An Interview with Anne Germanacos on Tribute
1. Tribute takes shape around the final illness, then death, of the narrator’s mother. It feels as if this was the occasion out of which the book arose; the book’s third section is the long, beautiful “Kaddish.” Can you talk about the act of writing in response to this essential loss?
Writing was a way of entering the loss as it was occurring, constantly and incrementally. (I can also say: Writing is a way of entering loss as it occurs, constantly and incrementally.)
My mother’s death was gradual. I watched her wax and wane, though her transformation, while inevitable, was far less predictable than the moon’s.
The imminent death—for it would occur, though it often seemed so far away!—was a target. Time lengthened and contracted in relation to what we had to know, despite our ignorance of its exact arrival.
The sense of an ending which was, really, only a pause, allowed a full flowering of feeling. Intensity of feeling rubbed a new relationship to language. I was still (just barely) writing in sentences, but no longer in paragraphs.
Something more animal had arrived.
2. This is, I’d say, a profoundly erotic book: we experience the narrator’s daily life and passions so vividly. How would you describe the role of the erotic in this work? How did the lives of the body and the mind work together in its creation?
As my mother was dying, she watched me watch her. Love played back and forth repeatedly, intensifying.
This primal eros overflowed into every area of my life. Writing was a way of tracking it, trapping it, then releasing it into flight.
Once the writing knew itself and what it could do—language, like a character, insisted—life kept opening to admit more life, more emotion, more, against the white space of loss.
3. Tribute is written in a distinctive and powerful form: each chapter is made up of a series of single lines, sometimes sentence fragments, rarely more than a sentence or two. How did this form develop? Were there particular works or writers who influenced its creation?
I generally work in small, self-contained parts that contribute to a whole. Writing single lines and fragments is something new but perhaps not unexpected. The discovery of David Markson’s work was an inspiration and a relief. The knowledge of what he’d done stayed with me, a little underground, and re-surfaced as permission to continue when I found writing that arranged itself this way on the page.
In the crucible of imminent loss, everything comes to life. The erotic, in tandem with the sacred, reframes everything.
(Life can seem chronic, but toeing the edges, we know it’s acute.)
4. As we read we move across continents—New York to San Francisco and back, to Crete, to Cyprus, to Israel and Palestine. What role does travel—international experiences, encounters with international conflicts—play in this book?
Strangely, this feels like the most personal question. I prefer answering questions about the erotic or the death of my mother!
Travel allows what one thinks of as discrete parts to rub together. We watch what comes of the friction.
Moving time zone to time zone, continent to continent, and language to language, one gains a heightened awareness of the variety of rhythms.
Traveling, several tempi meet and fuse, sometimes combusting!
(One may travel for the shock value, though no shock lasts very long.)
I live between countries to mend a variety of splits and tears.
It clarifies things somewhat, to see them reflected in the world.
International conflicts are real. Internal conflicts are, as well.
They mimic and mirror, sometimes conflating.
And travel mends, often by sending the traveler back to the happy fact of her ordinariness.
5. Throughout Tribute the narrator conducts an intensive, intimate dialogue with her psychoanalyst. Can you talk about the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature? I wonder about the distinct and/or common endeavors of writing and therapy, or even about your experiences of psychoanalysis.
Both writing and therapy contain endlessness and ends. Edges, too.
Writing covets infinity. It may take a soul into ecstasy or turmoil.
Psychoanalysis is similarly greedy. Both are open-handed, and generative.
In each, you’re required to go all the way—within a form.
In both, you interpret, inventing as you go.
A book comes to life in the space between a writer and the world.
An analysis is created of the spoken words, gestures, imaginings and captive silences that pool between two people. This lively thing—a presence that succors and travels, listens and breathes heavily—is the creation of dozens of cohabited hours.
But not every analysis gives birth to a book.