mandag den 15. december 2008

Henrik Have is my angel

At some random party, I think it was last winter, Mathias Kokholm of the small press Afterhand had briefly told my about an unknown young woman, who had sent him amanuscript. This woman had stumbled upon a vintage Afterhand book and consequently fallen in love with the publishing house. This was the only thing I knew about Naja Vucina Pedersen (b. 1974) when I began reading her book Of the war (in Danish: Krigens). Some might say that it's normal not to know anything about the author, who's book you're reading, but the way Vucina was writing took part in a conversation, that I really don't share with anyone but my closest friends. It was unbelievable to me, the way that Of the war forced its way out of a nowhere, talking fearlessly about the world and emcompassing a violent level of ambition, that I recognized and admired in other writers like for instance Gertrud Stein (who, it shows , Vucina hasn't read: "I'm afraid of her, but I think I'm getting ready to read her" she says).
Of the war is one of most noticeable debuts of the year. In spite of a graveness that runs through the entire novel, it it also drenched in an euphoria that rises from the intense linguistic work, which often slides into areas of comical statements. On this blog she talks about her editor Henrik Have and working on Of the war.

What literary inspirations did you draw on while writing Of the war? And who and what inspires you now?
I wanted to go somewhere where you turned your back on reality, where you find the entire world in a detail and let that detail be exhaustive. I got that experience from reading Lautremonts The Songs of Maldoror. It’s absolute, brutal, passionate and honest. Michel Foucault helped me on track and gave me some tools on how to read texts as movements, you are experiencing before understanding them.
I'm not inspired right now. But I’m reading a book by a French historian, Alain Corbin, it’s called The Village of Cannibals – Rage and murder in France, 1870. I also bend my mind around Theophanis Melas’ conundrums.

How long did it take you to write Of the war?
My sense of time is not very developed, but I believe I began in 2006.

What was it like to be published by Afterhand?
Henrik Have [the editor in chief at Afterhand, ed.] is my angel. I bow to him. He was my mentor long before I knew who he was. He reads with the heart, immediate and pure. And he doesn’t care about names, titles and tendencies. Mathias Kokholm [editor and driving force at Afterhand, ed.] is very sympathetic, down to earth and stripped of arrogance. If it wasn’t for Afterhand, I wouldn’t be justified to talk to you about this, seeing that Of the war probably would not have been published.

What are your thoughts on using short and silly contributing comments in your writing?
It can stress the seriousness of the subject or just be annoying. I did not strive to be silly and I didn’t want to write light, easy texts, but some of the scenes and monologues are pushed to a place where it simply is to much and therefore maybe comical.

I perceive Of the war, among other things, as a book that is written with a strong awareness of music. While working on Of the war, did you have any thoughts on rhythm, sounds, assonance and so on?
I’m glad that you perceive Of the war as musical. Music sharpens my ability to receive things, and it was an important opening, when I wrote Of the war. A word can be a physical experience, that moves, colors, excludes and destroys – especially if the plot of the book is somewhat distant, so it doesn’t dictate and limits the experience.
You can tune in on a musical quality by words. And it can be a pleasant escape from all those words that normally surround us, who wants us to understand things in a certain way within certain limits.
I am tired of reading books, who's ambitions is to frame the truth about the world – either if it’s about a personal experience or for instance love, sickness, death or books that want to tell what the reality was like in the Middle Ages. And I am tired of reading reviews that measure the value of a literary text by its level of truth: How much of you is poured into what you write? How close to the truth it is? I like literature that brings me to a place I didn’t now I could go to, a place where I loose my analytical grip.

Who is speaking in Of the war?
I am.

What do you want to write next time?
Something that hurts and leaves the reader speechless.

Are you going home for Christmas?
It's not that far. I celebrate Christmas with the part of my family that lives in Copenhagen.

This small interview with Naja Vucina Pedersen is part of a series of short portraits. I'm doing them for the rest of 2010, approximately one every week. This interview is the first one with an English translation. For Danish interviews with young writer Cecilie Lind and journalist Anders Haahr Rasmussen go here and here.