Dylan Kinnett is a nice guy who can blow your mind and drop a catchphrase (and then you will hear Roger Daltrey’s scream “YEAH!”, but that’s apocryphal). He’s a kind of guy you call professional – in the best way possible. He can do stuff the way you could never imagine. And it will be so good on so many levels that you will read it and reread it and reread many, many times. You can read his stuff in many places and he can help you to find some interesting stuff with his lit-blog round up.
He’s the editor of an incredible Journal of Experimental Literature, Infinity’s Kitchen. You can Google the rest.
My talk with him was long and winding – it took more than a year to finish it. Mostly because you can’t just sit and talk it through – you need to make it new – and oh lord we did it. I feel proud of this interview, because it so self-aware – in wrestling terms it may be called a “shoot”. Consider this a shoot interview.
Part 1. Warm-up
Few days ago.
Volodymyr Bilyk: It’s fun to make interviews! Kinda like boxing match – you prepare yourself and then you let it roll and it snows. What do you think about it?
Dylan Kinnett: I’m having trouble tying the laces on my right glove because I’m already wearing a glove on my left hand. How the hell do these things work!
VB: Third arm helps.
VB: All right! All right! Use the force.
(awkward pause. again.)
VB: Let’s start. What do you think about overall practice of writers giving interviews? Is it necessary? Or is it something like a modern kind of vanity?
DK: There’s a viscous rumor out there that art can be self-explanatory. I’ve never noticed that to be true.
VB: You think interviews are superfluous?
DK: They can be superfluous, but only if you know the person being interviewed.
VB: Can they be superfluous for the readers understanding of the artists work?
DK: Not if the questions are new ones. Or the answers. (laughs)
VB: Yeah. For me interviews are double-sided wraiths. From one point of view – interviews can be a valuable source of thought-food. But from the other – interviews show the most unnatural kind of expressing thoughts – it is always feels like a con-game. What do you think about it?
DK: I hope that our readers will find this to be thought-food, but if they meet the other side of the wraith, maybe they’ll let us know about it?
VB: I hope so. Also – what do you think about the common problem of interviews being formulaic and obligatory? Are there any explanations for this phenomenon?
DK: First dates can be formulaic sometimes, although no part of them ought to feel obligatory. Is that a reason not to go on one? No, it’s a reason to go on an interesting one.
VB: What if an interview is interesting for the wrong reasons?
DK: When it comes to ideas, are there any wrong reasons for something to be interesting? Curiosity knows no bounds!
VB: Right! Is it something like irresistible force that meets immovable object situation? What do you think about it?
DK: I guess in this case curiosity would be the irresistible force. Boring things are the immovable object. Blast what’s boring with enough curiosity, and who knows what might happen to the object?
VB: There’s a thing that bugs me the most. Why do the majority of interviews consist of talking about something in particular? New book, career, tour, stuff, problematic bullshit and so on. How is it that pointless rambling is so unpopular in the age of clickbaits and listicles? It can be an entire new artistic form – semi-imrovised tour-de-force. What is your opinion?
VB: What kind of power it is?
DK: I assume that all the boring fine print is there because the law requires it to be there. I assume those laws were made out of some desire to ensure that the truth would be available. Those truths, whatever they are, get buried in jargon, bad writing, and boredom. I assume this is an attempt to keep the reader away from the truth. Read anyway. Take the truth. That’s power.
VB: Ok. Let’s move on.
Part 2: Gas
A long time ago.
VB: Let’s start all over again with a little Paris Review stuff. Can you describe – step by step – your more or less ordinary writing session?
DK: Yes i could do that. i prefer to be mostly horizontal on my couch, looking out my window, listening to music without lyrics. i use a laptop to write, nearly always. i’m particular about my software setup, too. i rarely write anything once. i revise a lot. i keep everything, every draft.
VB: What is your software of choice?
DK: I prefer to use a text editor ordinarily used for coding. It’s a simple black screen with words on it. No distractions. There are some features for saving, searching, and moving files around, but mostly when I’m writing I just want the text, uninterrupted. Sometimes I even disable the delete key for a while. i have notes on the way i have my software setup, if that’s of interest.
VB: How do you assemble your notes? Do you apply any system – for example this is for character, this is just a reminder, this might be useful?
