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Bildschirmfoto 2017-05-25 um 11.34.30

Excerpt from my essay, (Re)Reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times:

“Are we more similar to animals than we care to admit, caught in vast murmurations and blind herds that obey some ancient code humming in our DNA? Or have we merely gotten used to believing our own stories? I mean not only to celebrate the work of one of our most influential, prescient, brooding, analytical minds but to comb it for clues, metaphors, a vocabulary and a language that can somehow explain us to ourselves. What can literary fiction achieve in a culture that has itself surrendered to fiction? That is more comfortable with make-believe than with doing the tedious work of trying to figure out why things are the way they are? Americans are addicted to fun—it’s what makes the U.S. so charismatic, and so good at popular culture, and enviable in so many ways, but it’s at the heart of a breakdown in discourse and a disassociation from reality that has us, literally, making things up as we go along. Americans want to be fired up, engaged emotionally—they want to get teary-eyed, earnestly confess, make solemn avowals. Does our literature help us to dig deeper, does it peel away the lies we tell ourselves, or does it perpetuate the problem through a self-celebration and nostalgia that reinforce the myths we’ve created about ourselves?”

Watch the full panel here:

 

The conference title, “The Body Artist,” refers not specifically to DeLillo’s 2001 novel, but to DeLillo himself, an artist who has spent a career dramatizing personal encounters with impersonal systems, the human body facing the inhuman machine. The event will feature panels and presentations predominantly by literary artists, fiction writers thinking about this fiction writer’s work—what it is, what it has meant, and what it means now.

Panelists:
— Scott Cheshire, “Don DeLillo’s Gods: A Taxonomy”
— Tyler Malone, “‘You Have Not Convinced Me’: David Markson, Don DeLillo, and the Narcissism of Minor Difference”
— Fred Gardaphe, “Masquerade Americana: Don DeLillo’s ‘Italianitá’ in a Minor Key”
— Andrea Scrima: “(Re)reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times”

The conference will consider not only DeLillo’s themes—paranoia, global terrorism, underground conspiracies, consumerism, digital technology, media, gender, and race—but also his craft, humor, language, style, spirituality and Catholicism, Italian-American identity, and his representations of New York, the city in which the conference will take place.

The New School | http://newschool.edu

Location: The Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall
66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011
Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 9:00 am to 4:30 pm

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.

 

9781933132778

 

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 online at Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics: 

“Fragments, Shards and Visions” — on the Swiss poet Erika Burkart

Introductory essay by Marc Vincenz and interview with Ernst Halter, Burkart’s widower.

erika_burkart

The following prose by Erika Burkart is translated from the German by Andrea Scrima from Am Fenster, wo die Nacht einbricht. Erika Burkart, Aufzeichnungen, ed. Ernst Halter, Zürich: Limmat Verlag. 

Childhood / Ninepins and a Thunderstorm

Ninepins. They’re playing ninepins, said my father, as above us the sky’s protective vault shook with the muffled rumblings of thunder. Who dared to hold a game of ninepins in the House of Angels? They did, blithely unconcerned about turning the cathedral into a wooden heaven. Elfi, our waitress, said a wooden heaven was just a room full of drunken men.

The ninepin lane took up the northeast corner of the garden terrace: because of their finger holes, in which I saw eye sockets, the solid wooden balls reminded me of skulls as they rolled down a splintering, tree-length plank of fir. No one played on workdays; ninepins was a Sunday game. In the morning the bells rang out, in the afternoon the glasses clinked and the balls rolled. The men, made jolly by the beer, played with passion. They’d laid their dark Sunday vests, called smocks, on the backless wooden banks; they rolled up their white shirtsleeves. Starting in the meadow of the pub garden, their eyes fixed on the goal, they picked up speed before dropping to one knee and letting the ball leave their outstretched fist, letting it roll as they followed its course, still in a bent-over position. Rumbling, the ball shot down the lane; as the man stood up the pins fell down, nine of them, rapidly, one after another like dominos, or, if it was a champ shooting, all at the same time as the fellow wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

After the ball bounced back from the low earthen wall surrounding the platform the pins were positioned on, I helped Hans, the pin boy, to set them up again, which had to happen quickly. It was already the next player’s turn, and his dismissive gesture signaled for us to stand aside.

Nearly every Sunday, unnoticed in the heat of the play, a thunderstorm that had been brewing all afternoon in the southwest put an end to the game of ninepins. Literally bowled over by the rumbling balls, the boastful cries, the cursing and swearing when a ball swerved out of the lane and strayed off into the grass, they hadn’t heard the faraway rolling thunder. It was a stroke of lightning that brought an abrupt end to the match; in no time, the players were gone, scattered up the garden steps and into the pub. One lightning bolt followed another, and the pin boy and I crept beneath the steps. Our chins propped on our bare knees, we crouched in the cave and listened, keeping our heads down and ducking at the claps of thunder, which were now coming in shorter and shorter intervals. The lightning’s flare reached all the way into our dark cavern; there was no time left to count the seconds in between. Hans, poking his head out, said that the strokes of lightning would tear the world apart. I drew closer to his side and saw, momentarily blinded, fiery zigzag snakes shooting straight down from the sky. The rain hadn’t yet begun to fall. Then, a capital peal of thunder knocked us into a heap and released the flood, which then pelted onto the slab of concrete in front of our bunker. After a time, which dissolved into a rushing, timeless sound, there came the rattling of machine guns. The clamorous clattering echoes sounded like the rumbling wheels of a hay wagon driven by trolls over a bridge in Hell. — We’d left the pins where they were. Twenty steps away, they lay there every which way, felled, fallen ones staring with a frozen gaze into the flashes of lightning as the rain trickled into their gaping mouths.

