shitmycatsread


UNI: “Everyone was asking us, like, Where were you girls during the entire month of January? You weren’t in the windowsill, you weren’t on Skype, we thought you were dead, jesus christ don’t scare us like that again. Sorry for the alarm! What happened is that we ‘discovered’ Evelyn Waugh for the first time, and basically fall into a deep and delicious Waugh-Hole that we’ve only recently climbed out of. Here’s the embarrassing fact: Initially we had somehow confused dear Evelyn with Edith Wharton, due to the shared initials…so when we thought of what a typical Waugh novel might be like, we pictured posh people with starched shirts, being all snooty and shit, fornicating with the help in big, bloodless mansions, which is probably not even what happens in a goddamn Edith Wharton novel, but we occasionally like to generalize in a highly ignorant manner. We had no idea that Evelyn Waugh was actually responsible for some of the most unbe-fucking-lievably dark satires ever penned in the 20th century, especially Handful of Dust, which is basically a sick comedy about cuckolding that ends with a poor bastard kidnapped and marooned in a sort of horror-movie scenario involving the collected works of Charles Dickens. Long story short: Our little four-pawed existences have been enlivened and forever changed by this manically creative motherfucker, who is unfortunately very dead by now, so we can’t interview him.”

The Evening Interviews: Loris Gréaud

Loris Gréaud is a French artist with varied interests including underwater fireworks; classical statuary turned grotesque; the color black, used promiscuously; and Snorks. He’s also a fan of literature, even when it’s completely opaque, unreadable, or–to borrow his lingo–an exercise in irresolution. Even if you’re not an art nerd you may have heard of Mr. Gréaud, especially after he contacted a Texan journalist—who was not very fond of his exhibition at the Dallas Contemporary museum—and suggested a lack of sex might be the cause of her bitterness. Sacré bleu, mes chats! One important fact about Loris though, that has gotten lost in the shuffle of possibly-manufactured controversy, is that he’s a feline-freak and major kitten-activist, dedicated to spreading the four-pawed gospel far and wide. Rather than rehash the same tired scandal, we checked in with him about what really matters.

UNI & CHLOE: For your most recent exhibition in Dallas, you purposefully destroyed about half of the work you’d made. As cats, we can appreciate and empathize with this impulse: So much beauty in chaos! Sometimes we’re just walking along a ledge, or a bookshelf, and there’s a glass of water or a pretty vase, and for no good reason we’re like, Fuck you glass! Fuck you vase! Smash you to bits, hahaha! Besides your own artwork, what are some other things in the world that you sometimes think about destroying??

LORIS GRÉAUD: Well, this moment of destruction was precisely trying to act like you cats with a glass of water: no emotions involved, no political claims. A cold and dry gesture.  I was pretty sure I’d create a shell or a mirror, that humans would project their own experiences of destruction, from world events or their own desires. Destruction has never been my thing but that is what this project required; if it’s the medium then I had to go along and see what the paradigm of irresolution would lead me to destroy even further.

UNI & CHLOE: We’ve seen your photo series of “Cheshire Cats,” in which normal felines are given bold new color treatments. How did this happen? Is it Photoshop magic, or did you actually dye these shocked-looking kitties? We suddenly feel so drab and boring as “normal” tabbies…

LG: Don’t worry—it’s all precise Photoshop post-production using white cats or Sphinx cats. But I’ve also realized a couple of actual sculptures of sleeping cats, using rabbit hair dye to change the color of their fur to that of the Cheshire cat. What would you guys think about doing make up ?

UNI: We’re strictly au natural. We woke up like this, Loris.

CHLOE: You seem to like exotic breeds. If you were a cat yourself, what type would you be?

LG: Without hesitation I’d be a blue Scottish Fold! I’d get the shape of a Persian cat without the constraint of long hair; a bit of a tough style with my uniquely folded ears; and the controversial reputation of a gene mutation…

UNI & CHLOE: You often talk about creating viruses with your artwork, like ones that will spread through audiences and the media. What do you think of the parasite toxoplasma gondii, which some scientists think can cause irrational cat-related passion in humans?? Perhaps you’ve already been infected…

