Amina Cain brings together short fictions set in the space between action and reflection, edging at times toward the quiet and contemplative, at other times toward the grotesque or unsettling.


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Amina Cain, Creature, Dorothy, a publishing project, 2013.

aminacain.com/

Amina Cain's Creature brings together short fictions set in the space between action and reflection, edging at times toward the quiet and contemplative, at other times toward the grotesque or unsettling.
       Like the women in Jane Bowles's work, Cain's narrators seem always slightly displaced in the midst of their own experiences, carefully observing the effects of themselves on their surroundings and of their surroundings on themselves. Other literary precursors might include Raymond Carver and John Cage, some unlikely concoction of the two, with Carver's lucid prose and instinct for the potency of small gestures and Cage's ability to return the modern world to elementary principles.
       These stories offer not just a unique voice but a unique narrative space, a distinct and dramatic rendering of being-in-the-world.

“To be among Amina Cain’s creatures is to stand in the presence of what is mysterious, expansive, and alive. Whether these distinctly female characters are falling in and out of uncanny intimacies, speaking from the hidden realms of the unconscious, seeking self-knowledge, or becoming visible in all their candor and strangeness, they move through a universe shaped by the gravitational pull of elusive yet resilient forces—the yin-dark energies of instinct and feeling that animate creative life. It’s here that the intuitive reach of fiction meets the reader’s own quest for understanding, through the subtle beauty of living the truth of one’s experiences in the most attentive and unadorned way possible.” - pamela lu


“Amina Cain is a beautiful writer. Like the girl in the rear view mirror in your backseat, quiet, looking out the window half smiling, then not, then glancing at you, curious to her. That is how her thoughts and words make me feel, like clouds hanging with jets, and knowing love is pure.” - thurston moore

Cain’s latest book, after I Go to Some Hollow, is a moody, enigmatic collection of 14 miniature stories, some as short as four pages. In one, a former cult victim recalls her abuse; in another, a woman enters into a three-way relationship with a married couple. Each narrator seems to have undergone trauma or something akin to it—unease, illness, adulthood—and so their streams of consciousness have the texture of recovery. Cain captures a particular kind of attempt at happiness: trying to be easy on oneself; praying at a Zen monastery; focusing on small pleasures like orchids and neatly folded towels. Perhaps that’s why, in both form and content, so much here is microscopic, with a delicate sadness infusing mundane activities like bathing, spilling olive oil, and touching a wall. At times, this mélange of fragments produces the atmosphere of a whole, but at others the bits seem disconnected and the search for meaning desultory. But Cain’s tone—unknowing, exhibiting the most awed reverence toward the smallest details of life and thought—remains wonderfully effective throughout, though one sometimes wishes she’d use it on richer content. It lingers after the pages are done, leaving an aftertaste that’s somehow more pleasant than the experience itself. - Publishers Weekly


