that would have made my existence in a womb precarious. But what I can say is that in May 1968, maybe three or four weeks before I was born on June 21st, 1968 at 10:23 AM, British summertime, Enoch Powell gave a speech in which, much like his future contemporaries, the British Asian leaders of the conservative party, Suella Braverman, Priti Patel, et al, in which he called not only for the restriction of immigration or migration into the UK but also repatriation. I’ve been reading through the archive of Enoch Powell at Churchill College in the Archive Centre and it has been both proprioceptive, and also an impasse to read this not what’s outside room, heart, and memory but somehow is the lining, the pericardial quilt that did not cushion but instead was, I suppose, perforated with stings and bites of many kinds. If I have to say what was like the start of, I won’t use the word unbelonging, I began to think of the quandary of belonging or unbelonging differently lately but if I have to think what is the moment of deflection that found its mate, that found its bride in narrative, an arranged marriage if you will, then it was that, the rivers of blood speech which I’ve now touched with my own hands, but even more than that famous document which is so liquid that it can appear out of the ether and out of electricity at the least touch of your computer or your phone, more than that, I’ve been reading letters from a varied public in response to that speech that are so full of praise and horror at the condition of 1968 or 1973, the smell of goat curry on an ambient breeze and so on. I’m tracking deflection and the memory of early childhood accelerating up to 1979 through those papers certainly. That’s the first thing I want to say, that Incubation, my God, has a biography of its own and every turn, something disastrous happens. It disappears, it is broken, it wins something, the prize is rescinded because the judge thinks it’s not actually fiction. I became a poet. It is deleted by a friend visiting me one day, it doesn’t return, I have to write it again in two weeks while my son is in Montessori and so on and on, and on until the present in which for the first time I feel as if in this UK Edition which I have with me here, that the pages have begun to stick together or they’re congregating or assembling and making a book properly for the first time. Maybe that’s where I can begin David/Kate with a memory of a tree, the conditions of the archive which are fleeting actually but which produce a kind of impasse and reverse engineer deflection as a form of epistolary confidence. Number three, wow, Kate Zambreno. [laughter]
DN: Kate Zambreno. Well, when you were on the Tender Buttons podcast, you talked about The Road novel and writer Douglas Martin’s original blurb on the original Incubation that suggested Incubation was a feminist postcolonial on the road, and you said at the time that you embraced the connection with Kerouac, pointed out that you had worked in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa. It was uncanny hearing you describe your time in Boulder as we both have spent roughly 20 years there but our times don’t overlap at all when you were describing going to El Chapultepec in Denver for jazz under the shadow of the baseball stadium. When I went there, there was no stadium. It was a forgotten and haunted part of Denver. My time in Boulder, the 70s and 80s, was much more a post-60s holdover place, the place of Mork & Mindy and going to Naropa to hear Ginsburg, and the Nicaraguan poets he would bring during the Sandinista era or his piano duet with the psychologist R. D. Laing and you arrived, as you recounted in Tender Buttons, just after he died and at one point we’re living in a house where he used to store his harmonium. But I wanted to ask you about form and time in relation to The Road novel, and more generally, in thinking of the relative absence of female road narratives, I think of Vanessa Veselka who said, “Whereas a man on the road might be seen as potentially dangerous, potentially adventurous, or potentially hapless, in all cases the discourse is one of potential. When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins. When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends.” Laloo’s experience fleeing racialized and gendered violence in the UK is to encounter it really in a different way in the United States. Her experienced hitchhiking begins in her own words because it seems glamorous and ultra American, and something inconceivable for her to do in England, yet there is nothing glamorous about the ways the monstrosity of American culture interacts with this brown girl with the red dot between her eyes. But on top of that, I feel like there’s something different about the way you engage with time than I would expect in a more normative male road novel. There is no sense of destination or quest, there’s a drifting quality to the book, you have the line, “Pilgrimage can be an abortion,” but also I feel like there’s a folding back on itself or an inversion, a blurring of who is giving birth and who is being born. We have the Hindu goddess Durga having sex with her male children, then the line in the book, “I want to have sex with what I want to become,” and another, “I could not stop her from giving birth to herself if I tried.” I think of the opening declarative line of the book, “Reverse the book in duration” followed by the question, “What does that mean?.” It reminds me of moments in your blog when you say things like, “Diasporic memory reverses itself to become a void and a bleed, a shunt and a cone,” or with Tender Buttons where you say, “Performance is a reversal, then an elaboration.” I guess thinking of the road narrative, what does it mean that Incubation opens with this command to reverse the book in duration? Tell us how you see time or directionality in relationship to incubation.
BK: Oh, thank you for such a rich question, David. As you’re speaking, I noticed that memories of making or writing the book return. Actually, one of the memories was present as soon as we began to speak and you stated the obvious, that you’re in Portland, Oregon and well, I’m in England. I can literally see a rose, a blackberry, let’s see, there’s a blackbird I could go on. It’s all out there waiting for me. Well, I don’t know if it’s waiting for me. It’s just out there, I can see it. But actually, this whole situation began, I’ve been in the US for about a week and I won this Fellowship to SUNY Brockport, and there was a poet there called Toni Pacini who was like, “I didn’t know who he was,” but it turned out that Tuesdays and Thursdays would be electrifying between 1990 and 1994. I was trying to find a way to prolong my J-1 Visa as it was then called, a visa actually that was deinstalled after 9/11. So J-1 Visa, you could complete your coursework, then you could get a visa to keep returning if you didn’t complete your thesis. Mine was on Salman Rushdie initially but I had an advisor Mark Anderson who disagreed with my reading of the end of Satanic Verses. I would go to his office, he would immediately pour himself a scotch and fight with me about postmodernism, and vice versa. [laughter] He felt that it was a void, rupture, fragmentation. I think at that time, I was incubating the very basic question that would become the guiding line, maybe for so much of the work that I’ve done over the last few years, which is how will the fragments attract. On a side note, Mark Anderson would go on to run over and kill a graduate student that he was also working with a few years later, and it made sense of that disturbed but ecstatic time that was brought to an end by Toni Pacini who died in 2001 I think. He said, “Just put together a creative writing thesis and we’ll pass you. We’ll allow you to complete,” because by that time I’d had a dream of an owl. In fact, on my first wedding night, I’d been to see an Australian [inaudible] film and I had this powerful dream of half owl, half being, what we call human being, singing, calling out to me. I remember just waking up in Rochester, New York and I knew at that point because I think Toni Pacini had assigned Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, that you should pay attention to dreams of that nature. I went into the kitchen where I just recently bought a strange meditation shoe thing that was tattered and also a Rand McNally Atlas, and I remember looking down the hallway and seeing my husband peacefully sleeping, a very nice, pleasant man called Meat Sauce who would bike to tops market in a blizzard to get me The New York Times and whatever, a steak, I actually eat steak at this time. But back then when I was menstruating, there’s the womb again, Kate. Anyway, everything was fine and I would watch basketball on a little portable television. I was a waitress. I was trying to finish my thesis and there it was, I stood up from the bed, walked down the corridor, took the Rand McNally Atlas in my hands and I said in my heart, “Wherever my fingertip lands, that’s where I’ll go, that’s where the owl is calling.” It landed on this place in the atlas called Loveland Colorado and that really set up the vector that got me to Colorado. In fact, back to Kate, that moment of bibliomancy in a library was actually when I was pregnant finally in Boulder, Colorado, actually with my second husband. He was also a very nice husband but I felt dull, I think just pregnancy probably. Anyway, we don’t have to go into that but I was like a void in between these times and places, and still quite new to the commitment of being in the United States, minutely you could say, and I walked up to the library at CU, and I also repeated the action and said, “Whatever my hand lands on as I drift through the stacks, that will be the next book,” and that was Humanimal which took nine years to get through. During that time, I was trying to write Incubation. I’m just trying to track I suppose the gestures or the energy that dislodged me at the same time that I’m reflecting I suppose on deflection. I’m trying to attend to the question about time but maybe I can just say that talking in this way, trying to remember writing a work that variously disappeared, was deleted, or was dropped and now has returned at the same moment that I have returned I suppose, it’s just that I feel just the energy may be of one of these two kinds of gestures, the kind of arc that got me to one place but also if I have to really go back and think not what are the sensations that I built the workaround but what was that gesture, when you said Oregon, that was it. The fellowship had begun in SUNY Brockport and there was a mug on the desk of the administrator of the writing lab. My fellowship allowed me to do nothing and just relish this strange, interesting, beautiful experience of Western New York in the fall with the red maple trees and just dazzling light and freedom. But also I traveled with someone called Sue Smith and she had an assistantship, which meant that she had to do 15 hours in the lab and it was all very confusing. I remember saying, “Oh, I’m not doing anything. I’ll just split it with you.” I’m not totally sure that I was paid but we split the work because we were British and we’d had a Marxist training at Loughborough University, and we were ready to share life. That’s how I ended up in the writing lab. It was on Dolores’ desk that there was a mug that said “Oregon,” just the point of the story. I hope that no one listening thinks that I’ve completely lost it here but my mind is trying to get back there, yes, the mug with the rainbow that said Oregon. I became obsessed and that’s how it began, and that’s how the book begins. I was filled with a desire to go to Oregon and felt that it was there beneath the rainbow that I should write my novel on yellow paper, and that’s what I did, on a side note with Dolores, although that didn’t go so well. I refer you to the U-Haul truck Fiasco, which I can’t totally talk about. But it’s the problem of the U-Haul truck that led to me hitchhiking and it all being quite a jumble.
