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Monday, May 23, 2022

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Arts + CultureLitPassion for degraded materials: a conversational bibliography of Dodie...

Passion for degraded materials: a conversational bibliography of Dodie Bellamy

From 'Feminine Hijinx' to 'Bee Reaved,' the quintessential SF writer talks art, life, 'Frozen,' E.T., and grief through her published works.

There’s a telling moment midway through this interview with Dodie Bellamy. I mention the experience of separation brought about by the COVID pandemic, but more precisely the specific solitude she experienced with the loss of her husband Kevin Killian in 2019. Were there times that she had to turn away from or avoid this sense of grief and isolation, especially when writing? 

“It’s impossible to turn away from it,” she answers.

The tough truth of that perspective is reflected in the shifting perspectives of Bellamy’s latest essay collection, Bee Reaved, published by Semiotext(e). Killian’s signature perceptive wit is on display at the beginning of the conversation piece “Kevin and Dodie”; by the end, he’s silent, clinging to life. He’s a postmortem or spectral presence at the edges of the narrative while she takes on a grieving persona in “Bee Reaved” and “Plague Widow.” The final chapter, “Chase Scene,” revives the epistolary form present in Bellamy’s best-known early work to reach out to him after his death. That essay’s narrative momentum touches upon the car chases in William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA while charting a day-to-day sense of the inevitable. Its ending leaves a reader gulping back emotion.

Alive behind a morbid cover image of a doll by the trailblazing transgender artist Greer Lankton, Bee Reaved is anything but sentimental or pious, however. Bellamy’s sharply individual sense of humor runs through several pieces, such as “Jeffree,” which finds unlikely solace in the public lives of YouTube stars. The mix of fact and fiction in the stalker portrait “The Violence of the Image” yields bluntly hilarious one-liners and breathless rushes of text, as Bellamy’s tormentor orders items online in her name to taunt and torture her. Real-life cruelty—from the petty judgments of a cliquish artistic scene; from mob mentality on the internet—lies beneath this feverishly inspired portraiture.

Bee Reaved isn’t the only book by Bellamy that Semiotext(e) published last fall. Late 2021 also saw the re-release of The Letters of Mina Harker, the cult classic 1998 novel in which she reanimates and sets loose the main female character of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in contemporary San Francisco, directly addressing the reader, Dracula’s Dr. Van Helsing, the contemporary author Sam D’Allesandro, and others. If The Letters of Mina Harker is influenced by Kathy Acker’s bold sexuality, love of horror, and cannibalizations of male masters, Bellamy’s (and Mina’s) perversely humorous voice, pinging from pop culture to lusty trysts, is personal and distinct. The result is somehow both formally dense—dominated by long, packed paragraphs—and stylistically nimble. 

For too long, these qualities have lingered just out of reach. The Letters of Mina Harker was held hostage by a university press for several years. (Bellamy explains more in the interview below.) The Semiotext(e) volume improves its cover, font, and paper stock, adding a succinct introduction by Emily Gould that contextualizes the book for new generations of readers. The novel’s return is poignantly circular. In part, it celebrates the early days of Bellamy and Killian’s marriage, while Bee Reaved renders some of their relationship’s final months, days, moments.

Beginning with Feminine Hijinx, Bellamy’s auspicious 1991 debut with the revered and highly collectable Hanuman Books, the following conversation touches upon many, though not all, of her tomes to date. This piece is born of a longstanding personal enthusiasm for her writing. (Presaging the deathly themes of Bee Reaved, “Phone Home,” from her 2015 collection When the Sick Rule the World, is one of my all-time favorite essays.) At a time when Bellamy’s received national attention from the New Yorker, it also is intended as a corrective for local media’s ignorance regarding her work. Simply put, it would be hard to overestimate her and Killian’s influence on Bay Area literature over the past three decades.

48 HILLS There’s a pop quality to the narrative of your Hanuman book, Feminine Hijinx. It’s perhaps more straightforward than what you’ve done since, and I wonder how you feel about it now.

