Katharina Volckmer and Eliza Clark discuss monarchy, violence, and writing that gets beyond the concept of ‘vulgarity’.
There are many things I would love to talk to you about, but one thing (and this might be the heat talking) was lipstick. I am currently working on something new, and I watched YouTube tutorials on how to apply lipstick for the first time in my life. It’s an important theme in my new project, and I felt like lipstick and make-up in general were an important theme in your novel too. I feel like they’re one of those things in our everyday lives that we don’t talk about much because they are not deemed intellectual enough, but they carry so much meaning and so many different meanings, and I was fascinated by the way you wrote about them and how much space you granted them, avoiding polarising discussions of whether make-up is a weakness or a strength, but instead addressing it almost like a cultural practice I am grateful for your descriptions because it’s a world that – for various reasons – I never had much access to. Your depiction made me think of how I use the English language as a layer between myself and the world, almost as an alternative to make-up, and how I feel much more vulnerable when I have to express myself in German.
I am very interested in thinking about make-up and beauty itself, as a labour and a skill. As you said, I feel it’s often deemed unintellectual, shallow or embarrassing to be a person who has effectively developed ‘The Skill Of Make-up’. I was chatting to a friend the other day, about how the practice of beauty can be compared to playing the piano. It is nice to be able to play the piano and it is wonderful to be able to play it to a high standard, or even professionally. But at the end of the day, you don’t have to be able to play the piano, and no one really looks down on you for not being able to play. It’s strange that the practice of beauty, something I essentially view as skilled work, is something you’re expected to opt in to, and will be looked down upon for not engaging with – but that you’re never supposed to mention or value it. The way women groom is so woven into our engagement with capitalism that you can be chastised or prevented from getting a job for looking messy – but you’re not supposed to talk about the work involved. It’s insane that I can miss out on a job for failing to wear lipstick, but if I put great effort into selecting and applying my lipstick, I’m dull and unintellectual. It’s always been such a bizarre doublethink for me.
The way opting in to play piano has its pros and cons, I think opting in to beauty has its pros and cons. I feel like I should opt out. But at the same time, on a low level, beauty gets me the occasional free bus ride or coffee, and on a higher level, it’s gotten me jobs and attention I don’t think I’d have had otherwise. It’s a valuable commodity, which I feel bad about having because it seems inherently anti-feminist. I’m reminded of that comic, with the peasant saying ‘we should improve society somewhat’ and a man pops up behind them announcing ‘YET YOU PARTICIPATE IN SOCIETY! CURIOUS! I AM VERY INTELLIGENT!’ In this context I am the peasant, participating.
I’m interested in the vulnerability you feel in German. I don’t speak a second language, but have always wanted to, and having a second tongue to work in has always fascinated me. I was taught French at school from around nine, but the English education system lends itself so poorly to learning a language. I’d like to hear more about your relationship with Germany in general. In The Appointment, your narrator is very open in her complex confrontation with Germany’s past. I have visited Berlin just once, and, coming from the UK where our colonial crimes are largely glossed over, barely touched on by our education system, I was surprised by how long the spectre of Hitler and the Holocaust loomed. It felt very important to me to acknowledge the history of the city. We went on a walking tour, and I dragged my very hung-over, very tired friends to the Topography of Terror, and we spent almost two hours there.
It was until I read The Appointment that I’d really considered the effect this level of confrontation could have on a psyche. I recently read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, and she dedicates her last chapters to the erasure of the massacre in the Japanese, political and historical spheres. Japan has paid only a tiny per cent of the reparations Germany has. Collectively, few have faced up to the fact that thousands of Japan’s sons, husbands and brothers went to Nanking and raped and pillaged and tortured their way across Manchuria. Britain is terminally unable to paint itself as anything other than history’s great civilising hero. I was wondering what it must be like to grow up surrounded by intentional, bleak acknowledgement of your nation’s history. To walk down a street in your hometown and see a monument to murdered people, instead of one that glorifies its murderers.
I don’t feel I have much of a national identity. I think my identity has always been more strongly connected to being a person from working-class stock, a person from the north-east, and even then I don’t think I really had much of a sense of that aspect of my identity until I moved to London, where it became very clear that that is what I am. Did moving to England make you feel more German?
