Kyle Muntz - They just don’t know what it means to hear at an angle: internal space populated by living ideas
Kyle Muntz, Voices, Enigmatic Ink, 2010.
"Taking place in a kind of 'internal space,' populated by living ideas, Voices utilizes broken
typography within the context of an equally broken narrative to examine an existence in which
identity and self have become, themselves, imaginary, but have allowed human thought and feeling to reshape the very nature of perceptual reality. Language is given a new, unfamiliar shape: complete freedom to explore the framework of an intricate semiotic landscape."
"The narrator of Kyle Muntz's Voices remarks of his friends as follows:
They just don’t know what it means to hear at an angle.Then he proceeds to demonstrate exactly what it means to hear—and to see, think and feel—at an almost incredible number of new, oblique and affecting angles. This is a remarkable display of
narrative suppleness and vitality, pleasurable all the way through. Kyle Muntz should be hailed on such an auspicious debut, and Enigmatic Ink should be congratulated for publishing it." — Tom Bradley
"At a time when influence can be so easily dampened by the persuasiveness of the periphery and the use of the written word is so often utilized not to assert a message but only to enforce an author’s opinion, the creative perspective is the first to perish. In Voices, authenticity is enabled in the only way it can – through the terminal phase of space and personal signature, where one’s pitch may seem minuscule and muffled by setting and the sequencing. Lines dart across the page and threaten to surpass its margins. Kyle Muntz has created a mesmerizingly catastrophic evening of discourse through a meticulously spare, radiantly experimental prose; the sequencing of words are denotative and interpretive opening a forum, as suspected, where the solitary space can safely enclose the individual voice from the punishing media impression of commentary and invasive celebrity." — Michael J. Seidlinger
"What Kyle Muntz does in Voices is beautiful. So much innovative writing is purely cerebral and
emotionally dead stuff. Muntz refuses to go that way. His work is as clever as the work of any other innovator—his use of homographs and their ensuing ambiguities and double- and triple-entendres is as deft as any author has ever accomplished. But here, what happens to the narrator is grounded in the senses and emotions. There is an emotional truth to the work that just plain hits home and makes one wonder why more innovative writers of fiction don’t do this. There is a sensuousness to the prose, to its sounds and rhythms, to its shapes, that makes one want to stop and linger on each page, to feel it, to let it work its pleasures over one, like a bath filled with exotic oils and aromas all known to stimulate the emotions. This is the kind of work that gives innovative writing a good name, and Kyle, bless you for it! Sure, I can think with the narrator, but so what? In Kyle Muntz’s wonderful work, I can feel with him. It’s a profoundly human piece of work, humbling, disquieting, and beautiful. Just touch it. You’ll see what I mean." — Eckhard Gerdes
"Since you are a new writer, how about beginning with your biography. Was your family artistic or literary? What has your education (formal and informal) been like? - When I think back, I’m not sure how I came to be a writer—or at least, one who works with experimental fiction. I don’t come from an artistically inclined family (my grandfather was a painter, but that’s about it), but I’ve read for as long as I can remember, though I don’t know exactly when I began to write. I was exposed to Joyce at a very young age (and soon after, some of my other initial influences, such as Pynchon, Barthelme, Barth, etc), which really affected the direction my writing took later.
I’m in my second year of college right now, so I still have relatively little formal literary education. Voices was written when I was a junior in high school, and was largely influenced by the writings of Roland Barthes, Lacan, and Sartre, despite my avoidance of existential and poststructuralist vocabulary in the novel itself. I can’t be sure of my stylistic influences at the time, but looking back, I detect strains of Haruki Murakami, Samuel Delany, Borges, and Pynchon as well, who continue to be some of my favorite authors today.
If you were asked to describe Voices in a few paragraphs, what would you say?
