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the dictionary project author interview: janice lee




the dictionary project is happy to share with you our most recent author interview with Janice Lee. Janice’s work is insightful, intensely curious, and without bounds. In reading her work, we begin to see words and phrases we have seen before in completely new ways because of the way in which she places, considers, turns them in her work. Please enjoy.


1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


I recently learned the story of W.C. Minor, one of the largest contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary. As a surgeon for the Union Army, he was given the duty of punishing a fellow soldier by branding his face with “D” for deserter, which just pushed him over the edge. He then moved to England where he murdered a man in a delusional fit, and was committed to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. A lover of books and words, Minor heard of a call for volunteers (specifically for quotes from verifiable sources backing up definitions) from what was to become the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor developed a system for going through his books in search of illustrative quotes and ended up supplying the OED with a massive 12,000 illustrative quotes. Each submission was marked with the return address “Broadmoor Asylum,” so the editors assumed Minor was a doctor in charge, not a patient. It was many years later before OED editor James Murray learned of Minor’s background and visited him at the asylum.



2. What is your current favorite word?


Moosh. It’s what we call our dogs: Moosh #1 and Moosh #2.



3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


Currently I’m pretty annoyed by all the filler words we use in oral speech: actually, basically, you know, like, etc. I use these words too. A lot. It’s a horrible habit. I feel like I have a disorder when I catch myself saying “You know” over and over again. It makes our speech so cluttered and ugly. I wish we were taught to care more about articulate and beautiful language in spoken speech just as in written.



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?





5. What can language contain? What can it not ever contain?


Language can contain almost everything, the beginning, the end, the inevitable ruin of a world, the collapse and betrayal of truth, the compacted pain of life and death, but in words, only in words. It can not contain the same permanence of time that film offers, for example. Or the power given to a viewer in the prolonged gaze of a slow-moving herd of cows.



6. In your novel Daughter, there are many places in which you invite the reader to engage, to create story with you, by asking them to draw, by having only the placeholder for [image] rather than a literal image. Could you talk about what’s said and unsaid in your work? And about the prompts to allow reader to make meaning along with you?


The momentum in Daughter partially comes from the desire for understanding. The daughter asks questions from a certain vantage point assigned to her by the author. The reader sits from a different vantage point, and any significance that arises from the language of the book is a collaboration, a microcosm of the secret discourse that occurs between wondering minds and souls. And part of this “understanding,” comes from the notion that “meaning” is not the same thing as “understanding” is not the same thing as “clarity” is not the same thing as “certainty.”



7. What role do definitions/does defining play in your work?


Defining a word freezes it momentarily. Because in the context of many other words, a single word can be flexible, in constant tension with the other words surrounding it, anticipating, inseparable. When I define a word, I can fix it, and then also subvert it, and reshape it. This is why the etymology of a word often interests me. Because words can change, and when language changes, so does thought.



8. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, bibliomanced exclusively for you:


cre·dit  (`kredit),  n.   [Fr. crédit; It. credito; L. creditus, pp. of credere; see CREED],  1.  belief; confidence; trust; faith.  2.  the quality of being credible or trustworthy.  3.  the favorable estimate of a person’s character; reputation; good name.  4.  praise or approval to which a person or thing is entitled; commendation: as, he deserves credit for telling the truth.  5.  a person or thing bringing approval or honor: as, he is a credit to the team.  6.  usually pl. acknowledgment of work done, as in the preparation of a motion picture.  7.  the amount of money remaining in a person’s account in a bank, etc.  8.  in accounting, a)  the acknowledgment of payment on a debt by entry of the amount in an account.  b)  the right-hand side of an account, where such amounts are entered.  c)  an entry on this side.  d)  the sum of such entries.  9.  in business,  a)  trust in one’s integrity in money matters and in one’s ability to meet payments when due.  b)  the time allowed for payment.  10.  in education,  a)  the certification of a student’s successful completion of a unit or course of study.  b)  a unit of work so certified.  v.t.  1.  to believe; trust; have confidence or faith in.  2.  to bring approval or honor to.  3.  to give deserved commendation for.  4.  to give credit in a bank account, etc.  5.  in accounting, to enter on the credit side.  6.  in education, to enter a credit or credits on the record of (a student).  Abbreviated cr.  –SYN, see ascribe.


It is the horse today who is the witness of credit, so that it is not significant who pulls the cart, the girl or the horse.



hin·ny  (ˈhinē),  n.  [ pl. HINNIES (-iz)], [L. hiinnus  <  Gr. ginnos], the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey: distinguished from mule.

“Say, honey, why?” says the hinny, its hair combed down and collar adjusted for a casual afternoon outing.



ex·ile  (ˈegzīl),  n.  [ME. exil, exile; OFr. exil, essil; L. exilium, exsilium  <  exul, exsul, an exile, one banished  < ex-, out + IE. base *al-, to wander aimlessly; hence skin to GR. alaomai, I wander, roam, am banished],  1.  a prolonged living away from one’s country, community, etc., usually enforced; banishment, sometimes self-imposed.  2.  a person in exile.  v.t.  (also ig-zīl’), [EXILED (-zīld, -sīld, -zīld’), EXILING], to force (a person) to leave his own country, community, etc.; banish. –SYN.  see banish.

He goes home sadly, in the rain, stops and sits for a moment at the engraved statue in the square, another figure in exile. The rain destroys everything. “What’s the point anymore?” he asks no one in particular before making a comprehensive list of all the things he won’t ever use again.



whan·gee  (hwaŋ-ˈē),  n.  [prob.  < Chin. Huang-li; huang, yellow + li, bamboo cane],  1.  any of a number of related Chinese and Japanese bamboos.  2.  a walking stick made from any of these bamboos.


It’s raining. He grasps the whangee handle until it hurts. It’s always raining. So he has no real excuse then.


com·pa·ra·ble  (ˈkämp(ə)rəbəl),  adj.  [L. comparabilis],  1.  that can be compared; having characteristics in common.  2.  worthy of comparison.

“Language–or any comparable apparatus of recognition–is the legal filter for groupings of presented multiples. It is interposed between presentation and representation.” (Badiou)




Janice Lee is a writer, artist, editor, designer, curator, and scholar. Interested especially in the relationships between metaphors of consciousness, theoretical neuroscience, and experimental narrative, her creative work draws upon a wide variety of sources. Her obsessive research patterns lead her to making connections between the realms of technology, consciousness studies, design theory, the paranormal & occult, biological anthropology, psychology, and literary theory. She is the author of two highly acclaimed novels: KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010) and Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011). She also has several chapbooks Red Trees, Fried Chicken Dinner (Parrot/Insert Press, September 2012), and The Other Worlds (Eohippus Labs, June 2012). Her newest project, Damnation, is forthcoming from Penny-Ante Editions in 2013. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is Co-Editor of the online journal [out of nothing], Co-Founder of the interdisciplinary arts organization Strophe, Reviews Editor at HTMLGIANT, and Founder/CEO of POTG Design. She can be found online at http://janicel.com.

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