Eurudice is the author of the ground-breaking novel F/32 (Fiction Collective 1992), which most people would agree is the most dangerous novel ever written by a women. She now teaches at Brown University, where she continues to make films and write. Her latest unpublished novel is called EHMH: An Oceanic Romance. She was interviewed by Alexander Laurence in 1994
I grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. I was born on the island of Lesbos. I’m Greek. I was actually born on the exact spot where Sappho jumped off the cliff into the sea. That’s the same spot where the ashes of Orpheus, according to the legend, were washed off after he was killed and dismembered. It’s a special place. I was born unexpectedly and early. I lived with my mother’s parents and my own parents in Alexandria, not speaking Arabic, reading a lot, not going to school, in a huge, huge mansion with too many strangers and servants around. As a result, I lived mostly in my fantasies. My father always wanted me to be a writer. So from the age of 2 or 3, I was introduced to philosophers and authors. The thing about rewriting Beckett and Homer is definitely true. My father still has the books in his library. I erased parts of the books and rewrote, with my childish handwriting, better versions of the plot. I didn’t like anything mild. When I was nine, we were kicked out of our house. Our financial secretary killed himself and we found out that we owed a lot of money because the national government had confiscated the lands of the Greeks. We had to run for our lives with our basic valuables to Greece overnight. My whole family was scarred forever after that. It took a long time for my mother to get over it. My father had to get a job which he did, teaching at the University. My grandparents, I think, are still stuck in that era. My grandfather was a Coptic priest. He was the top priest of the community. Very charismatic! So I come from a religious family which may explain my fascination with religion and sex. I find that church is very sexy, and that sex is very religious and transcendent.
Did you ever fit in with society?
At the age of 9, I had to go to school and adjust to a new country whose mores I could not understand. I experienced a great fall. From then on I have, very consciously, preferred being an outsider. Because even in Egypt I have never belonged, but suddenly it hit me when we arrived in Greece that my foreignness gave me freedom. I wasn’t expected to follow the familiar rules of the locals. I could be treated as an exotic oddity. I could be afforded freedom and fans: joys that would have been forbidden otherwise.
How did you start writing in English?
When I was fourteen, I had already been a communist, been arrested for my activities, been president of a school, organized various strikes. As a result, I was a celebrity. In my town, there was big signs on the wall saying “EURUDICE I LOVE YOU!” So I felt that I had it there, I’ve done everything I can, I better move on. It was a means of rebellion to run away from home. So I decided to go to Hollywood. Where else? In my little school uniform and my school bag, and nothing else. I didn’t want my parents to know. I took the plane and arrived in LA, not knowing anybody. Various adventures later I met a women who I actually stayed with. She saved my life. My parents had detectives looking for me, but I was nowhere to be found in Greece. When I arrived my English was terrible, but it was very good written because I had taken it in school. But I didn’t know how to pronounce it. I didn’t know any of the expressions. If people said “You’re off the wall,” I would look at the wall and understand it literally. That’s how my attachment to the English was born, because by taking everything literally, I saw a new dimension to it that others just took for granted. It also liberated me writing in English, because when I wrote in Greek, every word meant so much. I had a book of poems published in Greece when I was sixteen. The word “heart” meant so much. So did the word “love.” There was a long tradition that I felt that I should respect. As a result, I was very cautious with the language. I was a minimalist. I would write poetry and leave most of the page blank. Suddenly, English liberated me. I could say anything. I could change the language, abuse it, recreate it. English is a very business-like, direct, straightforward tongue. It fits writing fictions and it also invites experimentation because it’s so boring. It doesn’t have the inborn music and grace of other tongues. It’s important for me to write in English because it’s the Roman language of today. It’s the imperialist language of our times. American ideology informs and runs the world. It’s the only thing that Marx underestimated. It’s the power of this ideology to persuade everyone, that they could be one of the chosen ones. By writing in English, I am in fact infiltrating this world in writing in the language that has the most effect. Whereas, if I wrote in Greek, none of that would be possible. I like being in the United States. I like to watch this land recreate itself, or commit suicide, then jump out of its ashes like a phoenix.
You have a different relationship to the English language that makes you have a certain distance.
The word “cunt” for instance — I know very much what it means — but it didn’t exactly mean itself the way it would in Greek. So that made writing F/32 much simpler for me. Another reason I could write that book was being an only child for so long, and spoiled, I never have believed that there could be consequences to my actions. I am still free from a real understanding of cause and effect. I did it very innocently I think.
When did you think that you would become a writer?