DK: I’m not as well organized with my notes as I am with the writings themselves, but I do try to keep a text file for a “to do” list, and another for general notes. Those are useful to me in case I need to put a project down for a while. When I come back to it, the notes help me to get back to work quickly.
VB: Have you ever tried to use sound recording to capture the thought flow? What do you think about such practice?
DK: I have often said that I would love to write by speaking. Sometimes I even brag a little that my “writing voice” and my “talking voice” are really the same. To be honest though, this is a hypo thesis I have not yet tested.
VB: Have you ever considered constructing a whole new piece out of your notes? Or you just attach them to the planned piece?
DK: Yes. Once, I wrote a play. I didn’t like it, but there were some things in the notes that turned out to be a better idea, so I wrote that, too.
VB: So you had an incredible journey through the notes? Tell me more about that.
DK: I had spent several weeks thinking of what I wanted the structure of the play to be, the pacing of it, and so on. Once I had that in mind, I outlined a few different stories that could fit within that structure. I chose a favorite, and wrote it, but it wasn’t until much later, that I realized I had chosen the wrong one.
If it hadn’t been for my unusually detailed notes for that project, I suppose I would have lost the idea. I’m glad I didn’t, because the second play was taken up by a theater and performed on the stage!
VB: Was it “Party Planet”?
DK: Yes! Party Planet evolved from a previous work called “Space Age Bachelor Pad”.
I used a similar process to write a new play recently called “The Piece of Real Estate at the top of the Tallest Building on Earth”. Most of my plays are short, ten-minute plays. I enjoy writing those.
VB: Ok. Can you tell me about the differences between Space Age Bachelor Pad and Party Planet and the way one evolved into another?
DK: Space Age Bachelor Pad was the one whose notes I used to write Party Planet. Space Age Bachelor Pad is more complex, too much so. Party Planet is direct, full of action. Space Age Bachelor Pad was my second attempt at writing a play, so perhaps the third time is the charm?
VB: Certainly. Is it correct to say that you used the world of Space Age Bachelor Pad to set Party Planet?
DK: maybe so. I don’t tend to think in terms of a fictional world per se, but the tone and mood are very similar.
VB: Would you like to fix or remake Space Age Bachelor Pad in future? What do you think about overall practice of getting back and making thing right?
DK: I would like to see it performed someday, but it is very visual, with a full set, and requires sound design and choreography. I’m just a writer.
VB: Have you ever experienced such thing as getting back to the piece you’ve once considered to be a failure only to find that its flaws now have turned into virtues over time?
DK: I’ve never gone back to some failed work to find it worthwhile over time, but I have found pieces that were worth keeping. I keep everything I write. I recycle frequently.
VB: ok. Let’s get back to “The Piece of Real Estate at the top of the Tallest Building on Earth” – tell me about it.
DK: well, like Party Planet, it’s a cynical comedy about a futile situation. the characters are in a corporation of some sort and they’ve been tasked with purchasing the topmost real estate. but that keeps changing. new, taller buildings are constructed every few minutes, so there’s a crescendo. or maybe, a gathering cacophony.
VB: And then there’s no space at all? Is there a part where the heroes deal with lack of space?
DK: Well, not so much a lack of space, but the space gets filled up, with sound. Lots and lots of voices. Too many of them. I’m sensitive to that, so I write about it sometimes. I like to try to make an audience hear the world the way I do.
VB: What is your way of hearing the world?
DK: When I was born I was essentially deaf because my eardrums were blocked. I think that while my brain was getting wired up it was preparing itself for a silent world. Then, when the blockages were removed, the sound came flooding in — and that’s the way I hear the world, all at once. It is difficult for me to tell the different sounds from each other.
VB: Let’s get back to the play. What happens then? The air runs out?
DK: In a sense, yes.
VB: And then Deus ex machina?
DK: No in this one. This on just stops. Maybe the audience will get the sense that the work goes on forever.
VB: What do you think about reversing the mechanics of the play – making it a showcase of narrative tricks instead of characters?
DK: That might help the play. The characters aren’t very real, anyway. They’re just types.
VB: What style of dialogue you’ve used in the play? Your description made me think it’s Mamet-speak. Am i right?
