Conversations

Renee Gladman and Kate Briggs Talk Translation and Form

Kate Briggs, Renee Gladman

Kate briggs and renee gladman are writers who might be said to defy categorization. Briggs, who built her career as an English translator of French theorists, is also the author of the novel-essay—or the translator’s memoir-treatise— This Little Art. Gladman has published numerous books, of poetry, fiction, essays, and ink drawings, which seem, together, to build some master architecture.

These writers seem to defy categories defiantly—as true genre radicals, with no regard for the confines of convention. Yet one also feels, reading their work, and reading this conversation, that their genrelessness may be a necessity: of their uncontainable curiosities, of their conception of writing itself as a process of innovation, sentence making as language testing.

Their willingness to question leads them here to some bold propositions: Is there a fictional element to translation? Are Gladman’s slim novels, in fact, long? Is all writing actually fiction? Briggs and Gladman conducted their conversation over simultaneous sessions in a cloud document, writing from the Netherlands and New England, respectively. One can sense this conversation constructing its own physical space, as they urge each other around the corners they are writing toward to discover something new, something further.
—the editors


kate briggs I have been thinking about when we met for the first time in Rotterdam, three summers ago now (can that be right?). You asked me a question: Why had I been so sure that you were also a translator? In my first book, This Little Art, I name you, and describe you, as, among other things, a translator. You didn’t mind my mistake. In fact, I think it made you happy. But you were curious to know why I had made it. I remember gabbling out some reply, then afterward feeling frustrated with myself, like I hadn’t answered you at all. Now, with more time, more reflection, I can tell you that there are at least two reasons why I made this assumption.

The first is that your Ravicka novels—novels in sequence, each opening a different door on to this city-state you have imagined, with its architecture, its people, their habits, their language—seem to know so much about translation. They know about its strangenesses, its tiltings. They know especially about its weird proximities and distances, foldings and collapsings, about how much and how little meaning words in sequence can hold, and how an effort of translation can show us this. It’s like the novels are their own spatialization of how this can feel. It didn’t seem possible to me that you could know so much about all this without having written translations yourself. (And in fact, The Ravickians does announce itself as a translation from the first page, asking the reader to hold that thought while reading…)

Then, the second reason: the language your novels are written in. I remember on first reading feeling as though some pressure was being put on English, as if the English of the novels had been through some powerful specific process, such as the process of translation.

I wonder, Do you remember asking me about this when we met? And do you in some way think of yourself as a translator?

renee gladman I have so many things to say, it’s hard to know where to start! I think your memory of our conversation, your reading of the Ravicka series, your questions to me about the pressures you experienced in the novels’ language—and then your asking me if I remember the conversation—somehow all encompass the architecture of writing for me. To be clear, though, I’m not sure I would ever say to an actual translator that I thought of myself as such. I don’t know any other language well enough to translate from it. But I would be holding something back if I didn’t say that so much of what I do and think has to do with translation.

Translation, like architecture, works as this wondrous analogue to the experience of writing, that strangeness of being a conscious presence moving inside and through language with this thing you’re holding, watching the thing change with very little control over the new shapes it takes, trying to evolve and shift with the changes. I have always loved, as a reader of works in translation, the way in which English is othered by the pressure of the original language, which still feels very present even though it’s no longer visible. I think my writing has been deeply influenced by that hum or atmosphere of the nonvisible language.

For example, I both love novels by the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare and am deeply frustrated when I’m reading them, as many of them were translated first into French and then English. That’s so bewildering to me, how far I am from the original text—and yet here is this book full of the knowledge and intent and fluency of the translators. I’m being asked to believe and give in to the experience of the multi-layered-ness of the book.

And this is why translation has been so important for me in my work and in my living: it’s a way of being present with that sense of knowing that not everything you’re feeling or experiencing is visible or legible. I’ve been after that knowing or non-knowing for a long time.

