Pop Culture
Jan 19, 2023, 06:26AM

And Nobody Knows What That Means

A 2007 Poetry of their Americas interview with author/critic Marjorie Perloff vs a 2020 Writer’s Digest interview with novelist Celeste Ng.

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Marjorie Perloff: So for instance, there’s a little section that cites Benjamin’s famous essay “Hashisch in Marseilles”; Charles takes about ten sentences out of the essay and modulates them, rephrasing them with a lot of onomatopoeia so as to create what sounds like a drug fantasy.

Celeste Ng: Eventually, what we determined is he was saying that sometimes, something is so close to you that you can’t see it. And you have to wait for it to fall away.

Perloff: That’s very interesting. And nobody knows what that means.


Ng: We want a clear answer. I wanted the reader to feel torn.

Perloff: At a poetry reading you can’t.


Ng: As Americans, I think our culture is very much into productivity—do two things at once, multi-task, have eight tabs open on your computer. It just seems like such an obvious thing to do.

Perloff: To examine marginalized language practices? For what or whom?

Ng: Partly because you have these two powerful actresses.

Perloff: But again, they’re not all ungrammatical. You see?

Ng: And they end up being influenced by each other.


Perloff: After a while, everyone sounds the same. Do you agree?

Ng: Yeah! Yeah… sorry. I’m trying to learn from them.


Perloff: What is a monument? A lagoon? How can changing the earth itself change our perceptions? It’s very tantalizing.

Ng: It’s an eternal struggle, honestly. (Laughs) To feel like it’s going to be OK.

Perloff: I think context is the crucial thing. 


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