Dark Headspace: The Faster Times Interview with Kristina Born
Blake Butler and Shane Jones, combined under the banner YEAR OF THE LIQUIDATOR, present…ONE HOUR OF TELEVISION by Kristina Born — a novel of the highest order, which for me means that it is a question raiser rather than a question answerer. It opens. It suggests. It fans the flames inside your head and chest. It begs the question who are the we and I? Why the loud soft cracks of tiny prose? And where to hide? Where to shelter? When will the words burst? When will the solve of the mystery? And who remains when the cards are played? Who remains the who in the middle? And what does Erin Brockovich have to do with it? What does annihilation have to do with it? What is the why and the how of the who and the when of the what and behold the grotesquery of commodity fetishism! Don’t change the channel. Don’t look away. I, myself, could not. I, myself, wanted answers. Not all, not many, just some, just few. Just a quick dip into the mind of its creator. A brief chance to glimpse another angle. A way to hold the book differently. A way to deepen the trench of my understanding. So here you have it…a brief quick glimpse dip chance at better understanding. — Christopher Higgs.
THE FASTER TIMES: First, I’d be interested to learn more about you. I know you’re 21, 5’3”, 120 lbs., and that you live in Toronto, Ontario. But I want to know about the kind of stuff that makes you the writer you are, maybe stuff like: what magazines do you look at, what music do you listen to, what television shows do you watch, what books do you cherish, what relationships are most important to you, and/or what occupation pays your bills?
KRISTINA BORN: Actually, I just turned 22, I’m now closer to 100 lbs due to mysterious digestive ailments, and my boyfriend measured me against a wall and forced me to admit that I’m really only 5’2”. Such flux. Good TV for me is stuff like Carnivale, The Wire, Twin Peaks, Deadwood. New York Tyrant is the best lit mag out there period, but also Unsaid, DIAGRAM, Hobart, No Colony, Tin House. Good books are so many, but for now I will always pick out [David Foster Wallace's] Brief Interviews With Hideous Men as the most important. It changed me the most. Good music is Diamanda Galas, Neutral Milk Hotel, Fugazi, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Fugs, Nina Simone, Scout Niblett, Xiu Xiu, Erik Satie. I have an incredible group of smart, funny, pretty friends. I can’t imagine doing without them and when we play music together, it’s magic.
TFT: When you say that DFW’s Brief Interviews… changed you the most, could you say more about that? How? In what ways?
BORN: I mean that it completely destroyed the way I looked at literature, and my writing was never the same after I read it. It shook me up. Coming out of high school, I had read lots of books that I admired and that inspired me, but Brief Interviews, I think, was the first to really kick me in the head and make me go, “This is better work than I’ll ever do. I’m not a writer yet,” which I needed. Plus I had it taught to me by an amazing professor, Kim Michasiw, who I daresay is as fiercely brilliant as Foster Wallace was. So I came to realize that you can do all these fucked things with form and voice and Brief Interviews was the first thing that started showing me how.
I really hate the terms “novella” and “novelette” because they don’t mean anything.
TFT: What was your writing process like for One Hour of Television? Where was it written, under what conditions, and how much revision has it gone through since its initial creation?
BORN: I wrote the majority of OHT during the summer after my second year of university. I came home and worked a 10-hour graveyard shift at a local gas station. I was alone from 8pm-6am and since no one came in after about 11 or so, I had very little actual work to do. I wanted to give myself a writing project for the summer, so I decided that I would write a small story based on every element in the periodic table. I looked up each element on Wikipedia and took down a few facts that jumped at me, and wrote them in no particular order. After 11 at the gas station, the rule was that I had to write three sections, and then I was allowed to read Infinite Jest until around 3, when I mopped and started making coffee for the truckers. After about three weeks, some themes started to emerge and I realized it was a book.
It really hadn’t undergone significant revision until Blake [Butler] and Shane [Jones] got a hold of it. I knew that the ending had to be redone, but I hadn’t been able do it. I really think the whole thing would have failed utterly if it weren’t for their suggestions.
TFT: I’m interested in how you went about getting it published. Had you sent it out to other places? Were you looking for a publisher in Canada or the US or both or does that distinction even matter? How did you get hooked up with Blake and Shane?
BORN: I’ve never been published in Canada, and I don’t particularly think I ever will, which is fine. I don’t feel much of a connection with the literature that’s being published here right now, but I’ll talk more about that later.
I sent Blake WHAT IS ALLOWED for consideration for NO COLONY, and ended up having to withdraw it a few months later because Unsaid took it. He emailed me that day and apologized for not grabbing it first, and asked if I had anything else I could send. I didn’t have a working computer at the time, and the only things I had on my work computer were THE DELIVERY ROOM, which he did end up publishing in NO COLONY, and a draft of OHT. I sent him the draft too and shortly after, he said that he and Shane wanted to put it out.
