‘There are certain writers who are deliberately out of pace with the literary lockstep that characterizes a period, certain writers who instead of going with the flow of the narrative current or trying to hitch a ride on the trends of the moment end up swimming their way upstream or coming downriver at a slant in a way that leads them into very different waters. Rather than, say, investing in American Minimalism or Dirty Realism, they pursue Italo Calvino’s notion of lightness and the more complex lucidity that this opens for them. Rather than settling into the easy chair of realism, they stand up and stare into the foxed tain of a mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of something more magical. If all writers, like Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, are propelled into the future while watching the ruins of literary history pile up behind them, then these non-conformist writers are the ones who manage to catch a glimpse in this wreckage of undiscovered and still-unruined avenues that offer them shortcuts to new, impossible futures.
‘The curious thing about literary history is that writers who buck against the accepted norms of their time are often the writers who survive. And, paradoxically, they are often the writers who later come to characterize a given moment. They come to feel necessary partly because we sense in them a particular and peculiar visionary quality, a method of transforming all they touch into something that feels uniquely and complexly their own, and allows it to keep unfolding for the reader.
‘Rikki Ducornet is such a writer, mercifully and productively out of step with her time. She brings to her work a sense of curiosity that many contemporary writers have forgotten. Every object for her, as for Blake, has the potential to be an immense world of delight, opening perpetually up, with this delight being mirrored in the twists and turns of the language that both reveals and evokes it.
‘Ducornet admits, in her essay “Waking to Eden,” to being “infected with the venom of language in early childhood.” Her charged language, textured and deft, has the complexity and resonance of the best eighteenth-century authors. It fulminates and fulgurates, refusing to be polite or to stay still. It is perhaps not surprising that she began her literary career as a poet; she continues to handle her words with an almost mystical respect, with great care and precision. She is able to take everything in with an almost mystical openness, to see the beauty in a dead fox covered with wasps. As a result her work replicates the enchantment we felt when hearing fantastic stories as children or when we first fell into books considered too mature for us.
‘Thematically, her work spools out the struggle between the doctrinaire impulse to control and contain—an impulse leading at its worst to a resentful and deadly fascism in Entering Fire—and the more dynamic (albeit sometimes equally dangerous) impulse to transgress, struggle, and create. In The Jade Cabinet, this impulse is explored in the struggle between reason and imagination, in a man’s lust to conquer and possess all he touches, a struggle that ultimately leads to him being unable to have the very thing he most wants. In books like The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition, there is a struggle between nature and civilization—that which frees and that which binds—but this is coupled with an awareness of how freedom can open into death, and the knowledge of how certain boundaries can be productive. …
‘The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition: A Novel of the Marquis de Sade (1999), centers on Gabrielle, a fan-maker who had created fans with erotic scenes on them for the Marquis de Sade, and who is now accused by the French revolutionary government of taking part in the now-imprisoned Sade’s debauches. The eroticism of the fans and Gabrielle’s descriptions of them are counterpoised to the philistinism of the new order itself and to Bishop Diego de Landa’s genocide of the Mayans in the sixteenth century (about which both Sade and Gabrielle have publicly written). The first half of the novel is presented in dramatic form, as a non-narrated transcript; the second half is narrated by Sade himself, after Gabrielle’s execution. This novel is the most overtly political of Ducornet’s works, though the pleasures of her beautifully rendered style keep it from ever becoming too polemic. …
