Archive

Interviews

PATTERNS OF EROSION: 

A Conversation with Andrea Scrima on A Lesser Day and the new German edition, Wie viele Tage. 

“She sees a slip of paper lying on the street at the point of projected convergence, and she picks it up with a feeling that retrieving it is somehow necessary and crucial. That’s a key passage in the book, and it comes close to describing a relationship to meaning, in the way that you’re living in an insentient world, in a world of natural phenomena, man-made phenomena, trains and buses and buildings and streets, yet things are constantly happening that can suddenly seem to be saying something to you. The phrase I use in the book is ‘a language of happenstance […] in the din of occurrence.’ Searching for meaning in these chance occurrences—the superstitious see signs in coincidences, but you could also think of them as constituting a kind of language. But whose, and to what purpose?”

Read the full interview online here

M&Lcover

March 15, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 18.38.27

The wonderful Daniela Fürst interviews Andrea Scrima on her book “Wie viele Tage,” Literaturverlag Droschl. Live at the Leipzig Book Fair.

Listen here at Literadio

Literario Leipzig

 

Bedford Avenue; ich stand vor dem U-Bahn-Plan, sprach die Namen aus und spürte den Nachgeschmack, den sie auf meiner Zunge hinterließen. Wie weit entfernt sie schienen, wie aus einer anderen Welt, einer anderen Zeit; wie unwahrscheinlich, dass ich mit diesem Plan in der Tasche hinausgehen und tatsächlich in einen Zug steigen könnte. Und dann überwand ich schließlich meine Lethargie, ging die Bedford Avenue hinunter und stieg die Treppe zur U-Bahn hinab, während mir der Schweiß zwischen den Brüsten hinunterrann; wie ich ohne einen klaren Plan im Kopf in einen klimatisierten Zug stieg, mich oben an der Haltestange festhielt und die Gänsehaut betrachtete, die sich auf meinem nackten Arm bildete, als der Schweiß auf meiner Haut kalt wurde. Ich stieg mehrmals um, zuerst am Union Square, dann an der Grand Central, betrachtete beim Einfahren des Zuges in jeden Bahnhof flüchtig die wartende Menge, meine Augen huschten von einem Gesicht zum anderen, suchten nach jemandem, den ich vielleicht kannte, irgendjemandem, unvorstellbar, in einer Stadt aufgewachsen zu sein und niemanden wiederzuerkennen, absolut niemanden. Meine Augen glitten vom Fenster des U-Bahn-Abteils und dem Strom der draußen vorbeihastenden Menschen nach oben, zu den Streifen Plakatwerbung, Hotlines für misshandelte Frauen, misshandelte Kinder, Zentren für kosmetische Chirurgie, Zahnchirurgie, mit einem Bild von Dr. Soundso und seiner Unterschrift darunter, gekrönt von einem irgendwie medizinisch aussehenden Schnörkel. Und dann stellte ich plötzlich fest, dass ich mich auf dem Weg zur Bronx befand, und beschloss, an der 149th Street auszusteigen und nachzuschauen, ob das alte Gebäude noch dort stand, wann war ich zum letzten Mal hingefahren, ich muss noch ein Kind gewesen sein. Ich ging die Brook Avenue hinunter, ohne ein einziges Gebäude wiederzuerkennen, einen einzigen Baum, bog an der 148th Street ab und ging in Richtung St. Ann’s, begann die geraden Nummern auf der Südseite der Straße abzuzählen, hin zur Nr. 516, dem Haus, das meine Urgroßeltern nach ihrer Ankunft in diesem Land gekauft hatten, dem Haus, in dem meine Mutter aufwuchs, meine Großmutter aufwuchs, zwei lange Reihen fünfgeschossiger Gebäude zu beiden Seiten der Straße, mit zwei ausschließlich aus Durchgangszimmern bestehenden Wohnungen auf jedem Stockwerk und Frauen in langen Röcken und Schürzen, die Abend für Abend den Bürgersteig fegten. Hier war Nr. 514, ein etwas zurückgesetzt stehendes, zweigeschossiges Haus; ein Dreirad lag auf einem kleinen betonierten Vorplatz, aus dessen Rissen Unkraut hervorspross. Ich ging weiter zum nächsten Haus und sah die ins Holz über der Tür genagelten Ziffern 518, und dann blieb ich stehen und ging noch einmal zurück; ich muss daran vorbeigegangen sein, dachte ich, doch es gab keine Nr. 516, nur ein Gebäude mit der Nummer 514 und ein anderes mit der Nummer 518, beide aus einem vergleichsweise jüngeren Baujahr, doch keine 516, und ich stand da, starrte Nr. 514 an, dann Nr. 518, und begriff, dass das Haus bereits vor langer Zeit abgerissen worden sein musste, nachdem sich das Viertel in einen Slum verwandelt hatte. Und später, nachdem im Zuge einer Stadtteilsanierung die Grundstücke neu gezeichnet und andere Häuser errichtet worden waren, war die Nummer 516 einfach aus der Reihe der Adressen in der East 148th Street komplett verschwunden, und ich stand da, wo die Eingangstür zum Haus gewesen sein musste, und stellte mir vor, wie meine Mutter als Kind auf der Vortreppe gesessen hatte, meine Großmutter, ein Kind, hier, genau an diesem Fleck, wo das Haus einst gestanden hatte, jetzt nur mehr manifestiert durch eine Lücke in einer numerischen Folge. Ich stand eine ganze Weile da, betrachtete die Häuser und die Größe der Grundstücke, außerstande zu erklären, wie eine Adresse verschwunden sein konnte, die neueren Häuser waren nicht größer, nicht breiter als die älteren es gewesen waren, sie hätten nicht so viel zusätzlichen Platz in Anspruch genommen, um ein ganzes Grundstück einfach verschwinden zu lassen, dachte ich und ging die Straße hinunter und bog an der Ecke ab, an der meine Mutter ihre ganze Kindheit hindurch jeden Tag abgebogen war auf dem Weg zur Grundschule gegenüber dem Park, wo die wilden Jungs auf Pappkartons die großen Granitsteine hinunterrutschten und hohe Bäume aus den Spalten dazwischen wuchsen, jetzt zugemüllt mit alten Zeitungen und zerdrückten Bierdosen und im Unterholz verstreuten kleinen Haufen gebrauchter Spritzen.