1.     I am ashamed of what I think about book reviews.
2.     “I’m [...] ashamed of what I think about literature—I can only open up to a few people in this way.” So says the narrator of “The Beak of a Bird,” the fourth short story in Amina Cain’s Creature (Dorothy, 2013). For now, I am hovering 40,000 feet above the Earth.
3.     My thoughts about texts exist as emotional impressions, and what interests me most as a reader is ambience and affect—words as molecules of emotion, states of agitation, decorative illuminations, background noise. Readerly impressions in my bones are intimate like pages; they are, as in Creature, “the place where [my] life unfolds.” I want to recite my Creature to you, but instead draw inward toward the place where my body’s median axis, its midline, is askew.
4.     Preoccupied with atmosphere and feeling as I am, I am ashamed of what I think (or don’t think) about literature, and so I choose not to write about books. But Amina Cain’s Creature is different: Amina Cain’s Creature resides out of harm’s way, although it exists in savage and erotic twilight. “I expressed myself through the violent putting away of a pan.” “Myself, alone, in my bed, is a story.” “Write about the arm when the whole body is being abused.” “We watch something violent on my laptop. It will help me wear this dress.” In this darkness, I read and write and think-along, and feel involved in every sentence. This involvement is key to my wanting to recite my Creature. Involved in it, I am pleased to feel ashamed of what I think.
5.     Creature begs to be watched. Passing over one’s horizon of attention, the book is a meditative practice, which is not to say Creature is necessarily a meditation, for a person does not read Creature so much as she suspends it in space. 40,000 feet above the Earth, she observes its sentences, lines of thought that move across the mind, and breathes them in and out. There are momentary pauses of deep calm. It is likely the mind wanders. And as Creature unravels, the body sheds itself.
6.     I am ashamed of my physiological responses to literature. See Exhibit A, which I am sorry to describe. In this disgraceful scene, I am hovering 40,000 feet above the Earth reading Creature’s “Attached to a Self.” I am attempting momentary pauses of deep calm. In the midst of this exercise, I cross a passage wherein Cain refers to a Benedictine monk: “The word is supposed to send a person into great silence,” she writes. “Just a little bit of reading is enough.” I suspend the statement in space, let it resonate. My eyes trace the sentence and tear.
7.     Am I crying because of the story, someone asks, or because of the space?
8.     Am I crying because of the space, I wonder, because this is the space where my life unfolds?
9.     And is it really me if I’m not there?
10.  To answer these questions for you, let me describe where Creature rests in my body—deep within my thoracic spine, in the middle of my vertebrae alongside photo booth-sized images of unrequited knives. I am conscious of it as I watch my body read. Its language moves and settles. This process of watching—as opposed to thinking—may seem enigmatic. It is.
11.  The morning I begin reciting my Creature, I have a conversation with my friend Michael. Most people do not listen to the body’s unrequited knives, he says but does not say. We are drinking lukewarm lemon water. We are practicing long pauses between words.
12.  I have to write about Michael’s calves. When I show him Creature, I ask where the book rests in his body. I feel it in my calves, he says. Jeff says he feels it in his lumbar section.
13.  The thoracic spine’s vertebrae possess several general characteristics. For example, the vertebrae’s largest parts—its bodies—are heart-shaped. Pain in the leg may be linked to pain in the spine. Something has brought me to this numbered list.
14.  Creature’s language whinnies in the body’s deep embankments. There is no other way to describe this than to call to mind the image of an unrequited knife that is withheld.
15.  Tonally inappropriate musical interlude: “i wanna be your thurston moore / wrestle on the bedroom floor / always leave you wanting more”
16.  Now it is three o’clock in the morning, and I am awakened by the sound of a creature’s rolling cry. It cannot be my creature, I think. She is with me.
17.  My creature always has a double. This one is literal. My creature dervishes and screams and claws. Draws blood.
18.  The second creature was loved.
19.  List of abrasions: his right calf, his left calf; his right shin, his hand.
20.  “Something inside me is doubling over.” My creature, it is summer, as reflected by the skin’s outer layer, and the beach is evolving. We are sitting on an airplane in the company of ghosts. My eyes are shedding text, and our creature is at home alone in the apartment in the company of friends. You are on your knees; the bag of purple-spotted flowers is torn open; our creature emits a low growl, begs, and eviscerates your hand. I am locked in the bathroom, naked underneath a stolen towel. I am writing this. Creature speaks: “I want someone to love me.” My creature waits in my room. Please, someone.
21.  My creature waits in my room, calling me.
22.  I cannot write anything else.
23.
24.
25.

* Note: Several sentences have been gleaned from Amina Cain’s Creature. - Claire Donato


hollow_cover

Amina Cain, I Go to Some Hollow, Les Figues Press, 2009.


Question: “If you had to think of a motion you’ve made more than any other in your whole life, what would it be?” Response: “I don’t want to be a motion.”
In her debut collection of fifteen short stories, Amina Cain makes ordinary worlds strange and spare and beautiful. A woman carves invisible images onto ice, a pair of black wings appears in front of a house, and a restless teacher sits in a gallery of miniature rooms.