‘By being out of step with the literary world, Rikki Ducornet has created a genuinely unique world of her own, one of a tension between Eden and its loss, one in which wonder and magic still tenuously exist. A consummate stylist, she has created a body of work that is unique, dynamic, and important, and, above all, that will continue to impact readers for many years to come.’ — Context No.22
Rikki Ducornet Website
A Conversation with Rikki Ducornet By Sinda Gregory and Larry McCaffery
‘Rikki Ducornet explores transformation’
‘Memory and Oblivion: The Historical Fiction of Rikki Ducornet, Jeanette Winterson, and Susan Daitch’
Rikki Ducornet @ Literature Map
‘Rikki Ducornet’s “Literary Pillars”’
‘Portals, Labyrinths, Seeds’
Book Notes – Rikki Ducornet “The Deep Zoo” @ largehearted boy
Rikki Ducornet @ The Reading Experience
‘Cunnilingus (Rikki Ducornet)’
Rikki Ducornet in conversation
‘”Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan: Songfacts
‘Surrealist Rikki Ducornet Plumbs Depths of Psycho Trauma’
‘Angela Carter’s American Inheritance; Rikki Ducornet’s World of Fiction’
‘The Dickmare’, by Rikki Ducornet
‘Imagined Bodies in Rikki Ducornet’s The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition’
‘from Rikki Ducornet’s “The Fan-Maker’s Inquisiti
Rikki Ducornet interviewed @ BOMB
Buy ‘The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition’
Rikki Ducornet on Bookworm 
Rikki Ducornet Reads for the Bard College Program in Written Arts (04/10/14)
&Now; Conference: Rikki Ducornet, 10/16/09 1/5
Rikki Ducornet & Robert Cohen
How does the process of writing work for you? How does your writing germinate, and then come to fruition?
Rikki Ducornet: My first novel, The Stain, was set into motion by a powerful dream. That dream unleashed enough energy to fuel four novels—and this to my astonishment. I was an artist, after all, not a writer. Entering Fire, Phosphor in Dreamland, and The Fan Maker’s Inquisition were driven by an irrepressible, irresistible voice. Writing a novel can be a little like speaking in tongues! For example, I woke up one morning with the phrase “A fan is like the thighs of a woman: it opens and closes” running through my head. My novel’s narrator, a fan-maker, had arrived fully formed and clamoring for attention. She kept me busy for two-and-a-half years.
As a girl I lived in Cairo for a year, and my most recent novel, Gazelle, came from memories of that extraordinary time and place. It took decades for the book to surface. The process of writing is as mysterious as it is dynamic. Sometimes I think of it as alchemical—transforming the stuff of life into something new, possibly clairvoyant, hopefully lucid.
You paint and draw, in addition to writing. Is your process of painting similar to your process of writing?
RD: The art I dream is always technically impossible, unless, perhaps, I knew how to work in virtual reality. Then I could recreate my dreams: things made of minerals, water and flames! For me the creative process is always about exploring new territories, blind and without a map. As with writing, I have no interest in repeating myself, although I do return to museums of natural history and old books on botany and biology for inspiration each time—just as I return to Gaston Bachelard when I am writing a novel. But each picture, each book, is its own creature. And if my painting is not driven by words, my writing owes a lot to painting—Vermeer’s luminosity, Goya’s deep shadows.
On a recent visit to Brown University I saw a series of marvelous virtual reality projects—I’d like to call them ‘events’—that made me realize, once again, how infinite, how mutable the process of the imagination is. It is perfectly possible that there will always be new vocabularies and new ways of seeing and being in the world.
Do you think that virtual-reality experiences like that, and forms of electronic communication, will ever take the place of “the book”?
RD: I think there is something profoundly satisfying about holding a text in one’s hands—a book, or a clay tablet, or a piece of knotted string. And although the new technologies are fascinating, there is no reason why the book will not persist—that is to say, if anything persists the current madness! After all, the cinema hasn’t destroyed our love of reading, just as photography has not destroyed painting.
When did you first start writing fiction?
RD: Late. When I began my first novel, I was close to forty. I had been writing poetry and odd, short fictions, but it wasn’t until that book seized me by the scruff of the neck that I realized I was a writer. It felt like coming home. The process was terrifying; I was scared to death for over three years! But also a little giddy with pleasure.
