Bhanu Kapil

Rogue Notebooks: 2006 – 2014 or How to Become a Novelist in Ten Minutes or Less.

1. Brief explanatory note:

2. Hi. I am Bhanu, an obscure British novelist of East Indian origin, who has lived in Colorado long enough to raise a tiny, makeshift wolf to puberty. Right now, he is playing video games in the hut in our back garden. I need to buy him a shaving kit. There is a strange under-ribbon of pre-stubble beneath his chin. He looks very much like a Punjabi farmer. For breakfast, I made him a pot of tea, some sausages and a bowl of greens. I bet he loved that. In other news, I teach fiction and poetry in a Buddhist university in Boulder, Colorado. Not to be coy. No, I can’t say the name of the university. Why? New idea: Maybe you should watch the BBC2 miniseries Happy Valley instead. I have no idea what is the correct thing for you. Put it this way. If I am a writer, then you could become one too. Just strap on your unicorn horn, make yourself some coffee and begin to read, quietly. I have calculated that it will take you less than ten minutes to read this note, which was written at 11 a.m. on a Monday morning. Labor Day, to be precise. An hour north. In the year formerly known as 2014. Is this a magazine? You might be reading it two years too late. Are your teeth clean? Are you sitting in a dentist’s waiting room? Is there a pan beneath the chair? To catch the metallic fluid that will, by the end of the hour, inevitably drain off. Suctioned. Cleared. Renewed. Spat.

3. From 2006 to 2014, I wrote Ban: a girl [brown to black] on the floor of the world. How boring is that? Nothing can be more boring than taking several years to describe: a Pakistani girl – crumpling to the ground like a wet tulip. It took two years for her to fold, with such elegance – the kind of weird beauty that starts to happen in the middle of a crisis – when nobody is looking [documenting] – such things: to her knees. Then her side. Then the street, whose asphalt glimmered and brinked out in the pink and amber rain that fell, slanting, through lamp-light that was tres, tres 1979. Tres with the thing on it. An accent. Which is English, varied and at a – no, I can’t say it. Aslant. There I said it. Are you satisfied? Now I have bored you, perhaps, even more – than I said I would. Two weeks ago, in the Bay Area, Jason Perez described the unwritten novel, his “failed novel” – as something both “delayed and celebrated.” He spoke in interesting ways about self-hatred; we were attending a symposium on trauma and catharsis in the Asian avant-garde. I was too exhausted to pour the ox blood over my coccyx. There was none of that, leaning over the table in the butcher’s shop. There was no table. And that is the Asian avant-garde too. The inability to perform it. To do it up. Before others. Exposed, vulnerable concrete-ivy mixtures of west London, that received the riot materials and ran through, like a green or silver wire, to the present time: endlessly replicating the industrial back-drop to successive: immigrant: waves. I don’t want to go over basics here. I don’t want to go back in time.

4. From 2006 to the present time, I made a gesture-posture set in my notebook. I lay down beneath my life in my notebook.

5.a. I wrote my book in a notebook that was, itself, face down on the carpet.

In 2007, Miss Libby threw up. She was from Texas, as was my next dog, Porky. And so we discovered, in time, the old wood floors beneath that – carpet, which was destroyed.

5.b. I wrote Ban through my ageing process, my love process, my institutional process.

6. What were you doing? From the outside, from the inside, we look – like someone rubbing a silver plate clean. Was it tarnished? I have used the word silver twice, and now – because of that – it’s raining.

It is raining inside a book that nobody reads and nobody has written, though they should. There is only so much W.G. Sebald a person can take [read] in a non-European context.

7. I wrote Ban in my notebooks. On December 21, 2012 – dramatically – with a solstice vibe: I swivelled in the alcove to the butcher’s block I had stuffed and organized with pre-literature. Pre-nothing. Target journals and A4 legal pads stuffed into the wire cages beneath the “block” itself. I opened the first “basket,” feeling a deep trust in the sculptural analogy of the book as a kind of meat — and writing a kind of – tendon work or display. But what can I say? I was daunted. So many notebooks. And so I decided to extract a vein – bright blue or red-grey – from each one, until I had accrued: through bibliomancy [the ancient Egyptian art of opening: a book at random: to assess – to bring – to get….] – a text.

This is a part of my text.

A chop.

Notebooks 24 to 28. They are the nicer bits. A rogue notebook is when a random notebook, a personal notebook or teaching notebook, is retrieved as opposed to – a more official Ban-like notebook and also, I wanted to prove to you that I have not done as well as, say, Laird Hunt – in this Colorado context. I have not become a novelist. Laird, if you are reading this, no offense. I love your work.

