The Karen Houle Interview

Karen Houle’s university degrees focused first on biology, then history & philosophy of science, and finally political philosophy. As an academic, she is the author of numerous articles on the following thinkers: Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Michel Foucault, Spinoza, Jacques Derrida, & Luce Irigaray, and the following subjects: animality, plant ontology, micropolitics, friendship, copyright, & reproductive technology. With Jim Vernon (York University), she co-edited a book of essays on Hegel and Deleuze (2013, Northwestern), and with Suzanne McCullagh and Casey Ford, she co-edited a second book of essays entitled: Minor Ethics: Deleuzian Variations (2021, McGill-Queens). Houle completed a monograph titled Toward a New Image of ThoughtResponsibility, Complexity and Abortion (2013, Lexington Press, Outsources Series). That was 2013. In 2022, due to the turmoil that is the rollback of Roe v. Wade, the book is showing up again as a critical resource for thinking more deeply and complexly about abortion and reproductive rights. She is the author of three books of poetry: Ballast (published in 2000 by House of Anansi Press), During (published in 2005 by Gaspereau Press), and The Grand River Watershed: A Folk Ecology (published in 2019 by Gaspereau Press). She has also published numerous essays on and about art and art making in non-academic venues like CV-2 and Jeu de Paume.


This interview took place on Saturday, March 18th on the land known as Guelph, Ontario. It has been edited for clarity. 

Kevin Andrew Heslop: What’s a good thought that you’ve had lately? 

Karen Houle: Oh, that’s great. A good thought that I’ve had lately. I had a new thought lately. Does that count? No? A good thought. 

We’ll accept new. 

Well it’s not easy to have a new idea or to see a new thing. 

True. 

I went to the Christi Belcourt show that was at the Art Gallery of Guelph. It was so good. And I saw a piece that was called The Fish Are Fasting for Knowledge from the Stars. That was the name of the piece. And what it was was a side-view of ice that has an ice-fishing hole; and beneath it are maybe five or six species of freshwater fish. It was very well done. There’s a whitefish; there’s a pickerel; there’s two kinds of bass; and then there’s a dark night and a constellation. And honestly I had never ever imagined that there was a relationship between  creatures in the water and the sky. 

Mm. 

I had no idea: I just had this terrestrial bias that it was only beings on the solid earth that have something to do with—But of course not. So I felt really happy about realizing that there’s a connection between the stars and the planets and what lives in the waters. I hadn’t thought about that. 

Mm. Mm. I feel like recognition of the importance of the dissolution of bias is central to a lot of your writing. How to frame this as a question? Bias and habit and the importance of dissolving both of those. I don’t know anything about Hegel but if I did I’d maybe want to ask whether you can create better and better habits, progressively improve incrementally the habits that you entertain—or are habits certainties, fixed points that are equally problematic?

I’m more the latter. I don’t know Hegel very well either and I certainly wasn’t a Hegel scholar but one of the main ideas of Hegel is the dialectic, which would be continual slow improvement back and forth, back and forth, but that’s not how I see it. 

Right. 

I see it as an infinite fabric of differences and capacities that are just shifting. 

Mm. 

So it’s not meritocracy or there’s a frame of Better and Worse. It’s just like, Oh, you have these habits. Within your little bubble, those habits do what? And maybe those habits accomplish something: maybe you’d like to be a lucid dreamer or maybe you’d like to run for MPP. Are the habits you now have conducive to that or not? 

Mm. Mm. 

And the chances are they’re not or that some of them can actually be swapped out. So that’s what my interest is, is swapping out the habits—not to have an overall improvement but to broaden your repertoire, your repertoire of being. 

So if you’re running for office you have habits which are conducive or not. 

Or not. 

And appreciating that they’re both-and. 

They’re both-and: Where does this one take you? Where might this one take you? 

What is the office that you’re running for? What’s the point on the horizon that you’re moving towards? 

And what’s the skillset that might make that set of labours feel joyful to you rather than really awful? So, just thinking about the habits, repertoires, and mindsets, knowing that those can all be shifted even if it doesn’t seem like it: they can all be shifted, within limits. We have human bodies; we don’t have fish bodies. 

I was talking to a guy called Jeffrey Preston recently—disability-studies scholar, writer, speaker out of King’s University College at Western—and he was advocating for the teaching of policy in elementary and high schools not to instil some sense of civic duty but rather to make it very explicit that policies are fictions, that some consensus had simply been achieved around them, that they’re plastic and pliable and can be made anew. 

Oh, that’s very good. I appreciate that so much because when the Ford government comes in and says, No more of X, I think, You’re not just wiping out X; you’re wiping out 20 or 200 years of policymaking among the people, among the Arendtian people. That’s what pisses me off more than anything. It’s better to change a policy than to get rid of a policy, I think. Something like that. 

Change rather than deletion. 

I think I have to order up there. Do you want something to eat, drink? 

I’ve got a kombucha; I’m good at the moment. 

Are you sure? 

Yes, thank you. 

*Karen stands and goes to order fries*

*Karen returns*

Are you well? 

I’m very well. 

Oh, I’m glad. 

Yeah. 

You’ve been gallivanting around and I’ve been following those movements and I’m just like, Go Kevin Go. 

Right, right. Yeah. There will be a ticket for you to Finland—I figure we’ll fly into Helsinki. What’s the nearest—Toronto, I guess? 

Toronto to Helsinki is a quick one, yeah. 

Maybe a VIA ticket will be—So it will be at the VIA station for you. I’ll leave on the first of May and be in Serbia for the month of May and then Finland for the month of June and then Denmark. There’s a gathering of family in early September—

Where in Denmark? 

Viborg. I’ll be there for the month and a bit, then back to Montréal, then Costa Rica.

Again. 

To all of these destinations there will be tickets waiting for you. 

*laughs* Oh, I love the north countries the best: Finland and Denmark and Estonia. Those are my favourite places. They really are. 

What did they figure out that we haven’t here yet? 

Better prenatal, perinatal social support. Better paternal/maternal support. 

Mhmm. 

That’s one. Public saunas in every neighbourhood. Better bike lanes. That’s Copenhagen but not necessarily Finland. Have you been to Sudbury? Because Sudbury and Helsinki have the same—You’re biking along and there’s fucking Cambrian shield the bus has to go up and around. It’s beautiful and strange. Helsinki is just perfect. The architecture there is perfect. 

Does something have to be strange to be beautiful, I wonder. 

Oh, no. 

It can be very familiar. 

A straight line can be beautiful. 

No relation. 

Helsinki’s a good-sized city: it’s not too big, not too small, so it can sort of pull inwards. There would be the opera house there, which is exquisite, so from the opera house you can see this little funny island with this little old dance thing and from there you can see this old city hall from Kalio, and from there you can look down to the port and then from the port you can see across to where all the little cottages are. It’s interesting that way. 

Server: Spicy virgin caesar? 

Thank you. 

Server: Enjoy. 

Thanks. I like cities like that, that sort of open up and show you more of themselves, and then you find the perimeter. I did try to bike to the airport there. It was a disaster. 

Was it? 

