Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Blake Butler "Ever" -- Interview: Question 4

RK: I'd like to hear you talk about style and language a bit. Often during the book, especially when the intensity pitches, you slop and slap words round like a painter painting with something other than a paintbrush. And I think the "space-time-foam" nature of the book makes this if not easy then at least natural for you. And for the reader experiencing it. When I read McCarthy's "The Road" I was distracted, irritated, and ultimately infuriated by the language distortions-- the compound words and the archaisms. Every time I found myself in them I thought to myself: Ok, now McCarthy's trying to be "deep." But the good and honest reader can, I think, smell bullshit. When the language starts to blur in "Ever", though, I trust it, believe it. It feels like an extremely agitated and heightened mind grabbing at what comes first to mind/hand-- "on the dried crust most above," "bees runned with honey," "in the runned slush," etc,... In your space-time-foam, at its most intense, its high tides, "the oceans nestled down to just one fat lather," and "I slushed myself into the color." Your thoughts?

BB: I think a lot of my recent writing, and maybe especially in things written after EVER, I've become more and more reliant on the impulse, the underlying, particularly in the opening sentences of a section. I find that the less I think about what I am saying and more focus on the rhythm and the texture of it, the way the syllables fit in my head both alone and then in strings, that is where I start to find shit out. That's not to say there is no thought involved, or that I am just splattering text around on the screen. I remember particularly during writing EVER, and in the mindset of the numbering system I mentioned above, that though each line seemed to jump out of me without me knowing exactly why or what it was leading up to, I spent a lot of time between sentences, just staring, not thinking anything directly. Maybe I write more than the mind inside my mind rather than the palpable mind that controls the way I speak to people via mouth (I am often horrible in that context, blather, dumb). There is a disconnect, but also an electric current braided in the leaking, if you will, almost as if I am not writing by direction but by the loosening of things I did not know I had lodged. I've always been more interested in the unexplained, the unexplainable, than the 'ultimate truths of humanity' or something. I think the truth is a product rather than an equation.

I think I've said before that I think one of the worst rules I hear among workshops or whatever form of writing teaching is 'Write what you know.' If I knew what I was writing, why the hell would I want to write it? I'm not trying to write a proof for a math theorem that has already been made law. I am trying to make new. I like the idea of painting with something other than a paintbrush. Maybe with a plastic sword and an orange and a rabbit.

Speaking of McCarthy, though, he has been huge for me: I think his 'Suttree' and 'Blood Meridian' are two of the greatest books ever written. A lot of that dense, sometimes colloquial and often very ornate languaging, especially in the latter, get run up against these simple, boundless ideas, that don't try to say what they are even in the bigness of the words. The scenes near the end of the book where the boy is hiding from the Judge in the desert and watching him pass are maybe some of the most vivid images left in me from any book I've read. That said, 'Blood Meridian' is one of those books you could spend a lifetime reading, even just once.

(to see the rest of the interview look in archives--dec 2008-- or, more easily, click on one of the labels, like Blake Butler, at the bottom of this post)

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