Pillows, a room, her private kingdom

Julie O’Yang and Jeremy Fernando converse about writing, reading, art—not just as separate crafts, but as gestures that open registers in each other. A writer is always already her first reader; a painter has to bring both reading and writing together in her imagination whilst—and at their highest level both are forms of art. But, even as they come together, they remain irreducibly different—only perhaps in ways that remain veiled from us. As an acknowledgment that they may never be able to unveil anything about writing, art, or reading—that their conversation is a gamble that may open nothing other than the fact that O’Yang and Fernando are speaking—their dialogue bears echoes of Tumbling Dice.

Self-portrait by J O’Yang

On Reading and Art 

or on fluttering & gamble of imagination 

                                           (feat Tumbling Dice by The Rolling Stones)

                       ——————-
‘Cause all you women is low down gamblers
Cheatin’ like I don’t know how
But baby, I go crazy, there’s fever in the funk house now
This low down bitchin’ got my poor feet a itchin’
You know you know the duece is still wild
 —————————
JF: At the end of Butterfly, A Novel, you comment: “A few liberties have been taken with the historical record in the interest of the truth.” And in an interview with Eric Abrahamsen you state: “Literature is something else, and demands the imagination from the author as much as from the reader.” Clearly, to you, writing is creation, invention. However, we are also never using our own language: it is borrowed, stolen, an act of memory—in other words, an act of reading. How do you see the relationship between writing and reading, an author and her reader?
JO’Y: I have a terrible habit of reading five books at the same time. From Chinese classics I’d jump to T. S. Eliot and then to the latest Scandinavian thrillers or even travel guides, all in the same evening. In the meanwhile, I may have also checked related articles, visual material and films. My working place looks like a disaster area littered with post-apocalyptic disorder. Quite perverse actually that one is led by her whims to such an epic extent. Speaking of perversity. I don’t do Harry Potter though, never did, it’s a children’s book – not in the sense that Andersen is a children’s book, if you know what I mean.
To me, reading is essential. But most important of all, all the dead and freshly written letters receive a vitality through my reading. I don’t “read”, I interpret. I gamble on my intuition, my imagination. Most people have very little imagination. They are hardly moved by anything which does not directly touch them, which does not positively hammer its message upon their senses. But even a trifle, should it happen under their very eyes, and within the immediate range of their feelings, will instantly kindle in them a disproportionate amount of excitement. Unfortunately, this infantile – trend, should I say – in reading is encouraged by infantile publishers with their harebrained ambitions. Changes are necessary. If literature is to survive today’s shifting landscape, changes are vital. Authors, I am calling you to think outside the square. Change is a great thing. THINK POSITIVE! After all, Requiem is  hot music, isn’t it.  But take the gamble to WIN!
Sometimes I think it is rather silly that I can’t read normally, that I go through the process of “re-verb” either consciously or unconsciously every time when I pick up a book. I do enjoy a book when I do, though. And that is also what I ask of my reader. Enjoy, and soar on your wings of imagination! If I can’t give the reader this confidence, I consider it my failure. Every book is its own universe; the writer shows the way into a world no matter how weird  that world may seem. The writer takes a lot of risks, exposing his deepest fear, obsessions, infatuation and delight to be explored by his reader like the body of a long lost lover. I ask an awful lot, I know. Nevertheless, it is also my love letter to my audience. 
————————-
But baby, get it straight
You got to roll me and call me the tumblin’
Roll me and call me the tumblin’ dice
  ——————–
JF: Who are some of your influences—both in writing and in art?
JO’Y: Nabokov, Nabokov and Nabokov. Then again, I read everything that catches my attention for some reason. For my art it’s pretty much the same. I am a museum junk. I draw influences from everywhere. Italian masters, ancient Sumi-e ink wash, Modigliani’s lyricism, Francis Bacon’s raw, tender and sore, Georgia O’Keeffe’s sensuality, Caravaggio’s puzzling violence… Recently I delve a little bit more into Durer and some Flemish masters such as Lucas Cranach. The intimacy of the old masters fascinates me; intimacy like “let’s sit down and draw some air today”…
Shall I go on with fabulous name-dropping?
JF: Well, naming is a form of citation, of paying tribute to those that came before us, influenced us, taught us. In this way, I see your acknowledgments as a form of humility. But it is always also a manner of setting oneself as part of a lineage, a protection that one sets around oneself. As if to say that if you don’t agree with me, take it up with the network of great names that I name myself as part of. 
***
Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me
And make me burn the candle right down
But baby, baby, I don’t need no jewels in my crown  
***
JF: Do you consider yourself an artist?
JO’Y: First, in answering to The Stones…I have all sorts of problems and feel often discouraged. Nothing new. Life is life, no exception for an artist. Really, there is no glamour in sweating so much in order to pull yourself through the process of creation. I swear I don’t smell like a flower in bed. I sleep naked because I have learned to tolerate my own presence: the sweating artist.
The Greek word “tekhnê” is   often (mis)translated as “art”. The word has a taste of craft. The artist is no   more than Handarbeiter, but certainly no less.
In ancient Greece, the nine   Muses oversee a different field of human creation: Calliope who has a beautiful speech is the guardian of poetry. Clio is the muse of history. Erato, the amorous one, is for lyrical and erotic songs. Euterpe pleases us with music.   Melpomene loves tears and tragedy. Polymnia prefers rhetoric. Terpsichore unifies music  and dance. Thalia is bird happy and favours comedy and bucolic beauty. Urania,   the celestial one, is drunk with stars in the velvet sky. All of them are my guardians and friends. In that sense, I am an artist. Yes. I translate that which I touch with my hands into something others can feel, real and strong, like an injection through your veins. It asks certain skills, not only passive skills. The artist needs to go through the   transformation himself in reaction to the reality. Without connection with what   happens in the world, without referring to it, art is a dead, cold corpse.
I do, I understand, I   show/explain simply, and I’m still puzzled. This is my motto.
JF: Does a writer and an artist (if you consider yourself one; if you don’t then an artisan) have any responsibility towards society? Or is there (primary) responsibility to their craft?
JO’Y: Art deals with the individual and concerns the individual. By exposing him/herself, the artist relates him/herself to a community. She/He has the license to question. She/He has the power to change. She/He represents freedom. 
***
Oh, my, my, my, I’m the lone craps shooter
Playin’ the field ev’ry night 
***
Jeremy Fernando is Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He is also the author of Reflections on (T)error,Reading Blindly, The Suicide Bomber; and her gift of death, and Writing Death.
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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Pillows, a room, her private kingdom

  1. Pingback: Julie O’Yang and Jeremy Fernando converse about writing, reading, art—not just as separate crafts, but as gestures that open registers in each other. A writer is always already her first reader; a painter has to bring both reading and writing together

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