LIDIA: Can you talk a little bit about how you conceive of "memory space?" Is it biological, conceptual, or technological? What is the spatial quality of memory?
JANICE: All of the above. There are the biological elements of memory of course, but there is also the space it takes up inside us, around us. I think about the spaces which our bodies occupy, so that in a way, all spaces are haunted, all spaces are about memory. Memory is often about contradiction and as Gaston Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Space, “everything comes alive when contradictions accumulate.” I’m interested too, though, in the relationship between the spaces which we occupy (and occupy us) and how we articulate those in writing, as psychological diagrams that map our intimacy. We can go further back too, to old practices like the memory palace, the intertwining of a body moving through an intimate space with the intimate process of remembering and forgetting and re-remembering. We often talk about excavation, as if this is a physical process, as if our memories are buried somewhere beneath us, but really they’re inside us, and it’s not without side effects that we look deep. I’ll also add this phrase I love, coined by friend and writer Gaby Torres Olivares: “the body as a vehicle traversing circumstance” - how we represent spatially (emotionally, textually, linguistically, materially, intimately) the circumstances which our bodies have traversed, the body as a space. Memories can be psychological, emotional, but physical too.
LIDIA: Do personal and historical trauma occupy memory space?
JANICE: It all takes up space in some way. Whether in our minds, hearts, or in our actual lives. All the shit we’re dealing with all the time. There is a Korean cultural-specific concept han: “A feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one's guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined.” — Suh Nam-dong
So the memories manifest in different ways, across generations, inside and outside time.
LIDIA: How do you see the relationship between language and memory? Are they some personal and/or historical events and traumas that break language or put language into crisis? I'm thinking of personal and historical crises in representation and what that "does" to language...
JANICE: Language is always in crisis, isn’t it? Lately I’ve been thinking about how much privilege is subtly written into the way we write. Stories, the way we conceive of narrative, as a cohesive structure, the way that stories convince us to buy into the idea of finality, but in a story with only one beginning, middle, end, there is a hierarchy created that dismisses the simultaneity of voices, experiences, multitude of difference that co-exist and thrive. In believing in finality, we also believe in extinction, and again, someone is erased. The sentence is another privileged and colonial form. The sentence is meant to contain a “complete thought.” Which points of view can operate naturally with that kind of framework? And beyond that, language is constantly failing. That’s why we write, we are articulating the inarticulatable, the necessary. What’s at stake here is everything. All we can do is try.
LIDIA: Do you ever wish (as I do) that mammalian writers of narrative would more often break tradition and explode and reconstitute form? Do you ever secretly wish the "market" would go inside out?
JANICE: GOD YES. I start talking about this in the previous answer. But it’s all up for grabs, you know? All these ideas of “mastery,” “craft,” etc. often just work to privilege certain types of writing and creating, certain types of stories, therefore certain types of bodies and points of view. Real shit is messy, uncertain, unclean. A carefully crafted sentence likes linearity, cohesion. There is a perceived elegance in the trimming of excess, a satisfaction in the disposal of what isn’t needed, of what isn’t relevant to the core theme or narrative. But the rest of know, that stuff that gets trimmed? Those are the best parts. The write root of the green onion that you chop off and throw off away? I replant those. Or boil them with ginger to make tea. The fat that you trim off your steak? That’s the tastiest part. The “excess” isn’t waste, it’s essential, simultaneous, part of everything that is connected and we are animals that make mistakes and sometimes forget to floss and why erase any of that?
LIDIA: I also want to know if you think women writers are given enough credit and respect for their own intelligence and creative autonomy and ground-breaking moves, or if readers are too quick to try to understand writing by women as part of something already established that never included them or understood them as autonomous intellects and creative minds, but that might be a longer weirder discussion...just been thinking about it lately. Again. Again. Again.
JANICE: Definitely not. It seems like readers are often judging innovative or radical writing by women using preconceived categories like “writing about the body” or “confessional” or connecting the writing immediately to certain categories of identity ie. queer, asian, black, latina, etc. as if identity dictates form in such a convenient relationship. And when writing by women does get written about critically, it’s often in the context of other canonical white male writers, or the very few women writers that have “earned it,” and rarely see non-literary influences as being as important as literary ones. Of course we read, write, think, are educated - but so many of the badass women writers are influenced by so much more than just other writing, what about other mammals, other creatures, trees, herbal medicine, witchcraft, dance aerobics, astrology, brewing beer, etc.
Janice will be leading Memory Space: On Inherited Trauma & the Failure of Language on May 5th and 6th at the Corporeal Center in downtown Portland. Workshop meets from 1:00 - 4:00 both days and costs $250.