Masha Tupitsyn"Everything is fiction."
Masha Tupitsyn fits many characterizations: film critic, feminist theorist, fiction and nonfiction writer. While these categories have invited conflict and misinterpretation, they are important to consider in her work as something to be subverted, disguised and intertwined. Her book Beauty Talk and Monsters opened up a literary space where memoir can be fiction, fiction can be criticism, on-screen can be off-screen and films can be anything from cultural objects to characters in the story. Her last book, Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film also challenges film and cultural excess, but investigates the platforms through which they are communicated and consumed (appropriating Twitter's 140 character increments). Her upcoming book Love Dog and essay collection Screen to Screen continue her conversation with film, culture and form - progressing towards a mutual understanding. As much as she says about the movies, she, too, let's them speak.
We met through pretty unusual circumstances.
Yes, I think it’s funny. I don’t know if you completely understood the story when we corresponded initially. My friend is on OKCupid because she recently broke up with her boyfriend. She told me all these things about it. She said she feels like she’s in a sea of used condoms and syringes because of all the creepy guys that approach her.
What are the syringes?
It just means “ew,” “ick!” She’s been on these horrible dates. But then she told me there was this guy who listed me as one of his favorite authors on his OkCupid profile. I tried to look at your profile, but I couldn’t because I don’t have an account. But I thought it was really sweet, and I posted about it on my Twitter - about how I hope it helps you find love, just this corny thing. I had no idea that you’d been following me on Twitter.
And then you responded to that tweet and it just somehow all coalesced into this. I don’t usually post about things like that, but it’s had all these little repercussions as a result.
Have you ever used OKCupid?
I have a friend who is convinced that this is what everyone needs to do, but I would rather shoot myself. I don’t believe that things happen like that. I believe that things happen organically, when they are supposed to, which might be very old fashioned but it’s just how I’m built. I can’t manufacturer or stage situations with people.
You don’t think things can happen organically on the internet?
This interview happened organically because of this seemingly “random” moment. Because I thought there was something so endearing about you listing me as one of your favorite writers on your OkCupid profile that I felt I had to address it. And then the fact that you responded. It moved me. I think things have a way of coming out of that—the internet--circuitously sometimes, but I don’t think I am going to find love by directly putting a profile of myself on OKCupid. You have to tell me about your experiences on OKCupid.
This is the first time I have met with somebody because of OKCupid.
Really? That’s sweet. Isn’t it funny, though, that this interview is happening because of OkCupid?
Yeah, it’s made it worthwhile.
I am a big believer that these things don’t happen in straight lines.
So what sort of things led you to write about film? Was that more or less a straight line?
No, I was a cinephile from the time that I was little. I would go to the movies by myself as a kid during the summer in Provincetown, where I was allowed to go to the movies by myself because it was a really safe, small town, so I could go off and pretend that I was this adult with own my life, with my own kind of interests and rituals, and my parents would indulge this because it was a safe fantasy in that environment. But it really wasn’t until Beauty Talk & Monsters, my first book, that it actually occurred to me that I was going to write about film. Before Beauty Talk, I was always searching for the thing I want to talk about. To say. I kept asking myself, What is my contribution to writing? And I would try to write about different things, but it never quite worked, and then in 2005, when I moved to California, it was like, oh, this is a no-brainer, of course I will write about film.
What other things did you write about before that?
All kinds of things that I would test out, but that didn’t work somehow. I tried to write a novel. I think for me what was really interesting about film criticism was that Beauty Talk gave me permission to put all these disparate things—subjects—together, or, what people thought were disparate things, but for me were not disparate at all. Disparate form, disparate content, disparate voices and approaches, and have all these things play out on the same plane, at the same time, which of course I got into trouble for.
What sort of trouble?