I Go To Some Hollow floats and tilts, as balanced as a mobile; rather than narrative arcs we get laps, tides, and circuit, currents of clear observation and the occasional stunning insight.”  — Miranda Mellis, Rain Taxi Review of Books

The surrealist concept of dépaysement refers to an induced displacement and disorientation, of seeing the world anew. In this debut collection, the dominant mood is this sense of wonder, shot through with nervousness. Amina Cain’s travelers view their surroundings with a curious emptiness, other times ecstasy, while adrift either abroad or in a distinctly American terrain: bodies of water, fields, or forests, the banality of a heated pool or the aisles of Home Depot.
Her characters are reminiscent of Jane Bowles’s Mrs. Copperfield, lost and stumbling through Panama City in Two Serious Ladies, watching and pondering. The title of the collection’s best story, “A Body Walking Through Space,” best describes this odd detachment. Cain’s characters are uncomfortable bodies who exist and meditate in the strangeness of space. It is fitting that one of her characters is a dancer—it is the awkward, lingering dance between bodies in space, the ambiguous gesture or glance, that best distinguishes Cain’s fiction. - Kate Zambreno, The Believer

One of the hoary old dictums that sends new philosophy students’ heads spinning is Greek philosopher Heracleitus’ declaration that you could never step into the same river twice, because the river never stops changing. The characters in Cain’s debut story collection seem to grasp this intuitively, but can’t quite keep themselves from dipping their toes.
In the opening story, “Black Wings,” the narrator says, “I read an article about the asexual movement and asexual rights and though I feel like a sexual person, I crave something else.” That something else remains unattainable, even unidentifiable, as the narrator tries out asexuality but finds there are plenty of other things missing that can’t be filled by the absence of sexuality.
There’s something calmly erotic about Cain’s writing, a treatment of sex as both a source of energy and a supremely unfascinating part of life. In the title story, the narrator says, “When you’re turned on your heart beats fast. But long periods of time can go by when I don’t even think about sex, when I would rather read or go through my things and get rid of them.” Even in the rhythm of the writing, there’s an ebb and flow of temperance and indulgence.

The self-examined lives of the characters in Hollow don’t lead to any deeper understanding. Or, it’s more correct to say they don’t lead to clearer answers. That river keeps changing. As the narrator of “A Body Walking Through Space,” writes, “I felt the distance I had traveled expand out in front of me, like a warm snake that never stops.” — Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago

These 15 brief stories press the modern reader to examine both their direct and indirect relationship with the external world, through a number of subtle and at other times provocative devices. Amina Cain writes in “Black Wings,” “It is hot and humid and we are reading Lolita. After we read for a while we take a bike ride, and when we are tired we get off our bikes and sit against a concrete wall.” At first glance, this appears to be an unassuming reference to just another book of the past, yet for those who have read Nabokov, we know its literary weight and are sure to be stirred, if not strangely aroused by this juxtaposition of Lolita to the bicycle -- the one tool every blooming adolescent recognizes as synonymous with liberation, movement and exploration.