You’ve traveled all over the world—as a child, as well as an adult. Did those experiences have an influence on your fiction writing?
RD: An enormous influence. My father was Cuban and his birthplace, Havana, held an immense fascination for me. It was a stunning city, and I think its architecture ignited my longing for mystery and complexity. As a young adult I lived in Algeria for two years right after the War for Independence. Very few people know that the French used more napalm in Algeria—at the border between Algeria and Tunisia—than the United States used in Vietnam. Torture and genocide—these exemplified that war. I saw what this had done to the Algerian people and, for that matter, what it had done to the French. These are things one cannot forget. The novel I am currently writing is about this.
One of the things I love about your novels is that they are so full of other voices and other cultures. Sometimes a place that writers are told we can’t go is writing from the point of view of someone else. For example, an Asian told he can’t write from the point of view of a white Texan, or a European told she can’t write from the point of view of an African American.
RD: It breaks my heart when one writer tells another what she can or cannot do. I once knew a woman, a professor of literature, who said that Flaubert had no right to write Madame Bovary because he was a man. Such dangerous foolishness! This is just another form that dogmatic thinking takes. And it seems to me that the imagining mind—which is also a profoundly human mind—must be unfettered, boundless. To write from the perspective of another’s world demands a generous and a rigorous leap of the spirit; it demands empathy and mindfulness. Writing is so much about subverting dogmatisms of all kinds, above all the ones that insist you cannot go there! You must not say that! Writers need to go anywhere, to take anything on. And the only rule is to do it well.
Recently a young Navajo writer asked me if he “had to write Navajo.” As if every member of his tribe were a brick in a wall without an autonomous, living imagination. He is a writer of real capacity and he was being made to feel guilty for his unique and restless way of being and creating. I told him that not only did he have the right to write about anything at all, but that it was his responsibility to himself—and to his world—to do so. To, as Italo Calvino asks of us, “dream very high dreams.” I asked him to imagine a novel about Heian Japan written by an American Navajo. What would that, could that, be like? The idea delighted him. To tell the truth, I often feel our species is terrified of the unfettered imagination. Perhaps because it is a place of such sublime privacy. I really think that to write responsibly with an unfettered imagination is one of the most moral things a person can do.
New at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference this year is an emphasis on the creation of new pieces, rather than the workshopping of old work.
RD: It is a great idea. The worst thing that can happen to a writer is to be workshopped to death. Ideally, a workshop should be a place where the writer feels invigorated and safe enough to take risks. The first time I taught at Centrum—and I had a great group of talented and delightful people—I proposed they create an encyclopedia of an imaginary place. The group was eager to experiment and the project took off in really exciting and novel—and unexpected—ways. They invented a geography, a history, religious festivals, a mythical imagination, nursery rhymes, erotic play, philosophies, mountain ranges, banquets, music—and, above all, were writing without the burden of preconceived ideas. It was an exemplary exercise in a kind of lucent playfulness! And it was tough because within the week they had a good-sized manuscript to give cohesion to. I loved the experience we shared, and the writing was very, very good.
As a teacher, what do you hope that students take away from their time with you?
RD: A new fearlessness. The awareness that writing really matters, even now (and perhaps more than ever!). That writing is a place to think. That a moral vision is part of it. That their responsibility is to their imaginations, the demands of the work itself; that the work must be allowed to reveal itself as it is being written and not burdened by received ideas, dogmatisms of any kind. The understanding that writing is a marvelous vehicle for transformation.