Before coming back from Berlin last night, I visited a fairly new museum/memorial site that is housed in the former barracks of one of the 30,000 (!) camps that could be found in Nazi Germany to house zwangsarbeiter (forced laborers), who were brought in from all over Europe to work in all kinds of German industries. Thirteen million of them. I was struck by the perverse irony that some of these former barracks are now used by companies such as a Bosch and BMW (companies who heavily relied on forced laborers during the Third Reich) and even a nursery. One exhibit that I am still struggling with is an instrument that was used to carry out abortions on women, especially those from the Soviet Union and Poland, because they were deemed racially inferior and the authorities didn’t want them to have offspring. It had the same effect on me as the glove made from human skin that I saw in a museum in Kiev, or the ravine in Babi Yar where the Nazis rounded up the entire Jewish population of Kiev, executed them within forty-eight hours and buried them. Or the lake near the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen where nobody wants to swim until this day because that’s where they dumped the ashes of the people that they burnt – they remind me of where I’m coming from. What our history is, that the pain we have caused is simply never ending because there are so many continuations of fascism and we only know a fraction of what we think we know.
Brexit has made me feel more aware of being foreign, but I think I was always very aware of being a descendant of the perpetrators, the Tätervolk (nation of perpetrators) as we say in German. And in the beginning, living in a different country didn’t make a big difference – I thought, at least, that it was possible to ignore those differences – and I studied modern languages so most of my friends at uni were either foreign too or had a foreign background and it took me a long time to work out how closed-off English society really is. How people can live very separate lives while sharing the same space. To some of my friends the idea of having an ‘English’ friend is still rather bizarre. It just doesn’t happen. With Brexit these lines of separation became more pronounced, and I felt for the first time that the place I considered my home had started a process of rejecting me. My foreignness is, of course, very privileged, but there are things I have in common with all my fellow outsiders. And I have yet to decide whether to claim this space or to return to the continent I left so long ago.
The intentional, bleak acknowledgement of our past that you mention is of course there, but I think the Germans are also very good at feeling smug about themselves. There is an unhelpful sense of complacency when it comes to the way they think they have dealt with their past. It was not until I read Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction that I allowed myself to think that maybe the Brits didn’t always get everything right either, that they weren’t just our lovely liberators (I grew up in the former British Zone) and that it was possible to criticise their warfare, that ‘winning’ the war didn’t mean they were intrinsically good. When I now look at the way the British look at their own history (yes, I absolutely hate Downton Abbey) it just leaves me bewildered, and I wonder how it is possible that someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg can get away with comparing the death rate in Boer War concentration camps to the death rate in Glasgow at the time. I also know that some English people get really worked up if a German criticises them (I have made jokes about the Queen before), which is why I proposed we talk about lipstick first.
The vulnerability I feel in German is based on the fact that with every language you speak you develop a different personality, and those added personalities are freer because they are something that you choose, not something you are born into. When I speak German I always feel like there is nothing I can hide behind, and there are so many things I’m supposed to know (and often don’t). English is in many ways an empty canvas that I can paint on, and I do enjoy the fact that a lot of cultural references don’t mean very much to me. I feel at liberty to use this language in ways I maybe wouldn’t in German – one of the many perks of being foreign. And from reading your book I felt that maybe make-up has a similar effect on people, it offers them an element of choice, of adding something that they weren’t born with. I was also interested in how your protagonist is othered by people in London because of the way she dresses and how people cannot cope with the fact that she is from up North but doesn’t conform to all their stereotypes. (even though historically very different we also have strong geographical divides in Germany –I always find those difference within one country/language fascinating.)
The other thing I wanted to talk to you about is another aspect of beauty. The men Irina fancies/photographs in Boy Parts are not conventionally attractive (and thus form such a strong contrast to her own beauty), and the fact that you portray this as controversial is in itself interesting to me. I was wondering what you think about ideals of beauty and whether our concept of what constitutes beauty is changing?
I’m not surprised that people have gotten upset at you for criticising Britain before. Or for joking about the queen. I’m quite shocked by how misty-eyed people get over the queen, perfectly logical people who suddenly fully endorse the divine right of kings because they think they love the lady on the stamp. She drove past me once when I was going to buy cough syrup in Pimlico (where my uni was based); it’s a bizarre that the image of An Old Woman In A Car on a completely ordinary day is burnt into my brain forever, now. I don’t know why we, as a society, decided to collectively identify with our aristocratic overlords instead of beheading them 300 years ago like the French. Does it seem awfully strange, as a non-Brit, the way we seem to genuinely love them? Because the way we love the taste of boot-leather, the complete lack of true political revolution in this country’s history is so strange to me. We revolted once and changed our minds and re-installed a king. Imagine!
