Abjection in all its Forms: An Interview with Mikita Brottman

Speckscene

This August Nine-Banded Books will release Thirteen Girls by Mikita Brottman. While it would be a pleasure to welcome Mikita—one of my favorite writers—to the Nine-Banded confederacy under any circumstances, I’m especially proud to include this uniquely compelling book in our catalog. Rejected by major publishing houses for reasons sundry and spineless, Thirteen Girls is a starkly original literary meditation both on the afterlife of violent crime and, more obliquely, on the evolving “true crime” narrative through which meaningful resolution is sought and inevitably contrived. Although it is a work of fiction—of the “hybrid form,” as Mikita would clarify—it bears emphasizing that the events chronicled in Thirteen Girls are closely extrapolated from real headlines, real case files, and the receding biographical details that remain when real girls become victims. This is crime fiction in the mold of Dostoyevsky, where every fleeting grasp at hope and comfort is equaled by the blunt realization that bad things happen for no reason worth knowing. Somewhere a mother is weeping, or a sun explodes.

In the following interview I talk with Mikita about Thirteen Girls as well as her broader body of work, an eclectic and obsessive collation of heterodoxically honed pop-scholarship that’s guaranteed to perturb your polarities at unexpected turns. Enjoy.

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THE HOOVER HOG: I think I first saw your byline in the early 90s in a journal called  Necronomicon.  You had an essay about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre arguing that the film could be read as a kind of "inverted" fairy tale, where folkloric tropes that conventionally resolve to reinforce social and moral order are subverted to create a trapped universe without meaningful resolution—ultimately to suggest a “non-regenerative apocalypse.” I realize this may be an odd place to kick things off, but that essayit's very persuasively argued and it really changed the way I think about movies. I'm curious as to how you came to your interpretation, especially when most theoretical studies of horror cinema tend to focus on the "conservative" elements of the genre. Was there an epiphany?

MIKITA BROTTMAN: No epiphany, but I tend to think about narrative in terms of taxonomies. I believe even very new and apparently unfamiliar stories often have roots in folklore and myth, though the author or director may not be directly conscious of the fact. I'm intrigued by folklore and narrative motif indexes and I do like to put things in categories, which is a way of controlling them. At the same time, I've never been interested in myth or folklore in itself—only as paradigms and patterns for particular inflections of the story. I can't get engaged in narratives that aren't detailed and particular. For me, the more particular, the more universal.

I recently came across an article in Texas Monthly by John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs) which interviews Kim Henkel and others involved in Chainsaw. He ends the piece by mentioning my article, and says that, "of all the convoluted academic articles on Chainsaw—and there are many," it's the only one he took seriously, because "she is the only critic who understood Chainsaw as a version of Hansel and Gretel … The power of it, and the problem of it, is that in this fairy tale there is only evil: the good that exists is either defeated, annihilated, or driven away.” This was gratifying to read, as it seems to confirm my intuition that the plot worked on an unconscious, intuitive level, which is why people found it so disturbing.

THH: You went on to write Offensive Films, a collection of essays devoted to movieslargely overlapping the British blacklist of "video nasties"that most critics find beneath contempt (and certainly beneath serious critical analysis). What compelled you to devote close study to these old reels of celluloid that are widely regarded to be reprehensible and socially unredeeming? And what's your take on the subsequent mainstreaming of grindhouse fare in films such as Hostel and The Human Centipede? It occurs to me that the term "torture porn" wasn't part of the cultural vocabulary when you were writing about this stuff.

MB: I don't really have anything to say about social and cinematic trends—I'm only interested in particular movies. The “Hostel" & "Saw" films didn't interest me much, but The Human Centipede is definitely sui generis, and if I were still writing about film, I'm sure I'd find it worthy of closer study.

I've always been drawn to the "undergrowth" of any cultural form. Those films at the edges—films that don't get reviewed by critics, or tend to be mocked and sneered at, like The Human Centipede—are often emotionally powerful. They're profane—people don't want to go near them—which, to me, suggests they have a real charge. The Human Centipede might well be an allegory of the human condition; we all have to face the horror of the body, and it's this that connects us, but of course, most people would rather not think about those kinds of things. Paradoxically, in my case, looking into the abyss gives me great comfort because it rouses my curiosity. I like Flaubert's idea of the religion of despair; he says it’s only by gazing into the abyss at our feet that we can grow calm.

