5x5: Brian Evenson

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In this series five different writers talk to one writer about five (or more) of his different books. In this fourth interview, Amina Cain talks to Brian Evenson about Fugue StateRead the first interview with Colin Winnettethe second with Matt Bell, the third with Brian Conn.

Amina Cain in Conversation with Brian Evenson

Before sitting down with Fugue State for the first timeI got to hear Brian Evenson read the opening story of the book—“Younger”—at the Summer Writing Program at Naropa in 2005. I couldn’t get the story out of my head, or the way it began, already in conversation with something: “Years later, she was still calling her sister, trying to understand exactly what had happened.”

I was affected by how direct the language was—and how soothing—to tell this kind of story: a confusion of memory and perception between two sisters and a vivid, filmic scene from their childhood. But whatever I first felt the language (and narrative) was doing, it seemed to multiply until I was adrift in it too, this shared yet helplessly separate landscape of the sisters. All of the pieces that make up Fugue State are places as much as they are stories, like “In The Greenhouse” (here, place is a book or a character’s mind as much as it is a house surrounded by pines), and the reader enters them, though not to find any kind of resolution or protection. 

The book brings us into contact with thinking itself, with a sense of terror that seems to multiply plainly, and with the most difficult kinds of truth. 

—Amina Cain

 I. DISORIENTATION

AMINA CAIN: One of the things I was left with after reading Fugue State was a profound sense of disorientation, of being lost. Many of the characters in the stories don’t understand what is happening to them or what is actually real. As a reader, and as a person, I often enjoy disorientation. What is your relationship to it? Is there something in it you find, not useful, but interesting or necessary as a place from which to write? 

BRIAN EVENSON: I enjoy disorientation a lot too, though more as a reader than as a person, unless it’s recreational disorientation (I’m not that keen about getting lost in buildings, for instance, unless they’re very particular kinds of buildings). I think a good many writers see writing as something that helps them sort out and pin down the world, that allows them to organize it. I want my writing to do the opposite: to destabilize systems and orders and make everything seem a little less certain. There are various ethical and political reasons for wanting to do that, but I think the main reason is a philosophical one: first, I’m genuinely convinced that the world really is a great deal less stable than we choose normally to experience it, and second, I feel that writing should allow us to perceive that.

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What Would Twitter Do?

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For the second-last week of What Would Twitter Do? I have compiled some quotes about Twitter from some great contemporary folks and some great folks who were once contemporary but now are dead. I hope you enjoy this selection.

- Sheila Heti

"I pretty much throw everything up on Twitter that makes me giggle and I don’t think I can use in my stand up. It actual helps clear the way to focus on some richer ideas that can be turned into stand up. Getting those silly non-sequiturs out of the way helps get the brain rolling. The fact that you have to convey an elaborate idea in 140 characters helps you become a better joke writer as well, learning the economy of words, brevity and all that. The tweets I like to read are usually silly or fun. I don’t go to Twitter to learn someone’s opinion on South Sudan.” —Chris Locke (@chrislockefun)

"It is probably the consequence of the modern world, which is based on motion." —Marcel Duchamp 

"I think the best Tweeters do one thing. They have one concept they are exploring, one idea, one question, one statistic, one turn… You can anticipate the content. Some tweeters go so far into their interests that it’s always fresh. In other words, consistency is sexy, predictability isn’t." —Lemondhound/Sina Queyras (@lemonhound)

"The worst is when the energy of Twitter, succinct 140-character expressions, is exploited for narrative story-telling spanning multiple tweets. The best Twitter works like good eavesdropping, when you walk by a conversation and hear just a sentence that you’ll continue to think about until you get where you’re going." —Spencer Madsen (@spencermadsen)

"Point to something interesting, but away from where everyone else is looking." —Christian Bok (@christianbok)

"The social and the ego are the two idols." —Simone Weil

"Twitter is all part of the pressure on writers now to be ‘visible’ which I absolutely detest. I hate being photographed, and it annoys me that websites always want a picture of me with everything I write, but I particularly dislike the feeling that if I’m not on Twitter, people won’t share my work or read it, so it’s fear of missing out that keeps me on there. Obviously, this ties in with the financial collapse of the media industry. It’s all a fucking mess, basically, and terrible for the kind of introverted personality that is often attracted to write." Juliet Jacques (@julietjacques)

"What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liza Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it." —Andy Warhol 

Week 1: Kimmy Walters

Week 2: Kate Zambreno

Week 3: Teju Cole

Week 4: Mira Gonzales

Week 5: Tao Lin

Week 6: Christian Lorentzen

Week 7: Patricia Lockwood

Week 8: Crylenol / Sadvil

Week 9: Various

Week 9 1/2: Melville House

Week 9 3/4: Roxane Gay

Week 10: Kenneth Goldsmith

"When I’m looking back I’m actually trying to find some kind of a key to go forward."

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An Interview with Guitarist Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell is a tall, quiet man who seems to live his life in amazement. What was most surprising when we first met was how humbled he appeared to be in my presence. Frisell is perhaps the leading American jazz guitarist of his generation, having put out dozens of albums since the early 1980s featuring collaborations with everyone from John Zorn to Elvis Costello. And still, when we talked music, at the mention of a new name Bill’s response was always the same: to sit in thought for a moment, and then light up and say, “Wow.” Often it was just that:  ”Wow.” A simple recognition, a marker of respect, and no need to explain further.