- Voices is a strange (and hopefully, unique) exploration of narrative structure/form that touches on, among other things, the relationship between the Novel and the Idea, manifest in various forms of experience. When describing it, I prefer to avoid descriptions of the plot, so I generally address the concepts themselves: the stipulations, limitations and context of selfhood; the position of the individual in reference to society, in particular, the artist, and the extent to which we are semantic extensions—fabrications—of that context; and also, oddly enough, a very modern take on the Platonic Idea in reference to gender perception and the semiotic “mythologies” (as Barthes would put it) that comprise subjective experience and form our—only—notion of the world around us. In Voices, to the greatest extent possible, the external is a reflection of the internal, rather than the other way around—but if the components of individuality are solely “a distorted mirror of the external,” what is left of selfhood? Much of the novel is an indirect exploration of this concept, and an (equally indirect) attempt to answer some of the questions that ensue.
That said, it isn’t an excessively dialectic novel, but simply an attempt to harness language, form, and concept to create something as beautiful as possible. There’s a very serious difference between discourse and the object of discourse (or, in this case, the predication of discourse in motion), and Voices is made up primarily of the latter. The main emphasis is on the contours of language and feeling; its philosophical (and even structural) underpinnings serve largely to facilitate the formation of the text, rather than dictating the manner in which it is read.
How does the title of the book relate to the book itself?
- The notion of voices—or simply “voice”—is built into various levels of the novel as a symbol, narrative device, and also stylistic preoccupation. Voice assumes its immediate symbolic context as the expression of individual identity, stipulating presence and expression, but also comes to represent society itself (a conglomerate of many voices), and even the echoes of the past—that, heard together, form a monotony entirely without speech. At one point early on, the narrative becomes a conduit for various disembodied voices, describing one of the central characters (who, herself, represents something akin to Platonic beauty, in a psychological, as opposed to traditionally metaphysical context) from various conflicting perspectives. The text itself is composed entirely of voice; arguably (at the time, I agreed with Lacan, though now I’m not so sure), even thought is composed entirely of semantic units (language), of which spoken voice and written speech are a derivative, and that gets touched on in the novel as well.
[If you go to page 4, which is excerpted on the Amazon page for the book, you will see the use of poetic space and line breaks about halfway down on the left. Muntz throughout the book uses such poetic devices to present his characters' thoughts. Most of the time, the poetic interventions are much more extreme.] What do the poetic forms allow you to do that straight prose does not? - In Voices, my primary stylistic aim was that the narrative itself be “broken,” but not disharmonious. The disparate placing of words across the page draws attention to the individual delineations of each sentence, the contour of each phrase. Yet the writing itself still feels distinctly like prose, with a focus on narrative exposition. Despite the line-breaks permeating the text, the paragraph is still its foundation, even when each is broken into many pieces, or concrete shapes, and stretched over multiple pages. The overall effect is something I’ve started to call “narrative cubism,” implemented on the level of the individual sentence as well as the overarching narrative. Initially, it served as a means of differentiating Voices even from other experimental pieces (though similar things have been done by Federman, Gass, and doubtlessly many other authors I’m not aware of), but rarely so fixated upon modulating the singular unit of the paragraph.
I hesitate to call your narrator "first person." How would you describe him? - The narrator does, indeed, speak in first person, but the presence behind the voice—the terminal subject—is strangely absent, to the point it seems the narrator has become only voice. The notion of the simulacrum (a copy that has become detached from its original, so much it might have no original at all) is especially evident here. Because of his inability to escape what Sartre calls “Bad Faith,” the submission of self to societal identity, prior even to the beginning of the story, the narrator’s persona has actually been divided into two separate entities. Even then, of course, the separation can’t possibly be complete: as long as one exists within the context of an external environment, they are subject to that environment, but this attitude is evidenced in his almost completely unrestrained behavior and disregard of social norms. One of the most enigmatic things about Voices is the narrator himself, but this is largely because he doesn’t understand either.
In many places, particularly early in the novel, you have your narrator write "I am hearing voices." How is this comment related to the structural concerns of your novel? Without giving the book away, how would you describe the wider structural concerns of the book? - In Voices, symbols have a tendency to become physical objects. When the narrator says “I am hearing voices,” he is referring, literarily, to the symbolic hierarchy I mentioned in question 3: the individual, their society, and the past, attempting to be “heard” in the present, but, altogether, muffling themselves. At one point (in one of the character’s basement, where no one would hear them), the voices literally take shape, to form a frail “shadow creature” that, after standing for a moment, collapses to the ground and dissipates. More than anything, this illustrates the position of the individual voice in our commercialized society—particularly that of the artist. Eventually, this becomes so prominent that when the narrator himself speaks, no one can hear him, simply because he is an artist.
