Literature (and Curling) is Not Meaningless: A Conversation between Derek Maine & Grant Maierhofer on The Compleat LungfishBy Derek Maine
April 09, 2022
Derek Maine: I’m writing from the train. I am taking the train up to DC, from North Carolina where I live, with my eight-year-old daughter. I am taking her to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I like reading & writing on a train. I like watching the landscapes pass by, some slow, others more quickly, and I like seeing my daughter with her headphones on, watching her shows while I read and write. Both of us together, but also consciously connected to our entertainments – – – our own distractions. I think about the connection of our lonely consciousnesses a lot, and something of your work stirs me toward these thoughts every time. There’s a line in Gass’s The Tunnel where our despicable narrator says something about his literature being a container for his consciousness. Do you feel any connection to this in your own work? Are you intentional about representing something of the experience of living in your literature? Where do you think these urges come from? Sometimes I worry that I don’t exist without a record of it and creating literature is leaving clues, for someone further along, at some distant, inconceivable date, to decipher, and that my reading is deciphering those clues left for me. Your work gives me a sense of trying to come to terms with having to exist. Peripatet (Inside the Castle, 2019) seemed to me to answer at least some of these questions of how to endure by pointing to literature, art, film, and entertainments generally – – – both the consumption and creation as salvation. I feel a subtle shift with The Compleat Lungfish (Apocalypse Party, 2022), where something more primal (or base, I guess, in Bataille language) is perhaps more than simply a drive to endure but there may actually be a construct of meaning to be found within it, satisfactory enough to contain the possibility of enjoying the struggle (and yet further along the philosophical track than tricking ourselves into imagining Sisyphus happy). Do these two constructs for enduring build off each other, or exist separately, or do you think you have experienced a shift in your thinking?
My questions might all be like this. And I want you to feel comfortable ignoring every aspect of my bullshit and talking about whatever you would like to talk about, for as little or as long as you like, if you do not connect in any way to my babbling. There exists, I think, these beautiful moments (almost like sparks, and just as fleeting, bright, & explosive – charged with an energy we cannot bottle or contain) where two consciousnesses are in synch, where one idea flows to the next and our thoughts are like radio waves floating through the air on a journey to locate that other consciousness and create that spark. You use repetition in this work (and across your works) and nod to it, sometimes in a self-deprecating way. I love it. There is one image in particular of the narrator in a bathtub, in Chicago I think, reading Bolaño or Exley (or both). It shows up in both Peripatet and The Compleat Lungfish. When I read about this moment in time, I feel less alone. I feel like I was there, with the narrator, because I was once, and because the moment that I was there I felt lonely, and then reading your description of the moment, a personal, private moment, I feel less alone as a reader. I think great literature can do that for the reader, but what about for the other end of that exchange – does a connection with the reader complete a work for you or is a reader incidental (or a burden). Do you think of a reader when you are working? How so or why not?
I promise this whole exchange won’t be like this. I am like this today. I don’t know why. I get older, though, and I let it happen however it happens.
Grant Maierhofer: Thank you for this. One of the things I miss most about living in Chicago is the trains. I used to think I read more because I have just kind of gotten dumber with time, and probably there’s some truth to that, but part of it too was living in Chicago and having that guaranteed thirty or so minutes between locations. I hope to take more Amtrak trips in time because I do feel there’s something really literary about that kind of travel–Mathias Enard’s Zone is probably my favorite illustrations of this, though there’s that Evenson story–I think it’s called Munich but that doesn’t seem right, it’s more fucked up than Zone–that I think’s in Altmann’s Tongue.
I do tend to think of writing in terms of containing consciousnesses, though it’s probably less direct than it was when I was starting out. I started writing because of this feeling of a kind of overflow when I was in rehab in my mid-to-late teens. I liked and still have fondness for AA and NA, and I’ve had very positive experiences with therapy, and medication, and being in treatment. When I was in there, though, the second time, it became clear that there were thoughts I was thinking, and feelings I was having, that wouldn’t be addressed in meetings. Maybe this isn’t exactly correct, but it’s how I felt. I started to think about writing, and music, and art more generally, as things that could address the discomfort, and ugliness, and anger and just directionless energy, and I think if nothing else time has proven this to be true, for me.
I also, and I don’t know why this is, but I also hated the notion of dying without leaving something behind. I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation since I was seven or so, when I was put into an outpatient program for a kind of generalized misery my family and teachers were concerned about. The flipside I guess, of thinking often about killing yourself, is an amplified sense that you might soon die, and with that there was a panic that I hadn’t done anything to leave a mark, and writing, and art came in as a possible solution to this problem.
Part of the trouble with thinking like this, though, and arriving at writing because of personal emotional and mental health concerns, is that I’m operating from that space first and foremost rather than one of simply loving literature. Because of that I enjoy Gass’ estimation and writing in Gass’ vein because although it was probably split down the middle for Gass between motivation via aesthetics and motivation via frustration and emotion, whereas for me it’s probably closer to 20/80. Books as containers, then, of documents of recording, of experiential things, tend to appeal to me far more than novels or memoirs or collections that succeed really well at being great novels, great memoirs, or great collections. An actual container of consciousness looks far more like Daniel Aaron’s Commonplace Book than it does A Little Life. I can appreciate the latter but I’m always going to get far more from the former.