DK: I showed it to a director here in Baltimore. She described it as “funny, staccato, and Mammetesque”.
VB: Do you agree with it?
DK: I suppose I do agree with it.
VB: What are your main sources of inspirations and influences behind the way you write dialogues?
DK: One of the very first books I ever read about writing was called, if I remember correctly, simply “Dialogue.” It was a guide to writing good dialogue, and it was written in dialogue and I remember it was corny as hell, but it was enough to get me thinking about natural-sounding dialogue. Since then, I’ve developed my own ear for what sounds natural and what doesn’t. I like to listen in, in public places to the dialogue that I can find out in the wild: conversations on train cars, the one side of a cell phone conversation that you can hear in the booth behind you at the diner while you’re waiting for a cheeseburger, that sort of stuff.
VB: What about unnatural, intentionally clumsy dialogue?
DK: I try to avoid that, but if I fail, directors and actors have a way of making adjustments. They do have to remember and perform the words, after all. I’ve noticed that they’ll sometimes just say things more naturally, where I have not, so they “fix” it. Unless the story calls for a very unnatural environment. That would be different I suppose. I think you have to choose which elements should be unnatural.
VB: What is your method of writing the unnatural?
VB: What is your way of putting information inside the dialogue?
DK: Nobody says anything completely, and it’s unusual that they say things well, but everybody says what they say for a reason. They think it’s a good one.
VB: What do you think about decompression? When relatively short pieces are stretched into gigantic piles of awkward pauses and severe redundancy – is there possibility to use it creatively?
DK: Life itself is full awkward pauses and severe redundancy, so if art imitates life then I suppose to use those things creatively would only be realistic.
VB: How about the uncanny feeling that it is drawn-out?
DK: Whenever time is depicted in an unnatural way, I think it can really get an audience’s attention, but again I would prefer to do that carefully, and for emphasis.
VB: What about the concept of time in your writing? The way it shapes the story inside and outside. While reading Party Planet I caught myself thinking that time that passes inside a play is a living organism – who reacts to all the things that happen – and so moves slower or faster – depending on the mood. Was it made on purpose?
DK: When you have the constraint of ten minutes for a play, you have to play with time a bit in order to make the action fit. Time can behave in similarly strange ways in a joke, for example. When a guy walks into the bar, immediately something interesting happens, in the typical bar joke. In real bars, that’s rarely the case. Stories don’t like to be boring, so you have to cut out all the boring parts, the time it takes to have the boring parts, and what you’re left with is an unrealistic, but hopefully enjoyable or interesting, period of time.
VB: What if the story needs to be boring to make a point? What if it needs everything exciting to be left out?
DK: I’m reminded of Andy Warhol’s film, “Sleep.” It sure is a long film to be so boring on purpose.
VB: Ok. What is your way to deal with time in your works?
DK: I had once thought it was possible to write a work of “chronological realism.” The idea was that the amount of time it took to read a thing was equal to the amount of time depicted in the thing. So, the story of an hour would take an hour to read. The story of a day would take a day to read. This doesn’t work because everybody reads at a different speed. Perhaps the idea is better suited to cinema or television. There’s that show called “24” that has a similar premise. Turn the camera on what happens, and when it stops happening, turn it off. With writing, that’s only good for a first draft, in my experience. The second draft is about removing the time occupied by the uninteresting parts.
I do seem to write about time a lot, or so I’ve been told by some friends who are familiar with my work. Here’s a recent example.
“Portrait of a Chief Executive, with Necktie”
Sir you have exactly five minutes
Excuse me sir your reminder sir
They are waiting they’ll all be watching
Please take a moment to tie your tie
Everyone will need to see you now
There’s time. Always time. Time for that
We’ll make it up in the air
He takes a moment to tie his tie
He wears it the way his house wears a flag
Where slight variations are meaningful
Today is a secondary color day
After so much talk about the primaries
The president addresses his fellow citizens
Fellow citizens, guests:
He refers now to a precise time
A difficult decision
How often, he often remarks
We are tested
He refers now to a history
He says “self-evident”
He says “manifest”
He says “fear”
No, he says “terror”
Or he is tested
We have often tried to find what is correct
It is we who are mistaken or they are mistaken
About which direction
The difference between steps and the road
Where slight variations are significant
It is. It is it.
