Saturday, February 9, 2008

Interview with Kass Fleisher "Accidental Species"

"Accidental Speices" by Kass Fleisher

1. What is the main theme of the book that you want the reader to take away?
It's not so much a theme as an experience. My hope is that people will feel the tension, which is very difficult to put into "transparent" words, of struggles with family, particularly female family relationships, especially in the face of the absence of a future relationship (which is to say, she will never be the mother of children). Since I don't say that "exactly," I don't mind if people don't catch on; it's ok if perhaps they found a few lines they thought were funny, or handsome, etc.

2. What is the significance of how you divided the chapters?
Each of the chapters chronicles (without doing so "exactly") another phase of the situation, and each of those phases, or so it felt to me, required its own formal qualities, since the situational qualities were also shifting. I also have a thing for the numbers 8 and 3. Those came up again.

3. Where did you get the idea to write in this form? Did you have any influences?
Poets. Poets, poets, poets. I think at some point I discovered that other people, like Laura Mullen or Thalia Field, were doing work like this, but to my disappointment it was often labeled "poetry." I continue to find this unfortunate for those of us who call or think of ourselves as prose writers (and I'm not saying that Mullen or Field do, but I've seen the phenomenon with fair frequency), because it continues to thwart the development of literacy for this kind of challenge of the sentence, the paragraph, the chapter, and so on. Prose readers need and deserve a wider ability to read and appreciate language.

4. What are the purposes of the changes in point of view, which sometimes come in the middle of sections?
I don't really respect the notion of a self. I do, of course; in practice one has to identify oneself as different from the world in a specific way; but I don't in the way that people tend to take it for granted. The self I am at this second will be different in about thirty seconds (and counting). That and, to be utterly frank with you, some of it just "came out that way," and finally what I discovered was that, when talking about especially painful circumstances, third-person or second-person or the Royal We or just anything but first-person-singular is waaaay easier to handle than...first-person-singular. It creates a distance for the reader as well as, blessedly, for the writer. In the sequel to this book, _The Adventurous_, I change "persons" much more purposefully, I think. I do it in both but I think in the second one I was more ready to see the distancing impulse and know it for what it was, and when I switch to third it's more likely to be completely because I damn well wanted to challenge that selfhood thing I made up in the above.

5. What is the significance of the cover image? Why does this best represent the book?
It's rather stunning, eh? Quite the best thing about the book. The painting itself probably goes for many thousands of dollars and I always tell people to frame the book and hang it on their walls. Two items about the painting: one is that it was done by a dear friend, and it's always lovely to have such collaborative senses about things; and the other is that the bird, although likely not precisely an accidental species, seemed---being pinned down as it was---and the drops looking something like tears, vaporous regret if you will---it seemed more expressive than the damn book, actually. A picture paints 1000, etc. I'm pretty sure that my use of it has nothing to do with the painter's conception, although she was wonderfully generous to give it to me for the book. Maria Tomasula's work often used (past tense because it does so less often now I think) images that suggest Christlike martyrdom---being tied down in one way or another. I don't see this woman as a martyr, although she's occasionally a victim. She's had too much complicity in her own situation to qualify.

6. There seems to be a theme of death in the book (death in childbirth, the car accident). Please explain the significance.
Well, you know, to be honest with you, we're all going to die. This has obsessed me since I was five. I think it's an utterly absurd circumstance and can't imagine why things have to be that way---but such they are.

8. There seemed to be a theme between love/pain of writing and physical love. Can you elaborate?
It gets worse in _The Adventurous_. I don't know what to say about that, really, but I'll make some noise here now that if I'm lucky may sound like I'm "answering." While I can imagine people loving only with their eyes or their hands or their noses, for me beauty has to do with the truth a person articulates through their language, and that language is frequently not syntactic language. When most of us try to say who we are, we become ridiculous, linguistically speaking. This is part of my concern: syntactic language can be so stultifying to the location of beauty in language, and it's also (in a post-orality world) the primary means of attempts to be beautiful (to love/be loved). I hope there's enough noise in that for you. It's funny how you can set out to exploit what language is capable of when it's released (unpinned) from syntax---and then end up unable to say, syntactically, what about that is so fabulous.

9. Is there anything you would like us to tell the class about the book?
I tell you all this: no matter what you think of it, I thank you greatly for reading it. Please thank your professor for putting it before you.

-Erin Brady, Kelly Maus, Joan Corcoran and Becky Slinger

1 comment:

Courtney Lynn Harris said...

great questions. great answers.

also, last weeks class really helped me enjoy "accidently species." there is something about talking about reading that makes the reading a lot more meaningful. :)

lastly, i think its refreshing to read books that i don't necessarily "understand." honestly, as long as i can find a few sentences or ideas to latch on to, i can find make a connection with the book (or a part of it). its been fun reading books that i don't quite "understand," as i feel as though it is teaching me a new way of reading... not reading simply to "get it," but more to experience it. (it being the content of the novel.)

just wanted to say...