With Sky Saw, HTML Giant editor Blake Butler evokes a nightmarish apocalypse with meticulous, claustrophobic prose.
Sky Saw continues a trend in your work, in which the prose sometimes suggests details not stated outright. What can language alone accomplish?
I think a couple years ago I would have insisted that language does all the work. I still think I believe that to an extent, but it’s increasingly important to me to admit that the sculpting that goes on both in the midst of typing and in revision is something that has a clear rind and blood and marrow. I think using images and language alone as soil is vital at least to me in making a surprising kind of art, though the more you can shape out the form along the way, the closer you end up to power.
What marked this shift in your process?
I honestly think I kind of snapped right before I wrote There Is No Year. My house got hit by a tornado right before I started No Year. I felt insane, but also up against myself in a way I never had before. I pretty much wrote No Year and Sky Saw back to back inside this feeling of momentum. Those two books have a weird symbiosis because of that, even though to me No Year is way more ecstatic and manic with its ideas, while Sky Saw is intentionally more flat, black, devoid.
A lot of online literary conversation has focused on the flood of dystopic or apocalyptic novels. But Sky Saw, with its nerves, cameras, and flickering surfaces, almost struck me as prior to apocalypse.
I’m glad you style it as a preapocalyptic, because that’s what I’ve always felt my writing is in the midst of. Apocalypse culture isn’t that interesting to me because it dates itself inside a space where the end is all and all is dead. I don’t see that in my writing, as bleak as some people feel it may be. When I write a scene that concerns itself with something sick like children hurting their mother or foam rising over a continent, it’s not because there’s nothing left; it’s because there is something there still to be destroyed.
Is technology making us less human?
Our inseparability from machines, yes. More importantly our inseparability from ourselves. Every day it seems like there are more selves being created and there’s only so much air. I don’t know if it is making us less human or more so; it depends on your definition. To me a human is the most disoriented, haunted, terrified creature on Earth.
You’ve written about your insomnia. How does the night affect your work?
Every day is just the night lit up. Even when you sleep, you are awake in dreams and your body is there breathing in air. For me, finding time to sit alone in a room feeling as erased as I can from my chair when I am doing the work is one of the few forms of relief there is. Some people find that in food or basketball or America’s Got Talent. If I can use the terror to turn some of the space back on itself, I will. I’d like to wreck open a world.