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DODIE BELLAMY Those were the first two stories I ever wrote. I was a poet. I didn’t know how to write prose, so I started out simply in those pieces, and because I was under the tutelage of the New Narrative people, I was trying to expand upon conventional notions of what makes a narrative. They were student work. But I still like them.

48 HILLS When I first moved to San Francisco in ’92, I interviewed Kathy Acker. It was a huge deal to me. I interviewed her at her apartment. I was so immature, and she was worldly. I was idolizing her completely.

DODIE BELLAMY She inspired idolization. Lots of academics worshiped her—nerdy academic guys she’d have abject sex with.

48 HILLS You’ve written about her through the lens of her belongings, but I want to ask about your experience of her. Partly in terms of class, because Sarah Schulman talks about that in Gentrification of the Mind—she came from money.

DODIE BELLAMY For sure. The type of writing she did was so radical and incendiary, and there were not a lot of models for it—you would need an incredible sense of entitlement to pull it off. In that sense, the class thing worked for her.

I liked to observe her. I didn’t want to be close to her, but I enjoyed being around her. Sometimes she would act like she was a mentor figure to me, and she would give me advice, saying, “Well, if you go out of town, find out where the hotel is, because they could put you up in a real dump in a dangerous neighborhood.” The advice she gave was never about writing.

One time I gave a talk about her at New Langton Arts, and she showed up, and I felt faint. She was insanely important to me. I don’t think my writing, as it is, would exist without her.

48 HILLS Another possible influence is Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror. To a degree, I see you covering—in an American way, predicated on action—what some of the French theorists were exploring.

DODIE BELLAMY Recently I came across a conversation with this Lacanian psychiatrist in a magazine—Darian Leader. I was looking him up because he wrote a book against jouissance. Let me read you this quote: “Lacan had a lot to say about the limits of sex, but much less about the enjoyment in pain, and curiously, this idea was made popular by authors who most Lacanians have little time for: Georges Bataille, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and a few others.”

I love how he’s dismissing these theorists who were so important to the poetry scene in the 1980s. Christine Wertheim, who taught at CalArts, was a Lacanian, and she would go insane about the ways Lacan was taught in schools back then. She said they got it all wrong. It’s kind of beautiful that Lacan was taught in poetry workshops. It’s so different from now.

I’m teaching this class at CCA [California College of the Arts] called “Sex and Death.” We read the intro to Powers of Horror, which I hadn’t read in a long time, and which so influenced me. I have to say, I didn’t have the bandwidth for it. I found Kristeva irritating. I kept saying I wanted to write a dumbed down version of it. There’s no reason for it to be so hoity-toity. The ideas are grounded in real human experience.

48 HILLS What she calls abjection is just, like, shitting blood—

DODIE BELLAMY —or more likely, looking at turds on the street, which we get to do in San Francisco.

48 HILLS Let’s move to the blood-and-guts passages in Cunt-Ups, your first book of cut-ups in the style of William Burroughs. Where did you find that text, which seems related to Jeffrey Dahmer, and what was it like reading it? There’s a tension in Cunt-Ups between its violence and the effusive sexuality in the rest of the writing.

DODIE BELLAMY In the original source text, every sentence is pornographic and they’re in alphabetical order, but I also cut into it various other texts—the Dahmer material, passages I found online about ectoplasm, etc. Cunt-Ups was originally supposed to be part of a novel in which the main character is obsessed with Jeffrey Dahmer. That’s why the Dahmer text was chosen. It’s his police confession, and I bought a degraded photocopy of it on eBay. Kevin [Killian] used to joke that I was now on some FBI terrorist watch list because of it. It’s so funny that you can buy anything, right?

48 HILLS There is a definite market for the detritus of serial killers.

You had a cult upbringing to some degree—you explore it in The TV Sutras. To a minor degree I did too. I was involved in est as a kid—I had to go to weekend seminars and weeklong outings.

DODIE BELLAMY And did you find it meaningful, or did you feel abused?

48 HILLS I felt held captive. 

Anyway, there’s a mix of the sacred and the profane within that book, and your work in general. Would you say that’s true?

