“In her novel ‘Kreisläufe,’ Scrima achieves everything a book can do, at least with me. Her call to ‘imagine this’ was so intense and worked its way through me to such an extent that, once I finished the book, I sat there somewhat stunned and began leafing back to revisit all the scenes I’d underlined and slip back under that warm blanket.”
Read it here (in German).
“Es gibt in der Literatur vielleicht nicht viele, die diese Bilder so detailgenau und mit so grosser psychologischer Tiefe nachzeichnen können wie Andrea Scrima.”
— Paul Jandl
“There are, perhaps, not many in the literary field as skilled at evoking these images and with as much precision and psychological depth as Andrea Scrima.”
— Paul Jandl
I’d like to draw your attention to an interview Ally Klein did with me that’s just gone up at Three Quarks Daily. We talk about my new novel, Like Lips, Like Skins, the German edition of which (Kreisläufe, meaning circuits, circulations, circles) was published a few months ago by Literaturverlag Droschl: the strange-seeming discrepancy in titles, which gets to the heart of what the novel is about, the book’s approach to visual imagery and artmaking, and some of its main themes.
One of these themes is trauma:
The moment a traumatic experience occurs, certain regions of the brain, for instance the frontal lobes, are effectively switched off, while other, older parts of the brain—the regions responsible for the organism’s survival—take over. It’s similar with flashbacks: because our understanding of time lies in the neocortex, we experience a threat from the past as immediate, as though it were happening in the here and now. Cognitive thinking as well as language and memory formation also freeze up; in other words, all of a sudden there’s this huge blind spot ballooning outwards. The senses of a person experiencing a flashback become flooded, they fail to understand that they’re not in danger, they can barely find an explanation for their affective state and physical reactions and afterwards, confused and disoriented, they remember very little.
Another theme is autofiction:
Writing in the first-person singular means that you can’t analyze a character on a meta-level or from a distance, you have to make them do things, dream, talk, think. This establishes a closer link to the reader. I gave Felice certain elements from my life, I gave her Staten Island and Berlin and some of my art—to an extent, I even lent her my own late parents. This can be misleading, of course, and it can mean that people confuse the character with the author. However, if you start reading the book in an “autofictional” manner, you’d have to become skeptical at the very latest with the character of Micha. I’ve been living in Berlin for 37 years and wanted to write about my adopted home. It was clear to me that my view of Germany would be perceived as that of an outsider, a foreigner, even if I’ve spent my entire adult life here. And so I designed a fictional character to speak in my stead; over time it became increasingly clear to me that this person had to come from the East. Micha was a vehicle for me to lend a face to some of my own observations on a divided Germany and German Reunification. I live between these two cultures, I have both an inside and an outside view of the two countries. As a former inmate in a GDR juvenile detention facility who never really gained a foothold in the West, Micha is also caught between cultures. He’s stuck in this dilemma, but as a German he has the authority to articulate his thoughts about this country. And so suddenly, the figure of Felice could become his counterpart and take on the role of the somewhat clueless American. This is where an attentive reader would have to notice that the first-person narrator can’t be autofictional—because Micha and his observations are of course the author’s thoughts, statements, and hypotheses. In other words: Micha, c’est moi.
The first chapter of Kreisläufe was published in issue 232 of the Austrian literary magazine manuskripte; English-language excerpts have appeared in Trafika Europe, StatORec, and Zyzzyva. The interview has also just appeared in German in issue 234 of manuskripte.
Click here to read.
While I was in Graz, the wonderful Barbara Belic interviewed me for her literary program series on Austrian public radio, “Radio Helsinki.” Listen to me read a few sections from my new novel—two lengthy sections in English and the rest in German—and explain why I’m against the category “autofiction”—why it fails to see so much of the actual art of a book.
“Präzise, psychologisch scharf, sprachlich ausgefeilt und sehr bewegend erzählt Andrea Scrima weit mehr als die Geschichte ihrer Heldin.”
Click here to read the review!
“Ein Kaffeefleck auf dem weißen Herd, Spuren im überfrorenen Schnee: Es sind Alltagsbeobachtungen, aus denen Andrea Scrima in ihrem neuen Roman Poesie schöpft. Präzise, ästhetische Beschreibungen rufen Bilder vor unser inneres Auge, die vertraut sind – und die wir doch so noch nie gesehen haben. Sie werden zu Metaphern für die Zeit, das Kommen und Gehen unserer Erinnerungen.”
— Anne Kohlick, Deutschlandfunk Kultur
Read and listen to the review here (in German language).