Although I found a really groovy new neighbourhood that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Where are you going to stay? Have you got accommodations figured out? 

Not yet in Denmark but in Belgrade I’ll be at a place called the Belgrade Art Studio and in Finland at a place—I can’t pronounce the name of the city: it has more vowels and consonants than most words I’ve acquainted myself with so far. 

*laughs* 

But it’ll be at a place with a meditation hall and a traditional Finnish sauna from 1967. 

So beautiful. I’d like to open a public sauna here. It’s one of my dreams. I don’t think I’ll have time. Not a spa: a sauna, a public bath. 

Mm, mm. What are the other ten million things that you’re doing—or maybe just nine million of them? 

There’s the Water Hostage Release Project, which has done very, very well. Now it’s technically at the level that I wanted it to be, so that will basically run itself and be international. There’s the Unbook of the Month Club. There’s the Compost Queens of the Royal City: we do education and compost-consults with schools, institutions, businesses, community gardens. Build some. Work with restaurants. There’s the Food from Home Project for newcomers. There’s the Art Boxes. And there’s the mushroom growing and education. And I’m also writing quite a bit.

Poetry and—

—And a novel. I’ve got a novel. I think it’ll be a novel. I’m not sure. 

Mm. 

Mhmm. 

They all fit together though, so it doesn’t feel like there are parts that can’t. They’re fitting together. They’re moving but they fit together. 

I think of this line of Randy Lundy’s, which is something like, Metaphor is startling not because it creates a connection between the two things that you hadn’t thought were connected before but rather that it reveals a pre-existing connection between two things that you hadn’t recognized. 

That’s very—That’s such a great—Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. 

They’re all part of the same enterprise. 

Server: Some fries for you there. 

Thanks. They revealed a relation that was there that you weren’t aware of. 

Right. Help yourself. 

Thanks. 

It’s true. It feels like the number one work I want to do is revealing ecology as present everywhere. 

Mm. 

That’s it. And ecology as the fabric of relationality, is what it is. It’s the fabric of ontology of moving parts that are sort of productive in their own ways. That’s what’s happening everywhere. We are a part of these fabrics of relations. These joins are already there. We’ve been so blinded to them. If we’re doing something social that’s just about human culture, I’d say, Where’s the ecology here? 

Mm. 

And it doesn’t necessarily mean just grass; it means all other relations. What are the material parts? Where is the air moving? What’s happening with the water? 

Mm. Mm. Mm. 

And I had this thought the other day—this is a good thought, maybe—that I’m okay saying that we’re in fourth-wave feminism now, and its intersectionality also includes ecology. 

Could one even imagine what a fifth wave would be? I mean, that sounds like a sustaining fourth wave, though I guess each of the waves before this one seemed like they would take us right to the shore. 

Yeah, no, right—Of course. The minute that I think of something, I think, Well, it’s just a matter of time before the limits of that are shown; but this movement seems like … Intersectionality is—We’ve gotta make sure that we’re thinking about things politically through intersectionality. Like, Hey, where’s class here? It is about First Nations, let’s say, but it’s not just about that: Hey, what about gender? Hey, we forgot totally about the labour movement here. So all of those are in play. And ecology. So that’s what I get excited about: Oh, maybe we’re into a fourth wave of feminism. 

Mm. Mm. Mm. 

That isn’t just—People might say that, That’s the way that First Nations always thought and operated, but that isn’t true: there weren’t necessarily industrial labour unions as part of that worldview, so. It’s where we are now. So that’s an exciting thing for me to think about. 

Industrial labour unions could nevertheless be governed by—and this terminology is maybe problematic, but—a kind of Indigenous Constitution, which is to say, practices and worldviews which can be applied to those circumstances. 

Yes. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. 

And on that topic, I wonder whether we could get into this question of habit and the book Responsibility, Complexity, and Abortion: Toward a New Image of Ethical Thought, which is receiving a necessary second bout—if there was ever a lapse between the first and second—of consideration. 

Oh, there was. It’s getting some sort of attention because of crappy things that are happening but it’s showing up again as a resource, so that’s good. 

So, intersectionality in this context would manifest as just what you provide, which isn’t, Here’s a solution and the distilled conclusion of my thinking over the previous hundreds of pages, but rather “a meta-ethical book about how people can conceive and communicate moral ideas that in ways that are more constructive than position-taking.” 

I guess my question would be, Does intersectionality lend itself towards the provision of nuanced methods of communication as opposed to reductive signifiers which are supposed to follow? 

Oh, that’s good. That’s really interesting. Let’s see. So, what came up right away was that a productive upshot of efforts like writing or artmaking or talking isn’t to arrive at a conclusion. 

Mhmm.

It’s not even to make a statement. 

Mhmm. 

It’s to …

Break the tyranny on solution-driven paradigms. 

Mm. 

But also support positive affect around that so a lack of solutions isn’t coupled with fear and terror or apathy and inertia. That’s a real challenge. There’s no solutions; there’s no ends; there’s communication around phenomenon to open up more space and spaces for bodies to do different things, for habits of thinking to be slightly different but not to arrive at an any-more-comfortable decision-making posture. 

Mm. 

But that can be super terrifying. It feels uncomfortable. I would like that kind of activity to be embraced as exciting and joy-making rather than, Oh, it’s a waste of time and I’m terrified because I want to know what the answer is. 

Which would be a kind of product-oriented—

Yeah. 

—I’m thinking about this in terms of nutrifying soil and that there are natural, organic consequences to that nutrification but to focus on any one particular plant would be to miss the process that you’re engaged in. 

Absolutely.

I’ve got this phrase in my head. It’s a nod to Bateson, Gregory Bateson’s Steps Towards an Ecology of Mind. I’m not sure that Bateson was writing at a time that enough people would understand what he was understanding, but Steps Towards an Ecology of Mind—I’m interested in an ecology of mind but not just an ecology of mind, so I’m thinking, Steps towards an ecology of ecology. 

When I was writing yesterday, somebody asked me to say, What does it take to be a compost steward? Because we need a couple stewards to be assigned to the big community composters who just go by once or twice a week and check to make sure that—Well, I ending up saying, Being involved in composting is really about noticing that A doesn’t belong in B and moving it; or noticing that B does belong in A and moving it. So it’s not removing something, it’s actually just about moving it to the right. All of my work is just taking something that’s in the wrong position and putting it in a better position. When I say better, it just enters process more quickly. It’s simple. 

Right. 

So, if you have a banana peel that has been thrown out of the window of a car and it’s on the side of the road, is it in the wrong place? No, but could it be in a better place? Yes. And where’s that better place? It’s in the composter. And why is that better? Because it enters process sooner. 

Mm. 

So, people might be like, Well, it’s going to enter process anyway. And I’m like, Well, you’re missing the role of time,the role of time in process. So that’s interesting. And I ended up saying to this person that if you’re the kind of person who notices that something’s not quite right. It could be feng shui; it could be aesthetic; it could be ecological: You notice there’s too much of something in one place, a little bit too much—or that a little bit to the right is going to feel better and you couldn’t really—And it’s super aesthetic. 