Cain documents obscure movements and physical rapports of individuals in response to their surroundings, reminding us that there is a larger, webbed system at play. There are moments when Cain's characters appear to revere the existence of this particular order. In this case, it proves effective when Cain simply states what is occurring, what is being felt, without prescribing additional layers of skewed interpretation to a particular circumstance. Cain understands the importance of being forthcoming. For instance, Cain shares in “Black Wings,” “I walk by the ocean and think of nothing but the ocean. I put my hand in the waves and feel nothing but the waves. But it doesn't last. I try to make it last. The water is green and clear, heavy with salt.”
The characters in I Go To Some Hollow are very present; they like existing and participate in a readily available life of colors, sights and sounds. Yet, being so aware of one's self can be alienating, and Cain weaves this curious, social isolation into her storytelling. And in return, her stories weave a difficult-to-attain empowerment into their reader -- each one releases the reader from the usual responsibilities of finding a necessary conclusion or locating a clear narrative arc. And this can be a good thing. But, a caveat: these stories require a kind of habitual re-introduction -- you might find yourself only reading part of a story then coming back and reading that same part again, then moving on to another story, then back to where you started. This somewhat schizo hopscotch could be seen as a lack of interest by a certain reader x, or it could be viewed as the reader's desire to locate overarching patterns or themes. Don't be surprised if you're carrying this book around with you for a while. It has a way of wanting to accompany your own daily rituals. It has a way of expecting something from you.
With working titles such as “A Body Walking Through Space” or “Watching a Bird Fight as a Person,” one is immediately reminded of a shared, spiritual journey and how this internal place, this hollow is oftentimes in conflict with one's physical reality. The reader may note multiple duplicities and contradictions, i.e. being both a sexual animal but also a creature desiring something more than just fulfilling an urge -- perhaps, it is love, recognition, communion, a sense of purpose, the right to feel at peace. Or maybe: it is the right to freedom, the right to interpretation, the feeling of being responsible for whatever life that we have made for ourselves, the choices that become ours -- if even the wrong ones. An excerpt from “In the Sugar Patches” illustrates this:
At the beginning of winter I had sex with him in my apartment while my husband was at work. Tom didn't work anymore, he had quit the library, and I worked at night. But afterwards, the apartment was so cold that I had to get dressed right away and I felt sad. I stood in the kitchen, listening to the hum of refrigerator.
Or:
You are an installer or you are a collector. Choose one. It is cold next to the ocean. You might drink coffee next to the ocean or you might drink dark tea. Choose one.” And though these decisions might seem insignificant, many of these decisions compiled may lead one either to a life of meaning or some alternative removed from relevance all together. But at least: you have a choice.
Cain injects odd moments of domesticity and craft into her work -- but with hesitation to submit to a particular role or redundant assignment. Often, her characters (with emphasis on females) seem aware that certain tasks need to be done, but that it might not be in one's best interest to claim one role as their own over another. There is a larger inquiry at hand, somewhat inspired by the philosophical tenet: the freedom from something, vs. the freedom to do something. For instance, Cain writes in “Nothing is There,” “This year I have sewn a lot, even though it isn't one of my favorite things to do. I helped sew a quilt for someone as a birthday present, and now I'm helping someone else sew a robe. I'm not a good seamstress.” This shows how we find ourselves sifting through obligations -- some wanted, others unwanted -- how we come to terms with such forces, from both a gendered perspective and from the view of one rolling into adulthood.

Cain writes from the position of someone who seeks wisdom -- yet from a safe distance, with mystery. These stories are not obnoxious in the way that a mother's experience shed onto her offspring might be seen as. They are subdued and unpretentious, and though one may not experience the seductive “punch” that one feels from a Mary Gaitskill or Joyce Carol Oates narrative, Cain is onto something -- a less-than-obvious kind of erotic that isn't pushy or desperate, but it's there. There is no need to adopt one cornered conclusion, and it is wagered that Cain would be more content if yours didn't match another's. Though our means may appear similar, must we all really share the same end?— Jacquelyn Davis, Bookslut

“Cain’s debut demonstrates that when the clichéd expectations of traditional narrative are gently omitted, what’s left is a calming stillness, and startling language—a welcome relief from the ironic realism that characterizes so much young contemporary fiction.  We need more writing like this.” — A D Jameson, The Review of Contemporary Fiction


[Cain] is much like a fast expressionist painter who employs color and texture, letting the viewer decide what the painting reveals. Ultimately these stories highlight the distance that occurs in any relationship and how, within quiet moments, people can transcend this coldness, finding the sublime within an awkward state. --The Pedestal Magazine
           
Work:
Action, Yes
Dear Navigator
Dewclaw
Joyland
La Petite Zine
Little Red Leaves
MINIMALBOOKS
onedit
Sidebrow
summer stock
Two Serious Ladies


Recordings:
Here and here.
AminaFamily
If on a Summer’s Night a Reader
I have begun to read from and record passages from books.
The fourth is recorded with artist Rachel Tredon.
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  • play
  • The Apple in the Dark by Clarice Lispector
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  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
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  • American Canyon by Amarnath Ravva
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  • The Maids by Jean Genet
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  • play
  • Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

Into the Wine-Dark Sea of Self: A Conversation With Amina Cain and Veronica Gonzalez-Peña

HER KIND: In her poem “Summer X-Rays,” Nina Cassian tells us: “That’s why I swim so far out,/ willing prisoner/ inside the sea’s immense green magnifying glass.” What draws you to the water? How far are you willing to swim and why?