8. I just feel like such a loser.

9. Here are my notes. Here are my lines, bubbles, genitals, chords:

Notebook 24: [9/30/09]:

“What is a vengeful point of view? How did Ban die? Describe Ban’s hair. Eat as Ban would eat. Who leaves Ban? What is Ban’s oblivion? Ban is a lovely adventurer who has left it too late in life to find love exactly. I write that and see Ban. Walking to Pinner Station. Ban’s dead. Ban’s eyes are light brown like a boy’s. Ban is more beautiful than you. Ban shines. Ban beneath Minerva’s Bell. Ban in Starbucks. Ban’s parents? Ban’s people? Ban’s earth? Ban’s flight? What is Ban’s favorite film? Ban arcs, hits a membrane, then flips again: aphasic, she gathers her energy to arc again.”

Notebook 25 [11/11/06] [Rogue Notebook]:

“Melissa, café. This unrecorded life. Small ecosystems where we don’t see what’s being destroyed or what’s emerging. Acts that don’t reproduce. A question of uselessness. (Bataille.) Melissa brings the coffee and then the cream, in a little jar.”

Notebook 26 [10/4/09]:

“Style/grammar: notes. Technical architectures: polytunnels, an inverted tree, an elm woven with cloth strips, willow branches, metallic elements. A shelter. A method. A garden. A staunch definition: all meshed up. Ruined. I wanted to design a floating home, like the Kashmiri houses on stilts: windows with no glass, families wrapped in quilts on the floor.”

Notebook 27 [1/2/08] [Rogue Notebook]:

“On the plane above Kabul. Thelonious brought a red balloon. Above Afghanistan. He’s sleeping now. En route to India, I’m out of touch. In this sky with my son. Post-genre. Hybridity is a genre still forming. Hybridity is building something to attract not the insects: but the light. So, in a way, it’s a void, a kind of fertility. Why don’t I write?”

Notebook 28 [11/9/10]:

“Copper and dull gold – asphalt. I read Ron Silliman, Kate Zambreno, Dodie Bellamy, Zadie Smith. You name it. I give my personhood to media outlets of all kinds. Plugging in to the wrong thing. The sun is there. I receive a galactic beam, casually. In a sacrifice, the light is received: by whom? The process of healing happens through: dormancy. Multiple occasions of healing – small acts of dignity, tenderness, kindness. Past life cycles: repetition, violence. What happens to the mermaid? Voltage, Ban. A slow, weird, ecstatic death. Ban.”

10. To summarize, this is my idea for you. Horribly, it is based entirely on my own writing process, so you might want to modify according to your economic and spatial freedom to do such things: descend/bring. My idea for writing a novel in a week-long period, to compensate for the many years of not writing one at all, is this: Spend three days clearing a space in your house and perhaps washing it. Pay all your bills. Do not socialize with acquaintances. Put all your notebooks since 2006 in one area or environment. In succession, extract notebooks, close your eyes, open at random and write out the sentence or fragment you find. Touch. This is narrative. This one sentence, written [throbbing] – in the air – will suffice. Like a nerve on a riverbank. And you will have saved a lot of time. And it won’t matter at all that the rest of the notebook [writing] has not been touched [undone.] See: metagenomics. See: buckets. See: ocean. See: John Donne’s The Ecstasie. See: cultural forms of medicine that don’t require anything more – than a rough sketch. And are linked to social aims. You don’t have to historicize the riot [the event] in other words. All you have to do is write. Its mark. What received it. And that, of course, was you, and that was the paper – though, as Ronaldo Wilson said at the symposium: “I am so over paper.”

Idea 2: Let’s hope you did not read this far. I don’t know. Truly, I am trying to psych myself up. I am on my first ever sabbatical in 14 years of teaching. A paid semester. I have already fucked up the first month by watching the first three seasons of Mad Men. Then I read a Danielle Steele novel, A Perfect Life, when I found out that Danielle Steele novels are the most sought-after literature in men’s prisons in the vicinity of Buffalo, New York. Things are not going that well. I am going to go with the three day cleaning and then one week of bibliomancy situation. No. That feels like something I’ve already done.

Idea 3: Write forward and when blanked out: turn to notebooks as an aid to memory. This is linearity and glitter. How many Bans can you write? I want to write one that is like a vector. That might then be read. In the place I am from. At the last possible moment, we now have the nostalgic, proto-colonial, write yourself home theory of writing-desire. Okay, that’s it. Where’s the ox blood? Where is my lowest bone?


Bhanu Kapil is the author of five full-length collections of writing that are not actually writing: they hold the place for – a novel or other kind of work – that has not yet come to be. What would it be like to sustain a particular world? An immigrant’s child by birth and then a real one, immigrant, by fate, Bhanu lives in Colorado where she teaches fiction, poetry and other practices of descent at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Most recently, in San Franscisco, she was a keynote presenter at From Trauma to Catharsis: Performing the Asian Avant-Garde, a symposium curated by Sean Labrador y Manzano at California Institute of Integral Studies. A book-shaped space, BAN en BANLIEUE, will be published by Nightboat Books in October 2014. In addition to her flourishing career as a failed British novelist, Bhanu maintains a widely read blog, Was Jack Kerouac A Punjabi, intended to cheer up anyone who reads it.