Mm. Mm. Mm. 

I don’t think it’s scientific, first of all. It’s just an aesthetic feel—the same way when you’re writing and you’re like, Oops, one too many beats. And you try to explain that to somebody but you have an ear; but you don’t just have an ear, you have an eye; but you don’t just have an eye, you have your body. And all that stuff is quote-unquote reading poetry. And you can feel when there’s a jang and it takes a while to get rid of the jang or have one more jang—And now it works. 

Mm. 

So it’s the sort of overall it-works. So when a poem hits that, I’d say it’s working ecologically, meaning it has the right number of parts; they’re in the right order; they’re moving at the right speed. And they’re talking to one another internally with the right pulls. They all internally pull. And then the whole kind of holds. There’s an emergence from a whole when you hit the sweet spot of the right things in the right place, the things that don’t belong there moved a little to the side, and that’s all that it is: composting—that’s what it is. That goes there and that goes there and that goes here and there’s two of those so wait till later. 

Mm. 

It’s all just the orchestration of relationality. 

Mm

But that’s how you get compost. And if you don’t do that, you don’t get soil. It’s so fucking hilarious: it’s like, What’s the upshot? You get soil. Or if you tell a good joke, you tell a laugh. If you write a good poem, you get that thunk. 

Mm. 

So all of those are evidence that an ecology has emerged in that particular medium. So I’m always thinking, Steps towards an ecology of ecology—and that it doesn’t matter—It’s not just about the forest. Everything can have that sensibility to it. And it’s very funny to me to realize that composting is the very same. It’s the same set of skills. 

So, you’d mentioned the reluctance to create any moral arbitration, to say, This is good or this is bad. 

Yeah. 

There was a question but then three or four piled on. 

I know. They pile. Here’s the banana from yesterday. It’s not, Is this in the right place or the wrong place? It’s more like, Could it be in a better place? I know a better place. Better is into process more quickly. Everything is process, exactly as you say. The hooks just grab. 

The production of energy, the production of  sugar in plants from the sun: Okay, here’s one photon and that photon is entering into this molecular composition, this arrangement, and it goes three times through this cycle, and it produces—I’ll never ever forget this in my life, the Krebs Cycle—you put two units of energy in and you get three units out. 

Mm. Mm.

It just up-cycles. That’s life: Two in; three out. 

Ah. 

So there’s a plus one every time it runs around. That’s where energy comes from. 

Is this the surplus that Marxists should be focussed on? 

Oh, that’s interesting. 

There’s actually surplus energetic capital implicit in nature’s function, is what you’re saying. 

Mhmm. And George Bataille about excess and general economy, says, Our job is to break stuff and waste stuff because of the surplus of the sun’s energy hitting the earth. There’s something to that but everybody will just take it too far. You’ve got to slash and burn everything. No, again, find out where there is excess. 

So, again refraining from putting any sort of moral judgement on this, nevertheless the process seems to want to move towards an end, and there are means by which to expedite the process. 

Yes. 

Taking the banana peel from the sidewalk to the garden—And so can we derive from that some kind of end-point? What is the end-point of process—Just more process? 

Just more process. 

Is that a good? 

Is that a good. 

From our perspective, I guess? 

Yeah I think so. I think it just feels better. I think, Oh, there’s probably less noise; there’s probably less smell. 

Mm. Mm

I think it’s just that life is working well. And what does the wellness mean? You know when you get a new bike and you grease the chain? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And it’s just so unbelievable and nothing’s catching? That’s what I think it’s like, when—process is never going to stop, but—it’s got that clinky beauty to it, moving on its own. 

And so, stewarding feels like, again, the job of the poet because, through an act of ecological technique (or something) and egolessness, the process is allowed to maximize itself with the poets’ anonymous facilitation. I think about this line from a cook, Marco Pierre White, where he would counsel younger cooks who were maybe splaying ornately a piece of quail or something. 

*laughs*

He’s like, Remember that mother nature is the artist and you are just the cook. 

Oh, yes. 

Render the form as it wants to be rendered. And there’s an egolessness that’s implicit to that that feels similar to the job of the poet or the musician or the any artist through whom something wants to manifest. But to think about that in terms of its ecological value is a sustaining thought. 

Again, I wouldn’t say there’s a heart of the matter, there’s an ultimate—It’s just that when you add that dimension to it, it just makes it—I think things become clearer and richer at the same time. It’s like a very good compass that comes out and doesn’t make human culture really any different from soil culture. 

Totally. 

Yeah. It’s also incredibly singular and particular. Don’t you love that about poetry? That there’s no two poems alike? And it’s true about signatures; it’s true about people’s voices; it’s true about faces, human faces. 

I’m a big fan of this idea that everyone is absolutely unique and the exact same. 

*laughs* 

And so in the same sense, emotions of similar gravity or depth can be brought about by completely different poems—That the thunk is recognizable. 

Yeah, the thunk is recognizable. 

Hm.

So, you start with an undergrad in biology, then the history of science, history of philosophy, then political philosophy. 

Yep.

And I’m thinking about braiding sweetgrass, that things reveal themselves as being increasingly the same thing but just in different forums. 

Absolutely. 

And arriving at this place where you can move the banana peel of the spondee from the third line of the fourth stanza into the garden of the third stanza where it wants to be. 

Uh-huh. I am super interested in how different individuals are trained how to feel when they get the thunk, the feeling when it’s just right. 

Hm.

When a scientist who has collected a certain amount of data knows that he or she or they have the right amount of data or what enough feels like. What does enough feel like? Or what does some feel like? These are not quantitative things. You need someone to say, Okay, that’s enough data. Somebody has a skill to feel and assert that that’s enough. Enoughness. So I’m super interested in where people have trained for that. 

We’re talking about stewardship again. 

Or midwifery or death doulas or—I don’t know. 

I mean, maybe that’s what we’re doing with the planet. I don’t know. 

Is aspiring to be worthy of being death doulas to the planet. 

It’s possible. And it’s a skill and it’s—Yeah. That thought just popped up. Maybe this is the work of being worthy to help something pass. I don’t know. 

And not pass with finality but rather to go into process. 

Off it goes. 

We’re putting the banana peel of the world into the garden of the cosmos, or something. 

Off it goes. Maybe. 

Into something else. 

That makes me feel really good, actually, to think about it. We have this question, Will humans remain or not? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the case that so many processes have been gummed up. 

I mean, the fact that that question can be asked at all suggests to me not want of response per se but want of an authority to give you a window onto the future in times of uncertainty. Like, Gary Snyder was asked once from the audience, Apocalypse ongoing. Languages, species collapsing.  What to do? And he said something like, We’ve been entertaining ourselves with ideas of apocalypse since human beings began communicating at all and so the question isn’t how to address apocalypse; it’s how to address apocalyptic fear. 

Yeah. Hm. 

And so, people asking, Is there going to be a world after tomorrow? It’s—I’m thinking of this in emotional rather than material terms because they’re looking for somebody to look into the future for them. Is this some kind of infantilism implicit in human psychology? Like, we’re always yearning for somebody to tell us what’s around the corner—and if the don’t know, saying, Lie to us? 

