Ania Walwicz


Interview with Ania Walwicz, 19/3/96

By D.J. Huppatz


Ania Walwicz is one of Australia's best-known experimental writers and performers. Widely anthologized in Australia, she is the author of three books: "Writing" (Rigmarole Books, 1982), "Boat" (Collins/Angus and Robertson, 1989) and "Red Roses" (University of Queensland Press, 1992). She has performed her work in Switzerland, France and Japan.

D.J.: First of all I would like to ask how you define your work, and how that work fits in to the Australian literary scene at the moment.

A.W.: Well the definition of my work: avant-garde writing, experimental writing, poetic, abstract writing. How it fits in to the Australian scene: there's very little work like that being done so it doesn't fit in at all, it's sort of an anomaly. And that's how the work features, as a kind of hybrid production, and yet attention has been paid to it and it's being studied. I have been published in this milieu, 70 anthologies, four plays and three books and I'm working on my fourth, so I am part of Australian literature. And I think perhaps in the future this kind of work will be done more readily because someone has already established a position for it to be done.

D.J.: Could you tell us a little about the tradition that you do associate yourself with, out of Joyce, Stein, Surrealism ...

A.W.: All these and more. I'm also coming from a tradition of electronic music, John Cage, language as sound composition as well. And also I would say that I am creating something of my own, if it is possible in literature to create any new areas, one is reiterating positions anyhow. But I am creating an expressionist format and an extreme theatrical delivery of my work, as well as an extreme format of writing. Nevertheless, this format of writing is related to contemporary theory, feminist theory, postmodernist collage production. So I'm doing something along contemporary lines.

D.J.: Could you elaborate a little on the autobiographical sense and different senses of subjectivity that are explored in your work. It seems a lot of the work stems from the autobiographical but there are obviously many different selves that enter the work.

A.W.: The work began from an autobiographical position, from writing diaries which I did before I began writing seriously. But the autobiographical angle is really an illusory side of the work, that's how it appears, especially me delivering it in public with an extreme reading, it seems to be a kind of direct personal emotion. In fact it is a very much a construct, an artificial construct, a theatrical construct, the persona of the artificial self or very many different selves that appear. So the original autobiographical linkages are refuted by the delivery of the work or the positioning of the work. The self is ever-changing, the autobiographical angle is in fact deconstructed within the writing. It is an invented self which appears.

I am constructing something now called "Mister Love" that arises from relatedness to another person, nevertheless it is now being constructed into this mythical Mister Love and there's no direct connection between that writing and my life.

D.J.: ... and there are mythical Ania Walwicz' too ...

A.W.: Well perhaps in all writing the author is creating one's own persona and inventing oneself is part of writing as well. That's all part of fiction. But I think in my work there is a construction of unusual states. The work started out as being notation of the self or defining this notation enactment of inner states of feeling/being. That's how I used to present it. But then I realized that I was actually constructing or inventing different extreme formats of being which are not directly related to autobiography at all. And then all of expressionist interests are related to some extreme production anyhow.

D.J.: There's a notion of the self out of Foucault and Deleuze of invention or creation of a new subject as an act, a subject from which one can move then into different areas ...

A.W.: That is also the situation of theatre, the situation of an actor. When I actually deliver my work I do become an actor, or a singer, that sort of diva position through using the cadences of my voice. It does become almost an operatic delivery and of course I cease to be the author then, I become the actor who is enacting the writing.

D.J.: A sort of multi-media experience ...

A.W.: Yes, my favorite mode of performing the work would be in a theatre setting because then the entire range of theatrical effects I am aiming for is fully delivered. But then I've performed with choirs too, I've performed with the Astria chamber choir in a theatrical situation which I found very satisfying.

D.J.: Your work was recently made into an opera?

A.W.: No, it was done as a choral performance. The Sydney Chamber Choir did it. My writing was extended and musically orchestrated for many different voices by a composer Stephen Adams. I do want to work on an opera with him in the future, that would be a suitable and valid extension of the work.

D.J.: The other interesting extension of your work is into visual art. Can you briefly describe your history in visual art and how that comes out in your writing.

A.W.: I actually started off as a visual artist and then the writing came later. The writing and the painting seem to be two separate selves as well. I've never tried to combine them. However, there is a show touring now, "Palimpsest", which has a set of ten of my paintings and also a catalogue which lists writing which is related to those paintings. I can see the similarities, especially the big show that I am having now with a hundred paintings which have a fragmented narrative form and the narrative is followed through very much in the way I write. So there is a direct connection. Perhaps in the future I could present them together in some way.

D.J.: The element in your work of narrative, this idea of a broken narrative, a cyclical narrative, repetition. Could you elaborate a little on your personal approach to narrative?

A.W.: The narrative does have an explosive quality and could be seen as the narrative of the hysteric who reiterates their position then loses that position then reforms it again. It is a form of reiteration and loss, the narrative disappears, then it is resuscitated and brought back to the surface again. So it is a constant reworking of a theme. But then musical themes work in that way too in contemporary music. The repetition and then reiteration of formats.