Literadio 2

Literadio 3

me Leipzig booth

In the booth of Literaturverlag Drochl, Leipziger Buchmesse, March 15, 2018

 

 

Hear the full interview on Yale Radio:

http://museumofnonvisibleart.com/interviews/andrea-scrima/

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 17.36.03

Making art was a form of archaeology, of excavating the inscrutable. It revealed itself through fragments, through their reconstruction. Why this dot, this smear—why did they resonate in such an unmistakable way? It was essential to recognize these events, to understand the patterns of their repetition and to narrow them down to a visual vocabulary. These were the elements at our disposal, there were never more than a handful of them, and they remained irreducible. Process was everything: there had to be a truthfulness to it, a conjunction between the act and the impulse that had propelled it, an economy in which every mark stood for something—not as a means to an end, but at the very moment it was being made. It required a suspension of conscious will; it was about locating one’s inner sensorium and learning to pay attention to it, to trust it. It was the point of convergence between the self and the world: the place where, if only for an instant, a universal language might be revealed. I stepped back to view the large canvas. Subtle shadows were visible across the white expanse now, caused by the topography of the scraped surface beneath it. Swirls of pigment had come to rest in the turpentine on the floor, and as I bent down to spread a few sheets of newspaper over the turbid puddle, my reflection bent down with me and reached its fingertips up toward my outstretched hand. 

— from the novel-in-progress Like Lips, Like Skins

MARGARITA MEKLINA and SNEŽANA ŽABIC

with Andrea Scrima

 

Wreckage of Reason II: Back to the Drawing Board
(Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2014)

