David Naimon: Today’s episode is brought to you by The Loneliness Files, a groundbreaking memoir and essays by Athena Dixon. Living alone as a middle-aged woman without children or pets and working forty hours a week from home more than 350 miles from her family and friends, Dixon begins watching mystery videos on YouTube, listening to true crime podcasts, and playing video game walk-throughs just to hear another human voice. Called “Haunting, affecting, and searingly smart” by Jeannine Ouellette, and “A radical re-envisioning of what loneliness can make possible” by Destiny O. Birdsong, the Loneliness Files asks us to consider what it means to be a body behind a screen, lost in the hustle of an online world in our age of digital hyper connection. The Loneliness Files is available now from Tin House. Today’s conversation with translator Kate Briggs about her novel The Long Form is a long time coming, not only because Kate and I have been corresponding, and anticipating it together but also because Kate’s work has been a presence on the show from the conversation with Sawako Nakayasu to the conversation with Lydia Davis. Kate’s first book This Little Art is already a classic within books about translation, a much-beloved and cherished book whose animating questions and concerns find themselves now within her first novel, a novel that meditates itself on the novel through the centering of a baby within it and the ways centering a baby disrupts so many of the things we consider, givens or norms within this form of storytelling. Her latest book is out with two of my favorite presses, Fitzcarraldo in the UK and Dorothy in the US. You may know Fitzcarraldo because they seem to have an uncanny knack for publishing Nobel prize winners before they become winners, including this year’s winner, and Dorothy who publishes only two books a year, both by women, a press run by two great writers in their own right, Danielle Dutton and Martin Riker, they have, similar to Fitzcarraldo, curated an archive of books that is truly impeccable. In the spring of 2022, you may remember, I actually had both of Dorothy’s authors from that year on the show back to back, Cristina Rivera Garza and Caren Beilin, and Dorothy at the time, to celebrate this, sent me a largesse of books to offer to new supporters of the show. Now, 18 months later with Kate’s appearance, they’ve been so kind as to do something similar again. Like last time, I’ve made their gift into various bundles for new supporters of the show. One includes Kate’s new book along with Dorothy’s other release this year, the New Zealand writer Pip Adams and her book The New Animals, two of the biggest, longest books that Dorothy has ever published. But all of the bundles contain incredible writers, whether Amina Cain, Caren Beilin, Rosmarie Waldrop’s only novel, Renee Gladman, or Leonora Carrington. These Dorothy books are only one of innumerable things to choose from by joining the Between The Covers Community. All supporters get the resources with each episode which this time are truly oceanic in breadth and depth but they’re always robust. Everyone who supports the show can participate in shaping who comes on to the show in the future. I should also mention that one of the things to choose from copies of the journal Mizna, a journal that is now helmed by Palestinian Poet George Abraham who you may remember making guest appearances on the episodes with Adania Shibli and Isabella Hammad, well, Mizna has just won the Whiting Award for excellence in literary magazines with the judges calling it, “A gem of a journal, tightly edited, gorgeously curated, and visually striking. Care and craft float off its pages of beautifully laid-out poetry and lovingly printed images that further important intergenerational dialogue within the Southwest Asian and North American diaspora and showcasing thrilling new literature.” I mention this because there are copies of several of their issues available including the Etel Adnan tribute issue and The Black Takeover Issue, guest edited by poet Safia Elhillo. You can check all of this out and more, all the Dorothy books, the copies of Mizna, collectibles from past guests, the bonus audio archive, and more at patreon.com/betweenthecovers. Now, for today’s conversation with Kate Briggs.
David Naimon: Good morning and welcome to Between The Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host. Today’s guest is writer and translator Kate Briggs. Briggs is the translator of two volumes of Roland Barthes’s lecture notes at the Collège de France, The Preparation of the Novel and How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, and co-translator of Michel Foucault’s Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology. Her published experiments in literary criticism include the Nabokov Paper-An experiment in novel reading, Story the Story in It, an inquiry into reading and its relationship to writing using Henry James’s short story, The Story in It, entertaining ideas which began as an effort to perform a “good reading” of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Long View and to think about what a good short reading of a long novel might mean, and which morphs into a meditation on living forwards and writing backwards, and Exercise in Pathetic Criticism, a one-page reconstruction of The Count of Monte Cristo according to the precepts of pathetic criticism inspired by Roland Barthes’s dream of a new form of literary criticism, one that dares to ruin the work in order to make it live. Briggs is on the editorial board of Barthes Studies, an open-access journal for research in English on the work of Roland Barthes. She founded and co-runs the writing, reading, learning, and publishing project, Short Pieces That Move. She has taught experimental translation at the American University of Paris and taught and mentored everywhere from the MFA in Fine Art at the Piet Zwart Institute, University of Arkansas, Princeton, and the Netherlands Film Academy among other places. What Kate Briggs is most known for however is her truly brilliant first book This Little Art which came out in 2017 from Fitzcarraldo Editions. Impossible to categorize, it has been called, “An essay with the reach and momentum of a novel and a genre-bending song for the practice of literary translation.” Lydia Davis said of This Little Art, “Kate Briggs’s This Little Art shares some wonderful qualities with Barthes’s own work – the wit, thoughtfulness, invitation to converse, and especially the attention to the ordinary and everyday in the context of meticulously examined theoretical and scholarly questions. This is a highly enjoyable read: informative and stimulating for anyone interested in translation, writing, language, and expression.” Theophilus Kwek for Asymptote adds, “Though it does not present itself as a memoir, a how-to guide, or a scholarly monograph, This Little Art derives its magic precisely from being all of these and more: gifting us not only with a genre-bending work of imaginative criticism, but also a fitting metaphor for all that the work of translation is, and can be.” This Little Art was a White Review Books of the Year, a finalist for the Believer Book Award, and in 2021, Briggs was a recipient of the Windham Campbell Prize for her work where the judges say of This Little Art, “This Little Art articulates and refracts the many strangenesses and paradoxes of translation as a practice and an art. Translation, Briggs shows us, is both lonely and collaborative, disciplined and profoundly educational, a private devotion and a public project. It energizes and frustrates, requiring from its practitioners passion, precision, and an openness to transformation.” Since then, Briggs wrote the book we are discussing today, her debut novel The Long Form which came out in the spring in the UK from Fitzcarraldo and now arrives in the United States with Dorothy books. Wendy Erskine says of The Long Form, “Kate Briggs treats the quotidian rhythms of Helen and Rose, mother and baby, with unusual attentiveness, perspicacity and, most importantly, largeness of thought. This makes The Long Form a radical, celebratory and quite magical consideration of the profound creative possibilities inherent in, and intrinsic to, everyday experience. It’s such a lively and generous book.” Preti Taneja adds, “The Long Form is an absorbing and profound novel in which Kate Briggs breathes extraordinary life into the quiet moments of a young woman: one who is also a new mother, a reader, a daughter, a friend. With every carefully weighted sentence, action and thought, one is immersed in the radical generosity of this writing, its principles of collectivity and its feminist commitment to making the smallest, most everyday act worthy of consideration within a literary canon. A beautifully written book about the art of reading, of criticism, and of surviving through the strangest yet most normal of times.” Welcome to Between the Covers, Kate Briggs.
Kate Briggs.: Thank you. Thank you for that incredible introduction and for having me.
DN: I’ve been looking forward to this day for a super long time and I want to start outside the book before we venture inside of it and talk about what it means to write at length, the longness of The Long Form. This is partially influenced by the conversation that precedes ours with Lydia Davis where we spend the first half of it talking about the effects of brevity in language, what an exercise like, “How short can I make something and still have it retain meaning?” an exercise that Lydia used when she was translating Proust’s long sentences, so while she was translating his sentences, she came up with an exercise for her own writing about brevity, “What does that exercise do to the choices we make and to the reading experience?” Your book, like your first book, points outside of itself, not only because both of them make visible their debts to others, which I want to discuss later but also that both titles are the words of others. In this case, The Long Form is what Roland Barthes calls the novel in his lecture called The Preparation of the Novel, which you translated. To extend this sense of inheritance, I think of my conversation with Billy-Ray Belcourt where his book A History of My Brief Body, it contains failed attempts to write an autobiographical novel and the book that Billy-Ray and I discussed A Minor Chorus, a title that reminds me of or rhymes in some way with the title of This Little Art to me, it features a main character looking for a new form. It’s a book in engagement also with your translation of the preparation of the novel where Barthes, after his mother dies in the aura of that grief, himself feels the need to venture into a new form to prepare for a future book called Vita Nova or New Life. Before we talk about The Long Form, your book, talk to us about what you’re inheriting or wanting to inherit by borrowing this phrase and also the implications it contains about creating a sense of length.