THH: It's tempting to pursue the deeper questions here, but your focus on "undergrowth" is interesting enough. When I go to bookstores I often look at the wide selection of serial romance novels on offerwhere the latest trend seems to be about unwed mothersand I just know that credentialed critics would be the last to notice if there were something culturally significant going on in the pages of these throwaway books that are actually read by millions of women. l wouldn't want you to give away any incubating projects, but do you see similarly potent currentsexpressive gestures that exist below the cultural radarbubbling up in other forms?

MB: I must admit, I'm a bit obsessed with some of the the "Real Housewives" shows. There's something very touching about those women, and the way everyone involved (audience, producers, participants) unconsciously colludes in creating this sad facade of wealth and glamor. Cable TV is the best place to find this stuff. Animal Planet has some fascinating shows  like Pit Boss, which involves this family of midgets who take in "untrainable" pit bulls. The cooking shows and the DIY shows are similarly bizarre, when looked at from a certain angle. Whenever I watch them I can feel myself getting drawn into this strange underworld, and I have to struggle to resist the lure.

THH: Do you ever watch Hoarders?

MB: Not on TV, but I've seen plenty of episodes online. My students are always telling me about it, and bringing clips to show me of animal hoarders, homes overrun by rats, and people almost crushed to death by their stuff. I've read reviews claiming it's exploitative, but again, I find these kinds of shows very poignant. I think they draw attention to a certain kind of behavior that's commonplace, but rarely seen or addressed. It's useful, I think, to learn that you or someone you know has a serious problem, and it has a name, and other people suffer from it too. It can be less isolating. It's always good to know we're not alone in our misery.

THH: Your broader body of work includes interdisciplinary studies of "car crash culture," the interpersonal dimensions psychoanalysis, the psychology of reading, Gershon Legman, and hyenas. It seems like a weird range of subjects at a glance, yet your nonfiction books are almost obsessively focused. Is there central idea or theme that unifies your adventures in pop scholarship?

MB: I'm always surprised when people say that it's a weird range of subjects—it's never seemed that way to me. In each of my fields of interest, I'm drawn to the marginalized, the overlooked, the profane and the taboo: abjection in all its forms. I see it as a kind of turning over stones and looking at the insect life underneath—all the things that have to be ignored, repressed and overlooked in order that "civilized" life can go on as normal. Often my work is misunderstood as being all about “épater le bourgeoisie,” but I'm not trying to upset people, just to make them take more seriously things they might be tempted to dismiss. I also think the subjects I write about aren't really as important as the focus and perspective I bring to them. In the same way, I'll read anything by Janet Malcolm because what interests me about her work isn't her subject matter but her style and perspective. Whatever subjects I write about, I come at them from an oblique, perhaps rather obscure perspective that focuses on their underside, and it can certainly be disturbing to see things from that angle.

THH: I recently read a book called The Righteous Mind by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. One of Haidt's recurrent points is that where a belief or idea is deemed sacred, adherents will adopt a defensive stance of "motivated ignorance" to deflect contrary thinking. I think Haidt's observation probably rings true to secular intellectuals where religion is at issue, but it gets thornier when you find the same MO (or "MI," I suppose) surrounding moral, political, scientific, and cultural precepts that don't come ostentatiously wrapped in religious garb. I don't  want to stray too far afield here, but since you brought up the subject of "the profane and the taboo"and since it's clear from your work that you find such concepts to have resonance beyond the bounds of religion as suchI'm curious about your  ground-level experience as a kind of academic contrarian. Are you ever surprised by strong reactions to your engagement with subjects that others have, in effect, "sacralized"? Also, are there subjects that you consciously avoid rather than court reprisal?

