An interview with Mónica Belevan (2019)

The following interview appeared alongside the first monthly mailing from Sublunary Editions in June 2019.

Josh Rothes: I’ve always seen literature as a kind of epistolary enterprise, literature as an ongoing conversation and all that. With whom are you conversing?

Mónica Belevan: An aggressive and perceptive question (I approve!). You have noticed I exchange information with a number of Swiss Army selves, who sometimes manifest externally. Writing as retrofeedback.

JR: Donald Barthelme once said of Beckett that he “made it possible for me to write”. Is there anyone in particular who made it possible to write as you do? Someone from whom you sought permission, of a sort?

MB: Not permission, really, because I’m so drawn to drunken master types whom one must take up, then put down; but strategies, for sure: a trickster learns through systematic, almost scientific, trial and terror. If I were to describe to you my premature love for Dostoevsky, for example, the key to understanding that fixation would be in just how pre-mature it was, in a developmental sense. Joyce and his entourage —including Beckett— came very shortly after, with the onset of adolescence. Over time, names like Pynchon and Burroughs and Musil and Durrell and Jarry and Daumal and Roussel became integral parts of my roadmap as I charted out a territory for myself.

More significantly, though, I’ve always cultivated non-literary, even non-narrative, interests. I am haunted by the history of the visual arts and painting, and it may be an accident of marriage that I tipped towards architecture instead. I studied and continue to study philosophy and perception. I’m unhinged about film. Last year, I picked up the theremin. So I would think of myself more as an Arctic explorer of language than as one of Schwob’s imaginary lives.

Have you noticed that the Serious Writer is persistently portrayed as someone stuck on(to) a path of innermost necessity, like von Uexküll’s tick? It’s what Steiner once referred to as the fatal nature of the Dichter, the poet as a terminal condition. My interest in literature may be less devotional, more prurient: it responds to possibility. But then, I’m not a Serious Writer.

JR: Speaking of Jarry, I would characterize aspects of “Baroque Barrens” as pataphysical, with the propositional form and objective tone. Is that accurate? (Accurate in the ‘pataphysical sense, at least.)

MB: It’s not inaccurate. You may see Jarry in there, or Wittgenstein, or Lichtenberg or Kraus. But I never yield completely to my fathers. One is (also) what one eats; that is all.

JR: How does having an architecture and design background come to play in terms of how you approach the space of the page?

MB: I remember that being a concern before ever joining the design world. The page always seemed to me to be of a piece, a part of rather than apart from, the writing. I also think it can be a salutary distraction: fiddling with space can be a consolation for those struggling with time.

JR: How do you rate the health of narrative in language? Do you have a stake in either its convalescence or demise? Or perhaps I should rephrase this as, do you have any interest in words as a simple means of conveyance, or as more of a psychoactive substance, working along less direct pathways?

MB: I have found that using narrative in psychoactive settings can be extremely therapeutic. Rewiring, like blows, needs connection. So in entheogenic practice, I favour narrative more than I do as a writer; which is not to say I do not use it there, but I treat it like an instrument among many. There’s a poem of mine you know that’s called “The Peacock Room”. It’s outstandingly straightforward by my standards, and it clearly hails to the storied dispute between Whistler and his patron, Frederick Richards Leyland. I think one can read it on an anecdotal level and find it satisfying, even wanting. But once you realise how loaded it is with hints and references, you may also remove the safety catch and play Russian Roulette with it, if that’s your kind of thing.

JR: Your writing is so rich with allusion and wordplay. Do you write these bits (“imitation-leather bhoots”) with any reader in mind, real or idealised, or just for the sheer pleasure of it?

MB: I have been publishing since my teens with no semblance of a readership. Interactions with people who take an interest in my work or know it have been few and far between. I think I have become completely solipsistic in believing one’s work has to be its own reward, because there may not be more to it. But as it turns out, I now have readers; the sort of readers who want to get behind me. I don’t think this will change my general approach to writing, but it will likely add to my enjoyment of it. I don’t think I ever expected that I would be able to share what I do, on my terms, in my time.

JR: What comes next? Are we to be treated to a bound object?

MB: There is a tome of juvenilia in Spanish (Díptico gnóstico) that’s been set for release for some years, but beset by complications until now. It should be out next month. And I have a book of poetry or two I seem unable to place.

Appropriately, dear reader, Mónica’s most complete collection of poetry to date, in both English and Spanish, is due out from Sublunary Editions in July 2020. Pre-order The Wreck of the Large Glass / Paleódromo here.

— Joshua Rothes