*laughs* Lie to us. 

Well, process says there is a corner, so that’s one thing. 

And a circle is itself is just a continuing corner. 

Yeah, right. That’s true. It reminds me of spirograph. You remember spirograph as a kid? 

Mm. Mhmm.

You always wanted to make a perfect curve, and then you knew that the curve was just an infinite number of corners that you managed to mash together. So satisfying though when it flipped from points to the circle. Fuck, it was so beautiful.

Mm. 

So I’m thinking about the Unbook of the Month Club because it’s connected to this thing about fear. You know, we have—We’re humans and we are gifted really terrible things, terrible memories sometimes, terrible relationships. 

Mm. 

Terrible jobs. Terrible colleagues. Terrible illnesses. Extreme misunderstandings. Violence, aggression. Just—Yuck. Yucky things that are stuck to our personal histories like these horrible barnacles. 

Mm. 

And so there’s that. And then—And it’s true in the world. I had a really nice lunch with Dominique Charron and she just came back from Bangladesh and she was talking about change among the Untouchable Women. It’s the same thing: What’s changeable? How does change work? How does it shift? What are the habits? How does one speak up? Who has to do it? And I’m really interested in the powers of ecological process to do the work that we call, right now, political work—or affective reverse psychology. It’s unbelievable what processes are available if we pull ecological material into those areas where we would otherwise be sitting on a couch talking to a shrink. Or, in the UN, debating about NGOs in Bangladesh. The only evidence I have for it—but it’s not nothing—is this fucking book project. 

Mm. 

So, writing is what, twelve thousand years old? Books, reading, conveying information, saying what we’re afraid of, hoping to enter the future, making a lasting mark. One of the forms of that culture is books. And we’re poets so you make a book; and/or you’re an academic so you get a gold star if you write a book. And we collect those books and we get given books and we visit libraries. The amount of book-ness in our lives is great. And those lives have these occasional pockets of absolute shit attached to them. Not all of it, but there are some. So I think that some of those are in the books or are connected to particular books for particular people. This is not a universal statement. So in your case it could be a book that you received in the mail the same day that you found out that your dog had an inoperable tumour, okay? So if you’re working with a psychotherapist, you’re going to be doing a lot about association and transference. What if we add in a material aspect and it’s a book and that book used to be a tree? So, we’re already in this huge theatre: This whole theatre is available in this space which is otherwise a room where you’re talking to somebody—or the UN with the people with their country name and their buttons. 

*chuckling*

We’re just so stuck in these political and cultural habits. And you’ve got the book: the book is an example of a kind of stuck-ness. Not all are stuck but some are very stuck. So this has nothing to do with book-burning or getting rid of all the gay-positive stuff in Florida. So, here’s Kevin’s life; here’s Karen’s life. There’s a book or two or ten in that life that are riddled with shitty affect, whatever that means to you, and holding onto that book or just being completely stymied about what to do with it is similar to being like, What are we going to do with this planet? The stymiedness is interesting. And sometimes—not even realizing that we need to make a few changes—sometimes we’re just so frozen by our fetishes. So maybe the amazon rainforest is being fetishized. I don’t know, Kevin. I’m just saying that there’s fetishization of everything and books are part of that. And so we have one item on our bookshelf that’s doing triple duty to make us feel shitty or to remember something shitty or to be ashamed of something or to be afraid of something. What does Nietzsche say the four useless feelings are? Guilt, shame, regret, and jealousy. He talks about them as basically destructive; they’re just black holes of—Just ripping. They’re four affects that just do so much damage: guilt, shame, regret, and jealousy. There’s probably more but they serve as a good example. Some books that we own were either written from those places and they come off the page to us; others are connected to the conditions of having received that book. Like I said, You get that book the day your dog’s diagnosed with a tumour. And so if you take that book and really reach for it, rather than just pretend it’s not there, go to sleep, squint your eyes tight, or try and sell it, it’s there. It’s got this crazy there-ness that is, affectively, a monster: It’s an affective monster connected to your particular history and all of it is forgetting that it was ecology. And so when you say, Oh, take that book and feed it to the worms—

Yeah. 

—This thing opens up that’s hilarious but also obvious and simple and holy fuck: three months from now you just take that soil and you put it—You re-pot your Christmas cactus and it gets really green and beautiful. 

Mm. 

And so all the time I just say, Bring the book over and we’ll let the worms eat it. And they laugh; and it’s this sort of crazy relief because it’s like nobody thought of it. I didn’t think of that. And so I have the same sorts of ideas about climate change and about the planet. There are some ecological theatres around that we somehow haven’t seen or gotten at yet that do not end in apocalypse: they end up putting two things into a groove together. It just makes me laugh. It might not happen but I actually think that there’s no solution but there are some trajectories. They’ve got to be just like that. 

In the same sense that the banana peel on the street is a kind of pre-process soil waiting for the catalyst of a facilitative intervention. 

Yeah. 

And I think that this gets to this idea of psychic deposits. I feel like Keats spoke about how—he didn’t use the phrase spacetime, but—say there was an argument in your kitchen between your parents. 

Yeah. 

And the emotion that they were feeling in those positions were sort of psychically deposited in the fabric of spacetime, in those particular places—

Wow. 

—Which makes a kind of an affective relationship to those particular cubic shapes where their bodies were. 

Yeah. 

And that, similarly, any kind of affect can be kind of imbedded into or enfibred into or envibrated into material of any kind, whether it’s aether or something more solid. 

Yeah. 

And to think of that as soil that just hasn’t found intervention yet—I’m thinking of the lotus flower here—is really interesting.

Yeah, a sink or a soil or a gesture. There’s so much—Trauma is the word of the day, right? 

Yeah. 

And healing; and I think, Could we use our imagination a bit better? Conversations around healing just seem to me to be so stupid, so unimaginative. 

Because … 

I don’t know. 

It’s binaristic: trauma/healing?

Or bourgeoise? Or too much mind-body split? Or too much sense of promising an end to suffering—which is not going to happen. 

Right. 

I don’t know. Not that I want anybody to suffer trauma. I don’t. 

I’m thinking of these Foucauldian flips; and I expect that often if you encounter a phrase that’s popular in the zeitgeist, you’re looking at it from the perspective of, In what ways is its opposite true? *laughs loudly*

Exactly, yeah. It’s true. I’ve never stopped thinking that way. 

I bet. 

And you find them all over the place. 

So what’s the Foucadian flip of trauma? 

Oh yeah, there would be. That’s a good question. Let me just think about that for a minute. 

So let me just think it through. The first example we become familiar with is that the Victorians were anti-sex; Victorians were anti-sex; Victorians were anti-sex; Victorians were anti-sex. They were talking about it so much and it was so delightful, it was so pleasurable to talk about how much Victorians were anti-sex, they talked about it so much that it was sort of climaxing in talking about how much we hate sex. 

*laughing*

So that’s the first one: there is inversion and it’s appearing in a different form than the claim is. 

Right.

