Playing with Myself

Questions for myself about my novel, Trine Erotic


by Alice Andrews



Q What are some of the major questions you try to deal with in Trine Erotic?


A Well, there are quite a few: Is there free will? What is ‘the will’? What is and is there a single ‘I’—a self? Are we determined by our genes? Can we (and how and what affect does it have to) go against our ‘nature’? What is the unconscious? Is it what evolutionary psychologists refer to as our universal human nature? Or is it something else? And how does it work? And is there a universal human nature? How does culture influence us? What is art? What is love? And is there something beyond our evolutionary, deep reflexes—some kind of ‘global brain,’ as Howard Bloom suggests, that is motivating us?


Q You dedicate the book to every woman’s desire and the art within her and to alpha males everywhere. Does that mean it’s not for other males—say, Beta?


A No, no. It’s sort of tongue-in-cheeky. I’m playing with the evolutionary theory that art is displayed as a mating signal/strategy. So I’m saying: Here is this piece of art—and, naturally, I would want to signal the highest type of man. Of course, alpha male is subjective when it comes to humans—for apes it may be just a factor of strength or posing. For me, an alpha male doesn’t always look like an alpha; a man could be an alpha and work in a factory but be an original thinker and want to lead or organize people. (David M. Buss’s work explains this, actually.) But anyway, it’s not just for alpha males. It’s for all males. But it’s particularly for men who are creative and deep and interested in figuring out the world . . . understanding human nature, and more. And it's for females too!


Q Why did you write the book?


A Well, for one, I was compelled to write. And there are a lot of other reasons as well. But, I have to say that I found the fiction I was reading leaving me cold. I just found myself not getting turned on by all that good literature. I wanted to be turned on. I saw the appeal; saw the code of it. You know, there’s something here in this story but I’m not going to let on to what it is because you’re supposed to get it because we’re so smart, and ‘good’ fiction shows and doesn’t tell.  And I’m not going to even attempt to affect you in any way because that would be pompous and sentimental and ultimately ineffective. And we’re so sophisticated and subtle. I guess these are some of the rules of fiction. Like how you shouldn’t write out ideas. And it’s related to the seduction/anti-seduction stuff I write about in the book. Most modern fiction is quite seductive, in the Baudrillardian sense, by trying or appearing not to seduce. I think my style is anti-anti-seduction—or meta-seduction. I am possibly "seducing" by going against a seductive "hiding" strategy. For example, I can choose to wear revealing clothing (which isn’t seductive) or less revealing clothing, which conceals…which is seductive. But I can wear the revealing clothes as a reaction to the seductive strategy, which says, ‘I’m not trying to seduce with the not-trying-to-seduce clothes.’ And this is seductive in its own way—a hiding from hiding. Of course, the revealing clothing looks the same…it’s just a matter of intention. And only a few will be able to read the code or signal. I realize this is made confusing because I am using Baudrillard’s sense of the word. In fact, what you have are three things working: seduction (in its denotation), anti-seduction, and anti-anti-seduction or meta-seduction. Don’t tell me I’m confusing YOU!??


I’m not terribly affected by most fiction (though I know I’m in the minority). And I’m not proud of that fact. It’s just the way I am. I’m not very subtle. I like to read nonfiction. Otherwise I feel like I’m wasting my time. I’d rather be doing something or writing or learning something. Unfortunately I don’t have that feeling (that I’m learning something, etc.) when I read most fiction. And perhaps that is a fault of mine. Perhaps I’m just not refined enough or my personality doesn’t allow me to slow down. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m right-brain dominant. I really see a difference though, between people who love fiction and me. And, thankfully, I’ve stopped worrying that there’s something wrong with me in this.

For the record, I don’t place a value on one or the other…seductive fiction (which is what is accepted and favored) versus meta-seductive fiction (fiction which tells you what it’s doing, openly wants to affect, deals with ideas, etc.).

But to answer your question: I wrote a book that I was wanting to read.


Q Is there any fiction you do like?