LG: For this recent project at Dallas Contemporary I used viruses as a format and a metaphor. I was following a figure who is emblematic in my work—William S Burroughs—who, as you know, as also a fan of cats, and very inspired by them. Most people haven’t heard of Burroughs’s rare novel, The Cat Inside. Here’s Burroughs in a 1971 public talk: “My general theory has been that the Word is literally a virus, and that it has not been recognized as such because it has achieved a state of relatively stable symbiosis with its human host; that is to say, the Word Virus (the Other Half) has established itself so firmly as an accepted part of the human organism that it can now sneer at gangster viruses like smallpox and turn them in to the Pasteur Institute. But the Word clearly bears the single identifying feature of virus: it is an organism with no internal function other than to replicate itself…” Regarding toxoplasma gondii, did you know that is transforms mice into creatures who don’t fear cats? But when humans are contaminated it’s way less fun, since it can cause malaria…

UNI & CHLOE: Cats are often aloof, and moody…hard to please…fiercely independent…and a bit sadistic. Are these qualities that you relate to as a human? If so, how so?

LG: It’s more about what a project requires and where you’re ready to go as an artist. Being independent is really important to me; I don’t think I’m sadistic, though. But you know, if you put a mirror in front of a cat you can expect many reactions—some will play with their reflection; most will be scared; others will attack. It’s quite similar if you were to put a giant mirror in front of the human world. There wouldn’t be one single reaction.

UNI & CHLOE: You’re a big fan of collaborations, working with scientists, or adult film actors, or Lee Ranaldo. Maybe we could work together sometime, the first-ever human/feline collaboration in all of art history? Any ideas about what kind of things we might make together?

LG: I’m actually not a fan of collaborations. I think more in terms of spaces for discussion where I displace myself to formulate answers to my projects and obsessions. I have to meet the right people who will be able to find those answers with me….What about cat paintings—using a scratching post as a canvas while also providing a relief of tension? And maybe this Burroughs quote is a good starting point to link carts and humans: “We are the cats inside. We are the cats who cannot walk alone, and for us there is only one place.”

XX

Loris Gréaud’s “Unplayed Notes Museum” is on view at Dallas Contemporary through March 21 

RUGBY: “Life wears you down, it fucks you up. Life is a big cartoon fist aimed squarely at your nose, and no matter how frantically you scrape or paw or scratch, it’s going to hit the mark (blammmo! little cartoon birdies flapping around your noble, dazed, orange head!) These two works by Nathanael West–a novella from 1933, a novel from 1939–are set in New York and Hollywood, respectively, thereby definitely proving that a perfect climate does not lead to emotional and psychic happiness. Miss Lonelyhearts is a slim, nasty little number about an advice columnist suddenly overburdened by the terrible moral funk of the world (some of the Christian shit gets a bit heavy-handed, but I couldn’t tell if it was sarcastic or whatnot–some of the smartest people can turn out to be Christians, you’ve got to be very fucking careful). The Day of the Locust is a love-triangle story (or some other shape, maybe a rhombus–more horny corners, but all of them focused on one young lady). Our hero here is a sort of set designer/scene painter in L.A. named Tod Hackett. He–along with several other wannabe Lotharios–is obsessed with a horridly pretentious struggling actress named Faye Greener. ("Being with her was like being backstage during an amateurish, ridiculous play. From in front, the stupid lines and grotesque situations would have made him squirm with annoyance, but because he saw the tawdry summerhouse with its tangle of paper flowers, he accepted everything and was anxious for it to succeed.”) Other people eager to paw Ms. Greener silly: An Aspberger-y cowboy; a man unable to control his hands, named Homer Simpson (no relation); a Mexican hombre with ambitions in the D.I.Y. cockfighting scene (not a euphemism).

A lotta shit happens, including some nicely anarchic house parties, and a chase scene through the fictitious postmodern hell of Hollywood’s back lots. Tod Hackett keeps conjuring ideas for a painting called The Burning of Los Angeles, which makes me think that a bro named Ed Ruscha must’ve read this book before painting his depiction of LACMA in flames.

In any case, it’s all bleak, with a chuckle. Here’s a description of the masses of L.A. residents who’ve gathered to go wild during a film premiere:

Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges don’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.

Mr. West, Mr. West, pass the fucking cyanide! For a second you probably thought I’d accidentally inserted a paragraph from The Coming Insurrection. But rest assured: All this dooming and glooming is tempered by a nice dose of farce (including one irate midget who likes to kick people in the balls). These books are old as shit, but they still ring with a real contemporary relevance, exhaustingly so.