MB: Haidt's is an interesting observation and I definitely agree with him. And yes, I think we make all kinds of things sacred in society—there are all kinds of things that can't be meddled with ("the environment" is a big one right now). But I never set out to be a contrarian. I write about things that fascinate me, and I always assume there will be a few readers who feel the same way, or at least who are willing to take my ideas on board and try them out. I get the most hostility when people think I'm making lofty claims from a position of authority, rather than making a speculative case about something that has fired my imagination. I'm never saying "it's like this," but "what if we thought about it like this?" Horror fans are always resistant to what they see as academics coming in from the "outside" and providing a self-serving analysis of "their" movies, so I get a lot of stick from that quarter. I also one wrote an article that some people thought was an attack on those with Asperger's Syndrome, which it wasn't at all, and I'm still getting hate mail from those people, so I tend to stay away from writing about psychology for that reason.

THH: What about reading? The Solitary Vice pricks at widely cherished—and arguably “sacred”—notions about the virtues of textual immersion. You weren’t being intentionally provocative or “contrary” with that thesis?  

MB: Not much. Maybe a little bit. I admit in the book that 90% of reading practices are healthy and helpful. But there are so many books about how great it is to read, and I wanted to draw attention to the dangers of certain kinds of reading, and of reading too much. It doesn't happen often, and of course it's a very minor problem compared to the issue of illiteracy and kids not wanting to read, but it does happen, and it happened to me, in a way, so I see myself as a representative case.

It's not being "contrary" to consider the other side of the question, though it might seem that way initially, because it's a perspective that's seldom heard. Another example: most people say their pets bring them health benefits—lowered blood pressure, relaxation, decreased stress levels, and so on. Which is all true. But it's also true that every year a significant number of people are seriously injured by tripping over their dogs. It's not "contrary" to point it out—I'm just interested in the minority experience that doesn't get much press, if any, because we're so used to hearing the other side.

THH: I'm glad you mentioned Janet Malcolm, because she does have a comparable knack for getting behind unacknowledged cultural assumptions, particularly concerning the ethical conceits of journalism. Are there other writers who you see as being on a similar track? Standout influences?

MB: I don't know about being on a similar track, because I don't really see myself as being on a track, or, if I am, I don't know what it is or where it's going. If you're asking about non-fiction, there are certain writers whose voice I find truly compelling, and they do seem to have similar interests to me, particularly in relation to psychoanalysis. Janet Malcolm is one; also Daphne Merkin, Laura Kipnis, Nancy Rommelmann, Terry Castle—all women, now that I come to think of it. David Grann is a writer who's obsessed with people who are obsessed, and I find a lot of his work compelling—the same territory covered by documentary filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, whose work also intrigues me. I love Lauren Greenfield's documentaries, too. But much of what I read on a daily basis is older fiction, which I also love. I teach a course every year that focuses in-depth on a single author. Last year it was Joseph Conrad, next year will be Jane Austen.

THH: I love Conrad. And I really need to make time for Jane Austen. Are there other fiction writers you would cite as influences? Any “guilty pleasures”?  

MB: Nothing I feel guilty about. Lots of influences and perennial favorites, though I tend to fixate on particular works rather than particular authors: Macbeth (my introduction to true crime and a lasting influence), Heart of Darkness, Lolita, “Bartleby,” many of Poe's tales, Larkin's poetry, Last Exit to Brooklyn, From Hell. These are the books I come back to again and again.

THH: I don't know that it constitutes a "theme" as such, but a common thread in your writing might be the way you recast ordinary behaviors and events in a way that forces introspection. For example, your study of Gershon Legman (Funny Peculiar) left me feeling uneasily self conscious every time I would laugh (it also made me mildly paranoid about other people's laughter), and The Solitary Vice had a similarand maddeningly distractingeffect, prompting me to reflect on my private experience with reading and books. Perhaps my experience isn't representative, but I wonder whether this type of reshuffling of a default perceptionssomething that is perhaps more often attributed to artis something that you set out to do when you probe a subject?

