17 November 2010

Smart Things Selah Saterstrom Said in an Interview with Christian Peet

Since we're reading The Pink Institution, which forces us to think about form, and since I'm forcing you to blog about revision, which also forces you to consider form, I now present these excepts from Selah Saterstrom, interviewed by Christian Peet in Tarpaulin Sky.

SS: …I would identify that “narrative” as a collection of images that have intersected and conjoined through time in such a way that feels right—inexhaustible, non negotiable. I am interested in the articulations that erupt as a result of these images being in relation. This is a process I would call “narrative.” Like a weed growing between two concrete blocks of an interstate overpass. Despite smog and lack of nourishment, certain conditions are present so that a manifestation arises from the space between the edges of those blocks. I feel narrative as inevitable, evolutionary, like interstate weeds. Where there are things and conditions, there is narrative.

The trick is breaking the images until they yield the most poignant set of articulations. . . then arranging those articulations into a larger pattern that feels honest, is not exclusive, and has a poignancy that deserves visibility [enter self doubt]. The trick of waiting, seeing, risking, failing.

Is this work fiction? Trans-genre? I don’t know. I recently went through a period in which I was so hung up on what genre I was writing in that it became debilitating. During this time the election was going on and I dealt with it by reading loser’s points of view through history. I started to read Japanese accounts of Hiroshima, which re-triggered years of previous Holocaust readings.

After atrocities forms emerge, often called avant-garde forms. Looking at avant-garde as a literal translation, these forms may be “forward looking” but they feel more to me like forms of present moment witness. How does one speak after a violence that literally reconfigures the cellular structure of things, that, in its erasure, records the shadow of what is no longer present? Out of necessity forms arise to speak a language that must also speak these losses and transfigurations.

Thinking about these things, I realized it would be more productive and better for me to switch from the question: “What genre am I writing in?” to: “How can I be a more pure filter through which language can pattern the mystery of my concerns?” At this point I’ve chosen a sense of urgency over a sense of knowing.

I’ve been thinking about the space of the page as an installation space, the text as installation. Some of the pieces express this more visually than others. But even when form is not working in this overtly visual way, every line, be it a recognizable sentence or not, is broken intentionally as I write. I experience form both as a way of seeing and the thing seen because it is simultaneously process and artifact.

CP: I once heard you say—and I may be paraphrasing incorrectly—that revision is a process of learning to see more clearly. Would you explain this? Also, what is the importance of negative space, of what is not seen in your work? In The Pink Institution, God took the form of an eraser. Is revision an act of God?

SS: Ha hahaaaa . . . hell yes sometimes it feels like revision is an act of God because it feels like it would take an act of God to make a piece work. But seriously, in terms of revision as a phenomena that is act of God. . . I don’t know. Because genocide, for example, is a form of revision. In turn this revision can lead to re-visioned forms to speak about the experience itself. The process of remembering, also revision. Pollution: a process of planetary revision. Life, death, nature: revision. And so on. It could be that revision is a non negotiable character in the existential drama. This doesn’t disinvite God into the scenario, but it doesn’t place God as The Force causing the scenario. It’s a big subject. . . does God exist outside one’s own accountability?

We invoke revision in good and terrible ways, but it is a mode of surviving. Acquiring language as a child is a kind of revision process—one revises a semiotic understanding of self and world and the “I” is born, subject placement established. One is less likely to be eaten by wolves if one can distinguish one’s self from the wolves. Being food doesn’t have to imply your connections are rooted in dichotomy (you v/s wolves). It just suggests ways those connections might be expressed.

In terms of my own writing process, editing/revision is a space where I have encountered something I personally consider holy, but really it is very ordinary. It feels holy because it’s rare. Again, Grace Paley’s idea of getting the lies out comes to mind. When I’m at a place with a piece and I’m able to, if only for a moment, live with my own contradictions without somehow medicating myself, that can feel like grace.

03 November 2010

If on a winter's night a traveler is not the easiest book ever assigned

Nor is it the hardest, once you get into the rhythm of it, the weaving in and out of story, to and fro with the anti-author's narration. The story of a narrator who is a reader.
I don't write to defend it, but I do urge you to laugh.

Yes, laugh.

It's a book that's frustrating to read, sure, but its main topic is frustration, after all. The book is therefore a joke book. At the same time it's a mystery, and as I read (and not for the first time) I can't help but remember my long-past afternoons with Nancy Drew mysteries. How desperate I was to know it was all going to be solved, that the criminal would pay, that there was justice. I was so desperate that I couldn't wait till the end of the book but had to read ahead, usually skimming the last three or four pages to find the answer. Afterward, satisfied, I would return to the middle to enjoy the ride. Every book I would promise myself that I wouldn't cheat, wouldn't look ahead, but I couldn't ever resist. That's the feeling I have with Calvino--what's the truth about this story? Will these people ever get their book? And will they ever have sex? I want to look ahead. But I've read the end, and I know what I always suspected, and what you must suspect, too.....