Interview with Caitlin Merrett King
Answers from the train in reply to my questions about Always Open Always Closed
Ezra Pound’s modernist credo — “Make It New!” — sounds pretty mindless these days. We have enough novelty. Similarly, the jokes of the postmodern ironists have worn thin. Some things are serious. Metamodernists acknowledge this and invite us to enjoy the “mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt.”
Caitlin Merrett King’s engaging new book, Always Open Always Closed, inhabits this metamodernist space. But the thing that has always interested me in Caitlin is that she seems to be someone who “Makes Things Happen.” Someone who hosts events, connects ideas, launches publications, runs galleries, and generates what Brian Eno calls scenius.
Originally from Sheffield, Caitlin Merrett King has been living in Glasgow since 2011, where she studied Painting and Printmaking at the Glasgow School of Art. Last year she returned there to do an MLitt in Art Writing. She runs Lunchtime Gallery and is a programmer at David Dale Gallery.
After writing a review of Always Open Always Closed, I thought it might be fun to do an interview. Unfortunately, Caitlin was travelling but offered to reply to my questions by email. NB The links in bold were added by Caitlin, the rest by me.
What has the reaction to the book been like both inside and outside Glasgow?
Hard to say! I've only had a few people, mainly friends, tell me what they think of the book which is a shame, I think informal (and nuanced) feedback should be viewed as more acceptable! Despite the book being set in Glasgow, it was my hope that a lot of the world I've depicted and criticised would be relatable elsewhere – someone in London confirmed this to me recently so I'm glad it travels a wee bit at least! I'm doing a launch in Amsterdam in November so I'm interested to see how it goes down there too...
The book feels very metamodernist, even down to the title. Why do you think, if you do, metamodernism is the right way to sum up our times?
Yeah, metamodernist texts are directly referenced within the book as well. I owe this learning to my good friend Craig Pollard who is an academic and lecturer in Contemporary Music, who gave a great lecture at The NewBridge Project called 'aesthetic acts as configurations of experience'. He also released a related pamphlet recently called 'cringe and commitment after the end of the world' – big recommend! It was through Craig that I wrangled with some simmering thoughts I'd been having about ambivalence which was the starting point for Always Open Always Closed. Metamodernism is the perfect way to describe our existence under capitalism as we oscillate between ideas, political regimes, affective states – it's an attempt at categorising an endemic ambivalence, a multitudinous and flexing position, a flickering between sincerity and irony, in this post-post-modern world. As an idea of what metamodernism is, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker define the postmodern as years of 'plenty, pastiche and parataxis' – see Notes on Metamodernism for some more in-depth analysis!
In many ways, the book is radically honest and realistic but is there anything you felt you needed to leave out?
This book feels very defined by what was left out. Firstly my own name, although if you know you know, or at least you could assume, that Ms Real is a thin pseudonym. She is her own her persona however, styled on Lynne Tillman's Madame Realism who she wrote as for magazines such as Art and America as well as for some exhibition texts in the '70s. I didn't want to be crass or make anyone feel uncomfortable so I purposefully removed names or changed some places in an attempt to create some distance, partially for myself so I wasn't trying to relive anything but more redefine and mythologise, and also retain the affect or sense of locality.
All the dialogue in the book is lifted from fragments of texts you've consumed as if we were living in a sea of text. Could you talk more about this as a practice?
The book was written during my masters during which I was living in a sea of text! I'm interested in the idea of having a citational practice where the writer acknowledges themself as a filter for everything they consume, be it theory, music, conversation, TV, everything. All the friends and people who Ms Real encounters along the way are based on real people but all their dialogue is lifted wholesale from the work of theorists, artists and writers who I was reading whilst writing this book – Sianne Ngai, Lauren Berlant, Sara Ahmed to name a few, all of whom are queer affect theorists. There is something a bit stark about writing about Carrie Bradshaw for example when her character is actually a combination of people, it's also a bit cringe to write about mainstream television, but I like how up front that is. I wanted to wear my references really heavily and shove the 'high' and 'low' brow up against one another. It's like art writing fan fiction.
I enjoy the way you represent modern consciousness as being scattered by the phone. What is your writing process like?
It's scattered by the phone! Currently my writing process involves writing things for things, I'm in a phase of trying to pitch to magazines and write for open calls. I don't have a very flowing practice although the masters really helped me figure out what I want to write about. I use my phone a lot though and jot down things I've overheard or ideas for stories in my notes app. My writing practice is very visual in this way and Instagram and being very online plays a massive part in this.
Is your persona Ms Real going to continue and where you go next with your writing?
She lives on, yes! I've written a few other things already as Ms Real and also a commission for Edinburgh International Film Festival as 'Ms Reel' – some kind of parallel universe Ms Real and a little (and bad) in-joke (with myself). Ms Real will appear soon again in an article on MAP Magazine that I wrote about the Jupiter Rising x Bonjour party at Edinburgh Art Festival this year. She's definitely a long-term persona (I'd really like to do a compilation of texts one day) but I'm also writing things as 'me' too.
Read my review of Always Open Always Closed here.