DN: Well, in the US edition to the book, there’s an afterword by Emgee of Kelsey Street Press that begins with two definitions of incubation, the incubation of eggs and the development of the embryo but also the incubation of an infection before it manifests as a disease, both time-based in nature. Throughout the book, the book meditates on the difference between a monster and a cyborg, and on the nature of monsters with lines like, “Can’t always tell between a cyborg and person, whereas monsters are always identifiable as such by their long black hair and multiple arms retracted into the torso during lovemaking, and hitchhiking.” But also in your bio in Ban En Banlieue, it says you teach writing through the monster, architecture, and memory. In Incubation, you thank your students of many years from your hybrid forms seminar, a class which you collectively renamed the monster. I was hoping we could talk about the monster, the monstrous, how you see it both within Incubation but also when teaching where a class might assume this figure as its sigil.
BK: Let’s see. To answer your question, I must cross time, I must fly 10 hours through a cirrus sky, I must descend, arrive, and be in a place that I’m not sure quite exists in the way that it did when I inhabited it. Okay, I’m there in Upaya North or Upaya South, two cottages, semi-detached opposite a biodynamic greenhouse on the campus of Naropa University, and generally, that’s where I taught, very cold in the winter, windless and rather warm in the summer. I never understood how the other instructors or professors managed to be in environments much more luscious and protected than those cottages, maybe there was a signup list but I missed. Anyway, I was quite fond of these shabby cottages and Upaya from the Tibetan means path. I think it’s the Tibetan. Firstly, memories of teaching, I have memories of just the beginning of that close thinking or attention to the axial space between performance and narrative. Actually, now in the present, it’s what I would call impasse. Maybe the form of incubation is built through impasse itself, like the moment that the vectors were curtailed or the energizing or germinal impulse bled out. It’s true that there is a menstrual or uterine context to much of the language when I look back at it, which is different to look at now as I’m through the menopausal transition and so relieved that a cube of vibrating sharp blood doesn’t expel itself from my body at regular intervals. I have such excruciating period pain that when I was giving birth actually and the midwife said it’s time to push, I remember just fleetingly being so astonished to recognize that the contractions, the stage of labor when you push, the contractions of birthing were less painful than my menstrual cramps all those years. It made sense. “You are a woman,” said the home-birthing midwife and I just wanted to laugh. I was very chilled out and it was the quietest birth, the midwives said, that they’d seen, encountered, or dealt with in over 20 years. I’m remembering that actually, that’s how we began to speak in those classes as we entrained towards the hybrid brought in speakers or visitors, maybe even a gardener came in once, whoever was around really. But we began to think of hybridity not as a composition or an assemblage but actually to think through the midline. Yes, I’m remembering a visit of [Sara Rhoda] who led us through a craniosacral practice, developmental movements, pre-developmental movements. Her recollections of her, I suppose, the story that her mother had told her of her own conception in the marshes of Libya which actually, in the context of the recent floods, the unleashing force in those marshes lands differently but [Sara Rhoda] talked to the class about staying close to the, you could say not the initial context but the context that preceded birth itself and it’s interesting to think that our conversation began with May 1968 rather than June 1968, so not what preempts the birth memory but what are the forces, what other atmospheres, what other weathers, and what other landscapes that incubate the gesture that the heart cells take as they first ascend, then settle down like migration or soft flight, swans landing in some strange, weirdo lake, which I just saw the other day. Just that soft descent, that’s how we talked in that class. We also had so much movement and built our texts, and works from the inside out. That’s one memory. I remember a student lying on her back on top of the desk tables and these gestures of reaching, and touching, I can’t remember why this was happening but I remember that it was twilight, I remember that we’ve been reading Frankenstein, I remember that we were thinking about syntax as the place where nonverbal visceral time might most accurately or specifically be recorded, so that’s one type of memory. But perhaps to come to the present, that axial space now I’m reading as void or impasse as I said and I’m really curious about the ethics of impasse and what it would be to commiserate with impasse, the degradations of impasse, what can’t be reversed, yet which cannot be exceeded or accelerated, what can’t be recalled, actually, even though you’re the one who constructed this narrative possibility. David, what was the last part of your question? You asked about the teaching.
DN: Also just about the monster as a figure in general.
BK: Yes, yes, the monster is a figure in general. I’m also recalling that overlapping that time, I also had a practice as a bodyworker, so my speciality was orthopedic soft tissue bodywork but also I think maybe because of the way that I presented or that I was or the body that I’m in in the space that I was in Colorado, maybe people didn’t entirely know that, so sometimes people would ask me to speak to the dead, “Can you speak to the dead?” Maybe that’s not how they would have said it but my practice was on a spectrum, like very gentle touch. I had clients who were in the end stages of their life cycle, also working with newborns, then many people, I realize now, who were premenopausal, I didn’t understand that then, I don’t think, but lots of women are experiencing transitions of different kinds, bereavements but also hormonal transitions, so I began to integrate ayurvedic treatments as well. But also the two things I was really good at, like weirdly good, I once worked for a biotech company for their physical therapist and my only job was to basically dig my elbow into the QLs, the quadratus lumborum of a variety of computer software programmers on the diagonal between Boulder and Longmont. [laughter] It wasn’t that much, it was like $27 for 20 minutes of holding this and I could code it on the SOAP chart and get reimbursed. But I really had a skill and I still have that skill of just that way of engaging the tissue beneath the discordant or like crystallized, these are not the right words but like the fascia that had become bonded for postural reasons and similarly the levator scapula which we know as the crunchy places in our shoulders. Yeah, I had these skills and I think some of the cyborg and monster thinking came from that time where they have to think of assimilation or what it is to, I have to think actually being in Boulder, Colorado and the commonplace instant of entering a room in which often I was the only person of color, like if I have to think of my colleagues or other faculty, not always but often, mostly because I was coming from a bit north to teach and dropping my son off at school, also hurtling through the door whereas most of the other faculties seem to live on Pine Street where the Mork & Mindy house is, was it Spruce? I don’t know. To generalize, it was many people were strolling over to the campus whereas I had to drive from about an hour north because the rents, and this is 1999, just before I started at Naropa, I lived across the road, the landlord said the rent is going up from I think it was $800 to $1,900 for two months, then it would be $2,300. I think at that time, it just shut up. Google bros were about to gather in their techno [cavins] and it just became hard to live in Boulder, so I was commuting in and also having my bodywork practice. If I have to think of entering those rooms and those spaces, which over time also extended or expanded to other kinds of community spaces, and the experimental writing community, I remember the feeling of not flinching but freezing, almost like the middle of my body had to become a kind of metal, abdominal breastplate, I don’t know how to describe it, a compression, maybe a flinching but there was a metallic quality to it, then this other kind of life I was spending so much time, cross fiber friction, working with pressure points or working with others to release those patterns of rigidity. To me, the cyborg is rigid in the sense that the imprint of assimilation is the preemptive deflection of all possible touch. But if I have to think of the monster, the image comes from the work of Ana Mendieta which I’d seen in its complete form during the making of Incubation, so oh my God, 2004, I can’t quite remember but there was a retrospective in Des Moines, Iowa of the complete work, including her final work La Jungla (The Jungle), these charred tree trunks with markings on them and the work Body Tracks, the Siluetas in ways that I don’t think back then was so much in the consciousness of artists and writers in these kinds of experimental environments. It had such a profound impact on me to answer the question, “What is a monster?” I see the blood on the thighs, I see the hands dragging the red down and some of that imagery is certain to me there. In Incubation, the monster cannot conceal the fact that they are dripping and oozing from the inside out. That thing that we might call a hybrid work has begun to fail, not at its seems but somewhere else. There’s a bleed, it’s internal, and it’s this exsanguination occasion that constitutes the monstrous for me. It’s monstrous precisely because it produces shame. Imagine being a girl in a white salwar kameez, it’s your uniform. Imagine that nobody has told you a story of the body over time, imagine that you stand up and from the waist down to the backs of your knees, your white suit as, it’s called then, is red, and you having your first menstruation, that is girlhood. These were the kinds of stories I grew up with. Yes, patriarchy, it’s the thing that’s both inside and outside your house. But I’m particularly interested in the embarrassment of being exposed to others as having bled you could say.
