Pushcart Nominations for 2010

November 30th, 2010

We were honored to publish some great stories this year.  For 2010, which includes both issues, Camera Obscura Journal has nominated the following stories for the Pushcart Prize:

“214” by Nani Power

“Sanscript” by Kane X. Faucher

“Backfill” by Scott Nadelson

“A Way out of the Colonia” by Rosebud Ben-Oni

 

The photography competition for the spring 2011 issue is now underway.  The Winter Issue will be available in mid to late December.

MEP

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An Interview with Rosebud Ben-Oni

November 24th, 2010

Meredith Doench recently had the opportunity to ask Rosebud Ben-Oni some questions about her work.  Her answers are included in their entirety below.  Rosebud Ben-Oni’s story “A Way Out of the Colonia” has been awarded the Camera Obscura Journal writer honorarium for the second issue due out in mid-December.

My first reading of Rosebud Ben-Oni’s “A Way Out of the Colonia,” a selection from her novel entitled The Strange and Sad Disappearance of Oni Montoya, left me nearly breathless with the sheer panache of the language and images. Here’s a teaser from a section where Oni, a young child, observes her family:

“Since her mother had fallen ill, she noticed changes in her grandmother: how she stayed out most afternoon and evenings visiting friends as the sick woman tried to sleep, wheezing and moaning softly, forgetting that she could be heard in the desperate, despairing quiet that had fallen over their house. A viscous silence that trembled and stiffened with every cry and moan, and chased everyone away from each other in that household and the old woman could no longer bear it. It was a silence that even her grandfather, the guts and guardrail of the family, could not penetrate, wiggle past its congealing borders with his knowing fingers, which, that morning, could catch only a fatal ray of light from the gloom and shine it, dully, into Oni’s eyes.”

Doench: Why did you choose to set “A Way Out of the Colonia” in Matamoros, a border town ?

Ben-Oni: The identity of a Mexican bordertown is problematic; the transience, violence and instability of its character are sometimes romanticized and often demonized. But it is also a place to live in the lyrical, as well as find inspiration and affirmation of the human will.
     Before the rise of the drug cartels, to those living in the states from California to Texas, the bordertowns of Mexico took on two faces: daytime trips to eat at restaurants and shop the markets for families and to go clubbing and bar-hopping at night for teenagers and college kids. Often, bordertown s aren’t thought of as the “real” Mexico, as these are places one is otherwise passing through. One rarely thinks about those who live in the bordertown s, perhaps those from the interior of Mexico or other Latin American countries, who hoped to cross into the United States, looking for a better life. Instead, certain U.S. companies decide to bring the work to them by constructing maquiladoras– those industrial factories which employ mostly women whom these companies believe are more likely to show up to work on time and less likely to complain or form unions.
     When the maquilas came, so did the colonias, these rickety, makeshift neighborhoods that are not recognized by the Mexican government. Rarely if ever do they have access to running water. Electricity, when and if acquired mostly through illegal means, often starts fires. If instability, chaos and desolation thrive in bordertown s, then their nucleus is the colonia. Here the periphery of the periphery is the heart. And yet when writing of the colonia I also wanted to show how imagination and the need for the sacred also thrive. By the sacred I really mean a profound belief in the lyrical. To not only have a voice, but for that voice to have a wide octave range, to experiment with language, to play with words and context itself. To appropriate the mundane and re-envision its place in an ever-changing, ever-challenged/-ing environment. Each colonia could be gone tomorrow, either by a hurricane, an electrical fire or sudden action by the government to tear it down (as it happened to Oni’s mother and her family).
     So in that physical is temporary and precious, and only by remembering, reinterpreting and understanding the colonia’s instability in such an unstable place like a bordertown can we then understand these people who are themselves affirmations of life. Because while in the U.S. most have grown used to adapting their environment to suit them, Oni, her family and the others in the colonia still must adapt to the colonia. And in writing the story, this family, in doing so, actually becomes more lyrical because adaptation calls for imagination and invention.

Doench: As I read the story, I was completely taken by Oni; the child’s perspective and voice allowed me to see Matamoros through her eyes rather than a political lens. What struck me is that Oni is surrounded by conflict and loss. Why did you decide to tell the story from Oni’s perspective?

Ben-Oni: Bordertown s like Matamoros– especially the poorest sections like the colonias– might seem like no places for the lyrical or children, but where else does imagination thrive most than children? Oni, because she’s the daughter of a gitana (Spanish Gypsy) and an unknown father, is an outsider among the already marginalized. Pale, knobby-kneed, with legs and arms too long for her body, she physically stands out. And then on top of that her family feels that they are above living in the bordertown ; for instance, her mother won’t wash her clothes with the other women in the canal, and Oni isn’t allowed to swim there with the other children, either. The residents are somewhat suspicious of the family because their Spanish is different, they dress differently, and like most gitanos, they want to remain a raza (race) apart. On top of that, Oni looks different from them (they are tall, dark and robus), which makes her stand out even more. While Oni’s whole world is her family, she knows that she does not belong completely to them, or to the community, or to the land beneath her feet. Her entire identity is wrapped up in being on the defense, and this creates a state of heightened awareness, sensitivity and understanding. Circumstances force Oni not to grow up too quickly, but to become a sort of introspective, outlaw poet who uses her voice to navigate the perilous ways in the colonia, and hopefully, one day, out of the colonia.

     Like most children, though, as the youngest member, she is the family’s hope and future. Her family, particularly her mother and grandfather, want to impart hope for a better life. In the rest of the novel, her mother envisions her daughter by going to the U.S.in search of opportunity, and yet as one finds out in this particular story, the reason why the family is in the situation that they are in is in part due to what the U.S. has done to the border. In a day, Oni learns this very quickly, among other realities possibly awaiting her, and it was very interesting to write from her perspective, especially in the changing relationship she has with her grandfather whom she thought of indestructible. That, of course, changes too.

     In spiritual Jewish literature, there is this word luz. I first learned it in Spanish as “light,” but according to Rabbinical legend, it is an indestructible bone somewhere located in the body. I like the duality of this word crossing languages as the stalwart qualities that Oni believed both her mother and grandfather to have becomes undone in a matter of a day and yet in the light of this realization of who they are– outside the identities of mother and grandfather—shines a new light on what Oni must see (and therefore do), herself, outside of her family, as young as she is, in the action of bathing her mother.

Doench: The scene where Oni bathes her sick mother brought tears to my eyes. How does the role reversal of mother and child speak to the theme of the story?