A Oh, of course. I loved Smilla’s Sense of Snow, liked Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, D.H. Lawrence…liked Kundera when I was younger … Dostoevsky, John Berger, Hermann Hesse, and there are others…


Q You mention wanting to affect the reader. What kind of affect are you hoping for?


A Any, I suppose. Nietzsche wrote that ‘the effect of works of art is to excite the state that creates art’ . . . he says it’s intoxication . . . First and foremost, I want the reader to get some pleasure from it. After that, it’s mostly a working out of some of the questions which seem to haunt us, stuff about love. And I suppose I want it to be a part of the reader’s working it out, like a friend. There is also the sort of ‘feministy’ thing about desire and art in women. I suppose I would like TE to inspire women to let loose their desire and art more. In ‘Siren’s Song,’ the nameless protagonist says her father told her that the point about art was to share it—about an audience. Which reminds me of a scene in Bride of the Wind, a film about Alma Mahler I just saw on video. Alma says to her husband Mahler, ‘I wish you’d conduct one of my songs.’ And he says, ‘One of your songs? . . . Perhaps one day in rehearsal.’ And she says, ‘Rehearsal? But then there wouldn’t be an audience.’ And he says, ‘I’ll be there. Aren’t I enough?’ And I’m interested in this. Because despite the women’s rights movement and so much liberation and so many women artists, I still think there is this thing within us (women) . . . a resistance . . . and I question its etiology. If such a resistance exists—or rather, a relative lack of desire to broadcast compared to men—is it innate? That is, is it related to biology, to the evolutionary theory that men try to broadcast to as many women as possible, since it is in their genetic interest to do so? (Or since they are the product of millions of years of evolution which ensured such a tendency persisted?) Or is it cultural? Or some admixture? Again, I question my premise as well. I’m interested in trying to uncover whether or not such a tendency exists. I certainly have felt my relative lack of desire to broadcast. But of course, that could have everything to do with other things: personality, conditioning, stage of life, etc.

About my ‘Siren’s Song’ character: her feeling had always been that it was something that had to do with her (whatever her art was, be it painting or writing); she didn’t have an impulse to broadcast it. And so, there is this question about what art is, and its purpose and function. And, in some sense, the book is my grappling with deciding to share whatever it is in me—and that in my sharing of it, there is meaning. There is a dialectics of desire, as Barthes says—and I quote him at the beginning of ‘Siren’s Song.’ For me, I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to put the book out there if I didn’t think it would serve some kind of purpose. And of course, art is purposeful. It is motivated by all sorts of deep, powerful urges. The artist experiences it as an outpouring of some kind of force that has to be expelled, a feeling of compulsion. And then there’s that choice an artist makes—do you go mad or stay somewhat functionally neurotic, or do you release and create? (The existential problem of whether or not it is a choice, I can’t answer. My answer probably changes with my mood.)

But also, there is the EP theory of art as signal. And in some ways that is also about survival. So I see art as a savior—for the artist but also for the audience, of course. Once I decided that Trine Erotic was for an audience, it took on a whole new light. It was outward directed and relating, and it was pleasurable in a way that before it hadn’t been (that is, writing for myself). So much goes unsaid in the culture. Most of us (except perhaps for some hard-core feminists) think women are free to do their thing. We have this sense, historically and culturally, that women are now free. Yet I don’t really think so. I think it’s good to show a female character who feels restricted with respect to desire and ‘the art within her.’ I think some women will identify and it may feel liberating, or help create movement. And of course, that’s where the fiction reactionaries come in. I shouldn’t be so pompous as to think that something I have created could have some kind of affect. But to me, perhaps because I’m a woman and mother (it may be nature or nurture or both), I don’t see why you would put something out there if it wasn’t for some good, for some use. And that is also tied in to the notion that it could be my compulsion and selfishness (much like an overbearing parent) that made me continue to write new stories, though it felt like love, but that it is finally the selfless ‘love’ for the reader that allows me to stop creating—to allow the reader to create something of their own from the book or envision the next story or stories—to be individuated and truly the artist, to be free.