KB: You started where it really matters I think. When I’ve been called upon to account for this novel recently since its publication in the UK and its preparation for publication in the US, one way I’ve come at describing it is as a kind of inquiry into how length matters, of what difference length makes, which I think speaks very much to your conversation with Lydia Davis, like how duration matters because you could also articulate that inquiry through the shortest of forms. Interestingly, in the preparation of the novel, it’s a two-part lecture course as you know and the first part is devoted to the shortest of forms to the Haiku, and this proposition, in order to understand what’s at stake in the longer forms, you might need to start here with the smallest quantity of language, seventeen syllables composed. It took me a long time to understand why it mattered so much, this biographical fact of bereavement in the last lecture course for Barthes. There’s this what he calls a parting of the waters, like something has stopped, some form of life that might literally form cohabitation with his mother has ended and he’s now on the other side, the river’s taking a different route. So why length then, why length at that point after having experimented so richly and so profoundly with the more fragmented forms? I started to formulate that question to myself as a question about how to carry on, “When does it become necessary to continue, to carry on, to achieve something like continuity?” Barthes describes for him the novel The Long Form has these features of continuousness, coherence, constructedness flow. I just came to realize I guess of processing this information through my own life. I don’t think I really understood it at the time of translating but it’s perhaps once following a kind of rupture, a major interruption, a kind of break that happens through loss. I guess I was putting it into the context of new motherhood and the initiation of new life, not just the loss of life but the emergence of new life, and that too is a form of interruption and breakage, and rather than directing you towards the short form, the note, or the fragment, that perhaps it might be because life become so strange and so bitty, it’s like it’s coming apart, [laughs] like the transitions between the first part of the morning to the second part of the morning, how to carry on from one phase of the day to the other might not seem obvious anymore, then it might be exactly under those conditions that lengths might come into play or there’s this continuity and carrying a thought on, carrying a relation on, carrying a composition on. Yeah, the meaning of duration, when it becomes aesthetically necessary but also socially necessary. I guess it’s such a rich question but a final thought in relation to it or maybe the start of another direction in relation to it would be when do the stakes require that something continue? I was thinking a lot about different kinds of relations, the kind of encounter we have now and we’ve been corresponding, and leading up to it and I hope we’ll correspond after it, but it’s like a first-time encounter that has a different quality. The stakes are different to the sorts of relations that you have with people where you’ll keep seeing them, you’ll see them tonight, you’ll see them tomorrow morning, you’ll see them in a week. The responsibilities are different. The stakes are figured differently. I was interested in those long forms of relation, whether that’s a reading relation or a living social relation.
DN: Yeah. To extend our sense of I guess relations and also family making beyond Billy-Ray Belcourt writing a book, inspired in part by your translation of Roland Barthes and you yourself asking a question of Lydia Davis in my last conversation with her after both of you having cited each other in each other’s books, when you were in conversation in the Believer with Kate Zambreno, which was titled wonderfully Letters to Kate, you mentioned to the other Kate something from Alejandro Zambra’s book Not to Read, a piece called the Festival of the Long Novel describing a project for a literary festival which never happened but that you wish had happened, and that’s something that I discussed when Zambra was on the show too since he’s very known for his short books, and we were talking about his quite long book Chilean Poet. Furthermore, Zambra also writes, in tribute to you in the book, A Table Made Again for the First Time which engages with This Little Art. To Kate Zambreno you say, “I would love more than anything to sit with other readers and practitioners of the longest form and try to work this fascination out… But that’s not to say I plan to write a long novel. I’m not sure I’d be capable of it. My novel would have to be something else. Which links in my head to failure.” Now, years later, here we are and you have written a long novel, and/or written something else, and also this long novel or this something else is linked perhaps also to failure in a certain way, or if not failure, some indeterminacy or provisionality. I’d love to stay longer with length and maybe have this question that’s going to be posed to you via another way to answer this question of length again. Here’s a question by someone who’s also wondering about length too from Danielle Dutton, your editor who’s also a writer and co-founder of Dorothy, your publisher. Here’s a question from Danielle.
Danielle Dutton: Hi, Kate. Hi, David. My cat Fern just meowed and I’m not sure if you could hear her. Oh, there she goes. She likes to be a part of things. David, thank you for inviting me to be part of your conversation. I’m really looking forward to listening to the whole thing. Kate, here’s what I wanted to ask you. So first, I wanted to say Dorothy is known for doing slender books. I’m a fan of slender books. I think you are too based on our conversations and what I know you read and like. The Long Form is the longest book Dorothy has ever done by half I think, so it’s quite a bit bigger than all of our other books and I’m really interested in that, I mean I think what your book has got me thinking about is the idea of what I want to call durationality. It’s even made me think backwards about the slender books, part of what I like about them is that their length feels really intentional as opposed to sometimes I read books that feel like their length has been dictated by market norms and I like to feel like the temporal experience of something I’m reading is super intentional, and that feels really true about The Long Form. I just wonder if you could talk about that and talk about what got you thinking about durationality when you started writing this project because that feels like such an important piece of it. Thanks. Bye.
KB: Oh, it’s so moving to hear Danielle’s voice unexpectedly. Thank you both. Durationality is a very rich and useful term I think, also intention and intentionality. Maybe something to say about length, the length I’m talking about, I guess it is about the kind of duration, quite a practical sense of like the duration of a reading experience because, of course, thinking of the other books that Dorothy published, there is the expansion that happens in the mind and in my own relationship, thinking of Renee Gladman’s work for example where I carry the book with me or I carry that atmosphere or a cityscape with me for a lot longer than after having finished the last page, so there’s a continuation which I think happens. Also obviously, Lydia Davis would be another example of that, of the expansion from again, the smallest quantity of words, the one sentence that can expand on the page. I am talking about reading time and why is that important. I think it has to do with an intention to make a book, write a book that would be hard to read in one sitting. Think of a very crude definition of opposition between a short story say, then a novella, then a novel would be something that’s longer, for say 50,000 words was the threshold or longer, therefore, it’s going to be cut, it’s going to be interrupted, it’s going to be set down and returned to, and that was really important to me because the novel is enacting this relation between a mother and her newborn, and they’re each continuously refreshing their relation to each other, I mean Helen as the adult is quite literally setting the baby down, moving a small different distance away and returning to her. But the baby too, Rose is also getting distracted and engaging with other things, then renewing her relationship or her attention, the direction of her attention towards her mother. As part of its form, I wanted to stay with the two of them and also stay with them staying with each other but that didn’t mean not ever moving away. It meant interruption. It meant leaving. The novel is the art form that seems to accommodate and withstand interruption. The novels I’m reading or you’re reading now, I’m sure, David, like by our beds or stacked around us or whatever, we’ll go back to them later but in between, we’ve had this conversation, we’ve lived our lives, so what is this art form that seems to understand that it will be cut and withdrawn from in order to be returned to? It was really important that The Long Form did that. It was long enough to invite that and accommodate the reader’s life and distraction. But the other thing actually which was just anecdotally, at the end of reading, my partner read it, read the final, final version before it went to print. He calculated the time he spent with it, like taking the printed pages to a cafe, adding them up, so he was reading it over about two weeks or so and adding them up, the whole of these breaks, going to work, and all of that stuff, it came to about like eleven to twelve hours which is more or less the duration of the day that Helen and Rose live out. There are these flashbacks to an earlier time, an early living situation there, there’s a small flash forward, there are these expansions but the day is from early morning until about evening and darkness falls, and I really love that. Actually, the reading time, if you calculate it, the novel is scaled to the physical progress through the pages. There was certainly an intention there. I felt like length needed to matter here. It’s not trivial. It needed to be long and it needed even to caught exhaustion on the part of the reader, like a willingness to say, “Are we really going to leave them and open out, and return to the page again?” It needed to have that sense of exhaustion in order to renew attention and energy towards the end of the day.
DN: This is a perfect segue to my next question and series of thoughts. As a first step toward talking about what’s inside The Long Form, I was going to quote something else you said to the other Kate and I’m going to quote it anyways, but you’ve already echoed it when you said, “What continues for me is this desire for the novel—what Barthes calls the long form, the longest form. There is something about the length, and so therefore also about the duration of engagement and the way this reading time has to be interrupted with, and kind of extended by, life—because a long form can’t be read all at once—which fascinates me. It has always fascinated me I think.” But what’s so great about this to me four years later is that you’ve actually inverted this entirely in a really incredible way I think. Instead of reading life, being interrupted by life, the phenomenon you just described, life in your book is interrupted by a book. The first and primary example of the longest form in your book is not the reading of a book but it’s our main character, Helen’s relationship with her baby. The baby is not interrupting the book or the reading of it. The Helen-baby interaction is the default position of the book and anything else that occurs outside of this interaction is the interruption. Amazingly, the first interruption is itself the arrival of a book, which we’ll get to later on. But for now, I thought it would be interesting and useful for people to hear the opening. It’s hard to say that any given example of the book is characteristic of the book as a whole but the opening is definitely characteristic of one mode that the book exists in. If you’re open to it, I would love for people to hear the chapter Guessing and Movement in the Living Room, then the following one, Sleep.
KB: Yes. Thank you also for taking me back to the conversation with Kate. I haven’t read that for a long time. That was, as you say, four years ago. I find it so interesting, the persistence of questions, [laughs] and fascinations of what it takes to be somehow rid of them, and perhaps that’s not what’s happening. I’m thinking about Alejandro as well and the festival of long novels that never took place, like perhaps there are just these questions that just stay, they just pulse away, they pulse away and you write books somehow in relation to some part of their pulsation but without actually shutting them down thankfully because they are inexhaustible, duration and how it matters. This is from the opening section called First Thing, then the first chapter which is Guessing and Movement in the Living Room.