These include but are not exhausted by the following: (1) That we are by nature acquisitive and possessive individuals; (2) That responsible man, the good Citizen, the very best and most desirable type of person is the one who saves rather than squanders, or more precisely saves judiciously and spends well; (3) That justice is primarily a matter of distribution …

And so on. All of these are suspect and need to be inverted. 

Check to see if the inversion isn’t also what’s being accomplished by those claims. 

Say that again. 

What needs to be—I wouldn’t say that the inversions need to happen. I would say that we need to check and squint to see if it might not be the case that inversions are actually being accomplished while we’re saying the opposite. 

That thought might be too complex for me. I’m going to need you to help me to parse that. 

Like, Foucault wasn’t a black-and-white thinker either; he was more interested in complex procedure and, politically, was super interesting because it’s never A equals B. In the United Nations, there’s a campaign for stopping A. 

Stopping A. 

Like female genital mutilation, okay? He’s really just got a microscope on the culture. He’s just looking at it hard—with the end dream of—Foucault would like things to be better in certain ways. He was a prison activist; he also had a lot of depression and was interested in psychotherapy that was humane. So he would have liked there to be certain better outcomes for him personally and for the world. But he didn’t think that the way to do that effectively was just to head straight towards those things and say they’re bad because he noticed that what was happening, often, was that saying something was bad was accompanied by doing exactly the opposite that nobody was noticing, and so you don’t actually get the outcome like more humane prisons. You want to kind of come at change in this sort of more stealthy, informed way where you’re aware of the ways in which you’re participating inadvertently in doing the very things you claim to hate or want not to be doing. 

Mm. Mm. Mm. 

And so it’s just more awareness—It’s awareness that our complicities are very, very multi-factored and often they’re at odds with one another. 

You can’t take A out because all the other letters of the alphabet are operant. 

They’re operant and so you can’t go directly at something: you have to back off enough to see the dynamics and do this kind of critical analytics of your own involvement in the dynamics and then maybe you can take a better first step. 

Mm. So the analogy that’s coming to mind—informed by the conversation with Jeffrey Preston I mentioned earlier—is looking at curbs as socially disabling mechanisms in cities, so let’s do away with all curbs because people with wheelchairs can’t go up and down them; and as soon as you do that, and you ramp those curbs, they’re no longer used as structural supports for people who are navigating space with white canes, so now they’re walking into traffic. And so what if you had a sort of rippled ramp so that would be palpable for people with white canes and you can go up and down them in a wheelchair? 

That’s great. 

In other words, intervention of any kind is at least as complicated as the thing into which one is intervening, appreciating that all of the letters of the alphabet—and indeed all of the alphabets—are operant. And I’m thinking of how in the States—I remember there’s a waterway which is divided by an of-course imaginary jurisdictional boundary and because one type of species was introduced on one side of the boundary and then infested—for lack of a better term—that area, the solution to ensure that that same species would not cross this (again fictional) jurisdictional boundary was to electrify part of the channel so that fish that swam up it would be sort of stunned—

*Laughs percussively*

—And then—

*laughing* Drift back down. 

And so you get this wonderful, wobbling, house-of-cards effect. And to bring this back to habit, I’m thinking about a study where raw spaghetti and sticky tack were provided to groups of five-year-olds and to groups of adults with the goal to make, in a limited period of time, say ten minutes, as tall a structure as possible. And what they found consistently was that the groups of children would create three or four times more structures within a given timeframe than the adults would and that the way in which they would solve the problem of trying to build a tall structure was very democratic—whoever had an idea, Oh, let’s just try this out and keep going—and then very often, among the adults, somebody would self-nominate as the leader and then start dictating orders. You could probably imagine the characteristics associated—

*laughs loudly*

—With the person who would nominate themselves as the leader. 

*laughingly* His name is Sven. I know him. 

You know him personally *chuckling*. 

I know Sven.

There are several Svens about. And so when the structure that he had directed started to reveal that it was failing, his ego—as well as the ego of the group that had gotten behind him as the leader—would get involved and try to salvage it and add pieces to the side to try to—

Oh, yeah. So interesting. 

So this is a roundabout question having to do with habit and child’s mind and openness. 

And also reversibility, right? 

Reversibility? 

So, one of the things that’s making me crazy these days, to go back to the curb example, the city of Guelph has made some obnoxiously bad decisions around buildings. And one of them is not working. Why don’t we take it down? Why do we build such a big thing with so much cement in the first place? We need to try it out for a bit. Hi Lisa. 

Lisa: Hi! How are you? 

Karen: Good, how are you? This is Kevin Heslop. This is Lisa Schincariol McMurtry. 

Kevin: Pleasure. 

Lisa: I’ve got to text you. I’ve got an extra ticket for tonight. I was going to text you. 

Karen: Oh.

Lisa: To the eight o’clock performance. It’s called No Woman’s Land. 

Karen: Oh. Who’s dancing? 

Lisa: I’ll send it to you. 

Karen: All right. We’re just having a chat. A good chat. 

Lisa: Good! 

Karen: Always. 

Lisa: That’s good. I came to work. 

Karen: You came to work? Good girl. 

Lisa: I took time off this week to hang out with Aleash. 

Karen: Oh yeah. That’s good. 

Lisa: It’s March break, so we’re spending some time. 

Karen: Very good. Okay. So, here’s another example: one thing that’s missing—And I think it has something to do with process because process is reversible, maybe not wholly but quite a bit. If you remember, process is ABCD, but then you’ve got, DCBA. In and out. But the University of Guelph has—Thanks, Lisa!—these fucking horrible benches. It’s—I don’t know what the right word is. Virtue-signalling, is that the word? 

Could be. 

Anyways, there used to be these—I’m gonna say, Excellent, perfectly good, perfect benches on campus in this one area. They’re made of wood so they felt nice on the butt. Any season. They were six-by-six squares; they were very simple; they were low to the ground; they were always packed with people. That means they’re working.

Right. 

Right? There’s always people there and doing different things. With something n the public space, there are many things taking place and they’re capacious: You could do this, you could do that, you could do gymnastics, you could fall asleep, you could read. So I thought they were perfect objects in public space. The university just removed them and put these. Okay, you ready? 

Very inclusive. 

Nobody has ever sat in them. I take pictures of them being empty and then I just think, Okay, who do I let know that they need to get removed? Why do we persist in—We’re ostensibly of a scientific mindframe; in other words we should have a hypothesis and test that hypothesis, right? This should be one of those hypotheses.

This looks to me like the victory of Descartes’s split between the mind and body

Isn’t it gross and hilarious?

It’s a theoretical extrusion which happens to take its form in materiality. 

Totally, right? It just happens to take its form in materiality. And the materiality is completely egregiously at odds with any function or beauty. 

*laughing* Any remote biology. 

Any biology, any function, any activity. The only activity it does now is—It’s metal and so what I’ve been thinking is: If we thought more about process and change or process at municipal levels, there would be a test of that. We would have seen it’s not good and then we would have backed up—without, like you say, the egos of the team involved. So, how could that be mobilized? Is there a role for art in that? Is there a role for ecology in that? I think a lot of things like that—bad, fait accompli, stupid, a-million-and-a-half-was-spent-on-it, down-the-drain, shitty-bad-shitty—just undo them. If I had my druthers, I would just ask the university to remove those or else try something else. 