Rikki Ducornet The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition
‘The Marquis de Sade, notorious Frenchman and sexual libertine, makes for a sensual, irreverent and politically illuminating subject in Ducornet’s (Phosphor in Dreamland) lushly imagined seventh novel. This sumptuous tale is equal parts testimonial, epistolary exchange and reminiscence, opening in 1793 with the eponymous Fan-Maker (Gabrielle) facing an unidentified interrogator from the Parisian Comit? de Surveillance, attempting to defend her friendship with Sade, who’s already been condemned to prison for his sexual crimes. In addition to being accused of creating blasphemous, erotic fans for Sade, Gabrielle is also known to have collaborated with him on a denunciatory book exposing Spanish Inquisitor Bishop Diego de Landa’s vicious treatment of the Mayas in the Y#catan in 1562. Landa is accused of torturing and murdering the natives of the New World and stripping the Mayas of their pagan belief system, all in the name of the Church. While it is the notorious book that immediately endangers the composed, eloquent Fan-Maker, she’s also vulnerable as a known lesbian and libertine. At the Comit?’s request, she reads and explains the raging missives she’s received from Sade; they are tantalizingly detailed and incendiary. The theatrical format exacerbates the polemical tone of the book, in which the excesses of French Revolutionary philistines and the Spanish Inquisition’s barbarism are made exhaustively clear. In the latter half of the narrative, Sade becomes narrator, treating the reader to his perspective on the courageous Fan-Maker. He reveals the letter she composed on the eve of her execution, and he lovingly describes her devotion to Olympe de Gouges, a radical playwright and fellow victim of the Comit?. Ducornet’s prose is necessarily and carefully shaded toward purple, often starkly ribald or phantasmic. She convincingly interpolates Sade’s audacious, epigrammatic voice, his passion for carnal freedoms and hatred for banal taboos. Her language is an ecstatic performance, with transformational potency that begs to be read aloud.’ — Publishers Weekly
“There is no explosion except a book.”
–A fan is like the thighs of a woman: It opens and closes. A good fan opens with a flick of the wrist. It produces its own weather–a breeze not so strong as to muss the hair.
There is a vocabulary attendant upon fan-making. Like a person, the fan has three principal parts: Les brins, or ribs, are most often of wood; les panaches, or, as courtesans call them, the legs, are also made of wood, or ivory, or mother-of-pearl (and these may be jade: green–the color of the eye; rose–the color of the flesh; and white–the color of the teeth); the mount–and this is also a sexual term–which is sometimes called la feuille, or the leaf (another sexual term, dating, it is said, from the time of Adam)–the mount is made of paper, or silk, or swanskin–
–A fine parchment made from the skin of an unborn lamb, limed, scraped very thin, and smoothed down with pumice or chalk. The mount may be made of taffeta, or lace, or even feathers–but these are cumbersome. A fan trimmed with down has a tendency to catch to the lips if they are moist or rouged. A paper fan can be a treasure, especially if it is from Japan. The Japanese made the finest paper fans, and the most obscene. These are sturdier than one might think. Such a fan is useful when one is bored, forced to sup with an ailing relative whose ivory dentures stink. It is said that the pleated fan is an invention of the Japanese and that the Chinese collapsed in laughter when it was first introduced to China. The prostitutes, however, took to it at once.
–Why is that?
–Because it can be folded and tucked up a sleeve when, having lifted one’s skirt and legs, one goes about one’s business. Soon the gentlemen were sticking theirs down their boots–a gesture of evident sexual significance. One I saw a fan from India: The panaches were carved to look like hooded cobras about to strike the naked beauty who, stretched out across the mount, lay sleeping. That was a beautiful fan.
–Earlier you referred to the three parts of the person. Name these.
–The head, the trunk, and the limbs.
–Exactly so. Please continue.
–Little mirrors may be glued to the fan so that one may admire oneself and dazzle others. It may be pierced with windows of mica or studded with gems. A telescopic lens may be attached to the summit of a panache; such a fan is useful at the heater. The Comtesse Gimblette owns a fan made of a solid piece of silver cut in the form of a heart and engraved with poetry:
Is to your taste
You snap up the world
A red fan is a symbol of love; a black one, of death, of course.
–When the fan in question–the one found in the locked chamber at La Coste–was ordered, what did Sade say, exactly?
