In Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through (Coffee House, June), Fleischmann, a former PW contributor, explores art, gender, and power.
This book takes on many different forms—poetry, memoir, art, and literary criticism. What appeals to you about writing across multiple genres, and what are some of its challenges?
Each of the two recurring forms in the book tries to tell the story of a relationship. An essay in verse narrates a protracted romantic friendship, and autobiographical prose narrates the ecstatic start of a new love. As much as the formal distinction holds across the two relationships, each also shares some obsessions—the visual artist Félix González-Torres and ice—and each bleeds into the other. I’m thinking about what extends beyond a romance, beyond a death, beyond a rupture in self. Trying to see what can extend across forms is one way to do that. As far as the challenges, I think I would find it more difficult to tell a story in only one way, or to limit myself to only one form of thought.
You write about resisting labels, including those around gender identity—how does this resistance inform your writing, and what does it open up for writers in general?
The trans moment we’re having can feel uniquely troubled, with misunderstandings and the violence of surveillance but not necessarily political or material gains. It is also, like you said, an opening, and a way to revel in both old and new traditions of thought. This is part of what draws me to the art of González-Torres. As a gay Cuban refugee living with AIDS in the early 1990s, the conditions of his own life were the subject of mass cultural debate and ignorance, yet he still found ways to think about that life on his own terms, and to offer something of it to his audience. We need more ways to think about our lives, and what is happening to our world. Autobiography helps me in trying to find my way there, even when the cultural conversation makes autobiography feel particularly fraught.
How can artists resist power and oppressive systems, as you write about González-Torres doing?
Beauty is the best way I know to resist power. Like Emma Goldman said: a revolution has to include dancing. But what’s important, I think, is that every person be given the tools to resist these systems on her own terms. The revolution we need is political, it is economic, but it is also personal, sexual, domestic—a yell and a song. The movement to resist these systems is ongoing, and like love or art, it is always more than one thing.