Translation, though, is more exact, right? In the sense that you aren’t necessarily left bewildered when you’ve finished a project or when you’ve gotten through a tough sentence.

kb I don’t know, to be honest: for myself, I am almost always, or very often, left bewildered. I look back on my published translations and think, I actually have no idea how I mustered the confidence to make those decisions. I am often rereading Barthes’s late lectures, and when I do, both old and new questions of translation arise for me again. There isn’t, or hasn’t yet been, any real sense of finishedness with that project, that material.

But reading your thoughts here, especially on this sensing of what is not visible, not yet brought into meaning, I am reminded of a passage that I love in Calamities, which I think of as your book of mornings, each essay narrating how you began the day, each one tracking its own wild line of flight from that contingent beginning. The passage is the one where you, or your narrator, is teaching, and you propose to your students that often, when reading a poem, you’re experiencing what you call “the grid.” And the grid is not the same thing as the motion of meaning and feeling and energy beneath it, what you call the “subterranean container.” You ask someone tall to come and help you draw looking down into something from above, to help visualize looking through this grid into the place below it, and in doing so you realize that that place is not in fact a container. It is itself another grid. But you’re running out of time, and you don’t have a chance to explain what this second, underlying grid is.

Part of what I love about this scene is how you make teaching into a drama of live thinking-together: a setting to risk working out something important in the moment, without knowing in advance where you might end up. But to me it also speaks so powerfully to the adventure of translating: there is an existing grid, a structure that’s given to you and that might appear initially to be relatively stable. And yet the more time you spend with it, the more you realize that it has all these holes, and pockets, maybe also torn or opaque parts. The task is to try to summon forth a new grid, a new structure, based on this existing one, but the point is, it doesn’t exist yet—it hasn’t been written yet—

rg I don’t want to get too metaphysical here, but can you say what the grid is in the instance of translation? Are we talking about the languages themselves or something else?

For some reason, I think of the combination of time, breath, and elongated thinking as fiction.

kb Something more local, I think: how sentences form a kind of net or gathered structuring within the vast, unlimited expanse of what’s called a language, like “French.”

What I was struck by in this description was the image of two open structures calling to each other—and the poem being the thing that holds them both, or being somehow composed of both, as well as the space or distance between them. I think a translation exists like this, too.

And now I am wondering whether what speaks to me so powerfully about your Ravickian project is the way the novels make palpable, almost physical, this calling forth of new structures, and how they use the space of fiction to do this. I think translation has a strong fictional element, if I can understand fiction as a summoning forth of what doesn’t yet exist. A translation also shares with fiction this strange demand it makes on the reader, exactly as you describe: to go along with it, to temporarily credit the peculiar idea that all this is happening in Ravicka, in Ravic, even as I read it in what I recognize as English…

rg I’m beyond excited that you’ve just written “translation has a strong fictional element.” It reminds me of something I read from the back copy of This Little Art, your meditation on translation and other related practices, such as reading, and being in time. The copy describes the book as “an essay with the reach and momentum of a novel.” To me, that’s one of the best things you could say about a piece of writing. It’s a really apt description of your book and is part of what draws me to it again and again. Above you wrote, “If I can understand fiction as a summoning forth of what doesn’t yet exist.” For me, that’s also the definition of the day. A series of expanses of water and land in need of bridges.

When I first read This Little Art, I was on a yearlong residency in Berlin. My days were very unstructured while I was there, and because I didn’t really have a space to write, I spent a lot of my time walking the city and sitting in cemeteries, where I would read and listen to music. I loved reading your book while I did this because the book seemed very unapologetic about the time and space it took to do what it wanted to do. The pace of the writing was utterly nourishing. It’s slow and presencing, almost as if it wants to teach the reader about thinking and breathing.