Ben-Oni: Oni’s mother is the kind of woman who’d send her own death before a firing squad. She’s not the type to cling to life, which in itself is an act of courage. She’s comes to know continuous struggle itself as a way of life. But rather than becoming dispirited or giving up, she will fight to the very end with everything she’s got—and she’d rather do it alone. Her father— Oni’s grandfather— mistakes this kind of tragic dynamism for stubbornness, and a matter of pride. But at the heart is a woman who has come to believe in the eternal struggle and rising against it—as both the means and the end. These are the cards that she has been dealt, although she doesn’t want that same hand for her daughter.
     But Oni is a strange, melancholic child. She’s greatly affected by her environment. She’s very sensitive to her environment. I recently read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, in which he describes the melancholy of the city in the terms of huzun. It’s a Turkish word, with an Arabic root, which Pamuk has taken from Sufism as undergoing a profound spiritual loss while simultaneously maintaining a sense of optimism. I myself render it as a similar theme: the assertion of the will, of life itself, while acknowledging that through this assertion, something equally precious will be lost.
     This reminded me the Cale ideas of duende and pena negra. It is deeply-rooted in Cale culture—and I use “deeply-rooted” somewhat tongue-in-cheek— this idea of land and pain. After the Cale were more or less forced to settle in Spain, broken from their traveling ways, they found they were forced onto a land which really did not belong to them. So, in response, they created cante jondo, the Deep Song, in which one laments the loss of land and love as well. Often, it comprises a singer simply singing ‘ay’ or a like-sound in a harsh, grating voice that is the opposite of anything melodious. Most people find true cante jondo—which is not performed before a paying audience like flamenco, but usually among family and friends, and on the spot, spontaneously— hard to listen to, and harder to watch, as the face is contorted in ways that you simply have to see for yourself. While Oni is not in Spain but Mexico, I believe that she’s in the same predicament concerning a land that does not really belong to her. Unable to locate a sense of home and identity, as young as she is. So home becomes the family. It must be. Even as it is crumbling all around her. In the impending loss of her mother, who wants her to be strong and take charge, she engages in the ultimate act of both love and betrayal, as her mother, again, doesn’t want help. The idea of the colonia itself, in transient a place as a bordertown nonetheless, is huzun, as even in the most hopeless places, life springs forward, most unconscious that it is doing so. But this is what Oni’s mother wants her to be conscious of, to see, and in wanting her to see, it is both the passing of her knowledge of life—perhaps too soon, but she doesn’t have time— as well as an assertion of a tremendous will. Oni, for her part, because of her innate melancholy, understands her mother’s message only when she imposes her own will on her mother in an act both terrible yet intimate, tender yet forceful. For a child to see a scar where her mother’s breasts have been, and bathing her, takes away both the power and the pain of a woman near the end. Their roles are reversed; Oni is better for it, but there’s also a sense of tragedy that she finally sees what her mother both wanted and feared for her to see.

Doench: Another issue I found intriguing about this story is that the setting works as its own character. There are so many references to the approaching storm and the way Matamoros appears to Oni. How does the setting propel the story forward and open it to a wider framework than just this family?

Ben-Oni: If you’ve ever experienced a hurricane or a coastal storm, it seems as though it is a living organism. The ocean itself, which I write about in some detail in the novel, also becomes a character. The storm is both metaphorical and very real as it approaches and then simply hangs over the bordertown, sprawling its grey clouds without releasing a drop of rain. It’s been coming for some time and yet it never arrives. It’s a time of inaction, restlessness and yet urgency, as well. Oni’s mother knows her own end is approaching fast; she does not want to it to come, and yet it cannot come fast enough. When she tells the family “the sky has left us nothing but its bones,” she means that there’s not much left of her own life and body. It’s time for her to show Oni a way out of the colonia, and how she does it is not by showing her the actual way, but how she and her family first came in, where they lived which is no longer a place. Storms, like people, can erase whole passages of history; if one is not around to say “I was here”, then that moment in which she or he lived there will not be remembered. In fact, it might as well have not even happened. Oni’s mother is fighting the impending storm much in the way she’s fighting her own limited time.

Doench: How does this piece fit into the framework of your larger writing project?

Ben-Oni: “A Way out of the Colonia” is an excerpt from a novel I’m working on called The Strange and Sad Disappearance of Oni Montoya in which after her mother dies, Oni disappears. According to Oni’s childhood best friend (and more or less her only friend), Xiomara Villegas, her mother’s final wish was to be burned and have her ashes scattered off the coast of Oaxaca. It was there, Xiomara claims, that the child died in the sea, trying to save her mother from leaving her forever. When the grandfather returned to Matamoros, he came back alone, inciting even more rumors from a town already suspicious of his family and motives.

     Over the years, the bordertown, particularly Oni’s colonia, has clung to the story of Oni’s disappearance. In the novel the colonia is named Valor y Ánimo, which means “Courage and Spirit.” Like many colonias in Mexico, it arrived at its name out of both irony and optimism. And it can be traced to so many, to maquila workers and their unemployed husbands who let their children play on a playground close to the colonia until it was discovered it had been built over toxic waste (and this really does exist in Matamoros.)
     Xiomara, who’s since become a local singer, becomes a sort of guardian of his story. Though notoriously unstable and usually drunk-by-five-de-la-tarde, Xiomara ,who finds herself falling prematurely into rag-face years due to the hard life she lived in the colonia and the choices she made, performs in local bars and sings these stories about the child who became immortal. She also constructs a shrine within the colonia so that Oni Montoya becomes a kind of unofficial saint. A cult. In fact, the people in the colonia rarely refer to her as Oni Montoya but La Gitana Tilica de La Frontera, the unofficial patron saint of those from untraceable origins, for those who live in a place largely without hope. She is a saint for those whom no other saint, for those whose own stories can only struggle, float through the ephemeral melodies, whose family roots are wrought, twisted, and pulled apart. For those who lives the next rush of the maquila’s shift-changing bell, to come home to their fleeting homes of cardboard and tin, until they are taken by coming hurricanes and returned to the open-air landfill from which them came, and they have to rebuild over again. For stories that reflect Valor y Ánimo itself, made up of many things that never made a complete thing. Fragments of lives that do not fit into a cohesive landscape.
And just as Xiomara’s health begins failing her, two things happen: it is discovered that Oni Montoya is, in fact, very much alive and living on the other side of the border, which angers the residents of the colonia, and on that same day, members of a drug cartel approach Xiomara, wanting to take over her shrine and make her their own patron saint. When she refuses, the insult is too much for them to let her get away with it. Suddenly Xiomara has everyone looking for her– and already at the end of her rope, she decides she will try to cross the border and find the woman who was once Oni Montoya– a way out of the colonia, perhaps, for good.
But of course, as we can see in the story excerpted here, the colonia is not easy to escape…