I tried not to be a writer for the longest time. My father would talk to me about Shakespeare when I was three. I read all of the classics at an early age. I don’t know what I understood. Probably not much. After I left home, it was part of my rebellion to not be a writer. I changed my major a few times, at a bunch of universities, and ended up studying fine arts. I ended up graduating at Bard College. I found out that I could graduate a semester early if I graduated in creative writing instead. It was completely accidental. Then, to get a Visa to stay in the country, I applied to a few college with the help of my poetry instructor at Bard, Robert Kelly, and I was accepted at the University of Boulder. I was at Boulder for two years. However I was still uncommitted to writing. I did write F/32 there. I wrote every day. It was some sort of therapy or disease, but in theory I’ve always hated writing. I don’t think it’s as potent as other mediums. I hate being alone and being at the computer, writing hour after hour. I prefer something that’s more active like painting, or collaborative like film. After Boulder, I dedicated myself to film, and moved to India and made films. A few things happened at this time. First, I got hepatitis twice and almost died. At the same time, while I was in the desert, I got a telex from Boulder that F/32 had won the Fiction Collective 2 award for 1990. I had not submitted anything. I had no idea that this was going to happen. It turned out that they didn’t have a winner for two years. Ron Sukenick and Robert Steiner had found who had been on my thesis committee and found a copy of F/32 and submitted it to the judge Frederic Tuten, who loved it. But I was shocked. I didn’t think that the book was ready for publication. I wanted to rewrite it forever after because that’s my excessive nature, and I thought that I would be burned on the stake when people would read about the cunt. F/32 has since become a cult book. Now there’s no going back.
What is the difference between a man’s view of love versus a woman’s?
Traditionally, women are taught to value themselves according to how much they are loved, to see themselves as love objects. For them, love is a means of exchange, if they are a commodity. Women need to be loved much more. There is a stereotypical notion that women have invented love, where I think that men have clearly invented love and use it to keep women enslaved. Women have potentially a bigger capacity to move through people and love freely and not possessively. I think that men’s love is very possessive and involves ownership, competition, and performance. I think that love is the best thing that we have. Nothing is as fulfilling as this incomprehensible ability to identify with the other and become the other and enter the other. I think that men and women are different when it comes to love.
Since you moved to Providence, have you mellowed out and become a part of the university?
Yes, but the moment I leave town and travel a bit, I regain my Fellini-esque freedom. Also having the books published made it a big difference. It’s necessary to become a little mellow in the public life in order to save some energy for writing. In fact, it happened to me dealing with AIDS. It’s only after AIDS became really prevalent, like around 1985, when I started really writing, because I just couldn’t fuck as much as I used to. I had to rechannel the energy somewhere. I’ll take sex over writing any day. I think they are very similar. In writing as in sex, there’s a certain undressing and unselfconsciousness: a certain loss of identity in a union with the world at large which is the divine. I feel like when I write that I don’t know who I am the same way when I fuck I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I am with. That kind of overcoming of my borders and union with the cosmic consciousness. I hate the vocabulary that’s available for this sort of thing. It’s really something that can’t be put into words, that’s unspeakable. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why it’s much better than anything that I’ve experienced consciously. It’s a certain sublime expansion and flight.
Do you think that books have the power to influence people as described in your novels, F/32 and EHMH?
Books have the power to influence the good people, the people I want to influence, the chosen people. I have no interest in the masses. I don’t want to be adored by the masses unless it’s completely religious. I’ve always had a dream where there’s an icon of me, and young girls and women in scarves will kneel and kiss my image. But that’s very different from what happens in America with the adoration of the mob which is very fickle and greedy, and will inevitably punish you and hurt you. The chosen people, the ones who appreciate the beauty, I think can be influenced by books because I have been influenced by books and so have my friends. Of course, part of what I’m doing by writing about that in F/32 is to get to a self-fulfilling prophecy, to emphasize the fact that books are influential.
Are your characters exploring the redemptive powers of violence? How do you feel about the subject of violence?
