Academic journal article Chicago Review

Lifted: An Interview with Lisa Robertson

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Lifted: An Interview with Lisa Robertson

Article excerpt

Date: Saturday, 19 March 2005

Time: 12:32 PM

Site: Tate Modern

Materials: Two paper cups of coffee (one black and one white), two metal chairs, one medium-sized square table, atmospheric noise (din, espresso machine), a range of windows and doors, an exhibition of mixed-media work by Joseph Beuys, some minutes, conversation.

And the quality itself?

It's okay. You get a lot of atmosphere, but when I've done recordings of plain speech they've come out clear. Nothing picks up.

So I had been reading John Clare in a very beginning kind of way, and was starting to become familiar with his work. And when I was interviewed for this Cambridge fellowship I had to describe a project. I said something about John Clare and meter. I actually didn't really know what I was going to do. It's like applying for a grant. You have to be able to describe a project...

From the very beginning.

As if you know how you're going to do something! So anyways, my only idea-once I actually got the job and arrived there-was that I should do something that pertained to the place where I was. And I had access to the library and the rare book room. It would be stupid, for example, to spend my time reading English translations of post-structuralism. Something I could read anywhere. So I thought I should form a kind of reading-research project that was particular to where I was, that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do otherwise. I didn't actually know what it was going to be, but I was already interested in the transition from a sort of neo-classical into a romantic cultural paradigm. So I was beginning to read around this cultural nexus, its literary and cultural history. I arrived in Cambridge with a very loose constellation of ideas. I was also very interested in the idea of sincerity as it arose as a romantic paradigm, being so different from neo-classical irony and rhetoric.

It is so different...

Totally! So I became interested in the idea of sincerity as a problem. And these were the ideas that were circulating, the sorts of-you know-irritants that were circulating. And once I arrived, and was feeling very culturally weird, and very estranged from the situation I was living in-well, you listen very carefully so you can learn how to fit in somewhere, and you try to understand how to conduct yourself. I'm sure you experienced similar things.

Definitely.

And I thought I had to go to fellow s lunch every day and things like this.

When I was in Cambridge I went to one dinner at my college, the first dinner, and I had to borrow a proper gown. Someone told me that the design of the sleeves was meant to indicate your level of study...

A hierarchy.

Exactly. I remember at the end of the dinner we had tea and coffee and a man sitting across from me actually reclined in his chair, took a sip of coffee and said poshly, "isn't it lovely to have a civilized meal every once and a while?" I froze, looked at him and thought, "what!?" and pretty much vowed that was it for me.

I felt similarly, but I felt I was required to do it as part of the protocol of my fellowship. And I suppose I could have ignored it all, but like a lot of Canadian girls I was very anxious to be polite. Anyway, I noticed right away that everybody talked about the weather all the time.

I always thought Canadians spoke about the weather more than anyone else in the world.

Well I felt it differently in England. And so I just sort of.. .with friends out drinking one night I was generally outlining my feelings of cultural weirdness, and I told them I was going to write a book about the weather. And then that actually became the project, because right away everyone started giving me citations like the BBC.. .shipping news.

I listen to the shipping news here late at night-it's very soothing.

Geoff Gilbert told me the shipping news was better than Olson. …

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