The Evening Interviews: Richard House

Richard House’s most recent book is The Kills, a huge-and-strange tale of war, murder, burning garbage, con jobs, men-on-the-run, desert intrigue, mistaken identities, and much more. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, which is a very highbrow high-five for a British person, and it will soon be adapted for Starz and the BBC. Despite how busy and successful Mr. House is, he took time out for a S.M.C.R. interview, because CATS MATTER. We chatted with him about craft and kitten-facilitated writing.  

UNI & CHLOE: We’ve only taken one very basic Fiction Writing 101 class (online, through Phoenix University), but the professor was quite adamant about what he called The #1 Super-Golden Rule Of Superior Noveling: “Write what you know.” That led, on our part, to a lot of fairly unproductive and meandering prose about eating, sleeping, chasing sunshine, etc etc. But reading ‘The Kills,’ and researching a bit about you online, it’s clear that you have very dramatically disregarded this #1 Super-Golden Rule. You were never, for instance, employed as a government contractor in Iraq, burning boatloads of incredibly toxic shit out in the lonely, foreboding desert. What gives, Richard? Aren’t good novelists supposed to stick to, like, personal experience?

RICHARD HOUSE: It’s a daft rule, if I’m honest. It’s limiting. I agree with the basic idea (which is, no one wants to be stuck with some dreary armchair analyst who thinks they’re a world expert on such and such), but, that said, fiction is a long game, and it benefits the reader if the writer is unravelling and enquiring into ideas for themselves and looking into fresh territory. And besides, it’s almost impossible to look into any subject and not draw connections with your own experience. Most times I write to inform myself. I’m pretty ignorant, otherwise.

What is your daily writing regimen like, and how does your cat play a part in that (both as inspiration and obstacle)?

It changes. At the moment I’m writing every spare moment. Trains. Office. Bed. Anywhere. In writing The Kills I was in an attic office, overlooking a park in which some seriously dodgy stuff was happening. So I veered between writing and watching this mayhem unfold outside. The best part–and I still grieve over this–was having my partner’s cat sit with me. She’d rest with her head on my wrist while I wrote. The whole day, for about five years. Her name was Taz, and, alas, she was old. I had a very long period where writing/life/work wasn’t going well, but I could always sit down to work and she’d hurtle up three flights of stairs, jump on the desk, set her head on my wrist and I’d try to write. Day or night. The things that make you hold on can be infinitesimally small, but outrageously important. You cats can be difficult, but you are unparalleled company. We have a new cat called Mouse who is here with me while I write, but she’s just figuring out things–like you can’t attack images on a laptop screen / sit and clean yourself on a keyboard / bite fingers while they are typing, etc. Slow learner though.

          Richard House, reading & note-taking with his cat, Mouse.

Lately we’ve been on something of a trans-Atlantic jag, ping-ponging between American authors (Dawn Powell, a lot of Dawn Powell) and British ones (Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis). Would you say that British literature is just better than the stuff we Americans crank out? We’re still on the fence, though our kitten-heartstrings are, of course, pulled by predictably patriotic inclinations.

I had to read Evelyn Waugh for school and haven’t approached his work since–doubt I’ll get to it, life is too short even when you have seven lives. I’d say, generally, that Brit lit isn’t better. It’s not a conscious thing, but I tend to prefer American (South and North) writers, although that’s not a rule. I usually read to inform a project, and the writers I’m looking at aren’t timid about approaching big or tough subjects–and they happen to be US writers. Stylistically, and this is a very general comment, but there can be a robust and direct quality to some contemporary US writing–which I prefer.

You’re an artist in addition to a writer of very big, highly acclaimed novels (because, clearly, you are a pathological overachiever whose goal is to make us kittens feel small and unacclaimed.) What sort of art do you make, when you make art? Would you rather hang out with artists or novelists?

I wish I mixed more with artists. When I lived in Chicago I worked with a collaborative called Haha, and I miss that kind of intense interaction - although it was demanding. I like how fluid artists can be with ideas and media. Since working on The Kills I’m back to working at a pitch where I feel engaged and challenged in the same way I did with Haha. It’s oxygen. Vital. Once you start developing ideas, the harder you are with them, the better they get–and they keep dividing into more iterations, I guess. If you’ve ever had that great crazy hour spent chasing after something, where you just feel so perfect for the job, but in honesty, you don’t really know what the hell you’re doing… that’s exactly how I feel when I’m talking through and developing ideas. We have a young cat. She’s intense about everything. Perfectly in the moment. I want to work with that kind of presentness and submersion and engagement. Maybe one day I’ll work in a studio environment with other writers/artists immediately at hand…

The Kills is over 900 pages long. Since most people, according to recent scientific studies, have an attention span of 12.9 seconds, and think entirely in 140-character flatulent outbursts, where do you get off expecting someone to make mental time and space for this novel, especially considering that–being a novel–it’s just a long story about things that didn’t even actually happen?