[Kate Briggs reads from her latest book The Long Form]
DN: We’ve been listening to Kate Briggs read from her latest book The Long Form. When talking about the notion of The Long Form with Renee Gladman in The Yale Review, she describes her idea of it as, “An expanse full of beats or pulses or breaths.” I think that describes this aspect of the book really well. I’ve never read a book like this ever before. We stay in this intimate dance between Helen and Rose, a call and response for maybe the first 20 or 30 pages before other elements, other ways of being interject themselves and this centering of the baby not as a topic or subject but as an actor and a character who acts upon the story, who is the story, so much so that the pulse, rhythm, or breath of the book is entirely different because of it. I think it calls into question many things about the history of novels as forms and the presumptions that are baked into them. I want to spend some time with the implications of this novel being baby-centric before we discuss the other crucial elements of the book. My first thought is in regards to something you said to Gladman where you say, “I don’t think there is one protected space for stories and a separate space for thinking or questions; they seem to me to be always connected, always producing each other.” I’d like to start here with the notion of there not being a protected space of stories and thinking that’s separate from life. You placing the baby at the center of the story, I think by definition, collapses any notion of that and it makes me think of my conversation with Julie Phillips, the biographer for Ursula K. Le Guin for the Crafting with Ursula series, it was an episode called On the Writing Mother. It was a topic of great interest philosophically for Le Guin but also one for Phillips who wrote a book called The Baby on the Fire Escape, which looks at the lives of many different writing mothers. The Le Guin essay that was central to our discussion when Julie and I talked was the fisherwoman’s daughter. Perhaps, in a similar spirit to the ways your titles are borrowed or passed down, her working title for that essay was Crazy Quilt because it was given many times over the course of a decade while she was figuring out how to no longer write from a male point of view, what it meant to write for her as a woman, and every time she gave the talk, she would revise and rework the essay based on the feedback from one audience to the next, so Le Guin saw this essay as a collaborative work. If I were to begin quoting much from it, it would take over our conversation as there’s just too much to quote from, so I’ll point people to the conversation with Julie Phillips to really get an in-depth examination of this essay. But I’ll quote one tiny fragment as part of a preface to a question for you where Le Guin says, “Back in the 1970’s one prominent feminist scholar wrote that Jane Austen was able to write because she had created around her ‘a child-free space.’ Germ-free I knew, odor-free I knew, but child-free? And Austen? Who wrote in the parlor, and was a central figure to a lot of nieces and nephews? But I tried to accept this, because although my experience didn’t fit it, I was, like many women, used to feeling that my experience was faulty, not right – that it was wrong. So I was probably wrong to keep on writing in what was then a fully child-filled space.” She then goes on to brilliantly explore what she coins as the artist housewife in contrast to the hero artist, and part of the distinction is around the notion of space. Virginia Woolf is perhaps the most important writer for her, one of the writers she admires the most. But I think here she’s suggesting that writing happens despite not having a room of one’s own. I think of Kate Zambreno again saying that she doesn’t even have a writing desk, that several of her most recent books are written on the couch with an infant’s body on top of her, writing in a notebook, or how you on the Fitzcarraldo Podcast talk about how, until recently, you didn’t have a writing room but wrote in the main room. But even now with your own room, it doesn’t have a door but a curtain. Somehow, this feels very important to me to The Long Form, the curtain instead of a door. I wonder if this notion of the artist housewife which Le Guin describes as, “The artist with the least access to social or aesthetic solidarity or approbation,” sparks anything for you around your own project.
KB: Again, what an amazing pathway that you’ve tracked through these different materials and these questions. Perhaps I’ll start walking on the path by going back to the centering of a baby and the way in which that was indeed, as you’ve stated, you’ve redescribed, and given it back to me, so important to this project, the passage I read, the opening of the book that I read, the baby is as yet unnamed and there’s a small section on questioning how to talk about the baby, which is partly filtered through Helen’s consciousness but also I hope you get the sense it’s the narrating consciousness that’s wondering, “Is it A baby, B baby, my baby?” is at that time somewhat anonymous, unspecified, then it takes quite a while in the novel, in terms of some pages, for the baby to be named. I really wanted to draw that out almost as a plot device or I guess a form of telling the story, the emergence of a specific actor as you call her, and indeed, she is named, she is singular, and she is a vital presence and participant in everything that’s happening, and to think of the baby, and this particular baby as interesting on many levels, interesting as a character, what is it to write the character of a baby when babies’ characters haven’t typically appeared that much in novels for the reason that they don’t seem to possess the capacity for action, like walking about and talking that you might associate with a protagonist normally. They don’t possess the adult agency. That challenge of how to write a baby character but also how she’s so philosophically interesting, how she’s so challenging, what it is to think out what time might feel like, what space might feel like, what a setting might feel like if you are a newcomer, you’re in this position of total newness and novelty. That was really important to me. Again, to make a space, thinking of Ursula Le Guin’s child-filled space in relation to something else that you said earlier, this sense that this is already going on, this is already underway, this dynamic, it’s been happening, it’s been happening for six weeks now but Rose is six weeks, almost six weeks old but also it’s been happening in the sense there’s been the time of pregnancy and gestation, we arrive at this pair with something already very much in progress. Not to say that it’s established because it’s being learned and relearned, so the space, this flat that they live in, this rented flat is indeed filled with the presence of an adult and a child. I think something also important about that occupation of the space of a home but also the spaces of thinking, letting the child in, the baby in, not only babies necessarily but the kind of erratic, these qualities that not only babies have but they seem to have in a particularly intense form which is dependency, neediness, extreme vulnerability, and also unpredictability, babies have these qualities but not only babies, other life forms clearly have them too. This idea where babies are or where a life force that has those qualities is not where creativity is, is not where art making is, is not where intellectual inquiry is. It’s not where philosophy is. The child-filled space which is also the territory for thinking or in The Long Form, it’s the kind of playmat that’s introduced early on, it’s also this space for thinking and these actions can coexist. That’s something I get. I find it so deeply inspiring and enabling from Le Guin that she’s not interested in setting up a question in the ways that it does still typically get set up as a kind of either or, like if babies, then no books or something, which is also this weird force equivalence between books and babies. The Long Form is very aware of that. I couldn’t have written the book without being aware of that, how far is it possible to have both uninterested in that manner of phrasing the question, I’m much more interested in a way that I feel is resonant with what Le Guin is doing in that essay, of thinking about the forms of creativity, politics, and philosophical conundrum that are actually already going on here in this space that might look intensely domestic, might not be immediately recognizable as a space of creative action. But here we have reckoning with otherness minute by minute. Here we have improvisation minute by minute. Here we have resistance. There is a refrain that runs through the novel of Helen saying, you heard it in that passage of like, “I decide. I’m in charge,” and I say, “We’re going to go to sleep now because I’m tired.” The baby’s like, “Well, no. This is going to be a collaboration of how sleep happens.” That’s a human dynamic, that’s a social dynamic but that’s not unrelated without collapsing caring for young children into the work that happens when writing or making anything. The last thing I’d want to do is flatten those things out so that they sound exactly the same. But I do think it’s possible to insist on a kind of continuity because that resistance, I feel that happens when I’m writing to setting down language, setting out language, wanting to feel in charge, then discovering I knew that I’m not exactly in charge. I’m working with forces that perceive me and perhaps are more powerful than me. Does that make sense?
DN: It does. I want to stay one more moment with Le Guin because she’s explicitly in your book.
DN: Her biographer Julie Phillips in her book, The Baby on the Fire Escape, Julie says, “What is the subjective experience of being a mother, and why, despite a steadily growing body of writing on the phenomenology of mothering, does it still seem, on a deeper level, so unnarratable, undramatic, everywhere in practice, but in theory nowhere?” I feel like your book The Long Form stands out as an incredible counter-example to this general absence that Julie notes. I feel like another of Le Guin’s iconic essays that was part of her puzzling out formally, aesthetically, and philosophically and otherwise how to “write as a woman” is The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, which you make an explicit nod to in this book with a chapter called Bringing the Energy Home. I was wondering if you could just speak for a moment about what that essay means for you and/or how that essay and your book are in conversation.
KB: Absolutely, this is probably clear to you, Le Guin has been hugely important to me over the past three or four years. A relatively recent discovery, and really thanks to a student, an incredible artist Madison Bycroft who I had a studio visit with about maybe four or five years ago now who was saying to me, “Have you read The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction?” I was like, “No, Le Guin, I haven’t seen it.” She was like, “Okay, come on.” [laughter] She opened that door for me. It’s such an essay in terms of its length but it’s doing so much. It feels like this radical project of redescription of offering a kind of alternative terms for understanding what might be happening when we’re making stories and writing stories. I guess one thing I found so generative thinking about, in ways that I hoped Le Guin would approve of or thinking of her deep connections to Woolf but also to Dickens and her interest in history of the novel, and the history of narration, was this idea of a container, her shopping bag, her net bag and how in Tom Jones, which is the book that gets received through the letterbox, and into the domestic space of The Long Form, and into the place where Helen and Rose are living their lives, Henry Fielding has these essayistic chapters or even essayistic titles where there’s a whole sequence of titles of play and comic play, what this book will contain, this thick thing like The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, and it has a short chapter containing 10 pages, a longer chapter containing one page, there’s all this play on containing, presenting itself kind of the mid-18th century as already a kind of containing device and which clearly the book is, the [codex] is. But to find this resonance between a kind of play on what kind of container The Long Form of the novel is, then to have Le Guin explicitly thinking through that if we’re talking about holding together, if what matters more is holding together of difference, as well of disparate parts without collapsing them into each other, she has that image of a mouse skull sitting alongside something else like a bundle of herbs or something, I love that idea as a kind of image for the novel, of something like a collection, a collection which is not a blending, which is not a soup, it’s not a stew. Like with Helen and Rose, and with Henry Fielding, the other players, the plant, and all the other participants in The Long Form, they don’t become each other. They remain quite distinct from each other but they coexist with each other. The novel I guess, maybe that comes back to duration. It offers a kind of time for them to coexist. They coexist for quite a significant amount of time, so it makes a study space to think about how they get on, or not get on, how they might be in antagonistic relations to each other, and what they might have to say to each other, how they might illuminate each other. Those were some of the ways that essay was generative for me as it has been I think for so many people. It was amazing, a kind of whole generation working in an art school, it became a really ubiquitous reference, so deeply inspiring for many, many young practitioners.
