Poetic, intelligent, and unrelenting, Katherine Angel’s Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell is a “thinking woman’s meditation” on sexual desire, language, politics, and the quest for individual liberation.

How’d you come up with the title?

The word “unmastered” started swimming about in my head a few months into the writing, and it immediately felt important. Then, rereading [Virginia] Woolf’s diaries, I found the quote I used—“Why do we like the frantic, the unmastered?”—and that nailed it. “Unmastered” has many resonances: mastering oneself and one’s desires; unmastering oneself from other people’s narratives; the gender connotations of “master”; “unmastered” as in raw, not smoothed over, but also undisciplined, un-cowed.

How does the elliptical writing mirror the fickleness of desire?

It was a way of capturing what it felt like to dwell on questions about sexuality—an experience that is shifting, multiple, unresolved, ambivalent. The form allows for tension, as well as for quietness, spaciousness, and curiosity. It was a way to open things up rather than close them down. It suggests there is pleasure to be found in spaciousness.

Talk about your use of the word “fuck.”

The book is deeply about wanting, and finding, your own words, even while language and desire are always social. And I love the word “fuck”! It’s great: libidinal, aggressive, performative, playful. There’s a pleasure to using it—playing with its eroticism and its anger. But I also use it to point to how phrases such as “fuck me” can be used performatively: within writing, within sex, and within gender relations.

Why did you choose to write about your abortion?

I wanted to point to the terrible bind women can find themselves in, due to the powerful rubric of guilt and the punitive language around abortion. I felt stupid for getting accidentally pregnant; I then felt distress about the abortion; but then I felt guilty about that, because voices expressing sadness about abortion are often co-opted into attempts to undermine reproductive freedom. That lack of space for women to honestly explore their feelings about a complex experience is not acceptable; no politics should silence women.

Does feminism offer any solutions to the conflicts women face over desire?

A helpful and transformative feminism has to accommodate the complexities of desire, rather than reduce them. I need a feminism that is companionable, empathetic, and spacious, as well as critical and sharp-eyed—a feminism that is supportive in the task of navigating sexuality in a world where, for women in vastly different circumstances, desire and pleasure can be incredibly fraught. I think a feminism fit for purpose is one that refuses any shaming of any woman’s desire.