DODIE BELLAMY It’s true. There’s a longing for the sacred, while being revolted by institutions that purport to help you find it. Then moving away from them—throwing the baby out with the bathwater—into depression and meaninglessness. I’ve been thinking about that lately. I tell myself I have to expand my social life because I’m a widow, but I don’t think that’s really what I need to do. I need to find some sense of meaning to start. Do you know what I mean?

48 HILLS Not in the sense of widowing, but through death, or the ending of a long relationship, I’ve been in that position of reclaiming a sense of meaning.

There’s a meditative quality and then a mediated quality in The TV Sutras or Cunt Norton—affirmations are mixed with pornographic material.

DODIE BELLAMY You know the same source text from Cunt-Ups is used in Cunt Norton.

48 HILLS I was going to ask about that. In some of your books it seems like a formal decision defines the writing. But more recently—correct me if I’m wrong—you’ve moved into looser, essayistic forms.

DODIE BELLAMY THE The essay has become my primary form. If you go back to Montaigne, who came up with the term essay, his essays aren’t about things so much as they are about consciousness, the writer’s experience of observing the world. That fits well with my inclinations.

Coming out of a poetry background, the essay as I’m doing it is often close to poetry. It can have all these sudden movements, and it can become more of a blending of the personal and the political and the analytical. I like to bring it all in. When I was involved in New Narrative I learned that it’s not like there’s me and then there’s a culture that’s outside of me. The self is so enmeshed in culture that your cultural experience becomes like a memory of something that happened to you. I don’t see personal and cultural experience as separate.

48 HILLS I love “The Kingdom of Isolation,” the essay about Frozen in your new book Bee Reaved, and especially the way that you write about E.T. in When the Sick Ruled the World’s “Phone Home.” These deeply intensive readings of pop culture are, as you say, enmeshed in personal reality.

DODIE BELLAMY I explore my grief through cheesy pop culture icons. That’s been a passion of mine—to use degraded materials. Even in my choice of the epistolary form in The Letters of Mina Harker—at core, letter writing is degraded because it’s associated with women.

48 HILLS You continue with letter writing in Bee Reaved’s final piece, “Chase Scene.”

DODIE BELLAMY That was not intended, it emerged. But yes, it tied the material about Kevin’s death back to The Letters of Mina Harker, which chronicles the early stages of our marriage.

48 HILLS There’s sometimes a special relationship between writers, especially poets, with visual artists, and that’s a present aspect of your work, with Raymond Pettibon, Neil LeDoux, Colter Jacobsen, or others. You have a relationship with artists, as a friend and as a critic.

DODIE BELLAMY I keep going back to art writing.

48 HILLS IN the new book?

DODIE BELLAMY Yes, but more recently, also writing for Artforum and Mousse, and other places. And I’ve been lucky with some great catalogue commissions, where I’ve been given free rein to invent my own approach to responding to art.

I like to write about images, and that’s one of the pleasures of art writing. You can go deeply into images, like I do in my regular work. I’m finding that my writing is more valued in art circles than in literary circles. I’ve been invited to give talks in prestigious art departments, where comparable English departments would not give me a glance. In terms of subject matter and provocative ways of looking at the world, I connect more with art practices, and I find contemporary American literature (with exceptions of course) not very exciting.

After teaching in university writing programs for 20+ years, it’s amazing that I write at all now. It’s so soul-destroying, what goes on. I’m still teaching, but not in creative writing. I’m teaching grad fine arts and undergrad literature at CCA now. That was not a choice—I just kind of fell into it—but I’m much happier.

48 HILLS Is it also a much happier experience leading your own writing workshops over the years?

DODIE BELLAMY My private workshop? Yes. It’s a situation where I can teach in a way that feels natural to me. Students take what I have to offer, rather than being skeptical because they’ve been brainwashed to follow the three-act structure of a screenplay and write some novel where there’s no interiority and they show, show, show.

48 HILLS One of your most vivid essays, “Barf Manifesto,” feels almost torrential. Did it come to you faster than other writing?