DN: Well, one thing The Long Form and The Carrier Bag Theory both do is they look at the erasure of maintenance labor, of how it’s seen as not being worthy of fiction and call into question what we consider dramatic or worth dramatizing. The Carrier Bag Theory establishes that the gathering of things back into the hearth was much more crucial than the hunting of meat, yet the stories were being written about the men and their spears. This essay thinks deeply about how deeply ingrained story structure has become with regards to a bias against the daily work of gathering as not being story-worthy. When I think of The Long Form through the traditional lens or the normative lens of what is dramatic in your book, probably the ringing of the doorbell is probably the biggest drama, or perhaps the book getting washed by accident in the washing machine. But if we’re able to step to the side of all the biases that we’ve inherited and look with fresh eyes, the relationship between Helen and Rose, which is constantly shifting, is really overflowing with drama, moment to moment. One of the most thrilling moments for me was the description of a moment of breastfeeding where Helen has a nerve pain radiate from her breast into her arm as her milk drops. It was so well rendered that I had a pain in my arm while reading it. I felt a moment of identification with this scene. What’s really interesting is that if we begin to change what we consider story-worthy, the forms and shapes of our stories begin to change dramatically. They have to. As a first step toward talking about babies in relation to novels, let’s start with the first interruption for Helen and Rose in their dance. So the doorbell rings, a novel arrives and it is only then in the book that Helen begins to have thoughts that are abstracted from what she’s doing in the moment with Rose. The novel provides her I guess with a sort of other room within herself, so to speak, one that she can enter and has to leave but another place for her mind to go also. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this novel, Tom Jones, that arrives is 900 pages long. It isn’t as long a commitment as raising a baby but both are sustained commitments and it suggests a commitment. This is a book that requires some dedication. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the novel itself has the sudden abrupt arrival of a baby as its central plot. I was hoping you could introduce us more to the novel you’ve chosen, to have be what Helen wants to read and what interrupts, and interjects between her and Rose, and maybe also talk to us a little bit about the different way the baby exists within Fielding’s novel, a different, even comic way it exists in comparison to the way the baby exists in yours.
KB: I think it’s interesting maybe to start with this question of the novel that Helen wants to read. I felt like there was maybe a distinction to be made. Helen’s rationale for choosing Tom Jones is somewhat random in the sense that it is on the basis of length and entertainment, and the feeling, at least my feeling, my thinking when I think for her, there’s somewhat canonical and well pre-valued let’s say, but she doesn’t have a professional relationship to reading. She’s not a writer. She has a job in an office. It’s more that the novel wants her to read this. The narrating consciousness wants her to read this in order to be able to activate these connections between her experience, her lived day. What happens in the novel in Tom Jones where a baby is found in a bed indeed and taken on, a commitment is made, what really interested me about that in Tom Jones is that it’s on the basis of finding, a basis of contingency and discovery, not on the basis of something like biology. Here, we have also an example of taking on the fate of a baby and developing, working at, and arriving at something like love, not something like love but love through a father. Mr. Allworthy is in mid-age at this point and he takes on baby Tom getting a way that’s very much outsourced. He immediately summons a maid who takes the small foundling child away and allows Mr. Allworthy to have a good night’s sleep. You have this sense of this distributed structure of care that’s put in place for Tom in Tom Jones, which is not about a kind of essential relationship between mother and child, certainly not the essential biological relationship between mother and child, although that family relation and that sense of a restoration of the social order does take place as Fielding’s novel unfolds and concludes on a note of restoration of social order I guess, and biological affinity or connection. But what interested me in the sense that this is a spoiler, but in the sense that it turns out that Mr. Allworthy and Tom are indeed related. But the novel spends like 800 pages of them not being related, yet loving each other nonetheless and that was really interesting to me as a model to set alongside Helen and Rose where Helen has birthed Rose, so to speak of these different versions, the different modes in which this form of relation, this form of commitment can appear. That was one of the reasons. Comedy was really important to me. Helen is tired and she’s quite tired most of the day because she’s had a rough night. But there is a comedy that I was interested in drawing out. Even at the level, it’s beautiful that you’re speaking of dance. There’s something very choreographic that I was interested in, these holding positions that work for a while and they need to be collapsed and refound, somewhat unlikely positions that the two characters find themselves in relation to each other, which is all exhausting and difficult but also funny. There are times when Helen herself finds it unlikely and funny, and Fielding and what’s happening in Tom Jones, and the way the baby is found and the maid who is called is like, “Well, we could just put him back outside in the rain, it’ll probably be fine.” [laughter] There’s this kind of humor, like this idea of this being serious life work, this is the continuation of a life, and Helen is very conscious of the stakes I think in that moment to moment, conscious of the stakes in the way that you are when you’re solely responsible for someone so vulnerable. But at the same time, this flip into being able to just not stay in that key either of exhaustion or overwhelming seriousness of what’s going on into the key of levity, almost like a slapstick which I feel like Fielding is giving me access to.
DN: Yeah, I love that juxtaposition between their two realities. It’s really funny sometimes. One other thing that’s interesting to me about is how much the novels of the early modern era before the Industrial Revolution and its effects, how postmodern they seem. These early modern-era novels are often very conscious of themselves and are also often hybrid. Tom Jones’s both fiction and essay is just one example, or just the self-awareness and meta nature of Don Quixote, obviously Tristram Shandy, the novel form historically seems like it’s genre-crossing and wildly experimental. In many ways, it feels much more so than the most representative novels of the last 200 years. Le Guin herself has an interesting quote where she said, “Until the 18th century in Europe, imaginative fiction was fiction. Realism in fiction is a recent literary invention, not much older than the steam engine, and probably related to it, suggesting that all great works from The Odyssey to Beowulf, Hamlet to Don Quixote were fantastical works in some fashion and also linking the rise of industrialization, and extractive capitalism to not only a change of our relationship with nature,” and I’ll just add as an aside, I talked to Naomi Klein about the steam engine where she characterizes it very much like you did when you talked about the mother saying, “I decide when we go to sleep,” that the steam engine allowed us to say that to nature essentially, that we had a more beholden reciprocal relationship to nature where we had to build something near a small waterfall, to get power from water versus the steam engine where you could just say, “I’m going to decide when, how much, where, and for how long,” but it also marks a change in how we viewed the purpose of storytelling according to Le Guin which became more human-centric where the novel more and more became the vehicle for a single human consciousness, and I would add to that a single adult human consciousness. You have a meditation in the book on the novel form in relation to history, capitalism, and the individual and I’d love that to be our second reading, partially because of that but also because it’s an entirely different mode of writing than what we’ve already heard. If you’re open to it, I’d love to hear the chapter called Preparation and Transitions.
KB: Okay, I’ll have a go.
[Kate Briggs reads from The Long Form]
DN: We’ve been listening to Kate Briggs read from The Long Form. We have a question for you from Rebecca Hussey who is a judge of this year’s National Book Critics Circle Translation Prize. She’s also the co-host of a great literary podcast One Bright Book, a podcast where you and your work have come up with some frequency. Here is Rebecca with a question for you.
Rebecca Hussey: Hi, David. Hi, Kate. I’m Rebecca Hussey. Kate, I’m so thrilled I get the chance to say words that you will hear, then I get to hear your response to them. It’s just marvelous. Thank you, David, for this opportunity. Kate, both of your books and everything I’ve heard you say in interviews and such, it’s all shaped my thinking and been really important to me. I love the way your mind works, especially your generosity and warmth, so thank you for sharing your work with the world. I love that Tom Jones is an integral part of The Long Form. That’s just delightful. Your book made me think about some writing I did on Fielding back when I was in school and I wanted to just briefly describe a moment from my past in order to lead up to my actual question. I wrote an essay on Henry Fielding in school and argued that his novels playfully point out an author’s vulnerability, and lack of power over the reader. That he’s saying a novelist is vulnerable to responses such as misreadings, boredom, antagonism, carelessness, uncharitable interpretations, etc. My own professor liked this argument but my memory is of overhearing another professor describing Fielding’s narrators as entirely different, as all-powerful, as Godlike, no vulnerability, with absolute confidence and authority. This understanding of the narrator is of one who presides over the novel, like a god directs and controls everything, and assumes the reader will happily follow along. It’s been an open question in my mind ever since who was right and I am not asking you to tell me who was right. But I’m wondering if you would talk about two things, maybe three. The first was what was meaningful to you about Fielding’s narrator in Tom Jones, so how do you understand Fielding’s narrative relationship to the reader, and then two, I’m wondering whether your narrator in The Long Form thinking of the essay sections especially, whether your narrator is a response to Fielding’s narrator in some way or not, they’re very different, but did you think of your narrator as a rewriting of Fielding’s in some way or was there no relationship at all? Then the last piece is how do you think about your own narrator’s relationship to the reader? Thank you.