Mm. 

Like what you said the kids do: Try this. Try that. How about over there? How about over there? I don’t know if you do this but if you have a plant in the house and you put it there and it’s dropping its leaves; you put it over there, it’s dropping its leaves; then you put it over there, it’s great. 

So I’m thinking about the scientific method and how it’s supposed to resolve to conclusion. And the mistake is that one doesn’t allow that experimentation to continue on after that conclusion has been derived. 

*snapping*

Instead it’s about mass-exporting—

*laughs*

—And printing out, in plastic at three cents a unit, the conclusion. 

*laughing* Push that button. 

Push that button beside the nametag. 

The inputs-and-outputs button. No, that’s exactly right. That touches something very key: It might be the case that this is a scientific world and that science has its role. Well then, Do it, for fuck’s sakes. 

Mhmm. 

Like, Make it be the endless—

Right. The conclusion just becomes a new hypothesis. 

That is true if you’re a highly specialized professor of sumacs. The President of the Sumac Society of North America. And you publish in The Sumac Journal. And the minute that the ink dries on your first article, you’re writing your next one. And it is—you know, scientific articles say, Here are these three things that need to be checked out, and then they start doing that. So there is a loop but it’s somehow not leaking out into practical materiality testing in the public, in the Arendtian public, with people, with things, with plants, with sunlight. And then the conclusion is written on that paper and then it circulates. Maybe that move isn’t being made at all. It’s just the sound of your own hand clapping. 

Mm. 

Um. So, there’s something about a permanence fixation. 

Permanence fixation, yes. 

And also not allowing time to be one of the essential elements of design. 

*chuckling* You’re going to kill me. I have to tell you something now but I’m going to write that down. 

Oh my god. Now my brain is going too many ways at once. 

This is when the breath is helpful. 

*Drawing in notebook*

Do you mind if I take a photo of that and include a photo of it in the article? 

No, no. 

This is the thing I’m working on for when I present in Toronto when I do the Art Walk. 

Right, right. Thursday. 

*to Lisa* From 4-6 at Onsite Gallery. 

Lisa: I’ll have to check my calendar. 

It’s so good. The art is so good, Lisa. 

Lisa: 4-6 at Onsite Gallery. What day? 

The 23rd. 

23rd, yeah. 

Lisa: Thank you. Sorry to interrupt. 

No, it’s fine. I have to do a walk and talk about post-Kantian Ethics. Some of the pieces are so conducive to this really good conversation. So this is what keeps popping into my mind here. Do you know Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice

*taking photos of Karen’s drawing* Mm-mm. 

Did you ever study that Lisa, The Logic of Practice

Lisa: Yes.

So good. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

You might as well just jump in. So, one of the claims in The Logic of Practice is that science doesn’t allow lived time to be one of its variables. So, it gives anthropological examples. You have these two anthropologists and they go into, say, Haida Gwaii and they’re there for four months: they ask questions; they do interviews; they take pictures of cultural objects; and then they go do their write-up. And when they do their write-up, they squish time out so that the lived, daily experience of people—the time it takes them to get to the meeting house and what they say and how long it takes to say it—

Mm. 

—And that lived, experiential time is actually an element of political resistance of people because they’re making choices inside time: what to share; what not to share; when to do something; when not to do it. The peoples, who are then called savages because they’re acting just by instinct—

Love it.

—What that scientific view has just evacuated is that people are working with time to be autonomous. They have the element of time as part of their repertoire of resistance and action and choices and none of that becomes visible when you squish it into a paper and you say, Thirty-four Māori were interviewed and they all said they eat at 6pm.

*chuckling* 

It just becomes this flat thing, whereas what Bourdieu says is that, If you’re actually there for three weeks, you see that people are working with time to basically negotiate the scientists being present: they’re doing a lot to resist—they’re resisting and accommodating, but—they’re not without—They’re canny. They’re very canny, and that canniness isn’t visible because science has telescoped time out of it. 

Yeah, yeah. 

So I’ve always thought about that, that from a certain perspective, the role that time is playing—what you said: time is just doing its own thing—you have to allow time in design. But it can also be written up or photographed in a way that takes time out of it. 

Mm. Mm. 

So that reminded me of how whenever one of my girlfriends’ daughters is having problems with an eating disorder and asks me for advice, and my advice is, Let time do its work. 

Fascinating. 

Why are we sitting here thinking that we have to solve this today? It’s because we’re afraid. There’s a lot at stake; I get it. You have skin in the game. Your daughter’s ill. But time is going to do some incredible work and it’s more powerful than you, more powerful than anything that you and I can come up with today in our funny little grab-bag of solutions. Well, she should see a councillor. 

Well has she got a gym membership? 

She’s got to—*laughing* Of course there are interventions but the main thing we’re missing is that time is a billion times more powerful. And she’s in time; her body’s in time; we’re in time; this relationship’s in time; and all of that is going to change. A week from now, if things have changed, it’s not because of the advice we gave; it’s because time has passed. So almost invariably my advice is, Don’t forget that you have time. Even if you’re on your deathbed, in another minute, we can talk. And so there’s that: time is an essential element in design and not just in design but in everything. 

Mhmm. Mhmm. Mhmm. 

And then that leads me to this *laughing* thing that I realized about myself, which is that I only think about ecology in spatial terms—

And not in spacetime. 

—But there’s gotta be something called—

Spatiochronological, or—

You see, that’s what I go to bed and never stop thinking about; and some of the art pieces actually show some of that so when I think about ecology, remember this little diagram and it’ll be like *drawing a pyramid* Top predators. And then you’ll have prey. And then you’ll have omnivores; and then you’ll have relations; and then I have some trees here. And then a little lake. But this is a spatialized imagistic measurable quantitative idea of ecology as though it’s like, From this place north of Perry Sound over to this part of Perry Sound. Or I think that too with my kitchen, like, my kitchen to my living room. But have we ever thought about ecology in a temporal sense? 

Mm. Mm. 

Never. What the fuck? It’s so—And what would that even be? I feel comfortable saying that, in this particular—let’s say—pond, there may be too many fish or we have to direct them this way and there’s black spruce but there needs to be white spruce and they should be about this far over and the creek goes like that and this is where the brook trout are and I can draw my little circle that includes a bit of air and a bit of dirt but it’s still actually a place. 

Right. 

It’s a spatial conception of ecology. 

And the bodies of water nearby, for instance, if as a result of glacial melt will cause erosion and eventually erode the contours of the bank and—

Yeah. So I do see these of course as not fixed and not stable and they’re relational but I’m not thinking of them—I don’t know if I can conceive of …

Four dimensions. 

Four dimensions. Yeah. So I say here, Kevin steps here towards an ecology of ecology and then you go into your backyard and you—Okay, I’m getting at it—on Wednesday—

There you go. 

On T-naught, you put these guys in. But then there’s T-1 and T-2 and these actions constitute stewardship. 