AMINA CAIN: My mother tells me that when I was two years old, she couldn’t keep me from the water. She would set me down on the beach and before she knew it, I was in the waves trying to go further than a two year old should. I had very few fears as a child and I loved the water, as many children do. I love it still. I am always trying to decide which I like best—ocean, river, or lake—but I can’t. The ocean is immense, yes, but you can float down a river for a very long time, and in a cold climate a lake’s waves freeze in winter. Today, on the first day of summer, I think I would choose to swim in a river. The Yuba, in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
I like to think that I’m willing to swim to the ends of the earth, but the truth is that I have a relationship to fear now. There are ways in which I block myself. But there are also ways in which I feel free. I am freest in summer, more myself. I think water has something to do with that. Water is healthy; swimming is healthy. Cassian writes: “I’m still able to recognize a perfect day.”
Is it bragging to say that I think I know what swimming far out feels like? I have felt it in my movements, and in my relationships with other people (I love how far you can go with another person) and myself (I love how far you can go with yourself), and in my writing. To temper this are the ways in which I have been very held back. I think that those moments of going far into something made me a writer, or at least they take up the same space as my writing. It may be that I write partly to be in that space. It is one way to get there. I am probably slightly addicted to it, to heightened experiences (this is what swimming far out is often like for me). But I am also made happy by the simplest of things.
Veronica, I just finished your new novel, The Sad Passions, and the sense for me of reading it was almost total immersion. I think you are able to show what swimming far out is like, swimming out with one’s fears. Feeling them and swimming anyway. Being set in front of the ocean. The water is there, so the question is not do I swim, or how far, but, what is swimming like? What will I encounter “inside the sea’s immense green”? And the sisters’ (and mother’s) voices/chapters do become like waves; they return and crash upon the narrative.
There’s a passage toward the end of the book—in Julia’s final chapter—that reads: “I know what limitlessness is. It was during that year that I saw it in Claudia. I know what not stopping feels like, what not having an outline is, a boundary, an inside, which ends at the edges. I know what not having edges is. I have seen it, that lack of line.” This is the other side of the coin, the other side of swimming far out into the sea. It’s not a place one can live in all of the time.

VERONICA GONZALEZ-PEÑA: I think that I swim because I have to … and I am not brave; I don’t go far out. I respect those primal forces, fire and sea, and I like safety; I like to feel myself in some place of control; I envision myself a coward, a scaredy-cat… this is my vision of myself, though when I step outside myself a bit I know it is not true. I am constantly doing things that would terrify other people – this book for instance, The Sad Passions. But it is not a choice for me; it is not as if I do things because I am brave, or feel heroic. I don’t choose to be these things. I feel myself a coward who does what she does because she must. I am already in the middle of the ocean and I have to swim hard, hard to try to find my way back to land. And I can’t say what drives me, either. I am not someone who does things with a plan in hand. I don’t say, I’m going to write a terribly dark novel, or teach myself a new skill, or go far and wide. I like doing and so I do and do and do, I am making films now too, in addition to my fiction, and working on this collaborative project called Rockypoint through which I make prints with writers and artists, and through which too I ran a reading series in LA.
Right now, I am on the road, sitting in a motel 6 with my cat and my dog. My cat has just gone to the bathroom, and the whole room stinks. I have left a very comfortable life and am moving from LA to NY. Not for a job, not for anything concrete, just because I am compelled to; it is like I have to do it. Like writing. Like all these other things I do. But in actual water, in the ocean, say, I am never one to tempt the waves. I do not go far into it at all. I am afraid of that immense space… the wine dark sea… how it may take me over, bring me down and into itself. I respect primeval forces.
I am listening to the Odyssey on my drive across the sea that is Middle America. Ian McKellen’s recording of it – it is just gorgeous, and of course the ocean, the sea and water are everywhere. People are constantly crying too – the warriors weep all the time, into the ocean itself sometimes, and their blood is everywhere, all that aqueous substance. The wine dark sea of self.
In The Sad Passions, Julia says she is afraid of limitlessness, says she knows what boundarylessness is… her mother is mad, so this is her experience of that space that is not a defined space at all because there is no outline. And that limitlessness which can be such a romantic aspiration for some, for her is a terrifying and tragic reality.
But, Amina, I’ve been looking at I Go To Some Hollow again, with our discussion in mind, and your writing, your stories are so full of water. It is everywhere, from the very first. People going to the water, staring at the water, swimming in it, floating, in pools and rivers and the ocean; it is everywhere. All this water is set up as a kind of counterpoint to fire, and barren land. Can you talk a little about this, both as symbol and in the actuality of these primal forces: the barren land (yesterday I drove through Utah) and the sea. How do those two things play off of each other in your own internal landscape, and then in your writing?

