j/j hastain is the author of several cross-genre books including the trans-genre book libertine monk (Scrambler Press), anti-memoir a vigorous (Black Coffee Press/ Eight Ball Press) and the xyr trilogy (a metaphysical romance). j/j’s writing has most recently appeared in Caketrain, Trickhouse, Housefire, Bombay Gin and Aufgabe. j/j has been a guest lecturer at Naropa University and University of Colorado.
j/j's piece "Subsection from XYR" appears in Issue Thirty-Six of The Collagist.
Here, j/j speaks to interviewer Joseph Scapellato about the violence of pronouns, writing-as-activism, and narratives that perform smear.
1. Where did “Subsection from XYR” begin for you, and how did it get to here?
I have been working a lot lately with what it might be to create an inclusive declension. A pronoun or site of reference that is literally a place where queers (and queer allies) can sort of rest in indelible accuracy for a while. Feel ourselves being held.
This work has felt necessary to me, because to identify with an accurate pronoun is to begin to be able to flow, to rant. For folks for whom binary-derived pronouns do not fit or resonate, it is sometimes difficult to just tell our realities, speak of our bodies, our desires—so, engaging embodied understanding of the intensities of the violences that inaccurate pronoun uses can induce, is really an activism for me. “Xyr” came in as a form of resistance—as creative relief of the violences of particular assumptions in regard to binary-based pronouns. The subsection published at The Collagist is part of a full length, work which is part of a trilogy (The Xyr Trilogy: a Metaphysical Romance).
2. I love that you’ve described this engagement as activism. To what extent do you think that the act of writing is—or could be, or should be—activism?
I think that the extent that someone treats it as activism combined with the reverberative effects of the writing are what indicate it as activism or not. I do not think that all writing (or all art) has to be activist, and I also think that there are different levels/layers in regard to activisms in writing. Some writing indicates itself as activist by way of its content (see Bell Hooks, Alfred Whitehead, even some of Leslie Feinberg’s), and I also think that there are activist writings for which content is not the dominant concern (kari edwards, David Wolach, etc.). I guess to me, it all depends on the position of one’s heart and hands.
3. One of the many things I enjoy about this piece is the artful interplay between concrete physical actions—
show xem that it is erotic for you to be wrapping xem. to be keeping xem. "try not to breathe, it will be ok." then when half way through: "ok, breathe from just your nostrils." then all at once: "try to breathe with your whole body, now. right now." hold xem as the metal wire cuts in.
—and assertive lyrical abstractions—
to occupy and be occupied by torrent, as a way to birth a phenom-colossi; an our in what was ever previously an isolated my.
To me, this resonates with this piece’s pronoun-transformations: pronouns, after all, are assertive abstractions that attempt to evoke “concrete” physical genders. Can you talk a little more about how you conceive of the relationship between the concrete and the abstract in this work? (And/or your use of pronouns in this piece?)
Well, I think I may have done some of this above, but I certainly have more to say about it! You are right about the tension (but like hinge, not like disagreement) that is created by “concrete physical actions” and “assertive lyrical abstractions.” For me, these work together to generate both distinct, but also blurred view (which is important when creating space to can hold more than something singular).
You mention pronouns as “assertive abstractions [attempting to] evoke concrete physical genders.” I think that generally (especially in the context of binary pronoun attributions from sites exterior to the bodies which are being referred) this is the case (and is part of what is in need of renovation), but in order to push/inhabit the place that I am proposing by way of Xyr, whether or not the genders being referred to are “physical,” need to be flexible. Of course as a base of any current conversation regarding gender, is the need to differentiate gender from sex (just thought I would throw that in here to be sure we are on the same page).
I guess I am saying that I would feel ok sharing an accurate reference with a seraph—that in fact I would prefer sharing an accuracy with a not-even-fully-materialized being over having a pronoun schlepped onto my shoulders simply because of a historical norm or a lack of having had renovating view applied to a space (as my body is, as many queer bodies are) in need of renovated view.
I sort of just went off there, but what else could be expected when invited to speak about pronouns! Thank you!
As far as abstraction vs concrete in Xyr, I would say that there is a necessary continuum of shifting, of sway—that a sort of inner rhythm between many components (including concrete act and abstraction—but also including image, sound, narrative that performs smear, etc.) allows Xyr as a whole, to be a conglomerate with many interacting features. I want whole brain, whole body stimulations! I like to think of The Xyr Trilogy as a moat made of many pieces of stained glass, held together by honey. It is fragile, but if you are careful in it (and try to engage it by moving with it as sway (as opposed to by rigidly)) AND if a primary interest of yours is to experience unforeseen illuminations, then you certainly can cross and find!