Mainly the reaction was, what is this? What are you doing? This isn’t a novel. This isn’t fiction. This isn’t straight criticism. It’s all mixed up. Or this criticism is too personal or too critical about the wrong things. But the minute I would call Beauty Talk nonfiction people would accept the terms that I using. So it was always about how I was categorizing that book. What I was calling it. That would determine how people would respond to the book and its ethos, which I always thought was absurd. If I called it nonfiction, if I called it essays, if I called it criticism, people accepted the book more. But if I said it was fiction, people would say, Well, this is not what fiction does. Fiction does this and criticism does this, and you have to keep these things separate and clear. But I am really not interested in keeping things separate. Not in my work and not in my life either. I’m interested in looking at them and putting them together because I think one of the problems with Western culture in general is that everything is reduced to binaries and categories because it keeps us from fundamentally being able to make valuable links. To connect the dots. I am trying to blur the gaps between things, or at least look at them and talk about them. So when people ask me to separate my ideas, it defeats the whole point of what Beauty Talk was trying to do. For me, it is all fiction. Criticism, film, philosophy are all different subjective interpretations of reality, perception, and truth. And it is all about how you compose and organize things; how you arrange them, how you weave things together, what you are choosing to put in, and what you are choosing to leave out, and all those decisions are always subjective, creative, and political. As a writer and critic, I would just like readers to just think about the terms of Beauty Talk, and let it affect them in whatever way they want. I think it is a lack of imagination if people don’t know what to do with a text unless a writer is constantly defining and simplifying it for them.
It seemed to me like Beauty Talk & Monsters was subverting expectations of criticism more so than fiction, just because fiction has already been played around with for centuries, whereas film criticism is still young, and doesn’t often come in the form of prose.
But Beauty Talk has all these really critical digressions too, and, interestingly, people accepted that part of the book. They had more of a problem with the fictional elements, or the combination of the two. I find that people are much more conservative about the function of fiction--and this is why I became, and why I now say I am a nonfiction writer--because in some ways there is a lot more permission to have your nonfiction be creative and multifaceted than there is to have your prose be critical and experimental, or to have philosophy, criticism and theory woven into it. Fiction is still a sacred cow in America. You can’t touch it. It’s still Iowa Workshop, it’s still The New Yorker, and it’s still these certain kind of ideas about what fiction does and does not do. Fiction is notsupposed to stick out too much or call attention to itself. You are not supposed to notice it, or think about how it works. It’s just supposed to wash over you.
Fiction has such a long history of experimentation, since the first novel in the 1700’s.
Yeah, exactly. So it’s a joke to still have these knee-jerk reactions to literary experimentation. Modernists already blew it all out of the water. Then you had all the post-modern writers in the late 60s, 70s, and 80’s. Are we really this conservative about literature or do we have amnesia about the history of the arts? People have been doing radical things for a very long time.
But some of the first challenges of film criticism came around the 60’s, which is why I think, maybe you find it more challenging for yourself to present Beauty Talk & Monsters as fiction, but for me I think it is more subversive towards film criticism - by working fiction and subjectivity into it.
Oh really? I have had a very different experience as the writer of it.
Fiction is such a vague idea.
Everything is fiction. Chris Kraus talks about this a lot. Fiction is the moment you are actually deciding what goes where--what stays out and what goes in—the very composition of a text makes it fiction.
Exactly, the editing process. What was the process like for Beauty Talk?
Beauty Talk was an amazing book for me to write and I have since never had that experience again because I wrote Beauty Talk in such a completely free way. I spent years gestating about what to write, what to say and how to say it, watching movies and reading books. So when I sat down to write Beauty Talk, it just came out really fast. Literally like a pregnancy -- 9 months and it was done. I have never be able to write that freely again because that book put me out into the world and once you are being evaluated, discussed, reviewed, you are writing with everybody on your shoulders, and you have to say, “No, I am not going to do that. I am going to do this.” Beauty Talk is about all these things that you are actually supposed to keep disconnected, or not talk about at all. You are not supposed to personalize the political or politicize the personal. You are supposed to talk about movies in a very objective and formal way. You are not supposed to talk about the politics that are inside, behind, or around a film—culture--and then tie it all together. I was responding to cultural excesses with excess. I am responding to cultural excess in all my writing, but with each book I do it differently. With LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film, I was responding to excess aphoristically, by stripping everything away and zooming in really close. By taking all the glut away. No waste about the waste.
In turn, in Beauty Talk you use film titles or names of characters from films purely as literary devices or narrative devices. They progress the narrative. It isn’t just a nod.
You might be the first person to get that. People don’t get that. I do that a lot with my blog, Love Dog, too.
One of the most memorable instances in Beauty Talk & Monsters is when you recall your childhood friend in Provincetown introducing you to this game where she makes out with movie posters that she hung on her wall. It creates this bouncing back and forth of criticism and memoir, and also this fiction that’s created within the story between the characters and movie stars in the posters. Just the setting of the bedroom opens up this really intimate and free way of discussing film. What was it like living that and writing that?
As a little girl, my spectatorship was constructed around this idea that I was a boy and an outsider, so I had this very specific aesthetic and conception--image--of myself and desire, and movies were a big part of that affect.