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Amina Cain & Renee Gladman Talk in Slow Arresting Images at BOMB
BOMB has Renee Gladman and Amina Cain in discussion over “not only … their new books, but about language as a stage, the dreams books have, landscape painting, and stories as cluttered tables.” The two writers are also in conjunction in book form, with Gladman’s Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (the third book in her Ravicka series) and Cain’s Creature having been published as a pair by Dorothy, a publishing project. The slow reveal:
Renee Gladman I want to begin by asking you about slowness. Very general, I know. But it’s something I think about when I read your narratives: the duration of a moment of perception. Or perhaps, the sense has more to do with a certain silence around perception, which I’m reading as speed, but which might have more to do with space. Where do words like “slowness” or “silence” land when you think about the nature of experience or subjectivity?
Amina Cain I do often see “duration” within perception as a kind of spaciousness (something I am always trying to find, both in my stories and in my life), but, interestingly, I just finished an essay on my relationship to writing and it’s called Slowness. In it, I talk about how drawn I am to films (like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman) and books (like Clarice Lispector’s The Apple in the Dark) that seem to move slowly, or that when they do build up to something with some kind of energy, do so without the promise of “real” drama, not unlike what it is to prepare to meditate. In the Soto Zen tradition, which is the only one I really know, you go through a fairly momentous ceremony to simply stare at a blank wall, to arrive at something like spaciousness or slowness. On that blank wall is projected everything (after all, you can see your mind there) and also nothing. I like that relationship between drama and quiet, between moving towards something and then just sitting down upon arrival to experience what it’s like to be there. I like it in life and in writing.
I wrote another essay that thinks about the similarities between fiction and landscape painting (as well as character and landscape) because I’ve been realizing more and more how important image and setting are to me as a writer—in a way, even more so than language, and certainly more than plot or story. The question I am now asking myself, that I think I have always asked myself, perhaps without knowing it at first, is: can a story be like a painting, or a video or film, or can it allow for lapses into the space of one of these things for a little while? What happens when a narrative allows us to spend time with an image longer than we are “supposed” to, when it is just as arresting as the story being told?
But, in that second essay, I also talk a bit about Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge, about how the narrator “softens” (and what I mean by this word is that some kind of boundary breaks down) with not only the “architectured” landscape, but also with sentences, and with the physical act of writing. It feels to me as though everything in the book is passing through the narrator’s body or that the narrator’s body passes through everything. I wonder if these impressions mean anything in terms of the way you yourself see the book, if you thought at all about porousness or exchange.
RG Sometimes it’s difficult to separate a narrator from language or the idea of the body and text. I often think they are inextricable, but lately I think it’s more that the narrator (of most of my fictions) and the body (which people ask me about a lot) are sublimated figures. They belong to language; they are problems of language. The only reason there is a body is because there is a text, in this case a “bridge,” to make its form possible. I like when people talk about membranes in regard to writing, because it allows you to visualize a layer that potentially sits on top of language. Because, you see, I think the language of the book is passing through something as well, and it’s not the narrator’s body, rather some abstraction of itself. Language has a dream of itself and the book passes through the dream. The first part of the sentence forms the membrane and the second part of the sentence moves through it. In my mind, it looks like ribboning, but is colorless. Someone writes about language as a skin, which perhaps corresponds with your thoughts on porosity. I am interested in the idea that the skin is an organ, because skin is flat like landscape, like language. If we allow language to be skin in our imaginings then we can move immediately to all the processes happening below that level—so many systems at work with the skin (language) acting as protection, as boundary and container. I think about things entering that membrane and moving through the body beneath and try to imagine what that looks like, sounds like at the reading level. I want the language you see, particularly in Ana Patova, to be alive and in process.
These sentences are good propellors. Read the full interview here.