DN: I’d love for people to hear one paragraph from the Coda in the UK Edition where you dedicate the book to all the monsters.
[Bhanu Kapil reads from Incubation: A Space for Monsters]
DN: Well, there’s this great introduction that’s only in the US edition by Eunsong Kim and I particularly liked her meditation on gender in it where she says, “The switch between she and he from she to he is assumed yet never clarified, so much so that when the narrator states, ‘I was a monster’ but the surgeon said no, it is perhaps best to imagine Laloo as she imagined herself, a monster duplicate within himself.” Lastly, when genders are queried, it is for divine creatures alone. The narrator states, “We were Hindus but what is an angel in retrospect? Whether red or white, it is a man in a dress with a different gender.” When you were on the Ethereal podcast and they asked you how you identify yourself you said, “As a waste product of society, alien, monster deluxe, failed British novelist, failed middle-aged housewife deluxe.” When I think about this monster. [laughter]
BK: Failed Asian-American housewife deluxe, I would like to clarify.
DN: Okay. When I think about this monster pre-surgery, really being a man in a dress with a different gender and all the modes that you name, and present yourself as a failure within, society, novelist, housewife, both suggest a way of being that both can’t be contained or defined, that fail within the existing containers and definitions. In that spirit, we have a question for you about form from the publisher and editor Andrew Wille.
Andrew Wille: Hello, David, and hello, Bhanu. Thank you, David, for inviting me to Between the Covers. I’m a big fan of your podcast and I’m also a big fan of Crafting with Ursula, and that all seems quite a magical connection right now because this time last week, I was just settling down to watch a performance by Bhanu based on the new edition of Incubation: A Space for Monsters which was to celebrate the award of the Space Crone Prize for writing inspired by and dedicated to Ursula K. Le Guin, so yes, that little magical connection I think set us up here because today, we’re here for you, Bhanu, and I’m beaming in from West London via Portland, and back to Cambridge. I want to ask you a question and that question is when is the piece of writing finished? I know that you have an interest in unfinished writing. I know for example that on your blog, the blog that you used to run “Was Jack Kerouac A Punjabi?” you made a statement something like, “I write books before their books,” and I know that blogging, the spontaneous and immediate form of blogging, was very important to you as a writing practice for many years. I also know that you’re a big fan of Natalie Goldberg and that you take on board Natalie-inspired writing practice frequently and using prompts or writing freely, following the mind wherever it goes for particular blocks of time. I also know that you’ve extended this creative practice into other forms. You often use drawing in many different ways. For example, inspired by teachers such as Linda Barry, you draw mandalas, sometimes you use tarot as inspiration, sometimes you use stencils, I’ve just discovered this week but also importantly, now I’m thinking like an editor or a publisher, among all of this creative output, you also produce books. I know that How To Wash A Heart was written very quickly within a short block of time and I also know for example that Incubation: A Space for Monsters is a book that’s gone into two rather different editions or at least the second edition has some significant extras. At that point, I wonder how a finished book becomes a different finished book. Natalie Goldberg says she knows where she’s going when she writes a book and I just wondered how, among all your many creative practices, which also include teaching, which also includes performance, how have you known where you were going when you have decided to create a book? I want to ask you, when is the piece of writing finished?
BK: Andrew Wille with whom I was just this morning texting on a group thread with my sister about our autumnal instant pot breakfasts, this is really quite exciting. I knew that The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers was finished when I stated its title. I was giving birth, I was in the phase of birthing, that is contractions, and I think I’ve told this story maybe eight and a half times now but basically, we had a landline that was affixed to a wall and it rang, and I was laboring, the phone rang, and I asked it and it was Patricia Dienstfrey from Kelsey Street Press, this would be I think January 5th, 2001 at 4:32 PM. She’s like, “Oh, Bhanu, it’s Pat. I need the title. Going to press,” and it just burst out of me, then it was done, and also a few hours later, baby but I remember that felt complete. The second book that I began that didn’t come until later, Humanimal: A Project for Future Children, that one was really clear to me because I’d had a lot of doubles. You’ve invoked doubles, David, throughout this conversation and I noticed there was a bifurcation between a wolf girl and my father or a story about my father as a goat herd, then this owl girl appeared like my son’s maybe fingerprints, butter smears in the bathroom mirror, I don’t know, he was like four, so there was a smudge and there was another creature, then that creature began to speak. I remember those doublings which perpetuated the book. But I remember coming close to the end of Humanimal and one day opened the newspaper or read on the internet a story of a young woman who had emerged from a jungle, a Southeast Asian jungle covered with scratches, zero had been living with the animals in the forest. The minute that I read that, I understood that because the doubling had appeared beyond the book, that the book was complete. That I really remember. With Incubation, it’s something very different because it kept dropping from view. It won, I can’t remember, it’s called New York Press book prize, I don’t know what it was but at that time, Talia Field was in Boulder and she took me out to lunch one day, and supposedly I’d been a bit haunted by this conversation, not in a bad way, but she couldn’t say who her friend was but her friend was a judge of this prize and that I’d won the prize. But when the friend had submitted it to the publisher, the publisher didn’t feel it was a novel and there had been a [inaudible], the judge had dropped out and the prize was dropped that year, there was only a poetry prize but no prose prize. I think this must have been 1999, something like that, or early 2000. It went on and on like that. I have felt a lot of relief with Incubation that doesn’t have a horizontal story, a spatialized story, or a sagittal story in the way that the book that preceded it The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, or that followed it Humanimal: A Project for Future Children, I can see how those works came to be and it’s everything to do with the relationship with the publisher, as in fact, the experience with this book is. But this one was like it would just, I don’t know, I don’t know where the book would go. A friend came over when I was typing it up when it was going to be published by Leon Works, I was looking at something, press something, the whole file I’d been working on for a year just disappeared and it could never be retrieved, then I had just two weeks to rewrite, otherwise, the book would come out the following year. There was something about the order of printing. There was a rushed attempt to complete and maybe that set the tone for everything that came afterwards because Kate is right, I was a new mother and I don’t know, newly divorced. I think I had five teaching. Yeah, I was teaching at Front Range Community College, Naropa, Goddard, my bodywork practice and writing gigs here and there and trying to just get it together to try and sustain work. The experience actually of completing it was everything to do with anxiety and rushing a bit, working from notebooks, and just putting things together, precisely because they vanished or had been depleted by embarrassment, I don’t know. By this time, I was in my mid-30s, that kind of age and nothing much had happened, like writing didn’t equal love. Writing was intensity, tablecloths, cafes, and relationships, friendships. The confusing thing is then when Incubation was dropped from the press that was publishing it, then the final copy glamorously arrived in the post wrapped in plastic, I was confused but also very interested to learn from the moment in which a book that I thought I had finished was also finished. At that time, I really wanted to go to New Jersey, the Jersey Shore and just maybe do some performance with the book there which is how the book opens, a Ford Cortina ruptures the Atlantic foam and Laloo begins their journey. But I didn’t do that and instead this bifurcation poetry, prose, and now these two versions which depend upon the relationship with a publisher, I can say it has felt very satisfying, at least, I’m looking at this UK version, and hope to think the US version MG said is coming out this month. I think when I see that, I’ll feel I don’t know, relieved or some kind of relief and that’s like a problem, like why is it mildly intolerable to have published something that’s no longer an artifact?
