HER KIND: It’s so great to have you ladies here . . .your artwork too, which adds another element and dimension to the conversation. To you get you started, let’s take a quote from Georgia O’Keeffe who believes that “ . . .there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.” Does this statement resonate with you as a writer? If so, what in particular?
Emily Pettit: It resonates with me. I believe in exploration. I believe in curiosity. I believe in discovery. I believe that “woman” could be replaced with any particular and that the statement would remain true. There are things about ourselves that only we as individuals can explore about ourselves. A cat can discover things about its tail, male or female, in a way that only a cat can explore a cat’s own tail or tale. I believe in exploration. I am not particularly interested in analyzing the limitations of exploration, as I believe doing so works more towards impeding discovery than engaging with it.
One female explorer I admire enormously is Captain Janeway of the Starship USS Voyager. Bianca, I thank you for pointing me in the direction of Voyager. Now please do your Janeway impression!
Bianca Stone: Perfect! When I first read the O’Keeffe quote I couldn’t stop going back to the word “unexplored.” Clearly this is a keyword for Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager. What’s so exciting about Star Trek is that it’s such a positive vision of the future, where often in sci-fi we have to deal with such negative inevitabilities for the human race. With Star Trek we have evolved into a people filled with genuine curiosity and deeper understanding of living (everyone in the military is a scientist!). It’s actually quite radical. I was taken with Star Trek: The Next Generation right away, but when I started watching Voyager (third incarnation since the original) I was completely blown away by the female captain character. It was so exciting for me to have that element in the show (especially since in the First Generation, Kirk is such an overtly masculine James Bond) of the female explorer. This is, I think, a good way to enter into this discussion because I agree with the quote figuratively and literally. There are certain things that cannot be explored character-wise with a man in the same way as they do with Janeway. In writing it’s similar. Now that I think about it, ironically, the episodes were probably written largely by men. But I think the point is that the female captain allowed something that I couldn’t get with the constant male captain character, and it interested me much more than anything else on Voyager.
I liked so much how you said “I am not particularly interested in analyzing the limits of exploration,” as I think this quote gives us pause to think about what it means to investigate, as women, this enigmatic material within. Do you think that’s something we’re always doing in our writing and art? Or is that something we have to consciously strive for?
EP: I think it’s occasionally something that must be consciously strived for. I think it is a constantly occurring reaction to living, to investigate the enigmatic. Engagement with it is not a choice. I think, I hope, I am investigating the enigmatic material attached to women, to men, to more than those two ideas.
BS: I was just reading about an inscription on one of Giorgio de Chirico’s early self-portraits: “What shall I love if not the enigma?” Truly investigating, we come upon something so important to our work that I think inevitably has to do with Woman. We come upon it, open it, unravel it, paint it, write it, turn it over and inside out—but it also remains entirely enigmatic. It is perhaps because it remains enigmatic that we cannot stop investigating, thus continuing to create and push ourselves further.
This reminds me . . . remember when I drew an Enigma Machine in your study? I was looking at your awesome spy book.
EP: The Ultimate Spy Book!
(concealed cameras continued)
I am not a good spy or detective it would seem. I know that Georgia O’Keeffe said “ . . . there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore,” in a letter to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, and that the context for the statement was regarding what O’Keeffe might want people to say about her after she died . . ..
BS: “Bess stepped back and looked at Nancy admiringly. ‘Your hunches are so often right it startles me.’ ”
Let us reiterate: I think we’ll never stop “stopping investigating.” As one brilliant young detective once shot back when asked just how the hell she got in:
“I came in at the entrance,” Nancy replied. “The larkspur is beautiful.”
The Whispering Shadow
BS: I wanted to actually end with something that I was just reading that seemed wildly appropriate. In Alison Bechdel’s new graphic novel memoir Are You My Mother? she writes about an essay in which Adrienne Rich cites Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, (which I’m addressing here, so it’s so layered with exactly the kind of investigation we’ve been discussing). Bechdel writes: “The essay in which Rich cites A Room of One’s Own covers some of the same ground as Woolf’s book. Like, for example, the woman writer’s particular challenge to cease being an object and start being a subject.” Bechdel then has a passage from the essay in question that says: “She meets the image of Women in books written by men. She finds a terror and a dream, she finds a beautiful pale face, she finds La Belle Dame Sans Merci, she finds Juliet or Tess or Salome, but precisely what she does not find is that absorbed, drudging, puzzled, sometimes inspired creature, herself, who sits at a desk trying to put words together.”
Emily Pettit is the author of Goat in the Snow and two chapbooks: How and What Happened to Limbo. She is an editor for notnostrums and Factory Hollow Press, as well as the publisher of jubilat. She teaches at Flying Object and Elms College.
Bianca Stone is the author of several poetry chapbooks, including I Want To Open The Mouth God Gave You Beautiful Mutant and I Saw The Devil With HIs Needlework. She is also illustrator of Antigonick, a collaboration with Anne Carson. Her poems have appeared in such magazines as Crazyhorse, Best American Poetry 2011, and Tin House. She lives in Brooklyn.