An Interview with Masha Tupitsyn
I first read Love Dog by Masha Tupitsyn on Tumblr, as it was being written. It was fascinating to watch it unfold, to try to guess where she might go next, waiting for each new post. This was writing (and images and videos) that explored love, but used love as way to interrogate philosophy, politics, and how we live today. A fragmented lens directed at so many of the conflicting aspects of our contemporary world. I had already read her earlier books, and was especially taken by LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film, a text that used the concision of twitter towards critical ends, exploring the ways in which cinema both defines and works against cultural formation, how it is both a symptom and warning for the many ways we’ve collectively gone off the rails.
Reading Love Dog as a book, about one year after I had finished reading it on Tumblr, was like visiting an old friend, seeing how the work had since grown and developed. The internet opens up this space for new modes of critical writing, for a personal and theoretical immediacy that mirrors the experience of being on line, of having one’s words instantly received (and ‘liked’ and shared.) Other recent books also display the potency of this approach, for example: Heroines by Kate Zambreno (which began on her blog Francis Farmer Is My Sister) and 2500 Random Things About Me Too by Matias Viegener (first written on Facebook). It is certain we will be seeing much more of such literature, pages that first came to life on the web, and, with any luck, works by Viegener, Zambreno and Tupitsyn will form some of its seminal texts.
THE BELIEVER: You’ve said that Love Dog is concerned with a radical love ethic and a feminist politics of love. Can you explain a little bit more what you mean by this?
MASHA TUPITSYN: As James Baldwin wrote, true lovers are as rare as true rebels. This has been a pivotal decree for me, and the quote makes a number of appearances in Love Dog. Baldwin makes an important correlation between love and rebellion. Not only is true love rare and true rebellion rare, real love is itself a radical form of rebellion—engagement, thinking, and being—and therefore happens in the context of a larger project of justice, liberation, and critical thinking. In the book, the stakes of love are co-intricated with the stakes of knowledge. This is why even though Love Dog is a web-based manifesto about love—a kind of digital, feminist follow-up to Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse—it is, like all my work, also a collection of cultural criticism. So it’s no accident that those deliberations run alongside one another in the book.
Having a love ethic, as opposed to simply being in love, or having a lover, means love is the way you actively choose to engage with the world—whether you’re in a relationship or not. It’s not about disappearing into existing structures, norms, and privileges. It’s precisely about breaking with the existing structures, values, and norms that prohibit real love in our culture. Love is an active construction, and choice, not just an encounter that happens by chance. And Love Dog is partly about how it is becoming increasingly difficult to find/maintain that kind of love in a culture of commodification, fear, denial, cynicism, and precarity.
BLVR: Reading Love Dog, I found myself wondering if, through the process of writing the blog and the book, did your ideas about love change in some way?
MT: Love has been the ontological pattern for me. And also the withholding pattern. I am still on hold with regards to love. And the longer one is on hold, in suspense, on a search, the harder, paradoxically, it is to continue with a search. The search batters but it also emboldens because it becomes both the way one fails and the way one succeeds. That’s of course the test of every search and truth procedure. It’s also how, one becomes a subject. I am as much what I am because of what I still don’t have as I am because of what I have had and what I might still have one day. As much as it is about mourning, Love Dog is equally a meditation on having faith in a world that no longer believes in singular themes, concepts, or narrative arcs. At any moment I could give up, but I haven’t because love for me is an indispensable structure for being. One that has opened up a space of meaning, possibility, feeling, agency, and writing that might otherwise not exist for me. The struggle now–post-Love Dog, if there is a post yet–is whether I still have faith in people. That is getting increasingly harder to maintain. I just don’t see many people today choosing love. I see people passing it up a lot. Foreclosing on it, deferring it, sabotaging, letting go.
BLVR: How do you think cinematic culture today views the topic of love? Do you think this has changed significantly over the last, let’s say, fifty years?
MT: Both cinematic culture and the culture at large have changed profoundly. We’re now in post-cinematic digital culture, and the internet has obviously usurped movies, which are no longer central to our lives, at least not as a collective spectator experience. We don’t experience things collectively or cathartically anymore. Viewing has become an intensely private, fetishistic, compulsive process that happens separately from others, and that reflects not only our relation to cinema as a space of possibility, belief, and imagination. But more generally, of what could be, of readiness, which is what the movies have historically been about—the ability to act on things and change. As well as a belief in love. However flawed those constructions of love have been, the temporal trajectory of love, and how one develops over and in time, is what movies show us.
BLVR: There are so many amazing quotations in the book. How do you see your use of citation? What do these quotations mean for you in the context of the larger work?