A citizen. A citizen of it
With its suits and streets
A silver tragic silent place
With what is correct
And what is correct?
To be angry or to go and see?
Anybody can be obedient
Anybody can take a moment to tie a tie
Or choose a set of pearls
The time. So much time
Tying the ties, speaking the speeches
Flying the flags. So much of that time
Becomes the history
The pinstripes become the whole pattern
PART 3: Jump-cut
Somewhat later, but not really
VB: you said you like to do short pieces. What attracts you in them – aside from precision?
DK: I like how direct you have to be with a short work. I also like that you must work with the reader/audience to imagine the story. there isn’t room in a short work for every detail, so you have to be more impressionistic. With a short work, it is easier to get all the way though a first draft while the idea is still fresh. When I’m excited about a new idea, I like to work very fast, for fear that I might lose it. Writing is a kind of memory, but memory is erratic.
VB: It reminded a practice in gaming called “speedrun” when you play the game you know the fastest you can. While the connection is vague – can it be applied to the way you write?
DK: Sometimes. If it’s something I’ve thought through, those daydreaming sessions are each a kind of speedrun, or a practice run I suppose, and then the first real writing session is an attempt to run through the whole course of the idea in one go.
VB: How much do you expect the participation with the reader? What kind of things you leave out for them?
DK: I like to leave the end out.
VB: Thinking of memory reminded me of an old joke about films of Wong Karwai – it goes something like “PLAYS BETTER IN YOUR MEMORY”. And Karwai films are very viewer oriented. He lets you to make the whole story in your head – he just gives you a map. Are you attempting to do the same?
DK: I wouldn’t go that far. I think the story is pretty much available for you to play with in your head, and that’s what I would like to let you do.
VB: Memories can be tricky – what about implanted memories – as in “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” / “Total Recall”? Or can it be alien to the one who writes?
DK: Memories are implanted all the time. It’s called power. If your actions are forced, and you remember those actions, then you aren’t the sole author of those memories. You can revise your memories, though. You can alter them to suit your own preferences. That’s called fiction.
VB: What happens when fictional memories oversaturate mind?
DK: When that happens, conversation is no longer an act of storytelling. Instead, it becomes a series of interruptions that are about television and sports — because there are no real memories to inspire the conversation.
VB: How about meta-fiction? Can those implanted fictional memories be considered meta-fictional in some capacity? Do you use meta-fictional elements in your work? What is your way around them?
DK: I do play with something like meta-fiction from time to time. Some of my fictional characters like to watch bizarre television shows and purchase strange apps.
VB: You said you like being direct. Have you ever tried the opposite of being direct? Being so unfocused that piece just rambles randomly and gets a little moment and little moment there?
DK: yes. I think that Litanies and Reiterations has some of that going on. Also, Street Preacher is all about rambling
VB: Tell me more about it.
DK: Street Preacher is a play about a man who rants and raves on the street about the coming of an apocalypse. his apocalypse will occur when an aging Sun expands and engulfs the Earth — in a few million years or so. I’ve written that one several times as well. i can never seem to get it right. ideally, it’s a script for an actual person, on an actual street, or a subway. no stage required. But I think I would like to do another piece to get Street Preacher right.
VB: It reminds me Steve Reichs “It’s Gonna Rain” piece. What do you think about it – out and in context of Street Preacher and is it possible for you to do a piece from a piece using similar method?
DK: I’m not familiar with Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” piece.
VB: It’s classic minimalist music – recording of a street preacher – played throught two tape-recorders which desynchronize at one moment and turn the piece into proto-techno bit-stomp – repeating again and again various bits with hypnotisizing effect.
DK (after listening “It’s gonna rain”): It uses recordings of an actual street preacher. My piece shares a similar inspiration, but the performance would be very different. I don’t want the audience to know they’re seeing a performance like the Toynbee Tiles or Ghost Station.
VB: How about Litanies and Reiterations?
DK: Litanies and Reiterations is made out of lists and it reiterates many found phrases, ideas and expressions that I’d been collecting along the way. It could be said to be a rambling work, but along the way there are some more focused points. It’s mostly for the sound of it, but wen I’ve read the work, people seem to be picking up what I’m putting down.