Rosebud Ben-Oni is a writer for New Perspectives Theater, which is producing her play *Quimera on the Pedernales,* and has been the recipient of a Horace Goldsmith Grant, given so she could complete her first novel, which deals with her experiences as a Jew of mixed race. She has had recent work in *Slice Magazine, J Journal, Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Contemporary XXperimental Prose by Women Writers, Arts & Letters, Identity Envy— Wanting to be Who We Are Not* and *The Texas Poetry Review*. Recently produced plays include Owless of Santa Clara (Snorks and Pins, Roy Arias Studios, July 2010), Nikita (Shotgun Theater Festival, the Gene Frankel Theatre, Jan 2009 and Thespian Productions, Producer’s Club, May 2009); Nary a Bodega (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009);
The Amaranthine Thread (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009 and Where Eagles Dare, February 2010). She is currently finishing her first
novel which is entitled *The Imitation of Crying.*

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Winter 2010 – Contributors (prose)

October 25th, 2010

Results in the Winter 2010 Photography Competition will be announced soon. While judging for the photography contest is still underway, the prose selections have been made. In alpha order the twelve writers in Camera Obscura’s second issue are:

Amanda Yskamp
E.M. Schorb
Henriette Lazaridis Power
Greg Oaks
K. R. Sands 
Mark Budman
Peter Tieryas Liu
Rosebud Ben-Oni
Scott Nadelson
Sunshine LeMontree
Samantha Stiers
Thisbe Nissen

Amanda Yskamp’s work has appeared in such magazines as Threepenny Review, Hunger Mountain, Caketrain, Redivider, and The Georgia Review. She lives with poet Doug Larsen and their two children on the 10-year flood plain of the Russian River.

 E.M. Schorb’s work has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, The Yale Review, The Chicago Review, Carolina Quarterly, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Antioch Review, The American Scholar, Stand and Agenda (England), The Notre Dame Review, 5 AM, Rattle, and The New York Quarterly, among others.  His first novel, Paradise Square, was the winner of the International eBook Award Foundation’s grand prize for fiction at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2000, and later, A Portable Chaos won the Writers Notes Magazine Book Award for Fiction in 2004. His most recent novel, Fortune Island, was published last year.

Henriette Lazaridis Power is a Greek/American writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Salamander, The New England Review, The New York Times online, The Millions, and the blog Beyond the Margins, where she is a regular contributor. A Rhodes Scholar and a Ph.D., she taught English literature at Harvard for ten years. Power is the founding editor of The Drum Literary Magazine, an online literary magazine publishing short fiction and essays exclusively in audio form. Power is currently finishing a novel set in remote Northern Greece.

Greg Oaks’ fiction has appeared in the Gettysburg Review, the Cimarron Review and Switchback. He has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Houston and an MFA from Texas State University. He currently teaches at Lonestar College–Tomball.

K. R. Sands is creating a collection of short fiction inspired by the displays of pathological human anatomy and other medical exhibits at the famous Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Her fiction has appeared/will appear in Joyland, Inkspill, ShatterColors, EarthSpeak, Wanderings, Fringe, Literary Mama, Milk Money, Prick of the Spindle, and The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution. Her major nonfiction publications are Demon Possession in Elizabethan England and An Elizabethan Lawyer’s Possession by the Devil: The Story of Robert Brigges. A recovering academic, she has taught literature and writing for ten universities, including Temple University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Maryland. Her nonacademic jobs have included dog groomer, animal laboratory technician, zoo keeper, and environmental regulation writer. She has lived in Arizona, Scotland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Mark Budman’s works have appeared or are about to appear in such magazines as Mississippi Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The London Magazine, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited the anthology You Have Time for This from Ooligan Press; a new anthology is forthcoming in 2011 from Persea Books. 

Peter Tieryas Liu has recently had short stories accepted for publication in the Binnacle, Gargoyle, Prism Review, Quiddity International Literary Journal, and
ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a technical writer for Lucasfilm and is a character technical director for Sony Pictures, where he’s worked on features like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and I Am Legend.

Rosebud Ben-Oni is a writer for New Perspectives Theater, which is producing her play Quimera on the Pedernales, and has been the recipient of a Horace Goldsmith Grant, given so she could complete her first novel, which deals with her experiences as a Jew of mixed race. She has had recent work in Slice Magazine, J Journal, Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Contemporary Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers, Arts & Letters, Identity Envy— Wanting to be Who We Are Not and The Texas Poetry Review. Recently produced plays include Owless of Santa Clara (Snorks and Pins, Roy Arias Studios, July 2010), Nikita (Shotgun Theater Festival, the Gene Frankel Theatre, Jan 2009 and Thespian Productions, Producer’s Club, May 2009); Nary a Bodega (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009); The Amaranthine Thread (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009 and Where Eagles Dare, February 2010). She is currently finishing her first novel, which is entitled The Imitation of Crying.

Scott Nadelson is the author of two story collections, The Cantor’s Daughter, recipient of the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize and the Samuel Goldberg & Sons Fiction Prize for Emerging Jewish Writers, and Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories, winner of the Oregon Book Award for short fiction and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, Post Road, Arts & Letters, American Literary Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.

Sunshine LeMontree’s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Magazine, Steam Ticket Journal, Weave Magazine, Word Riot, and Eclectica. She is a recent graduate of the MFA Writing Program at The New School in New York and is currently the Editorial Prose Coordinator at LIT Magazine.

 Stories by Samantha Stiers have appeared in Conjunctions, elimae, The Bitter Oleander, and one is forthcoming in Puerto del Sol.

Thisbe Nissen is author of two novels, The Good People of New York, and Osprey Island; a story collection, Out of the Girls’ Room and into the Night; and co-author/co-collagist of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook. She teaches Creative Writing at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and has recently published short-shorts in NANO Fiction, Quick Fiction, and TriQuarterly Online.

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Uruguay

August 30th, 2010

 

Camera Obscura’s most recent addition to the Winter table of contents, “Uruguay”, by Henriette Lazaridis Power, warrants a second read immediately after the first, if for no other reason than to enjoy the carefully wrought language again, or to discover one of the many details hidden within the folds. The story begins:

“In the time it took to curl his toes over the edge, his reasons not to jump became the reasons he should do it. And that was what his friend—a man he hardly knew before this trip—shouted to him now. “Do it!” Two simple words, echoing, taunting, allowing. Against those syllables, the rest of it had no chance. Children. Family. Career. It was all extra. Extravagant, even. What mattered was this pure moment above a blue bay. What mattered was that he should jump.”