For some reason, I think of the combination of time, breath, and elongated thinking as fiction, or the making of space for fiction. And I’ve wanted to ask you about this. First, how you think of work—your work—in which the boundaries of essay and fiction are in a continuous blur. Is this something you thought about as you wrote This Little Art? And second, do you see yourself as spatializing thought in the book? And is that fiction for you?

I’m also really interested in the “why” of that book. Was it written as a response to an invitation to tell a story about translation, or was it more of a personal necessity, to address the bewilderment we were talking about earlier?

kb There is so much in what you’ve written here: you get so fast to the heart of what matters to me! Again I want to ask you: How do you know?

You write about the time and space the book takes to do what it wants to do. I’m glad this felt unapologetic. It offers me a way of answering your last question first, about the why of the book. I did want to do exactly this: to make a time and space for thinking about translation, for doing my own thinking. But I also wanted to invite others to think for that time and in that space with me—and part of this involved storying, making settings, describing scenes. I wanted to use all the resources because the project was to make translation appear as I experience it, as this phenomenally interesting, challenging, irreducible, expansive activity.

Holding that time and space open, just for myself, to begin with—well, it takes me a long time to figure out what I want a book to do, the spaces I want it to move through, the directions of thinking and feeling I want it to unfold in, and why. I can get very frustrated with myself. At how slow my progress can be, how many times I need to collapse the whole thing in order to start building it and rhythm-ing a way through it again.

I was talking about my new manuscript recently, and trying to explain why it is that the opening scene is more or less the same as it was four years ago, when I first sat down to write it, and yet has also been rewritten so many times. I said that the opening pages functioned a bit like a lift (an elevator for you?): a smallish, tightish space. It occurred to me that the reason those pages were taking me so long was I’d needed to be absolutely sure that I had everything the book required in there with me. Because once the doors had closed, those would be the things—the materials, the characters, the questions—that I’d be working with, taking up with me to the next floor.

I pictured—I still picture—the next floor up as this very free, very open space—underdetermined. It is the place you get to when a book is somewhat under way, once its terms of engagement have been formulated. I see it as an empty floor in a multi-story carpark. (I realize that’s not an obvious space of freedom!) But what I mean is a horizontal space that has almost no pre-given structure. Once I’m there, I’m free to start unpacking what I’ve brought with me, moving the things around, marking out zones and rooms. But the crucial part is getting up there in the first place. Also not forgetting anything, or anybody, the reader included…

Is this something like fiction for me? I’m trying to approach your question. I’d say that when I am working on a book, I do feel very conscious of making something, something physical, of volume and duration. And this kind of making—making a new structure capable of holding open a time and a space, whether in essay, fiction, or translation—involves a set of gestures that feel to me continuous with those of making something up.

Now I want to address your further question about fiction and essay, and I will. But first I’d like to turn the question about spatializing back to you and ask whether for you it is also an impulse to materialize. I am thinking about your drawing practice, but it’s there too in your writing: how the propositions you make are so alert to the specificity of the medium in which they are being articulated—which might be language, but language treated as just one possible material among others. The work seems so intensely aware of the different resources of other forms of expression, construction, proposition making (like drawing, or architecture): what holds them apart, but also where they potentially meet, tangle…

Sentences are always about the past, always about something that is already known or in evidence.

rg I’ve said this many times over the past couple of decades: writing in English (I’m specifying English here because I don’t want to speak for experiences in other languages) is an absolute trip.

It’s the line, the way we are asked to line up our thinking to make ourselves legible. There is an order you follow, a system of arranging words (and thereby emotions, desires, actions, impressions), rules for placing pauses and other forms of closure or continuance, and the result is a kind of story. No matter what we say, when we follow these rules, we produce some form of narrative. In order to communicate to you through sentences, I have to construct a story of whatever it is I want to say. That blows my mind.

Even just the presumption of subject and predicate in a sentence, the notion that these two are in a kind of preassigned correlation before the sentence begins—as if to start something means you know where you’re going to end up—is utterly mind-boggling to me.

