Henning Koch: The TNB
By Henning Koch
May 29, 2010
What an unnerving experience to interview oneself. It confirms my suspicion that people don’t really know who they are. Do you agree with this?
Well, hmm… yes I do agree with me on this point. In practice there is all the difference in the world between the public noises we make and the inner world we have to live in. I would describe the world as a ‘non-linear’ place. Hence my enjoyment of surrealist poetry and Rimbaud – these people end up saying important things precisely because they are not trying to make sense.
So not making sense is good, then?
No, it’s 2010 and the human race is balancing on the edge of survival. We can’t just throw in the towel and accept that life has no meaning. That was why we invented myth and stories in the first place – to give some shape and order to experience. And so I also read a lot of good old narrative prose. Abstraction for its own sake is not my thing. When I squeeze a book I like to feel a bit of juice coming out of it – oily, sassy juice.
After sitting in grubby rooms for twenty-five years writing a lot of disjointed words, printing them up and classifying them as ‘books’, what would you say about the whole craft of writing?
That’s what I call an easy, pocket-sized question! I think writing starts as a dream and then slowly turns into a bit of a monster. As you start finding your feet as a writer you often lose yourself in a worldly or practical sense. I would say the main struggle for anyone seeking to live a creative, writing sort-of-life is to stay on the ground. Writing full-time leaches all the goodness out of your body and may turn you into a desert unless you learn to draw sustenance from somewhere. My tip for arid writers out there is take a glass of cranberry juice every morning.
How important are sites such as TNB for writers?
Very important. W.B. Yeats once wrote “he who thinks a lasting song/ thinks in a marrow bone” and that just about sums it up. If you are obsessed enough to choose to spend years and years unravelling that crazy ball of string known as “the imagination”, you need to take every opportunity to get out of your bedroom – even virtually.
What do you write? Where does it come from?
I tend to write a kind of fiction that consists of many words strung together and clarified by the use of punctuation and grammar. Inspiration usually comes to me as a crazy notion of something I’d like to see or do. My fictional characters often introduce themselves to me in my dreams; they come to me and tell me who they are, and I am only too glad to pass on their introductions.
When I was younger I used to confuse ideas with the notion of action. I’d tell my friends I was inventing a new kind of battery or going to Mongolia to work as a camel jockey. Later I realised such thoughts were ‘ideas’ better applied in a fictional world. This discovery helped me reconnect with a more manageable reality.
Why is your next book entitled “Love Doesn’t Work”? Do you not believe in love?
Yes I believe in love, it is one of the strongest forces in the world. I just don’t believe in so many of our ideas about it. Love isn’t the answer, love is the question. Did someone else say that? Either way, this seems to get closer to the truth than a bunch of roses on Valentine’s Day. As a culture we seem in love with idealism; but idealism is an easy fix and has a tendency to spill into cruelty.
The title of my book actually took its inspiration from the idea that life, and love, are subject to earthbound limitations. Humans are not gods and life is fairly short. There is an old adage that no one is more disappointed than a lapsed idealist. I admire many idealists but some of them strike me as idiotic. What we need are not wild ideas based on misconceptions. We need intelligent, reasonable aims backed up by intention. I am not rationalising here, I am observing. Okay?
Yeah, okay, but can you go back to the stories please!
At the time of writing them, I was interested in Catharism, a brand of Christianity that sprung up in the south of France at some point in the early Middle Ages. The Cathars were Dualists, and thus saw the world (that is, our planet) as a battleground between Good and Evil. All matter (including humans) was created by the Devil. The meaning of human existence was thus the difficult trick of rising above matter and becoming pure spirit. This was the starting point and inspiration for all the love stories in “Love Doesn’t Work”, and the reason for its subtitle “Fourteen Dualist Tales”.
Please do not conclude that my stories are full of crack-pot theology – they’re not.
What are your projects coming up, and what are you looking forward to?
Right now, while chewing my nails, I have to say I am looking forward to coming to America at the end of August 2010 for a series of readings from “Love Doesn’t Work”. Many of the stories deal with sex, and this also concerns me slightly. Will I be uncomfortable reading about “pubic in public”? Yes, to be frank with me, I think I will be. When you write a book all your personal thoughts are flung out like confetti. It’s unnerving. What if people write me off as a filthy-minded lecher with sex on the brain? My ego would reject this.
So when are these readings?
We haven’t got all the reading dates fixed yet, but I will be based in New York for most of September, and expect I’ll be reading here, there and everywhere. I will be posting details on my Facebook page – my publisher Dzanc Books will also provide details.
I have been really lucky to find Dzanc. When I left London in 2004 I had been working for a few years as a screenwriter and I was tired of it. I started writing prose as a personal experiment but Dzanc were like a breath of fresh air among all the dullards out there. Now I am just looking forward to working on new projects: I finished one novel last year and have started gearing up for the next one…
What are your aims?
To wake up in a sunny, quiet house on a hill and listen to the sound of millions of bees collecting nectar from the garden.
To be able to pay the gas bill without too much thought.
To know that I have written at least one decent book that means something.
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So… no one read this, then?
You know what? I didn’t -but I will now.
Must have been a busy posting day.
When I read about my ambition, “to pay the gas bill without too much thought” I congratulated myself on a really worthwhile aim. The aim is only realized while simultaneously listening to the bees, of course.
It’s the combination that counts.
Otherwise the Wall Street crowd would also hit the spot. They only get to pay their bills, but they don’t get the bees thrown in.
Just a thought…
I may have read this, but it was eight or nine months ago. I will read it now, though!
What’s weird is that self-interviews and fiction excerpts tend not to get a whole lot of comments, but I’m sure they’re read. TNB is weird that way. Poetry also doesn’t get a lot of comments.
It might be more useful to contributors if there was a visitor count down in the corner or something so that people didn’t feel like they were posting in a vacuum.
Not a bad idea, Gloria. I wonder if Brad is listening in – he’s like a God, that guy!
I suppose self-interviews are a bit self-referential, and personal.
Not so easy diving in, making a few personal remarks.
Same goes for poetry.
The gas bill line is pretty good. Also, I’m really glad that oily juice doesn’t come out of books. I would have to quit reading them in the bath – and consequently, I’d read fewer books!
Oily juice in the bath isn’t much of a problem. On the other hand, oily juice secreting from a book when you are on the train could be a threat to the health and safety of other passengers.
This oily juice thing has kind of gone to my head now. I regret mentioning it in the first place.
I tried wringing out a Mark Twain, without results. But there was plenty in Roberto Bolano. Oil is important, it makes things run more easily. Dust, on the other hand, slows down machinery and causes explosions.
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