Henriette Lazaridis Power is a Greek/American writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Salamander, the New England Review, The New York Times online, The Millions, and the blog Beyond the Margins where she is a regular contributor. A Rhodes Scholar and a Ph.D., she taught English literature at Harvard for ten years. Power is the founding editor of The Drum Literary Magazine, an online literary magazine publishing short fiction and essays exclusively in audio form. Power is currently finishing a novel set in remote Northern Greece.

We also added a haunting short-short by Amanda Yskamp called BTU that begins:

“The crackling of flames translated to the arc of a Tesla coil in my dream – a line of blue barbed with sparks, the sound of voltage showing its fractures , until the siren shook me loose.”

Amanda Yskamp’s work has appeared in such magazines as Threepenny Review, Hunger Mountain, Caketrain, Redivider, and The Georgia Review. She lives with poet Doug Larsen and their two children on the 10-year flood plain of the Russian River.

In the process of reading some great stories. Much more to come. We’re hoping to get the Winter Issue out the door on Dec. 1 (Hmm, sounds like a great holiday present)

MEP

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Energy of Change

August 18th, 2010

 

Given its philosophical underpinnings and esoteric nature, almost to the point of mysticism for the uninitiated, mathematics can be a great tool around which to build a story. However, despite my personal mathematical leanings, I would be leery of any suggestion to begin a story with an actual mathematical equation. Slated to appear in the Winter 2010 issue of the Camera Obscura Journal, “The Wolf’s Choice” by Peter Tieryas Liu, excerpted below, is an exception that I will gladly make. 

v= Hd was the equation for the rate at which galaxies sped away from one another, the H standing for Hubble’s Constant, the v, for the vapid volume of velocity. The third variable was d, representing distance, the diametrical disposition of difference. And somehow, these three digits summarized the universe into a trinity of letters, simplicity exemplified. It struck me, when I first learned the variables, how it would have taken a thousand times more energy to resist change than to accept it.

 I’d spent eight months wandering through the honeycomb of Asia, shifty Bangkok, grand Beijing, contemporary Shanghai, futuristic Tokyo, all convicted in the nexus of modernization and unshackled faith. I was adrift, tugged and pulled by the gravity of solitude, a festering hunger driving me like a relentless martinet.”

Peter Tieryas Liu has recently had short stories accepted for publication in the Binnacle, Gargoyle, Prism Review, Quiddity International Literary Journal, and ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a technical writer for Lucasfilm and is a character technical director for Sony Pictures where he’s worked on features like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and I Am Legend. This story is dedicated to Leza.

 Much more to comes as the issue unfolds – MEP

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Another glimpse of Winter 2010

July 22nd, 2010

 

The topic of the US-Mexican border is hard to escape in recent headlines, and border towns themselves often tell a visible story of the disparity of life on either side of the imaginary line, emphasizing the difference between those who have and those who don’t.   Camera Obscura Journal is lucky to be able to include in its next issue, the beautifully rendered story, Rosebud Ben-Oni’s “A Way out of the Colonia” excerpted from her novel in progress entitled The Strange and Sad Disappearance of Oni Montoya.

Excerpts from the story:

“The child could no longer sit in her mother’s lap without causing the woman pain, and had already forgotten the warmth she’d once felt there. Now she looked bewildered and frightened as the woman declared that the sky had decided to leave Matamoros.”
. . .
“Year after year, the trunk of the sapodilla tree had thickened around the middle, its color blanched by the sun to a dull brownish-grey. As if it was an old man who’d spent his life in the fields and found his soul in the very work that thickened his skin. Such men are rare, he told Oni as he shaved off the deep groves of the branch. There are very few people who reap the beauty of life from survival alone, and can wear it so visibly.”

Rosebud Ben-Oni is a writer for New Perspectives Theater, which is producing her play Quimera on the Pedernales, and has been the recipient of a Horace Goldsmith Grant, given so she could complete her first novel, which deals with her experiences as a Jew of mixed race. She has had recent work in Slice Magazine, J Journal, Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Contemporary XXperimental Prose by Women Writers, Arts & Letters, Identity Envy— Wanting to be Who We Are Not, and The Texas Poetry Review. Recently produced plays include Owless of Santa Clara (Snorks and Pins, Roy Arias Studios, July 2010), Nikita (Shotgun Theater Festival, the Gene Frankel Theatre, Jan 2009 and Thespian Productions, Producer’s Club, May 2009); Nary a Bodega (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009); The Amaranthine Thread (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009 and Where Eagles Dare, February 2010). She is currently finishing her first novel, which is entitled The Imitation of Crying.

Many thanks again to everyone who has supported the journal in one fashion or another!
-M.E. Parker

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An Interview with Kane X. Faucher

May 13th, 2010

The winner of Camera Obscura’s first story award goes to Kane X. Faucher and his story “Sanscript,” an intricate construction worthy of examination. I thought it might be interesting to have both Tim Horvath and Meredith Doench throw some questions at him, creating a sort of virtual round table. And, as his responses demonstrate, Kane is as prolific a thinker as he is a writer, who acknowledges that not enough credit is given to the asking of fantastic questions. If only this interview had been conducted in a café in Paris’ St-Germain. (web advisory: not a quick read)

MD:  “Sanscript” reads almost as a caution tale to students about acquiring too much knowledge—knowledge that you can’t give back.  What inspired you to write about this subject?

 KXF: I’ve always been enamoured with book- and language-related enigmas, writing against the more blasé interpretation that there is nothing potentially dangerous in the act of reading or knowledge acquisition. There are always these troublesome, uncanny moments that emerge the more one delves into study. In this particular story, my attempt was to give an alternative perspective to what theologians call “anagogical reading”; namely, that state of mind one enters into while reading that immediately transports the reader to a mystical understanding of the text. This transport is usually quite violent, like a nervous breakdown. In the annals of mystical reading, we find the ecstatic experiences of those like St Francis of Assisi and Hildegaard von Bingen who both report having been removed from the usual flow of space and time and brought directly into a state of the divine. In this story, the mystical architecture of the narrative is quite blatant, yet intentionally misleading. We have the tenebrous cabal, the initiation rite, and the usual sacred mumbo-jumbo that every secret society reveres. However, instead of following the mystical explanation for Heinrich’s newfound literacy skills, I opted for a more terrestrial explanation; namely, that Heinrich learned how to read the purloined imaginary, or learned to perceive the subconscious writing that always occurs while we are writing consciously. A text is always double, in this sense, articulated according to the perspective we perceive, and one that we don’t. There are subconscious intentions in all writing that we may not be aware of, such as how we write journals and diaries in such a way that, although we insist that they are private and to be read by no one, textual analysis reveals that we are always writing to someone, even if that someone is nebulous and abstract. Another point of departure in this story was furnished to me by a relatively recent study of “thumbprinting” books to determine authenticity of who authored the text. In this study, it was found that every author has a kind of “signature” in their writing which can be discovered by their use of a working vocabulary, reliance on particular types of metaphor, and the like. So, when I was writing this – I believe I was seaside in Florida at the time – I thought to myself, well, why not attribute this “signature” to something even deeper, more personal, like the subconscious?