–He came into the atelier looking very dapper, and he said: “I want to order a pornographic ventilabrum!” And he burst out laughing. I said: “I understand ‘pornographic,’ monsieur, but “ventilabrum’?” “A flabellum!” he cried, laughing even more. “With a scene of flagellation.” “I can paint it on a fan,” I said, somewhat out of patience with him, although I have to admit I found him perfectly charming, “on velvet or on velum, and I can do you a vernis Martin–” This caused him to double over with hilarity. “Do me!” he cried. “Do me, you seductive, adorable fan-maker, a vernis Martin as best you can and as quickly as you can, and I will be your eternal servant.” “You do me too much honor,” I replied. Then I took down his order and asked for an advance to buy the ivory. (Because of the guild regulations, I purchase the skeletons from another craftsman.) Sade wanted a swanskin mount set to ivory–which he wanted very fine.
–The ivory of domesticated elephants is brittle because the animals eat too much salt. Wild ivory is denser, far more beautiful and more expensive, too. For pierced work it cannot be surpassed. Then the mount needed thin slices of ivory cut into ovals for the faces, les fesses, the breasts…
–This request was unusual?
–I have received stranger requests, citizen.
–The slivers of ivory, no bigger than a fingernail, give beauty and interest to swanskin and velum–as does mother-of-pearl. I am sometimes able to procure these decorative elements for a fair price from a maker of buttons and belt buckles because I have an arrangement with him.
–Describe this arrangement.
–I paint his buttons.
–The making of buckles and buttons is not wasteful; nonetheless, there is always something left over, no matter the industry. I also use scraps to embellish the panaches–not where the fingers hold the fan, because over time the skin’s heat causes even the best paste to soften. But farther up, the pieces hold so fast no one has ever complained.
–And this is the paste that was used to fix the six wafers to the upper section of the…mount?
–The same. Although I diluted it, as the wafers were so fragile.
–The entire fan is fragile.
–So I told Sade. He said it did not matter. The fan was an amusement. A gift for a whore.
–Some would call it blasphemy. Painting licentious acts, including sodomy, on the body of Christ.
–We are no more living beneath the boot of the Catholic Church, citizen. I never was a practicing Catholic. Like the paste that holds them to the fan, the wafers are made of flour and water. They are of human manufacture, and nothing can convince me of their sacredness.
–Your association with a notorious libertine and public enemy is under question today. Personally, I don’t give a fig for blasphemy, although I believe there is not place in the Revolution for sodomites. But now, before we waste any more time, will you describe for the Comite the scenes painted on the fan. [The fan, in possession of the Comite de Surveillance de la Commune de Paris, is handed to her.] Is this the fan you made for Sade?
–Of course it is. [She examines fan, briefly.] It is a convention to paint figures and scenes within cartouches placed against a plain background or, perhaps, a background decorated with a discreet pattern of stars, or hearts, or even eyes–as I have done here. In this case there are two sets of cartouches: the six painted wafers, well varnished, at the top, and the three large, isolated scenes beneath–three being the classic number.
–And now describe for the Comite the scenes.
–There is a spaniel.
–The girl is naked.
–All the girls are naked, as are all the gentlemen. Except for the Peeping Tom hiding just outside the window.
–And the spaniel.
–He is dressed in a little vest, and he carries a whip in his teeth.
–His master’s whip?
–His master’s whip.
–And the…master is in the picture, too?
–Yes! Smack in the middle. It is a portrait of Sade with an enormous erection!
–As specified in the agreement?
–Exactly. “Have it point to the right!” he said. “Because if I could fuck God right in the eye, I would.” And he laughed. “Point it right for Hell,” he said. So I did.
–The Comite is curious to know about your continued service to the Marquis de Sade.
–I paint pictures for him, and I–
–What is the nature of these pictures? Why is he wanting pictures?