KB: Wow, what an incredible set of questions. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for those beautiful words about the work and also clearly your engagement with The Long Form most recently. Maybe I could start by saying something, picking up on something that David said a bit earlier about self-consciousness and Fielding’s narrator is intensely self-conscious in the sense that there is this regular break from the fictional world that’s being proposed. The novel clearly wants us to invest in and care about and as a reader, I do, I did and I do. But a regular willingness to break with that, interrupt that world building as it were, and to think about what is happening, what is he doing, what is this proposition, what has this packed. Self-consciousness is something that’s a strong activity thread running through The Long Form. One of the reasons why I was drawn to thinking about self-consciousness or writing a novel, a first novel, my first novel with this degree of self-consciousness and meta reflection doing something and then thinking about what was happening, what was being proposed had to do with the experience I was describing from Helen’s point of view in the sense I think of mothering, caring for a newborn certainly for the first time but also maybe for the second and third time is an intensely self-conscious experience. I think it is so much about here I am doing this bathing my child in a washing-up bowl, which is what Helen does at some point but also thinking, “Is this really me doing this? Is this the right way to be doing this? Who is watching me doing this? Am I being appraised for how well or otherwise I’m doing this?” Something about the self-consciousness, that meta-thinking spoke to a kind of anxiousness and which seemed to me to be characteristic of the experience of the life dynamic, the partnership that I was interested in describing. In that sense, I did feel that strong resonance with Fielding. I was really interested that this self-conscious novel from the mid-18th century, as we said earlier, should also feature a baby and she’ll also have some kind of reckoning with and inquiry into what it is to care for a baby and take that vulnerability on and stay with it in some way.
DN: I have a question for you that might extend Rebecca’s question about the professorial debate. Let me see if this prompts anything for you. Thinking about voice and narration and audience, I really love the meditation you have in the book on point of view where the book asks, “Is limited first person the only genuine lifelike point of view given that nobody knows what it is to be like any anybody else?” But ultimately, you settle on a position that isn’t all-knowing but also isn’t fully inside a character, which again, makes me think a little bit of Le Guin who doesn’t refer to the omniscient point of view as omniscience but as the authorial point of view, which at least for me acknowledges a limitation that the word omniscience doesn’t. But I absolutely love how you describe this intermediary space between a Godlike narration and a character-delimited narration, you describe it as gapped and roving, and that a gapped and roving point of view is one of limited knowledge but limited knowledge that is fully expressed. Maybe you could talk into how or why we arrive at a meditation like this in The Long Form and why this interstitial point of view is compelling for you, which might be that neither one of these professors was right or both of them were right.
KB: Absolutely. Thank you. You very wonderfully have given me a way of making a bridge between those two points of view. Indeed, I would reject this and in fact, the novel in The Long Form, as Rebecca knows, does quite explicitly reject this idea of the Godlike, of total knowledge, and yet is interested in knowing, and this comes from also thinking with E. M. Forster and some of the things he says in aspects of the novel but that doesn’t mean that knowledge is necessarily wholly limited and constrained either. I think Forster has this wonderful line that we’re stupider sometimes than we are at others. Sometimes we’re quite stupid about each other, we know really very little, and sometimes we’re sensitive and in touch and we really get a read on each other and that read is accurate. I was very interested in this pulse or rhythm between these moments where the characters Helen and Rose do feel like synced. It is a rhythmic question as much as a visual, perceptive, or imaginative question. It’s imaginative and rhythmic at the same time that they feel wholly able to anticipate each other and exist in a space or a moment of true understanding, and to feel like that is true. I do feel like it’s possible to affirm that, that that happens in life and then to follow that with a reencounter or re-reckoning with total opacity like who are you? Who are you? I felt you. We were feeling the same thing, this sort of cloud, this weather system we were both occupying, suddenly something, a screen has come down and I’m not with you anymore. That seems to speak to something, that kind of roving, the term that you picked up on a roving capacity that the third-person narration has and it seemed to me that it felt deeply exciting and interesting to explore that because the narration too is that sometimes with the characters and attending to them and close to them and able to transcribe their privacy, their inner thinking, and at other times has left them, has left them for minutes or hours and he’s doing something else and he’s talking about [inaudible] what in this different register and knowing all kinds of things. Clearly, that section I just read, it knows all kinds of things that Helen and Rose don’t know and maybe wholly uninterested in a literal sense of going and reading the rise of the novel or whatever. But it’s like the novel can do that, it can set these things in relation to each other and it can move but it can also produce these gaps and separations. I was really interested in the idea that the novel knows what it sets down, it knows what it puts on the page, whatever other forms of knowledge production, imaginative thinking are happening, they’re happening in collaboration with the reader. I guess as a way of coming back to the question, what I was really drawn to in Fielding is this intensely social narrator, this self-conscious but really I feel, to my ear at least, the welcoming presence which is about saying something like, “Here we are. Let’s acknowledge that this is here.” It’s not so much I’m here, it’s not like I’m there but that’s what’s interesting about writing a book I think, it’s like this composition that’s been made is now here and I’m part of it but I’m also not the only participant in it because there’s Fielding, there’s John Dewey, there’s Winnicott, there are all these other players. Here is this composition. It’s now being activated by you the reader. The two of you, composition and reader, and then in it together. Tonally, I feel like Fielding just manages to make a space of hospitality, which I really respond to. That feels quite different from everything that you will discover here that has been put here by me and everything that there is to know here, I already know. Maybe it’s something more about the hospitality as a form of interactivity which is going to use, the other term that Rebecca used, a form of vulnerability, a form of acknowledgment of limitation. Also, there’s a personality at work, there’s a character at work with likings and disliking and stroppiness and enthusiasm. [laughter] I think for me, it’s building the social energy. Then thinking of a phrase that you used much earlier on about the novel as a public project and making a public space, there’s a reference in the key of Englishness as a reference to the pub and this idea of the public ordinary, this idea of the novel as a pub as a public house, the door stands open which leads to a small reflection on like how welcoming is a pub really. Is it really welcoming to all comers? Perhaps not in Helen’s experience, certainly, but nevertheless, on principle, it is a public space where you could push open the door and you could come in buy food and your money is welcome here. I really enjoyed thinking about the novel as something of that order as relatively cheap. It’s like £12 and how many dollars, $18, [laughter] but you could come in and you can really stay a while. You could really park up and stay a while and also come back, leave and come back. That seemed to me the order of space that Fielding was producing and in order to do that, he needed to relinquish something like total control, even though, of course, Henry Fielding and Tom Jones is an incredibly architectural project, is incredibly plotted and constructed but there are these parts which the project itself, for example, The Man of the Hill, there’s a central story in the middle of Tom Jones which is just placed there. It’s almost like the novel itself doesn’t quite understand the work it’s doing there and maybe it doesn’t quite want to know either. There’s a limit to its own understanding of itself and certainly in The Long Form, at certain point, gave myself permission to include passages and sections where I can’t quite tell you how they’re working in relation to some like plotted economy of the narrative, they are strange to me also but it felt like if once now that this space has been opened, that the space could support these moments of strangeness.
DN: Well, thinking about a novel like an open-door pub, I wanted to think also about how The Long Form is open to This Little Art or the way This Little Art extends into The Long Form. I looked back at your book on translation for evidence of your novel’s concerns within it and there are plenty of examples, for one, you described the endeavor of translating as having novelistic qualities when speaking about how translations ask for the reader to suspend their disbelief about what was “really written,” you say, “In this sense, there’s something from the outset speculative and, I would say, of the novelistic about the translator’s project, whatever the genre of writing she is writing in.” Or in describing Barthes’s preferences among novels when you say he prefers novels of recollection but because he has a terrible memory, he will have to write a novel for the present made from what is happening right now in front of our eyes, that feels like a great description of one element of your own book, the dramatization of what happens between Helen and Rose. But even more so, we find comparisons of translation to mothering. You talk about Thomas Mann’s translator translating in the intervals of rocking the cradle, that Barthes used images of feminized labor as a metaphor for novel making, the dressmaker and the stoppers, the stopping of a hole and a stocking, and how this activity is what writing is, that the actual setting down of writing is distinct from the fantasy of writing in that it is a kind of catch, halt, or temporary immobilization in the run of culture. Or when contemplating the inherent inequality of the translator-writer relationship, that no matter how collaborative the relationship is, the fact remains that the translator’s writing couldn’t exist without the authors, that at the end of the day, the translator is responsible for the author but the opposite isn’t true. You provide as an example that if you prepare food for your son to eat and the slice of pear is too big for him to swallow, that would be the mother’s fault, not the son’s. Similar, you quote Maggie Nelson’s address to her readers saying, “You reader are here today because at one point someone policed what went into your mouth,” and then echoing Winnicott by saying you don’t owe them gratitude but only the intellectual consideration of your past absolute dependence. You go on to use this mother-child framework for how we should regard translators, that the translator considered every single part to create the whole, and each of the risks of every translation decision in order to do so. In the spirit of me reaching back to find mothering and domestic labor and babies as ways to frame questions of translation in This Little Art, I wonder if you could pull This Little Art forward into The Long Form and talk about any translational elements or translation questions or other ways your long-held concerns about translation as a translator manifest in this novel about babies.