TH:  “Sanscript” is a story about reading. Do you have any unusual memories about learning to read?

KXF: My love of reading began early. When I was in grade 2, the Ministry of Education ritually liked to herd us into the cafeteria to write tests as a report card on education and curriculum. When I was of legal age, I was able to see my school record and noticed to my shock that at grade 2 I had the reading comprehension and vocabulary level of grade 12.3. I certainly seemed to have an aptitude for language which I indulged by reading all I could get my hands on, including dictionaries and encyclopedias. It was a thrill for me at the time to be given special permission by the school librarian to browse the books in the senior elementary section, and I was voracious if not indiscriminate in my reading. Beyond my fascination with paleontology, numismatics, and the usual nerdy things, I also loved etymology. My memory of word origins lends much more richness to what I read, and is what I draw upon to construct neologisms. If I had a hero in that regard, it would be H.L. Mencken who was also an etymologophile. As a child, all my reading was eclectic, and I generally assigned myself bizarre research projects that came from I know not where.

MD:  The character Tariq introduces to the narrator ideas about language and writing such as the issue of writing double and unwriting one’s own life.  Tariq states “I inherit a world that is already a historical fiction, and I continue along to make ever more fictions that future generations will also inherit.”  How does time play a role in Tariq’s views?

KXF:  I freely admit that I’m cribbing here from a few sources. Most evidently, I am drawing from Foucault’s idea that what we call history is just an ever-changing discourse based on what we assigned as the truth at the time. To truly know history as truth would entail having access to all written (and unwritten!) documents during that period. There are also a few other subtle interventions, especially drawn from Bergson and Deleuze, but I wouldn’t want to give all my tricks away! Interestingly, though, the only method by which Tariq feels he can unwrite his life is through more writing. The entire story veers dangerously close to a view of textual idealism, something deconstruction has been charged with. In that view, which I confess a sentimentality for, all is text and there is nothing outside the text, no matter what.

TH:  The relationship between the narrator and Tariq in the piece, at least at the outset, reminds me of certain intellectual friendships I’ve had. In reading it I’m reminded of one in particular with a math student while I was in grad school–endless conversations about literature while walking along the shoulders of roads, engrossed to the point of almost getting hit by traffic. Do you get to talk about these issues on a daily basis? Can the internet serve as the agora or is there something compelling about these face-to-face conversations (and do we need frenzied-exchange-of-idea lanes the way we have bike lanes)?

KXF: I, too, share those memories of the long discussions where the world seemed to be the backdrop to a marathon discussion on ontology or history, conjecture and literature, etc. Not to be too sentimental, but those were audacious days where I felt at liberty to spout forth from the basis of still having not completed the general figure or contour of the history of knowledge. When I think back, I am sometimes embarrassed by the sloppy reasoning I employed or the beliefs I espoused, but I do admire the brazen nature of those times, the feeling of courageous curiosity that compelled me in that kind of whirlwind of the new to conduct those conversations. Things have changed, and the idea-sharing in this new Agora has diminished in some ways, or at least changed registers. Now, in a faculty setting, my concerns are eaten up by research and teaching, and when I speak with colleagues it can be a bit exasperating to discuss our research and indulge in the free-flow of ideas. Instead, we talk about the rigors of teaching, we talk about taxes and benefits, we speak on the bureaucratic obligations of our positions. This came as a stark realization once I obtained my PhD that – crap! – I can’t get away with saying and doing the things I was anymore since I was expected to know better, that I was now suddenly burdened with the responsibility of what my degree meant. I’d say the conversations I have now are mostly in emails with colleagues in the writing and academe setting, but these are more careful, meticulous, and less inclined to make unsubstantiated claims. I do occasionally get wrapped up in the marathon discourse, but that now takes place on email.

MD:  By the end of “Sanscript,” the narrator, Heinrich, is in complete despair and the reader is left with a horrific feeling regarding his emotional state.  Is Heinrich’s final understanding of what Tariq has done to him a metaphor for the relationship between students and scholars?   How so?

KXF:  It could be read that way. It is a Lovecraftian twist: that the knowledge gained is so horrific that it can barely be expressed in language. Of course, that was Lovecraft’s trademark method for avoiding description he didn’t feel up to writing. But perhaps there is always the danger in the transmission of knowledge, especially between teacher and student. I don’t mean the obvious power relations, but more on the order of the gift, and the entire philosophical problems associated with the paradox of gift giving. For Heinrich, there is an obvious “end of innocence” climax, that innocence set up earlier in the story in his somewhat youthful listlessness, his sinecure lifestyle, his ambling courting of abstract ideas. It turns out that despite his literary predilections and voracious hunger for reading, he was enclosed in a limited literacy that Tariq redresses. Heinrich is left knowing what he does not want to know, and has been “ruined” for the rest of his reading life, condemned to seeing two different texts in the place of the one that most people are limited to seeing. The metaphor here may in fact be on the order of knowledge being something that, once acquired, we are condemned to, just as we are condemned to creating or finding meaning. One cannot unlearn how to read save by damage or disease to our linguistic portions of our brains. In the end, it is a kind of parable on our inability at selective forgetting.

MD:  What writers have influenced your work?

KXF:  Borges is most definitely the literary precedent for this story and a host of others I’ve written in this style, but I would also include Umberto Eco, Will Self, Primo Levi, H.P. Lovecraft, and Italo Calvino in the mix. This style of writing is perhaps more staid of the different styles or modes I write, which vary depending on what the subject demands. I will say that this particular short story is part of a larger collection that I’ve been secretly tooling with for a while, and the remainder of the stories have much of this bookish noir bent. But, yes, I consider this story – and the others that are similar to that in my collection – largely an homage to Borges. 

TH:  Borges is evidently a central influence on you. I wonder if you could talk a bit about that influence, in particular as it relates to this story.

