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‘Language can multiply itself and form secret and unusual patterns’: Andrew Pascoe Interviews Ania Walwicz

1 November 2018

AP: You’ve recently been wearing the fake beard as a prop for your performances. The way I read the beard, incidentally – well I thought it was the Russian Tsar and I also thought it could have been Freud at the same time. So it made me think about, ‘Ah, I wonder if Ania has this complicated relationship to psychoanalysis …’.

AW: Well that’s true, too, because I make fun of it, as well. Ahh everything is up for grabs.

And that beard! At first I bought it because we, students and me, we had a party, we all dressed up as famous authors – I dressed up as Fyodor Dostoyesvski – but students said ‘you look like a terrorist’, because now the beard has a different signification. So the beard…now I’ve got three beards! I was given another beard, and then I bought this giant beard, I don’t know where I can wear it.

I’m going to be doing a reading at Melbourne Writer’s Festival (2018), with the beard. It’s called ‘The Big Bent’, so the organisers affiliated me with gender difference. The bearded woman is also there in alchemy, connected to duality, of persona, and strange hermaphroditic image, too. But I guess I haven’t thought of that, people saw it as I was trying to look like Freud, which you know, one of the covers of Hysteria, he is there with a beard. But then it’s also become a kind of transexual image, so you know, it’s interesting – once you do something in art, it leaves the personal and becomes interactive and universal.

AP: In your work – there is not a stable ‘I’ but it is personal, so to put that out into the world must be a terrifying thing, in some ways.

AW: At first I thought I owned the experience, because I remember meeting a person at a poetry reading who said in response to a poem I’d written, ‘I felt exactly like that last Sunday’, and I thought ‘How could anyone feel like that? It’s me, it’s mine.’ But then I realised that the literary artefact is a very shifting ground, it’s absolutely a transpersonal format of communication. It is more than the self, it becomes, oh, universal. I don’t know, Jungian collective unconscious. Ahh it’s all there. But at first these things really worried me, that I didn’t own it, that I didn’t direct how people should read it; but now I see that as soon as something is public, it leaves the author, and it’s a very strange connection of releasing that work – and it’s frightening too, but that’s part of this transformative magic of language: that it isn’t just the self within the self, it becomes talking in someone else’s head.
AP: Yeah, you talk a little bit about wanting to make a transference to the reader.

AW: Yes! Yes, I want the reader to love me, I want to love the reader! I was reading The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, you know, and – have you come across it? – it’s amazing. I used material from there too. He was always saying, ‘I love you, oh’, and having this image of the reader. So, oh – unusual – I like unusual texts. But, you know, it’s interesting how people view unusual texts. Some people are frightened by it, other people get into it – when I worked with children, they were open to get into most unusual texts. Interesting. But the more we know about literature, perhaps we become reticient, thinking how should we respond to it?

AP: Can I ask about the relationship between your previous book, Palace of Culture, and Horse. There are clear connections between the two but they’re working in very different ways.

AW: Well, Palace of Culture was based on a collection of dream diaries – I’ve got dream diaries, that begin in 1993 – but it did involve rewriting and repositioning, and different edits, and different versions. But with Horse, it was instantaneous. It’s the kind of writing I’ve always wanted to do! But I don’t know, Jack Kerouac On the Road, other influences of automatic writing, Isidore Ducasse’s Les chants de Maldoror, the surrealistic classic … I was aware of all that so I was incorporating.

AP: It’s interesting in the sense that a lot of people would read your other books and assume there is some stream of consciousness in them.

AW: As a doctorate it was a compilation of intellectual thought, and that kind of stream of consciousness material, automatic writing of the surrealist, and my particular interest in psychoanalysis. So it all came together and – I have never had that experience, so I hope there’ll be more!

AP: To talk a bit more about the connections between these works, I felt they both work through trauma, but in very different ways. In Horse, you say, ‘The mouth is the seat of trauma’. It feels like in your work, you’re trying to trace the roots of trauma to language itself and to the body?

AW: Well yes, absolutely. But then the process of psychoanalysis sees that the language is a way of relating to trauma and expiating it, as well, you know, the ‘talking cure’. So, it is the mouth. But then I realised – once I wrote some material for an opera, and I had the mouth in there too. Someone was saying, ‘I want to be your mouth’. But you know, I think of Beckett, Not I – you know the play of Beckett, where you just see the mouth speaking. So other authors have also been involved in this kind of orality. But you know I read my work and perform it, so there is that oral aspect.

AP: One think that struck me when I read Palace of Culture was that there had been a long publishing gap [more than 20 years] between it and your previous book Red Roses.

AW: Well there was too, but I was involved in other projects. I was involved in this opera project which was very extenuated, and I actually had a publishing contract all fixed up for Palace of Culture to publish it in England. And then because of the recession, the people publishing there, it all became dissolved; that breaks the writer’s heart. So I was a bit put off and put the book away, but with my writing I’ve had a very great variation of response – from utter adoration and admiration to utter aggression, and actual confrontation… no one has hit me, but you know it’s interesting, the whole gamut of response. It’s a bit scary, but I battle on. But after there’s always been questions, you know, how can we sell it in a big way? You know. And also in Australia there’s never been an established realm of unusual books, I suppose the publisher of Horse, University of Western Australia Press, that is their credo, that is what they set up to do. But you know in the current climate it is an unusual trajectory.

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