John Dermot Woods Interviews Catherine Kasper about Notes from the Committee (Noemi)

Woods: How did you approach this book’s construction? Did one piece organically grow from another or did you plan and conceive of it as a whole?

Kasper: I found myself writing sections down whenever I had time. As time is a very spare commodity in my life, that reality tends to dictate the arc of each section. It was only later that I sat down with those sections that I had written that I began to see the work as a whole, and then, to write further sections that seemed to be needed. In the editing stages, I wanted to preserve the idea of “notes,” of a document that would always be incomplete and whose text was a comment on what was not included, as much as what was in this “document.”

Woods: I’m interested in the locale of this book’s composition (structure of place seems at the core of the narrative of Notes). What specific places do you connect with writing this book?

Kasper: I am interested in urban architecture, in how cities come to be built, as well as city-states. The more I learn about the process, the more I am baffled that any building remains standing, or that any institution is able to continue, given the real inner workings of its systems or lack of systems. This book is borne from that, perhaps naïve, sense of astonishment.

Woods: I know that you have a particular interest in the interaction of the visual and the written (we’ve worked together on our own image/text project). The book seems very much inspired by objects and their arrangement. Are you trying to create a physical structure out of the abstraction of words in Notes?

Kasper: This is much better said than I could say. I love text and image works, and I have a great admiration for visual artists. I also would like to spend much more time drawing and involved in visual arts activities. I imagine this gets into my writing.

Woods: This book was written (presumably) at a time when the abuses of authority affected us quite immediately. While in many ways the narrative criticizes (even mocks) those systems of power, it also seems to celebrate and even enjoy the absurdity of these systems. Assuming my reading is a fair one, do you see this as a political gesture, a way of mitigating the threat of a system by enjoying it for what it is? (This is a truly funny book, sometimes in the vein of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, particularly in the sections called “procedures.”)

Kasper: I’m pleased you understood the dark humor here, which seems integral to the world we live in. This book was actually written five years ago, when the systems of power in our country were revealing their particular incapacities and horrors. The book clearly examines all institutions, all Kafkaesque levels of bureaucracy. At this point in my life, it is sad to see that most institutions and governments don’t really work through design, hard work, and dedication alone, but through default, through accident. As human beings we have a kinship with absurdity, since if we looked straight into the truth of what we do, the reality would be terrifying.

Woods: Much of your published work is poetry, but this is an extended work of fiction. Do you find that you work in different “modes” when writing verse versus prose? What effect has writing Notes had on your subsequent writing?

Kasper: I’ve written fiction all my life, only most of it is published in small chapbooks and literary journals, since the fiction I write is what others call: experimental. Just recently, a chapbook of my short stories, Hovering, was published in 2008 by Paul Rosheim’s Obscure Publications. I don’t think of myself as a poet or fiction writer, but as a writer, and for me, the work itself dictates the genre.

Woods: Reading Notes, especially “The City” chapter, I kept wanting to watch a film adaptation of the work. Would visual representation ruin the “Theater Spectacular” or “Diorama Alley”?

Kasper: Although I personally enjoy the all the sounds of the language itself, a visual representation seems like a wonderful idea to me. Certainly films like those of the Brothers Quay, and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari are also at the heart of this work, like the film Brazil, that you mention, as well as the fiction of Kafka, Dubravka Ugrešić, Calvino, and Borges.

Woods: If asked to describe this very complex chapbook in a couple of sentences, I might write: “Notes from the Committee is an anti-hermetic manifesto buried in the narrative of a fearful and stricture-bound municipality. From inside of this anatomy comes a voice asking for free, greedy gasps of carelessly polluted air.” How does that work for you?

Kasper: It’s curious to me that you see it as “complex,” since I haven’t thought of it as that. It’s a manifesto that calls for the will to dissemble and/or refashion the bureaucracies we’ve made instead of perpetuating senseless and often inhumane systems. For example, we’ve all known about the consequences of poisoning the earth since at least as early as Rachel Carson’s famous study and book (Silent Spring) from the 1950s. Still, people like to ignore the truth until they’re absolutely forced to, or until it’s too late, even though so much damage could be prevented. Whether that’s due to greed or laziness or a will for ignorance I don’t know. The voice of this book is amazed that others have given up the desire and the right to breathe unpolluted air.

  1. […] published by Noemi Press. I felt compelled to talk her about how she created this narrative, and my interview was just posted in the new issue of The Chapbook […]

  2. […] John Dermot Woods’s interview with Catherine Kasper appears HERE. […]

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