Edie Meidav’s new lyric novel, Another Love Discourse, publishing June 21, nods to Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse beyond just its title: structurally, thematically, and philosophically, Meidav puts her narrator into direct conversation with Barthes’s 1977 book. Interwoven in this conversation is the intimate unraveling of a woman’s life, encompassing the pandemic and sheltering-in-place with her three daughters, the end of a 20-plus-year marriage, the loss of her mother, and a nascent love.
With the myths of marriage and motherhood shattering around her, the narrator’s story provides fertile ground to invoke Barthes. Another Love Discourse is a small yet expansive book, containing passages from Barthes’ work interwoven with the narrator’s reflections on love, memory, child-rearing, death, and more. Her varied interpretations adhere to Barthes’ view that there can be infinite readings, depending on which semiotic system serves as one’s lens.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Edie Meidav about Another Love Discourse, which is philosophically rigorous, narratively rich, and a pleasure to read and reread. Barthes would approve.
Nina Schuyler: Can you describe the genesis of the novel?
Edie Meidav: I began Another Love Discourse at the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic while teaching students online and trying to keep body and soul aligned. When the pandemic began to break over all of us, I was teaching a course called Confessions and Rants in which we discussed Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse.
Because I had just finished a big manuscript, a polyphonic novel on refugees, love, and telecommunications, because our whole world was tilting, I found myself responding to the innovative chapter titles of A Lover’s Discourse and using them as aleatory prompts, if not in their exact sequence. I came to the enterprise because, over these past years of writing and teaching, I began to see that most of us who like to create tread a paradoxical path: what comes most easily to us, whether in voice or form, often appears, at first, as our farthest destination.
And yet—importantly—I believe the best art comes from finding that magic path of least resistance, the lens of your true subjectivity, the little song or gift you have to offer the world. During the pandemic, which I view as our collective unhusking, I thought, really, at this point, what do I have to lose? And so I embraced the oddity of the form as it emerged.
NS: In the book, you use white space throughout. Sometimes text is aligned on the right, the white space on the left. Sometimes white space connects entire passages, and toward the end of the novel, you splice both techniques. Can you talk about the intention behind this?
EM: My hope is that in the act of reading, the reader might feel the freedom of dance. The truth is that I began writing this book in prose blocks, using a more straightforward approach, but at one point my computer, as if a latter-day Helen Frankenthaler, mistakenly right-justified one section, and because I have a deep belief in both the aleatory and the improvisational as important parts of the creative path, because something new started to happen to the meaning with the dance across the page, I kept the format, developing it as I continued. The white space seemed to confess to the intimacy I wanted with you as an ideal reader as well as to our moment of collective rupture and decentralized authority.
Deeper into the revision, I grappled with the question of how much to bring forward both the sonic elements and meaning inherent in line breaks, and ended by voting for the breaks acting as more dance than cage. If you as a reader find yourself newly awake or aware of temporality, then the spacing works. And maybe it is also fair to say that the prose blocks work a bit as a code, tending to offer context, background, motivation.
NS: You’ve written a lyric novel in which there is great attention to sound and rhythm. Why was that important to you?
EM: In college, I studied both painting and British Romantic poetry, lucky to study briefly with Robert Hass, but chose to pursue prose, in which time is less frontal, simultaneous, in which information needs to be delayed. In this book, I wanted time to move so that you, as the ideal reader, could choose whether you wished to linger on the meaning of certain sonic choices or cadence, but wouldn’t need to if you wish merely to get to your destination. I wanted the reader to have the fun of travel, a fluid journey, as if on a canal-boat with the narrator, passing lit windows, enjoying moments that are visual, ruptured, and emotionally illustrated, invited into complicity, invited inside if you wish.
People have sometimes told me my novels are dense as poetry, which made me wish, at times, to offer more breath and ease in the sentence. My hope with this book remains that as the narrator comes to understand x or y, perhaps the reader feels they travel deeply with her, undergoing some corollary catharsis or revelation.
As a kid, I spent hours and hours improvising at the piano, which at the time was my main form of art and a first portal toward entering a flow state related to synesthesia. While playing, I saw stories and shapes, and now still deeply feel writing as music, wanting to give it the same kind of sinuous pauses or robust swells that characterize the music I love. The reason that, by the end of the writing, I called this a lyric novel is that I wanted the story to behave as a kind of Aeolian harp, a moment being played as if wind on strings. I have always loved the root of our idea of the lyrical: that the lyrical is innominate, a guttural, sonic breaking-out, an explosion of feeling on the ancient lyre.
The multiplicity of tones in this book also has to do with my deep love for unfinished art—the demo track, the half-sketched Picasso notebook—all that invites us in. With this work, I didn’t want to smooth out creases but rather to invite all voices to sit at the table, even those that embarrass or terrify me, especially since I often find myself advising writers to vanquish the mediocritizing and homogenizing aspects of shame in order to find their most singular voices. Creativity always begs you to vanquish shame. With that concept my talisman, I decided to be that intimate with the reader.
NS: In the novel, the narrator refers to Roland Barthes’ term “punctum,” writing:
Roland Barthes, a friend to this text, might tell us: the five cans of beans near the crazed writer’s fire would be the punctum, the detail that punctures the heart of the picture with vulnerability and risk.
As I understand it, punctum is a term Barthe invented for that detail in a photo that pricks you emotionally and viscerally awakes you in some way surpassing your conscious thought. How did “punctum” serve as an organizing principle for you?
EM: Barthes used punctum in contrast to his idea of the studium, which is the more instructive, documentary, intellectual aspect of a photo, the part that lends us cultural information, that speaks with authority of a more static order. The punctum matters to the structure of this book: I tried using a rhizomatic or perhaps fractal structure, hoping the reader might connect with a textual punctum which could then be submerged for a few pages and resurface again, varied with subtlety or not.
You know how when you experience a bit of singular music moving into another passage, something happens to your heart in the transition? My hope is the reader can move punctum to punctum through this book, in a kind of textual lily pad dance. You might have had this experience, perhaps, when you feel a punctum in a photo, just as in a text, I think—that the urgency of whatever the photographer felt, saw, and documented can pierce you into the real. To me, this is one of the most important forces in art. And in general, if we create enough moments for a reader to pause and invoke the intimacy of their own lived experience, a reader might go on a ride which, by the end of a book, means some great shift in consciousness has occurred.
NS: Thank you so much for speaking with me.
EM: Thank you for being such an engaged reader. It is such a pleasure to have this oddly intimate book I wrote—truly as a form of survival, while my own life was threatened by the fun of neuro-Lyme during its writing—find such interesting and interested readers. You are helping me believe all over again in the project of what we try to do with this ancient technology of ours, these books we offer out into the sea of possibility and understanding, our greater imagined community.