In a way, writing like this makes me think sentences are always about the past, always about something that is already known or in evidence. So this is one form of materialization or pressure that exists when I sit down to write.

But you also used the word proposition, which is an important word for me, both in writing and in drawing. Despite the pressure to know, or to have already seen or done when writing, I find it hard not to acknowledge or engage the indeterminacy of the space in which writing is placed. I think that’s the grid I was writing about in that instance in Calamities. There’s the page, but there is also another space where the writing lands, an elsewhere it points to that is not entirely trackable. What you’re writing is materializing, but only parts of it are visible. I love this. I love what this does to fiction, and I love what it does to the essay—these spaces that are supposed to be (at least conventionally) conveyors of what is known or what has happened.

When I’m writing, I feel less as if I’m doing something to language than as if I’m trying to find ways to inhabit the space or time in the sentence—or between sentences—when knowing becomes non-knowing, or the reverse. When I was about a third into writing Calamities, which I often refer to as a collection of “essay-fictions,” I realized something amazing was being offered to me: the experience of exploring a kind of directionlessness within a space built upon knowing where you’re going and what you want to say, on having an argument. And it wasn’t a directionlessness that meant I was lost; rather it meant I was wandering, meandering, allowing myself to spiral (get dizzy), to see where I ended up. It was fascinating to do this in language, where you’re still trying to carry meaning, to sustain some type of legibility.

The fiction part, for me, happens where the form breaks, where autobiography gets tangled with wonder. How do you relate to these terms, “essay” and “fiction,” and their possible blurring?

kb I feel like I am now closer to understanding what the line means to you. I want to know more about how and when the form breaks for you, whether this relates to a form of escape: an escape or breaking out from the space you thought you were writing in?

rg In the case of Calamities, it’s easy to explain. In one way, by opening each essay with “I began the day,” I seem to be insisting on a kind of autobiographical space. I knew at the time that I was interested in taking a break from fiction (impossible) and writing about nothing (also kind of impossible), and my way of doing this was using the day as a point of departure.

I was enjoying, earlier in our conversation, how you referred to the professor in the poem/grid calamity as “you,” believing that I was that person trying to teach that lesson and failing. This is where the entanglement happens. In each calamity there is a point of truth—I did, in fact, teach Ed Roberson’s poems to a group of students, and we did, in fact, run out of time on one particular day, and in that moment I did feel the impossibility of ever being able to say what I needed to say about reading Roberson’s poems in general. But the actual writing of the essay is fictional. The trying I was after (in the sense that to essay is to try) didn’t belong to the autobiographical details of the experience I have lived but rather to my desire to use the sentence to trace the contours of the experience. I would argue that the impulse was essayistic but the result was fictional.

Now, your turn.

kb The book I have been writing since This Little Art, called The Long Form, has at its heart what I think of as a distinctive, very common, but not exclusive or incomparable, situation of address: the intensive address between a woman and a baby. They are each listening out for each other, calling to each other, responding to each other, more or less constantly, through the day. But they are also listening and responding to other forces, presences, ideas. I wanted to widen the scope of call and response. To let other people’s books and thinking come into the space of my book and inflect the dynamic of this particular relation, without there needing to be some strong plot-based rationale for them doing so—just let them press in, like the light falling in from the window, or the water plumbed into the radiator in a room. Because I think this is what life is like. I don’t think there is one protected space for stories and a separate space for thinking or questions; they seem to me to be always connected, always producing each other.

