Kristina Born – Dizzying channel-surfing: They said I would be accompanied by visual hallucinations but everything I have seen is real

Kristina Born, One Hour of Television (Year of the Liquidator, 2009)

"To read One Hour of Television is to flip channels between a 50’s science film on the joys of nuclear prowess and a heist-driven road movie set in a late-imperialist apocalypse. In Born’s hands, all social code is a recipe for deadpan horror. Strained domestic tableaus are intimately wedded to carpet bombings and crowd control, and our best chances at intimacy arrive via gruesome medical emergencies. This book is in revolt against language as an anesthesia machine. It’s in revolt against an empire in which any vote you cast necessarily ends up as a vote for genocide." - Lara Glenum

"One Hour of Television’s recurring headwounds make an apt symbol for the work as a whole; urgent and insistent, the oozing gauze on an otherwise lovely skull. Would that all flash fiction be this deadly." - Amelia Gray

"It's terrifying, and goddamn, Kristina Born can write. I think the book's scariness is derived from the fact that it is not magical. Sure, there are things happening in it that defy reality, but magic is outlawed. Concrete entities do zany shit. An unmanned aircraft changes dinner. Giggling school girls wire bombs. Julia Roberts does Erin Brockovich-y things while we watch someone watching Julia Roberts doing Erin Brockovich-y things.
Born stitches sentences together in exciting and frantic ways. This creates a perilous place for the reader, a very tenuous platform where you engage with the text at your own risk. This platform could come crashing down at any moment, though, and it frequently does.
Here's one of my favorite passages:
'The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency develops unmanned aerial vehicles for use by the military. In fact I am, right now, a UAV in your home. Pyu. Watch it, lady. I am sliding terrible things into your potatoes. If I don't alter the face of square meals who will. If I don't alter your face. See if, just for fun, you can maintain a perfect unchanging expression when you explode. You asked for this: to serve me and for me to serve you. Let's do our jobs in silence. I have never been steered or manned in any way." - Bryan Coffelt

"The scenes, lectures, and digressions that comprise One Hour of Television come at you quickly, and if a pattern exists, it isn’t readily apparent. Lara Glenum’s blurb on the back cover raises the notion of channel-surfing, and that may be the best comparison for the sort of collage effect that Kristina Born’s book evokes. Cycle through enough stations and you’ll eventually find patterns; you’ll be bombarded with loping cross-sections of plot alongside aphorisms and politicized declarations and moments that, removed from any context, seem fundamentally alien. It’s dizzying, but that’s the point.
Some of One Hour of Television’s pages abound with text; others contain a handful of lines. Some have only one. Yet the book lingers: Born provides connective tissue: a trauma-filled trip to Las Vegas; a depressive recounting the plot of Erin Brockovich. Other sections hold a funhouse mirror up to American politics, like this feverish re-imagining of Cold War-era history: “In Eden dwelled dinosaurs and Communism came and killed the dinosaurs.” Given the narrative delirium, the surreal politics, and the book’s immersion in the larger scope of media, your best foothold for a point of reference may well be the the films of Alex Cox. While a cross-disciplinary comparison might seem out of order, given Born’s title and approach here, it seems entirely appropriate for this neatly unclassifiable volume." - Tobias Carroll