KB: It’s interesting, it took me some time to come to terms with the continuity which may sound ridiculous now given that The Long Form is called The Long Form, and as you say, that’s a direct quotation from the preparation of the novel. But this continuity between the two projects, and in fact, the first line as you heard earlier of The Long Form is “The beginning of each new project was always the continuation.” I wrote that relatively late in the process of affirming that to myself as a starting point, which is already hollowed out by having all of these prior beginnings. I think that it’s there that I would situate The Long Form in relation to a translation, well, in the many ways that you’ve already unfolded around trying to reckon with responsibility and trying to think through a condition of dependence, not as a kind of exception that lasts for a while and that is grown out of and shared and then life becomes possible and interesting and novels can become a character but more as a generalized condition, which is more or less acute but nevertheless what it’s always like throughout our lives and to begin there and to write out from there. I guess that thinking to myself like what would it be to write out from that recognition and that affirmation of dependency, which is also derivation. That’s the way that The Long Form speaks back to This Little Art is like wanting to not say something like, “Oh, translation is actually as original as original work,” to say, “No, actually, maybe we’ll start with the fact that it’s derivative and accept that as a condition of its being and work and think out from there and think with that.” Likewise, this characterization of the translator’s work is reproductive rather than productive and a feminized service rather than a creative autonomous act of newness. Rather than say I reject that to think, “No, what would happen if I fully embraced that, if I fully took that seriously as a condition and stayed with that and affirmed it?” That’s one of the reasons why the translator is a she all the way through the book. I gave myself permission, it seemed interesting to me to use scenes from live child care that was happening contemporaneously with the writing of the translations as instructional or scenes of illumination in relation to taking on the responsibility for someone else when this responsibility is not directly symmetrical, it’s asymmetrical, and that again, is not something that the book argues against, it’s something that the book proposes to think more deeply into. We talked about Tom Jones but there’s something about this playing to newness in Henry Fielding saying, “I am here right now inaugurating a whole new province of writing,” he’s not calling it a novel yet, he’s calling it a history. It’s later on in the century that critics might look back and say this was a moment of novel invention. Here I am inventing, inaugurating a whole new province of writing, there are no precedents, and then in the essays, there’s like, “Oh, but there are these precedents. There’s Homer. There are the poets.” This dynamic between newness and novelty and something that sprung from nowhere like the baby in the bed and then also this reckoning with an acknowledgment of the fact that, of course, this is also derivative, this is also dependent on what’s come before. Thinking about my own structuring of The Long Form, it does repeat this dynamic between essay parts and fiction parts, not in the key of inauguration or originality but in the key and out of an interest of translation, what is it to translate that structure again now, what kinds of conversations does that provoke around the ways in which we seem to talk about contemporary innovation as if this were the first time, as if something like this had never been done before when in fact, it’s actually embedded deep into the history of the novel in English. That would be another way of thinking about the action of The Long Form as an interest in the reactivation of existing structures.
DN: Well, we have another question for you, one that is about possibly my favorite scene in the book and probably the only scene I think that you could consider fantastical in nature. This is a question from the author of Aftermath which was a New Yorker best book of the year in 2022 and co-chair of English PEN’s Translation Advisory Group, Preti Taneja.
Preti Taneja: Hello, Kate. It’s Preti Taneja here. There is a chapter of The Long Form called Moving On in which Helen, who has forgotten her umbrella, is imagined interrupting E. M. Forster giving a lecture on the novel. Questions of time and of intertextuality as feminist practice are nested here. Helen is your contemporary character but here she is time traveling. Her name is lifted from Gertrude Stein’s character Helen Strong in A Novel of Thank You. But here she first becomes Forster’s Helen Schlegel from Howards End, forgetting umbrellas, disrupting the social order with her baby Rose who she loudly insists smashes time. Forster goes on to discuss Gertrude Stein in his lecture to your Helen, and then you, the novelist, intervene to stop him talking. You move the discourse back to Stein and quote from A Novel of Thank You so the modernist writer speaks directly to us now. It’s such an intricate, quietly powerful intertextuality that you achieve and I wonder if your project isn’t to try to emancipate us from patriarchal time and its literary canon. As one writer to another, I’m in awe and asking also as the novel is trapped in the process of writing, how much time did it take you to make a passage work like that so fluently?
KB: Preti is incredible. I didn’t know that her voice would intervene here but this is not the first time that she sees things or she’s shown me things about the book that I didn’t know were there. She’s an extraordinary reader as well as clearly a writer. That’s again an amazing set of questions. It’s that scene that’s interesting. Just to take the last part of the question first, I think I’d reached the point where The Long Form did take some time. [laughter] It took five years in total with COVID, homeschooling, and all of that happening in the middle but I think it also needed to take this amount of time doing, I don’t know how much that slowed it down really. But that scene I think actually came in speculative, what if Helen were walking in to get out of the rain, indeed walking into, the novel has been quoting Forster for some time. Forster is one of the characters, one of the presences in the book, what if she were to shelter from the rain entering into this space in Cambridge to which women were not allowed access in the 1920s? That I think came out of this impulse or was written really quite fast in a moment of since this is fictional, let it be fictional. [laughs] Because part of what The Long Form is doing is also, connecting to your question about translation, it’s also a novel that’s preparing itself, it has a kind of prepare in my mind, at least a preparatory quality that’s really thinking out almost in the key of if there were to be a novel, what are the elements that are required? What would this involve? What would need to be thought about? There’s another section, which riffs on Tom Jones’s containing image again through Ursula Le Guin also but what would be in here? Well, there would be time and space and there would be historical forces and weather systems and there would also be love. I hope it’s somewhat comical but also quite serious unpacking of what might have to be dealt with if a novel is going to emerge. And fiction and an interest in fictionalizing. At that point in the book, I felt almost that sense of like if you’ve stayed with it, if you’re here long enough, if you’re still here, what can be permitted? Perhaps the ground is steady enough. If you’ve withstood this number of interruptions as well like the ways in which the novel is narrating what’s happening with Helen and Rose and then moving away from them and then returning to them, then where else can we go and how far can this pact be stretched and what can this companionship withstand? To think again about sociability and form of sociality, if there has been a kind of trust established, a kind of willingness to go with it, again, like with translation, then go along with it, how can I work with that? Where can I take that?
DN: Well, I wanted to spend some time with Preti’s reference of feminist intertextuality, which I relate to both Cristina Rivera Garza’s notion of the disappropriation of materials to make our debt to others visible but also to archive building and the sustaining of an archive. Preti pointed out how Helen’s name refers to multiple Helens, and likewise, you have a meditation on the multiple sources for Rose being named Rose. Your Barthes’s epigraph, every word of it is actually your words in a way because it’s an epigraph by you in the sense that you’re the translator of his words and have chosen all of these words. But all of it feels like it points how we’ve inherited every word, not just names, not just Helen, Rose, and the words you’ve chosen to translate Barthes for the epigraph, but any word, and there’s the mystery that we are indebted for every word and yet somehow, our writing still feels like a signature or a fingerprint. I know when I’m reading a book by you, by Kate Briggs, and yet your book opens, as you’ve said, with the line “The beginning of each new project was always the continuation,” which, in contrast to Fielding, to give the full quote, “I am, ‘in reality, the Founder of the Province of Writing, so I am at liberty to make what Laws I please therein.’” These two responses feel gendered to me in their sensibilities, “each beginning is a continuation” and “I have created something entirely new.” They make me think of the ways you engage with the diminishment of translators and their importance in This Little Art and also the diminishment of mothering and maintenance labor and of baby humans, but also more generally of women. This Little Art is the phrase Thomas Mann’s translator Lowe-Porter called her craft perhaps diminishing it or feeling it on the margins. She also calls herself a lady translator, a phrase that you embrace and adopt. You talk in The Fitzcarraldo Podcast about how as a young pregnant translator yourself, you were discouraged from translating and also from having kids even though you had one on the way. There’s a notable absence of men in The Long Form other than the men who deliver things or the men in the novel she is reading or the figures like Forster who are pseudo characters essentially in a way. The father of Rose is not really substantially in the book, nor a narrative for why. All of this makes me think about the ways within the book you and, by extension, Helen make these diminished so-called little and belittled things, things of great importance, and additional to this, Jennifer Hodgson adds that not only does this book dramatize being with a baby but it also dramatizes the making of theory. I don’t think the book is theoretical. I agree with Jennifer that instead of being theoretical, it dramatizes theory coming into being in a way that feels inseparable from everything else. For instance, when Helen wonders if the word motherhood was the name or the best name for what she was doing, in speaking of the word motherhood, she says of the word, “It made it sound like a stability, as well as a kind of enclosure.” When she experienced it as a facing outward, facing and being faced with this actual other body equally present, whose questions ran through her and whose ideas sometimes she felt. It made it sound like something one note, one tone continuous and almost identical with itself while she experienced it as a countering, a revision, a compensation, a rhyming, a dispute, a pulling outward. In “motherhood,” there should, by definition, be more than one live creature involved. But in the usage of this name, she wasn’t sure if she could hear it interchange, exchange the energy of a relation. You can feel I think in the dramatization of the theory the philosophical import of the activity she is doing here in the book mothering. It feels like this somehow is related to feminist intertextuality. It makes me think of Rosmarie Waldrop quoting her translation of her lifelong friend, Edmond Jabes, “There is no place, not the reflection of another. It is the reflected place we must discover, the place within the place. I write at the mercy of this place.” But I wondered in your words, what does Preti’s conjuring of feminist intertextuality make you think of or mean for you?
KB: I would want to expand the conception of textuality, which I think Preti would thoroughly endorse in the sense that this engendering of ideas or this chance of new thoughts emerging or old thoughts rephrased, let’s say, perhaps very familiar thoughts, but re-situated or pushed through different bodies and different experiences, the chance of that happening, it can happen in reading, it can happen discursively, and it can happen through a setting of textural bodies in relation to each other. The Long Form does that. We’ve talked a lot about the books that are in the book, the narrating consciousness does that. I hope what the novel does is that there are these strong chances of ideas coming in, questions being posed and insisted upon that come through doing and being, being in the world, being in power, being with other people. I’m not in any way invested in the kind of separation of scenes but here is where books relate to one another and speak through some kind of mechanism of citation in a space of thinking and here is something else, here is life, here is life represented, or here is life fictionalized but more about a form of circulation between those fears and that this idea of they’re not being no more separate spheres is a feminist position I think. Not to say that they’re the same, not to say that the interior of a flat with a playmat and mobile and these different elements of the furnishings of child care are exactly the same as something like a lecture hall or in quiet space of reading, a room of one’s own of concentration. They’re not the same. They’re fundamentally different in many, many ways. But they do all hold a chance of emergence. They hold the chance of something like theory coming into being. They certainly exist as spaces for the doing of philosophy, the doing of politics, the doing of aesthetics. They’re coexistent. They’re porous. I think that’s what Preti’s feminist intertextuality, I would think that or phrase that as a commitment to the porosity between inside and outside and between a book, the knowledge that might be held in a book or in a work of high theory let’s say, and the standing at the sink, looking out the window as a baby pops its head against your neck. There’s something about wanting to make the space of the novel of The Long Form speak to this is the space, thinking a lot about things coming in and things going out of the flat, which is the centralized face in the book, also in the book itself, so things come in through the letterbox and also the weather, the light comes in through the window and electricity comes in through the plugs. [laughter] The internet also comes in, the internet is also like collapsing this difference between inside and outside. This is the order of thinking that’s happening. It is intensely relational and without flattening out differences, it’s interested in thinking about the ways in which ideas, questions, phrases, and names travel through their repetition and their re-situation, their recontextualization. What happens to something like novel theory, let’s say, novel studies, when it’s resituated in a space of child care, something happens in the doing of that I think.