So yes, absolutely, this blurring was something I was thinking about when writing This Little Art. But I have been thinking about it even more intensively since, writing more consciously in the space of the novel, through my decision not to write another book in the first person but to work for the first time with the third person, which seems to me to offer more room, more mobility, more of this capacity to draw possible people, ideas, settings, practices together, even in unlikely and improbable ways, to ask how they relate or what they might mean to each other.

rg The way you talked about composing your novel, that sense of moving between floors, carrying what you need with you, arriving at a new floor and placing those things, coincides perfectly with how, in preparing for our conversation, I’d been trying to describe the way you move between genres in your work. I was feeling uncomfortable with my usual manner of talking about the essay and fiction as adjacent fields with some electric, blurring line between them. It just doesn’t work when I think about This Little Art—or the glimpses of The Long Form that I’ve seen, or the essay “The Novel as Arc Lamp” you contributed to this issue of The Yale Review. The image that stuck was that of a very tall structure whose floors are collapsing into the ones below them, but never crashing. Yet collapsing doesn’t really work either, because the lower floors are moving through the upper ones as well. This is a kind of Ravickian phenomenon.

I find that in your writing, one sentence may read as if we’re in a fiction, and with the next one we’re in a biography, and the following is a metanarrative moment…then you’re writing through some cultural theory. It’s like the genres are appearing as pulses rather than fields. So it’s even more intriguing to think of the long form (not your current project, but the manner of writing you’re proposing) as an expanse full of beats or pulses or breaths. Can you talk more about your awareness of these different registers of thinking, with their varying relationships to truth and reference, when you are writing? What is the force that arranges?

kb An expanse full of beats or pulses or breaths—you have articulated so precisely my hopes for the reading experience of the book. I think one way of answering would be my ongoing interest in domestic spaces as the common, complex spaces where life happens, where thinking happens, where politics gets done, where critical questions about how to actually live together—in rooms, in bodies, in buildings, in proximity, across distance and difference and non-understanding—are worked out. Or where they may not be worked out, in the sense of resolved, but where they cannot help but be broached. I think there is, if not truth exactly, then very real, consequential questions and all manner of provisional answers being tested out and risked there.

But with this comes the question of phrasing: How to phrase these questions, these answers? In what register, with what vocabulary? So much of the pulse of this new book comes from a rhythm of phrasing and rephrasing: making a first effort at phrasing and then offering a rephrasing; asking a question in a scene of fictional living, then seeing what happens to it, to the call, the response, when it’s asked again in the language of philosophy. I don’t think either discourse is necessarily more articulate, more effective. Rather, I am interested in observing what happens when a question gets passed from hand to hand, body to body, sphere to sphere like this, passed through different registers. What each new phrasing adds, what it releases…

But what is the force that arranges all of this? With This Little Art, I realize, whatever energy it has comes in large part from this return to the first person, to my narrating self. Scenes from my life and thinking act as an organizing pulse. In The Long Form, I didn’t want to do this. One of the book’s repeating questions comes from Gertrude Stein, a line lifted from her A Novel of Thank You: Who can think about a novel. (She writes the question without a question mark). Her bold response in the next sentence is: I can. On the one hand, I feel very energized by her claim to capacity. I can. I can think about what on earth a novel is. To an extent, I want to make that claim, too, to inhabit the right to think. But only to an extent. Because on the other, it feels important that the response of the new book be not “I can,” but “This can.” This fictional living situation, this arrangement of relations. This—not I—is what is doing the thinking, when there is thinking going on. I am in there, obviously, indirectly. But I am not the book’s sole intelligence or sensibility— not at all. Of course, this was also true of This Little Art. There are many other thinking-feeling people with me in there, too. Perhaps what I am trying to say is: I now believe even more emphatically in books as collective productions; what sustains a composition is not the force of a single person, but the more impersonal vibe generated by and between its participants. This is why I need all those things (a younger woman, a baby, a plant) in the elevator with me: because they are not-me, and in the book, they think for me, as well as very differently from me, and whatever we make happen we make happen together.

But now, after invoking the question of what the novel is, I want to ask you to say something more about long forms, about the novel, and what it has been for you, and if your relationship to the form has changed through the process of writing the Ravicka series. I want to know more about your practice of the novel, how you describe it to yourself.