–Because he is in prison! He has nothing before his eyes but the guillotine! All day he has nothing to occupy his mind but executions, and all night nothing but his own thoughts.
p.s. Hey. ** _Black_Acrylic, What in the world does L’Anarchiste smell like? That name is a lot to live up to. Ah, as you semi-predicted, Channel 4 doesn’t make its stuff available to us France located folks, durn. Everyone, _B_A says, ‘The recent Artist in Residence programme starring Rachel Maclean is now available here on the Channel 4 website.’ It doesn’t work here in France, but try your luck. Our heatwave semi-vamoosed last night, and the world is once again something one can take a decent degree of pleasure in. Long may this wave. Yeah, that new Aphex Twin video is fantastic. The track itself doesn’t sound so excitingly new to my ears, but it’ll probably grow on me. ** Steve Erickson, Hi, thanks, I’ll watch the video in a bit. No, I saw your thing on Masayoshi Fujita. Any non-acknowledgement was probably heat related. The vibes thing is a little scary, but I’ll see if I can hunt a testable segment that album down. Thanks. ** Bill, Hi. Yeah, the heatwave petered semi-out last night. For now. It’s shocking how much 10 degrees one way or another makes such a difference. One of Gisele’s legs is in a cast from toes to just below the knee. For three weeks. It was kind of fun watching her hop around on one leg. She’s not happy at having to assign someone to oversee the ‘Crowd’ performances, but she’ll be fine. I think at least some of the Paris libraries still smell kind of like that. We’re still pretty old school over here. ** JM, Hi. Despite any appearances caused by the post yesterday, I don’t know anything about perfumes and colognes, and I seem to have zero interest in them except conceptually apparently. People ask me if I like their newly altered scent, and I can’t tell any difference from their last one. Subtle stuff, obviously, which is cool. I think I agree about lunchboxes. I’m going start giving their post post the old college try today. People have been recommending the new Schrader to me left and right. People seem to be awfully into it. I will see it. I think it’s around. Interesting about how the reading turned out. Of course that sounds like a most intriguing outcome. As opposed to, you know, ‘Loved it, man’, or something. Everything went fine yesterday, thanks, except for the broiling sky under which it happened, but hey. I hope if you have a meeting today, it went great. Or even if not. ** David Ehrenstein, Ha ha ha, what in the world! Holy moly. Where did that come from? Thank you! Everyone, here’s David Ehrenstein’s favorite scent. No comment. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. Enjoy the States if that’s humanly possible while you’re there. But of course it is. I’m just being a Negative Nancy. Elon Musk: that guy is really hard to form a solid opinion about. Mm, I don’t personally think a Gif novel is like that, but what do I know. Wow, there are a lot of Ralfy the whisky reviewer videos! A lot! I don’t where to start. I’ll just close my eyes and poke the page later. Thanks. You work in that building? Cool. It is Tatiesque now that you mention it. Huh. I like it. I still like it even knowing those red things aren’t windows, and maybe even more. Only revolving doors entrance, no security? That’s exciting too. It seems like it must have been used as a movie location, for at least a TV commercial or music video. Thanks giving me a layout of your living/working situation. Before, you were a colourful you but your background was a blank. A post on waves? Of every kind? No. I think that might be too big, too broad. I think it would need some kind of restriction or obsessive entrance. Interesting idea. Let me think about it. Thanks! ** Misanthrope, Hi. I’d never heard of Union J before. France doesn’t have boy bands. I don’t they’ve ever produced boy bands. I wonder why. Too dorky for the French maybe. Jeez, man, about the bloodwork results. That sounds way too confusing in the bad way, and yet it’s also like when archeologists find the entrance to some fabled tomb, I guess. So it’s good. Follow up, don’t dawdle. ** Okay. I’m spotlighting a terrific novel by one of the more adventurous and interesting American novelists who strangely remains undervalued and too rarely read even after years and years of putting excellent books. Give it your all or thereabouts please. See you tomorrow.