DN: Let me maybe ask this question around form in another way because thinking of this that this book that is singled out for a claim and yet rejected by the same prize gets published, then nearly dies and now comes back on both sides of the Atlantic, thinking about its failure to be a novel, I want to ask you about your relationship to the novel form because nearly all of your books place themselves in relationship to it. In Schizophrene, perhaps most famously, you say that for years, you were trying to write a novel on the partition of India and Pakistan, and its transgenerational effects and that when you knew you had failed, you tossed the final draft into your garden where it was buried in the snow over the winter, then in the spring, you recover the fragments and begin using them to create what we now know as Schizophrene. In The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers you say quote, “I’m writing this on my side at noon in the basement, on the carpet, in front of the space heater,” page 79, 80, or 81, “I have not said one thing about what actually happened between us. Sometimes I think that all the books about what actually happened have already been written, that the only book left is the book of a refugee who has never left the country of her birth, written on the torn-out pages of old comic books, Batman, Bunty, Tales from the Crypt with invisible ink and held with shrimp tongs above the burner,” which reminds me of the account of the mother in the same book who couldn’t bring her diaries from Pakistan so burned them and carried the ash in lacquered boxes, or the grandfather in How To Wash A Heart that burns his notebooks then scrapes the ash into a hole he could button up, or in the preface to the Ignota book on Hildegard of Bingen’s writing called Unknown Language where you say, “The lore of the fragment was what brought us together, like wasps licking a wooden frame to build their nests. Each time we heard the story we took some of it back, in our mouths, like damp chemicals or pulp + saliva. Then spat it out to fill a hole or make the wall stronger.” But perhaps most notably is in Ban En Banlieue whose alternate title was Ban: Notes for a novel never written where you say, “I wanted to write a novel but instead wrote this, I wrote the organ suites, the bread rich parts of the body before it’s opened, then devoured. I wrote the middle of the body to its end,” and also, “The project fails at every instant and you can make a book out of that and I do, in the same time that it takes other people to write their second novel that is optioned by Knopf.” You’ve called that book, not a novel but a novel-shaped space. I would love to hear more about your relationship to the novel and its normative existence, and what it means to not write one but to do something entirely different but within a novel-shaped space.
BK: Thank you, David. Andrew Wille noted mandala practice, so every day, I begin my day by opening a notebook at this table where I’m actually talking with you and I draw a circle. I actually thought about ordering a compass but I’ve become quite adept at making the circle, then I fill that circle, I try not to think too much, a scribble, a score and sometimes I combine that with my meditation practice, or I’m simply breathing or I’m following the line. This has been going on, maybe it could be almost 10 years or more. In the first instant, I’m really curious about the mandala as a cartographic void and also like no time this fathomless zero, and what it takes to populate that space and with the proviso and the way that we’re talking about biologies, that they might be deflected, so this is a population that could be an abortion on a mass scale, it could be a fleeting population. By population, I mean a population of colors, marks, or shapes. It’s different every day but one of the things that I like to do when I finish a notebook is to look back at the mandalas and to note what’s moving or the change of direction if you like. That’s one thing I’m learning about narrative time or a way of producing a sequence that is non-successive, that doesn’t sustain itself through touch but rather conjoin, not perpendicular but just these moments that the images, they don’t repeat and they don’t recur and so what are they doing? How is it that the different parts of these void constructions, these mandala figurations, how are they speaking to each other and how are they speaking to each other across the space of this notebook and this other kind of intensely private or prosaic writing that’s going on around them? I’ve really been noticing that, like what it takes to sustain a practice and what it is to open time each time you sit down at this table in the country that you were born in. That’s one thing and maybe it answers Andrew Wille’s question, but I know something is complete when even the traces, the imprints, or the kind of waste products of an image have been absorbed at last into the paper or other kind of writing that might be a caption or a list, the kind of notebook writing that I was speaking of, it disseminates and does not recur. To me, that is the limitation of the form of the novel as it’s built through images or even scenes. I could never find a way not to bring value to images themselves. I was told from an early age that I had a gift for creating vivid language and so it’s precisely like this weird gift of feeling colors and being able to write but never paint them that gave me my life as someone between a notebook and a book. Great. But actually, I found that in my life as it was lived and the books and forms that I were writing did not do what I hoped they would do, they did not dislodge or move from my blood, the blood of my community, or the blood of my varied communities, those many kinds of blood, the rivers of blood, Enoch Powell, it didn’t do anything other than coagulate the instances and occasions as a form of intense and beautiful repetition. For me, that became the impasse. I did not know how to write myself out of the book and in fact, books were stabilizing trauma or timed trauma in ways that were so different to what was happening through bodywork or in my own idea of what does it mean to be human in the present time with the nonidentical and beloved others. It wasn’t working out, David, and so I had to find another way. [laughter]
DN: Well, the last guest on the show, Kate Briggs, her main character Helen in her new book The Long Form, time travels with her baby and interrupts E. M. Forster’s lecture about the novel given to an audience of all men with her baby in her arms. One thing Briggs however likes about Forster’s speech that she herself employs is his notion that the novel operates in two modes of time, not just the sequential mode but a more important one, which I think you just spoke to, which is measured not by units but by intensity and how intensity can affect our relationship to our experience of time. I feel like your books operate in this mode. One of the ways they do is with color. Laloo means red and the book is saturated in the blood of birth, of menstration, and also I think the specter of sexual violence. But you also said in a long-ago conversation on a podcast called Radio Albion, that your own family name Kapil means healing through color and light. We have a question for you that is both related to color and to yet another novel that perhaps haunts in your work in some way. Here’s a question from Sofia Samatar.
Sofia Samatar: Hi, Banu. This is Sofia Samatar. I am so excited and happy to be talking to you and to be able to ask you a question. I am holding my copy of Incubation: A Space for Monsters and it has a bright yellow back cover. It makes me want to ask you about novels on yellow paper. Because I can remember you talking maybe years ago or writing on and off about this idea of a novel on yellow paper and possibly about the book The Secret Garden. I wondered if you could talk about this and where possibly you see a space for monsters within the novel on yellow paper or within The Secret Garden. Thank you.
BK: This is such a delight. I cannot believe this. Sofia, I say hello to you in the podcast. Wow. Wow, I’ve never had an experience like this, David, it is just really shocking. Sofia, how you remember this. Well, that’s what happened in the mall outside Eugene Oregon, which is I was standing there with an enormous stuffed, I don’t know what it was, was it a bear or unicorn, one of these like large puffy life-size creatures someone had, was it a host had given me as a gift before I left New York and somehow had thought I should bring that and a backpack full of yellow paper. That was really what I was in Oregon to do but things had fallen apart. I had no money and yes, set myself up in the Eugene Public Library. Sorry, I had about like $40 or something so it was enough for like a couple of nights at a youth hostel where there were two bunk beds and I just thought I’ll come up with a plan in those two days. That was a longtime idea and it came from meeting an amazing woman called Ruth Godwin and her husband Dennis Godwin in London in St John’s Wood long, long ago. I had been in a relationship with their godson. He went to the bathroom and they were like, “What are you doing with him? He is promiscuous. He is a terrible boyfriend. Why?” Then when he had returned to Amsterdam—note to self, I could right now be running some kind of Tango cabaret club in the Netherlands, but no, I am here, that’s okay—they invited me to dinner by myself and I think I just won this strange competition for the free master’s degree in obscure college in New York, and this was when I didn’t even fully comprehend that New York was a State. Maybe I thought I was going to Manhattan and was quite surprised to discover things like Binghamton, Rochester, and Buffalo. It was like that. They sat me down and Ruth was friends with Michael Hamburger, the translator, and they had an orchard with trees that had been planted by all of the translators of the 20th century. I’ll never forget it and I don’t know how to find my way back there. They said, “We’ve invited you to dinner,” this was in like their grand city house and I’d never been in a home like that like pushing open an indigo gate embedded in a u-hedge to enter this dark deeply posh and shabby, gorgeous, dimly-lit home, a long table, they boiled some chicken. Dennis had commanded the Ethiopian army at the age of 16 like disturbing things, the kind of people from another era that I’d never met but they said, “We feel that you are a writer,” or at least Ruth said that to me, “What are you writing?” I think I was so nervous much as I felt nervous to do this podcast because I find it very difficult to remember that I’m a writer, perhaps because I have not properly lived as one for most of my life, but I burst out, “I’m going to America,” as I would have said then, “to write a novel on yellow paper.” That brought it into being and culminating in a show at a space called SALTS in this some world European art vortex and you can Google it online and there’s all of the yellow paper and notes on yellow paper that I sent to the curator whose name I think is Harry Burke and it was installed as a solo show with my wretched trousseau and notebooks galore. That is a story about yellow paper and The Secret Garden. As you asked that question, Sofia, I saw in my mind the final image of the film Pan’s Labyrinth, and that to me has been a very haunting image. I’m trying to write it. I haven’t found the form but in the interim, Sofia and David, and Andrew and Kate, I just recently just casually completed a short novel called Promiscuity: a novel from life, and contrary to everything I’ve said on this podcast, it is a very basic and linear retelling of my history of sexual touch from a young age up to the age that I am now, or I should say just before. This is an analog to Incubation, maybe it’s the actual coda or diptych moment. But yeah, the paper was not yellow but I did, it’s true, write it on my side.
