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Interview: Kevin Kaiser

Kevin Kaiser's fiction appears in the May 2010 issue of the Collagist. He was born and raised in Orange County, California and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. His fiction, poetry, and music are internationally published. He lives with the poet Angela Parker.

Can you talk about the inspiration for “µ  π  {0}  >  ∑  ®  ∫  ∑”? What was on your mind when you were writing this story?

I'd recently discovered V. Ulea's manifesto on Quantum Genre Fiction, originally printed in an issue of Sein und Werden. In the manifesto, she proposes the concept of a style of fiction rooted in quantum behavior. Quantum Genre Fiction should not be about quantum physics; it should manifest those concepts. So, with that in mind, I created a story that portrays my thoughts on "god" and "universe," which are interchangeable. I wrote it in chunks, and didn't think too much about what I was writing as I wrote it. But I couldn't have written it without accumulating some knowledge of quantum physics and Buddhist thought, which I've had an interest in for the last decade or so, as well as having an awareness of Madame Blavatsky's notions. The story is at least a year old now. When I wrote it, it was my way of explaining the concept of "god," as I understand it, to the average reader.

Your sentences are striking, so simple and easy that they seem like things we should already have known, so we soak them right up and it takes a little while before realizing each new statement seems to unwrite the one that came before it. Going forward, the story admits to this: “The first words should not have been so concrete. The first words were meant to confound. The point is not to ground but to disorient.” But as it turns out, these words, even as they worm about however they please, are indeed looking for something specific. How do you mean the winding construct of this piece to push up against what it wants to get?

The sentences are an embodiment of the Burroughs and Gysin cut-up technique, which I'd been playing with a lot when I wrote the piece. In fact, I did a cut-up version of it, which isn't nearly as good as this one. And yes, there is something specific in the piece, which I refer to as "god." But it is impossible to understand it fully unless taking into account the contradictions, chiefly that, once you start talking about it, you're already moving away from the thing you're trying to describe. So it is necessary for this piece to "wind" to arrive at its "point." In pushing up against its meaning, resisting its meaning, the meaning pushes back. This story was also born of my frustration for, what I feel, is an emphasis on the concrete in literature. Once you explain the abstract in concrete terms, it becomes ripe for misinterpretation. This piece is meant to occupy two states at once: one concrete, one abstract. It negates itself, but it cannot negate itself because it still exists. It is itself a quantum construction.

I’m a big believer in the power of titles; how they can predispose you to a piece, or how they suggest a subtext, or how they might simply work as the first line of some stories. So, part A of this question is: What are these title symbols in the first place? And B: How should readers interpret this title, this thing that is supposed to be a signpost of sorts, when it’s something we might not recognize?

Honestly, I didn't want to title this. It reads "U N I V E R S E," but I didn't want to call it as such, because it's not that. So, I decided to use alternative symbols (as opposed to the Latin-based alphabet). The first symbol is the Greek letter "mu" which corresponds to Orphic verse on Zeus as beginning, end, and middle (G.R.S. Meade's The Orphic Pantheon mentions this, referencing Plato). Also, it relates to Neptune, the Möbius function, chemical potential in thermodynamics, the standard gravitational parameter of a celestial body in orbital mechanics, etc. The next letter is good old pi: the neverending decimal, the circle. The next is a set of zero, which, as far as I know, can't really exist. It should be an empty set, but it has the zero included, so is it empty? Next is the "greater than" symbol. Then "sigma," which is summation and the cliché way to write capital "E" to denote that something is Greek-related. Or, you know, to write an "E" in the title of this story. Followed by the "registered" symbol, which is simultaneously the most concrete and abstract symbol in the whole piece. Followed by the symbol for an integral (see Leibniz). And the last previously appeared. Since each symbol really has multiple interpretations, this is how readers should interpret it: however they want. If "universe" stands for "god" and, as such, is both everything and nothing, and, not as such, is both nothing and everything then... That's about as much as I can or want to explain it.

What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I'm working on a collection of short stories dealing with so-called environmental, political, social, cultural, etc. issues, which are all the same issue, really. The stories follow the Daniel Quinn school of thought: "There is no one right way to live." Read Ishmael. Each story is set in a different country on each of one of the current seven continents. Each features a non-human animal interacting with a human, either directly or indirectly. All the stories concern the dominant global human cultural myth and how it leads to extinction.

What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

The book that inspired the story here—along with her manifesto—was V. Ulea's Snail, so I should plug that. But most of the fiction I've read in the past few months is literature in translation: the anthology Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, Ghassan Kanafani's Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories, and Clarice Lispector's The Foreign Legion. Also, Amadou Hampaté Bâ's The Fortunes of Wangrin, which is listed as fiction despite the fact that Bâ emphatically states it is non-fiction. Unfortunately, I can't read anything in its original language, aside from some works in Spanish—Latin American Spanish, mostly; less so in Spain Spanish. The last book I read that I really loved was Haruki Murakami's after the quake. But I also like to follow my contemporaries and peers, so I can't wait to read Jason Jordan's Cloud and Other Stories and Sara Ries' book of diner poems, Come In, We're Open. And I recently published a chapbook of Angela Parker's poetry, Old Magic, in collaboration with David McNamara of sunnyoutside. The book is available from ! Press at exclamationpress.blogspot.com, and her writing is definitely worth reading, especially since I brazenly stole some of her concepts for use in my story published here. In fact, she's the muse for the "you" of the story.

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