Q This seems related to the whole ‘reader response’ issue in the novel . . .


A Yes.  I say the book is alive. And in a way, the book is like a lover. It is also a meme (or memeplex—what I call memesome). I, the author, am egoless; the words are not mine—they’re this meme. And the words belong to the reader, and the reader is the ‘artist’—creating meaning and art through the reading.


Q You say ‘feministy,’ but sometimes you sound downright backwards about women in the novel. The scene with the woman walking behind Caleb, for example, you’re not critical of ityou seem to romanticize it.


A Well, first of all, the most interesting thing about people is their contradictions. I think that’s why Ed and Caleb’s characters are interesting. I am putting those questions out there, because we have all felt them. I mean, I say something like, ‘it was a walking dance which fulfilled something primal for them and though they both understood the sexist implications, they didn’t care . . .’ It’s dealing with the different layers again— accepting and integrating them— not trying to ban certain impulses or desires because we are told to. Is it bad or is she inferior because she is turned on by walking behind him? I don’t know. I don’t think so. If she feels free as a woman, then I don’t see the problem. But I see the potential danger in this position—just as there is potential danger in an EP/essentialist position. But Steven Pinker I think does the best job of explaining why it doesn’t have to be dangerous—and in fact, in the long run might do more good than harm.



Q You play with the question of patterns . . . Why?


A Well, for one, Gurdjieff, the basis for Rajingiev and Guerttiev, was interested in habits. And I guess I am too. The book is about these women who have recurring patterns in their relationships. And, of course, people do throughout their lifespan—often debilitatingly so. And I suppose a big question in standard social clinical psychology is how do you break these patterns? But I’m not only interested in patterns as related to psychological processes/neuroses/habits, but also to questions of time, e.g. eternal recurrence. Would it all really be the same if we ‘played’ it all back from the beginning? And can we change? And do we really have free will? And can we actually determine reality or has everything been set and we’re just living it out? The new physics gets at a lot of these issues . . .


Q Why didn’t you use Gurdjieff ’s name in the book? You use the real names of others…


A I didn’t because many of the philosophical/spiritual ideas I wrote about in ‘Siren’s Song’ and some in ‘Baby Theory’ are really not the ideas of Gurdjieff. Rajingiev and Guerttiev are not pseudonyms for Gurdjieff; they are names for a fictional sage. Yet Gurdjieffians will certainly recognize some of Gurdjieff in them, that’s true.


Q What does the title mean, Trine Erotic?


A Well, trine means three . . . and three is important throughout the book. Erotic refers to Eros . . . love (though also it has a sexual component). But the first meaning of the title is three love stories: three loves. (Trine Erotic= ‘Love Stories,’ ‘Siren’s Song,’ and ‘Baby Theory’ . . . Also ‘Conscious Shock’ = ‘soft kill,’ ‘Red Love,’ and ‘Siren’s Song.’) In addition, there are couplet stories that make a final third story: ‘Conscious Shock’ and ‘Third Force’ make Trine Erotic; ‘soft kill’ and ‘Red Love’ make ‘Love Stories’; ‘Love Stories’ and ‘Siren’s Song’ make ‘Conscious Shock’ . . .)

And there is a feeling that ‘Third Force’ isn’t over and that Trine Erotic itself is part of something . . .

Three-love is also for a sort of triune theory of love I have in the book: evolution, experience, culture. The notion that our problems stem from the conflict between our different layers. So, for example, if I were a man, I might feel an attraction for women who are heavier or who have a particular hip-to-waist ratio than what the culture tells me is attractive. This conflict of impulses and desires tends to clog feelings, or at least makes people feel disjointed. It is hard to put it all together. It’s hard to know what it is the ‘I’ really desires; what is more true for the self?

Three is everywhere in TE. It’s also a Fibonacci number, and I’d say just about every number in the book is a Fibonacci number. And trine is also an astrological concept, relating to the relationship of planets….