Imperialism is baked into our media, our education system. I’m shocked by how aggressive the reaction to any non-nationalist sentiment has become. I feel like nationalism has gotten worse, but I was a child during the Labour years (Gordon Brown got the boot two days after my sixteenth birthday) so I may have just been too young to be aware of the kind of jingoist, right-wing sentiment that seems more common now. I wonder if these things are allowed to build because, in Britain, we do not see ourselves as a Nation of Perpetrators, when perhaps we should.
The North/South divide is a strange thing. It’s funny that even after drawing up arbitrary borders, we need to create further in-groups and out-groups. It must just be baked into the human psyche to do this. Essentially, I come from a historically poorer part of the country and have a funny accent, but this does lead to all sorts of weird behaviour from people from (particularly) the south-east. Inappropriate questions about if your Dad is a miner, or head-tilted, ‘What’s it like up there?’, waiting for you to describe some Threads-style hellscape, and general assumptions that it’s far worse than it actually is.
I do wonder if the vulnerability you feel in German could be compared to the vulnerability I feel speaking in my accent and dialect in front of southerners, particularly those from very middle-class or upper-class backgrounds. I feel like I have to put up a great account of myself as intellectual and knowledgeable about the city so as not to be labelled pitiable and provincial. Without the privilege of a private, classical education, there are words and phrases and cultural references that feel placed into conversation almost as if to intentionally catch you out, to pin you as a pretender.
In my book, this becomes a thing which makes my protagonist feel powerless. She’s obsessed with domination, with making it clear she’s in control, and in charge, which is so hard to do when people patronise you about something as basic as your accent. I always felt her targeting of not-conventionally-attractive men was part of that need to dominate – that she wants men she can control, and that she knows will behave around her.
But I do think male standards of beauty are very interesting. In a lot of ways, the bar is kind of on the floor for men, but (to speak purely about very masculine-presenting men) they don’t really have the benefit of being able to hide behind clothes, or make-up. I think beauty standards are getting stricter across the board. I recent read If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha, which explores the high standards of beauty and conformity in South Korea, and how South Korea is very much leading the world in skincare and beautification surgery at the moment.
With the advent of Photoshop and easily-accessible editing technology, we are beginning to fear bodies that look imperfect, like they’re aging and functioning. Doing anything other than looking beautiful. This is even sliding over to men, now, who previously were granted more grace about their ugly hair and bad skin. There was a piece in the Guardian last year about teen boys spending hours and hours in the gym in the hope of getting a six-pack. Men and women on Instagram airbrushing out their pores! I catch myself looking in the mirror in summer and thinking about how terrible and large my pores look! As if we’re not even allowed to have pores now!
I noticed this, too, in The Appointment, this running theme of a fear of an adult’s body, an imperfect body. The page where your protagonist feels sickened and threatened by her mother’s very average body as a child in the changing rooms of swimming pools stands out in particular. That feeling of horror when looking at an average adult woman’s body as a little girl is quite visceral, and quite universal. Scarring and hair and cellulite are coming for us all. Or most of us, anyway. The way you write about bodies is so visceral. Why do you think discussing body parts inspires so much revulsion? Were you hoping to inspire discomfort?
To come back to the monarchy, (I don’t want to go off on a complete rant about because I’m aware of the immensity of that taboo), I can’t relate to the feeling of devotion that some people experience here. For me it’s in some ways similar to when Notre Dame caught fire and some of my French friends were in tears. I had to admit to myself that there is not a single building in Germany I would mourn for in that way, partly because, with a few exceptions, we don’t really have buildings like that anymore. I was fortunate in that respect – because of our history some of us were raised without the kind of patriotism that is so normal in other countries (sadly this tendency has mostly disappeared in contemporary Germany). I grew up in a country that was always so much easier to despise than to love, and it remains one of my deep-rooted convictions that it is always wrong to worship a human being, in any context. When I see the kind of coverage and attention the monarchy gets here (I have referred to this as propaganda in the past but again people get very upset), I’m just bewildered and unable to understand. It makes me sad, because you see people clapping at the reason/justification for the classism and social injustice that is so prevalent in this country. You see them applauding their oppressor, which is always tragic. But I do love the fact that you saw the Queen in Chelsea! It reminds me of how I once saw the mad German fashion designer Rudolph Moshammer being chauffeured around in his car in Munich with his little dog Daisy, pretending to be some kind of reincarnation of Ludwig II. (Moshammer was later found, strangled with a black telephone cable, at his flat, Daisy safe and unharmed in the living room. The murderer was a twenty-five-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker who claims that Moshammer refused to pay the right amount in exchange for sexual favours. A story so full of uncomfortable power dynamics and so revelatory that it has never received the kind of attention it deserved.) I will refrain from talking about Prince Andrew here, but I do find it very interesting how this domination of people we have othered/or feel superior to for other reasons extends to a domination of their bodies in the most frightening ways. How we manage to sexualise and discriminate against people at the same time has always left me speechless.