DN: I wanted to take these questions of failure and form into questions of home and belonging, which is one of the strongest throughlines across your books. In your Coda to the US version, you talk about how Lauren Berlant’s writing about you, which appears in her coda of her book called On the Inconvenience of Other People, how it helped you with how to structure and represent Incubation to the public. In her coda talking about you and also about the work of James Ellroy, which she looks at together throughout, she says, “This coda is about being and writing with unbearable objects, not by becoming hard like them or soft in empathic compensation but by loosening them up and becoming loose with them, if not like them.” Also, she says, “These writers decide to take on what they do not want to accommodate or adjust to. The object is already in them as a structuring fact of life but they can’t bear to live with it the way they know how. Their aim is not to get to the root of relation or to dominate knowledge but to affect the infrastructure in which relation forms.” She also says, “These artists become different by the failure of their tools,” and “The transformational infrastructure relies on being on the verge created by continuous proximity to that frustration.” Reading this, I feel like the unbearable object or one unbearable object, in your case, seems to me to be the absence of home as a fixed place, either as an origin or a destination. Your work almost always exists in a triangulated way between the UK, the US, and India, not just leaving England and then Laloo discovering the racialized and gendered violence of the US and the precarity of its capitalism with lines in Incubation like, “Possible occupations not requiring proof of health insurance or a permanent address. Number one: translator of the INS homepage for Punjabi taxi drivers in New York City. Two: can’t think of anything else.” With India, I think of the gang rape in Ban en Banlieue, but also in Humanimal, your book set in India about the girls supposedly raised by wolves who may have simply been neurodivergent but have been othered, subsumed, and consumed by the narrative of the missionary who “saves” them. Here in this book, you’re an outsider too and you’re seen as an outsider. There is this sense of nested narratives with the French film crew with you watching from the margins and the folkloric theater troop that’s reenacting what happened to the girls. There’s always, instead of the fictive spell, an observer voice, a voice at a distance, and I wondered about home, hospitality, and immigration when I think about you, performance, and memory, especially given that you’ve said that performance is where you incubate your material for your books. But you’ve also said performance is a way to replace the reality of foreign landscapes, say the landscape of Boulder when you were living there with a memory of a familiar or a familial one, and that you felt like when you returned to England, a lot of your performances were falling flat. In one interview, you say that back in England, you feel less of a need for installation or performance because, for you, it’s a diasporic form, a conjuring of an elsewhere. I don’t know if this sparks anything for you regarding home or the impossibility of home or this idea of Berlant of writing with an unbearable object but becoming loose with it rather than becoming like it.
BK: Oh, thank you, David. I’m in awe of your questions. You’re one of those people like when you talk, image environments appear so I’ve been trying to track these scenes that start to open up which are also memories and impressions, so thank you so much. It’s so generous the way that you’ve prepared and attuned to the work of this me over here. Firstly, Lauren Berlant, the night that Lauren had passed, I dreamed of them, they came to my dream I suppose, and said so clearly, I’ll have to look back in my notebook but it was either like a command and it was as powerful as the dream of the owl that I told earlier, a luminous dream in the sense that it woke me up, I recalled it, it was so powerful, and Lauren Berlant said, “Bhanu, live the most extraordinary life,” something like that, or “Bhanu, have the most extraordinary life.” It was just, you could say, a command but also a reminder. I’ve been trying to hold on to that. Hearing this language makes me feel so sad but it’s not possible to talk these things through in this form with Lauren anymore. Anyway, much gratitude to Lauren Berlant. I’m trying to connect to the question but maybe I can respond through performance, and I realize, which gives me hope that some of my interviewing vibe from like two years ago or one year ago as you maybe are drawing from interviews or other things I might have published, maybe not that they’re out of date but that things have shifted, in part because the autumn equinox portal has just opened and I refuse to have another late autumn or winter in the United Kingdom that feels as if like a copper, tin lid, a saucepan lid has just been put over the sky and lowered directly onto my head. I mean I have full-on protocol. I’m out there at 5:50, barefoot on the dew, etc, robin, blackbird, ravens you name it, whatever’s out there. I’m trying to stay in touch with the increments of light, petals, and the variation of the season and it’s going well. But I think part of that was certainly the shock of returning to England and not like the West London of my upbringing, but rather this other part of England and a very different society. But I will say, and that something that’s really helped me which came from a luckily health insurance persisted for a year into the pandemic, I still had my Naropa Insurance so I had therapy on Zoom with a wonderful somatic therapist in Boulder Jodi. One day when I said to Jodi I’m struggling, I’m struggling to take this place in or to adhere to the surfaces of the world, Jodi said, “Maybe it’s not so much that you have to expend so much effort in absorbing the environment that you’re in or the surfaces, but rather, you have to let it absorb you.” That was a reversal that really helped me but it also actually impacted what it was to reread Incubation and to think about that, let’s just call it primordial joy when I first arrived and that feeling of possibility. It took a long time to renarrate that ideal freedom, that escape from patriarchy deluxe that strangely was more concentrated in my immigrant or diasporic community in the UK than it even was in India let’s say. That was a problem that Eunsong touches upon in the preface, the new preface. But actually, what really strikes me is how differently I feel about performance. It is true that when I returned to the UK, my performances fell flat in this country and perhaps other countries pre-pandemic because I could not, I think, feel my heart or the inside of myself. I think I was slightly numb just the shock of the darkness, the rain, and the weather, and also a testament to how connected I had become to so many others in the United States, the Midnight Supper Club with Truong Tran and MGD friends in San Francisco, lukewarm cappuccinos with Melissa Buzzeo and Caffè Reggio in Greenwich Village, all of that. Then the exhaustion of reading in a magazine in a dentist’s waiting room oh, in order for someone to feel like a friend, you have to spend 500 hours with them? So like, David, we’ve just spent one and a half hours with each other, 498 left to go.