Yeah. 

You see? 

You become a kind of projective spacetime archivist. 

This is crazy. Like I see this moving in time and with interventions and feeling out the rightness of the balance, I hadn’t—I don’t know what part of me is going to do that work. 

Yeah, because nature operates aware of time. It knows that the seed implanted in the fertile bank is going to require time to—

It’s got, you know, eight months of—

Yeah, exactly. 

That otherwise would be in the refrigerator. Alright. That was just my funny Oh, yes. Oh, yes. 

I just want to check in on time now. We’re at seventy minutes. 

I’m okay. Just figure out something you really want to talk about. It can be anything. 

It’s a question of how many apotheosae can fit on the necklace. 

*laughs*

I’m just not sure how long the string is. It’s really in your hands. 

You’ve got it on your arm. It’s very beautiful. 

Well, it’s continuous. 

I know. And a good rolling feeling. 

So, you’d mentioned—Could you send me the image of that, the unsittable rainbow benches that were—

Oh, god. Fuck. Yes. 

So I’m thinking about desire pathways. This idea: both a real and an imaginary university in Scandinavia because of course it was in Scandinavia—

*laughs*

—Decided that their pathways could be redesigned. 

Their actual, physical pathways? 

They actual, physical pathways connecting buildings on the campus of a university. And so rather than re-impose what they thought would be preferable, they decided to raze the existing paths and then plant grasses throughout and allow the grass to grow—

Okay. 

—Such that it became about a foot, fourteen inches high and allowed, throughout the month of September and half of October, students to walk throughout campus moving from class to class—

Yes. 

—And then realize that there were what they would call desire pathways connecting the building and then they would raze those pathways and instantiate or concretized or institutionalize those pathways with some solid substance. And that’s design that countenances time—

Yes.

—And volition. 

Yes. And also the users in terms of who’s there and how are they using the spaces. That’s interesting too. There’s not a vote with a ballot but you walk or roll in a direction and that’s you casting your vote, with your body. 

Yeah. 

There’s no question mark at the end of that and I think it’s possible that the only thing I can do in this life is to generate analogies *laughs loudly* and that’s enough. I’m content with that.

That’s good. No, that’s really good. There’s this one funny corner of the university where they have tried a different pathway at least ten times. It’s never worked. They always get the angles of the concrete wrong and the connection with the main path wrong and the flowers in the wrong place. *laughs* It just makes me laugh. Just re-wild it and then watch how the movement happens. 

Right, right, right. Yeah, that’s a circumstance in which somebody’s maybe not learning what could be learned. 

*laughs* Well it could be that they have a different person at the helm of that job too frequently. I don’t know. But it’s a good analogy, Kevin, and it’s also not just an analogy. It’s about repetition. It’s about letting enough of a timeframe pass so that there’s a legible mark. It puts the truth of the bodies into the equation. 

And then, for the sort of re-instituted pathway, for it not to be comprised of concrete or something delusionally permanent but to be aware of the fact that, whatever consequences have been derived from the ongoing experiment, the results are themselves subject to change. Humbleness in the face of the possibility of any kind of permanent installation or design. Something better will present itself later on. 

Yes. 

And so we should not use finite resources in such a way as to prevent them from being used again. 

To not lock them in. That’s the thing: locking in money can’t be like locking spent uranium down in the Shield. It needs to be on the move. 

*turning page* So, you recently retired, despite the five things aforementioned and no doubt the other five you didn’t mention, leaving a financially comfortable tenured position.

*chuckles* Highly coveted. 

Highly coveted within an institution whose practices may have been slightly out of alignment with their proclaimed  principles. 

Oh, god yes. 

And in a word, you say, Hypocrisy. You write, Look closely. Look at this godamned dumpster. 

*laughs* 

Look closely! Look at this goddamned dumpster!!! Green plants (still alive) put INSIDE black plastic bags and then DUMPED into the landfill dumpster alongside the smashed concrete, metal rebar, gyprock and cardboard.

A gift from O.A.C (and U of G) to the local landfill. Or maybe it will end up in Minnesota just in time for Christmas. 

People! It’s not okay. It is SO not okay. I say that NOT AS A CRANKY OLD IRRELEVANT LADY chewing on a small irrelevant bitchy point in a world with “bigger problems”…. but as a reputable, highly acclaimed socio-political analyst trained and paid to see and state these very truths.  That dumpster IS the bigger problem. Abracadabra.”

And admiring your integrity intensely, I wonder if you would say a few words about that experience, about—I don’t know—micropolitics? Maybe cognitive dissonance? Institutional dissonance? Hypocrisy? Habit? Um. 

Yeah. So, that’s interesting. I’m obsessed with quite a few things but one of the things I’m obsessed with is—I’ll turn the question around—How does such rampant and ubiquitous cognitive dissonance happen? Like, the examples I can think of: Jean Vanier raping his kitchen help

Mm. Mm. 

There’s one. But, like, ethicists in our department who are sleazebags. The Office of the Canadian Human Rights Commission yesterday in Ottawa: there were nine charges of human rights offences brought against the office of human rights

Mm. 

This dumpster. 

Sure. 

The local hockey coach who is just seen as the best thing that ever happened to the boys in that town—

Sure. 

—And they all end up getting paedophiled. And then you can’t see it? There’s a woman who was the head of—not MeToo, but—

Time’s Up? 

Time’s Up and then her son was arrested for sexual assault. 

Ah.

The thing that’s interesting me—and to go back to the Foucault thing—is, How is this happening? These almost laughable hypocrisies—

Yeah. 

—That I’m sure I’m guilty of, many of them. I really don’t—I’m not saying that rhetorically; I know it’s true. How does that happen? What are the apparatuses of desire or—What—What’s language doing? How are we hiding—

Yeah. 

—Behind ourselves in these weird gross ways everywhere? 

So, if the world is intersectional, as we know it to be; and if, within that world, institutions of power reward specialization; and if identity-formation is always an outcome of that specialization, then that person has to conceal and repress a huge amount of their intersectional self in order to exceed others in that one narrow domain. 

Gotcha. 

And maybe as a result of that repression, the repressed pops up elsewhere as we know repression will cause to happen all the time. 

So if what you just said is like, There’s the iceberg—*drawing an iceberg*—here’s the water. This is priesthood. And then all of this is part of this individual that is repressed, who never brought it to play, so it’s coming into play over here? And it seems like the craziest contradiction you’ve ever seen but in fact it is some part of this individual that is there all along and is even amplified because of repression. 

Yeah. I’ll try to think of this as an image. Hold on a sec. 

It’s the equivalent through identity of a kind of monocropping. 

Okay. 

Um. 

Like, what are the consequences on the environment when non-organic processes are foisted on a system that really wants to embrace diversity? 

Mm. 

And that that takes place within each individual—

Yes.

—And what are the consequences in the environment of that person? If everything serves this one end, and that end is where they affix all of the gold stars that result from the books that flow from their area of specialization—books which, incidentally, nobody else in the world can read—

*chuckles*

—Because they’re so far specialized as to be completely unintelligible. 