DODIE BELLAMY Nothing I write is fast. I’m insanely slow. “Barf Manifesto” is a takeoff on Eileen Myles’s essay “Everyday Barf.” She ends that piece with one long paragraph. I’m kind of outdoing Eileen by ending with an even longer ongoing paragraph—it’s a tribute, and a rip-off.

48 HILLS What drew you to the manifesto form? Would you say it’s the Eileen piece?

DODIE BELLAMY I haven’t read it in a long time, but it ends with the manifesto of the barf in the first half. I wrote the first half and delivered it at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago. Then I had a visiting writer gig at CCA before I became an adjunct there. Part of it involved giving a talk at Timken Hall. I did the second half of the essay for my talk at CCA. All the art people came, and it was a great success.

I can’t remember where my interest in manifestos came from—though possibly from my youthful passion for surrealism. You know, like Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto.” And after that there was Valerie Solanas. When he still lived here, Nayland Blake showed a piece where Solanas’ “SCUM Manifesto” was written out on a blackboard. I used to teach the manifesto as a form in various classes.

48 HILLS Seems like it aligns with what you were saying earlier about the interest in the art world.

DODIE BELLAMY Yes. Who can complain about that? I do want to complain, but I’m happy. When I was more involved with the Bay Area “experimental” poetry scene I encountered a stuffiness and pretension that I don’t agree with. I’ve found much more like-minded people.

48 HILLS In Bee Reaved you talk about the censorship that goes on within that community.

DODIE BELLAMY There’s censorship in the MFA programs. You get out of that and discover there’s censorship in this other, supposedly alternative community. To fit in, you become a good soldier. And that’s not the best way to be a creative person.

48 HILLS A book of yours that I don’t have is Real: The Letters of Mina Harker and Sam D’Alessandro. I’ve only discovered his writing recently and I greatly admire it.

DODIE BELLAMY Sam was a genius, for sure. His premature death from AIDS was a great loss to Bay Area writing. Kevin and I were excited to get his papers included with ours at the Beinecke Library at Yale, to assure an institutional future for him. I probably have a copy of Real I could give you. I could start a bookstore just selling all the extra copies of our books that are overflowing boxes and shelves in our apartment. Kevin used to buy out-of-print books of ours on eBay or wherever.

48 HILLS Kevin was so great at bringing disparate things together. Even people. It was interesting for me to read in Bee Reaved that he disliked conflict. When I worked at the Bay Guardian, uniting people was also my thing, and I disliked conflict too.

DODIE BELLAMY You were around Kevin a lot. It must not have been a surprise to you.

48 HILLS I guess it’s not a surprise. But when you draw people together as he did, conflict is almost unavoidable.

I want to ask about your experience with the pandemic. You write about it in Bee Reaved, and it’s almost prophetic that your previous essay collection is titled When the Sick Rule the World, considering what we’re living through right now.

DODIE BELLAMY I have thought that. Even before the pandemic happened, I thought they should do a reprint and just get rid of the When.

48 HILLS In Bee Reaved you’re dealing with the isolation of the pandemic, but also an isolation that has to do with widowhood and what you’re going through in your personal life. Have there been times when you’ve had to turn away from that, where it’s been more difficult to write?

DODIE BELLAMY It’s impossible to turn away from it. The writing of the letter to Kevin at the end of the book [“Chase Scene”] was devastating. I wrote it for months, and it was so painful—but also helpful. I could not be open to him for the longest time because it was too dangerous. I just couldn’t handle thinking about what I missed about him. Writing “Chase Scene” allowed me to open my heart to him again.

I talk about the isolation in the book—I was spending all this time reading about widows and feeling so outside of regular society or the ability to function in it. I longed for the time-out widows were given in the old days. You put a veil on and wear a black dress and everybody leaves you alone. You aren’t expected to do anything. The pandemic gave me that. I could be as crazy as I needed to be because everybody was crazy and alone.

A therapist said she thought that maybe the pandemic just delayed my grief. I don’t know if that’s true. I know that I’m in a different phase, but the grief has not gone away. Now I’m at the point where I think maybe you should restart your life, but then it’s frustrating: How do you restart your life when you can’t even get together with people? Everybody’s in despair.

