What Will They See Of Me? Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards, exhibition catalogue, 2014. Image courtesy of Film and Video Umbrella.
I’d heard the phrase ‘transfiction’, before I read it in the final few pages of If You’re a Girl. I initially thought it was tonally off, a flat sort of portmanteau like po-mo: a reduction of all that is transgressive about this multi-genre work. But then I read those final few pages…
which pull the rug from under your feet.
Ann Rower does not write diaries, she writes fictions. Her friends and contemporaries of 1980s New York are turned into constructs: novelistic meat to be cut and carved. Templates to work with, and then forget. The book moves in and out of conscious verisimilitude: we will be reading one of Rower’s diary entries, or one of the more dialogue-heavy prose pieces; before being slapped back into the textual reality and tickled pink. The book is really about the writing of the book, as she candidly states in the opening passage: ‘It seems weird how all these embarrassing female type stories seemed to be popping into my mind, and then into my writing since V. was away: stories about sex, abuse, rape, abortion, marriage, divorce, infection, kids. I want to make a collection of them and call it If You’re A Girl.’
The book brackets the bio that it contains, and in that cradling Rower collages life and fiction together: a radical move of aesthetic and social intent. She writes her own archive, uncensored and illegal: seemingly out of control. An assertion of the artificial mask of writing, it reframes the raw stuff in fractured forms, climaxing in the closing manifesto:
‘Transfiction: it’s the tension between two different drives, toward fidelity and freedom… In transfiction, you utilize this tension, you let your hands do what they want to on the keys… There is always something criminal about writing: it’s like B&E – breaking and entering – what the British call smash and grab. Especially fiction: duping. There is something toxic and poisonous in lies: zap, you’re transfixed. Can I help it if I wanna put the lie in Li(t)erature, as in Li(f)e? Go ahead Plato, make my day.’
Rower’s novel of self-exposure is all performance, toxic and addictive. An artificial heart.