by Ariana Reines



My name is Ariana Reines.

I wrote a book called THE COW, which won The Alberta Prize and was published by FenceBooks in 2006.

I wrote it and a lot of other things.  It has many big ideas inside of it.  It quotes from many sources.

THE COW is the first book of The Koran.  Nobody notices this.  Intellectual women who have feelings like THE COW.  Gay men like THE COW.  Men who like to have sex with women who have a lot of feelings like THE COW.  People who like things with good style and no typos do not like THE COW.  I can sympathize with them, but those people are not my problem.

I am speaking clearly because I am going to explain why sometimes THE COW speaks clearly and why sometimes it is a voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideals and disgusting feelings.  The reason is that I am often a voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideas and disgusting feelings, and I have resented the cleanliness and elegance of tight and perfect writing.  I have felt that writing should be dirtier and more excessive.  I still feel this way.  Often.  Not all the time.  A person has the right to feel in many different ways. 

Writing can be more than good.


I know French because my mom’s parents, who were Polish and survived the Holocaust, spoke French to her because they had just come from Belgium where they had met in a Displaced Persons camp.  My mom knew French when she was very young and then she forgot it.  She always wanted to remember it, so she made me learn it when I was little, and then I forgot it when I was a little older, and I wasn’t allowed to see her anymore,  and after missing her and feeling confused I learned French again in college, because something pulled me to it.  French probably attracted me because I missed my mom.  It is probably my mother tongue even though I am not good at it.  I am not a Francophile.  I do not like cheese.  I do not like the Champs Elysees.

French literature is at work, secret or overt, in a lot of American literature.  Some people think that making references to French literature, or any references to any literature, is pretentious.  I can understand why people say that, but for me French literature is important.

Let me explain a few things about French literature,.  Even if you already like French literature, this might be interesting for you.

1.  Digestion

Michel de Montaigne was obsessed with his body and with his digestion and pain and understanding why he did things a certain way or thought in a certain way.  His book of essays is like a giant organ and there’s a huge gallstone in it, just like the gallstone that was in Michel de Montaigne.  The gallstone in Michel de Montaigne’s book is a series of sonnets by his best friend.  Michel de Montaigne put this sequence of sonnets into his book.  His book is full of quotations, but they are all macerated and tiny, hundreds of little quotations from the classics dispersed throughout the book.  So his book is like a humus or like a stomach with all these little particles from all over antiquity in it, little fragments of edifices and ruins.  But the one big thing, which is like a tombstone, which is a gallstone, is this big quotation from his dead best friend at the center of his book.  Michel de Montaigne wrote a lot about his gallstone and how much it hurt him but how without pain you can’t know anything, and how you can learn from suffering.  His gallstone is a tombstone for his dead friend.   His dead friend’s sonnets are the gallstone in the body of his book.

Michel de Montaigne is much more important to THE COW than Georges Bataille.

2.  Shit

French culture is obsessed with shit and excrescence and shittiness because the French are always demonizing or revering something, they are very dramatic and very hypocritical people.   They are very Catholic even though they are very atheist.  This makes them revolting and backward but it also makes them sympathetic.  They are apathetic and sad like Americans, but perhaps they are more traditional and bourgeois in their ideals, and this makes them easy to insult.  The French are racists and collaborators.  But the heroes of France are enormous heroes.  The heroes of France, even from a hundred years ago, are more shocking and radical to me than so many things, and I am amazed.  It is important to have something to admire.  French food is disgusting and old French women are hags who hate young women and French men like the sound of their own voices and fucking girls up the ass.  Despite the fact that I do not love the French, I have a lot of love for something contrarian and amazing that is French.

The French invented the bidet.  I do not understand bidets but bidets prove that the French are obsessed with asses and shit.

Wine: fermentation.  Women: yeast infections, cheeses, the French.  Fashion, Dandyism, the Nineteenth Century, the Holocaust, the Resistance, seventies feminism, schizophrenia, poetry, and how fucking can be really disturbing and boring at the same time.  The French.

Everything rots but nothing disappears.

French people hate themselves and certain things about their culture are complete and attenuated.  This makes for fascinating extremism in thought and sometimes helps me understand my crappy self.

