Happy birthday, Brian Evenson! 53, today! Here are some quotes from the writer.
“It’s those unguarded moments where you’re teetering or balancing on the cusp of belief or unbelief and not knowing which way you’re going to fall that are really, for me, the most interesting moments in life.”
“Language is both the way that we report knowledge and the way that we come to understand the limitations of that knowledge, to show the contours of what we can’t understand or depict, but also, inversely, to suggest the limits of language itself.”
“But I also believe the importance of having to identify with a character in a book is vastly overrated, particularly when it comes to readers who read fairly broadly. The more you read, the more you realize that reading is about engaging in an act of translation: that you’re not looking for someone who is involved in the exact experience or life you have. No, you’re more interested in the modality of the experience, and the way in which that modality might reveal things to you about your own, very different experience.”
“I guess that the work I like best as a reader is the work that unsettles me, that continues to eat away at me long after I finish it. I want as a reader to be transformed and thrown off balance by what I read, and I try to do that for my reader as well. I think we learn tremendous things about ourselves (even things we might not want to know)—about the limits of our sensibility, about what lies beneath the daily veneer, etc.—if we’re put in states of panic and discomfort. Doing that in fiction, where the state of a character in the story can become a mirror for the unsettled reader, allows for a way of experiencing those states cleanly, without all the concomitant problems that would come with them being directly expressed in life.”
“I do a lot of revising on the line level. So especially with the final sentence, it might be revised a half dozen times before I find it to be just what I want it to be. A lot of the revision I do, the first time I write the draft of a story, I’m pretty interested in getting the structure in place. I want the shape to be there, and to a greater or lesser degree, I can do that. All the drafts after that are really about perfecting the language and making the flow right, making the rhythm work well, making the language augment what’s going on with the story.”
“In terms of my own relationship with reality and realism and the reader, I think that reality exists but that we perceive it so incompletely as to have only a partial relationship with it. A good part of our lives as humans involves living as if we do have a solid relationship to the world around us, but there are always these moments of rupture that reconfigure us and disorient us and make us wonder if we understand anything at all about the people we thought we knew, about the world, etc. I guess I feel that my fiction is inviting people into that process in an aesthetic way, offering something that’s aesthetically pleasurable and at the same time asking you to undergo by proxy an intensive and difficult experience–but that’s of course a very different thing than actually living through those experiences. I hope that my stories, when they are at their best, will continue to work on you after you put the book down.”
“For me, I’m less interested in whether something is minimal or maximal (my first book has stories in both those modes as well as things in between) and more interested in how thoughtful it is about its language and composition. I think a similar thing can be said about maximalism as what you say about minimalism: a lot of people think it’s easy to put in everything but the kitchen sink, but the best maximalist stuff is really attentive to how it constructs itself and even very picky. And there’s a lot of good mimetic realism that uses the techniques of minimalism, maximalism or even poetry but is very good at hiding it: most things that seem like they’re using fiction as a window are attentive to language but making different choices, at least partly hiding their technique.”
“I’ve been pretty skeptical of the standard ways of describing consciousness. We have these models for understanding how consciousness works—the Freudian model, for instance—but I don’t think they accurately get at what’s going on. So much of what we think is internal stuff is programmed for us by language or by culture. I think that ‘consciousness’ is thinner than we like to believe. I’m interested in Thomas Metzinger’s work—he suggests that consciousness has put us in this kind of tunnel where we are perceiving a representation of the world rather than the world itself. That representation is much less articulated than reality. We recreate this representation of the world in our heads and get rid of all the surrounding noise. Anything that doesn’t seem significant we erase or ignore and then we go ahead and live our lives according to what’s left. This gives us a sense of subjectivity. I buy that. I don’t think we apprehend the world as directly as we like to think. This question of what’s real is very vexed.”
“Well, the thing that’s most frustrating is when I feel like I have all the components for a good story and the story itself just isn’t coming together. Or, even worse, it’s come together but it just isn’t as good as it could be and I can’t figure out why. So much of good fiction is intuition, so much builds up almost imperceptibly through very simple gestures of language and rhythm and repetition and arrangement and velocity, that a really excellent story manages to accomplish something without you knowing what it’s doing to you as it does it. There are a lot of writers who can do that at one iteration, that create that effect the first time you read them but not upon later readings. But there are only a few writers who manage to maintain that effect through multiple readings, who have stories or novels that remain numinous and subtle and resonant no matter how many times you read them.”
“There’s so much in this life that’s inexplicable, and I think the closer that you scrutinize it, the less explicable or solid it seems, and I think a lot of my fiction is about that, about the collapse of our ability to feel that we can genuinely apprehend the world.”
“I find writing as an activity really satisfying. I love the act of constructing worlds out of language. I like what it teaches me about my own thinking and what it reveals to me about my understanding of the world. It’s not exactly that every second of it is fun when I’m working on a novel or a story, but there’s always something great and satisfying for me about the process, particularly when it leads me to a story I’m happy with.”
“I really have a hard time believing we can ever know anything for certain, but at the same time I feel that so much about human experience is about interpreting signs, making connections, making leaps, finding ways of defining different experiences and different realities as significant. That puzzle-solving impulse is very human, I think, but at the same time it’s so easy to start to see things as significant that probably aren’t, to believe that the world around you is ‘telling you something.’ The line between the normal human process of interpreting signs and the overinterpretation of them that can be a symptom of madness is pretty thin. My work, I think, both enjoys that puzzle-solving impulse but also is very skeptical of it, and tries to get at the basic human frustration of never being quite able to make as much sense of the world as we’d like.”
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.