German friends: “Kreisläufe,” the German edition of my second book “Like Lips, Like Skins,” makes its official appearance today. An essentially untranslatable title has transformed into a word that means circuits, circulations, cycles, in other words contains multiple meanings that fit this novel about family trauma well.
I talked to moderator Frank Schmid at RBB about the book in the program “Der Tag” and you can hear the 15-minute recording online here.
In the December 28, 2018 edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Esther Kinsky, acclaimed author of River and Hain, chose A Lesser Day as her favorite book of 2018:
“In A Lesser Day (German edition: Wie viele Tage, Droschl 2018), Andrea Scrima addresses, with poetic intensity, alienation and non-belonging as a state of mind in a life lived between two locations toward the end of the twentieth century. The first-person narrator—an artist—was born in New York and lives in Berlin; occasionally, she returns home to her native city. Without giving rise to an hierarchy of impressions, the narrator records everyday life between the present and a remembered past in miniatures that brim with sensory input. Everything is equally important, like the components in a mosaic. The resulting whole, both subtle and haunting, is made up of fragments of fragile places. The density of moods is remarkable; it allows the weather, light, smells, and colors to become physically alive.”
— Esther Kinsky
Read the full article here in German language.
“Das Besondere und das Wunderbare an diesem Roman ist, dass es Scrima mit dem Ausdrucksmittel der Sprache gelungen ist, uns die Funktionsweise des Erinnerungsprozesses wirklich erfahrbar und erlebbar zu machen. Denn anstatt eines sinnvoll geordneten und strukturierten Narrativs präsentiert sie uns mit Wie viele Tage eine Textkomposition, die ebenso wenig ordnet und sinnvoll kategorisiert, wie unser Gedächtnis, wenn es sich der Gegenwart enthebt, um sich vergangenen Erlebnissen zuzuwenden. Unsere Erinnerungen sind sprunghaft, sie schwimmen von einem Bild zum nächsten. Und von Bedeutung sind meist die einfachen Dinge: die Möbelstücke, mit denen wir eine bestimmte Phase unseres Lebens assoziieren, die Erinnerung an unser Gefühl, dass wir gerne all unseren Besitz an einem Ort beisammen hätten, damit wir uns selbst nicht mehr wie ständig auf der Reise zu fühlen. Die Weltgeschichte erscheint in dem Leben des Einzelnen meist nur am Horizont, während es unser Leben in den eigenen vier Wänden und unsere Wahrnehmung der direkten Umgebung ist, das unser Sein bestimmt und beeinflusst. Für all dies steht dieser lyrische Roman, der durch den Einfluss der bildenden Kunst dahingehend auf wunderbare und einmalige Weise befruchtet wird, dass kraft der Sprache tatsächlich visuelle Bilder vor unserem geistigen Auge entstehen.”
“The remarkable and wondrous thing about this novel is that Scrima has succeeded in using the expressive means of language to enable us to experience, at close hand, the ways in which the process of remembering actually functions. Instead of a meaningfully structured narrative, A Lesser Day presents us with a text composition that orders and categorizes as seldom as our memory when it leaves the present tense to attend to past experience. Our recollections are skittish; they jump from one image to another. And it’s usually the simplest things that wind up taking on importance: pieces of furniture we associate with a certain phase of our lives; the memory of having longed to have all our possessions in one place at last, to stop feeling as though we were constantly on the road. In this individual’s life, world history generally makes an appearance at a distance, while it’s the lives we lead within our own four walls and our perception of our immediate surroundings that shape and determine our existence. This lyrical novel, enriched in a unique and wonderful way by the influence of art, stands for all this; indeed, the power of language gives rise to visual images that rise up before the mind’s eye.”
File under Spoken vs. Written:
My wonderful editor at Literaturverlag Droschl, Christopher Heil, interviewed me about my book, A Lesser Day (Wie viele Tage). Actually, we were really just trying to prepare for a reading at the Leipzig Book Fair this past March, and when we saw that we’d written I don’t know how many pages of questions and answers, we realized that, up on stage, it would all be useless to us and that we’d have to wing it. Why don’t we turn this into a written interview, I asked. OK, he answered — and here it is, translated into English on 3QuarksDaily.
Read the full review here.