I was stimulated deep in my brain and thought: yes: Wal-Mart: the cradle of Rome. And the Lottery Corporation of Canada is beholden to me. See, we have all worked very hard to put value down on paper, and I am not about to dishonor our efforts by never stealing from another man.
“I said yes to the world and I have never been told no since
I’m not always drawn to the kind of experimental writing where most of the interest is to be found between the lines. Maybe my attention span is too short, or maybe it’s not short enough. The thing is, it’s always sort of a surprise when I find something in this mode that I genuinely love, such as Donald Barthelme’s “The Indian Uprising,” or certain poems by John Ashbery or James Tate or Max Jacob, or, most recently, Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television.
One Hour of Television calls itself a novel but it reads more like television. Not a TV program, but television as we usually take it in: disconnected moments of a half-understood storyline that we keep returning to as we flip through the channels, waiting for something else to come on, across intervals haunted by voices randomly telling us things or selling us things.
Such a high noise-to-signal ratio might have frustrated me had the writing not been funny enough to keep me reading. And as I did the work took shape in another way, one grounded not in channel-surfing passivity but in a feeling of crisis. What I picked up on was the fact that its central recurring situation implied a narrative perspective debilitated by a life-threatening head trauma, possibly sustained in the course of an attempted robbery. “They said I would be accompanied by visual hallucinations but everything I have seen is real,” we are told at one point, and later what appears to be the same first-person voice remarks, acknowledging the vertiginous limits of that which he can vouch for, “This is how it is and who knows what it was before.” As there’s no way to draw a hard line between what does and doesn’t belong to this perspective, it seeps through all the various layers of the work, transforming its nonsense elements into the record of a desperate failure to make sense of one’s world.
The emergency being evoked would seem at the same time to be a social one. Even the imagery used to establish it instantly mutates into the geopolitical: “Jean-Phillipe’s red spot was the shape of Cuba and mine was the shape of the United States. We were about to make a historic trade agreement.” Born writes a lot about what a nation is (“A nation’s relationship with its bird has no known biological role”) and what a person is (“A person and his compounds, upon entering the food chain, are progressively metabolized to a less toxic form of person”), and even more about Erin Brockovich (“Who knows if Erin Brockovich could have happened in real life. Not just tits out to here–I mean people deceiving people on such a huge scale that it causes the deceived ones to die.”) Perhaps her most characteristic motif is to assume a voice of authority (whether scientific, medical, historical, journalistic, narrative, civic, or some mix of these) and descend sharply into dementia. Something has gone wrong with these messages, though it’s usually unclear how the problem arose. Only occasionally can a note of open satire be made out, as in the following passage:
'Superman is inert for most practical purposes. Only springing to life, as it were, under pressure of grave danger. Like, if you were making toast, he wouldn’t be Superman for that. He would be Clark Kent making you toast, and maybe his glasses would fog up with the steam or something, but that’s all. Or say a country in Africa has been without clean water for pretty much forever: he’d just be Clark Kent for that. That’s already beyond the pale.'
I’ll close by quoting another of the brief sections the work is made up of, one that is more typically oblique and, to my ear, just utterly beautiful:
'The house, house repairs, cars and repairs, whether or not to eat out, the pets, do we even have pets or did that one die, at least four nights a week away playing cards, whether or not to play cards on days when cards are not typically played, the holidays, the payments for the house and the cars and the pets and the holidays and the children, the beautiful glistening babysitter, the children, whether or not to have more children, do we even have children or did that one die.'" - Alan Horn