AC: I relate to that completely: moving to a place because you just have to, because you are driven towards it. That’s what moving to LA was like for me. I was pulled there, kind of inexplicably. And I knew my time in Chicago was over. Driving across the U.S. is like a kind of ocean. The vastness, but also the weird depths. There is something to sink into in that huge swath of landscape that’s always changing. Sometimes your own self.
Landscape has always been important to me, both physically/psychically in my life, and also in a story. When I write something new I often start with land, or at least a kind of atmosphere, usually a place I want to spend time in somehow, either because I crave or miss it. Maybe I passed through once and I couldn’t stay, didn’t have enough hours. Lately, I’ve been combining landscapes. In the novella I’ve started writing: an imaginary France-Brazil coupled with an imaginary Los Angeles.
When I was a baby, our house burned down. Heat is a purifier. I don’t know how to stop it from being a kind of purification in my fiction too. As with bodies of water, when I go to the spa in winter I can never decide which kind of heat I like best: the dry sauna or the wet one. There is something to the sensation of sweating everything out, but I also like the subtle way dry heat pulls out the toxins. I guess I need both, and when I’m at the spa I take turns with each, several times in a row.
When I drove through Utah, I felt very alive and happy. Maybe I’ll never live in Utah, but some part of me wants to inhabit places like that in my stories. I like when everything seems empty; I like when it’s still warm at night. Something this simple is enough to get me writing. In my stories, I think I just go towards what I need and crave, and this means I take myself to these bodies of water and land.
In your novel, Claudia wanders outside her hotel room in Acapulco, looking for her husband M. and she sees a falling star. At first it’s just Claudia and the sky and her fear. Then the ocean is there, moving in that landscape too. “I stopped and made a wish, though I was very frightened, my heart racing, because I believe you must, you must take a wish that is offered to you. And as soon as I had made my wish I registered the crashing waves, loud, hard, and black and loud as they are on the Pacific. I watched their dark violence play itself out upon the soft white shore . . .” When I read this passage it stuck with me, partly because of how beautifully it describes the complexity of an ocean and what our feelings toward it might be in different kinds of moments, but also because of the way it comes alive in that scene, comes alive in that sentence. When I read your writing and in the times I’ve heard you read it out loud I’m struck by how your sentences gather their power and then by how whole chapters do as well. Do you like sentences? I mean, as writers, I imagine we all like them, but in the same way that the ocean becomes present in the middle of fear and a star filled sky, I find a sentence written by you to bring a thing into existence and then another thing and another all along itself. There is a way to travel not just from one sentence to the next, but right inside one of them. There is a way to swim far out. This is gratifying.

VGP: I’m obsessed with sentences. With rhythm, with the way things build. I love repetition, and patterns, and hiding things inside of other things. I can live inside a sentence by Henry James, or one by Sebald, or Josef Skvorecky who wrote this incredible novella full of unbelievable sentences, Emoke, or HD (who writes about fire beautifully). Or Flaubert, the way his sentences can negate themselves with one semi colon. Nabokov writes about this in his Lectures on Literature. The way one of his sentences will build and build through clauses; and then a semi-colon and the negating clause which undoes all that went before. It is perverse, almost, and I like that sort of thing… the way that Jean Rhys makes things happen in her sentences too, the dense poetry of them. They do get very complicated sometimes, my sentences, I love layering so I can lose control of them sometimes, and then I have to double back and make them work. This can take a long, long time, but that is what I find gratifying, to use your term – that wrestling with language that ends up giving you something. I like it so much I want to give it to my reader, that gift, a sentence you have to untangle, the pleasure and sense of satisfaction you get from something like that… For me it is all about sentences, not words necessarily. I’ll sacrifice a word for a sentence – I won’t sacrifice a sentence for anything else, not for a paragraph, not for plot, not for character. I work toward making as perfect a sentence as I can; I don’t struggle for the perfect word in the same way. But we’re all so different. I’m sure there are people wanting to kill me over that statement, how stupid, they must think. But I chalk it up to difference, and to pleasure. Sentences are my pleasure. And a series of good sentences, when the rhythm builds to a pitch – that is just beyond…
But Amina, I want to talk to you about the floating sensibility of your characters who are so often there and not there at once – this I associate with water, the ocean mainly, as it is so symbolic a body of water, huge and unknowable, like our very selves. Your characters are often trying to feel or make themselves felt, as if floating on the surface of life. Sometimes they say this directly, express it, their need to be felt, their need to feel; it is as if they don’t quite know they are there at all, like a dream. It is almost as if through the meticulous narration – because your narration is slow and careful and meticulous –  they are trying to explain themselves to themselves. Sometimes the stories have a  dream logic, as in Black Wings where a pilot is suddenly present in an important role, as interlocutor (I imagine him wearing his pilot hat, his pilot’s coat). Other times the stories exist more fully in that dream world, as in Homesteading; yet other times they inhabit our logic, but still feel floaty and somehow slow and surreal – like being in deep water. How do you do this? I keep trying to figure it out. It is not any one element, and, as I said, your narration and attention to detail are meticulous, so how do you achieve that sense of swimming which feels like suspension in water, deeply pleasurable, but so untethered we might float away at any moment?

