1 – What is the story behind Your Body Figured? I mean, how did it come to be?
I lied to get a big agent after my first book, Outline of My Lover. When I had the uptown meeting where it would be decided if I would be taken on or not, I said how, in addition to the book that became Once You Go Back and that she was in part basing evaluation upon, I was also planning on writing a book about Anais Nin, a historical thing. Paris in so and so year. I was very friendly with Colm Toibin around the same time, who then had extreme faith in what I was doing in those autobiographically based works of mine which I still approached as fiction, story-making. “This fictional voice you’ve found is really something.” Or something like that. I hadn’t done Your Body Figured yet, so he didn’t mean it. But once when I went to visit him in his office he for awhile had at the New York Public Library, part of some fellowship or residency—one of those things I myself would never get—he did ask something like what I was going to do when it was all over? Going through the things of my childhood. I begin to think how I would ever want to move beyond self and at the same time looking at who did and didn’t succeed on their own terms…. There are other roots to it, too. I wouldn’t write about the relationship I was in at the time, but a boyfriend my age who wasn’t supporting me financially if artistically in a way gave me Guy Davenport’s Balthus book. Another boy I changed the way I talked to try to be more like had given a Francis Bacon monograph, before that. Hart Crane I didn’t understand and wanted to try to more. It was very important for me to have something I could work on by learning and then transcribing an initial reaction to what I was gleaning. See then how all those reactions might add up, what areas they might connect, what it begins to say. We don’t think of Narcissus as talking, do we? Such a rarefied trope. How not to make it precious, even these personages romantic. I had also just gotten out of grad school for writing and never wanted to be one of those gay guys in my classes who wrote female protagonist screens for themselves. An earlier version did have Nin and also O’Keefe, connecting them to Balthus and Crane respectively through another man, but I couldn’t find someone similarly for Bacon/Dyer, so that part of the structure collapsed a bit, and I let it go for balance in the end. It began even more ambitious.
2 – Does a literary hard-on exist? If so, what are some of the works you’ve enjoyed reading lately?
I am mostly utilitarian in my reading. Meaning, I tend to read around as I am writing, actually drafting, or only related to projects. Everything has to relate. The poet I refer to above thought this was an ugly thing about me. Let me try to be honest. I am stopping to type now to think back beyond just yesterday, when as I was working on a story, reading Borges because the neighbor mentioned him and I could not remember or immediately say the title of the story she seemed to be casting about for…generally I knew what she meant, and I do love Borges, but still. I am very into his nonfictions right now. So much so that I might buy a copy of the volume I have been rechecking and rechecking from the library. And I am about to be competing for a job against a traditional writer, a lot of them I suspect, so I am reading their stories to understand more what I offer or can instead, how I will be seen. Enjoyment. I know there is something I must have been convincing someone to read, too. This isn’t the title I am trying to remember, but Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory is my dinner book, when I am eating by myself. That must mean it tickles, or pleases, comforts me somehow. Enjoyment. Elmear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. That was the last thing I stayed up past getting in bed to read and would get up actually a few nights in the middle of to read more of, though enjoy…. it immersed me. I liked how I had to run after it. But even there was self-recognition. This is the kind of domestic novel I can call home. And I was reading it, to begin with, because a young editor trying to get power to acquire my newest thing pointed it out to me, said how she was comparing my manuscript to it to her boss.
3 – What is a fuckable text? And is it only fuckable in a particular language?
Fucking to me is a language all its own, or really only feels like fucking to me when it gets to that place where you are making your own words between you two (three? more?). Literature is something deep enough, or contoured enough, compelling enough that you let some of your de rigueur positions, propensities, go. It must be, or I am still not unbound enough, I can’t melt enough. Trying to remember now the fucking I did last night so I can try to train the analogy as felicitously as possible and still be telling the truth.
4 – Do you think there’s anything other then body in language?
Yes. The spirit or trace (Derrida, and by that I mean the whole underground current of true occult philosophies) of the body that once was. The memory that propagates. Maybe this is Burroughs’s virus. But to the point, case in point: I only ever talk about Burroughs as much as I do because of his connection to people in my real life, real body encounters. Gus Van Sant swimming with me once telling me that he was his favorite writer, and then once I had the chance to meet him, shortly before he died, and the person who could have taken me to see him decided my presence would just introduce problems. Then I would have met Kathy Acker. But then maybe I would have been turned-off by her in the flesh.
5 – Can you tell us what the act of publishing means to you?
I wrote something and it found its way to you, and that makes me happy, but if I didn’t need to somehow make my way in the world, I might not actually. I do not mean this in terms of ego but financially. And by that I mean eat, pay rent, pay student loans. This list mounts. They have me. Publish books so you can publish more books. But on what terms. On one of my first trips to New York City, knowing I had outgrown where I was and trying to find where I could be, around the time I was first trying to publish a couple novels, ones even more naked than Outline of My Lover, Amy Scholder, who has been a constant ballast in my life since, had a meeting with me and asked me about where I saw my writing going. I still remember this. I told her how if I had my druthers I would just write in my journal forever. That was what mattered most to me. But I knew how it turned out for Nin.
6 – What have you been up to? What other projects have you got lined up?
Oh, man! Besides, how am I going to get a real academic job, really tenured so than the college will pay me to take time off (and write!!)? You will love this. I am doing a translation project with some of Elfriede Jelinek’s texts. Who knows what form it will ultimately take. There is the novel I referred to in passing in answering another of your questions, the enjoyment one. My “true crime” thing, very anti-In Cold Blood. Think rather Genet, The Maids. A big work on Acker’s body of work, desires, influence. It’s not really traditional criticism, all that or totally purely academic or general reader friendly, so who knows where it will ultimately land.
7 – Where do you live now days?
I was just about to move to LA. Another one of those jobs. But I will continue to divide my time between Brooklyn, NYC, Middletown, CT (for work), and a place called Callicoon, kind of the woods, or the side of the Catskill Mountains that is not the fancy side, the wrong side of the tracks side, and where I have also begun a kind of history that is somehow speculative or will be. I have managed to buy a house here that someone needed to unload quickly, a couple of years ago now with my guy, who isn’t making his films right now but paying part of the bills with gigs editing reality television, with money amassed not from my books but from teaching at about 3 places any given semester every semester since 2011. I add mortgage to that life price tag grousing I have done.
8 – What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Brasil?
Lispector. One last story about a boy. She’s currently very in vogue here in the States with us, having a moment finally, but before that, back around the time I was writing Your Body Figured, so that same poet, he had not yet quit his job in commercial publishing and big FSG was trying to decide to acquire some of the work and launch her more somehow beyond what had currently been translated, where and how. He brought home one night a collection of hers, Family Ties, and gave it to me. The story “The Imitation of the Rose” became my everything.
Douglas A. Martin is the author of books of poetry and prose, including:Once You Go Back, Your Body Figured, In The Time of Assignments, Branwell, and They Change the Subject. His first novel, Outline of My Lover, was selected by Colm Tóibín as an International Book of the Year in The Times Literary Supplement and adapted in part by the Forsythe Company for their multimedia ballet/live film, Kammer/Kammer. His work has been translated into three languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.