The entire structure of Voices is a simulacrum, whose very reality (not to mention its individual components, down to the “self” so essential to the narrator) has become uncertain. The setting is both mental and physical—not to be confused with traditional philosophical idealism, because the mental contours here are primarily psychological and sociological—and therefore neither. The narrative has been taken apart and put back together. The different sections are usually out of order, but on occasion, one event will transition continuously from one to the next. At such a late stage of digression, the most one can do is outline its parameters, rather than isolate any singular cause—especially when, now, that cause has been obscured, and has taken so many disparate forms.
Your prose is often quite lush and rich. Could you discuss why you chose this writing style?- I’ve always had a notion of the literary text as an aesthetic object, and I try to incorporate that to the greatest extent possible in my writing. My work never pretends to duplicate film or other physical-oriented media, but focuses principally on the strengths of language itself: the expression of gradations of perception and feeling, emphasizing conceptual depth and exploration. Descriptions are primarily subjective, rather than objective; in fact, often the exposition is concerned solely with mental reality, utilizing associative logic, though rarely verging onto true stream-of-consciousness. The text is sometimes difficult, but rarely opaque—I’m not interested in using technique to abolish narrative, but, to the greatest extent possible, enhance it. When writing, I try to work at the level of the individual sentence: if one sentence doesn’t work, then neither does the paragraph. If the language is faulty, then the text (that is, we must remind ourselves, composed entirely of language) doesn’t work either. The aim, though, is simple: beauty. That beauty is sometimes complex, sometimes obscure, even cerebral, but always anchored in fundamental experience, even if the only experience is the experience of beauty." - Interview with Jefferson Hansen
Kyle Muntz, Green Lights, Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014.
Green Lights is a surreal fable set in a neighborhood that goes on forever, where the light is always changing color. It’s the story of two people in love, a friend with a problem, and an old man who eats children; but also one about perception, the gaps between universes, and the struggle to find happiness in a dangerous, sometimes incomprehensible world.
"Spacious and mysterious, like a fairytale from Cloud City."—Ben Loory
"Kyle Muntz wants to talk to you about color. And you’ll want to listen, because the light that flickers and floats behind this extraordinarily conceived and executed book will have you utterly transfixed. This is a book about love, loss, pain, and other people—the big important stuff—but also about the way we perceive, the way the world shapes itself, and the way we shape ourselves in response. ‘The sky can only go so long without a moon,’ writes Muntz, and so instead of taking away the moon, he’s given us a new sky—one that seems as fickle as starlight, even as it folds us in and lights our way in the darkness. Green Lights is a singular, beautiful book.” —Amber Sparks
"Kyle Muntz has attained an uncanny access to the places where the boulevards of perception and memory veer into the rutted gutters of longing and loss that run alongside them. Ghosts, colors, dreams, and the everyday coexist blissfully in the kaleidoscopic Green Lights. Muntz spins ephemera into koans, koans into stories, and eventually the stories themselves coalesce in a sort of giddy, gorgeous wisdom that feels as elusive and necessary as breath itself.”—Tim Horvath
"A novel freed from time and restriction, by turns impish and sinister." —Robert Kloss
One of the strangest, most original books I’ve read so far this summer is Kyle Muntz’s Green Lights – strange because of its mixture of whimsy and horror, the quotidian (neighborhoods, tree-lined streets) and the sublime (a mountain that holds up the universe, a giant flower). The story is so simple it could be from a children’s book. A narrator moves through a mysterious series of scenarios (a neighborhood, red rooms with bizarre sculptures, parking lots that spread out for miles) in his effort to “talk about color.” He encounters a villain (an old man whose “soul is like a pitcher with all the water poured out of it”), a sort of love interest (E, who constantly appears from the upper branches of trees), and an incredibly unlucky friend (M, who seems to be on a quest, but we never know for what exactly). The narrator himself is young, curious, and amiable for the most part — except when he gets a job “carrying a flamethrower around the neighborhood, melting people.” But even that brief moment is so Dali-esque — “melting people” made me think of melted watches — that it’s hard to hold it against him. He’s continually good-natured, often using the word “nice” to describe the more fun things that happen to him. But his seeming innocence is never cloying. He’s too alert to the world around him, too aware of its dangers — as when the old man kidnaps E — to become overly cute.
