TB: How Should a Person Be? is very much a novel that deals with the idea of contemporaneity, making visible your present place in the world. We can look at the question, How should a person be? in relation to a number of themes in the book: sex, being a young woman, an artist, a moral person, but the idea of being contemporary seems to encompass all of that. The two themes I picked up early on in your prologue are themes of ugliness and of fame. And again, that made me think of Stein who said contemporary art always looks ugly at first and then it becomes beautiful over time. So could you speak about that preoccupation with ugly art in relation to being contemporary?
SH: I thought a lot about that quote. I thought it was Picasso but maybe they both said it in different ways. I know that Picasso said an original work of art is always ugly at first to its creator. So I guess they were both thinking a lot about that, and I was thinking a lot about that when I wrote this book: how you have to sometimes break down your ideas of what beauty is in order to have some air flowing through your process. If you’re just trying to make something beautiful, which we all are—beauty is compelling—you’re going to go towards a certain shape, let’s say, or towards a certain narrative structure. You’re trying to do something well. But the only way you can do something well, I think, is if at first you have some model in your mind of what the good is. To do something that doesn’t move towards this picture that you have in your head of what you want the work to be, that’s a very difficult thing to do. And you kind of have to trick yourself, and be vigilant. I mean all editing is always in the direction of greater clarity, towards communicating in a more precise way that’s related to beauty. To try to edit, not in the direction of beauty is really hard. But all of that felt really necessary for me because, I mean it seems crazy to say that this is true of somebody so young, but I felt that I’d reached a dead end. When I was working on Ticknor I was really trying to make something absolutely perfect and I knew that I couldn’t do that again. I felt it would be dead if I tried to do that again. In truth, How Should a Person Be? isn’t the book of mine that I like the most. I prefer Ticknor or even The Middle Stories. How Should a Person Be? is very much against my innate aesthetic. It makes me uncomfortable to have put out something that isn’t, in my mind, beautiful or perfect, even though this book has had the biggest response. So I think there is something to be said for making yourself uncomfortable, and for questioning your instinct to please some internalized aesthetic criteria. Maybe there’s something lifeless about that, on some level.
One of the most compelling interviews I’ve read in some time has to be Thea Bowering’s interview with Toronto writer Sheila Heti, “’a portrait of thinking’: Sheila Heti and Thea Bowering on the phone,” in the new issue of The Capilano Review (3.22 / Winter 2014) (an excerpt of which exists on their website). What fascinates about Heti’s work generally is a sense of innate curiosity, one so wide that one never entirely knows just what she might end up producing next, and her books (I reviewed her third title, here) end up showcasing a curiosity as well as an incredible fearlessness—moving in directions that might not immediately make sense, or read like anything previous she might have produced.
in your hands/ the long break comes cleanly/ splays itself/ before you
some same sake is/ no name at all – the warm up gropes for it/ says
nothing – therein lies the voice/ of things the itch that turning/ softly
sounded page (Mark Goldstein, “Poems for Alice from Medium Point Blues”)
Of course, the issue also includes a whole slew of poetry, fiction, critical work and visual art, including pieces by Mark Goldstein, Lisa Robertson, Lyndl Hall, Cecilia Corrigan, Adam Frank, Deborah Koenker, Paul Nelson and Dorothy Chang, as well as a short story by Sheila Heti, from her collection, The Middle Stories. The issue also includes a tribute to the late Vancouver poet Nancy Shaw, “Reading/Writing for Nancy Shaw,” as friend, Shaw-collaborator and poet Catriona Strang writes:
The late Nancy Shaw, poet, curator, art critic and scholar, was an integral member of the vibrant and influential Vancouver poetry and art scenes of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her books include Affordable Tedium, Scoptocratic, Busted, and Light Sweet Crude. She also wrote bracingly on art, dance, and popular culture, and undertook fruitful collaborations with musicians, composers, dancers, and other poets. Her death from cancer in 2007 was a great loss to the Canadian art community; she is still much missed.
The Vancouver New Music Society’s October 2013 re-mounting of composer Jacqueline Leggatt “Cold Trip,” originally written in 2007 and dedicated to Nancy, was the catalyst for the “Reading for Nancy Shaw,” which took place at The Apartment Gallery in Vancouver on October 20, 2013. Louis Cabri, Amy De’Ath, Jeff Derksen, Christine Stewart, and Catriona Strang read selections from Nancy’s writing and their own, as well as pieces written for her and in response to her work. Amy’s and Louis’ pieces are published here. All the readings were interspersed with Jacqueline Leggatt’s audio recordings of Nancy reading her own work—a rare chance to hear Nancy’s voice again.
From her own response to Light Sweet Crude, the second section of Amy De’Ath’s “Security Cloak” reads:
A kaleidoscope is a prudent safety hazard
As much as I as much as I can get.
I have pissed, and what I’ve become is tendered.
Effectively constructed myself.
On a period, blazing ruins.
Nothing empirically justified
Still the affect-bleached, impossible co-star-
I resign from my shelter
very much civil and betrayed I
never saw I never saw it coming.
Otherwise, Toronto writer, designer and publisher Mark Goldstein includes a powerful short essay on the dissolution of book-as-object through digitalization, and the true realization of just what is being lost, as he discusses the gift economy of the chapbook, the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair and the works of the late Glenn Goluska. Set at the end of the issue in the “see to see—“ section, with works by Clint Burnham, Sonnet L’Abbé, Oana Avasilichioaei, Rebecca Brewer & Tiziana La Melia and Julian Weideman, the opening piece by Tracy Stefanucci, “Making space for artist publishing,” provides a context for the small grouping of essays, writing about Vancouver’s Project Space: “Situated at an intersection of disciplines—namely the visual arts, literary arts and/or graphic design—publication presents a unique space of inquiry that is often complemented by interdisciplinary practice, collaboration, or co-production. With an interest in this particular context, Project Space explores publication as an artistic medium.” There is something magnificent about how this issue brings together a myriad of ideas, disciplines and approaches, all of which provide their own challenges. The best thing any reader (and writer) needs to keep asking themselves: how do we approach text (and writing), and what might we be missing? From the interview with Heti to the essays included at the very end. Goldstein’s piece includes:
Goluska was a designer and typographer of the highest order (he died in 2011), and in his hands A Change-ringing of the Mind became the perfect marriage of text and texture. The translation is sublime, with Goluska’s artistry and total vision apparent throughout. A work such as this could not survive the digital realm—the pleasure of the letterforms, their special arrangements on the page, the touch of the papers themselves, the subtle echoing of word-stuff would be lost in such transference. A Change-ringing of the Mind best exemplifies the necessity of the small press, one where the difficulty of creation and dissemination is met with vitality.
Unfortunately, both the work’s beauty and scarcity has pushed it into the rarified air of the antiquarian bookseller. This divide between reader and collector keeps works such as these in private libraries, out of reach of those laboring writers who need them most. It is obvious that A Change-ringing of the Mind was meant to be read and yet, with a $100.00 asking price (a bargain compared to other items at the fair), it is beyond reach
Yes, a digital version would provide the content of the work but the total power of the book would be lost. The bitter irony here is that Goluska’s superb translation has now been rendered mute.