*laughing*

But I wonder whether, if we’re talking about—Maybe algorithms, specialization: an algorithm is a means of specialization. And how we put a great amount of stock in the consequences of an algorithm and very little stock in all of the options that were available—

Before.

—Because those are all to be dismissed in favour of the one solution. 

Right. 

Which gets us back to process. 

So: solution, market, legacy, permanence, narrowing, narrowing of self. 

Mm. 

And then, in reality, where complex relations are always happening anywhere anyhow …

Is there some perverse desire for the transcendence of the self enacted in the case of a rampant pedophile? I mean, if you were to take away a moral component to that action, it’s not dissimilar to someone publishing prolifically—a book every six weeks. 

It’s totally true, Kevin. It’s just compulsive repetition. 

Yeah. So I think about Hass on syllabics, here, and metre. I’m sure it’s not a novel thought, but: If you repeat the same phrase over and over and over and over again, you’ll go sideways in fairly short order. Forgive them father they know not what they do forgive them father they know not what they do. The opposite of that would be some kind of pointilist gestalt that means nothing and terrifies any semblance of grammar or prosody. And then something in between is what we look for, which is between chaos and—

Yeah. 

—Comfortability. I think about this in the context of the chaos of prosody, terms attributed to the Grand River Watershed Folk Ecology. That you want to strike a balance between those two. 

No, it’s true. So that’s very interesting to me. An example came up recently. We do have these shameful deep contradictions that we haul around. We do have, within the culture, individuals who have committed egregious, grotesque harms that are even more grotesque because they claim to be doing the opposite. Like a feminist who’s a misogynist to the waitresses or something. 

Sure, sure, sure. 

And then you’re saying, If part of the explanation for that has to do with this algorithmic, transcendent blip that becomes this repeating cry—

Mm. Mm. 

—And it’s already setting the table for mania and chaos and bouncing madness to happen, which means something like, Maybe when it happens, it’s worse than it would have been had there been latitude in individual identity all along—

Right. 

—To contain and show the darkness. And then I’m also thinking about trauma and healing in responses to that: They have to be—if this is still the same kind of thinking—they have to be ways that really invite and celebrate, even, the weirdness and the bad and the dark diversities that we have, not in the form of the actions that are present to us. And I’m not talking about celebrating sadism or going to a club with—Just, something else that can break the shame of having all of these moving parts. It’s going to be compassion building too because then my addictive behaviours or my compulsive behaviours are not all that different from the addictive and compulsive behaviours of other individuals who are in that loop. They’re just variations of the same thing. 

I think there’s also maybe two selves that we’re talking about: one, how others perceive you; and the other, how you actually are. Like, the feminist can get away with pinching the waitress because he’ll be like, Oh, no, don’t worry. You don’t know who I am. Like, I can—It’s totally—Oh, it’s fine. No, no, I know that I shouldn’t but—

But really. 

Yeah. 

That’s—

But the book that I wrote on the subject was revolutionary. 

*laughs* 

Everybody knows—*laughing*.

Everybody knows that I’m not the guy who pinches—*laughing*.

—That I’m not the guy who just did that *laughing*.

*both laughing loudly* 

I’m writing that down. Oh, I love it. Everybody knows I’m not the guy who just did that *laughing*.

*laughing* 

Everybody knows I’m not the guy who just did that. Or I’m not capable of doing that. 

Right, right, right. 

That is—

Which then becomes a kind of—What’s the other zeitgeist phrase about turning down the lamp—Gaslighting? A form of gaslighting? 

Right. 

I feel like another topic having to do with post-truth wants to rear its head but I don’t know that we have the time or the energy or the stomach for—

Yeah, I don’t know that I can stomach the post-truth question but it does connect up to forms of healing, which is interesting to me. And in this book, because you were talking about balancing linearity and cacophony in ways that are true to what a river is, which is sometimes running straight, hard, and flat, and other times is eddying and oxbowing. 

Mm. 

The solution to being able to have both of those happening—not at the same time but in the same go—was suggested by Andrew [Steeves of Gaspereau Press]; and he said: Make a single line longer now and again to slow the movement and then—he and I were just so happy, because—I said, It’s a weir. And it is. It does exactly that, Kevin. 

Mm. You’re replicating the movement of the river through the poetics. 

And it’s a poem about the river. And it worked; it just slows it down; and it mixes at the right speed. Fuck. It’s a weir. 

Mm. 

But we didn’t recognize it was a weir. It was just, Make it go from bank to bank. 

*chuckles* There you go. 

One of them has got to close the gap. And then he said, You just keep doing this and then it gets too fast. And then he says, Try to go across. And then I wrote one of them across and said, This should be edge to edge? And he’s like, Yeah. And I was like, It’s a weir! And that was the happiest moment of all. 

Mm. Mm. Mm. 

Well this conversation itself was a very agreeable weir. 

Oxygenated. 

An oxygenated weir. 

So great. 

Can I see your other questions? 

*slides papers across table* They’re in no particular order in deference to alinearity—

Explain yourself. 

Yes, explain yourself *laughs*. 

So good.

I was feeling charismatic when I wrote that. 

I love it. Ravaged with curiosity. It’s true. 

Mm. 

Oh. So nice. 

That’s a good one. 

These are interesting ideas. They’re mine? *chuckling* 

Mm. 

I love it. 

… 

*chuckles* The goddamn dumpster. That was a very interesting post and a lot of people responded to it so I feel like, Okay, I can keep pointing those out. 

Yeah. 

Because people see it and they see what’s …

It was freshwater in an ocean of salt. 

It’s very salty. Exactly. 

*laughs* Wisdom and flaky nothings. Exactly. 

Yeah. 

We can still—There’s still lots of big questions for the next time? 

Sure, sure. 

Yeah. Yeah, there’s always an injunction not to empty a vessel. 

Yeah. 

Not too much. Not too much too fast.


 -- Website

Kevin Andrew Heslop (b. 1992) is a multidisciplinary artist born fifth-generation Canadian of Celtic-Danish ancestry. Trained as a musician and theatre actor, Heslop's debuts include the correct fury of your why is a mountain (poetry, Gordon Hill Press, 2021), six feet | between us (art, McIntosh Gallery, 2022), and mo(u)vements, (film, Astoria Pictures/Rose Garden Press, 2023). As of July 2024, his most recent publication in print is the poetry chapbook the rules of grammar will not save you at the hour of your death (with Roxanna Bennett, Baseline Press, 2024); his most imminent, the chapbook anthology of dramatic works for the stage and screen Human Voices Wake Us (with Taylor Marie Graham & P.F. Tego, Rose Garden Press, 2024). Heslop's non-fiction debut, a hometown discussion of Medical Assistance in Dying, is forthcoming from Gordon Hill Press in the Fall of 2025, with new works in film, vibrotactile sculpture, and print contracted to follow. He currently serves as Resident Interviewer with The Miramichi Reader and Parrot Art, Contributing Editor with Centred Magazine, Director with Changing Ways, and Extraliterary Liaison on behalf of six Canadian publishers to support the adaptation of their IP to the stage and screen.