AC: That makes sense to me, that you find such enjoyment in sentences and in the way they build upon each other through rhythm to a pitch. I know I mentioned to you that after hearing you read last month here in L.A. for your book launch, well, I didn’t really want it to end. I felt pitched into something, something not easy to come down from, like when I’ve just watched a film and then it’s hard to walk out of the theater afterwards, into the actual day, or night. The same with reading The Sad Passions. When I finished it, I missed it. I had gotten used to going into the landscape of it, everyday, and also the landscape of those sentences. Interestingly, right now, writing back and forth with you, having this conversation, is affecting my own sentences! I realize I am at times going further into them myself.
It’s fascinating to me what different writers gravitate to in their work. I have always thought that though I’m a writer, it’s not language I’m drawn to when I’m working on my stories—more than that, it’s image. Sometimes fictional situation. And always atmosphere/setting. Plot has never been important to me. Character, I’m not sure, but certainly the relationships between characters. And definitely narrative and voice. So much can be carried in the voice, a swimming out. I think that when plot is not the thing holding a fictional work together then other kinds of scaffolding can emerge, perhaps dreamlike. I don’t plan anything out either, relying instead on my subconscious. That’s probably where some of the floating sensibility comes from. I write to see what is inside my mind—a bit like meditation. But I think in Creature, which will be coming out in the fall, I have been trying to get closer to feeling, and closer to closeness itself, and to understanding another, instead of that distance I have so often mined. Not that one is better than the other, just that these kinds of proximities are important to me right now.
I have to say: I very much want to see the film you just made!

VGP: I’m glad you appreciate that sense of rhythmic space I create within my writing – or work to create, anyway. I want the reader to feel submerged in the musicality of the book, to feel so deeply in it that it is as if they must come up for air sometimes. To feel as if they are swimming in it. The films are not as weighty. I made the first one as a relief from the book, which had been so solitary and deep and intense, and so I wanted to work collaboratively, which was a joy. The film is visually poetic, and slow, though it is narrative too, and hopefully it is moving; but it is not of the same deeply immersive intensity as my writing. Sylvere Lotringer plays my daughter’s grandfather in it! This I love. The title comes from something he says to her character about death: Death is like a shadow…. I’m making a new one now, with Michael Silverblatt; and Chris Kraus and Hedi El Kholti are in it too. It’s about a young poet Michael is concerned about, and a young poet plays that part; I’m not really interested in working with actors, but rather in making things happen with the people who are a part of my life, my sphere of interest. I want you to see the completed one! We’ll do that.
It is clear that atmosphere is your main concern. It is amazing, really, how you are able to create it in such a minimal/minimalist way. There is a sense of indirectness between characters and situations, and although your characters work hard to explain things to themselves, they never quite get at things – this is part of this sense of atmosphere, I think, the living inside a space that is thick and weighty and as I’ve repeatedly said, dream-like, that they seem to not be able to move out of, even through their meticulous attention to detail, and language, and careful attentiveness to each other. We sense they are working toward an intimacy that is at one remove from them. They have affairs that aren’t satisfying, friends they love deeply but can’t tell, the children, even, seem careful in these stories. And we are never quite sure why this is, even though they try to tell us, try to tell themselves to us, and it feels almost as if all these things they do in the world are part of the telling, in the service of the telling that will come. In And Went Inside the narrator tells us, Often I imagine things too soon. Sometimes I begin while the thing is still happening.
I’m in NY now, in my new apartment, and of course I am still thinking about the Odyssey. When Odysseus reaches Ithaca, he still has many tests he must endure. He knows this going in, the gods tell him it will be this way. He enters Ithaca a liar; he has to obfuscate the facts in order to save himself. And then for many books he is constantly lying, even to Penelope, and Telemachus, telling stories about himself to others through the voices he takes on, I believe he is still alive, he tells both his wife and his son at different moments, referring to himself in the third person. I think this is something all storytellers share – a telling of the self through the stories we tell, and of course I don’t mean this directly, as autobiography, but something deeper, more decentered and thus more deeply moving. What are you telling us about story telling through your work, and about yourself as a teller of stories?