But this brings me to another aspect of Boy Parts that I wanted to discuss, and that is violence. It’s so unusual to see male bodies being subject to female violence, and for their bodies to be so disposable – something that we are usually only familiar with when it comes to female bodies and the universal violence that affects them. It’s probably the aspect of your book that got me thinking the most, because one of the questions I ask myself is whether or not women should emulate male behaviour or not, and I was intrigued by my reaction to those scenes in your book. We have become numb when it comes to violence against women, but when it’s a woman violating a man it turns everything upside down and has a much stronger effect. Those depictions of violence in your book are very strong, but they also made me wonder what you think about the connection between sex and violence and whether, to a certain extent, sex is always violent? I’m asking this because I was struck by how all of your protagonist’s sexual encounters result in different forms of violence, either towards the men she is with or towards herself.
As for the fear of talking about body parts – I personally dream of a world in which we let go of that obsession with having perfect bodies that don’t really exist, and try to go beyond the visual and arrive at a more inclusive concept of beauty. But I think you are right that if anything this tendency is getting worse, and is beginning to affect men in ways that are similar to women. Capitalism has finally discovered that male insecurities are valuable. But it is also about control, a so-called healthy body signals to the world that we have our shit together and that we have somehow gotten over our own mortality. Because we do not just have grey hair and sagging skin coming our way but, ultimately, death, and if you talk about that openly people are put off. (‘The Three Ages of Man and Death’ is a very good visual example of that). It’s hard to accept that our time on earth is really just a fleeting moment, but I think that’s what’s behind the horror we experience when we look at ageing bodies.
The Notre Dame stuff is weird. Honestly, all worship of cultural idols is inherently strange, be it your archaic monarchy, your old church, or the nations we live in. Humanity’s need to worship something apparently higher and better than ourselves seems hardwired into us, and is very easy to take advantage of. I genuinely feel like monarchy mania was dying off, post-Diana and pre-Kate-and-Wills. Because Prince Charles is so unpopular, it really felt like we might just collectively not bother with him, but, alas. As you said, it’s propagandistic, and I think the rise of Will and Kate’s popularity can’t be ignored in its capacity for distraction during this bleak period of austerity.
I’m very interested in violence – I think it’s one of my book’s core themes. I wanted sexual violence in the novel to feel a little quotidian – because it is, it’s a day-to-day thing for so many people. I wanted people to be confronted by a protagonist who is repeatedly subjected to sexual violence, and I wanted people to see the way she picks up and goes back to her life, that this event, while terrible and wrong, is not always a world shattering. I always wanted to show the way violence can slowly chip away at you. I’m interested in the way that sexual violence is so quotidian that we often fail to realise we’ve been a victim or a perpetrator. I do believe we can separate sex from violence, and that one can have a truly consensual non-violent experience – but I think those are less common than we’d like to think they are. As with the story about the fashion designer and the refugee – differing power dynamics affect our sex lives in all sorts of different ways, and many of them are uncomfortable to consider. Many people simply do not understand consent, and I think my protagonist is one of those people.
It’s interesting that you mention the imitation of male behaviour. Irina was, for me, a sort of thought experiment, my version of the answer to the question: what would it be like if a woman acted like a misogynist man, if a woman treated men the way some men treat women?
I feel like men (largely referring to gender-conforming cis men) don’t see themselves as performing gender, but just as ‘neutral’, when they are obviously also performing a gender. I find that some of the cishet men who’ve read the book have said that Boy Parts made them most uncomfortable when it was picking apart things like the way men at a party behave (affecting top hats, referencing films, providing drugs and drink etc.). And those behaviours are ones I consider very gendered, part of the performance of masculinity in that context. I think the discomfort comes from the fact that they don’t think about being watched the way women are watched, they aren’t as aware of the performance they’re putting on, or of the people observing. But we are watching – and they are certainly performing.