MB: Yes, that's a very good way of putting it. In terms of laughter, I had exactly the same experience when I first read Freud's work on jokes and humor. I started to see joking and laughing in a very different light, and became excruciatingly conscious of it. I kept thinking eventually I'd get over it, and go back to laughing and joking readily and unselfconsciously again, but I never did. I still laugh, of course, but rarely without feeling awkward and paranoid, especially when I'm part of a group or an audience. I think what leads me to write is a fascination with something I've started to think about in a new way, and the desire to share that perspective with other people. It's as if I'm saying, "What if we look at it like this? How does that change things?" or "What if it's really all about this?" I don't expect my books to change people's perspective permanently; I just want to let others peer through a lens briefly, and see if they can see what I see. You're right that this is something perhaps easier to do in the visual arts because that's where it's most often found. It's more difficult in prose.

THH: You recently published your first novel, House of Quiet Madness, and your most recent  book, Thirteen Girls, is nominally a work of fiction. After so many years writing essays and nonfiction books, what prompted you to try your hand at fiction?

MB: I read a lot of fiction and I've always wanted to write a horror novel. When I was in California for a couple of years I gave it a shot, and wrote House of Quiet Madness. But fiction isn't for me (as a writer, not as a reader). There's something about the narrative voice that bothers me. I want to get away from it. That's not to say I plan to go back to writing academic books. What really interests me is the hybrid form—fiction blended with other kinds of writing: court transcripts, psychological case histories, crime scene reports—what J.G. Ballard calls "invisible literatures," the kind of published material that most readers don't normally pay attention to. I'm especially interested in the style, tone and voice of these kinds of documents, and the access they allow—this is part of what led me to Thirteen Girls.

THH: I've always called that stuff "literature vérité" (something I picked up from Jack Stevenson), but  Ballard's term is better; less pretentious. Anyway, it's good that you bring this up because when I first read the manuscript for Thirteen Girls, I was struck by your ability to convincingly alternate between these radically differing “documentary” voices. I suppose a lot of writers can pull of a stylistic pastiche, but the challenge seems very different when you are working with these formsdeposition transcripts, church sermons, psychological reports, diary entries, etc.that exist, “invisibly” as Ballard would have it, outside the conventions and strictures that largely inform what  people think of as “literature.” It just seems like it would be very easy for misstep at so many turns. Can you talk about how you approach the task of writing without a traditional "authorial" voice?

MB: I'm fascinated by those kinds of documents, and I spend a lot of time at sites like "The Smoking Gun" reading court transcripts and police reports. With Thirteen Girls, I wanted to write the kind of book that I'd love to read. I do think I have a good ear. I did very well at school and university because everything was based on long-essay exams, and it was very easy for me, after a lot of reading, to appropriate the tone and vocabulary of authority. I'm not even sure I was doing it consciously. I play the piano, and will struggle with a piece until I've heard it played—then it comes very quickly. I pick up on things I'm curious about, like the little nuances of tone and inflection in therapy transcripts that subtly imply superiority or disbelief, or in police reports when the most banal statement will be followed with the phrase “at that time,” which gives it an odd kind of weight and momentum. That's one of the reasons why I love Conrad and Nabokov. They're both geniuses of style, but both writing in their third language, which means their English is sort of defamiliarized.

THH: Since we’ve already waded in, let’s talk about Thirteen Girls. How would you describe the book?

MB: I'd describe it as a casebook. Casebooks are normally used in fields of study, like law, medicine, or therapy, with each case illustrating a particular concept or problem, so I'd say Thirteen Girls is a casebook of loss. It contains thirteen fictionalized narratives, each based on true events surrounding a real victim of a serial killer. Each is told from a different perspective, and each case shows a different response to the girl's death. Some people are traumatized forever, other people hardly notice she's gone.

THH: Since the narratives are based on true events, how did you choose which cases to include, and which to exclude?  And why did you focus exclusively on female victims? It occurs to me that two of the most infamous and prolific serial killers—John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer—killed only “boys.”  