It’s a big ask, I guess, but it’s the kind of challenge I like to be set as a reader. I prefer to read works which are a little tougher, maybe even colder, something that might become immersive. In longer works pace and pressure are important, and those qualities can really test a reader. If it works for you, it’s going to be a worthwhile experience. But… if you’re getting nothing from it, then there are plenty of other books and other choices, so there’s no insult or problem with moving on. I have one (over-used) notion about reading fiction, which is that the book is this suspended ball, this thing you return to each time you read, a world, an object, a gathering of ideas, who knows, something sparkly and distracting. It takes time to read, and you get to spend that time with ideas, characters, situations, you might otherwise not encounter. It takes time, it happens inside your head, and it’s intimate. In reading you gain experience, maybe even knowledge, without risk, without suffering. It’s the most human thing you can do–so I think it’s worth knocking about the form a little and asking a reader to work a little harder.

*

RICHARD HOUSE: So, I have a question. What’s it like to kill something? Like mice and stuff? You ever feel guilty? Or is it just big fun?

UNI: Don’t get the wrong idea, Richard. We’re not sociopaths (we’ve done the checklist, we’re cool).

CHLOE: But that’s not to say that we’re afraid to admit to the exquisite pleasures of mouse-homicide, the blood-rush inherent in stalking one of those disgusting thousand-legged insect freaks for an entire afternoon…

UNI: It’s sport and ritual and catharsis, you know?

CHLOE: I mean haven’t you ever just wanted to hunt something and then, once you’ve found it, just sort of mess with its emotions, taunting it, maybe picking it up and throwing it against the wall, letting it pretend to be asleep and almost escape into a corner before reigniting the entire horrible cascade of violence, and without any actual useful purpose, like killing for food or sustenance?

UNI: Useful but beautiful in its own way, see. Idle afternoon killing is our art. Guilt is an outmoded concept; it helps that we’re adorable.

*

Richard House’s The Kills is available now.

Chloe: “Okay, so we actually haven’t read Ayn Rand, not that we can remember. And it’s been ages since we paged through Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. But damn, The Circle–the new Dave Eggers novel out later this month–reminds us of the idea of those books, except instead of bloody unhinged free-market capitalism or the importance of meat safety inspection laws, Eggers is getting on a soapbox of prose in order to deliver a lecture on personal privacy in an age of oversharing. We still haven’t figured out if this makes the novel an obnoxiously pedantic disaster or a fascinating, rousingly topical tale. Maybe both, at the same time? The basic plot involves a young lady who gets a job with a company that’s sort of a nightmarish amalgam of Google and Facebook–free vegan food in the cafeteria, yoga classes, a hoodie-wearing semi-autistic founder, etceteras. This company (the Circle) is intent on being a one-size-fits-all social network, and the young lady’s job involves being as connected as possible, to the point where she can barely take a shit if she doesn’t immediately tweet it. The novel becomes an epic battle of ideas, an ideological war between those who think the future means a secret-free utopia of 24/7 access, and those who think that such a future is actually a rotten, quasi-fascist nightmare. Dave Eggers is lucky though, since this book is coming out in the wake of the NSA scandals, in which President Obama was illicitly reading drunken sexts that humans were sending to each other within a 50 mile radius of Washington, D.C. This gives book critics a ‘peg’ to hang their reviews on, and The Circle certainly seems ripped from the headlines, as they say, but we can’t help thinking that it’s a bit too wooden: The corpse of a novel, trotted around, Weekend at Bernie’s-style, in order to enact a really powerful essay that was bouncing around in Mr. Eggers’s head.”

Uni: “Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There is a light summer diversion, but it’s a bit too light–basically a short story that just squeaks over into the novella category. It’s also heavy-handed and more than a little obvious. Our protagonist is Chance, a man raised by a rich benefactor and given no contact with the outside world. He tends a garden on the rich man’s grounds, and learns everything he knows from television. When he’s finally unleashed upon American society, Chance is misinterpreted as a savvy businessman and a political savant, his vague ramblings on ‘tending a garden’ mistaken for sage, metaphorical advice. MY advice? Skip this one and delve into Kosinski’s darker, weirder books, like Cockpit or Blind Date.”