What do men think of The Appointment? Have you also had reports of male discomfort?
Beauty as delay-of-death is very interesting to me – as are our attempts to visually and physically preserve ourselves. I think this is partly why I wrote about a photographer – there’s something profoundly disturbing to me about the photograph. It’s a physical impression of a moment we lost. It’s an attempt to grab and keep it for ourselves. And that so easily tips into violence when we’re trying to capture something beautiful, or something erotic, it’s why the photograph is so inherently intrusive. It’s always chasing after something which is trying to pass it by.
In terms of capturing things which are erotic, or violent, or a little taboo: how did you feel writing about genitals and Hitler? Were you worried about how people would react? I ask because I genuinely was with my book – particularly about the way that readers, bloggers and the media seem obsessed with projecting an autobiographical narrative onto women writers.
I also feel like the mechanical aspect of writing about sex and other taboo topics is rarely discussed. Do you find writing about this sort of thing as technically challenging as I do? I feel like there’s never a good word for any intimate part of the human body – everything is clinical or vulgar and sometimes you want neither. I feel like you leaned into vulgarity to great effect.
I think your depiction of the issues surrounding consent and sexual violence is very important, but I can imagine that some people find it challenging. Have you had any negative responses? I agree that sexual violence is more common than we think, and that it makes much more sense to show it as an everyday occurrence that comes in many forms – something that I also admired about I May Destroy You – rather than as a one-off event/an exception. But I also think that approach makes it more difficult to stomach, because people have to ask themselves whether they might have been either victim or perpetrator at some stage. Anything that makes people look in the mirror and reconsider their views/question themselves can be perceived as a provocation, and labelled as something outside of mainstream culture.
But I personally think that art is not meant to flatter the soul (stealing from Socrates here), and that this whole concept we seem to have of wanting to be comfortable is problematic and potentially dangerous. We cannot spend our lives wearing woolly socks and drinking tea and expecting books and art to broadly reconfirm what we think already – I’m much more in favour of thinking of art as some sort of ice pick.
Something that can fill you with disgust, make you angry in short, react. When I wrote The Appointment I didn’t really think that it would be published (I sometimes write short stories that people enjoy but I ultimately find too problematic to publish, and I thought this book would suffer the same fate). Writing in a second language allowed me to take greater liberties, and I didn’t think too much about how people would react. It’s only been recently that I’ve learned some people find my ‘sexy Hitler’ offensive. I do find that people often ask me whether it’s autobiographical (there is another parallel between our books I guess, in both cases there are parallels between author and protagonist), and I personally don’t understand the purpose of that question.
I don’t understand what it adds for people if they know that it’s a ‘real life’ they are reading about. The human mind is notoriously unreliable, and I don’t actually believe that there is a real distinction between reality and fiction when writing a novel, after all, it all came out of my strange mind. But we seem to have a complete obsession with things that are ‘based on a true story’ (though mostly that’s a lie, people can’t even adapt novels without falsifying everything, let alone correctly adapt someone’s life – it’s always just someone’s interpretation). I find that disappointing, because it makes me feel like all people want to know is whether I did, or did not, try to masturbate with a banana. Like the writing is somewhat secondary.
I’m not entirely sure what men think of The Appointment. I sometimes get the feeling that not only women but also men (at least some men) are tired of living their allocated gender roles, and that the idea of a less binary world also appeals to them. But that might just be my delusional mind talking. I have had arguments with hairdressers over whether it’s ‘acceptable’ for women to have short hair, so I know that many people have never got beyond the 1950s, but I’m secretly hopeful that things might be a little more in flux these days. You are right that men often perceive themselves as neutral (like all ‘oppressors/people in power’ do, I guess. It’s like white people not having a race, for instance), and that’s why I think it’s important for men and women to engage with each other outside of a sexual/erotic context. To have the kind open conversation that so rarely takes place. I’m always amazed by how many topics are apparently not covered between straight couples. (I read somewhere that only one in five women talks to their partner about her period). And I like to think of my writing as being part of that conversation somehow.