MB: In Thirteen Girls, I'm more interested in the victims than the perpetrators. I wanted to focus on victims of serial killers—or, at least, killers who murdered more than one victim, so this particular girl would be simply one among many. The majority of serial killer victims are female—about 70%, according to the most recent estimate. And in the end, I suppose it was a question of empathy and interest. As a woman, I tend to be more interested in female protagonists, and more able to empathize with female victims. There's also a sense of "there but for the grace of god…" because when I was in my twenties I did all kinds of crazy things—hitchhiked alone, accepted rides from strangers, disappeared for days, slept rough—and this was all before cell phones. At the same time, these experiences make me realize how overanxious and paranoid most people are. Random murder is extremely rare. Most of the time, nothing happens. The frightening truth is that life is basically pretty dull, and that no one really cares about you all that much, even as a victim. They're just not that into you.

THH: I’m loath to use the term “favorites,” but are there cases that you find especially compelling or disturbing? Any that you continue to follow, perhaps obsessively?

MB: Yes, definitely, but again, it's particular victims that interest me most. As with your question about writers, where I said that I'm usually drawn to  texts rather than writers, I'm interested in particulars and specifics. So, for example, the Caryn Campbell case ("Tracy" in Thirteen Girls) fascinates me because this girl disappeared in a space of around 30 feet with no one in sight. There's something quite supernatural about it. Particular moments like this are always
compelling to me.   

THH: I'm aware that Thirteen Girls had been rejected by a number of reputable publishers before you approached Nine-Banded Books about publishing it, yet most of the formal rejections were couched in almost apologetic terms, emphasizing that the book was powerful and disturbing and so on. If big-time publishers liked the book so much, what do you think accounts for their reticence about publishing it? You're an established writer, after all, and you are represented by committed agent. I understand that their loss is my gain, but why the hell were you left to slum with a marginal outfit like 9BB?

MB: All my books so far have been published by either academic presses (Palgrave Macmillan, Vanderbilt University Press), specialist psychoanalytic publishers (Analytic Press, Karnac Books), or small presses (Creation, Counterpoint, Reaktion). This is the first time I've written anything that commercial publishers would even consider, and I found it gratifying that so many of them found my writing so powerful (though the e-mails were sent not to me but to my agent, who knows these people personally, which might account for the apologetic tone). As for why none of them would publish it, I know nothing about the marketplace and have no commercial instinct whatsoever, but the objections seem to have been twofold. First, many said the form was confusing, they wouldn't know how to market it, and bookstores wouldn't know how to classify or categorize it (true crime? fiction? nonfiction?). Second, many said it was just "too much" and a couple of people said they couldn't even manage to read it. I was surprised, because there's really no explicit violence or bloodshed in these stories, no sex or gore. What seems to be "too much" is the cumulative sense of loss, the absence of crime-solving closure that normally surrounds such stories. There's a missing perspective, maybe—that of the cop who's working on the side of justice, or the family determined to redeem the loss. Instead, there's nothing, just the loss. The "too muchness" of it wasn't intentional on my part, and I can't see it myself, but it must be there, because those who've read the manuscript have said one of two things—they've found it heavy and depressing and can understand the publishers’ perspective (which is what my boyfriend said), or they found it impossible to put down and read it “like porn” (which is what a girlfriend said).

By the way, I certainly don't think of 9BB as a marginal outfit, nor do I think I'm "slumming." Big publishers might have been able to give me more money and press, but I don't think any of them would have paid so much attention to the book or had such a clear grasp of what I'm doing as you've shown me. Honestly, if I thought you'd be interested I would give you everything I ever write from now on without a second thought.

THH: Well, thanks for the kind words. One of the benefits of being a “marginal” publisher (I don’t mind the term) is that you get to pursue projects that genuinely interest you.