One of the best qualities about Green Lights, I think, is the power of the imagery: it often borders on the psychedelic, but not in a clichéd way. More like the dreams and visions of Rimbaud (especially Illuminations), Angela Carter, Jack Smith, Harry Darger. As the narrator describes one bacchanal: “All of us were wearing masks. Mine was white with narrow eyes and red paint on the front. The music of us glowed like something better than sound. It was breaking through boundaries. This is the greatest thing, to be in each of us.” Only a few pages earlier, there is a giant flower “at least a hundred feet tall.” The narrator winds up swimming in a lake he finds inside of it. Muntz’s spectrum is often in cartoon colors, forming in cartoon shapes, and like some cartoons, the images have their own screwy logic — scenes leap acrobatically from other scenes.
A few years ago, I remember reading a book review — I can’t remember of what book — but the reviewer said it was a children’s book written for adults. It was meant as a compliment, and it could apply to Green Light as well. It’s filled with lines like “E was looking at a flower. Then she held it up to the sun for a second, until it caught on fire.” It’s a book that tries to lure us to some fresher, less hidebound, less “adult” was of thinking, perceiving. It’s a book of radical, subversive innocence. - James Pate
To give the reader a dream on paper—that’s what sur-realist writing’s about, and Kyle Muntz’s new novella Green Lights (out 5/5/14 from Civil Coping Mechanisms) does it well. It sits nicely next to Jesse Ball’s Samedi the Deafness, Paul La Farge’s The Facts of Winter, and Shane Jones’ Light Boxes in my imaginary library of dream-novels.
Green Lights tells its tale with a delicate, simple tongue, so as not to jar the reader from the dream it’s planted in his brain. To compare Lights’ prose with that of Muntz’s previous, denser work (especially VII) is to be reminded of the author’s talent—he’s a writer wielding style to suit his substance, not the other way around. This is art with ideas, albeit ideas that can only truly be expressed via the irrational—the Dream, as Breton called it.
The novella describes an apparently endless neighborhood where the color of the light changes everything—people’s moods, the weather, whether or not the lonely moon can take a vacation in the form of a strange young girl, whether or not ghosts are real, whether or not one is host to a kind of codependent parasitic octopus—all of which bizarre changes are described as if they were—if not normal, at least not surprising, and not without their own kind of dream-logic.
(Which is what I mean by sur-realism: the Dream pasted on top of the Real—think David Lynch, think Bizarro ﬁction minus the Cronenberg and gross-out horror influence, maybe.)
And these changes are, as I said, all about the color: “I want to talk about color” is our protagonist’s mantra. And though he never seems to get there—the narrative feels like one digression after another (in a good way)—what we have really is a dream-mediation on color. For color is nothing but wavelength—the waves of light we ride on, that determine our fate, our identities. Light may not bestow substance, but it does determine perception, and perception is everything: in one light, the meanest old man in the world (who lives down the street from our narrator) is a simple product of his past; in another, he’s a cannibal hunting children for food; in another, he’s enacting pagan rituals of sacriﬁce. Everything is in this kind of flux—the moon, the narrator’s maybe-girlfriend, the bipolar-ish inventor called M.
This is a story about what gets into people, what makes us do what we do, what makes us who we are. And it might seem naïve to wonder if it’s all perception, if it’s all a matter of color, but “naïve” is itself a matter of perception.
Sometimes there are questions you can only ask in a dream. And sometimes that’s the only place the answers make sense. - htmlgiant.com/reviews/green-lights/