Andrea Scrima invited two of her co-authors in the anthology, Margarita Meklina and Snežana Žabić, to take part in a conversation about what experimental writing means today—beyond the marginalization the label inevitably leads to, both in terms of commercial viability and literary visibility. Meklina emigrated to the US from Russia at the age of twenty-two and lives in Oakland; Žabić, who eventually settled in Chicago, was forced to flee her native Vukovar when the wars in the former Yugoslavia broke out. Scrima, who was born and raised in New York and has been living in Berlin for more than half her life, soon noticed that cultural displacement was an element each of them had in common; as she began to question the effects this may have had on their various literary projects—whether it fostered a critical distance to mainstream culture, or a skepticism regarding its definition of success—she decided to ask Meklina and Žabić to discuss their experiences. What follows is a conversation about emigration, identity, and the many unforeseen ways in which an initial loss of language can grow into a reconsideration and regaining of language. In the process, Scrima, Meklina, and Žabić explore the question Skolkin-Smith poses early in her essay on the anthology: “How do experimental literary writers continue to foster their literary legacy, to offer up profound depths, language, and soul, to grow as writers willing to risk, and to toss up, around, and about meanings and connections in ways that rise above entertainment?”

Read the entire conversation here: 

http://brooklynrail.org/2015/07/books/parataxis-and-ponzi-schemes

 

wreckage2

A Lesser Day by Andrea Scrima, published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2010, available for Kindle since 2014

 

me, goodies

Photo: Uli Sauerland. Schlachtensee, Berlin, May 2016

 

Hi Andrea, congratulations—the English print version of “A Lesser Day” currently seems sold out. What are your plans with the book?

I’ve just sold the German-language rights to a fine literary publisher in Austria; the translation will be coming out in the spring of 2018, and so it seems like a good time to plan a second edition of the book in English. It was a small print run with an independent press, and while it’s not entirely sold out, it’s getting close: there’s a small number left in stock at Small Press Distribution and in independent bookstores around the US, but I think Amazon still has used copies available. I was very glad that Spuyten Duyvil released a Kindle version two years ago, because it keeps the book available to readers—although the actual physical book is a nice thing to have. This might sound a bit strange, but I did the typography, layout, photography, and design myself: a luxury and freedom I never would have enjoyed with a mainstream publisher. The cover image, a dribble of paint on a sidewalk whose paving stones were at some point dissembled and put back together again, but in a different order, with the dribble no longer a continuous flow, but a fragmented line going this way and that, is a metaphor for the reconstruction of time and experience in memory—the way in which we perceive our lives in retrospect. It’s a metaphor that occurs in the same paragraph as the book’s title, the two are thematically intertwined, and so the physical book is like a small work of art.

I saw on your website that you transitioned from visual art to writing. Can you talk about how your art developed in this way?

I studied fine arts in New York and began my studio work as a painter. Gradually, I moved on to installations that incorporated, in various different constellations, small objects, writing, painting, and photography. At some point I began doing mostly text installations, that is, I wrote short pieces, essentially very short stories, and then painted the letters of these texts in Times italic onto the walls of various spaces. Most of these installations were site-specific: they were written in response to a particular location and engaged directly with its architecture. It was an exacting process in which doors and windows and, indeed, every last electrical socket and light switch fit precisely into the flow of the text on the wall. I did these works because I was interested in what happens to a story when it’s read in a very different way than, say, on the printed page. There was a choreographic element to it that fascinated me. It always sounds a little complicated when you talk about how something functions in an art context, and so I should probably say that the stories were psychological studies on particular states of mind, written in a language that sounded confessional, like a journal entry. I was interested in drawing in the reader/viewer, in catching him or her off-guard, in creating a kind of intimacy in a public space.

Gradually, however, after completing around a dozen of these large-scale works, I came to realize that my artistic process—the thing you do that keeps you “in the flow,” the way in which you do your creative thinking—had shifted from painting to writing. And so the logical question became: what would happen if I cut everything else out? Was it time to try to write a book? It was tempting, but it was also a scary prospect for me, because it meant that I’d be leaving one profession mid-career and trying to gain a foothold in another—as a total beginner. It didn’t matter that this transition had come about as an organic development in my work. In professional terms, art and publishing are two separate worlds, and there’s nearly no overlap. I had no idea if my writing would hold up in a literary context.

“A Lesser Day” feels very neatly organized, like a mosaic of small pieces fitted together. What was the writing process behind it: did you have the pieces or the whole picture first?