KXF: I was introduced to Borges late, and by late I mean age 21 when I first attended university and was opened up to a whole world of recommendations from like-minded people. My tendency is if I like an author, I read absolutely everything they produce, and Borges was no exception. I had just finished a Henry Miller phase and was looking for a new obsession. I think in Borges there is always the uncanny element that plays throughout it, and he seems very well at home in writing a metafiction that blurs essay and short story, drawing from his own unmatched reading. Eventually, as we know, Borges succumbed to congenital blindness – perhaps the cruelest punishment for someone who was obsessed with reading. I suppose the link to Borges here is on the order of blindness, that we are all blind to text even though we can read and comprehend its surfaces.

 TH:  In addition to “Sanscript,” I read a piece of yours, “From /+!/ in the & Now Anthology which had a very different feel to it. If I had to summarize the difference, I’d say that “Sanscript” seems to usher us into an almost 19th century sensibility, to move at a pace that one finds rarely in contemporary fiction (I use “usher” advisedly, as it’s Poe I think of here). The story opens with “guttering fire” and phrases such as “undeniable truism” and “perform my own exegesis.” Split the screen and contrast with the & Now piece, which reads in clipped phrases, reveling in post-millennial computer “web(b)-flow.” It seems to embrace programming language and sensibilities. You seem equally comfortable in both past and future. Is that the case? Are these as disparate as they seem at first glance?

KXF: On a good, clear day, I like to think that I can do as Bergson suggests, which is to grasp the duration of time where the distinctions of time are erased. But, in more technically sincere terms, my writing practice is rather disparate, perhaps maverick in so far as I do feel comfortable in a variety of registers and linguistic periods (sometimes in just one piece). I feel right at home in just about any temporal or regional dialect, from the Elizabethan to 17th century nautical slang, from the politesse of the Baroque to blue-collar romanticism of the 1960s right up to today. This ability to extract the essence of dialects and styles has recently been put to the test in a collaborative novel written with Tom Bradley (due out perhaps this year) where I manage to write in the characteristic styles of Celine, Artaud, Pound, Henry Miller, Hunter Thompson, and Bukowski. More particularly, my Celine and Thompson has been praised by a surprising number of others for its eerie resemblance. At the moment, I’m brushing up on my 1860s American slang on a piece that involves P.T. Barnum. The [+!] book (available through Calliope Nerve) was heavily inspired by code poets like Mezangelle and Alan Sondheim (with some conceptualist back-reach to Bok, Dutton et al), but is more a means of showing how codes decay, and giving me the ability to perform one of the tasks I enjoy most: generating a huge supply of neologisms (of which the title Sanscript can be counted among them). So, yes, they are disparate forms of writing, but I like to think of the act of writing as a multiplicity.

TH:  You and I share some obsessions, among them reading, shadows, and obscure realms of study. In pieces of yours I noted references to silography and steganography. Do you enjoy learning about things that most would consider odd and highly specialized? Is there a particular field of study, real or invented, that you secretly fantasize about going into?

KXF: Ah, yes, I do adore the obscure and esoteric. Isn’t there a sense of secret satisfaction in acquiring knowledge from an unlikely or long neglected source? As for enjoying studying the obscure, I suppose it could not be any more obscure than what I trained in, which is continental philosophy. I’m a bit of a metaphysician at heart, or at least stumbling my way in that milieu. I have too many interests, almost all of them specialized and obscure. Two books I’d love to crack in terms of their code would be the Albigensian-reputed text, the Voynich Manuscript, and the more recent (and very trippy) Codex Seraphineanus by Luigi Serafini. I like how you pose this question of study real or invented since it does open up to a fantastical realm. I secretly adore speculative histories, and I would love one day to be able to pursue that as a ground for study.

MD:  From your biography, I see you are a professor at the University of Western Ontario.  How does your teaching influence your writing?

 KXF:  I am not entirely sure. There is a blurring of activity where I draw from experience and knowledge to bring both to bear on writing and teaching. I see teaching as a performative, theatrical event, and perhaps I view writing in a similar way. There is some course material that I lecture on that sparks a kind of fulguration in my brain. I teach an eclectic array of courses from propaganda, social media, to freak-shows and museum culture, and this also reflects my rather eclectic reading from continental philosophy, French literature, quantum theory, cryptography, etcetera. I recently gave a talk on what it means to be a “scholartist”, which is my portmanteau for how we can merge sometimes disparate practices – such as teaching and literary writing – and how to make their tension resonate for productive purposes. 

TH:  On your website you cite quite a few postmodern philosophers and theorists as central influences. Perhaps an unwieldy question for a brief interview, but how do you view the relationship between Theory and literature? Is this relationship in flux–is it evolving in any particular direction? Do they vie for dominance in your own sensibility/day, or do you manage to make them mesh?

KXF: That is a big question. I defer here to Derrida who says that all philosophy is essentially a form of literature since it uses literary devices like metaphor, analogy and so forth to disseminate its ideas. By the same token, all literature is philosophy since it is entrusted to be a carrier of ideas (if done well). In the day to day, scholarship is expected to conform to a style of academic writing that is not ornamental or can luxuriate in the same way literature can. I understand the limitations of both, and frequently find myself constrained by them. And by that I mean the limitations imposed by our expectation or commonly inherited prejudice that these genres should be kept divided. Borges freely mixed them together in his work, and that is something I like to do as well when I can get away with it. I think the tensions between theory and literature proper actually generate interesting hybridization, new ways of thinking and expressing.

TH:  You seem to identify strongly with innovative writers–is there a “scene” that is distinctly Canadian of those with your bent?

KXF: Unfortunately. Canada’s literary scene is small and fragmentary compared to the US. The problem in being small is that the scene becomes dominated by the established few who seem only to open the door to fawning protégés. There seems to be a surreptitious project to nationalize our literature, not understanding that perhaps our literary identity is in not insisting on one. Canada was called by Wyndham Lewis a most parochial nationette, and there seems to be a consolidating trend towards conservative literature, which is hostile or indifferent to experimentation and innovation. Smaller presses that put out great authors are always on the risk of capsizing, and our media conglomerates do very little to promote the underground and alternative. It is for that reason that many of us – who are a little cold to the CanLit canon anyhow – publish in other countries. What happens is if we do receive acclaim elsewhere, then the country wants to embrace you. We are all ex-pats even if we live here. If I had to name off a few good presses and good Canadian authors, I would say presses like ECW, Coach House in its heyday, Enigmatic Ink, Gaspereau, Anvil, and BookThug. As for authors and naming names, Anthony Metivier, Rob Read, Clint Burnham, Asher Ghaffar, Jay MillAr, Martin Heavisides, and a smattering of others.

TH:  What is something about you that someone might not expect if they only knew your work?