I think that violence is cathartic and I think it has been so since the time Medea killed her children, and Clytemnestra killed her husband. There’s something very cleansing about it, and clarifying. It creates a density and a lucidity that life, in its tepid dailyness does not provide. Violence provides intensity, and I think that balance in written or reproduced form is very sexy. Most of my plots are nothing more than my own sexual fantasies, when you really get down to the basic common denominator, where they all start from. I think that there’s something liberating in the fantasy of violence. Actually, rape is the most common fantasy among women. There are many studies about it. It’s my understanding that it’s not because women want to be raped at all, but it provides them with a freedom from responsibility. Once someone puts you down on the ground, once you have no choice, then you don’t have to worry about the image you project: you don’t have to worry about being an easy lay or a slut. You can just completely wallow in the physicality of it all, and get rid of all religious, moral, linguistic lessons, and baggage that you have been carrying without having any choice at the beginning. After all, without fantasies, sex is just plumbing. You need the fantasy to get wet. There’s a big difference between someone saying in the right tone of voice “Look into my eyes, now!” And someone saying “Let’s have a quickie!” The latter statement has a sexy word, but it’s the language and it’s use that makes us get really turned on or open us to pain as well as pleasure. I think that the distance and the separation between pain and pleasure is really tiny. They can overlap very easily. Pleasure, at its best, at its highest and greatest, cannot help but spill over into the realm of pain. It’s like in the Parliament in Europe where you have the Right, and the various parties in the center, and the Left, and that’s the end. In the circle, the Right and the Left actually meet. It’s very easy for them to lapse into one another. I think the same thing happens with pleasure and pain: that there’s a great separation in the center, but when you have the extremes, the extreme of pleasure definitely joins in the extreme of pain. And there’s nothing more beautiful than reality. There’s nothing more sexy than the truth of the blood. In our world that is run by reproductions and the make-believe, a world of the image rather then the substance, then any sort of substantive reality such as the body inside and out, inevitably affords great pleasure, relief, and orgasm.
What major issues do you think that you have resolved with writing F/32?
I saw F/32 as some sort of parable or fable of a women who is both alienated from her sexuality and from her brain, her civilized self. When Ela becomes sexual, she feels she’s no longer her identity, her thinking self; that the body takes over and becomes uncontrollable. She feels that not because it’s true, but through the mind that the excitement stems. But because the whole Judeo-Christian tradition that makes it necessary to separate, that has created a dichotomy between the mind and body, or spirit and flesh. The whole book in a way is an attempt to unite those two and make them understand each other, and by the end, the vagina goes back on top of the dress in a public way, re-attaching itself to Ela. A lot of that book, of what men have said, is based on autobiographical experience. I use reality in particular only when reality is really outrageous and unbelievable. I wrote this book years ago, and then Lorena Bobbitt castrated her husband. There’s a penis that the policeman picks up, a loose penis on the highway. This is like a passage from F/32 as far as I’m concerned. So realism more or less includes everything.
How do you feel some of the gender issues can be solved?
I think that for both sexes, we should all have both a penis and a vagina, and be able to penetrate each other both ways at once. And then, whoever gets pregnant, just gets pregnant, either one of the genders. It would have been a simpler world, plus it would have doubled our species capacity to procreate and survive. So I don’t see why that was not done.
How do you separate writing from speech, or reality from art?
There’s something inauthentic about the illusion of realism. I don’t respect that. I don’t like to pretend that what I’m writing is not written. I know very much that the word “love” is not love, or that the word “Eurudice” is not Eurudice. I also think that my work is very Greek; that you can see the mythology there; that every character becomes a god or a myth somehow. I have an interest in reusing the ancients, in redoing what the ancients did. It’s one of the reasons that I’m not using my last name. But I’m not an American. I come from a very different background. I have an ease as a result of taking material and literature that already exists, and incorporating them because where I come from all literature is considered public domain more or less. The peasants recite literature during fiestas. There’s never a question of who wrote this or that, or who’s the originator. Also it’s nice to know that you’re being a little bad girl.
What is sex for you?
Sex for me is a rebellion. It’s not foremost a rebellion. It’s foremost the great pleasure. The greatest pleasure which is a way of becoming the other and becoming God. It is a way of no longer being my small petty self, the way that we are all small petty selves. And I understand love as sex. I cannot conceive of love, romantic love, outside of sex, free of sex. I feel that it is only during sex, or something that takes the place of sex, that we can overcome our socialization and the limits imposed by society bent on perpetuating its own artificial stability and values. Nevertheless, I think that it is almost impossible and very difficult to write about sex because the moment you write about it, it is somehow no longer rebellious or dangerous. Society has an incredible capacity to incorporate, and thus disarm, all kinds of linguistic endeavors. So, if I write this book about the cunt and everybody likes it, and everybody loves it, it’s been taught in schools, students write their thesis on it — which has already happened many times — somehow I realize that I have failed in my effort to destabilize. I have to try again and again. I think that the rebellion is in the act of the writing, the way it is in the act of sex, rather than the idea of it or the product of it, because one can never avoid escape completely being named and situated by those around.