MT: I’m a discursive thinker, so quotation has played an active role in the structure and content of my books from the beginning. Quotes are like prompts. A way of searching, connecting the dots. Other people’s thinking has always—both positively and negatively—jumpstarted my thinking. Quotes are also a way of acting out not just a text, and not just thinking, but the making of a text. The construction of thinking. The quotes are part of those constructions and reflections. Thinking through quotes, which to say scouring a range of texts for insight, is one way to outline the process of thinking/feeling through a subject. In the case of love, I was wading through and grappling with our received notions and often burdensome perceptions on love, pooling together a kind of inventory while trying to generate my own narrative about it. To do that, you have to display your sources, so to speak. You have to lay them out on the table and go through them one by one, creating a kind of marginalia. Notations are part of Love Dog. Part of writing in general. For me the quotes set up an interlocution—this is what others think, this is what I think.
BLVR: As I was reading I was also looking at the YouTube links provided, wondering in thirty years, or in one hundred, how these YouTube links might be seen. If the technology would still exist in the same way. How do you see the URL links?
MT: The digital age is for me in many ways about temporal wounding. It’s really messed up our ontological clocks. Things disappear and that’s part of what Love Dog is about. How to deal with the constant disappearing acts, both culturally and personally, of the digital age, where nothing is built to last. And that includes relationships. So writing on the internet is a big part of engaging with and capitulating to that. How do we write about and inside of a precarious structure in order to make something last while acknowledging that parts of it will not last? Love Dog tries to look at an entire culture—age—of loss, not just personal losses.
The URL links that comprise the book will certainly change or disappear, and many have already become defunct, and that is inevitable for a web-based, post-confessional book about love, mourning, and loss. How does anyone hold on to anything (ideas, feelings, people, love) in the age of precarity and immateriality? In the digital economy, everything is archived, catalogued, readily available, and yet nothing really endures. In some ways, Love Dog is a screenshot of a text. The links are digital encryptions that can and won’t be located. That will have to be reassembled over time. It won’t be exactly what it was. There will be some slightly altered version. So the book is both an immaterial and material artifact.
BLVR: You’ve now written one book that was composed on Twitter, LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film, the first book in your digital trilogy of work, and Love Dog on Tumblr, the second. Has using the web to write on and about the web given you insights as to how the internet relates to a larger sense of literature and theory?
MT: One of the liberating things about having a blog is the total vision it allows. I think Love Dog is a textual and emotional space more than a book in the strict sense. You can move around in it in a lot of ways. You can listen to it, you can read it, you can watch it. It operates on multiple levels and temporalities. I was never really satisfied with writing only text or with the way my texts looked when they were published. Most online journals have a pretty lame sense of typography—bad font, counter-intuitive margins and line spacing—that it makes me sour on my writing. For me, the eye and the word go together. Even when I was working in word documents, I was always obsessed with fonts, size, margins—the look of words on a page. The way something looks or sounds is also what it means. Words as visual and aural phenomena, which mainly poets, not critics and prose writers, tend to be obsessed with. I think maybe I’m more of a curator than I am a writer in the strict sense because I am interested in how everything on the page, in a space, works together. This would make sense as my mother is a curator.
Since my background is in aesthetics and film, and I was trained as a classical musician, I wanted to compose a total arrangement with Love Dog—textual spaces, not just texts. I wanted to put everything together myself and often hated handing over pieces of writing and seeing the way a magazine presented it. You have to have an eye and a feeling for where things go. Writing visually, writing textually, writing sonically. Text is visual for me and images are textual. There is power in the way ideas are arranged, not just developed rhetorically. Form is everything. So I am interested in how something—thoughts, feelings, desires—makes its way through a medium. According to the theorist and multimedia artist, Trinh T. Minha, the digital artwork is characterized not by the technology which delivers it, but by the “passage” itself. In Trinh’s book D-PASSAGE: The Digital Way, she considers new technology less as a medium but more as a “way.”
In discussions of Love Dog, some people have missed the mark on that. They don’t seem to see/hear the book—they’re just reading it as if it is a conventional book operating on conventional terms, or as if reading only concerns words. That blind spot in reading and thinking—and loving!—is a real problem, I think. We don’t know how to read interventions because often we don’t even see them when they’re happening.
Jacob Wren makes literature, performances and exhibitions. His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation, Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed and the upcoming novel Polyamorous Love Song, a finalist for the 2013 Fence Modern Prize in Prose. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize, the HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series including Individualism Was A Mistake and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information and their current project Every Song I’ve Ever Written. He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.
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