Anyway, I guess I would fall into the “read it 'like porn'” camp, but I think I understand why readers might find the book to be rough going. As you mention, crime writingwhether fiction or nonfictiontypically follows certain formulaic conventions, where grisly details are counterbalanced by an emphasis on procedural investigation and the pursuit of justice. And the structure usually comes anchored to a clear moral or cautionary theme, where killers are either portrayed as monsters or as victims of some (theoretically remediable) social injustice, and where murder signifies a rift in the social order that can somehow be overcome, retributed, or at least understood. In contrast, Thirteen Girls dwells on sequelae and aftermath, so the killers seem as ghostlike as the victims. And while book the is centrally concerned with loss and memory, the prism through which loss is experienced and memory recorded is tightly controlled through these shifting and removed narrative devices so the sense of resolution (or “closure,” as you put it) never comes. Clearly, you’re breaking a lot of “rules” right out of the gate. Now, In The Solitary Vice and in the afterword to Thirteen Girls, you freely admit to being an avid reader of “true crime” books (some of which are referenced in the [nonfiction] appendix to Thirteen Girls), so you know the “rules” as well as anyone, yes? This is too much exposition, I realize, but I guess my question concerns your broader concept, or strategy: If I’m correct that you are consciously subvertingor even manipulating—the established crime narrative, what, to borrow an investigative term, is your motive? Are you getting at something, perhaps about the way our culture processes the horror of lethal violence?

MB: I don't have an agenda here, really. I wanted to plunge deeply into the cases (again, victims, not killers) that interest me, and look closely at their final moments, and the impact of their loss. If this strategy has implications regarding the conventions of true crime—and I suppose it does—then this is a byproduct, not a motivating force. If anything, I'm looking into the seams and cracks of the conventional true crime narrative to show what it overlooks, and also to show how formulaic it's become. Many murders don't fit the "true crime" narrative if for no other reason than that they remain unsolved.  

THH: When you talk about the “impact of their loss,” I suspect some readers will be quick to imagine the kind of inexorable emotional turmoil that’s often depicted in TV melodramas—where the suffering of parents attending the wake of their only child seems so visceral and profound. But while some of the narratives in Thirteen Girls do dwell close to the immediate, devastating afterlife of murder, others take a more removed perspective—for example, that of a disinterested witness or a coworker. When we initially talked about the book, I recall that you likened these degrees of intimacy to a kind of “rippling” effect, and it strikes me that this is another distinguishing element of Thirteen Girls that might add to the discomfiture expressed by some readers and potential publishers. For one thing, it seems to subtly jar against the vaguely romantic notion that people "live on" in hearts and minds. That’s arguably true … to a point, but it's also true that memory fades with time and distance. I won’t ask you to explain your deeper intentions here, but I wonder if you can talk about this especially salient aspect of the book?

MB: Yes, you're right … while the loss of these girls may be horrifying to a mother or sister, there are others, further away from the incident perhaps, to whom the loss is nothing more than a curiosity, the punchline to a joke, an interesting case, even a ghoulish thrill. And humans are very resilient. However enormous the loss, people recover. Psychologists say it takes about a year, on average, to return to equilibrium after a life-changing event (including things like winning the lottery). In truth, I don't think people do "live on in the heart," except when it serves a useful or instrumental function. Losses are forgotten more quickly and easily than we like to admit.

THH: Getting back to “true crime”—a genre that gets about as much respect as slasher cinema—what’s the appeal? Why do you think people are perennially fascinated by stories about murder and transgression?

MB: I think people want to imagine the world to be a more exciting and interesting place than it really is, and to believe that things work out in the end—good is rewarded, and evil punished. True crime writing is, essentially, a deeply conservative genre. People don’t want to read about the failures and inadequacies of law enforcement, since it would disturb too many of our comfortable assumptions. It also perpetuates the illusion that murder is caused by random evil, not by the failure of social policies and cultural institutions.

THH: Do you believe in evil?

MB: Not in the religious or moral sense of the word, but I believe there are people who consciously choose to give pain to others. Perhaps even worse is the pain caused by those who don't think much about it—those people who have children without thinking much about what they're doing; even people who eat meat without taking into account the cruelty they cause. There's an everyday evil in thoughtlessness, which is perhaps the same as Arendt's "banality of evil."

THH: In The Solitary Vice, you write that the “serial killer” can be understood as a social construct. What does this mean?

MB: The kind of behavior that characterized the serial killer is still with us, but it now goes by different names or is ignored by the press or takes a back seat to other monsters. Times have changed. There was something about the political climate of the 1980s that was especially ripe for the creation of a moral panic, in the sense of widespread anxieties about a newly perceived threat from moral deviants. The "serial killer" panic  give rise to social movements aimed at eliminating this threat, and generated moral crusades and political struggles over the use of the law to suppress it.

