BROODING, MULLING, REMEMBERING, LISTENING, OBSESSING
Masha Tupitsyn Love Dog (Los Angeles: Penny-Ante Editions, 2013)
by Mark West
There are two opening epigraphs to Masha Tupitsyn’s Love Dog, one about literary form and one about love, which suggest the book will make an attempt to link the two. Will that attempt take the form of an enquiry into the adequate literary form for the depiction of love? Or will that link instead take its formal nod from the experience of love itself? If the first is concerned with representation, with the attempt to depict love in literature, the second is more dangerous, because for Tupitsyn love is a chaotic and potentially damaging force, spilling over and spreading out; it is by its very nature excessive, insatiable. It suggests that someone in love – someone overtaken, overwhelmed, by love – cannot fail but to write in the same way. But if literature ‘about’ love were to take on these aspects, what would it look like?
This is what Tupitsyn is trying to figure out in this book. One way Love Dog does this is through a style which bears witness to the influence of Jacques Derrida – full of riffing exploration of double meanings of words, wordplay, incessant use of commas. Another is the incorporation of a multitude of voices and ideas through paraphrase, reference, and direct quotation. Tupitsyn repeatedly returns to the notion that love appears more radical to us now in a world in which we are bombarded with images of sex and in which we are encouraged to engage in meaningless affections. She uses this idea to bring in the voices of Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou who have written extensively about love’s radical potential. The book’s origins in Tupitsyn’s blog of the same name lend it a similar intimacy to that of the love letter, which itself recalls the work of Roland Barthes, one of the other main interlocutors of Love Dog.
The object of Tupitsyn’s love is made clear early in the book by a kind of present absence. On the whole, names are given – Avital Ronell, with whom Tupitsyn is studying at the European Graduate School. Žižek, who came to one of Ronell’s classes. “Elaine” is the writer and blogger Elaine Castillo, with whom Tupitsyn corresponds. But the object of her love – at least potentially, though that very potential is marked out by the absence of a name, as if in anticipation of something to protect – is clear from the substitution of a name (though it is a “he”) with the temporary “X.” It cannot fail to have occurred to Tupitsyn that X. both marks the spot but is also a stand-in – something to take the place of something more specific which will arrive later on. The effect here is a kind of dialectic of certainty and uncertainty, as if Tupitsyn is saying X. is definitely the object of my love, but I don’t know who, or what, that is, or, as she puts it herself: “Both X. and not X.” Love and literature being entwined throughout, the uncertainty – or perhaps the variations – of X. are connected to the many ways one can read a book: “You, X., have become a book.”
One can’t help but think of who X. might be, or rather what X. might feel reading this book addressed and yet not addressed to him. At times, Tupitsyn suggests that she wonders this too: “What if I stay and you don’t want me to? What if my loving you despite you telling me you don’t want me to is what will ultimately bring us together? What if waiting and holding on is part of what makes a love possible? What if one person has to learn to let go and the other person has to learn to hold on? What if that’s the bond at stake? What if that’s the road to, the test of, love?” Although the book is addressed to X. – created for, because of X. – it also seems on the verge of forgetting him. Or, rather, Tupitsyn needs to remind herself not to forget him, not to let the specificity of X. get hidden under the abstracted “you”. Nearly every time she writes to “you” she puts X. in parentheses after it: “out of sheer frustration I took your (X.) watch and put it on”, “It has been like turning you (X.) into music”, “I am talking about myself and you (X.)”, “MY QUESTION TO YOU (X.)”.
At the centre of Love Dog is a tangle of concerns: with love, with writing, and with the internet. There is a note from Tupitsyn at the start of the book encouraging the reader to watch the clips marked in the text, encouraging us to switch from one medium to another and back again. I am reviewing a PDF copy of the book, which means I read it on a screen and copied-and-pasted the Youtube URLs into my browser as I read. This seems a familiar way of reading; it is how we read on the internet, moving from one thing to another quickly. Here Love Dog resembles Tupitsyn’s last book Laconia: 1200 Tweets on Film in its merging of the paper world of the book and the screen world of the internet. Tupitsyn has talked about wanting the book to exist in both forms, which makes sense because the book exists neither fully in one or the other. The embedded clips work better in an electronic context; it is difficult to imagine reading the paper version and stopping to type URLs into one’s computer. But when one does follow Tupitsyn’s links one finds oneself following others, too, spreading out from the initial aim; I go to look at a clip Tupitsyn points me to, but I also re-check my Facebook feed, my email, my Twitter feed. And the horizontal way of thinking the internet encourages – precisely that way of working that Tupitsyn interrogated in Laconia – means that one doesn’t just watch the clip she points to in Love Dog but many more, some relevant some not. I don’t know if this was intended, or at least factored in to the expectations Tupitsyn had of her readers. I imagine it would be difficult not to anticipate it. As a reader one has to resist this. It is one of Tupitsyn’s greatest strengths as a writer, as evident in Laconia as it is in Love Dog, that she manages to make her writing demand more focus and intensity, not less.
The book – like much of Tupitsyn’s writing – plays with the notion of intimacy, and not just in terms of content, although she writes about it often; the form of the book helps instantiate the effect of the internet on conceptions of literary intimacy. For all of its vaunted communicative possibility, the internet is often quite distancing; likewise, the sheer amount of writing available on the internet, combined with that horizontal movement, often enhances the impression that different pieces and authors are battling it out for attention. One feels that cacophony when reading. If the book version of Love Dog envelopes the reader as they read, one is constantly returned to the clamouring, public world of the internet where it began. If one is alone with Tupitsyn when reading the book version, one enters the public space when she leads you back to her blog or a YouTube link. Tumblr’s reblogging tools remind one that others are reading simultaneously, and that they are passing on the entries they read to others. YouTube videos come with pages of comments below. Tupitsyn seems to enjoy this back-and-forth of public and private, a to-and-fro of the tides of intimacy as reading alternates between a supremely individual activity and one of the most communal. An interesting thing happens about halfway through when she gives an URL to a sound recording of herself reading from Kathy Acker’s Florida, interesting because it puts into play both the literal fact and the literary notion of the “author’s voice,” the former more public, the latter more intimate and personal. One’s private notion of the author’s voice as revealed through her style comes face-to-face with the public fact of its au/orality.
Intimacy is also at the heart of Tupitsyn’s inclusion of her correspondence with Castillo. One of the great strengths of Tupitsyn’s writing is that it avoids the trip hazards of internet writing while still being writing deeply informed and indebted to the internet, and that is the case here, where the intimacy of the letters – composed of quotations from philosophers and theorists and clips from movies as well as their own writing – isn’t lost in their transference from individual communication to public record. There is something resolutely private about these letters that survives their transformation. By addressing the way intimacy works between a self and another, between two individuals who are at once both reader and writer, Tupitsyn registers not only the profound connection between love and literature but also the way the internet is affecting and changing that connection. I think this is what Tupitsyn is getting at when she talks about her work being “immaterial writing”. While the medium through which this writing appears enables a certain kind of disembodiment, she is simultaneously concerned with that most material of things – the human body. Love, for Tupitsyn, has a fundamentally physical impact: “The impression (as in pressing into, or indenting) a person makes when they come, and leaves behind when they go—when they appear/disappear—is not, after all, a presence/absence that you see. It is one that you feel. One that leaves a dent in you.” Using a medium seemingly primed for immateriality to record the material effects of love, Tupitsyn’s formal choices reflect this appearance and disappearance, this presence and absence, that she finds in love itself.