No one had looked for us in the excitement. From one moment to the next, the host and hostess were faced with the task of finding room for twenty new men flushed from the match, all of them crowded around the door with their jackets tossed over their shoulders; tables were pushed into place and chairs moved as Elfi balanced the serving board above their heads. The pub was small; lightning flashed in each of its four windows. They knew the situation, and feared it. Squeezed into a corner of the stairwell, both curious and anxious, they had been watching the events that recurred every Sunday in fair weather.

Removed from the chaos, in the smell of damp mortar, Hans and I waited for the thunderstorm to end. The white of my Sunday shoes radiated marvelously against the fresh green of the dripping grass in the meadow, where a pale gleam shone from the long wet planks of the tables. Sparkling behind the clouds, it found its way through the rifts and into the empty pub garden and, in the bush-enclosed northeastern corner, to the fallen ones, which in this light were nothing more than ordinary, rain-drenched pins that bore a strange resemblance to the beer bottles that had been left behind on the tables: these, too, were childhood plunder, the way it crawls out of the box of tricks at night when the summer lightning flashes in the east to rehearse a scene from the ghost game of a life whose images are pieced together differently in each epoch. Bewildering end game. Blindly, we relinquish.

 

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Follow the link to issue 7–1 of Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics. Senior Editors: Andrea Scrima and Carole Viers-Andronico. Essay and interview begin on page 25 of the PDF, followed by a selection of Marc Vincenz’s translations of Burkart’s poems and my translations of the Aufzeichnungen, which begin on page 58.

Hyperion 7–1 (2013)

 

... from the moment I sat down and began the first text segment of A Lesser Day, which opens with a father dying and ends with the sounds of a distant television drifting down a hallway to the ears of a frightened child in bed, I was working strictly from my own memory. And the interesting thing was, the closer I adhered to what I remembered, the freer I felt to focus on the words themselves, their rhythms and repetitions. It enabled me to develop the book in a formal sense: with its fragmented narratives, recurrent leitmotifs, and negative spaces or gaps in the narrative that seem to resonate with the unarticulated.

 

3. this small sacrifice detail

 

… the closer I stuck to my own memory, the more “fictional” the writing became, while the further I delved into fiction, the more revealing and autobiographical it seemed.

 

Read the interview on the blog “Things I’d Rather Be Doing”:

http://tirbd.com/2010/06/andrea-scrima-the-monday-interview/

Interview with Rainer J. Hanshe, founder of Contra Mundum Press

Contra Mundum Press, founded in New York in late 2011, is an unusual new press with a distinctive list of publications to date. It debuted with a new translation by Stuart Kendall of the ancient epic Gilgamesh, which unites recent scholarship and a spare poetic sensibility to capture the consciousness of the archaic mind in the early days of our civilization. Thereafter, in rapid succession, CMP went on to publish six more books, including Self-Shadowing Prey, one of the last works written by Romanian Surrealist poet Ghérasim Luca, a stunning linguistic achievement that, as Gilles Deleuze wrote, “makes stuttering an affect of language and not an affectation of speech.” Committed to publishing challenging and innovative writing, including texts that have either never been translated into English or have long since gone out of print, CMP defines itself as “dedicated to the value and the indispensable importance of the individual voice.” CMP champions innovative fiction, drama, poetry, philosophy, essays, and writings on the visual arts and cinema. Forthcoming this fall is the world premiere of Pessoa’s Philosophical Essays and the first English publication of director Elio Petri’s Writings on Cinema. In keeping with its international perspective on exceptional literature, CMP’s aspiration is to eventually publish books in languages other than English, and its founder, novelist Rainer J. Hanshe, has relocated to Berlin to facilitate this aim.

“A press’s survival is contingent upon the practical necessity of having current readers, and we certainly want a devoted readership for our books, which is more valuable than what is commonly understood by ‘success.’ What we have here is a certain absolutely vital force … Like any other craftsman, though, a writer should be able to survive and live from his or her work, especially if they are entirely devoted to it. Yet writing, as most art, is considered to be essentially superfluous. Who is an artist before a surgeon? Or a scientist? But the fact that tyrants and political forces of every age have been threatened by art again and again, condemned it as degenerate or poisonous, and have silenced, brutalized, or murdered artists because of their work only serves to illustrate how significant art is, that it is our one greatest power. I would even go so far as to say that the tyrant ‘understands’ art more than the devotee, for the latter is generally too ‘pious’ and adoring, almost like a simple-minded believer overwrought by faith who simply loves and finds everything ‘great,’ whereas the former suffers the transformative threat of art more, is even endangered by it, hence their terror. It is the Platonic fear of art’s power over the ‘soul.’ And the fear of the destruction of the polis, but destruction only leads to new creations. Art is the life force, the vital breath that sustains us in the midst of our most excruciating trials.”

 

Now online at The Brooklyn Rail:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2012/12/books/against-a-narcotic-culture-whose-primary-desire-is-stupefactionandrea-scrima-talks-to-rainer-j-hanshe-founder-of-contra-mundum-press

CMP Pessoa cover

Visit Contra Mundum’s website: http://contramundum.net/