DN: I’m ready. [laughs]
BK: Yeah, well, it’s exhausting. I began to meet poets or meet old friends again, which was so touching. When I won those prizes, it was only because of that but people I had not seen or talked to for years got in touch because I left the UK before email. So all of that was great except I understood that I would have to drink at least 400 more bloody flat whites before feeling at home in this new community. Anyway. But actually, the thing that’s really changed is performance. While it is true that performance in the United States came out of teaching, yes, strong interest in revision or rewriting as writing, which I think is a mantra or chant that appears in Incubation, that was like, you could say my pedagogy was just really curious about tracking these voids or the places where the work stops or evaporates and waiting there. Perhaps that was contemplative practice like the training in tolerating these moments and expanded practices, listening practices, but also tactile practices, what is it like to build something in a space where something needs to be built in the context of shelter or even the elaboration of a space and why are we elaborating the space, which is like language from design but also nest culture, Narrative and Nest was the name of a seminar that I taught for some time. I think at that time, drawing in the theories of Elizabeth Grosz and maybe theories that I don’t live and work through now, but back then, it was clear that as we stage the hybrid, the novel, or the work and we reach the limits of our own capacity to bear form or amplify form like what can we do? Then there was an amazing seminar where I think I had been reading Bergson and all of this, I have a friend called Andrea Spain who runs basically a dog rescue in Starkville, Mississippi. She’s also a postcolonial professor out there, a film professor. She’d been taking seminars with Liz Grosz and reading Bergson so I’d get all this stuff from her on the phone. Just from that ultra theory time and taking it to a fiction class let’s say, we’d sample or take a scene that we couldn’t work out, and in small groups, we’d move the work forward and then reverse it very slowly. It was like a fusion of what I was trained to do as a bodyworker but training others to build gesture. That was all about retracting let’s say the area of the shoulder or the arm, the whole arm, really spiraling an arm or the thing that we might call an arm back towards the sternum and then through shaking and other movements, extending that gesture, how do you remind the body of new possible gestures? Reversing time, moving it forward, there were these small performances that happened in that seminar. I think it happened during the summer writing program, that really moved everyone’s work along if I’m remembering it correctly. Please, if you’re listening to this podcast and it was sh*t and nothing ever happened, do get in touch, a refund of eight Snickers bars is forthcoming. [laughter] That was so useful and that happened through teaching. Then when I couldn’t get beyond the part of Ban where the girl is crumpling, I was studying and thinking also and teaching through architecture and thinking about chronic experiences, diurnal, daily but also acute experiences of racist affect like 1979, 1983, 1987, all these kinds of years, and thinking about what would an anti-racist architecture be, in fact, I wouldn’t have used that language. I’ve never used that language. But I had the idea of like walls that could also crumple. When that flinching happened, what would it be to build something that could receive that flinch as crumple and then I suppose where a person could rest or even be enfolded by something not exactly inflatable but something that would both compress and protect the inner life, which is to say the internal organs but also the sense of being there at all. Anyway, I couldn’t get beyond this certain point in Ban and that’s when I turned to performance in order to substitute a landscape and to stage it as balcony in the middle of my friend Sharon Carlisle’s installation, she had been clearing some earth in the garden to build a female Buddha on her side. All of that made sense as a way to make contact with an environment that was 10 hours away, 5,000 miles away, and that I hadn’t really experienced for many years beyond fleeting visits to London on route to India to see my mom. But now I would say thinking of the performance that Andrew mentioned which was hosted by prototype, incredible Jess Chandler and working with most magnificent human beings and Blue Pieta, dramaturg, choreographer, performer Yasmin Rai and Nina Harries, performers, musicians, and poets also and this strange thing happened which is I’ve been drawing in my mandala like the presence of the heart healer, so anxiety, all of the [inaudible] of unbelonging, the word I’m trying not to use anymore. There was something and it said like imagine the presence of a heart healer, and suddenly, I began to imagine or portray, I suppose, in my imagination or during these meditations the presence of an ancestor from Sayra Pinto comes the language, an ancestor is someone you can still tell a story about, Sayra Pinto is my co-teacher with Matt Kolan and Elena Georgiou at the University of Vermont where we teach together in this extraordinary program. Anyway, bringing in the presence of this ancestor and then in my mandalas, I began to draw these conjoined forms. One day, I realized it was the outline of Gangotri ma, who would have been my father’s grandmother, and he had stories of lying in her lap as a toddler I guess and people would come from all over India for her to, in English, lay hands on them and can’t ask him, he’s no longer here but his stories are that as he lay in her lap, and my father was like a ferocious headmaster mustachio-like person and not prone to mystical language but he recalled the play of light, rainbow-colored light, light of many colors around her hands and her arms and I think he told me this when I first came back from the States in the 90s and said, “I’ve been so broken open in this new place and the poetry that is there that I had begun to see this violet light all around my arms and hands.” I think I’d asked him about it and he had that memory. In my mandala, I’m drawing the outline of this sari, and then in the middle, there were these chaotic gesture, posture sets, and I realized I was drawing the heart healer presence holding this trauma body. Then in the performances created in collaboration with Blue Pieta, Yasmin Rai, and Nina Harries, and when I say collaborated, in a way like in Ban, like just because something is hybrid doesn’t mean the different parts of it have to touch, but like the images or one of the culminating images which derives actually from a pre-image, Mendieta but also our shared history, so Blue Pieta, [Hashim Qureshi] is from a Pakistani background and Yasmin Rai is from Punjabi Indian background on the other side, and they are much younger than me but we share, inculcate, and receive near identical imagery that are everything to do with the unbearable sexual thought that arises whenever a person might repeat the word partition in conversation. The final part of the performance is that Blue is inserting flowers into Yasmin’s sexual parts you can say, and I am behind and I’m holding her head. It was only a week later that I understood that the performance that had happened, it wasn’t in the notebook but it was in performance that this image was finally disseminated. It’s very, very beautiful and it’s very different to what happened before and this is something completely new that depends upon being with others and it is diasporic, although we don’t often talk about it except sometimes when we talk about the images and memories that each of us had during rehearsal or during performance. I’m just in awe of what it has been like to work with them.
DN: Staying with this new form of performance, I love your performances and rituals from the past. For instance, the class that I took with you called “Writing a sentence in the air, on a windowsill or at nighttime when it’s raining & you’re not at home,” which opened with an Alejandra Pizarnik sentence, “I have walked in the unknown rain,” and then you had us doing a series of practices using pigments that we brought, in my case, blackberries, coffee beans, and charcoal in relation to both gestures and sentences from our own writing notebooks which we then placed into a matrix or a Goddard College Podcast where you consumed a rose and then you regurgitated the rose before giving the reading and talk about how your mother, when pregnant with you, would sit under a rose bush, and that given that you lost your accent when you were sent to a school in the English countryside, you were using the rose to help retrain your mouth for lost sounds. But perhaps the most notorious ritual relates to the trauma of your childhood, which you recount in multiple books of living next to a member of the national front who used to empty out the delivered milk bottles of his Brown neighbors and fill them up with his own urine, your neighbor making chai or pouring it over their corn flakes and running outside to vomit in the garden next to yours. Your performance, your ritual with urine in one jar and milk in another where you pour the urine, which is really lemon ginger tea steeped overnight into an empty jar and then pour the milk into the jar that’s just been emptied and then you drink it for the rest of the performance, you say that the audience often looks away as you do, [laughter] and yet you tell us in the UK Coda, one audience member wrote you a decade later with a request for a blurb recalling the feeling in their own body when you drank the urine. That transference of what you did on stage with the performative urine into the body of this person in a way that endured for them as a somatic memory makes me think of something you say in the US Coda about the inventor of mirror box therapy where if you were missing a leg and he placed the mirror box where the leg once was so that it mirrors the intact present one, the person’s phantom pain would be relieved. Both of these cause real effects in the body, one transfers your pain from your past, from your specific childhood into the blurb seeker, and the other using an image gets a phantom pain to disappear within the same body of the person experiencing the pain. In that spirit, we have a question for you from the dancer and choreographer you collaborated with, Blue Pieta.
Blue Pieta: Hi Bhanu. I’m currently sitting under an oak tree as I ask you this question. In Incubation, my feeling is that you tend not to name experience but instead use language as a means of somatically embedding the reader into experience, which creates an embodied response. This relates back to your work in performance. During our collaborations, an idea that you consistently refer to is this idea of performance as incarnation. I was wondering if you could talk to us more about what that means to you and how it affects your body of work and your life. Thank you and lots and lots of love.