4. I’d love it if you elaborated on the idea of a “narrative that performs smear”—what exactly do you mean by “smear”? (What’s being smeared? How does one go about creating this effect? And what are some examples of other narratives that perform smear?)
Sure! When I say narrative that performs smear, I am talking about narrative with its intents not solely focused on linearly upholding a certain sequence of events by way of structural and modal limit. So, diffuse, but at the same time not unable to indicate specificities specifically (in Wikipedia, Diffuse Interreflection is discussed as a process whereby light reflected from an entity, touches other objects in surrounding zones, illuminating them as well). Performance of smear is the narrative mode that I created in order to move through the pages of Xyr so that there is in fact simultaneously the articulation of a story (figures experiencing certain physical and non-physical events) and the possibility for the form to stay open enough that psychic/intuitive data be able to remain in it. Intents, points, meanings, possibilities are all being smeared slowly, musically. Maybe we could think of this as the embodied act of infinitely wandering a sonorous mandala, seeking all forms of stimuli (divergent to form/intent or not)—as sensations leaking through somnambulist or only partially visible presences.
I would say that in their own way Anna Joy Springer, Melissa Buzzeo, N. Brossard, JA Tyler, Robert Gluck and some of Bhanu Kapil’s paragraphs also perform smear (though they would probably call their engagement/s with narrative something different).
5. In your bio, you mention that you’re currently curating an Anthology of Queer Nudes. Will you tell us about this project, and how it does/doesn’t intersect with “Subsection from XYR”?
The Anthology of Queer Nudes is a project that has been in the works for a while now (and still has a while to go). The premise of the book (when KFS Press and I were initially discussing it) was to make a space for the queer body and the queer page to be examined by those of us whom identify as queer (so we could be speaking for ourselves). The project has really branched out into various manifestations though, a bigger scope than I had initially imagined. Of course, the expanding of scope is always a gift, so I am excited! The Anthology of Queer Nudes definitely shares residual traces with Xyr (I mean, as a queer I feel emancipated by The Xyr Trilogy so I would imagine other Queer identifying (and Queer allied) folks might feel honored/ held by it). However, as is stated in the Extro in Xyr, the book does not claim any universal queer experience, so maybe the best idea would be to ask folks how it made them feel once the full length is published?
If you are someone who identifies in the above stated way and wishes to get in contact with me about appearing in the book please feel free to send me an email!
6. What other writing projects are you working on right now?
Perhaps this is a good time to flesh out what the other two books in the Xyr trilogy are like. Xyr is a system of smeary sketches of figure becoming lover in gender-specifying space (or, at least that is one way to describe it) in response to three of HOUSEFIRE Press’ prompts as well as by many bibliomancies performed on the pages of very old journals.
The second book (called Xems) is a radical POV change from the inter-echoing between the lovers in Xyr (Xyr and eventually the revealing of a second Xyr) to a third figure introduced into the double-Xyr space (which is a space eventually revealed as Xems (a double possessive)). Xems takes place in Xems home/body setting (where the third figure is staying, renting the house) after the fact of a single-Xyr death. In Xems, a new feminism of frenzy is being considered by way of the third figure looking at and feeling Xems by way of Xems opera of grief (which begins with that third figure slipping fingers into the back portion (the hand-written pages) of the published opera of grief, after digging it up from the garden in back of Xems house).
The third book (called Letters to the Divergents: A Cryptozoologic for Xems) is comprised of a nearly a hundred letters to various species that are referred to (by that third figure in the Xems book) as “Divergents” because they are not believed in (mythological forms, as with Nessie or Sasquatch, etc.), under-related-to because they are not well known (as with the Olm (blind amphibian)) or simply because they are despised by the status quo (the Tongue Eating Louse). In the final book of The Xyr Trilogy the third figure (introduced in Xems) courts The Divergents by way of threading them to the enigmatic Xems throughout intercessory-interventionist letters.
7. What knock-out writing have you been reading recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?
Oh yes! I have been reading DMT: The Spirit Molecule (just for the sake of really getting into the pineal gland and its wild emissions!) and Mystics, Masters, Saints and Sages. Jeanne Hyvrard, Helene Cixous and Marguerite Duras always knock me out. I am looking forward to reading Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl (though not exactly an upcoming release it is new to me). I also think Dzanc’s The Freak Chronicles looks really exciting!