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An Interview with Cassandra Troyan

Cassandra Troyan’s writing, described by Blake Butler, “takes the Sade-ian end of the oversharing shtick, turning one’s own private human pain into a diorama reflecting the environments and brains that birthed it.”

Troyan’s books are THRONE OF BLOOD (Solar Luxuriance, 2013), BLACKEN ME BLACKEN ME, GROWLED (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014), KILL MANUAL (Artifice Books, 2014) and the chapbook HATRED OF WOMEN (Solar Luxuriance, 2014). Forthcoming in 2016 is a chapbook from Kenning Editions’ Ordinance series, entitled “FREEDOM & PROSTITUTION.” You can read more here.

—Brandon Hobson

BRANDON HOBSON: At the beginning of Kill Manual, you say that pain is a type of love. The narrator in Hatred of Women also seems to be interested in this same idea. At one point she talks about weaponized masculinity and the sexual assault by police officers, followed by the lines: “Ma’am I’m gonna need you to step to the side / Ma’am I’m gonna need you to stop filming me / Ma’am I’m gonna need you to stop filming me unless it’s my cock.” Can you talk a bit more about your interest in this?

CASSANDRA TROYAN: I think of weaponized masculinity as an atavistic turn to recover a primal essence construed as male since transgender, non-binary, and non-conforming folks, along with queerness and intersectional feminism have threatened the security of men’s hegemony by calling into question the validity of a sexed and gendered class society. (Or, why do feminists have no sense of humor?) In cultural phenomena this manifests as: obsessions with 1950’s American culture (Mad Men), forms of sport and exercise privileging survival-like skills (CrossFit, Tough Mudder, The Paleo Diet), Libertarian ideology, ammunition hoarding, along with the near sovereign status of the military and police (including the militarization of the police), which Foucault would see as an extension of “pastoral power.”

(On a side-note, this is not to create false binaries between the cerebral/physical, feminine/masculine, since I am personally invested in fitness and learning different techniques as a generalized practice in the diversification of all skills, more in lines with something like a post-left materialist dexterity rather than pure brute force. My critique is concerned with when these practices adopt a reductionist purview which reproduces forms of violent engagement uncritically or views their practice as an end in of itself.)

A study by the ACLU in June 2014 tracked the rise of military policing through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, which has funneled paramilitary weapons into US police departments. It is estimated that 500 law enforcement agencies have received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs. Although the most deadly result is not the weapons themselves but a psychological attunement to a “Warrior Mindset” which urges officers to “Steel Your Battlemind,” defined as “a warrior’s inner strength to face fear and adversity during combat with courage. It is the will to persevere and win. It is resilience.” This is presented in SWAT team trainings where most raids are taking place in people’s homes for low-level drug investigations. Naturally, this allows for more unchecked brutality and violence to be waged against black and brown communities even though they have been harassed and killed by the police long before the integration of military tactics and weapons. The Battlemind psychically extends into all domains of daily life by the totalizing authority of the state and the subjects it produces.

Thus, naturally the prominence of rape culture and interpersonal violence is directly linked to the figure of the cop, a condition of authority concomitantly internalized by weaponized masculinity rather than an unfortunate side effect. There are no bad apples, only bad systems. A continuous struggle by men for the freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want enabled by a false construction of victimization (i.e. The Men’s Rights Movement), which self-legitimizes complete retaliation. The end of the world they are training for will not be brought on by ecological collapse or impending Armageddon but through their own end, the abolishment of gender, and liberation not just from the state but as Foucault noted, “from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state.”

BH: Do these issues inspire you to create a voice for narrative? What (or who) inspires you most to write?

CT: For me writing is anything but inspiration. It’s something I’m forced to do in order to get to the other side of my obsessions or to articulate the interconnectivity of seemingly unrelated events. I think of Bhanu Kapil in Ban en Banlieue when she says, “I want a literature that is not made from literature.” I want a literature that is cut from the material of life. HATRED OF WOMEN started in a summer of violence, shortly after the murder of Mike Brown. I was in Massachusetts for a residency but I would stay up every night, watching, reading, listening to Ferguson through Ferguson until I couldn’t anymore and then would continue the next day. How could this not be the voice? How could I not be changed?

BH: I noticed you have also participated in other art forms, particularly visual art, like film. Do you see these two art forms merging for your work? Also, which do you prefer?

CT: Lately I have been referring to myself as an “ex-artist” rather than using a term like “post-studio” since I’ve never really had a traditional attachment to certain spaces or ways of making. I’ve always worked best on the periphery, or by utilizing the margins of several practices simultaneously. Like a Kafkaesque minor literature, (from Deleuze & Guattari) for me the expression precedes the content with an affective register setting the particularities of my practice into motion. To be an ex-artist is a machinic process destroying itself by its own making, the wrecking a less cumulative a less grandiose gesture.

BH: I find that as a reader I love writing that really pushes the boundaries and takes risks. What moves you most in a work of art?

CT: I don’t have any specific requirements or predilections but I find what moves me most are often events outside the frame of art or when a work can call that boundary into question, (which has essentially been the role of art in the late 20th century). An event that comes to mind is during a solidarity march for Baltimore in Chicago, folks started singing Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” in the street until it spread into a chant and the song’s meaning was suddenly realized in its intended form.

BH: What books are on your nightstand right now?

CT: I always have an ambitious pile to cull from as my dream-life can sometimes resolve questions that I cannot when awake.

Jamie Peck: Constructions of Neoliberal Reason
Juliana Spahr: That Winter the Wolf Came
Richard Gilman-Opalsky: Precarious Communism
Francois Guéry & Didier Deleule: The Productive Body
The Invisible Committee: To Our Friends
Bhanu Kapil: Ban en Banlieue

BH: What are you currently working on? Can you talk a little bit about it?

CT: I’m working on the continuation of HATRED OF WOMEN, which will be a full-length manuscript dealing with the events of gendered violence made apparent in literary scenes this past year, along with a continued engagement with the military industrial complex’s relation to constructing identities. The US military invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. I was 15 years old. The war has formulated and bifurcated my relation to the present or a fantastical futurity, which could have previously opened itself to me as an offering of potentiality. HATRED OF WOMEN is an attempt to reconstruct my relationship to the war by re-opening intimacies that seemed closed off particularly by the presence of the war. To go back through war—not into a nostalgic past—but to pass to the other side by re-engaging intimacies within the field of shared trauma, queerness, fragility, tenderness. What has (the Iraq) War destroyed, what can be salvaged? The (homo)erotics and objectification of the soldier must be managed through lived experience. The figure of the soldier in the chapbook is based on an ex-boyfriend of mine from high school whom I started to communicate with again after not talking for ten years and what we retrieved or discovered, what was irretrievable in the interim.

BH: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

CT: I don’t think anyone has ever given me “writing advice,” and for that I am grateful.

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