"How delicious it is when things come together. Think strawberries and chocolate. Think peanut butter and chocolate. Think peanut butter and jelly. These things that come together and bring new flavor, that mix unexpectedly, that create in their meshing.
Shane Jones wrote Light Boxes. It is lively and surreal and simply phrased but complex in its mood and its action and its way of dreaming a story.
Blake Butler wrote Scorch Atlas. It is a chaos, a white noise, it is a spark that starts a flame that so quickly gets out of control that we are holding ashes before we can scream fire, or help, or o my god.
Put them together, these two, their styles, their tastes, their aesthetics.
Let them influence and flavor one another.
Year Of The Liquidator.
And then Presto:
Kristina Born’s One Hour Of Television.
'They say you can’t get the bends from swimming in a puddle of cat piss, but I know this to not be true. I have been on the living room floor with my head in it. I have, with my head in it, been weeping and in excruciating pain. I have had marbles crawling through my skin, I have had hallucinations, I have had my tendons seized by a sudden clarity in which they leap off the bone and drown.'
'A person is one of the few substances that expands as it solidifies. And he is not the only one. An example is that a fetus is quite liquid and a child of five noticeably less. Or that when a man is no longer a boy we allow him to run our country. He stops crying. Or that a boy, becoming a man, is seized by sudden confusing pains.'
'We will not hide our naked ambition. Our ambition is natural and we are not ashamed. We were born this way, with ambition; what could be more good or right? One day, we imagine, you will see the beauty in your own ambition. You and your ambition will walk with us and our ambition, down the street, in the sun.'
'Only trace amounts of you will ever be produced. You may think you’re fucking everything in sight but in concrete reality you are just a ghost. In fact, it is downright impossible to leave behind the volume of semen you want when your wife is determined to wash her face and wash the sheets. Clearly, though, something needs to be done.'
Born’s One Hour Of Television is this, the great coming together, two tremendous writers going editorial, unearthing a new vibrancy, their own phenomenal eyes working in tandem and bringing a third to life, this new book, this fantastic writer.
But Born too is not simply a mixture, we cannot relegate her to this role; she interjects, she mingles, she brings other aspects to an already fused and stirring storm front. She brings the surreal and the dreamlike and the chaotic and the decaying, yes, but she also adds this clever undercurrent, the wit and fervor of a politician slowly losing grip. Born attaches sleek to slick in a novella that is pushy and pulsing and wonderful in its digestion of a reader, vignette by vignette, seeping in and closing the door behind itself, locking us in the dark with nothing but words.
Year Of The Liquidator is a press that will demand and satisfy. And we should all be reading this their first title, One Hour Of Television, because Kristina Born is an angry mob contained in a charmingly droll shell, raging language inside of flash and fiction.
So think in threes instead. Think perfect triangles. Think flying-by tricycles. Think menage et tois.
Read Kristina Born’s One Hour Of Television. Support Year Of The Liquidator.
This is when lit explodes." - J.A. Tyler

"One Hour of Television is a bleeding, screaming, literary freak-beast adventure novel created by new Canadian voice-sensation Kristina Born. Told in poetic-micro-burst segments, Born transcribes a filthy world of wicked science, consumerism, bomb building, and Texas hold em. From a boiled pot of Gary Lutz, Andy Kaufman, and pure human fear, One Hour of Television is a story of mad consumption that will, through its paper, consume you." - infinityskitchen

"Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television is, above all else, a mastery of rhythm. Most times when we read books we’re not thinking of pages as being rhythmic, as carrying a time signature, yet there they are, sprawled out, numbered, and aside from Jenny Boully’s The Book of Beginnings and Endings and DFW’s Brief Interviews, I’ve never read a book which actually made use of the rhythm of pages (Boully’s because each odd-numbered-page [the ones on the right] were starts, and the even numbers [left] were the ends; Wallace’s Interviews is, as far as I know, the only book which has the evens and odds inverted, and I’m not sure what the intent was other than him starting the book with “A Radically Condensed History…” on page zero, but there [obviously] was method).
So what is this, One Hour of Television. It’s a waltz, essentially, though porous: there are three recognizable voices and, whiplashingly, they braid through the text. Are there three voices? There seem to be three voices, though I’d guess a good argument could be made for different ways to read these voices. For sure there’s a first-person narrator who, with his friend/enemy Jean-Phillipe, makes his way ultimately toward a gambling table, and whose relationship with Jean-Phillipe is the coaxing river of what-the-hell that keeps the boat up and drift. There are, along with this first-person’s voice (about whom the reader knows next to nothing—name, visage, tastes—other than he has a wife, though that relationship gets complicated because of/through Jean-Phillipe), two other voices, and though we know next to nothing about these two as well, what we do know is fascinating.
(This book, by the way, is maybe flash fiction, maybe poetry; I’m not sure. Each page features prose of varying lengths, the shortest entries featuring two words, the longest stretching somewhere not absurdly past 150 or so words. We’ll get to the writing and everything further down, but the magnificently fascinating and satisfying part of the book is, yes, certaintly, partly the writing involved, but the big oomph has to do with the ride of it, which has everything to do with narration, everything to do with the story’s rhythm. Know Brubeck’s “Take Five,” or, more recently, Radiohead’s “15 Step”? How both songs are almost mathematically addictive? How the songs beg enjoyment while also begging you to spend time/energy ‘solving’ for the rhythm, begging you to learn how to tap them out on your thighs sitting there on the couch or whatever? Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television asks a similar mathematical awareness.)
The other two voices are distinct, weirdly (weird because they’re both implacable, un-touchable). One voice is first person plural, and the ‘we’ involved seem fundamentally In Charge (of what? Of television? Of the election that’s ostensibly happening within this book [there are sections in this book: there's "The Campaign" for 40+ pages, then "One Hour of Tevision" for another 40+, then "Who Voted" for another 40+, and you see that? The triptych the text itself is structured according to? You think I'm kidding about this being a waltz [though when I say 'waltz' please in your own head hear 'fractured/scratched waltz, a waltz more scratched and darker than, say, even Tom Waits or any recognizable musician's idea: this is a waltz sung to tires from knives, hummed by every fingernail that doesn't but wishes to claw at something]). This ‘we’ says things like “On the one hand we can’t be attacked; on the other hand we try to order pizza and end up calling in a missle strike. We don’t even know where.” This ‘we’ seems fundamentally in-control and fundamentally unclear about what ‘control’ even means. Without sounding lame and airless, this ‘we’ has all sorts of power but is living someplace/some-moment in which ‘power’ as it’s understood doesn’t mean much, or at least not in any way to this ‘us’.
The third voice is harder to parse, and, honestly, I’m not sure about it (I’m sure about it as art, as it works in the book, but I’m not sure I’m ‘right’ in how I’ve understood it). It’s another ‘us’ but one more powerless, seemingly: this ‘we’ doesn’t call in accidental airstrikes; this one’s more put-upon, less acting-out. Does this make sense?
Here’s the thing: I’m not certain about One Hour of Television. He’s what I’m 100% sure about, though: It’s not necessary to be certain about One Hour of Television (to be certain about what it ‘means’ or, even, what it ‘means’; it’s a text which, in the best and most frustrating ways, does, and of course to handle a text that’s exclusively doing demands not reviews or anything else but reading the fucking thing). It’s a hard-edged book which asks sideways and gives oddly and I read it all in one sitting, flying from Omaha to Chicago, seat 20A, and I’m not a huge fan of flying and get occasionally white-knuckled at the turbulence and One Hour of Television both made the turbulence more and less. I can’t explain it, thank fuck, which, I suppose, is the whole point of reading to begin with. As in: go read." - Weston Cutter