48 HILLS Exactly.

DODIE BELLAMY Anything to get out of the house. I hate the way leaving the house is this exotic thing now. That’s bad.

48 HILLS Speaking of the world outside your apartment, I apprecizate your rendering of the gentrification of SoMa throughout “In the Shadow of Twitter Towers.” So much writing on gentrification is self-righteous in a way that isn’t fully honest, and you avoid that tendency.

DODIE BELLAMY Things have gotten so much worse that that essay is like a historical document now. The high-rises I see out the window in my home office, they didn’t exist when I wrote the piece, and half of the things mentioned are no longer here.

48 HILLS There’s a piece of personal trivia relating to the essay you might find amusing. A friend who cruises Buena Vista Park tells me that even though they’ve stripped away the trees and brush, all it’s done is expose the cruising.

DODIE BELLAMY Samuel Delany promotes cruising in-person rather than online, so it’s good to know that it goes on.

48 HILLS How does it feel to have The Letters of Mina Harker back out into the world? Its suppression must have been a frustrating experience.

DODIE BELLAMY When Semiotext(e) agreed to reprint it, I didn’t have the rights to the book. When its original publisher went out of business, the University of Wisconsin Press did a reprint in 2004. In the meantime, they switched to print on demand, and they refused to give me the rights back because they said the book was still in print, and they were still selling a handful of copies a year. Print on demand wasn’t even a thing when I signed the book contract.

I’m not the only writer who is in this print on demand limbo. Somebody should do something about this, it’s not right. Semiotext(e) got a lawyer who felt that UWP didn’t have a leg to stand on, but it was either go to court or buy back the rights, so Semiotext(e) paid up. All I wanted was for the book to receive some attention, so people knew it existed. That’s already happened, so it’s great. And it now has a really good cover, with an image by the French artist Laure Prouvost.

48 Hills: In Bee Reaved, the essay “The Violence of the Image” is an example of you going quite directly into the visual art world. Was it also motivated by wanting to wrestle control away from a girl who was a stalker?

DODIE BELLAMY I wanted to talk about a painful shunning experience I had with the Bay Area poetry scene. I didn’t want to go into details about my experience, so this was a more stylized means to deal with it. This is way before cancel culture. I did research into the practice of calling people out. It apparently came out of the anarchist community and then it spread to the poetry community. Then a couple of years later, it took over the world, like that kudzu plant took over the South.

The essay was a way of getting control over the situation. It is based on images I looked at on Instagram. I created a character from Instagram images, this girl, the stalker—she’s not a real person. I did have a stalker, but I never found out for sure who it was—or if it was just one person or a collective—who was ordering all these items online with my name and address. I became fond of my imagined stalker. It was healing to create this character and have a relationship with her. I don’t redeem her, I’m condemning her, but at the same time, I couldn’t write about her without establishing some sort of fondness.

48 HILLS As mentioned earlier, in “The Kingdom of Isolation” you write in a revelatory way about Disney’s Frozen. You and Kevin had a kinship in terms of being interested in popular culture, but your takes on it are different from one another.

DODIE BELLAMY He knew more about it than I did. Intellectuals sometimes write about pop culture in ways that feel like they are slumming. Kevin gave me permission to embrace my messy, personal, emotional responses. Kevin loved pop culture, loved the position of fandom. He taught me to take pop culture seriously.  

At the beginning of the year iTunes presented playlists of my most listened to songs all the way back to 2017, and I chose 2018 because that was the last full year I listened to music when Kevin was alive. It must have been when I was writing that piece, because “Let It Go,” the theme song to Frozen, is the number one song I listened to on iTunes in 2018. In “The Kingdom of Isolation” I analyze the lyrics of the song. They’re intense.

48 HILLS When you write about E.T. or “Let It Go” there’s a piercing yet detailed quality to it that’s also above journalistic writing about pop culture, even some of the best critics, in part because you take it into a first-person realm. People are afraid to do that in this era.