VB: So you want to say that Litanies and Reiterations are a kind of a piece that is represented as a construction kit and it constructs itself in the readers head? Am i correct?
DK: I suppose it is fair to say that, but you’d have to ask the readers about what’s in their heads, I think.
VB: Have you ever tried to collaborate with readers minds? in a way – you give’em the piece – and they react – they think – and you take their thoughts as if it was a kind of brainstorm and assimilate them inside as a kind of autonomous organisms inside a written work.
DK: I think that workshopping with other writers, and reading in public can be useful for that sort of thing.
I go to as many readings as I can, and I try to read works in progress, and it often inspires new revisions: title changes, modified sounds, revisions to fix the confusing parts. deletions
VB: Have you ever tried to construct a reader inside your own head – in order to get the distance between you and the piece?
DK: occasionally when I’m writing a piece I imagine that the reader or audience is one or more people that I know. most of the time, my imaginary audience is made of three people, though.
I wrote some notes about that once. let me look for them. It goes like this:
“Once, a writing professor gave me some advice about audience. You should imagine that your audience only has three people in it. This is useful because, first of all, three people is not an intimidating crowd. The first person in your audience knows less about your message than you do. Be sure to communicate your thoughts and impressions in a way that makes them easy to take up. The second person in your audience is omniscient, and knows more about your message than you ever could. Be sure to check your details and don’t do anything foolish if you can avoid it. The third person in your audience is yourself, so be sure to say what you mean. This advice has become the way I imagine an audience when I write.”
VB: Have you ever experienced imaginable readers overpowering you and somewhat taking you under their control?
DK: I wouldn’t say imaginable readers, but real people, and what I imagine their response might be, especially if I imagine a negative response — that can be crippling. so i try not to imagine real people as readers, while I’m in the early stages of writing something. later on, once the idea has more stability, i’m less daunted by the responses of real people.
VB: how do you react and response to reviews and criticism – do you take it seriously? Have you caught any idea for a piece from a reviews – or while reviewing someone else’s work?
DK: “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.” ― Andy Warhol
I learn so much from doing critical work, though. writing about others’ work, and my work with Infinity’s Kitchen. I’m always exposed to new ideas that way and I love it.
With Infinity’s Kitchen, I’m obsessed with the process that the contributors. In part, so that I can learn some new methods, I think.
(much later) Almost Babylon 5 Season 5 Episodes 21-22 maneuver
VB: What is the difference between editing and writing – from your point of view?
DK: I think the difference is related to that between reading and writing.
VB: How so?
DK: Writing is about getting it out. Editing is about getting it right. Writing is writing. Editing is more about reading, un-reading, re-reading, reading in a different order…
VB: is it natural continuation of your writing?
DK: I like it best when there’s the most contrast. If I try too much to fix things while I’m still trying to make them, sometimes they never get made.
VB: Have you ever faced with impossibility to get thing done because of it?
DK: Definitely, yes.
VB: In your opinion – does editing present any new possibilities for the writing? In a strategic way – can it bring something new to the table that late in the game?
DK: It’s funny, when I’m working with other people’s writing, I can often think of several different ways that the thing could have been made. With my own stuff I think “I meant to do it that way.” I’d love to be able to read my own work as if I hadn’t written it, so that I could think of all those other ways to have it.
VB: Is your editing process blended with writing or do you separate those processes? – i’m struggling not to combine them – often dropping on the halfway to fix something because it is so irritating I’m unable to move on. What is your way of keeping it separated?
DK: I write digitally and edit on paper. I write on the couch or in bed or wherever I’m comfortable, but I edit at my desk. I do a lot of little things to make them separate in my thoughts, feelings, and actions.
VB: From my experience – editing consists mostly of bullshit detecting. You read it closely, keep in mind the big picture, everything for the sake of a piece. Nevermind that cool stuff, if it doesn’t work – it’s out. What is your perspective?
DK: If I can’t use it, I can’t use it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or anything, it just means I can’t use it. But there’s so much bullshit out there. I get so many spam submissions for Infinity’s Kitchen.
VB: Has your background as a poet affected your tastes as an editor?
