The last two times someone has asked to interview you they gave up halfway through, yeah? What’s wrong with you? You think you can make it to the end of this one without doing whatever it is that caused that?


What is it about what you do daily that makes you cranky during the day all day? Is it in some way related to that sick pang that happens seemingly 40-80% of the time immediately after posting anything online? Is that guilt, or fear, or something else? Like why put so much thought into whether something should be shared or not shared, and where does that desire to immediately snuff it come from? Does everyone have that? It seems like everyone does not have that. Why not delete everything, or delete nothing, or not involve yourself at all?


Care to estimate the percentage of your life you’ve spent staring at a box? I know last night you were thinking something like “Why haven’t they invented 2D audio-video drugs yet, which then could be forced upon us through the machine?” though what makes you think they haven’t?


Read any good books lately?

I’m about 2/3rds of the way through The Recognitions now. I wish I’d read it 10 years ago like I meant to. I feel like I maybe should never read anything less than 500 pages again.


There you are. I knew you were paying attention.

I mean, I’m here. I’m always here. I think more than I should, I know. I feel weird about this. I don’t know how not to feel affected. It feels like the texture of some of what you were talking about above depends greatly on intention: do you believe this person believes that you believe them, or are they trying to get away with something? Trying to get away with something while pretending that you are not often seems like a corridor to bad art.





So why do anything?

It’s a fair question. I tend to often want to beat myself up for whatever gives me pleasure, especially when it is a solitary pursuit. I think that comes from always wanting more from myself, to feel that I am up against a puzzle that keeps shifting underneath me, and only in certain moments fits into a set up that seems clear, like coming out of a forest into a clearing all of a sudden, but then to go anywhere else you have to go back into the forest, and often it feels like you’ll never find another clearing, and so a lot of people tend to go back to the previous clearing to feel that again. Great metaphor, dickface. Anyway, to answer your question: I guess because there’s nothing else to do? And for me going in search of the clearing and finding those modes where the search makes time no longer exist because I am so caught up in the mechanics of negotiating the dark makes the moments of emergence more emergent, personally, and the moments of utter darkness that much more volatile. It’s the only world I have.


You didn’t say a lot last night.

I don’t tend to say a lot out of my mouth, at least in front of others. I’d rather watch and hold still, I guess unless I’ve been drinking.


Why so much typing, then, every day?

I guess I don’t feel like that’s me talking, at least when I’m working on a book or whatever. It’s also how I make my living. It’s what I’ve chosen. I’m really up against it. It’s hard to get out from underneath. I can be far too loyal to a tone, a practice. Almost to a fault. Or entirely to a fault. But faults sometimes are the nicest thing about a person. All those things they say in writing workshops that should be expelled for disrupting the dream, or that cause anomaly in the condition, those are often the greatest things.


How can you tell when something is true?

I don’t think you have to ask.


What do you wish you were doing right now instead of this?

I like laying on the floor. One line that has haunted me for as long as I’ve been doing this thing is in Infinite Jest: “I felt more solidly composed, now that I was horizontal. I was impossible to knock down.” Not that I wouldn’t like to be knocked down.


Do you think you will get to be what you want?

I always pretend I don’t know what that is or that I’m going there. That seems a safer mechanism than grandiosity or maintaining excess self assurance. I think part of self esteem is the ability to be silent, though here we are. I’ve been so lucky in so many ways and yet I often can’t stop myself from wanting more, from wanting there to be another level to the game so that the game does not end until someone pulls the plug on the machine. I should have maybe stayed in computer science, though I might by now have just become a virus writer, trying to destroy whatever thing I’ve ended up in the middle of. Maybe I wish I was a virus writer. But really I just spend all day on my ass. The nature of the want of metaphorical destruction comes from something like love, though that isn’t the right word, and I don’t ever want to know what the word actually is.


I’m going to go outside now, by which I mean I’m going to close this file and keep sitting here.


BLAKE BUTLER  edits the lit webblog HTMLGIANT and reports weekly on books and literature for Vice Magazine. His most recent works are the novel There is No Year and the nonfiction Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, both from Harper Perennial in 2012. He lives in Atlanta, GA.

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TNB Nonfiction features some of the web's best essays, excerpts of up-and-coming books, self-interviews, profiles, and humor from a wide range of authors. Past and future writers include Emily Rapp, Mira Bartók, Nick Flynn and Melissa Febos, among many others.  Our editorial team includes:  SETH FISCHER is the Nonfiction Editor. His work has appeared in Guernica, Joyland, Best Sex Writing, and elsewhere, and he was the first Sunday editor at The Rumpus. His nonfiction was selected as notable in The Best American Essays, and he has been awarded fellowships by Jentel, the Ucross Foundation, Lambda Literary, and elsewhere. He is also a developmental editor of nonfiction and fiction, and he teaches at Antioch University Los Angeles, UCLA-Extension, and Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

3 responses to “Blake Butler: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. jmblaine says:

    I’m one of
    the people
    who tried to
    Blake Butler
    & was told
    Blake’s kinda

    right now.

    However, whatever,
    this is easily one
    of the sharpest self-interviews
    we’ve ever had on TNB.

  2. […] Butler, editor of HTMLGIANT, asks, why do anything: I tend to often want to beat myself up for whatever gives me pleasure, especially when it is a […]

  3. I’m capable of seeing my computer as nothing more than a panel to assist clinical depression, but then I come across a text like this that is alive and twisting out there.

    Thank you, Blake, for involving yourself. This is why we have self-interviews.

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