But then I've made very different language compositions depending on different pieces. In some pieces there would be that reiteration, in one piece in my "Boat" book called "Evening", the whole piece deals with the language falling, ceasing and dying away. In the beginning I read it very loudly then it gets softer and softer, it's like night falling. So I can create that kind of effect in language too. Or there are other things like in "Red Roses" in which I use collage techniques and I use other extraneous material which I interpolate in that sort of multifarious way.

Each piece deals with different approaches. Basically my aim is to produce a certain texture of language, a certain language combination. Each composition has its own rules so I don't have a pattern I work on. It could all be seen as use of theme and then dealing with that theme over and over again in different ways.

D.J.: Your source material comes from a variety of different areas including popular mass media culture. You seem to be interested in assembling together all the elements of language around you.

A.W.: In the writing of "Red Roses" I included literary theory and bits and pieces from women's magazines. The piece I'm writing now I include bits of "National Enquirer". The use of collage, the use of intertextuality, the whole relationship between different forms of text placed next to one another and the way they effect one another, that interests me as well. The whole act of reading too which deals with the reader's involvement in different interpretations of different levels of text. But that makes the work difficult too, because people have to be familiar with notions of intertextuality, they have to be familiar with these ideas. So I suppose my best readers are those who have studied literature in some way. Nevertheless, I've had reactions to my work on different levels too, so perhaps the work could be read on a more naive level as well.

I think the reading of poetry is a different form of reading than reading prose. I see my work as demanding a certain participation from the reader, a participatory, an active role from the reader. The reader doesn't just passively read it as entertainment, they have to actually reevaluate it or reposition it.

D.J.: Your work often employs dream imagery and the unconscious. You obviously have an interest in Surrealism techniques and automatic writing ...

A.W.: Yes, that Surrealist technique has formed my work. Automatic writing was the basis or beginning of my work. I am still using these approaches now so I have continued on a parallel line with Surrealism. Nevertheless, the sort of Surrealism that was produced by the original Surrealists is definitely not the kind of Surrealism that I'm engaged with because I'm not discovering any new forms there, I'm re-using different forms that have been used by other authors from a sort of postmodernist stance. While Surrealism really aimed to shock, my work can't shock anymore.

I am very interested in the beginnings of automatic writing and the approaches that were used in visual art too by Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, the writing of Franz Kafka, art that aimed at the release of unconscious imagery. The first piece I wrote in the style that I write in now came from a dream which I wrote in automatic technique so the dream just reappeared and was re-enacted through language without controlling it or placing it into a logical form or structured format. So that was the beginning and I have continued from there. Nevertheless, I do rework the work and reposition and edit it, so it's not completely instantaneous on my part nor is it total engagement with autonomatism either because by rewriting it one is placing it into more rational formats. Also, I begin with titles, I begin with plans, so it's not just automatic writing erupting.

But I do use my dreams, I have a dream diary. I include them in my work. The work does have a psychoanalytical line in which the images do have an effect on one another and examine themselves through a psychoanalytical method. My work has been written about from this viewpoint, that it appeared like the therapeutic patient erupting into language ...

D.J.: ... the writings of a hysteric?

A.W.: Feminist theory incorporates that, Irigaray's writing about the eruption of language that can happen within feminine expression. But that kind of eruption is also structured eruption so it can't be seen as entirely the mad Kristevian subject suddenly erupting into fragmentation. It's a manufactured effect as well.

D.J.: An author you mentioned was Franz Kafka. What is your interest in Kafka?

A.W.: My fascination with Kafka is with his diaries and the way he talked about the way he wrote and the automatic technique that he did employ. His work would be done all in one rush and it would deal with release of unconscious imagery. Even though most writing on Kafka talks about his work as dealing with a profound involvement with metaphysical themes. It's curious the way he is being read and interpreted, in a much different way from the way he wrote about his own process. After reading his diaries I saw his work in a different light. Instead of seeing him as engaged with prophetic areas, I saw it as an incredible release of unconscious imagery.

My fascination with Kafka is also with an author who saw himself as a marginal author. And he did write for a specific literary audience. He aimed for a really pure literary act. And he only wrote four books and it's amazing how these books have never been out of print. His work doesn't seem old-fashioned or dated in any way.

D.J.: As a final question, perhaps you could discuss your recent ficto-critical writing.

A.W.: I started writing essays but they would be wayward, personalized essays, including or locating literary theory within an essay form but the essay ceasing to be a traditional essay and becoming a more fluid form of storytelling very similar to my own writing. So I will follow this through. And I would like to do more of this, to use literary theory to write fiction from literary theory, to use literary theory to start fiction, rather than to use literary theory to explain fiction. This could well be the more contemporary way of writing about or talking about literature. Because theory and fiction have always been very separate. I don't see them as separate. One can see the theoretical approach of fiction as well as the poetics of theoretical writing.