Q What’s a Fibonacci number?


A Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who discovered an interesting series of numbers, which are now called Fibonacci numbers. It begins with 1. You then add one to that to get 2. You then add those two numbers together to get 3. Then 2+3=5; 3+5=8; 5+8=13; 8+13=21 . . . and so on . . . What’s interesting about these numbers is that the ratio between any of the pairs of numbers is approximately the golden ratio or the golden number, which is around 1.618. And what’s interesting about the golden number is that artists throughout history have used it in their art. (The golden mean, the golden section, or golden ratio is most beautiful to our eyes.) In addition, what is interesting about the actual numbers themselves in the series is that they can be found in nature—in particular in the spirals of things. So, if you count the spirals in a pine cone or the seeds in a sunflower, or the spirals of a shell, you will find you get a Fibonacci number. . . . 13 rows of spirals, or 21, like that. As well, the human face shows a lot of correspondence to Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio. . . . And this is interesting because there is a lot of work being done in EP and other fields to suggest that there is a correlation between symmetry and what is thought of as beautiful, with developmental health and stability, perhaps, even fertility and fecundity. And perhaps, somehow, there is a relationship between the mathematics of outward beauty and inner.


Q Why use Fibonacci numbers?


A I think there’s a magical quality to the numbers, no question. They seem most natural. It’s like choosing between painting your wall a flat yellow or painting it yellow with a mixture of white, with a subtle Lazure technique, to create a feeling of softness and naturalness, what you’d find in nature. In addition, mathematics is important throughout much of the book. I talk about there being a math to everything; about the algorithms of our adapted mind; write about how the nameless protagonist adds everything up: Caleb’s lies, his Heliosen ways, his amorality . . .


Q In the book, you sometimes refer to TE as metafiction. Why?


A Oh, because it’s about fiction—it’s a story about a story about a story. And because it’s concerned with ideas about fiction and writing. Also, because I go outside of the fiction and interject as the author about the work. It’s ‘meta’ in a lot of ways. I’m interested in fiction—the craft of writing. I see TE as a triptych. Each section, each story has a different style. Some stories are crafted more than others, but so far, readers have told me they don’t see a difference. To me there’s a huge difference, as far as craft and complexity between some of the stories . . .


Q Which ones?


A I don’t want to say.  I want to get virgin feedback still . . .

I do want to say this: I don’t think of myself as a writer—I think of myself more as a synthesizer—a synthesizer of memes. If my writing were a singing voice it would be closer to Leonard Cohen’s than Pavarotti’s—or Joan Osborne’s than Kathleen Battle’s. The tradition in fiction is, of course, pre-film, and has mostly been concerned with painting mental pictures for readers. But I’m more interested in representing and transmitting ideas than I am pictures. My emphasis is on conveying meaning up front—that’s where I put my energy. I realize meaning is also conveyed subtly, but it’s just not enough for me. I have more I want to convey. And, of course, I also do it in the traditional way—I don’t think it would be a novel otherwise. Also, that’s not to say I’m not interested in language. I am very much. And I have a pretty good ear, so I care very much about the sounds. Sometimes I would spend half an hour on one sentence. For example, every sentence fragment is there for a reason. I could have chosen instead a semi-colon or a connecting word or an em-dash, etc., but for me it was a question of sound and meaning and even a visual impression. And of course, sometimes, my first writing would be just right and I could leave it alone. That was always nice. g




Alice Andrews has taught both writing and psychology (and sometimes both at the same time) with an evolutionary lens for over a decade. Currently she's teaching "Social Psychology " and "Personality and Psychotherapy" at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Alice is also an editor and writer (books and magazines), and was the associate editor of Chronogram from 2000-2002. She is the author of Trine Erotic, a novel which explores evolutionary psychology.

Copyright by Alice Andrews,  2004.  All rights reserved.
Copyright   ©   2004    Entelechy: Mind & Culture.  All rights reserved.