Monday, June 7, 2010

Quentin S. Crisp Interview (with Charles Tan)

Quentin S. Crisp

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to set your story in Japan?

Thank you.

To answer your question, it was in Japan that I encountered the shrike, and the shrike, particularly the shrike's sacrifice, was the imagistic impetus behind the whole story. Some time after I had encountered the shrike I made one of those creative leaps that are so necessary to writing anything of depth, and pieced that initial image together with something else that I wanted to express. The 'something else' could have been set anywhere, really, but the shrike made a Japanese setting most natural. Of course, this setting ended up as something that seemed inevitable, in that it then took me into areas of cultural and aesthetic comparison and synthesis between east and west as if that had been part of the plan from the beginning.

What are the difficulties in structuring a narrative where most of the conflict is internal?

As far as I'm aware, they are very much the same as the difficulties in a narrative where the conflict is external. The only difference is, one kind of narrative might have more appeal to a different kind of reader than the other. I am very much influenced by Japanese zuihitsu and other forms of writing where essay, fiction, autobiography and so on are mixed, however, when one leans to the fictional then one knows that the strict essay form of argument, which must be thorough, would be too heavy handed. You only have to gesture lightly towards the various points you wish to rally in your 'argument'. I've read Ligotti say in interview that he assembles his plots rather like an essay (or I seem to remember that), and that he is very careful in this process of moving towards a conclusion, and therefore baffled when people say his stories have no plots. I tend to write stories in a similar way. I know precisely what points need to be made to support my 'conclusion', and, as long as they are all there, in their right places, in my mind and in the story, I need only gesture towards them lightly. Or that is how I feel. Others may disagree. Also, I would say that, although there is not much action in Shrike, with this and all of my stories, I try to keep things sensual, and most especially visual. A flower can be dramatic. Or it can to me.

In a previous interview, you mentioned how you like playing around with categories, such as "demented fiction". Could you elaborate more on your definition of demented fiction and how it applies--or doesn't apply--to your writing?

Sometimes I have this clear in my head and sometimes I don't. About two weeks ago, I would have been able to give very fine detail on this question, as I was much preoccupied with it. But I didn't write down the thoughts I had at the time, and they have passed. I think that there's a kind of expectation of writers that they are somehow omniscient. At the very least, the art of writing fiction (particularly the novel) often seems to be the art of pretending to know everything. Dazai Osamu once wrote something like, "It's ridiculous to feel that one should straighten one's collar while reading a novel." To me, being demented in fiction not only means freedom to be imaginative rather than knowing, it means honesty about the fact that ultimately one knows nothing. Being demented by no means precludes being beautiful or elegant. One can very well be dementedly elegant, or elegantly demented. Demented fiction is also related to 'dadaoism', which Justin Isis and I have been championing on the currently sleeping Chomu blog. I think underlying dadaoism is the recognition that words are not the things they signify. The intention is not to give an account of reality, it is to create something new, outside of reality.

Demented fiction and dadaoism should be available in abundance from Chomu Press, which is just starting up. The first novel Chomu releases will be "Remember You're a One-Ball!" by me. It would have been included in my Rule Dementia! collection, but it was too large.

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