KXF: That I’m not as pretentious as I sound in some of my writing, nor am I some middle class kid parachuted into academia. To look at me, most people would assume that I’m some sort of labourer given my height and size, my miltiaresque attire. I’m one of those bizarre ironies for someone with my interests: someone more than capable of performing hard manual labour, yet with his head frequently lost in the clouds of metaphysical or literary contemplation. I embrace the contradiction as a conjunction rather than a disjunction, taking delight in the confusion of others who cannot reconcile this irony.

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Mystery, Community, and Obsessions: An Interview with Amy Glasenapp

April 19th, 2010

 

Camera Obscura associate editor Shane Oshetski got together with author Amy Glasenapp to discuss “The Object” from our first issue. She offers her views on mysterious things like community and MFA’s as well as how writing can unearth the truth and keep it from driving you crazy.

Shane Oshetski: In your bio you say you are one of those people that writes to stay sane. Can you tell us how you feel writing does this for you?

Amy Glasenapp: When certain, older members of my family read stories I’ve written, they shake their heads and think, she’s losing it, any day now. I guess what comes out when I write is a bit of the crazy that could otherwise spread into the more mundane aspects of life. I feel that’s not a unique problem. But of course the need to write strikes at inconvenient times, like when I’m out buying dog food or hanging out with my kid, and then it becomes genuinely oppressive. I dislike being on the computer for hours and hours every day, but I keep getting drawn back to my laptop, a moth to the flame, so to speak.

Shane Oshetski: Is “The Object” the kind of story that would cause the elder people in your family this kind of worry?

Amy Glasenapp:”The Object” did disturb said family members. It surprised them that any magazine wanted to publish it. “Shows how much we know,” were my grandmother’s exact words. In jest, sort of.

Shane Oshetski: Were you always interested in perusing writing?

Amy Glasenapp: Writing has been something I’ve done regularly, with varying degrees of personal and academic success, since I was eight or so. When I was in fifth grade, my horror story ‘The House of Connor” won a prize in a school-wide writing contest. I think it involved a number of decapitations, people being cut to pieces, that sort of thing. It was gross for the sake of gross, but there was a plot there, and it was scary. That may have been when my family started to worry (although most were encouraging, maybe because of the prize). I wanted to be Stephen King. I still do. I think he probably has it pretty good.

Shane Oshetski: Was there any reason you wanted to get an MFA?

Amy Glasenapp: The MFA was something I decided I wanted to do when I got bored with waitressing (actually, I’d been fired from two restaurant jobs in a row for not being a “team player”), and besides, I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. From the beginning. Maybe right after I learned to read.

Shane Oshetski: Could you talk about how you started “The Object” and why you chose to write about the obsession of an entire community instead of just an individual?

Amy Glasenapp: “The Object” started with the idea of a time capsule. What happens to the people in this town-turned-suburb when they start to unearth it? What is the time capsule, really? I wanted the story to operate as a sort of community mythos from the beginning, so it began in the plural perspective. It was only later that I realized a singular narrator would help me go deeper into the town–sort of like the digging. I think Lionel comes in on page 3 or 4? He was an afterthought.

Shane Oshetski: I like thinking of this as a story where you were digging into the town along with them. What did you find by digging into this community?

Amy Glasenapp: I was interested in the idea of digging, because that’s what most writing is. We dig, unearth, examine. It’s archaeological. But this type of digging takes place in our minds, so I wanted to find some way to visualize a town physically digging for something that would end up becoming inexplicably important. Something completely foreign that this town can’t go another day without getting to the bottom of. It’s contradictory, of course, because the townspeople in the story treat their own neighbors, the ones they they call “the foreigners,” with suspicion and resentment.

Shane Oshetski: Was there a real life mystery that informed this story?

Amy Glasenapp: The name “the object,” within the story is very vague. It is a mystery in itself, which is enough to warrant obsession. Mystery. We are all mysterious until someone knows us, but how well does anyone know us, really? They’re fascinating, other people. The characters in the story don’t really know each other at all, and yet they all crave the same thing. That is what brings them together. The object (of desire) is represented as this giant, impenetrable steel thing in the ground. Layers and layers of steel, possibly. That is what they’ll have to get through just to know what it is they want.

Shane Oshetski: Did you intended for this to be resonant with our time in some way? Or, as a larger question, do you intend for your work to comment on larger themes?

Amy Glasenapp: Yes, it is a kind of social commentary, and yes, I intended it to be. By the end, when I was going back into the story and figuring out what to emphasize, I wanted to emphasize the lack of human involvement in a community. A community that is a negative print of a community. An American neighborhood in 2010. Where people maybe know each other’s names, jobs, number of kids. Where that’s all we want to know. And if something brought us together, maybe we’d still get it wrong. We could lose ourselves seeking something outside our own lives, towns, experiences, something we’ll never understand. Seeking this concept of “happiness,” maybe, that is so simple and elusive. In the story there are people all around, all having the same experience, and there is no connection. Digging for the Object is, I think, not unlike the erection of the Tower of Babel, because it results in a loss of language and identity.

The dissolution part is, I believe, in the attempt to grasp the unattainable. It leads, inevitably, to this town’s undoing.

Shane Oshetski: A writer friend of mine classifies his influences into the writers who have informed his work and the writers he felt gave him permission to write they way he wanted to. Who has informed your work and who gave you permission?

Amy Glasenapp: I would quote Yiyun Li, the interview I did with her in the last issue of Fourteen Hills, but I don’t have the magazine in front of me. Anyway, what she said was something like this: When I write, I write to have a conversation with my masters. She is not seeking their approval or trying out their style, but looking for a dialogue. A way to incorporate their voices into her writing life. Her masters were Tolstoy and William Trevor, among others. Mine would be Nabokov, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, James Baldwin. More recently, James Welch. And then all over the map. The novelist Mark Leyner has significantly influenced my short stories, allowed me to do whateverthefuck. He’s very weird.

Shane Oshetski: You are a student, an editor at Fourteen Hills, and a parent (among other things I’m sure). Being a person who has to wear many hats, do you have any advice as to how to find the space and time for writing?

Amy Glasenapp: All I can say is, not everybody can do it. I can’t do it sometimes. You have to prioritize. My daughter, Teagan, comes first. Life is allowed to get in the way of writing. Writing will happen; there is always time if it is something you have to do, need to do. Kids grow up fast. You have to be there if you don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to have regrets. I gave up working. I’m going into debt. My partner works full time, but not everyone has a partner. I’m very lucky.

Shane Oshetski: As a person now obsessed as much as the town, can I ask if you know what is in that capsule?