Regarding the technical side of writing about taboo topics – I think that we need to get beyond the concept of ‘vulgarity’, because that’s part of the problem. I agree with you that a lot of written sex scenes are painfully bad and awkward, but I wonder if that’s because we are all awkward about the subject in general? That’s just a wild thesis, but I’m trying to embrace vulgarity while at the same time not forgetting that there is such a thing as intimacy and that the two are not mutually exclusive. But the space of intimacy is something we seem to be increasingly afraid of. Your protagonist’s fear of intimacy felt like it was touching on a wider issue, where on the one hand we crave to make even the most banal aspects of our life public (I’m just thinking of the deluge of crap on Insta/Twitter), which is accompanied by an epidemic of loneliness and an inability to be intimate. I thought that theme was very powerful in your novel.
I’m yet to have a negative response to my book, but I think this may be down to the protections granted by a smaller audience. It’s strange, I almost feel like I’m willing the book not to get too popular. The idea that we’re surrounded by sexual violence at all times, I think, breaks people’s brains a little. It’s how we end up (at one end of the scale) with people going out of their way to vehemently deny the existence of rape and abuse, and (at the other) mass hysteria, like the satanic panic in the 1990s. It’s much easier to either aggressively pretend it isn’t happening, or to blame people who are shadowy and sinister and possibly linked to the devil himself, than it is to accept our own husbands, fathers, mothers and friends as undertaking abuse.
I agree that any media which asks its audience to reflect too heavily can provoke hostility. I agree, art for adults should be allowed to function as an ice-pick – one which forces us to question our world views.
We hate self-reflection, but we should not coddle ourselves. We hate to think of ourselves as bad people, particularly on the political left, which I think had led to a re-emergence of a culture of purity and pearl-clutching in our media ‘analysis’. For all our talk of ‘unlearning’ and ‘working’ to change our world views, the left is increasingly refusing to engage with challenging content. We must be careful not to ally ourselves with the right in this regard. For example, take the recent Twitter controversy around Maïmouna Doucouré’s debut feature Cuties; a film looking at the clash between a young Muslim girl’s traditional culture and family, and the hyper-sexualised dance troupe she joins.
The first post I saw decrying the film was outraged about the perceived Islamophobic narrative portrayed in the trailer, despite Doucouré being from a Senegalese Muslim background. (The author hadn’t seen the actual film.) Two days deep into the controversy, I saw far-right, anti-choice, racist accounts celebrating Doucouré being harassed off Twitter. For a day or so, the political left and right were united in trying to pull the debut film of a Black woman director from Netflix – essentially because they were uncomfortable with content they’d seen in a trailer.
Knowing a world is autobiographical allows the audience to condemn or excuse the work more readily. It’s very easy to say ‘well we know she’s terrible because she’s confirmed that she personally finds Hitler very attractive’ or ‘we know the director can’t be an Islamophobe because she’s a Muslim woman’. I think this is part of the purpose of the question of whether or not content is autobiographical. People are obsessed with authenticity – in a post-reality-TV, post-confessional-journalism world, fiction is simply not enough.
I do hope you’re right about people largely tiring of a binary world. It’s unfortunate to be living through something of a cultural backlash to the breakdown of traditional gender roles and concepts of gender (as we can see in the volume of transphobia happening in the UK media), but we can, at least, take from that backlash that things are changing – no matter how much certain parties would like to dig their heels in. Breaking down this binary is important to opening a greater line of communication between men and women. For me, this is part of the failure of feminism that operates under the umbrella of biological essentialism – treating men and women as two aggressively separate classes serves no one, and liberates no one. And I do think The Appointment is part of the conversation which works toward bridging this gap, and breaking down a hard-binary border.
The linguistic binary between the vulgar and the clinical is one The Appointment is tries to break down, too. Perhaps it’s difficult to forge a space for physical intimacy in our writing, because part of us knows we intend to display it in public. Writing about sex is very exposing. While my protagonist’s fear of intimacy is palpable, and she is intentionally very lonely, I must admit that writing about violent, un-intimate sex is far easier for me to approach than writing something tender or romantic! I wonder if, in a post-Covid world, we’ll struggle even more with physical intimacy, while continuing to overshare our increasingly banal lives on social media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the E.M. Forster short story ‘The Machine Stops’, where humanity is largely confined to individual apartments, and communicates through a sort of 1900s prediction of the internet. Perhaps if we weren’t in the midst of this pandemic, we might’ve met up to write parts of this. Alas, we’re confined to trading messages from our individual apartments, a little like Forster’s story.
Katharina Volckmer’s The Appointment is available now from Fitzcarraldo Editions.
Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts is available now from Influx Press.
Cover Image Photographs © J F Paga and Robin Silas Christian