DK: I think it has. My own process with poetry is reiterative in some ways. I’ll write and revise, of course, but also I perform the work and revise it in response to anything I hear out loud or in response to the audience. As an editor, I like to see work that seems to have benefited from a similar process: is the work a refined finished thing? does it read well? how does it sit with an audience?
VB: Do you think your sense of language transformed since you started editing other peoples work?
DK: Yes. My work with Infinity’s Kitchen has encouraged me to think of bits of language the way a visual artist might think of found objects. I think, before that, I had thought of language as a composed thing, which it can be, but once composed, those compositions can be found and manipulated. I enjoy that.
VB: How did you become an editor? What was the turning point?
DK: When I was 16 years old, I started a zine. Some of my friends at the time were in bands, but I didn’t have musical aptitude. Still, I wanted the camaraderie that comes from being in a band, so I started a zine with some of my friends. For me, editing has always been something of an antidote to the more solitary work of writing.
VB: When did you started to edit other peoples texts? what is the difference in your approach to your texts and other peoples texts?
DK: When I first started I had hoped to work collaboratively with other writers to bring works into a published state. I work with my own material that way. Lately, though, I prefer to only publish the things that are already in a publishable state.
VB: What has changed in your method through the years? what were your guides? or you’re driven on instinct?
DK: When I was younger I would wait for inspiration to strike and then write from the heart. I still do that on occasion, but now I’m also learning to write from my head, write on a deadline, or to write for the sake of writing.
VB: Have you ever had moments where you’re sent something and you start reading it and the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise?
DK: Do you mean in a good way or in a bad way?
In a bad way, it happens a lot, whenever I get sent a straightforward murder mystery story. I suppose there’s nothing objectively wrong with a murder mystery story, since the shelves of airport bookstores and countless hours of television shows are devoted to them, but they’re not what I work with. They’re not what the publication is about, so the hairs on my neck rise, in frustration, when I get sent this stuff.
In a good way, I think the piece that delighted me the most when I saw it was “the blood of this body” by Steven Alvarez. I had been thinking about what it means to be post-avant. (I try to avoid -ism and post- words but sometimes they’re useful.) All of the methods that were transgressive and shocking in the 20th century are now accepted or ignored by now and so, if they’re to have any potency any longer, I think that they should be used in the service of meaning. “Meaning” is the right word, not always “narrative” in the traditional sense. With that piece, I saw a clear example of what I’d been thinking about, and I got excited: this is it! I built the 5th issue of Infinity’s Kitchen around that piece.
VB: What do you do in the very end? What is your finishing stroke? Either in editing somebody’s thing or writing your stuff.
And here’s a little a gift for those who came to the end. Set-list for an imaginary reading!!!! Hooray!
Why? You don’t need writer to imagine him reading – you can do it in your head. This list is only an instruction for your experience.
Here’s Dylan Kinnett’s note: “This reading consists of things I’ve written, un-written or not written, listed below in no particular order“. Here we go:
- Selections from the hypertext “To Win, Simply Play” performed aloud, in response to choices made by a live audience about which nodes to read, from the branching text.
- “Thoughts on a Suitcase,” a selection from “Strange Punctuation” performed with live audio effects and accompaniment in front of a rear-projection screen displaying random, somewhat-associated images
- The “Sutra of the Imperial Red Yo-Yo” read forwards and backwards.
- The most intense, rhythmic thing I’ve never written.
- The Telephone Routine that I call “What’s the Catch“
- One of the raving sermons from the revised version of “Street Preacher” that I imagine I might write one day, performed by an actor in costume, who seems to be interrupting the performance.
- A reading of, and subsequent destruction of The Manifesto of Physicalism, because I no longer agree with its basic tenent that there are “no ideas but things”
- The slow description of an explosion
- A short musical. Everyone who bursts into spontaneous song is eliminated. Repeat until all are silent.
- A played-back recording of the crowd noises and conversation that preceded the beginning of the reading.”.
Thank you for reading this interview. I hope you enjoyed it. If not – you’ve probably just scrolled to this section. Well, here’s what I have to say to you – go read it. It is good. Probably the best interview outside Paris Review. The next one will be much sooner. In fact I’m editing it while I’m writing this paragraph.