DODIE BELLAMY It’s been hard to find places to publish that kind of writing, but now it’s been folded into discussions about “autofiction” and “auto-theory.” I see so many bad examples where the first-person just takes over. I try to use the first-person as just another lens into the material, rather than eradicating the material with my own need to smear my ego all over the page.

48 HILLS Your short essay “The Ghosts We Live With” has a deeper if incidental resonance for me. With its images of ghosts coming out of computers, it has a kinship with my piece about the movie Pulse in Because Horror, the chapbook with Bradford Nordeen. Yours is a truly vivid piece of writing.

DODIE BELLAMY At the time I wrote it I was reading Affinity, the Sarah Waters novel about spiritualists in Victorian England, and some of her images invade my piece.

48 HILLS I do wonder how you feel about the San Francisco of today. In “In the Shadow of Twitter Towers,” there’s a juxtaposition between your neighborhood in SoMa and Bi-Rite Grocery. Living on Valencia Street but working on the streets in SoMa and the Tenderloin, I’m familiar with that dichotomy.

DODIE BELLAMY: Bi-Rite has good gluten-free sandwiches. I haven’t been over there for a while. But sometimes the produce tastes so good it’s an offense. It’s just too precious. And it costs so much.

I kind of feel I should leave San Francisco, that it’s over for me here. I have better friendships with people that don’t live here. Nobody should stay where they were raised if they’re an artist or a writer, and I was raised (as a writer) here. You’ve got 30 years of fucking baggage trailing behind you. I’m not in sync with it here. People that I’ve cared for, they’re leaving in droves. Do you hear anybody saying San Francisco’s great these days?

48 HILLS No. I share that experience—most of the people I’ve been closest with live in other places now, whether it’s the Northwest or Southern California.

DODIE BELLAMY Even the East Coast.

48 HILLS Social media sometimes appears in interesting or amusing ways within your writing. It’s almost a cliché the way people dismiss social media completely or talk about it purely in complaining terms. How do you feel about it on a personal level?

DODIE BELLAMY I’ve never related to Twitter. That is good because people from older generations get in trouble being on Twitter. I avoided that. I was trained here to be paranoid about everything I say in public, so I was ahead of the curve for the cancellation culture.

I like being on Instagram better than Facebook. Mainly because it’s almost all art people on my Instagram. There’s no bickering.

Social media, even at its most meaningless, allows you to have goodwill and relationships with people you normally wouldn’t. They become part of your daily life. But I’m not that sucked into it. And that’s not because I control myself. I just don’t find it that interesting.

48 HILLS You did find the online stars Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson, who feature in the funny and serious essay “Jeffree.” What drew you to them?

DODIE BELLAMY At the time, what they were going through was appealing to me. Jeffree Star goes through phases—now he’s in a yak farm phase, so he’s interesting again. But when I wrote “Jeffree” he had his boyfriend, Nate, and their Pomeranians, and he always called them his family. It’s very sentimental. The big advertisement for his makeup collaboration with Shane Dawson that goes on for episode after episode is all about friendship.

I was in this state of early widowhood. Anything that offered fantasies of community and family and friendship appealed to me. Then Jeffree and Nate broke up and he was grieving, so I would project onto that. I watched weird stuff early on. My memory of the first year after Kevin died is sketchy, these little bleeps, almost like I was half awake and half asleep. 

48 HILLS Because you and Kevin are well-known, your grief was public to some degree.

DODIE BELLAMY Right after he died, I wanted my experience of his death to be private. I didn’t want to share it with anybody but a very small circle of friends, and it was a struggle because some people would not respect that. When we knew Kevin’s time was limited, he and I started a collaboration where we sat down weekly and wrote a minimum of 1000 words together.

We planned—hoped—for a year, but our collaboration only lasted 6 1/2 weeks, and then he died. We worked on our final entry when he was in bed in the ICU, waiting for them to come intubate him. The CCA Wattis Institute was putting out a collection of essays about me, and I was supposed to write something for it, so I gave them our collaboration. The book was co-published with Semiotext(e), Dodie Bellamy is on Our Mind.

