The review of There is No Year in the Times compared your narrative device to the complexity of Bartleby the Scrivener–is Bartleby a work you’ve read/thought about/engaged with at any point in time? If so, how do you feel about it?
BLAKE BUTLER: I read it I believe in my 9th grade english lit class, which was run by this woman named Ms. Story, who was an alcoholic, and who would burst into tears talking about her alcoholic brother about once a week. She had these huge glasses and didn’t ever seem to look at us because all the kids in my class most of that year were into taking these pink star-shaped caffeine pills by the handful, then they would take turns holding each other up against the back wall of the classroom by the throat until they passed out and Ms. Story never stopped anybody. I learned more from watching that shit that I did anything we read, though I remember thinking Bartleby was funny. That year my final project was I turned in a blood-stained, stabbed up toga and said it was a relic from Julius Caesar. Ms. Story dug it.
Do you think poetry will become more widely read as narrative styles get more and more fragmented?
No. It might get less. I don’t think it being widely read is as important as being read in the right rooms at the right times. Maybe some disease will come that makes people want to look at paper instead of light, and that will probably finally be the end of us, and that is fine.
What’s your favorite pivotal line in a novel, the line after which everything changes (i.e. mine: MacTeague: And then the grind began…)
“I don’t think there is an answer.” McCarthy, Suttree
How involved were you with the visual design of your book?
The layout of the text on the page as it is was basically how I wrote the book: interrupting and transforming the space of the sentences between them as I went, to cause a kind of air to be trapped in between, and to kind of bridge a visual gap reflective of the structure of death. The photos were all taken by Justin Dodd, who my editor Cal Morgan and I gave some basic ideas of tone to, and then we picked ones that had that tone the most and I kind of put them in the places that seemed to work like skin between breathing. The light and dark strobing of the pages was Cal’s idea, and I then set up the points at which the dark and light of the movement across the pages should be set, which contains a definite structure about the nature of the machine of the language itself. There was a very definite skeleton and series of organs to the body of the book before I even started writing it, and so each action was meant to replicate the body of the machine as best it could. As in writing, you try to fuck the book up as least you can in response to how it fucks you up in coming on.
Why did you choose a family for the subject of There is No Year?
I didn’t think about it. They were just people, the way machines don’t know the cursor is waiting until you press Return. The subject of the book is more about light than it is people.
What is more daring–abstraction of form or subject?
Abstraction of self before you sit down, to the point that you cease to exist for certain moments. The rest just is an operative, an accident, or a kind of music, like through the veins when you are pissing. The more you can erase your face before you try to tell somebody something, the more it might be like blood instead of just a joke. The ideas of form and subject should not be as much abstracted as they should be barfed on or kicked in the teeth and let to whimper or steam all over the thing itself. People mostly can’t be the ones to do anything unless it’s food or fuck.
Your favorite innovation of the past 50 years?
Collars that shoot dogs in the face with water when they bark.
Do you think there’s any book that can be envisioned but not written (subject matter too real, narrative structure too complex)?
It depends on the reader. The reader’s ability to function in relation to what the book embodies is often just as much a function of how it is allowed to come on as what it has in its meat. So, if you wanted a book that when you opened it was just a mouth that ate you alive and gnawed your flesh into nothing and you ceased to exist thereafter, this couldn’t work, barring further object innovation, unless the reader is the kind that believes a sentence has teeth and can in fact chew through you in a non-metaphorical sense. Quickly this gets termed hyperbole or something akin, but really I believe that true space is created when it is said, the same way dreams work: the experience, when properly absorbed, has the same kind of air as walking around in a t-shirt in the world. There is no such thing as the unreal. There are simply those who can’t get their minds off of their own holes and tongues long enough to get jacked even harder than a human hand does.
What is a current problem you see in social development that you think the written word can solve?
Nothing. And action can’t either. And time can’t either. You sit and watch. The fabrication and eruption of the supposed unreal in the meat of the real is the only kind of weapon against what is going to happen, and that isn’t a social act; it is a kind of sewing, which takes place first in the hands, then in the head. It all simply depends on where you watch from, and where you have oriented your own particular scab in our tiny face of time.