‘Desire’s temporality is going to be perverse’: Elena Betros López Interviews Lisa Robertson

By and | 1 May 2020

LR (22 April 2020): I want to add just a little pragmatic detail to my earlier response. Writing has been my primary economic activity since 1995. Before then I was an independent book seller, before that, a student and a cleaning lady. As a freelance writer I have seen some big changes in 25 years, in the general economy around writing, publication, and payment, and also in the structure of academic work. We talked about this on Skype together – how pre-2008 experience as a writer may seem irrelevant in the current political economy, for those younger writers who haven’t benefitted directly from a more promising economy. Of course I want to continue to be relevant to younger writers and readers, even though some parts of my experience could seem pretty distant currently. But I’d like to offer this small idea. Each of us is going to continue to experience unimaginable changes in the relationship of our creative work to broader political contexts. Sometimes it will feel overwhelming and we might need to pause to rest, and to learn. But resilience is not only possible, it’s what we’re made of. Desire does not stop, nor will our relationships with art and language ever stop. In every instance it is possible to continue. As long as we are in passionate community, including community with the past, with predecessors and ancestors, and with strangers, we will continue to reinvent beauty and resistance.

EBL (5 April 2020): I have had the sense that we now find ourselves in a new kind of time, for me this has felt like a perpetual present with the future(s) suspended. I can imagine that for some, this ample time is confronting and it is here that I feel lucky to be an artist, to have worked on making time and carving it out again and again – on my own terms for practice. I’m feeling many corners, edges and blank wall openings in this. On one hand we now have time for abundance, to read and under some material conditions to create. I think this time has the potential to renegotiate certain impositions of austerity and notions of productivity that neoliberalism has sought to impose over time, bodies, and lives. Could it also be a time to write? Given there is an imposition of and the conditions that determine a being at home and to a certain extent and for some- alone? Is it a time to have more support for writers? I know they will (at least for me) carry me through this time. Can these moments of upheaval create the space for creating poetry, fiction and art? It’s a difficult question as I know for myself, I find it hard to make in moments where my life is upheaved.

LR (6 April 2020) ): I agree that this could be the case. Often new intensities open new capabilities. Personally, I haven’t yet been writing much. I feel an inner emotional exhaustion, and also fears about long term separation from Canada, where my oldest friends and my family live. I am used to travelling there from France several times a year, to be with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s now, and to participate in various gatherings of poets, and artists, and critics. I’ve managed to combine family and social time when I travel. I think though that generally the effects of this confinement will be long-term, in the positive sense as well. Maybe we don’t need to try to process it all immediately? It will take a lifetime to understand how this will have changed us, and our collectivities. Currently we are suspended in uncertainty. Many people globally have been forced into such uncertainty for decades if not centuries. Are new experiences of active empathy possible? I couldn’t describe them right now. We might try to cultivate a readiness for the unthinkable.

EBL (5 April 2020): In another sense I have experienced how the state is limiting any possibility of maintaining proximity with kin outside of certain heteronormative models: the couple, the nuclear family, the ‘happy’ home. Here, new legislation allows romantic partners to visit one another in their homes, regardless of living arrangements. Yet if living alone one can incur a fine of $1,652 (how they arrived at this eccentric pricing is bizarre) for visiting or hosting a non-‘romantic’ other, a best friend for example. These new prohibitions place hierarchical values on relationships of intimacy by prohibiting proximate/embodied time with seemingly unconventional kin. What I’m working towards is really a question I’m asking myself yet, folding out towards you: how to be queer in/at this time?

LR (6 April 2020): I wish I could imagine an adequate answer to this question. There will undoubtedly be a great deal of suffering in this confinement. Clearly the violence underpinning heteronormative sociality has already become sickeningly clearer. Enforced confinement is revealing even more strongly how many traditional forms of confinement already destroy people. The family, the prison, the police. We will learn more about power. How not to suffer? How to help others suffer less? Are these queer questions? How can we diversify and deepen the terms and sites of our resistance, when for some, resistance is a matter of survival? I don’t think my abilities as a poet give me any special insight into this problem, other than the recognition that I must try to practice the ongoing deferral of closure, alongside the welcoming of previously unrecognisable forms of relationship. I feel that I want to understand resistance not only as a reactive response to injustice, but a gradual cognitive discernment. Resistance is also an inner event, a texture in thinking. We can learn to make entirely new kinds of distinctions. I notice many of my friends are reading the philosopher and theologian Simone Weil right now. In her discussion of medieval troubadour culture, she said ‘love is the opposite of force’. Our queer work might be to learn together how to continuously abandon force, including the force of habit in our own thinking and relationships.

LR (22 March 2020): I fear that already my response inhabits a sort of rote avant-gardism, and I am not entirely for that chilly distanciation. I want to insist on the presence in language of desire. Not only our individual desires, but the long story of collective desires. Desire’s temporality is going to be perverse. Sometimes desire is nurtured by a withdrawal. Sometimes it’s going to face backwards. Sometimes desire knows nothing and that’s the conundrum we must rest with. In my own writing and reading, I have always turned to historical texts for stimulation and instruction. How have bodies loved, craved, moved, played, in diverse linguistic moments? In literature we have the incredible freedom of sharing time with language’s otherness. I want the present of my writing to include wild temporal diversity. This has to do with my own taste for strangeness, for the baroque, the proliferative, the opaque, the gorgeous and the monstrous. The poems in 3 Summers, for example, were written loosely over the duration of my menopause, which overlapped with my long obsession with Lucretius’s On Nature, written in the 1st Century of the current era in Rome. I started reading Lucretius around 1999, I think, as I was writing The Weather1, and learning about Virgil’s influences. I was simply trying to be thorough in my research then on meteorological discourse. But Lucretius stuck with me in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated. He gave me a path to Epicurean philosophy and atomism, and thence to such widely differing texts as Marx’s dissertation on Democritus and the atomists, Pierre Hadot’s beautiful work on philosophical community, and Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense. I am about to reread the final book of On Nature, which focusses on disease, plague, and social breakdown. It is frighteningly timely. ‘Medicine muttered below her breath’, Lucretius says, ‘scared into silence’. ‘Each man in his sorrow buried his own friend as best as he could’.

  1. The Weather (New Star Books, Vancouver, 2001), https://www.newstarbooks.com/book.php?book_id=0921586817
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