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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Susan Smith Nash and her stories in the 2009 Big Bridge

[This is a part of a series of interviews of fiction writers who appeared in the last Big Bridge (2009), many of whom are among my favorite fictionistas, and several are close friends. In the name of full disclosure, I do have two stories among them. My motivation in doing this series is to learn more about some stories and writers I admire, and to promote Big Bridge which, along with Jacket and Madhatter's Review, is one of the few web journals that is exploring the possibilities opened by the internet rather than simply transferring print practices to the web.]

"Crystal Skulls"

Where did you come up with a name like Tinguely Querer?

That’s a great question. It’s a blend, based primarily on the Swiss kinetic artist, Jean Tinguely, who built moving sculptures and installations – “nonsense machines” -- often designed to self-destruct.

One of my favorites is his “Tinguelybrunnen” (fountain) in Basel, Switzerland. The moving parts spray water in all directions in a random way. Other parts of the fountain illustrate fruitless efforts (a shoveling machine that shovels nothing / nothingness).

I like the idea of giving the character the name “Tinguely” to resonate with levels of empty action, and also the self-aware self-destruction (or even self-aware deconstruction) of one’s own cognitive processes as one observes and perceives the world around one.

Querer is Spanish for “to love, to desire.” I like the idea that love and/or desire is subverted if one thinks back to Tinguely’s core essence. Also, I like the notion that if one reads “Querer” quickly, one is likely to see “Queer.” The “queer” gaze deconstructs the conventional in society, and undermines the authority structures we are not supposed to question.

I find it interesting that you chose to have the skulls stolen from the British Museum, given Britain's colonial past. You also bring up the Mayans. In what ways is this story exploring the significance and implications of colonialism?

In the story, Tinguely’s identity has been stolen, and she has to steal it back. That parallels the Mayans’ own history – their identity was stolen and partially placed in the British Museum. In essence, they had to steal their identity back. Yet, instead of being a formative, unifying experience, the action of getting one’s identity back makes one even more aware of the self-destruct button in our consciousness – one that finds expression in Jean Tinguely’s machines, and in the Mayan prophecies of the end of the world in 2012.

The skulls stolen from the British Museum turned out to be fake, which problematizes the entire issue of identity – Mayan identity – and the integrity of the predictions of apocalypse in 2012. Are our apocalyptic narratives constructed from fake or faked texts? If so, the issues brought to the surface are quite interesting. If our ancient texts are fakes produced in the 19th and 20th centuries, then what we think we know about the past is, in reality, an extension of modernity and the modernist teleology, such as it is.

What are you establishing as the relationship between memory and "branding"?

Branding can be an attempt to recreate oneself in a permanent manner. Consumer products are perceived as the most meaningful markers in a world where one’s experience of life, and one’s very consciousness are tied to commercial products. The way to assure one’s immortality (at least in the sense that people remember you) is to create a durable brand of yourself.

But, the issues become more complicated “between brands” – identity is in flux. The issue is that of erasure – and often deliberate self-erasure in order to re-create oneself. It sounds easy in theory, but in reality, it is not.

Anything else that you would like to add?

Just that I enjoyed the idea of building identity and then deliberately dismantling it, or effacing it by subjecting it to the attendance of a useless (but very busy) machine.


This story alternates narriticules relating self-mutilation with narriticules about technology and love. Do you see a relationship between masochism, or something like it, and technology? between masochism and love?

In each case, people are seeking some sort of truth about the human condition. Whether there is, ultimately, any kind of “truth” is not really settled. There are definitely certain “truths” or, perhaps better said, “realities” – but the truths and realities are multiple, and they are all equally valid. The possibility that all are equally invalid is also a possibility. The “narriticules” ( I love the term!)

I do see a relationship between technology and love. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that technology makes love possible. Human behavior alone is just not enough. It’s necessary to have a neutral intermediary – a bridge, so to speak – to bring together two human beings whose own human natures are so perverse that they inevitably and invariably equate self-torture with love. Big emotions require big pain (or pleasure), I suppose. Left to us, we mess things up.

So, in terms of the narrative itself, it fascinates me to see the kind of technologies that facilitate the coming together of two things. The whip used by the flagellant is definitely a technology – but, it’s something that unites body and soul (in an uncomfortable way), but it does not necessarily unite individuals.

GPS and communication technologies most definitely can unite people, although the technology itself becomes the object of love. .

Big Big Sky

This one does not seem to be a Tinguely Querer story. How do you determine which stories work in that context?

I like the idea of doing stories that explore the intrusive thoughts that come to one, and to put it in an autobiographical form, even though the story is not autobiographical.

You again juxtapose technology with nature: antelope with windfarm, songbird with car, birds with farm implements, running track, and i-pod. The juxtapositions are interesting because they are not necessarily absolute. The birds, for instance, make a home of the farm equipment.

That’s a great observation about the juxtapositions and the fact that they are not absolutely. I love the idea of putting together unexpected items – not to necessarily draw meaning or to create a metaphor, but to introduce possibilities.

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