AC: Regarding Death is like a shadow, I really like the idea of working not with actors, but with the people who are already significant in your life. My good friend Laida Lertxundi, also a filmmaker, does something similar. Sometimes she drives out to a space—like the desert—and part of shooting the film, I think, is spending time with the people who are with her there in that specific space. They are making a film, but they are also having an experience together, inhabiting something, and that experience comes into the work very strongly. Laida’s films are not driven by narrative, but they are in relationship to it, and I’m always interested in how one can be in proximity with something without going through the front door of it, if that makes sense. Connecting this back to writing: a story with a relationship to character, for instance, without centering the story there.
I like the way Odysseus refers to himself in third person. I believe he is still alive. If anything, I think of storytelling as a way to get close to experience. Can I somehow let the reader swim out into that space too? There are things that have affected my life so profoundly that I think I have wanted to be near them again, either because of how pleasurable they were, or painful; either way, I have wanted to share them. I have wanted to be in conversation.
What kind of storyteller are you?

VGP: A lost storyteller, always searching. I feel I am always lost, like I don’t know things I should and so I tell to figure those things out, or to at least attempt to approach. I am always searching. And this can be hard for others… I am always pushing further, asking questions, too many questions, and I am sure that sometimes I am just too much…

AC: I’m glad for that answer, Veronica, for how honest it is. I think I’m trying to figure things out too. Thank you for having this conversation with me. - herkind.org/


My essay “The Continuum of Friendship” was just published at Two Serious Ladies.
I recommended some of my favorite books over at Nat. Brut.
A video reading of Jackson Mac Low’s “Forties 133.”
My 2012 Attention Span.
Gregory Howard on “narrative, obsession, collections, the act of collecting, fairy tales, the uncanny, Henry Wellcome, and the work of Dennis Cooper, Amina Cain, Bruno Schulz, Georges Perec and others”: The Object is Always Magic: Narrative as Collection.
Both Sides and The Center: Andrea Quaid in conversation with Teresa Carmody & me.
At Frances Farmer Is My Sister, Kate Zambreno writes about “I Go To Some Hollow, trauma, romance novels, and macrobiotics.”
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Amina Cain is the author of Creature (Dorothy, a publishing project, forthcoming 2013) and I Go To Some Hollow (Les Figues Press, 2009). She is also a curator, most recently for Both Sides and The Center (with Teresa Carmody) at the MAK Center/Schindler House. A recording of her story “Attached to a Self” was included in the group show A Diamond in the Mud at Literaturhaus Basel in Switzerland in 2008, and in summer 2010 her work was featured at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) as part of NOT CONTENT, a series of text projects curated by Les Figues. Writing has appeared in publications such as 3rd bed, Denver Quarterly, [out of nothing], Stolen Island, The Encyclopedia Project (F-K), and Two Serious Ladies; as a chaplet through Belladonna* and a chapbook in the PARROT Series; and is forthcoming in BOMB magazine and n+1. Several of her stories have been translated into Polish on MINIMALBOOKS, and a French translation of “Black Wings” is out in Jet d’encre. She lives in Los Angeles.

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