DN: Well, thinking about feminist intertextuality and thinking about this question of inside and outside, thinking of outside, it’s hard not to think about the writer and translator Benjamin Moser’s review of This Little Art in The New York Times, a takedown of the book that prompted multiple letters to the editor in defense of the book including a group one that was signed by, among others, past Between the Covers guests John Keene and Lydia Davis, both translators, Emily Wilson, the translator of The Odyssey and The Iliad, translator theory luminary Lawrence Venuti, Susan Bernofsky the translator of most of Jenny Erpenbeck’s books, and Katrina Dodson, notably the translator of Lispector’s [The Complete Stories], which was in the Lispector’s series, whose series editor was Benjamin Moser, and they point out the review’s “general tone of condescension and occasional misogynistic sniping,” and given an elegant and nuanced defense of your book, and perhaps fittingly at the end of Moser’s review, there is a correction because the original bio for him says he translated Lispector’s novel The Chandelier, when in fact, he co-translated it with Magdalena Edwards who wasn’t named. Edwards herself has written an essay called Benjamin Moser and the Smallest Woman in the World, which is largely about her nightmare experience of working under him. But also in passing about his own translation errors and mentions as well that during an hour-long conversation that Moser had about Lispector’s The Complete Stories for the Library of Congress, he doesn’t even mention the name of the translation of the book Katrina Dodson once until he receives the direct question about her in the Q&A. Part of why I bring this up is ever since I interviewed Idra Novey who translated Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H under Moser, it stuck in my craw that when you go to his website, the entire Lispector series that he was series editor of, many of which were translated by “lady” translators, that unless you know in advance that he didn’t translate the vast majority of them, you would think he translated them all, he never acknowledges them anywhere. Some don’t have the translators on the cover at all but even the ones that do, you would have to know to zoom in on the cover to discover that they’re there. But the main reason I bring this up is I wonder how exceptional or typical this moment was or is and how your books are received in the world. You write about the so-called little art of translation, the so-called little art of mothering. You were even going to call The Long Form at one point A World in Small Doses. How common of a thing is it for your books to be made small or to have them belittled as not worthy of critical attention or that they aren’t made with seriousness and rigor?
KB: I think for me certainly in my life, that was an exceptional reviewing moment, not something that I was anticipating or have experienced since, at least, at the level of its scale and its publicness, that review and the response to the review has become part of the publication history of This Little Art. That’s why I think that’s part of why people are interested in talking about it. But it was exceptional in a number of senses, one being that this was a first book, and The Fitzcarraldo Editions, a very small press at that time, was one of their early books. At that time they were a team of three and I don’t think any of the four of us anticipated the book appearing in The New York Times and then to appear in this manner. But I am exceptionally grateful, remain exceptionally grateful to the support that the book received at that time to form those extraordinary practitioners and thinkers of translation who allowed through that act extended the life of the work in ways that were just extraordinary. That doesn’t happen very often. Often, I think when a review has the impulse or seems to express the intention to stop a book, it works, especially in a platform as large as The New York Times. That was and remains extraordinary to me. But in thinking about it, that was five years ago, I would want to put the emphasis on what has changed in the last five years as a result of many of those practitioners who signed that letter. Thinking of Katrina’s recent translation, for example, thinking about The New York Times this summer doing a special issue devoted to translators and translation, I feel like the landscape for translators has significantly shifted, certainly since the time when I started working on This Little Art, which was five to six years prior to the publication. I hope this work is ongoing and it is by no means achieved but my sense is more translators are writing about their practice. There are more diverse voices in translation and beyond talking about my practice moves from French to English, there seems to be much more visibility, interest, and excitement around different translators working with different languages. My point being that I feel like there’s a different energy around translation now than there has been, than there certainly was, and that feels really exciting to me and exciting to be translating into. But your question was about this kind of marginal, this interest in the little and the small. Something to say about the title of This Little Art is that it is in the key of a provocation. It’s both provocation and inquiry. I was very interested why Helen Lowe-Porter who devoted 30 years of her life to translating Thomas Mann should describe her own practice as a little art in her private correspondence. What did that mean? So, therefore, what did translation mean to her? How was she thinking about what she was doing? How was she giving value to what she was doing to something which was clearly also very meaningful for her? One of the impulses in This Little Art was to pause and take time, as a non-reader of German but reader of a lot of the criticism of her translations, it seemed to me quite a fast move or a quick move to be critical that it seemed almost like an obvious move there are mistakes in her translations so let’s be critical, let’s not have mistakes. Mistakes are wrong and bad. I’d read a lot about her work doing that but it seemed to me more interesting to pause and take time to think about what she thought she was doing to try and take her own words seriously and then also the words of her daughters seriously who wrote a letter of their own in protest to a review of their mother’s work. There was part of a methodology in This Little Art was to take the terms that are being set around translation, ponder them, wonder about them, and not go too fast. One of the refrains in that book is about slowing down. Let’s not speed up. Then interestingly, when working on The Long Form, these so-called marginal experiences or smaller experiences or experiences that are considered to be or characterized to one side of the main action, the real deal, that only really works. Translation is only a marginal subject if you’re monolingual or monocultural. Otherwise, it’s an active part of everyday life. It’s what you’re doing all the time. I don’t think either of us knows very many people who exist in a monolingual condition. I think that’s a rare thing rather than a common thing. That’s the exception rather than the norm and yet that exception is centered. That’s what pushes something like the translational activity to the margins. I think something similar happens with being embedded or entangled in the situation of care and co-living that only looks marginal if your centered subject is, we spoke about independence, independent, autonomous, unencumbered. Again, I don’t think that is the common condition. I think the most common, the most habitual condition the way most of our lives look is intensely relational and responsible in one way or another for other lives. But it was interesting how when working on The Long Form, when people would say to me, “Hey, what’s the novel about?” and I’d say, “Well, it’s about a baby, a day with a baby or work in a newborn baby care,” and I would see, often it would happen that you’d see people’s eyes glaze over slightly or entirely. There was a sense, you pick up a vibe of like have we not had three or four books about this last year or something, have we not done that? Is that not exhausted? It became very interesting to me as an exercise to think, “Okay, if I want to describe this book to other people and also to myself, what if I were to say it’s not a book about a baby? It is a book about a baby but put some other language around it and say something like it’s about forms of durational co-living or intergenerational durational co-living?” [laughter] Then you’d see genuinely, there would be the different ways I would, if I could invent other ways of describing it, which were also true and I was also attached to and really believe in, I do think it’s a very interesting instance of intergenerational co-living or scenes of reckoning with difference, let’s say, then people, I mean I’m generally speaking, I’m characterizing this for the sake of talking with you about it but you would see a different quality of interest. That also then spoke to me as part of the project of writing whether in This Little Art or The Long Form, which I am deeply invested in was like, “What happens? What happens when we redescribe the familiar or redescribe actions, activities, modes of being, or forms of life which we think we’ve understood or we do understand and we think we’ve said everything there is to say about them? Is that not the part of the writer’s project to find modes of redescription, which actually open and reactivate and make these experiences sound relevant, or not only sound relevant but point to their true relevance to what might typically look like it lies outside of that sphere?” That redescription, that’s why The Long Form is called The Long Form because it’s not exactly clear what long form I’m talking about until you open the book and then ah, we’re in a scene of mothering and being a baby. But later on, we’re in a scene of novel thinking. Both are called The Long Form and that holds both together.
DN: As you’ve alluded to the landscape for translators has changed for the better since you started This Little Art, and your work since that review when Fitzcarraldo was small and this was your debut, your work has achieved a claim, you’ve won awards, you’ve done well. You’ve told me outside of the interview that you’d love for This Little Art not to forever be associated with the Moser review but I suspect your publisher, Fitzcarraldo’s reasoning for pointing people on their website to the review and the translator community response placing it before all the positive blurbs for the book is a similar reason I bring up the review as well, that in the big picture, it isn’t the review that is remarkable but the response on behalf of the book, that in a very high-profile way, people disrupted the norm, the way Helen interrupts Forster’s speech to an audience of men bursting in with her baby and her deeply thought out philosophical thoughts about babies in relation to novels, that it really isn’t so much about Moser who represents, I think in this instance, long-standing and widespread biases that have made books like yours rarer or more marginalized but rather because both of your books engage with these long-standing and widespread biases because both of your books suggest a possible otherwise, and because both your books suggest a multiplicity of ways to be in relation to both translation and writing. It feels like that review became a real-life contemporary instance of things that you mainly engage with in a historical context in your books, that this resonance between your engagement with critical response in your books, and then this high-profile critical response in the world, and the response to the response, I think it creates an umbilical cord, not between This Little Art and the Moser review but between This Little Art and the response to the Moser review. I think of when you won the Windham Campbell Prize and instead of giving a talk, you wanted to have a conversation with other translators so you invited Johannes Göransson, John Keene, and Sawako Nakayasu, the latter two who’ve been on the show as guests, to invite their thoughts and their modes of translation and writing, which in many ways couldn’t be more different from each other or from yours. Then you called what you were doing together a different sort of writing and a different sort of publishing. In a way, it feels like there’s an echoing in the review and response and your own critical engagement within the books, and the call and response you invite both within your books and the call and response you invite between your books and the reading public.