BK: Oh, Blue, I love you. Please go to Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston promptly because there awaits you The Imitation of the Rose by Clarice Lispector, which I had glimpsed. It was not the actual rose but it was one. I don’t know what’s in the book but it reminded me of your housewife scenes and our mutual desire to one day make the acquaintance of Pedro Almodóvar. Anyway, what a joy and what a shock. I can’t even believe this podcast reality for which I am foregoing the [inaudible] term meet and greet at the faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. But actually, I often feel too shy to go to those gatherings so it’s okay. Amazing. I’m in deep shock and I don’t know how this is happening. [laughter] But I will also respond. What is such a pleasure about this podcast is all of the memories of teaching that have come back all that time at Naropa, which actually came to a close in a difficult way or a strange way or the way that everything closed its peak Circa 2016, meaning as in so many communities, in so many places, and on so many campuses and on the ground of so many universities all over the world, the walls of the university became the thing that we were thinking about. When I say the word walls and the word institution, of course, I think of and honor the work of Sara Ahmed. But in this case, we had a protest against racialized and gendered instance of harm that had circulated upon the campus and students led a movement, built an encampment under the aforementioned tree where Allen Ginsberg gave his William Blake lectures, they built an encampment. This was a moment of rupture completely. Sometimes if I think of my last four years at that university, in fact, when you introduced me, David, and don’t go back and correct it, but actually it was 16 years in The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Actually, after that four years in other departments, I stepped out of the creative writing space, and really, that’s I think the thing that showed up in my work was a curiosity about hospitality, corridors, and the chronicity of entering spaces in which everyone else is White. I remember a student who wasn’t White coming to office hours and saying, “Bhanu, do you ever feel when you enter a room of White people that they will kill you or the voice of another great-grandmother but on the maternal side avoid spaces in which White people congregate?” That was the context. It was difficult sometimes in the same way that it’s actually been difficult to talk about writing and to remember my life as a writer in another country. It’s been difficult to remember teaching or to think about teaching precisely in a space that I can’t easily, I don’t think, reenter precisely because of the kinds of ruptures I’m describing that have been overwritten by many other gestures. I don’t say these things with an interest in returning to that time but what I’m noticing is the intense gratitude that I feel for those years of incubating performances, thinking, writing slowly, writing fast, many mistakes, many, many, many mistakes but that was the incubator. The question of incarnation comes back to a class I co-took with Melissa Buzzeo one summer called the Charnel Ground. I had been writing and thinking on my blog about ring cell. After a cremation, the ash is studied and what is in the ash, an eyebrow, an eyelash, look up, is there a rainbow, a rainbow on a mug that says Oregon in 1990, you look around and you study these moments, which might be remains, crystallized keratin or other artifacts of bone, but also in the sky, in the environment around the [inaudible] or this place where the body has been burned, and it’s these signs that are then read as the potential of a next incarnation. This is how I trained myself and this is how I worked with others to really, at the end of a performance, to build it in time to even write but also, most importantly, to analyze the detritus, what’s left on the floor, the stains, the regurgitated like rose, and just to take a photograph but somehow to remember with the sensation or feeling that the next work, the next gesture of the work, or the next performance will come out of this. Blue, we didn’t gather it but Sarah Shin of Ignota and Nisha Ramayya, an extraordinary incredible vocalist, performer, and poet in the UK, I noticed that afterwards, they gathered the ruined, trampled, intact carnations and both of them sent me images, or Nisha sent me images of the carnations that had been taken back to their own homes and also the bed sheet that Jess Chandler had bought from her child’s bedroom to cover the crate that had been created, Blue, by your housemate, all of this is so interesting. I remember just after our event and after our performance looking at that bed sheet, which was light blue and I noticed that it seemed like, I haven’t talked about this with you yet, but I noticed that it looked like a cloud. Then I noticed the displacement of the red flowers and the way that they were rehoused on a window sill in someone else’s home. I wanted to think with you about clouds and maybe we should go to the National Gallery and look at the painting of John Constable. I want to think with you about the red flowers and what does it mean to really follow red flowers everywhere. But what if they’re gone and how do we make our way to that window sill and, with our fingertip, write a sentence in the condensation above the dust?
DN: Well, I want to take Blue’s thoughts about incarnation into questions of the body in relation to the structural. It’s interesting that Eunsong Kim, in her intro, doesn’t compare Incubation to Kerouac but to the green book, the book written as a guide for Black travelers through segregationist states, that Kim places Incubation within the tradition of guide as warning and suggests it’s indebted to books like The Negro Motorist Green Book. It makes me think of how your books are always looking at how structural forces are somatized. For instance, in an event, which I think you just referred to for Ignota, you quote your mom remembering what your great-great-grandmother said, “Avoid spaces where White people congregate.” When I think of Boulder, one of the widest spaces of congregation, or other places you’ve taught, Goddard College or Vermont, you’ve taught in many very White spaces, what you said in your blog, “When my own health practitioner examining my carotid scan looked at me and said, ‘Is there any area in which you are experiencing chronic stress?’” In your blog, you say, “I lowered my head, tears spilling from my eyes, my workplace was a racist workplace at the same time that it was a magical workplace.” In How To Wash A Heart where you’ve received an email from a cardiologist, an Indian doctor in Ohio who writes poems and wants you to blurb his book of poetry, one of his areas of expertise is the immigrant heart and he mentions a medical diagnosis called broken-heart syndrome or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which is a Japanese word for octopus trap where the heart gets stunned during acute emotional stress which affects the heart muscle and pumping capacity in a way that can actually kill you, or Schizophrene, which is looking at the higher incidence of schizophrenia in the Pakistani and Indian diasporic communities with an epigraph that looks at the intersection of migration and mental illness. Then thinking back to this notion of your great-great-grandmother, you said in a Hong Kong literary event that the stressor for you wasn’t so much migration in your mind but ethnic density, the stress of moving into a largely white space. At the performance that is part of your Incubation, of How To Wash A Heart, you read the cardiologist’s email requesting a blurb telling you about the octopus trap or broken-heart cardiomyopathy, then you tear your book in half and drench it in blood. But in the book you say, “In writing these poems, I diverged almost instantly from the memory of the performance.” All of this, in a way, brings me back to the notion of performance’s reversal and then elaboration in order to create a new space, or what Berlant says about you, “The peace lays out rituals that allow for return to be a return not to the incursions of the world of the real but to a breathable space of figuration that refuses the supremacist acts aspirational sovereignty over the concrete encounter. It is realism for the non-[inaudible].” I guess this is where my leap comes in because it makes me think of your interest in the work of Peter Levine and the idea that gestures that never get completed get stuck in the body. In his book Waking the Tiger, he says, “Although we rarely die, humans suffer when we are unable to discharge the energy that is locked in by the freezing response. The traumatized veteran, the rape survivor, the abused child, the impala, and the bird all have been confronted by overwhelming situations. If they are unable to orient and choose between fight or flight, they will freeze or collapse. Those who are able to discharge that energy will be restored. Rather than moving through the freezing response, as animals do routinely, humans often begin a downward spiral characterized by an increasingly debilitating constellation of symptoms.” In speaking about writing and about bodywork, you’ve used similar language I think. For example, “to release the crystalline matrix where memories are stored,” “to identify or locate the unfinished gesture and help to finish it.” I guess I’m wondering not just about unfinishedness as Andrew was curious about but I’m also wondering if you feel like you’re returning to incubation and returning to England, if you see this is part of completing a gesture, if there’s any release or moving through a frozen response from this return.
BK: Wow. Thanks. Thanks, David. I actually haven’t returned to Peter Levine’s work for a long time, in part because I met him, he came to Naropa and gave a public lecture. But I think it was in that three years between 2015 and 2019 or somewhere in those years at the end of the first 20 years of this century that there was a conversation about the whiteness of that community on [inaudible]. I maybe stopped avidly reading polyvagal theory. For the first time, I began to think about this other discipline non-workplace as a private practitioner. I began to think, “Oh, this is complicated too,” or these theories of the body are coming from also a place of whiteness you could say. At the same time, I had such a feeling of recognition when I heard that phrase, a friend Laura [inaudible] visited I think the masterclass and was leading us through an experiment. She trained in that tradition, somatic experiencing and was a trainer and so we were going through a practice of orientation, which is also a practice I think of impasse and what is it to have other possibilities just before that frozen structure begins to freeze I suppose, to freeze again, so a bit complicated with somatic experiencing. Actually, I’m just back to the performance with Blue and Yasmin and that completion actually does not have to reside in my own capacity but it’s something that’s shared. What I noticed in the performance as I watched Blue’s choreography is that I tried to be as present as I could in a context where we’re surrounded by the people who love us, the people we love, even my son who’s just moved to London was in the audience with Andrew Wille, but also so many strangers. We said afterwards, it felt so different to our performance earlier in the year, an earlier version in a space called The Horse Hospital, one of London’s earliest punk venues I believe, which had been the Incubation book launch and it had gone so well, we were suddenly in this other festival culture repeating the performance but it was so different. I think it’s because, I don’t know, we were just with each other inside the time of the performance, and yeah, something happened that night and I think it is very much to do with movement, trembling, and gestures and things completing but not in the place or in the medium that one ever thought they would. Then also if I have to think about sexual thought, for me, the thing that has trapped all of my books has been the absolute impossibility of writing lucidly in the manner of Annie Ernaux whose books I’ve been reading wildly since Andrew Wille began sending me WhatsApp messages of the Fitzcarraldo Editions. I discern that I cannot actually write the body without the prospect of punishment in some sense or it’s like a big difference between what I can do and maybe what another kind of writer could do. That performance actually at the ICA was in the context of curation on the work of Kathy Acker. I think I talked about that at the time and I’m reminded of a reperformance of a work by Valie Export in which she has the hole cut in her jeans and exposes her vagina. But when I had to do it, I constructed a cone and inserted a thread into my vagina, and then I think I really had the sense that if there is a viewing or if there is an exposure, I have to stagger it in some sense or build in a rough focus because it’s not going to work to simply open my clothes. It’s also related to nudity and the body and I suppose safety in a cardinal way. I’m really feeling it, everything we’re talking about and I just completed this long work, which is actually all of the thought that stopped every single book except maybe How To Wash A Heart which is in its own category. That is really interesting. I didn’t put that together until this podcast but after the performance came, this weird very fluent writing, and yet it is not writing that I could ever publish and so I’m already thinking of a performance and I’ll have to have a cup of tea with Blue and Yasmin shortly to analyze the prospect of staging aspects of this work. I thought I could have one reading at midnight and read it and then we could burn it and then that’s the end. These are my ambitions, David.
