This blog has moved to Please make a note, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Interview with Kyle Muntz, author of the novel VOICES (Enigmatic Ink)

1. Since you are a new writer, how about beginning with your biography. Was your family artistic or literary? What has your education (formal and informal) been like?

When I think back, I’m not sure how I came to be a writer—or at least, one who works with experimental fiction. I don’t come from an artistically inclined family (my grandfather was a painter, but that’s about it), but I’ve read for as long as I can remember, though I don’t know exactly when I began to write. I was exposed to Joyce at a very young age (and soon after, some of my other initial influences, such as Pynchon, Barthelme, Barth, etc), which really affected the direction my writing took later.

I’m in my second year of college right now, so I still have relatively little formal literary education. Voices was written when I was a junior in high school, and was largely influenced by the writings of Roland Barthes, Lacan, and Sartre, despite my avoidance of existential and poststructuralist vocabulary in the novel itself. I can’t be sure of my stylistic influences at the time, but looking back, I detect strains of Haruki Murakami, Samuel Delany, Borges, and Pynchon as well, who continue to be some of my favorite authors today.

2. If you were asked to describe Voices in a few paragraphs, what would you say?

Voices is a strange (and hopefully, unique) exploration of narrative structure/form that touches on, among other things, the relationship between the Novel and the Idea, manifest in various forms of experience. When describing it, I prefer to avoid descriptions of the plot, so I generally address the concepts themselves: the stipulations, limitations and context of selfhood; the position of the individual in reference to society, in particular, the artist, and the extent to which we are semantic extensions—fabrications—of that context; and also, oddly enough, a very modern take on the Platonic Idea in reference to gender perception and the semiotic “mythologies” (as Barthes would put it) that comprise subjective experience and form our—only—notion of the world around us. In Voices, to the greatest extent possible, the external is a reflection of the internal, rather than the other way around—but if the components of individuality are solely “a distorted mirror of the external,” what is left of selfhood? Much of the novel is an indirect exploration of this concept, and an (equally indirect) attempt to answer some of the questions that ensue.

That said, it isn’t an excessively dialectic novel, but simply an attempt to harness language, form, and concept to create something as beautiful as possible. There’s a very serious difference between discourse and the object of discourse (or, in this case, the predication of discourse in motion), and Voices is made up primarily of the latter. The main emphasis is on the contours of language and feeling; its philosophical (and even structural) underpinnings serve largely to facilitate the formation of the text, rather than dictating the manner in which it is read.

3. How does the title of the book relate to the book itself?

The notion of voices—or simply “voice”—is built into various levels of the novel as a symbol, narrative device, and also stylistic preoccupation. Voice assumes its immediate symbolic context as the expression of individual identity, stipulating presence and expression, but also comes to represent society itself (a conglomerate of many voices), and even the echoes of the past—that, heard together, form a monotony entirely without speech. At one point early on, the narrative becomes a conduit for various disembodied voices, describing one of the central characters (who, herself, represents something akin to Platonic beauty, in a psychological, as opposed to traditionally metaphysical context) from various conflicting perspectives. The text itself is composed entirely of voice; arguably (at the time, I agreed with Lacan, though now I’m not so sure), even thought is composed entirely of semantic units (language), of which spoken voice and written speech are a derivative, and that gets touched on in the novel as well.

4. [If you go to page 4, which is excerpted on the Amazon page for the book, you will see the use of poetic space and line breaks about halfway down on the left. Muntz throughout the book uses such poetic devices to present his characters' thoughts. Most of the time, the poetic interventions are much more extreme.] What do the poetic forms allow you to do that straight prose does not?

In Voices, my primary stylistic aim was that the narrative itself be “broken,” but not disharmonious. The disparate placing of words across the page draws attention to the individual delineations of each sentence, the contour of each phrase. Yet the writing itself still feels distinctly like prose, with a focus on narrative exposition. Despite the line-breaks permeating the text, the paragraph is still its foundation, even when each is broken into many pieces, or concrete shapes, and stretched over multiple pages. The overall effect is something I’ve started to call “narrative cubism,” implemented on the level of the individual sentence as well as the overarching narrative. Initially, it served as a means of differentiating Voices even from other experimental pieces (though similar things have been done by Federman, Gass, and doubtlessly many other authors I’m not aware of), but rarely so fixated upon modulating the singular unit of the paragraph.

5. I hesitate to call your narrator "first person." How would you describe him?

The narrator does, indeed, speak in first person, but the presence behind the voice—the terminal subject—is strangely absent, to the point it seems the narrator has become only voice. The notion of the simulacrum (a copy that has become detached from its original, so much it might have no original at all) is especially evident here. Because of his inability to escape what Sartre calls “Bad Faith,” the submission of self to societal identity, prior even to the beginning of the story, the narrator’s persona has actually been divided into two separate entities. Even then, of course, the separation can’t possibly be complete: as long as one exists within the context of an external environment, they are subject to that environment, but this attitude is evidenced in his almost completely unrestrained behavior and disregard of social norms. One of the most enigmatic things about Voices is the narrator himself, but this is largely because he doesn’t understand either.

6. In many places, particularly early in the novel, you have your narrator write "I am hearing voices." How is this comment related to the structural concerns of your novel? Without giving the book away, how would you describe the wider structural concerns of the book?

In Voices, symbols have a tendency to become physical objects. When the narrator says “I am hearing voices,” he is referring, literarily, to the symbolic hierarchy I mentioned in question 3: the individual, their society, and the past, attempting to be “heard” in the present, but, altogether, muffling themselves. At one point (in one of the character’s basement, where no one would hear them), the voices literally take shape, to form a frail “shadow creature” that, after standing for a moment, collapses to the ground and dissipates. More than anything, this illustrates the position of the individual voice in our commercialized society—particularly that of the artist. Eventually, this becomes so prominent that when the narrator himself speaks, no one can hear him, simply because he is an artist.

The entire structure of Voices is a simulacrum, whose very reality (not to mention its individual components, down to the “self” so essential to the narrator) has become uncertain. The setting is both mental and physical—not to be confused with traditional philosophical idealism, because the mental contours here are primarily psychological and sociological—and therefore neither. The narrative has been taken apart and put back together. The different sections are usually out of order, but on occasion, one event will transition continuously from one to the next. At such a late stage of digression, the most one can do is outline its parameters, rather than isolate any singular cause—especially when, now, that cause has been obscured, and has taken so many disparate forms.

7. Your prose is often quite lush and rich. Could you discuss why you chose this writing style?

I’ve always had a notion of the literary text as an aesthetic object, and I try to incorporate that to the greatest extent possible in my writing. My work never pretends to duplicate film or other physical-oriented media, but focuses principally on the strengths of language itself: the expression of gradations of perception and feeling, emphasizing conceptual depth and exploration. Descriptions are primarily subjective, rather than objective; in fact, often the exposition is concerned solely with mental reality, utilizing associative logic, though rarely verging onto true stream-of-consciousness. The text is sometimes difficult, but rarely opaque—I’m not interested in using technique to abolish narrative, but, to the greatest extent possible, enhance it. When writing, I try to work at the level of the individual sentence: if one sentence doesn’t work, then neither does the paragraph. If the language is faulty, then the text (that is, we must remind ourselves, composed entirely of language) doesn’t work either. The aim, though, is simple: beauty. That beauty is sometimes complex, sometimes obscure, even cerebral, but always anchored in fundamental experience, even if the only experience is the experience of beauty.