KB: Thank you for that. I think you’ve really put your finger on something that’s really important to me, which is conversation. Actually, my books, especially This Little Art, are often described as conversational, and it’s true, I’m very interested in conversation. In fact, what’s difficult about that instance of the review, the public grand platform review is it doesn’t really invite, generally speaking, it’s not a mode, it’s not a form that invites response. As you pointed out, the fact that it did then have a response puts it into the zone of the conversational in ways that are actually really interesting and then generated conversation privately with Katrina Dodson, for example, who’s now a friend as a result of talking, exchanging, and writing to each other. That’s extraordinary. Some of the work I was doing at Glasgow this past year, I was a practitioner in residence at Glasgow School of Art and the whole thematic I proposed was around conversation as a practice, as potentially as an art form in and of itself, but also as something that we do pedagogically as the mode of teaching. We talk to each other about what we think we’re doing when we’re making art. I was really interested in the forms that are available to us for such talking. This I think it’s relevant to reviewing as a practice. Within the art school, we have the group crit, for example, or you have the studio visit, these more one-on-one modes. There was an invitation to think together with staff and students at GSA about these forms and about how effective they are, where they come from, why we keep reproducing them, is there occasion to rethink them. With a small group of really wonderful recent graduates from the MFA, we came up with a project called Rituals In Preparation For Talking About Someone Else’s Artwork. [laughter]
DN: I love that.
KB: Which will be part of a publication, which we’re currently getting slowly towards print. The part of the thinking there was that perhaps we do need some rituals like what is it to ready yourself to actually engage with someone else’s work? What values do we bring to that space of engagement, of responding to a call? If a book put into the world is a call to reading, to response, how do you enter into a space of receptivity? These are things I’ve been thinking through in a really quite magic way in the context of Glasgow. But I do think there’s something about call and response, and this also speaks to something I feel like you’ve really seen in The Long Form, the ways in which putting maybe unlike materials into conversation with each other in a way, I think that’s what a book can do, it’s like it’s not often that you get Gertrude Stein speaking to Henry Fielding maybe, although I think she did really like Henry Fielding. Or like John Dewey talking to Penelope Leach, author of a baby care bible or any of them talking to Rebba who’s a character in the book. But here they are, here is a space where they can actually speak, and what is said is starting to have that quality of responsiveness. What you don’t want is for conversations to stop. I think that’s something that you don’t want. Who would want conversations to be closed down? I feel like that’s what happened with the review and then the responses to the review, I think it did, although there’s a sort of human in the middle of that. It’s not ideal. It’s not certainly the moment of the review’s publication, it’s not what I would have wanted but I recognized with hindsight that it did generate talk. That’s intensely valuable.
DN: One of the things I really love about the story of the translation community, not only rallying on behalf of the book but around the importance of your provisional approach that allows for uncertainty and open-ended questions is that I think archive building and feminist intertextuality isn’t just vertical, isn’t just, as important as it is, rescuing past writers from eraser on behalf of the future but also horizontal building relations with peers, which this takedown review ended up exceptionally producing or making visible this community that valued This Little Art. In that spirit, it feels like we can’t not mention Helen’s best friend, Rebba. Their story was the most painful part of the book and in some ways the most beautiful part. I think you could say the story of their friendship is the story of the way existing forms can prevent connections from enduring. As roommates prior to Helen getting pregnant, their lives together are perfect, a harmonious symbiosis. But when Helen gets pregnant, it feels to me like inherited forms of living both prevent Rebba from verbalizing her desire for Helen to stay and for them to do this together even though there is no example from which to do it together, and also that these same forms push Helen to believe that she should really “progress” from their shared space to some more recognizable form of independence and self-sufficiency. In your conversation with Renee Gladman you say of your novel, “One of the book’s repeating questions comes from Gertrude Stein, a line lifted from her A Novel of Thank You: Who can think about a novel. Her bold response in the next sentence is: I can. I know poems move, I know essays also move; clearly it’s rare for them to stay in the same place, in the same key, register, mood. But for me this is the novel’s specificity: its extraordinary, stretched capacity for modulation. How a novel can bring you to the sense of something ending, or falling apart, and then, somehow, regather, find new resources, carry on—a new chapter.” Of course, this falling apart and coming together is happening moment to moment between Helen and Rose throughout the book. But it’s this female friendship falling apart and trying to find a new form that was particularly poignant to me as a reader. I love that the form for the novel ultimately is the mobile that hovers over Rose in her crib, the only thing that the baby herself can sustain her focus on because the mobile also feels like it speaks to Helen and Rebba’s relationship. Throughout the book, we get images of different parts of it and at various times, you describe it as near and juddery, gapped with negative space, edge and alive, or held in readiness often itself in one shaky arrangement than another, or each shape offsets the other, not one of its parts is given more weight. Or perhaps most importantly, a mobile is a continuation supported by contrast. In a way, a mobile seems like the opposite of story and yet becomes the form of your story. I felt like we should speak for a moment on the mobile, which feels similar in spirit to a gapped and roving point of view.
KB: I’m so grateful, well, for everything, [laughter] but also for your sense, your perception, and your reception to indeed, I think wanting a novel like a mobile, I wanted a novel like a mobile. One phrase you used earlier is a single consciousness, I’m a deeply enthralled reader of single consciousness novels but I wanted this to be at least a double consciousness novel. As you say, there are other characters like Rebba, it’s a multiple consciousness novel. It has these parts that are played but also these shapes, these characters, and in a way, the mobile is made up of elemental shapes of a circle, a square, dots, a triangle, which have, even as I say them out loud, they have qualities, they have a particular charge and character and Rebba has her own character in charge. She’s one element indeed in the mobile. She’s circulating and set in relation to the other elements. I really like the idea, I was really committed to the idea, which perhaps speaks back also to Preti’s question of a decentered or uncentered narrative where it’s about this shifting relation of offsetting, contrasting, sometimes vibing with, speaking to, connecting, that’s sort of ongoing, not sort of ongoing, like in wholly ongoing, but the rhythm of the book is about I think this like holding of a position, proposing some kind of choreographic position. Dance is a term that you’ve used a lot and then indeed by collapsing it, wobbling it, making it shaky, and finding another. The idea that it keeps moving also speaks I think to the inside-outside question because what is it actually sensitive to? It’s sensitive to Helen twisting it with some violence to get it going again and entertain Rose again. [laughter] But it’s also sensitive to breath, air, and these other forces. It’s made from plastic and it’s hung from the table which is made from plywood. It’s got its own materiality. It’s responsive to forces, which are actually much larger than the characters in the room with it at any time. It’s interesting, I’m also really pleased that you brought in this friendship which is another of the long forms in the book. This is another long form that the novel is trying to think about and also about relation to the question of critical reception, I feel also immensely grateful for the reception and the seriousness which my work has been taken by some of the readers and writers that you’ve cited and brought into the conversation and winning a prize is like extraordinary affirmation and validation. But I think it is also interesting that the kinds of language that get attached to my books, which are things like lovely, it’s lovely. [laughter] Whimsical is another one. Whimsy maybe I reject. Lovely, I could think through and hold to. If we’re serious about changing these conditions, then it’s about how do we claim the force of these adjectives or the force of these modes of being, the politics? What’s the politics of loveliness? Is that also not like an action in the world of creating conditions where perhaps people feel more likely to feel somewhat welcome than afraid that they’re going to be hurt? I wanted the book to feel like the chances of being hurt were being actively minimized as far as possible because, of course, how can you minimize them entirely? You can’t.
DN: Yeah. Well, as a way to end, I thought we’d do a really short reading. When in conversation with Tracy K. Smith about translation, you said that in the best circumstances, translation is not a layering but a setting alongside of something new. In a way, the mobile is like that too. Nothing is subordinate to anything else. Everything is suspended alongside. There’s a wonderful moment, shortly after Helen starts reading the novel that arrives where really for the first time in this day, Rose isn’t on Helen or being mirrored back to by Helen. Helen is inside the book in another mental space but she’s sitting alongside or nearby Rose and then Rose communicates to Helen side by side. I was hoping we could hear this half-page, it’s the last half of the last page of a chapter called A Container Containing.
[Kate Briggs reads an excerpt from her latest book, The Long Form]
DN: Thank you, Kate Briggs. It was a dream to speak with you today and I so loved your book.
KB: Thank you. I have no words, we’ve said a lot of words but it is an immense gift, David, what you’ve given me. Thank you.
DN: Thank you. We’ve been talking today to Kate Briggs about her latest book from Dorothy The Long Form. 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. If you enjoyed today’s conversation, consider joining the Between the Covers Community as a listener-supporter. We have many new bundles of books from Dorothy with books by everyone from Kate Briggs to Caren Beilin to Leonora Carrington to Amina Cain. The bonus audio archive, which includes a ton of translator-centric material, readings, and discussions by everyone from Lydia Davis to Rosmarie Waldrop to Arthur Sze. 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 the conversation, 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 Tin House Early Readership Subscription getting 12 books over the course of a 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.