48 HILLS What was that experience like?

DODIE BELLAMY It doesn’t register at all.

48 HILLS I ask because you write essays, but then you became the subject of essays.

DODIE BELLAMY: I had input on the book. Anthony Huberman, who is the co-editor with Jeanne Gerrity, wanted to include an academic essay. I came up with [Dr.] Kaye Mitchell because I knew her. They loved that essay, but they weren’t familiar with her. She’s an academic in the UK, and she’s so smart.

It’s weird to have somebody write about your writing and make you see things that you didn’t intend, or that you hadn’t seen before. Usually, it’s bullshit. But with Kaye I felt like I was seeing my work through her in new ways. They also wanted a New Yorker-type essay, and I suggested Megan Milks. Then, when the New Yorker wrote about me, they quoted Megan from their New Yorker-type essay. It was like an echo chamber.

48 HILLS: What did you think of Leslie Jamison’s New Yorker piece about you?

DODIE BELLAMY She did a great job. She was on the verge of getting cartoony, but she never went over the edge. It’s a smart piece for a populist journal, and that’s not an easy thing to pull off. People I know that read the New Yorker were impressed with her writing, saying that it was one of the best pieces they’d seen there.

Being written about in the New Yorker is this great thing, but it was also hard, because publishing with Semiotext(e) is such an intimate experience. I know them so well and I have a certain audience I’m comfortable with. Something about this personal book receiving larger attention was a little nervous-making. Also, getting praise for anything to do with Kevin’s death is complicated. But who can complain? It’s what we’re all supposed to want, right?

48 HILLS Much in the way the title When the Sick Ruled the World is prophetic, the way you’ve treated gender in your older books is ahead of its time. It ties into today, as we’ve become fixated on gender while reveling in its variety.

DODIE BELLAMY I don’t think I was inventing anything. Let’s go back to Kathy Acker, the fluidity in her writing. She could embody all these different subjectivities in the same sentence. A book like Cunt-Ups is an outgrowth of stuff that was happening theoretically. Another book that influenced it was The Lesbian Body by Monique Wittig—that whole fracturing and disintegration and reformation that goes on in it.

48 HILLS We’ve talked a bit about your connections with artists, but are there writers today that you feel a kinship with? I’m partly motivated to ask because you and Kevin led Small Press Traffic at one time, there was the era of the High Risk anthologies and “transgressive” writing as a movement, and as we’ve discussed, you’ve had ties to Bay Area poetry.

DODIE BELLAMY I hate answering that question.

48 HILLS [Laughs] Ok, that’s the final question.

DODIE BELLAMY A lot of material that’s interesting is coming out of the trans writing community. I’m particularly drawn to writers who explore different subjectivities and different relationships to gender, but who make formal choices that are radical and exciting. I’ll just mention a few friends—Megan Milks and Andrea Lawlor, both of whom participated in my private workshop, and then Jeanne Thornton, who was a student of mine, coincidentally, at Antioch, Los Angeles. I’ve been listening to Jeanne’s Summer Fun on Audible and loving it.

I also feel a lot of resonance with everything connected with Semiotext(e)—the people they publish currently, the people they published in the past. There is a commitment to maintaining some incendiary spirit, which a lot of people are afraid to do now. I have this fantasy that the best thing for America would be if punk came back. That’s what we need.

48 HILLS You’ve got a Crass T-shirt on right now.

DODIE BELLAMY I do. I wrote about them in Bee Reaved. This was made by a disabled artist I found on the internet. I can’t believe you recognize the Crass logo.

48 HILLS Well, there is a punk spirit to your writing—putting things out there knowing that you could end up being embarrassed. There’s not much repression going on in terms of the material and the way it’s treated.

DODIE BELLAMY: It’s about a sort of radical acceptance, that those ridiculous parts of yourself are just as substantial as other parts you want to own. If you spend time focusing on material that maybe you’re ashamed of or uncomfortable with, you see the other side and you can own it and it’s valid. Or it has less power. It’s this human thing—everything that I go through that’s fucked up, other people are going through it too. 

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