I wrote “A Lesser Day” in the first year and a half of my son’s life. In other words, during a period when I had very little time to myself. I kept a notebook with me, and I used every available moment in between nursing and naps to write. It was usually just enough time to home in on a particular memory and explore it fully before I had to close the book and attend to my son again. I began with short descriptions of whatever recollections I had of certain places I’d lived in over the years, and eventually pieced them together until I saw a kind of pattern emerge. It was a stroke of luck that I’d happened upon a form that fit perfectly with my life at the time—I mean, it’s very hard to think through even a single thought when you’re taking care of an infant, but for some reason the fragmentary form made it possible to concentrate in short, intense spurts. And then, one day, I realized that the page I’d just written was how the book would end. It startled me. There it was, the entire shape and structure: the narrative arc, all the themes and leitmotifs, the formal rhythm. And so I began to identify the gaps, and sew together the various narrative threads, and eventually I was able to make a cohesive book out of it, which I dedicated to my son.

The idea had been to explore memory as a thing that’s interwoven with the places we’ve inhabited, places that encapsulate a certain period of our lives in a particularly vivid way. But I think the experience of becoming a mother—of being the door through which another person enters the world—of no longer being merely a person, but also, quite suddenly, a “place” for someone else—is the fundamental metaphysical inspiration behind the book.

Do you ever go back to the settings where the book takes place? Areas like the Wrangelkiez are hotspots of gentrification in Berlin these days, and it must have changed a lot since you lived there.

Oh, yes, all of these places have changed enormously. Of the five locations in the book, one was an apartment in the East Village of the early eighties that cost two hundred dollars a month in rent, another a summer sublet in pre-gentrification Brooklyn, and another a beautiful waterfront loft I lived in the year before I became pregnant with my son, in a building that I can happily return to now and again, because friends of mine instrumental in getting the NYC Loft Law passed still live there. The two locations in Berlin are in Kreuzberg, but I have to admit, I don’t always feel comfortable returning to places I once lived in. There’s something beautiful about the way a place can be conserved in the mind, when it doesn’t have to compete with its own ghost.

I’m sure you have some new projects under way.  Can you tell us something about your upcoming book?

I’m currently finishing a novel, and the writing process has been very different this time. It’s a book in two parts, and it takes place over a twenty-year period in a woman’s life. Each of the characters in the book is traumatized in some way: a mother whose foiled attempts at achieving independence lead to an eating disorder that eventually devours the entire family; a daughter whose emotional outbursts lie beyond her understanding and control; a boy who sets out to find the father that abandoned him when he was three; a young man from the former GDR who was expatriated to the West after being released from juvenile prison. The book explores what all of these various different types of traumatic imprinting have in common: the ways in which pain is stored in the mind and body, and the detours taken to swerve around that pain in whatever way possible. The book isn’t quite as dark as it sounds, however—and in the end, art emerges as a powerful tool for self-discovery.

 

A Lesser Day

 

Excerpt from A LESSER DAY:

Kent Avenue, and the trees that had grown along the fences in the neighborhood, chain-link fences closing off empty lots filled with used refrigerators and rusty car parts. Weeds no one had bothered to cut back, supple shoots winding in and out between the diamond-shaped grids, weaving through like sewn threads and growing from year to year until their stalks began to stiffen into branches and there could no longer be a question of unraveling them; they were inextricable now. And then the spring came, and there was an explosion of green everywhere, the first fresh leaves sprouting from the bound trunks. And here and there a tree had been cut down, and a segment of chopped wood would remain caught in a fence, because the trunk had grown and swelled, incorporating the wire into its wounded flesh and covering it with layers of scarred bark.

 

 

9781933132778

Kent Avenue, and the trees that had grown along the fences in the neighborhood, chain-link fences closing off empty lots filled with used refrigerators and rusty car parts. Weeds no one had bothered to cut back, supple shoots winding in and out between the diamond-shaped grids, weaving through like sewn threads and growing from year to year until their stalks began to stiffen into branches and there could no longer be a question of unraveling them; they were inextricable now. And then the spring came, and there was an explosion of green everywhere, the first fresh leaves sprouting from the bound trunks. And here and there a tree had been cut down, and a segment of chopped wood would remain caught in a fence, because the trunk had grown and swelled, incorporating the wire into its wounded flesh and covering it with layers of scarred bark.