Amy Glasenapp: I can’t tell you what’s inside the object. It’s a secret.

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An Interview with René Georg Vasicek

April 12th, 2010

 

When I first read René Georg Vasicek’s short story, “Borsig’s Machine Factory,” I was immediately drawn to the stark beauty of his words that left me with a haunted feeling of how powerful art can be in an artist’s life.  Throughout this letter of sorts, Vasicek’s narrator reveals some hard truths about the romanticism of art and writing.  Nuggets of wisdom are scattered throughout the text, turning up when least expected: “A writer without a novel is like a hitman who has yet to kill” and “At forty it is absurd: I can’t believe I am still lost!  And yet for a writer, that is precisely where he wants to be.”  I found myself dwelling on those blips of advice, much the same way I did the first time I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  Somewhere in here, I reasoned, there must be a code, some sort of blueprint for how to become a respected artist. 

Nope.  No code.  No blueprint—just plain honesty that simply fascinated me.

I recently had the chance to ask Vasicek a few questions about the “Borsig’s Machine Factory.”  I’ve included his answers in their entirety.         

Meredith Doench:  As a writer myself, I am completely drawn to the writerly “advice” and hard truths given in “Borsig’s Machine Factory.”  In some ways I am reminded of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and even parts of Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.  Is this story meant to be a letter of sorts to younger writers or a roadmap of how artistry takes hold of a person or even how artistry can let go of a person? 

 Rene Georg Vasicek:  Yes, “Borsig’s Machine Factory” is a warning to younger writers: “Stop before it’s too late!” It’s a roadmap to nowhere. Of course, I’m kidding (and I’m not kidding) because the story was rejected thirty-two times before Camera Obscura surprised me. Sometimes I feel like a minor character in Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. His stories and novels are teeming with casualties of the “literary life,” obscure poets and writers who are forgotten or simply “disappear.” So why write? I believe most writers have no choice. A writer is an artist in awe of everyday life. 

 Doench:  A thread that I noticed that really intrigued me was that of fathers and immigration.  In the beginning, “I” is the son listening to his immigrant father celebrate hard, manual labor, and then later, “I” is the immigrant father who is doing hard, manual labor.  In terms of “Borsig’s Machine Factory,” how does immigration influence an artist?  How does Chloe and “I”s son influence the way “I” sees his own immigration?

 Vasicek:  The “I” of “Borsig’s Machine Factory” suffers from a feeling that his life is not as “real” as his father’s. This is a fairly common phenomenon between generations, but I think it gets exaggerated in “children of immigrants,” especially in America. Here the immigrant experience is mythologized, yet the immigrant family is strangely absent from most popular culture. There are stereotypes, of course. But rarely does television and film go beyond the surface. Perhaps only literature can reflect the psychological impact on the children of immigrants who sometimes feel like “immigrants” in their own family. 

 Doench:  Another element of the story that I really connected with is the random events and people that surface in a writer’s life.  I love the analogy “Like the clerk in a convenience store, you will have absolutely no control over what kind of people walk into your life.”   Immediately I began thinking of some of my random, bizarre encounters.  Did any bizarre, random encounters lead you to write this story?

 Vasicek:  I’ve lived in New York City for fifteen years now and I sometimes believe that the absurd seeks me out. I can’t buy a cup of coffee without feeling the uncertainty of the moment. My wife calls me a “Czech Woody Allen.”

I started writing “Borsig’s Machine Factory” three years ago, not long after my son was born. Those first few sleepless months as a new father were beautiful and weird. Three days a week, I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. in order to get to work on time. Outside it was pitch-black and freezing. Stray cats stalked me as I walked to the subway station. At that strange hour, I often felt physically ill. I kept running into the same homeless man, a hunchback who wandered the underworld of Pennsylvania Station. Early drafts of “Borsig’s Machine Factory” were handwritten in a notebook on the Long Island Rail Road. Suddenly I had realized I was now more than twice the age of my college writing students, which made me reflect on my own experience as an English major. I was not yet twenty when I “decided” to become a writer. I tried to imagine what the 40-year-old “me” would say to the 20-year-old “me.”

“Borsig’s Machine Factory” didn’t really become a story until I imagined it as a sort of letter. Suddenly I had a “voice” and “structure” that gave me the freedom to go almost anywhere. But I didn’t want to be limited by the formal expectations of a letter. My solution was to craft the story as a “fictional essay” in the tradition of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. This allowed me to spin ideas and stories off each other. And although I began writing the story with a few autobiographical “elements,” the narrator of “Borsig’s Machine Factory” definitely had a life of his own.

 Doench:  There is a link with art drawn in the story between writing, painting, sculpture, and other forms of artwork through the various characters.  How does “I” view the connection between these different mediums of art?

 Vasicek:  The “I” of “Borsig’s Machine Factory” is a writer who fantasizes about being a different sort of artist…a painter, a musician, a sculptor. But he only gets one life, and time is running out! He already feels there is a growing chasm between his expectations as a young man and what he has accomplished so far. I do believe other artists inspire him and that he sees other art forms as possible languages.

The references to artists in “Borsig’s Machine Factory” and the different ways in which they work add to the age-old dichotomy of the artist.  That blistering war inside that battles over whether to write, sculpt, paint, photograph, or not.  In the end, though, Vasicek’s narrator concludes it is not an option for the artist, and as the narrator tells it: “You recently asked me: Should I become a writer?  My answer is: If you have to ask, then no.”

Vasicek’s “Borsig’s Machine Factory” is featured in Camera Obscura’s Premeire edition and was a strong contender for Camera Obscura’s first $1000 honorarium.

René Georg Vasicek is a 2009 fellow in Nonfiction Literature from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Delinquent (UK), High Times, Mid-American Review, Minnetonka Review, Post Road, The Prague Revue, The Wanderlust Review, and elsewhere. He teaches at Hofstra University and Lehman College of the City University of New York. He is a co-founding editor of The Hell Gate Review, an online literary journal that publishes urban and immigrant stories from the Bronx, Queens, and beyond. René lives in Astoria, Queens with his wife and son.

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New Bridge for February

February 3rd, 2010

 

For your consideration – Elaine Chiew’s bridge crossing Brother Heart .

Bridge the Gap attempts to narrow the divide between two photographs, between writer and photographer, between the writer and the reader, to deliver, artfully, a story born when the two images meet, or a story so intertwined in the division of the images that it cannot be unraveled, and do so in fewer than 1000 words. Elaine’s story is even more ambitious in the worlds she brings together, as though she has choosen to cross the gorge at its deepest point on nothing more than a cedar plank.

M.E. Parker, Editor

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