Kate Zambreno Your novel Permission follows Fearn Wren, a pseudonymous narrator who has embarked upon an experiment—to write a series of “notes” over email to an unnamed artist. These notes consist of meditations and interrogations on writing, memory, atrocity, and solitude, among other concerns. Wren sets out the terms of this experiment quite strictly at its origin: the notes (not letters, Wren insists, not journal entries) will comprise a book, of which this chosen recipient will be the first reader and whose begged-for silence will operate as tacit permission. I was struck by how contemporary these concerns are while nonetheless engaged with the slow, weird birth of the novel as Henry James’ “baggy monster.” It’s a history Wren is quite aware of, with sources in both the bourgeois epistolary novel and nineteenth-century adventures in serial publication. (I’m twinning this in my mind as I Love Dickens. Forgive me for the pun—I just taught Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick, a work that Permission reminds me of formally, in the idea of a one-sided correspondence with a famous thinker that allows the narrator to essay, to attempt, to come into being as a writer, and also in just how radically discursive both works are: novels daring to be philosophy and how this is, in a way, not permitted in our contemporary landscape.) Which brings me to the reader, this reader we as novelists are supposed to be always hyperaware of—what the reader wants, what the reader likes, what the reader needs. I love this concept that I see in Permission of the writer-narrator taking an ideal reader somewhat hostage.
But I was also intrigued by how your work circled around questions of a contemporary readership, and whether this reader, even if only one, is necessary for the writer to be a writer, that one has to know now one will be read in order to actually write. Does the writer exist anymore without the reader? I have been thinking lately that Pessoa’s scraps or Rilke’s notebooks seem impossible in our current age, although writing to some degree always seems impossible. I have been thinking lately too of how writing for me involves, somehow, a need for witness, both to witness others and to be witnessed, an idea of writing as communication that Permission speaks to as well. And also how this is a contemporary concern—the need for an immediate readership, for writing to occur somewhat in a public or semi-public space, and how technology can ease this pressure, a pressure felt not only by writers, of recognition and of witness.
I feel now I have taken you hostage with my litany of questions, but I really just want to hear your thoughts on the contemporary reader and readership, and the notion of writing as communication and witness, and perhaps, yes, something of technology, and how you philosophized this within Permission.