THH: It seems that serial killers were constantly in the news when I was growing up, but nowadays, at least in America, popular crime reporting tends to revolve around domestic incidents, where the focus is on missing children and suburban mothers and fathers and boyfriends suspected of doing bad things for insipidly venal reasons. Serial killers are still around of course, but, as you mention, they no longer steal the headlines. Any thoughts as to why public attention has shifted from Ted Bundy to Casey Anthony? One thing that strikes me is how the image of serial killer plays into the fear of random violence, which makes more sense when crime is on the rise. With guys like Berkowitz and Zodiac on the prowl, anyone can be a victim. By contrast, contemporary crime stories seem to play out at a safer distance, with sensational accounts of bad mothers and missing children provoking public indignation and confident judgment, but not necessarily fear. Do we simply feel safer in our cocoons now that crime rates have dropped? Or do you think these new family-centered crime narratives signify a more inchoate social unease that exists beneath the channel-flipping schadenfreude and predictable blog comments?

MB: I think the outrage provoked by these kinds of narratives is a way of detracting attention from the clear truths they contain—that most murder victims are killed by their "loved ones," that families breed violence, that marriage can be stultifying, and that many (if not most) mothers have the urge to get rid of their babies. I wonder how many young women picked up a useful tip from Casey Anthony's account of how she used to put her baby to sleep with chloroform. A lot, I bet. You wouldn't have to use chloroform, either. Over-the-counter meds would do it.

Also, in the 70s and 80s, women were less empowered and it was more common to regard them as helpless and in need of protection. These days, women are pretty independent—not so different from men—which means it's less acceptable to see them as blameless victims struck out of the blue by sudden, senseless, random violence. These days, it's the child that sits in the victim's throne. Children are blameless, and so they make ideal victims—the younger the better (unborn is ideal).

THH: Shifting gears, I know that you recently contributed a monograph to the Reaktion “Animal” seriescalled Hyena. What can you tell us about this project? Why the hyena?

MB: Why the hyena? Are you joking? Hyenas are the most fascinating animals—I've always been interested in them. They're completely liminal—they fit my interests completely. Laughing scavengers with glowing red eyes that come out at night and dig up dead bodies: what's not to love? They're amazing animals, neither cat nor dog but somewhere in between, yet they've always been despised and seen as these cowardly, ugly, filthy creatures…. I find them very mysterious and beautiful.

THH: Any other  projects you’d like to mention? Books in the offing?

MB: I'm working on a lot of stuff but nothing that's got a publisher yet.

THH: Thanks so much for your time.

MB: My pleasure.

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Click here to place an advance order for Thirteen Girls through Nine-Banded Books. If you don't trust me, feel free to order through Amazon.

Click here to peruse other titles by Mikita Brottman (Amazon links).

Click here to visit Mikita Brottman's homepage. 

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Memento mori.

2 thoughts on “Abjection in all its Forms: An Interview with Mikita Brottman

  1. I initially assumed the book on car-crash culture would be something like Cronenberg’s movie, but thankfully people aren’t really that strange.
    I believe Brottman is your first author known as an academic. I was going to ask how you came in contact with her, now I wonder how she heard of 9BB.
    Is your bit on how culture changes in rising vs falling crime eras inspired by agnostic’s recent monomania at Dusk in Autumn?
    I chuckled at her professed surprise that anyone would find the choice of hyenas surprising.

  2. I doubt Mikita even remembers this, but I’m pretty sure she ordered a copy of the old Hoover Hog zine back in 97 or so when I think she was acting as US liaison for the UK-based pop-cult journal, Headpress. What I know for sure is that THH #2 was subsequently reviewed in this issue. Beyond that, I know I sent her some books at some point because I’m a fan and that’s how I roll.
    Agnostic has gone nuts, but even if obsessive pattern recognition gets the better of him these days I don’t think his pet theory is easily dismissed. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, there was just something in the air — apart from lead fumes — that made life seem more dangerous and exciting. Probably because life WAS more dangerous and exciting in those days. Michael Blowhard used to write about this with keen insight.

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