Andrea Scrima’s brilliant debut novel, A Lesser Day (Spuyten Duyvil), creates a realistic psychological portrait of an artist’s life (…). The narrator and the reader are haunted by the unseen, the unspoken, the uncaptured, the unconscious forgotten details lurking in the vivid portraits of the artist’s memory. (…) A delicious unease slowly builds through the pages, suggesting that in every described detail there is a hidden meaning—a meaning often hidden even to the narrator. The fact that the narrator can remember so many minor details and the fact that even such a reliable, careful memory could be wanting is as terrifying to the reader as it is to the narrator. One of the delicate disturbances of the novel is the sense that if one’s memory can’t be fully trusted, no one can be trusted, even the self. (…) In a sense, each short chapter is like snapshot, the snapshots the narrator takes with the camera in her hand and the camera in her mind, wanting to capture some specific detail of each and every day—even the “lesser days,” when the washed-out details are so challenging to capture that even the most carefully framed photographs are unlikely to develop a vibrant image.
– Aimee Parkison
I had the pleasure of talking again to Brainard Carey of the Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies—you can hear the full interview here at Yale Radio. We talk about writing and art, my book A Lesser Day, memory, place, becoming an artist in post-gentrification New York and Berlin, the critical distance of a foreigner, Joseph Beuys and his performance I Like America and America Likes Me, Sophie Calle’s The Detachment, an essay I wrote for The Millions, and more — and I read from two sections of A Lesser Day.
How to go back in time; one would have to subtract everything that has come after, shed the skins that have accumulated since: peel them off one by one and forget them. To undo all that has occurred, to have found oneself in none of these situations, to lose entire parts of oneself; to forget. To disappear, to undo oneself. And when my mind carries me back, it is as another.
Das Ich, umkreist wie ein Fremdkörper
Segmente einer Biographie: Andrea Scrima erzählt ein Leben, gebaut aus Erinnerung und Fantasie.
Anton Thuswaldner in Die Furche, Sonderbeilage „Booklet“, April 2018
Es geht sprunghaft zu in diesem Buch, das sich auf kleine Segmente einer Biografie konzentriert, die dafür detailgenau festgehalten werden. Chronologie wird aufgehoben, Linearität wird so im Vorfeld unmöglich gemacht. Eine Synchronizität der Ereignisse stellt sich ein, was deren Enthierarchisierung entspricht. (…) Die Szenen, angesiedelt an konkreten Adressen, die dem Buch Bodenhaftung verschaffen, werden flankiert von kürzeren Passagen reflexiver Gestalt, in denen ein Ich Selbstüberprüfung anstrebt, intensiv Auskunft über eigenes Denken und Fühlen erteilt. Das eigene Ich wird umkreist wie ein Fremdkörper, ein rätselhaftes Ding, das sich nicht recht erschließen lässt. „Ein Blick, mehr nicht, und eine stille Lawine gerät in Bewegung, eine stumme Katastrophe.“ So könnte eine Poetik beginnen, die davon ausgeht, wie aus etwas scheinbar Harmlosem etwas Bedrohliches entsteht. Das Bedrohliche im konkreten Fall rührt daher, dass der Blick auf äußere Anzeichen angewiesen ist, aus denen er ein Ganzes formt. Das Problem – Lob der Fantasie hin, Kritik der Fantasie her – besteht darin, dass sich ein Individuum aus diesen Kürzeln einer Beobachtung nicht definitiv benennen lässt. Wahrheit ist eben nicht so leicht aus der reinen Anschauung zu haben. Gestehen wir es jedem zu, für den anderen Fragment bleiben zu dürfen. Das ist ohnehin schon sehr viel.
The book, which consists of short biographical segments described in great detail, skips from scene to scene. Chronology is suspended from the start, all linear continuity rendered impossible. A synchronicity of events crystallizes just as any hierarchy that might arise between them is dissolved; temporal planes merge to create a parallelism of concurrence. (…) The scenes in A Lesser Day take place at concrete addresses that anchor the book in time and place; they are flanked by shorter passages of a more reflective nature in which a self subjects itself to scrutiny, takes immediate stock of its thoughts and feelings, circles around itself like a foreign body, a mysterious thing that doesn’t quite lend itself to comprehension. “A look, nothing more, and a quiet avalanche is set into motion, a wordless disaster.” This could form the departure point of a poetics that explores how something seemingly harmless can transform into something perilous. In concrete terms, the threat derives from the fact that our understanding of things is contingent on external impressions out of which we fashion a larger whole. The problem with this, regardless of however we might praise or criticize fantasy, is that an individual can’t be reconstructed definitively from abbreviated perceptions—it’s not that easy to distill truth from observation. Better to allow ourselves to remain fragmentary to one other—that alone would be considerable.
Andrea Köhler interviewed me for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
You can read the interview here.