"Liquidator present… ONE HOUR OF TELEVISION by Kristina Born — a novel of the highest order, which for me means that it is a question raiser rather than a question answerer. It opens. It suggests. It fans the flames inside your head and chest. It begs the question who are the we and I? Why the loud soft cracks of tiny prose? And where to hide? Where to shelter? When will the words burst? When will the solve of the mystery? And who remains when the cards are played? Who remains the who in the middle? And what does Erin Brockovich have to do with it? What does annihilation have to do with it? What is the why and the how of the who and the when of the what and behold the grotesquery of commodity fetishism! Don’t change the channel. Don’t look away. I, myself, could not. I, myself, wanted answers. Not all, not many, just some, just few. Just a quick dip into the mind of its creator. A brief chance to glimpse another angle. A way to hold the book differently. A way to deepen the trench of my understanding. So here you have it… a brief quick glimpse dip chance at better understanding.
First, I’d be interested to learn more about you. I know you’re 21, 5′3”, 120 lbs., and that you live in Toronto, Ontario. But I want to know about the kind of stuff that makes you the writer you are, maybe stuff like: what magazines do you look at, what music do you listen to, what television shows do you watch, what books do you cherish, what relationships are most important to you, and/or what occupation pays your bills?
- Actually, I just turned 22, I’m now closer to 100 lbs due to mysterious digestive ailments, and my boyfriend measured me against a wall and forced me to admit that I’m really only 5′2”. Such flux. Good TV for me is stuff like Carnivale, The Wire, Twin Peaks, Deadwood. New York Tyrant is the best lit mag out there period, but also Unsaid, DIAGRAM, Hobart, No Colony, Tin House. Good books are so many, but for now I will always pick out [David Foster Wallace's] Brief Interviews With Hideous Men as the most important. It changed me the most. Good music is Diamanda Galas, Neutral Milk Hotel, Fugazi, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Fugs, Nina Simone, Scout Niblett, Xiu Xiu, Erik Satie. I have an incredible group of smart, funny, pretty friends. I can’t imagine doing without them and when we play music together, it’s magic.
When you say that DFW’s Brief Interviews… changed you the most, could you say more about that? How? In what ways?
- I mean that it completely destroyed the way I looked at literature, and my writing was never the same after I read it. It shook me up. Coming out of high school, I had read lots of books that I admired and that inspired me, but Brief Interviews, I think, was the first to really kick me in the head and make me go, “This is better work than I’ll ever do. I’m not a writer yet,” which I needed. Plus I had it taught to me by an amazing professor, Kim Michasiw, who I daresay is as fiercely brilliant as Foster Wallace was. So I came to realize that you can do all these fucked things with form and voice and Brief Interviews was the first thing that started showing me how.
I really hate the terms “novella” and “novelette” because they don’t mean anything.
What was your writing process like for One Hour of Television? Where was it written, under what conditions, and how much revision has it gone through since its initial creation?
- I wrote the majority of OHT during the summer after my second year of university. I came home and worked a 10-hour graveyard shift at a local gas station. I was alone from 8pm-6am and since no one came in after about 11 or so, I had very little actual work to do. I wanted to give myself a writing project for the summer, so I decided that I would write a small story based on every element in the periodic table. I looked up each element on Wikipedia and took down a few facts that jumped at me, and wrote them in no particular order. After 11 at the gas station, the rule was that I had to write three sections, and then I was allowed to read Infinite Jest until around 3, when I mopped and started making coffee for the truckers. After about three weeks, some themes started to emerge and I realized it was a book.
It really hadn’t undergone significant revision until Blake [Butler] and Shane [Jones] got a hold of it. I knew that the ending had to be redone, but I hadn’t been able do it. I really think the whole thing would have failed utterly if it weren’t for their suggestions.
I’m interested in how you went about getting it published. Had you sent it out to other places? Were you looking for a publisher in Canada or the US or both or does that distinction even matter? How did you get hooked up with Blake and Shane?
- I’ve never been published in Canada, and I don’t particularly think I ever will, which is fine. I don’t feel much of a connection with the literature that’s being published here right now, but I’ll talk more about that later.
I sent Blake WHAT IS ALLOWED for consideration for NO COLONY, and ended up having to withdraw it a few months later because Unsaid took it. He emailed me that day and apologized for not grabbing it first, and asked if I had anything else I could send. I didn’t have a working computer at the time, and the only things I had on my work computer were THE DELIVERY ROOM, which he did end up publishing in NO COLONY, and a draft of OHT. I sent him the draft too and shortly after, he said that he and Shane wanted to put it out.
I’m interested in a different solution: a complete monopoly of mood.