It is good to think about what’s refused, rejected, disgusting, humiliating, revolting, and why.  It’s good to think about how disease is transmitted, and what constitutes what we call “Nature.”  French slang is all about shit, way more than American slang.  In THE COW, shit is literal and it is also more than that.  Scat is nasty.  I am not into getting shit on during sex, or in general, or abstractly.  People have shit on me though.  It is hard to deal with.  It is hard to deal with a lot.  When my grandmother was dying slowly I had to clean up her shit.  Shit makes you pass out, it makes you vomit.  In Sade, the libertines eat shit like it’s delicious.  There is a lot about Sade I don’t understand.  This is one of the many things I don’t like about Sade: people do shocking horrible revolting acts like they are pretty and lovely.  Sade is not a favorite of mine because everything disgusting gets transubstantiated into pure enjoyment in his writing, and that kind of total reversal’s too easy; it can’t break out of its binary, out of being anti- Church, or merely anti anything.  Negation doesn’t actually exist.  The negative of things is much more complicated than the opposite of good, the opposite of yes.

There is no such thing as pure enjoyment.  Not for me.

Shit is disgusting and horrible.  A lot of people and things are disgusting and horrible, and I want to be a nice person, and I am.  When you are speaking about rejected people whose suffering makes them disgusting, you are speaking about shit.  I do not mean that we should all eat shit and love what we can’t help rejecting.  I am saying that I tried to do that, just to see if it was possible.

It’s not possible. 

3.  The Hag Writer

The patron saint of hag writers is Marguerite Duras.  When I read her writing, sometimes the emotions are too heavy for me, and I think, this is weepy and grotesque.  However, other times, when I read her writing, I think that she is the most incisive, elegant, perfect writer, and that her sentences are pure and pierce my heart.  Marguerite Duras was determined and she wrote her beautiful books and she made her movies and plays and she was a hag with a lumpy face and big glasses, and I like that about her, and I like her sorrow and resolve.

I am not a hag.  I am 26 years old.  I am afraid of hags and I am going to be one.  It is important to understand what hags are, why human beings can be so disgusting, and desire.  Charles Baudelaire was a Mamma’s boy.  So was Marcel Proust. Why is love so gooey and disgusting.  The Hag Writer has a lot to teach us about why love is so gooey and disgusting.


1.  To use a cliché.  To employ religious texts, veterinary manuals, literary works, wikipedia, and internet detritus in the service of opening this cliché.

2.  To make a book capable of humiliating itself, capable of arousing itself inside its own violence and difficulty, like a Marina Abramovic performance.

3.  To make a book that is an organ.  An organ is something that things pass through: it makes substances and is permeated by what it makes, or it receives substances and transmits them or translates them.  Sometimes books act like events, like edifices, or like they can tell it like it is.  Telling it like it is is always also a lie, but it feels total.  People will always thank you for your extremity.  Please see the section titled THE RAW AND THE COOKED for more on this.  Telling it like it is is very pleasing.  However, even a stiff book that is perfect and total is still a sieve that you pass yourself through.  You leave some things behind as you go, you gather other things to keep and use. 

Sometimes it is factually and rigorously impossible to tell it like it is, and that is not because of some relativism or soft-headed deconstruction, that is because some things are many things at once, and this is exhausting and terrifying, and very important.  Books must understand this in their very making.

4.  To construct the book out of different lengths and registers of text  A single style clobbers you with its totality.  A single form does the same.   The book should exceed itself, crack open, empty out, exceed itself.

Why is it humiliating and disgusting to live inside a body, be alive, feed oneself, fuck, have complicated emotions, and why is it sometimes so revolting that horrific acts are necessary. 

Are horrific acts necessary?

Are babies jizz for girls?

Is it possible to understand human violence?

Women house and transmit a lot of emotion and history through their crotches.  There must be a connection between this and the fact that America is obsessed with slaughtering cows. 


THE COW has been called a heterosexual book.  THE COW is not a heterosexual book.  So far, however, the world is composed of people who exist because a man and a woman copulated and a woman got pregnant and gave birth.  Sexuality, the sex act, desire, and what it takes to make a human: I should make a Venn diagram, because they aren’t all the same. 

THE COW is concerned with maternity, not heterosexuality per se.


