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"What It Might Look Like to Manipulate Time": An Interview with Chris Daley

Chris Daley teaches creative nonfiction for Writing Workshops Los Angeles and academic writing at Caltech. She has reviewed fiction and nonfiction, primarily on music and L.A. history, for the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Review of Books. She earned a Ph.D. in English from the City University of New York Graduate Center, and she enjoys wasting time.

Her essay, "Thoughts on Time After Viewing Christian Marclay's "The Clock"," appeared in Issue Fifty of The Collagist.

Here, Chris Daley talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about time constraints, research hallucinations, and writing based on art.

Tell us about when you first saw Christian Marclay’s "The Clock." When/How did you decide you would write an essay on your reactions to it?

One thing about “The Clock” is that it’s relatively hard to see. While it has the body of a film, it has the soul (and exclusivity) of an installation. There are some clips on YouTube, but otherwise, you have to wait for it to come to a museum near you. Fortunately for me, it has shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art twice—once in summer 2011 and once in spring 2012.

I’m sure there are people who have seen more of it than I have, considering I’ve only watched two hours, one at each run. The first time I saw a portion starting at 3:30 PM between tourist stops with a friend from out of town. What most struck me then was how difficult it was to describe in the aftermath and how I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When it came to town the second time, I went for the 10:00 hour on a Sunday morning as if attending church. I was equally compelled. The next time it comes to LA, I’d love to go at 4:00 AM or midnight. Or midnight to 4:00 AM.

I’m sure I thought about writing the essay after that 2012 viewing, but I didn’t attempt it until about six months later. Every September I take myself on a writing retreat to Lake Arrowhead, and one day I was stuck on what I was working on, so I went down to the fireplace in the lobby with the intention to just write for one hour (goddamnit). I remembered my desire to write about “The Clock,” had the idea to time the sections, and got started.

You say you gave yourself an hour to write this piece. How long did you take to revise it? Did you take extra care to keep the text close to how it originally looked?

I almost don’t want to admit this because as a writing teacher, I constantly emphasize the importance of revision, but I didn’t revise it much. Partly I wanted to honor the time constraint and partly I was happy with it. When I decided to start submitting it, I didn’t change or add any content, but I did tweak word choice right up until it was published here. I think I was anxious at the end that there hadn’t been more of a revision process. Matthew Olzmann was extremely understanding.

This essay is an example of ekphrasis. How does art beget more art? How do you see this phenomenon taking place in your other work?

I did not sit down and think I was about to compose ekphrasis, but it definitely was a rhetorical exercise in creating expression out of artistic inspiration. I am occasionally an academic, and at other times a book critic, so it’s interesting for me to think about the distinction between reviewing or critiquing art and engaging with it to produce more art.

I don’t know if ekphrasis can be literary commentary on literary objects, but the novel I’m working on now does have another book at its center. When I was completing my dissertation on Los Angeles literature and alternative religion (over the course of three delirious months), I thought I came across a pulp novel called The Power. In this book, as the result of a radiation explosion, a group of San Fernando Valley housewives turn into colossal Amazons and torment the citizens of 1930s Los Angeles. When I finished my defense, I went looking for this book only to discover it didn't exist. A research hallucination. Now I’m trying to bring The Power into existence for real.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I haven’t worked on The Power for awhile, but I’m looking forward to my first residency at Ucross in April. I plan to spend some time tracing the imaginary history of this imaginary novel using its author, printer, readers, collectors, detractors, and the text of the book itself. Right now, I’ve got lottery winners, used bookstore owners, UPS delivery men, homicidal mothers, and Albert Einstein all coming into contact with the book in some way.

What did you read in 2013 that you want to recommend to the people?

I like that—to the people. I’ll stick with nonfiction. After my essay appeared in The Collagist, someone recommended that I read David Antin’s i never knew what time it was, a collection of prose poems that explore the nature of time, and I pass the recommendation on. I also enjoyed Wayne Koestenbaum’s My 1980s and Other Essays, Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, Ali Smith’s Artful (although this is many genres at once), and Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped. Thanks for asking.

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