For this conversation, I met Bill in his temporary studio at the Vermont Studio Center. His guitar lay in the corner and sheets of white manuscript paper hung neatly on the walls. The room was spartan, monkish, and totally unlike the music he makes, which he describes as coming from the same place as the monsters and sci-fi vehicles he drew as a kid. With my friend Alex Lewis, I’ve been interviewing jazz musicians about how knowledge and value are created and communicated through their work for a project called Expandable Sound. And as I talked with Bill, I began to see further into his inspirations—dreams, images, memories, fantasies, reflections—held together like a mosaic. Bill would stop short suddenly, under a spell, lost in wonder. We’d sit quietly for a beat, and I’d secretly hope for him to pick up the guitar, knowing it was those moments that led Bill to music.

—Jake Nussbaum 

I. IT WAS ALL HAPPENING SO FAST

THE BELIEVER: Maybe you can start with how you found the guitar.

BILL FRISELL: I was born in 1951, and I remember so clearly the evening that my father brought a television home for the first time. I was three or four. It was a big deal to get a television, and I watched cartoons and became addicted, and every day I’d watch the Mickey Mouse Club—this group of kids with their Mouseketeer ear hats on—and at the end of every show the leader, an older guy named Jimmy, would gather all the kids around and play guitar and they’d sing. And I just remember being so fascinated by the thing that he was playing. I mean, it had Mickey Mouse painted on the front of it, but it was just this beautiful, strange object. And it had this power to bring these people together. After whatever happened during that day, this guy comes in with this thing and they all just sort of chill out and get together. So I took a cardboard box and cut it into the shape of a guitar and put rubber bands on it and pretended I had a guitar.

I’ve found a photo from even earlier than that—I was with my grandfather, I must have been two, three years old, and I was holding a ukulele.

The guitar was so much a part of the popular culture; this was when rock n’ roll was being born. A few years later I got interested in cars, and I’m thinking about hot rods and rocket ships and the future and then there’s a Fender guitar—you’re seeing them all around.

There was surf music too. I mean, I was living in Denver, Colorado, and I guess all over the country people were getting interested in surfing. I was buying surf magazines and hot rod magazines and science fiction. Popular Mechanics would tell you how to build a flying car. Somehow the guitar just fit into all this crazy stuff. 

BLVR: So when you found the guitar, it had a futuristic element?

BF: Yeah. There was this feeling in the air: we’re gonna go to outer space and the future is going to be really great. That still has an impact on the way I think about music. At the time, there was this big optimism. That got derailed, I think, when Kennedy got killed and Vietnam started picking up steam. And this was all happening as my awareness was getting larger.

BLVR: How old were you?

BF: I was twelve when Kennedy was killed. It’s incredible to think that three months after Kennedy died The Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show. What happened in 1964 blows my mind: Cassius Clay, Sonny Liston, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Act, The Beatles, A Love Supreme. It seemed like so much stuff was compressed into a short amount of time.

Now when I think of a decade, it’s not the same. Look at what Miles Davis did between 1959 and 1969. From Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew. I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and just a couple years later I saw Jimi Hendrix, live, in the gymnasium at a Colorado Women’s College. A couple years after that I saw Miles Davis play. It was all happening so fast.

BLVR: How did you go from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix?

BF: It was a natural progression. Part of it was my age. I mean, I’m twelve when The Beatles are on, and then a month later I’m thirteen: a teenager, like man, I gotta get an electric guitar. Everybody wanted to get an electric guitar. The music has been about these connections. That’s the whole deal. 

A lot of what I do is try to figure out where I come from and where the music comes from. The more I find out about what the people I loved were listening to, it’s like this infinite forest; you just climb around…. 

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AWP 2014 Journals

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Three poets (Dan ChelottiAmanda Nadelberg, and Rosalie Moffett) were asked to describe their AWP experiences in journal form. The result is as follows.

Wednesday, February 26

Moffett 4:00 AM: I dream that I am in gridlock freeway traffic—like, mass evacuation/World War Z traffic. This is the road to AWP. I dream that I open this diary and write 10:30 AM: Shit Show.

Moffett 8:00 AM: I am, in real life, traveling towards AWP. I stand in a packed BART car and look at what others are doing on their phones. One woman is watching an eye shadow tutorial. It is stuck loading. She presses play over and over to no avail.

Moffett 11:00 AM: I board the plane, SFO to SEA. On the way to my seat, I see two writers that I know. My seat-mate is reading The New Yorker. Alaska airlines, usually so forthcoming with the free wine, offers none.

Nadelberg 11:55 AM: Arrived at Oakland International Airport. Spotted woman organizing AWP schedule (laptop) and two or three Stegner fellows. Didn’t say hi. Washed clementine from hands and called best friend who I will see tonight. Waved, fortunately, onto a no-fuss security lane and therefore able to keep my shoes on, my liquids in their bag (inside another bag, I double-bag for safety, I double-knot, too, if you’re wondering) and, if I’d brought a computer, that too. Why bring your computer though, be a person! My horoscope (Aquarius) says I shouldn’t speak in public and I’m on a panel tomorrow. Farnoosh gave me this notebook. On the cover with flowers, translated from the Thai, it says

I’M STILL LOVEING YOU.

The love I have for you still there as usual.

I’ll put my whole heart into it.

Nadelberg 12:20 PM: Thought about tweeting “this plane has surpassed the weight designated for poets” and then didn’t.

Moffett 1:30 PM: The light rail into Seattle is immaculate. (Later, at the conference, I’ll talk with a friend about this phenomenon as we descend the cascade of escalators. I’m used to St. Louis, so to me it’s just not a real train until someone has peed on it, she’ll say.A balding man will turn around and look up at us and ask, What are you talking about? Public shitting, Lizzie will say. He will have a weird glint in his eye and look incredibly pleased. When we reach the bottom of the escalator he’ll say, It’s been very interesting, ladies. Thank you.)

 

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