There are errors in THE COW.  Some spelling errors, punctuation problems, and wrong line breaks.  The actual bookmaking part of THE COW happened very fast.  The layout was done by Rebecca Wolff, who is a great person and who kept my text in Arial, which I wanted.  When a book is laid out there are errors that need to be fixed because it is transferred from one size page onto another size page, from one software into other software.  I never got a bound galley and I never got to see the final blueline.  Everything happened very hastily, with late nights and early mornings, at the last minute.  I should have insisted on certain things.  Rebecca is a great person so I did not feel oppressed and I did not insist.  I am sorry.  A partial list of typographical errors in THE COW can be found at

Have you ever read Semiotext(e) books?  They are full of typos.  I love some of the Semiotext(e) books.  The typos make them feel really urgent and hastily made, like samizdat.  And I really like that feeling.


Dear Johannes Goransson,

You asked me to write something about how I wrote The Cow on April 25, 2007.  I have written that.  It is the end of June now.  There has been a lapse.  Inside of that lapse are some facts.  Here are some facts.

My grandmother died two days ago.

I work a dayjob that I do not like but that is sometimes interesting.  My mother was homeless so she was sleeping on the couch and then she was sleeping on the subway and then she was sleeping on the couch again.  Her smell makes me crazy.  She smells like TOP rolling tobacco, perfume, and hairspray.  And she smells, Johannes, like that ineffable substance that’s not merely her body processing what goes through it, but rather a substance that is of her body and that is of mine, a similarity or exhalation that makes its way into the world by coming out of us, haha, by virtue of us, and this smell nauseates me and causes so many emotions. 

On April 25, 2007, I was very depressed.  My mom was in jail from February 14, 2007 to March 3, 2007.  She was in jail because somebody sent her some forged money orders, and she went to the Post Office to ask if they were real, and a postal worker called the police, and she was arrested, and they held her overnight, and she was released the following morning and given a trial date, and she was late to her trial date, so they issued a bench warrant, and she was arrested on that bench warrant, and I tried to go see her, but when a person is in “holding” you cannot see that person and you cannot give them anything, and I asked many people in the court how to find out about what was happening with my mom’s case, and many people helped me and were kind to me, and this was not the first time I had to admit to myself that the people who work in the courts in New York City, the guards and the clerks, the people with all kinds of jobs, tend on the whole to be really helpful and soulful, with disappointed eyes that have a spark of laughter in them, or with wrinkles that make them look like people with feelings, or with local accents that sound humane.  I had many thoughts about literature while I was in the courts, about thick American novels full of people “trying to do the right thing” in a corrupt and byzantine system.

These thoughts led nowhere.  They did not lead to any literature that I made.

A lot of people know what it’s like to have a person they love incarcerated.  Loving someone is not possible and a traumatic thing.

On April 25, 2007, when you asked me to write about THE COW, my mom had been in my house for almost two months, and she is like a walking Holocaust or person hounded by the Stasi or disappeared into a gulag because she is obsessed by persecution and evil and she ruined her life and lost everything and alienated everyone because she feels like an intellectual who is about to be disappeared in Argentina or like a scientist who is being purged out of Stalinist Russia and at the same time she is helpless to defend herself and ruins her own life constantly, every day all day.

After I wrote THE COW I thought it would be interesting to fill my body up with feelings and use my intelligence to amplify them, so that my body would, upon expiration, be like a piñata, a piñata of radiant and pure emotion, and people could crack it open and drink of it and quench their inexorable thirsts.

But I am not Jesus Christ and my body will never be a piñata and suicidal thoughts are not better than thinking that the weather is nice even though the world is ending, because bad and suicidal thoughts are morphologically structured to make you think about ulteriors, ways that an act could have a secret meaning or utility beyond what you can make of it in the now, and destructive acts especially.

It is important not to become distracted by the ulterior motives hidden within acts, which is to say the ulterior motives that are not the motives of one’s consciousness, but perhaps the motives of one’s subconscious mind, or rather, the other modes or outcroppings that branch out from the fact itself, irrespective of what can be felt or discerned as human motive.  Yes, it is important not to become distracted by these.  It is important not to become distracted by the idea of decisiveness, moreover, and rather, to make a decision.