One of the many excellent things about your book is the way it resists genre classification. Is it a group of prose poems, is it a collection of short-shorts, is it a novella, is it…? (To me, it’s all those things and more.) I wonder how you see it in terms of genre. Do you even think about genre distinctions?
- To me, it’s a novel. I really hate the terms “novella” and “novelette” because they don’t mean anything. It’s a short novel, that’s all. I’m not a poet and I would never describe my writing as prose poetry - which also doesn’t mean anything - and if I read something like Anne Carson’s DECREATION, which is a lot of different things, it seems pointless to me to try to classify it as plays or essays or poetry. It’s a book and it’s good.
I’m wondering about the page layout. It’s so sparse; there’s so much white space. For me, it evokes an eerie kind of silence, which plays an interesting counterpoint to the sharpness of language. Could you say a little something about that choice?
- I wanted it to be suffocating. Gertrude Stein thought (mostly in reference to her plays, I believe) that you can’t write emotional arcs, because if the reader is not in the exact right emotional state at the right stage in the arc, you’ll lose him. Her solution was to put everything on the page immediately, like a painting, and allow the reader to pick out what resonated with him at the time. I’m interested in a different solution: a complete monopoly of mood. I want to try to write in a way where the reader can pick up the book, read any sentence, and be immediately crunched down into the mood he should be in.
That doesn’t mean that there is only one mood throughout the book; there are funny parts and sad parts and what have you. What it means is, throughout all these different moods, I try to use diction to create an underlying tone that deadens the moods. So the reader, while he experiences the variable moods of the book, is simultaneously experiencing this monotonous tone, which will hopefully anchor him.
I’ve probably explained this badly.
No, that makes sense. I especially like what you say about wanting “a complete monopoly of mood.” But now this has got me thinking about your choice to write the narrative “I” from the male perspective. Did it just come out that way or was it a conscious decision/challenge?
- I almost always write from the male perspective when I’m writing in first person, whether gender is specified in the piece or not. I think I’m always trying to get as far away from autobiography as possible. I tend to get into a pretty dark headspace when I think about myself in any real way, so I avoid too much introspection when I write. Despite popular theory, it’s terribly hard to be creative when you’re bummed out. I’m trying to work around this problem with my next project, though, so we’ll see if that stays true.
I think it’s worth noting that even Anne Carson, who’s one of the few continuing to fuck language, is first a classicist.
There’s also the narrative voice of “we,” which almost seems to function as the voice of the collective consciousness of the community. Do you envision these narrative voices as separate from each other or somehow interconnected?
- Well, the collective unconscious of the community, really. The two–the conscious “I” and the unconscious “we”–are separate, but tenuously. We all have this store of weird, half-remembered information in our heads, information about who we are and how the world is, and I think that you can only break away from that so much. In the book, one of the functions of the narrative “we” is to establish the kinds of voices that the “I” might be hearing.
How do you think about this book in terms of how it fits or doesn’t fit within the world of literature? Do you feel like this book is in conversation with any other books–if so, which ones?
- OHT was written partly as protest against current Canadian literature, so it’s necessarily in conversation with the short-lived era of Canadian experimental literature from about 1965-1985. Since 1985, Canadian literature has been predominantly historical and familial, and I find it painful that no one seems to want to look forward or even attempt to address the present climate of the country. There are exceptions, of course (Christian Bök’s Xenotext Experiment, for example), but I think it’s worth noting that even Anne Carson, who’s one of the few continuing to fuck language, is first a classicist.
I don’t consider myself an especially political person, but this chronic passivity, particularly among young Canadian artists, is what allowed Stephen Harper to cut $45 million in arts funding and then be swiftly re-elected.
Call me crazy, but I get a sense that there are at least two kinds of writers who are writing prose right now: writers who consider themselves story-centric and writers who consider themselves sentence-centric. What is your take on that split? Do you consider yourself one of those two kinds of writers?
- This split seems pretty ridiculous to me. I mean, I think most writers considered to be story-centric are just linear-narrative-centric and most writers considered to be sentence-centric are just non-linear-narrative-centric, so why not say that? That actually means something. And anyone who calls himself a non-narrative writer is probably a little crazy. I don’t care if you have three dots on a page; three dots is expression, expression is a telling, a telling is narrative." - Interview with Christopher Higgs


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