CDJ To have multiple presences: for writing, for literature, for language-based forms. That sounds very grand, but as a woman one experiences the oppression of paradigms from multiple arenas and sources. One that mattered to me—that still matters to me—is the oppressive paradigm of women in literature, which fueled some of the thematics of Modern Love. We were relegated to Chick Lit, romance novels, our subjects were love and motherhood and other sexually-defined things. Modern Love mocks that, to some degree. It pushes back.
JK Were you talking about this with other women, other writers?
CDJ The one person with whom I talked a lot was Kathy [Acker]. Kathy was urgent like I was urgent about this thing called "writing," this thing called "literature," and its many tangents, including sexual politics and shop talk, the things you don't talk to everyone about. We used to, you know, make coffee dates and talk about verb tenses.
JK I wanted to ask you about character and voice, and how you see those elements reflecting and refracting one another. In Modern Love, the "I" of the narrator is such a slippery thing—or rather, it's seamlessly woven through many characters and voices: Charlotte, Fifi, Roderigo, the unnamed female narrator. You've put them all in a graceful dance together.
CDJ Oh, thank you for noticing. I've always been really aware that the first person singular is a construction; it's a character. That dance is a sleight of hand, which I learned early on and still use. Language is fluid, and right now I'm doing sleights of hand with verb tense in a way I've never done before, so that past present and possibly future can stand in a single sentence—so you move through tense, through time, quite fluidly. It sounds very nerdy. (laughter)
JK Writing is a very nerdy matter. (laughter)
CDJ I want every word to matter. I don't want words that don't matter. I don't want space and air around things. I want narrative to be able to be in its totality, to be heterogeneous, to have a heterogeneity. To put its arms around disparate locations, people, subjects, in terms of the world of ideas—and I want that to succeed as narrative. Narrative is sequential, you can't escape it. If you want to escape it then you work in a form different than a book. It's words, sentences, paragraphs, pages. I'm fanatical about sequence, and how sense and meaning can be made from a system of order that isn't recognizable as alphabetical, chronological—one that has a different mechanism to the structure. That has always been fuel for my writing, and it has never gone away.