— from A Lesser Day

Excerpt from the interview:

A.S.: You ask about the significance of the locations in A Lesser Day: Eisenbahnstrasse and Fidicinstrasse in pre-Unification West Berlin; East Ninth Street in the early ’80s; pre-gentrification Bedford Avenue and Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Essentially, I’ve used these different addresses as a framing device, beginning each fragment with a place name to tell the story of a young artist’s peripatetic life: the never-ending scramble of hand to mouth, boxes stored here and there, works of art in the making, and always looking at things—looking and wondering. I’ve noticed that my experience of space structures my mechanisms of recollection; I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but it’s certainly true for me. My memory tends to organize itself into blocks of time I’ve spent in particular locations. I have a coherent sense of the year I spent back in Brooklyn before my son was born, for instance—sitting in a chilly riverfront loft in the former Ronzoni spaghetti factory building, working on a first novel that was never completed with a blanket over my knees and my grandmother’s armchair nearby, which I’d rescued from the basement of the house I grew up in; staring every day at the World Trade Center across the river, the year before the towers fell. This time is clearly circumscribed in my mind, whereas other years blur together, years during which not much external change took place in terms of traveling from place to place.

What are these places in which we spend our days, live our lives—these vessels that contain us and keep us warm, that absorb our memories and store them in some mysterious form—and that have the power to reflect our selves back to us? What happens when we return to a place we used to live in? I’m interested in how a period of life becomes, in retrospect, circumscribed by the walls that contained it—the time I lived here, the time I lived there—in ways that go beyond a mere framing of experience. It’s as though a time and a place merged into some other synthesis of being that we become part of not only in a physical sense, but perhaps a mystical sense as well. And while the marks we leave behind are one manifestation of the time we’ve spent somewhere, I often find myself wondering if some part of our spirit remains as well, some part of whatever it is that perhaps transcends place and time.

Read the interview in the May issue of The Brooklyn Rail online:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2015/05/books/in-the-gaps-between-things-andrea-scrima-with-leora-skolkin-smith

Now in the December/January issue of The Brooklyn Rail

Leora Skolkin-Smith
Edges 
(re-released by The Story Plant, 2014)

In the drizzling rain, the Jordanian hills seemed closer than when I tried to see them from the bedroom upstairs. They lay to the east, though named “The West Bank.” The boundary between the Arab and Jewish regions was drawn by a fountain pen years ago when some British engineers came to canvass the rough land in the 1930s. The ink they had used was green, and so the border was called “the green line,” my aunt told me. The border had remained vague and uncertain, she said, subject to weather and other forces. No one ever seemed to know where it started or ended, the barbed wire often arbitrarily strewn to make up for the absence of clearness. A little more than a hazy outline still in the distance, there were thick layers of barbed wire on both sides of the border.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine from today’s perspective of heavily guarded checkpoints and border controls and ugly, towering walls, but Israel was a very different world in the mid-1960s, when 14-year-old Liana Bialik and her sister accompany their mother Ada to her native Jerusalem to take part in “The Ceremony of the Graves.” Syrian dams are under construction; snipers and terrorists dot the border to Jordan in a campaign to cut Israel off from its water supply, but Ada has retained the freedom and defiance of her earlier days—and it is this fierce and fiery side, hidden beneath the Westchester housewife persona known to her daughters, that suddenly emerges when they arrive in her home country. The remains of Jewish fighters in the War of Independence against Great Britain are to be excavated from their resting place in the Jordanian cemetery in the old city and moved to a new gravesite on the Israeli side of the border. Ada’s brother Elizar is among the dead; as she and her sister Esther reminisce about earlier days of smuggling ammunition in their girdles and brassieres past British soldiers too proper to even dream of stopping them, and look forward to celebrating the repatriation with the other members of the old division of Jerusalem’s underground group, the Haganah, in a grand ballroom of the King David Hotel, Liana has a difficult time absorbing the scorched landscape of her mother’s homeland: the inscrutable, vigilant faces of the people living there; the lizards darting in and out of rusted, sprawling barbed wire and then slithering into the dust; the battered warning signs and discarded gun shells scattered everywhere.

Read the rest of the In Conversation piece here:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2014/12/books/mother-tongue

Edges cover