DN: Well, thinking about you just saying that you can’t write the body without the punishment of the body, it makes me think of how in both editions of the book, you state that you wouldn’t have the Donna Haraway epigraph if you were writing it now because you wouldn’t think of Haraway today as who you would look to regarding which bodies are conceived as monstrous, perhaps this is related to your moving away from Peter Levine too. But instead, you provide another epigraph that at least aspirationally suggests the completion of or the liberation from a gesture I think. This is an epigraph by Sayra Pinto, who you’ve already mentioned, Who Would You Be If You No Longer Told The Story Of Your Betrayal.
BK: Who would you be if you no longer told, or I would say retold the story of your own betrayal. Yeah, that is it.
DN: [Laughs] Talk to us about that question, which feels like a question/challenge. Do you feel it is an animating force for you now?
BK: Yeah. It has everything to do with home and homecoming and home being and landscape and time and all of this life. It’s just another possibility that I never conceived of or considered. It is liberating me certainly but with the proviso to think of something else Sayra said. This is all in this PhD we’ve started which is basically at the moment, me on Zoom with Matt and Elena who I’ve already mentioned but just listening to the things that Sayra says in the moment. But another thing that Sayra said, we were teaching a course on the poetry of Nicanor Parra where Sayra knew those poems but we were teaching together on poetry and installation maybe when I first was transitioning from my experience at Naropa into other kinds of work, other kinds of teaching, and Sayra had been a poetry student in the MFA at Goddard, that’s what it was, and so went on to be this extraordinary leader in the field of organizational change and the kind of person who shows up when an institution has ruptured in some way and just profound healer who is very, very, very a part of my heart, this person. Someone asked Sayra why is it that she did this MFA in poetry before moving into this other kind of work, which she’d actually been doing with youth and gangs in the Boston area. Sayra said, “To get the artifacts of colonialism out of my body.” That kind of idea of a book of poetry as the thing that can do the work of dislodging internalized or crystallized conditions also really impacted me. I think that’s what I’ve been doing with promiscuity [and from life]. I just suddenly got it that even though it is the case that there is another possible kind of work that I could be doing that is intimately related to the questions of betrayal and what it would be not to replay or to stage those instants of decimation recursively and with intense affect all the time, yes, I can see that. But I think this is the missing piece. This is what I’ve been trying to write in the form that I’m calling a novel. But actually, it turns out to be a form, which is to say when I first came back to the UK, certain memories that I can’t easily talk about but were also the reason that I left, you could say, though I did not know I was leaving at the time but I did leave and I did return but I did leave, all of that came rushing back and I think that’s what stopped me in my tracks, you could say, and that’s what’s begun to find its way down through my nerves and blood into this, you call it like the ground of this place with also the proviso that I was not sure but I wanted to make contact with the bones, the residue, and the dead of this place which happens as soon as you make the connection between the vagus nerve and the mycelial network I felt in my imagination on my sofa in my apartment at Churchill College, the epicenter of the colonial archive or one of them, Margaret Thatcher’s handbag like two-minute walk from where I rest my head every night, Enoch Powell’s papers. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to have that relationship to the ground of this place, which was an inhibiting factor. But as I’ve said through simple practices, I’ve begun to build, I wouldn’t call it a relationship but I’ve become curious about the dirt of this place and I’m like a couple of inches in the establishment of my own floating route here. Yeah, writing this very linear work that could really have been placed in a form that I began to fill in when I returned to the UK, and with my horror, once I submitted the initial form to the, not a company but like the forum that would receive such a form and this is a form related to sexual violence experienced in another time, an earlier time, at the moment, I understood that a next step would be to involve the police or the law or that there was another layer and then the pandemic, I abandoned that process. I wrote back and said I did not want to continue. It’s through a government portal. In a way, it’s like filling out that form again in the form of a novel that I’ve managed to accomplish over the last two weeks. I’ll consider what it is to have this outside of my body and also to resolve the problem that arises on page 11 of everything I’ve ever written and has allowed me to create this kind of notebook genre or just to sustain it in my own way. Of course, there are so many other participants of notebook genre or inventors of notebook genre but in my case, I stopped because I was horrified. I cannot write what I cannot speak, what I did not live, and so let’s see, this is podcast about the body and it’s a podcast about sexual thought. This is a podcast about the relationship between violation and narrative but more than anything else, this podcast has done something and maybe it’s these questions that came from people that I care about, whose writing I care about, whom I know or maybe haven’t even met yet, such delight and so many memories that returned. I’m just so grateful for this experience, David. It was really unexpected, no reason to have been scared of a podcast after all.
DN: I’m so glad you pleased in the end, this has been such a great time together. I was hoping maybe we could go out with a reading from Incubation. Could we hear the short chapter Don’t Panic as a way to finish?
[Bhanu Kapil reads from Incubation: A Space for Monsters]
DN: Thank you. Thank you, Bhanu, for today.
BK: That was amazing. I don’t know how you accomplished that. I don’t know how you did that. It was amazing to hear those questions and wow, the care when you quoted from the blog in particular, which is a dormant form that was closed because of the sexual consequences of having such an open place in which I described writing from life, writing in life. This was too exposing. I had to close it because of the consequences of that openness and yet, that was how I love to write more than anything else so thank you for remembering that writing back to me. I don’t know how to get back there but I will never forget this experience. Thank you so much.
DN: Yeah, thank you too. We’ve been talking today to Bhanu Kapil about her latest book, the reissue in the UK and the US of Incubation: A Space for Monsters. You’ve been listening to Between the Covers, I’m David Naimon, your host.
Today’s program was recorded at the volunteer-powered, non-commercial, listener-sponsored, full-strength, makeshift home office of me, David Naimon. For the bonus audio archive, Bhanu contributes an extended robust reading of many things, reading from and discussing everything from Annie Ernaux to writings from her own notebook. This joins many readings, craft talks, conversations with translators, and more in the bonus audio archive. Every supporter can join our brainstorm of future guests and every listener-supporter receives the supplementary resources with each conversation, of things I discovered while preparing for it, things referenced during it, and places to explore once you’re done listening. Additionally, there are a variety of other potential gifts and rewards including the bonus audio archive but also the Tin House Early Readership Subscription getting 12 books over the course of the year months before they’re available to the general public to a bundle of books selected by me and sent to you. You can find out more at patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Or if you prefer a one-time donation, you can do so via PayPal at tinhouse.com/support. I’d like to thank the Tin House team: Elizabeth Demeo and Alyssa Ogie in the Book Division, Beth Steidle in the Art Department, Becky Kraemer and Jae Nichelle in Publicity, and Lance Cleland, the Director of the summer and winter Tin House Writers Workshops. Finally, I’d like to thank past Between the Covers guest, poet, musician, composer, performer, and much more, Alicia Jo Rabins, for making the intro and outro for the show. You can find out more about her work, her writing, her music, her film at aliciajo.com.