Thursday, June 23, 2011

5 (or so) questions with Jimmy Chen

A new issue means new installments of 5 (or so) Questions! This time 9L staffer Laura Adamczyk speaks with Jimmy Chen, author of "Again St.," which appears in the brand new spring/summer 2011 (vol. 8, no. 1) issue.

9L: "Again St." includes a lot of very specific details of the characters' home and work lives (from the very beginning of the story, e.g. with the exact date/time/location) and grander views of the cosmos/universe. Did you have a purpose in mind with this minute vs. grand juxtaposition?

Jimmy Chen: I would admit that this was less on purpose than a Joycean impulse, having kind of been hard-wired to see the world that way, especially concerning writing, since reading Ulysses, which I know sounds totally annoying, to answer an earnest question by whipping out Joyce--and this solipsist apology feels rather D.F. Wallace-ish, another writer who does the same micro-macro thing, who I just managed to whip out--but that's the truth. I feel like saying "sorry" right about now.

9L: I know a lot of pet owners who "talk" for their pets. Your story kind of goes crazy with this idea. Do you have any pets? What are they saying to you?

JC: All of my relationships ended badly with a cat being involved more than a standard pet should be. "Again St." is an attempt to trace the downfall of a relationship, using various consciousnesses indiscriminately, one of which includes a cat, based off my actual cat back then. I have the scars to prove it. I think cats are aware of relationships more than other pets, maybe even more than people. I love cats, but I become obsessed by their whereabouts, often searching for them throughout the house for no reason, which drives them batshit. Bats, now that's a good pet. They would just hang out.

9L: Your story is full of these hilarious aphorisms: "Life is a loop, a hula hoop lying around the ankles of the paralyzed"; Humor is a cruelty that besets other people"; "Life is a hairball, to gag on the chronic aggregate of oneself." Which of these rings truest to you and why?

JC: I think the second example verges more on an aphorism than the others. The others seem lyrical at best. As for why, I would say because it's sort of true, which is why we are running in circles, given that we are discussing aphorisms.

9L: A lot of your work seems to combine both humor and tragedy. Do you think funny stories call for these sad/tragic elements? Who are some of your favorite funny writers?

JC: In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alan Alda's character Lester, a deluded self-absorbed ego maniac, waxes didactically about humor for a documentary about him: "Comedy is tragedy plus time," he happily concludes. Lester may be a douche, but he's onto something. Of course, everything that a character says in a Woody Allen movie is Woody Allen himself. I guess what I'm saying is humor, as invoked above, is cruelty plus the time it takes to fully absorb that cruelty, to elapse the hurt, to reconfigure it, to impose empathy, until it seems funny one day, I guess. This is not possible without forgiveness--of the other, and of oneself. Humor then, is both apology and the acceptance of. It may well hold the universe together.

So yes, funny stories cannot be funny without sad or tragic elements, as they are the same thing at various points in time. I can't think of any funny writers that I like now, sorry.

9L: Finally, the protagonist in your story prefers bourbon. What's your drink of choice?

JC: Single malt Scotch, like a nice 16-year old, which sounds like statutory rape, but really, they are relatively old, and so good.

Thanks to Jimmy Chen for taking the time to speak to Laura. To read "Again St." pick up a copy of vol. 8, no. 1 in our webstore. Don't forget we're running a special deal: sign up for a 1-year subscription and get vol. 8, no. 1 for free!

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