I’m interested in a different solution: a complete monopoly of mood.
TFT: One of the many excellent things about your book is the way it resists genre classification. Is it a group of prose poems, is it a collection of short-shorts, is it a novella, is it…? (To me, it’s all those things and more.) I wonder how you see it in terms of genre. Do you even think about genre distinctions?
BORN: To me, it’s a novel. I really hate the terms “novella” and “novelette” because they don’t mean anything. It’s a short novel, that’s all. I’m not a poet and I would never describe my writing as prose poetry – which also doesn’t mean anything – and if I read something like Anne Carson’s DECREATION, which is a lot of different things, it seems pointless to me to try to classify it as plays or essays or poetry. It’s a book and it’s good.
TFT: I’m wondering about the page layout. It’s so sparse; there’s so much white space. For me, it evokes an eerie kind of silence, which plays an interesting counterpoint to the sharpness of language. Could you say a little something about that choice?
BORN: I wanted it to be suffocating. Gertrude Stein thought (mostly in reference to her plays, I believe) that you can’t write emotional arcs, because if the reader is not in the exact right emotional state at the right stage in the arc, you’ll lose him. Her solution was to put everything on the page immediately, like a painting, and allow the reader to pick out what resonated with him at the time. I’m interested in a different solution: a complete monopoly of mood. I want to try to write in a way where the reader can pick up the book, read any sentence, and be immediately crunched down into the mood he should be in.
That doesn’t mean that there is only one mood throughout the book; there are funny parts and sad parts and what have you. What it means is, throughout all these different moods, I try to use diction to create an underlying tone that deadens the moods. So the reader, while he experiences the variable moods of the book, is simultaneously experiencing this monotonous tone, which will hopefully anchor him.
I’ve probably explained this badly.
TFT: No, that makes sense. I especially like what you say about wanting “a complete monopoly of mood.” But now this has got me thinking about your choice to write the narrative “I” from the male perspective. Did it just come out that way or was it a conscious decision/challenge?
BORN: I almost always write from the male perspective when I’m writing in first person, whether gender is specified in the piece or not. I think I’m always trying to get as far away from autobiography as possible. I tend to get into a pretty dark headspace when I think about myself in any real way, so I avoid too much introspection when I write. Despite popular theory, it’s terribly hard to be creative when you’re bummed out. I’m trying to work around this problem with my next project, though, so we’ll see if that stays true.
I think it’s worth noting that even Anne Carson, who’s one of the few continuing to fuck language, is first a classicist.
TFT: There’s also the narrative voice of “we,” which almost seems to function as the voice of the collective consciousness of the community. Do you envision these narrative voices as separate from each other or somehow interconnected?
BORN: Well, the collective unconscious of the community, really. The two–the conscious “I” and the unconscious “we”–are separate, but tenuously. We all have this store of weird, half-remembered information in our heads, information about who we are and how the world is, and I think that you can only break away from that so much. In the book, one of the functions of the narrative “we” is to establish the kinds of voices that the “I” might be hearing.
TFT: How do you think about this book in terms of how it fits or doesn’t fit within the world of literature? Do you feel like this book is in conversation with any other books–if so, which ones?
BORN: OHT was written partly as protest against current Canadian literature, so it’s necessarily in conversation with the short-lived era of Canadian experimental literature from about 1965-1985. Since 1985, Canadian literature has been predominantly historical and familial, and I find it painful that no one seems to want to look forward or even attempt to address the present climate of the country. There are exceptions, of course (Christian Bök’s Xenotext Experiment, for example), but I think it’s worth noting that even Anne Carson, who’s one of the few continuing to fuck language, is first a classicist.
I don’t consider myself an especially political person, but this chronic passivity, particularly among young Canadian artists, is what allowed Stephen Harper to cut $45 million in arts funding and then be swiftly re-elected.
TFT: Call me crazy, but I get a sense that there are at least two kinds of writers who are writing prose right now: writers who consider themselves story-centric and writers who consider themselves sentence-centric. What is your take on that split? Do you consider yourself one of those two kinds of writers?
BORN: This split seems pretty ridiculous to me. I mean, I think most writers considered to be story-centric are just linear-narrative-centric and most writers considered to be sentence-centric are just non-linear-narrative-centric, so why not say that? That actually means something. And anyone who calls himself a non-narrative writer is probably a little crazy. I don’t care if you have three dots on a page; three dots is expression, expression is a telling, a telling is narrative.
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