The vastness of space is unponderable to me.

rg I gave a lecture in 2015 called “The Sentence as a Space for Living,” where I tried to create a history of my thinking about being in writing and being while writing, and how this has always related to both physical and imaginary structures. How writing happens both in and around the body, and how the body is both inside and outside the sentence. This is important to me because I’ve never been able to write without the story of my writing—sitting in a chair, at a table, in a day, wearing a certain T-shirt, etc.—infiltrating the work somehow. Maybe not the specifics of the story, but the sense that I or my narrator can’t quite get past the simple marvel that I and we are writing.

For me, to novel—noveling—is a process of working in which these two (at least two) levels of existing are woven together, and that means I have to pay special attention to the unfolding sentences and the gathering paragraphs because this is where I experience the braid of living and imagining at once.

Many of the Ravickians describe themselves as “Novelians,” and many of their statements or stories about the past, or about their readings of the day—the weather, the map of the city, the migrating buildings—are referred to as novels. The novel is where you can unravel the known with questions, or just by leaving the holes in our everyday experiences unrepaired. In Ravicka, if you are fortunate enough to live in one of the invisible houses, you learn that you must use your breath in order to navigate the space. Breathing makes the hallway that opens into the room you need at the moment; breathing puts a floor below you; it allows you to enter or exit a room or the house itself. I wanted breathing to be synonymous with language passing. I wanted being in the sentence as a reader to feel like walking through architectures or across landscapes, and I wanted the idea of occupying architectures— buildings, homes—to feel like writing (later drawing), and for all of this to feel like a living document, and this is the novel.

It’s funny to think about “the long form.” I absolutely identify with that concept, but I also laugh because I’m lucky if my novels reach a hundred pages in manuscript. And perhaps this is why it’s been difficult for me to shed the designation “poet,” which has followed me my entire writing career.

kb I wonder if there is a way of thinking about length (duration) which has nothing to do with page numbers. Or to put this another way: I feel that your novels open up duration—extended time, expanding time, breath, capaciousness—in ways that have nothing to do with the number of pages!

rg Yes, for me it is this sense of a present that is so large you can’t see around it that shapes the writing experience. I’m obsessed with duration, horizon, field: these words that suggest time, movement, and container at once. But it’s a container that is always expanding. Pointing back to the sentence as a living, breathing structure, moving as you move, changing, changing you. I’m mystified by the time inside of writing, how to account for it. And I think about the different directions of time in a sentence—all the history of use in a word, all the portals hidden in a word—then moving from that one to the next one, full of its own deep, resonant spaces, all put together into a description of something or a retelling of a memory. So time is retreating and progressing and circling and just stopping in each sentence. And at the end of a sentence or group of sentences, all I’ve done is moved my narrator a little bit down the street. It feels epic to me.

I’d love to know more about your vision of the “long form” as a way of building a text. We’ve already established we’re not necessarily talking about page numbers…Maybe something that has more to do with time and experience?

kb “The Long Form” is a borrowed phrase, a translated phrase, to begin with. It’s another way Roland Barthes has of saying “novel” in his lecture course on wanting to write one. For Barthes, the “long” does have to do with length, with quantity, but formulated as a problem: of continuing, carrying on. He was interested in how length is achieved. How to sequence smaller, shorter bits of writing, how to move from one and connect to another. In other words, how to keep going. It’s a composition problem but also, in a way, a life problem. What does it take and what does it feel like to keep going?

This is what interests me about the novel. I know poems move, I know essays also move; clearly it’s rare for them to stay in the same place, in the same key, register, mood. But for me this is the novel’s specificity: its extraordinary, stretched capacity for modulation. How a novel can bring you to the sense of something ending, or falling apart, and then, somehow, regather, find new resources, carry on—a new chapter. It’s a well-known thing I’m saying, really: novels simply tend to go on for longer than other forms. Because of this they have room and time. But these obvious, much-noted qualities—I don’t find them in any way trivial. I find them completely fascinating, first as a reader, now as a writer. They matter; they must do something, and part of the project of The Long Form has been to work out what.