You asked me about The Raw and the CookedThe Raw and the Cooked is a book by Claude Levi-Strauss that I have not read.  But it is a dialectic that I can get even though I have not read the book.  I would like to read it because Levi-Strauss writes beautifully, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  Well, here is what I can say.  THE COW sounds raw but it is not.  It is meant to read like an emergency, and to exceed and exacerbate itself, just like a body.  To make sense and then to register the shock and disgust of this sense.  Which is to say, the body is not the servant of the mind, right.  By now a lot of people know about Georges Bataille, the Acephale, all that.  Getting rid of the head, with its delusions, controlling everything.  This is the ravaged body, the ravaged body, the cadaver of reason, and it’s alive.  I wanted to write poems that an educated person would feel embarrassed to read, poems that sound like Goth girls with feelings, except for sometimes they are “smarter” than Goth girls with feelings are supposed to be.

Every time people say something is raw and simple and tells it like it is and gives you the unvarnished truth and everything, people are playing themselves.  People want to have an experience of the raw truth, and some things are more intense and greater than others, but nothing is wholly raw, nothing is the plain and pure truth.  Style in literature can make itself sound like it is the plain and pure truth and this is because the author wants to clobber you with the authority of the plain and pure truth he or she is emitting.  Urgency and sincerity are real.  But when people start talking bullshit about “a style stripped of artifice” they are talking bullshit.  Style is by definition artificial.  Much more importantly, writing’s artificial.  Eating and talking and crapping and fucking and dying are natural.

I was a doctoral fellow in French and Romance Philology at Columbia University from Fall 2004 to Winter 2006.  I spent a total of two semesters at Columbia during those times.  I hated it there.  Before that I had studied French and English at Barnard, and had won a lot of creative writing and literature prizes there, and when my mom got evicted from her father’s apartment after he died on January 1, 2000, I got to have the experience of her living on top of me with my brother, in my little dorm room that I paid for with loans and stealing and waitressing, and she was saying the crazy paranoid shit she says, and threatening me all the time, and screaming at me up and down Amsterdam Avenue that I was worse than Hitler, and us all eating Goya rice and beans which was all I could afford and me making my money getting fucked in the ass by a photographer with a skinny little cock and working at the Barnard Writing Center.  I am not a Goth girl, but I am a nerd.  I am not a cool person but I have done some things. 

Sylvere Lotringer was my advisor in graduate school because on the day when all of us students introduced ourselves and stated our academic interests, I stood up and said I AM INTERESTED IN WOMEN AND MARTYRDOM.  Everybody laughed.

My brother was hospitalized in October 2005.  “Hospitalized” is an interesting and complicated and important word.  He was hospitalized because he was living with my mom in Washington Heights, in a room that used to be my room in an apartment that was and is a nasty and disturbing place, and bad things happened to him and to her.  It is very hard to live with people who are suffering horribly and who are crazy and smothering.  It is very easy to become infected.  Hospital workers, like prison guards, handle the humans they have to handle for their jobs like germs and animals.  Hospital workers and prison guards are afraid all the time of being infected by the diseased people they handle.  This is why hospital workers and prison guards go crazy.  Because anybody can be infected by anything. 


Animal sacrifice has nothing to do with the Holocaust.  The Holocaust was not a sacrifice.  It is disgusting and obscene to say that the Holocaust was a sacrifice.  A sacrifice is a devotional thing.  The golden calf, the red heifer, Ferdinand the Bull, the sacred cow, these things are important.  What meat is supposed to stand for, ipso facto, is important.  Does meat ever just stand for itself?  Is a cigar ever a cigar?

I do not eat meat.

The only people who talk about sacrifice are assholes.  The government talks about sacrifice, and about the ultimate sacrifice.  Sacrifice has to have PURPOSE.  Sacrifice has sacred utility.  The Holocaust had no purpose.  Dying for a cause can have purpose.  But most of the time when the state speaks of sacrifice the state means THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME EAT YOU.


I am going to stop now.  Thank you for wanting to hear about THE COW.  I hope this has helped.  I am writing a book called THANK YOU that has nothing to do with eating or meat and a book called COEUR DE LION and a book called THE NEGATIVE.  I have a hard time with many things, but I am a nice person and I want to be your friend.

I would also like to say THANK YOU to Georges Franju, who is dead.  Georges Franju was a great filmmaker.  His first film was Le Sang des bêtes, and he made it right after World War Two.  The film is a documentary about an abattoir just outside of Paris.  It opens with an epigram from Baudelaire: “Je te frapperai sans haine et sans colère comme un boucher.”







Also by Ariana Reines in ActionYes #6:
The Perforator God