An interview with Jim Woodring
(Read Part I. and Part II.)
BLVR: Have any writers influenced your process?
JW: The fiction I tend to like is nothing like my own work. I like the kind of writing that shows me things I don’t know about, and what I don’t know about is the everyday, normal world. Rimbaud or Baudelaire or Lautréamont, I enjoy them, but I can only read so much of that stuff without losing interest. I can’t get through Les chants de maldoror or Les fleurs du mal, because they describe things that are already more or less familiar to me; they’re preaching to the converted. But if I read a book like Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, or Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin sea novels, or something else that tells me about normal people and the regular world, which I don’t really understand, those things interest me a lot. Anna Karenina. I’ve often thought I would like to try to write a conventional novel, but I just don’t know enough about the real world to write one.
BLVR: What do you mean, you don’t know enough about the real world?
JW: I don’t! I could never write about the sort of people John Cheever or John Updike or even Margaret Atwood write about. I don’t mean I couldn’t write as well as they do, which of course I couldn’t; they’re great writers, and I’m no writer at all. But I couldn’t even write badly about normal, neurotic people. I don’t know that world from the inside. That’s just not my orientation.
BLVR: What is your orientation?
JW: Well, it’s a state of continual rejection of consensus reality, of trying to glimpse what lies beneath, to try to see beyond the tenacious illusion of maya. I could never convincingly describe the everyday activities of a normal group of people, let alone develop a story about them. The normal world is an alien environment for me.
BLVR: So is Frank a manifestation of that exploring aspect of your character?
JW: That’s exactly what he is. He’s an agent representing my interests, my perspective. The world is never a settled matter to him. He’s always trying to discover what is really going on, and when he does find out, he gets a terrible jolt. Sometimes he is driven beyond the limits of sanity. As William Burroughs said: a schizophrenic is a guy who has just discovered what is really going on. That’s a paraphrase.
BLVR: You just tell Frank to go look at something and then he does?
JW: Right. I set the stage, bring the forces together, and then what happens happens, and I record it. And though Frank has amazing and terrible experiences, he never learns anything. It would be a catastrophe for the story line if he did. Basically, he’d stop acting like a child. Knowledge extinguishes the flame of curiosity, as the saying goes. He makes things happen, but he’s also protected from the consequences of his actions. Me, too. The karmic hammer has spared me many times when I should by rights have been walloped good. I’ve come to believe that the way I am is the way I’m meant to be.