But there’s also a different, less obvious way of understanding “the long,” which I identify with your Ravickian novels: “long” as a descriptor for the kinds of undertakings, engagements, relations in which the duration is not given in advance. Where it is not already made clear from the outset how long the thing will stay with you, or you’ll stay with it. You wrote earlier of “a present that is so large you can’t see around it,” and I think this approaches what I mean: “long” as the name for a duration that is fundamentally unaccountable, uncalculatable.

Very short forms might be long in this way, too. A thought which for me opens the vast, ancient question of form. You wrote something earlier about life, living, the novel as a living document: I have a line copied out from The Ravickians which says, “Well for a long time, as a thing is being made, you cannot tell whether it is growing or dying.” I feel I share with you, strongly, this wonderment at the simple marvel of writing. I can write something down and think, Yes, something has been invoked. Or at least, Now there’s something where a moment ago there was nothing. A potential world has opened. But then the question becomes: How to sustain it? How not to kill it? I wonder if and when you can tell that you have made a living thing. Which might be a way of asking, How does your work achieve its forms?

rg An utterly moving and bottomless set of questions. I’m trying to figure out how to say this enormous thing.

I think about outer space a lot. The vastness of space is unponderable to me. I try to think about it, and my brain breaks. I try to think about our solar system, how far the planets are from each other, and how, as far off as Neptune is, for example, how little heat reaches it, it’s still circling, though incredibly slowly, the sun. When I read about how “old” the solar system is—a book I read the other day reported almost 4.6 billion years—I begin to think how, at some point, time becomes distance. Like, somehow it breaks my brain just a little less to not have to try to imagine what 4.6 billion years feels like, to think instead that maybe after a few million—or just a thousand—there’s some conversion to physical distance. My point is, I think this equation, this incomprehensible perplexity, is acting on us at every level. So it’s like I’m too in awe of language emerging from me to worry about its livingness or dyingness. As long as I’m existing within these paradoxes of time, space, direction, experience, and so on, whatever I produce is charged with this phenomenal non-knowing, non-containing of who we are.

I always see writing and drawing as gifts, moments that allow me to make contact with the hum that is an ever-present signal of—I don’t know—all the everything that is ongoing at once. I work toward forms that allow for clearings and crossings and circlings and elsewheres, where things can come into and out of appearance at will. But I find that I still need a container—the exquisite rectangle of the prose block, the edges of a city, the walls or hallways of a structure—for their enactment. I still want to be a little bit understood and met. Well, maybe a lot understood and met.

kb I feel very—encouraged? enabled? Let’s say I feel a great quantity of feelings reading this, what you offer as a possibility. To trust in the capacity of language to receive a charge—the charge of one’s own being there, attending to it, in a setting, in the world, right now—it makes me think about what we’ve been doing here. How we decided that we would do this—write to each other—with as much actual mutual presentness as possible, even though we live a great distance apart, in different time zones. How we needed a container, a set hour, over three days or so, which spilled and extended into two hours, three hours, writing until we were both buzzing and exhausted.

rg And really there is no way to close this because the number of floors through which we’re thinking is infinite. There will always be something to put next to something else, above or inside something else. But I’m so grateful for this opportunity we’ve had to combine our thinking spaces, to blur our times.

kb I want to say: I feel understood and met.

rg I absolutely do, too.

Kate Briggs is the author of This Little Art. She is also the translator of two volumes of Roland Barthes’s lecture notes, The Preparation for the Novel and How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, and co-translator of Michel Foucault’s Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology. She teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Renee Gladman is a writer and artist preoccupied with crossings, thresholds, and geographies as they play out at the intersections of poetry, prose, drawing, and architecture. She is the author of thirteen books, including One Long Black Sentence, a series of white-ink drawings on black paper.
Originally published:
December 1, 2021

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