Antoine Volodine & His Self Interview
Next year we’re going to be publishing Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven, a book that I’m super excited about, and which help explain (somewhat) Volodine’s crazy-awesome project. If you’re a regular listener to the “Three Percent Podcast”: you’ve probably heard me go on and on and on about how interesting Volodine’s work is—in particular, Minor Angels and We Monks & Soldiers, both of which are masterfully translated into English by Jordan Stump. (Also worth noting is Naming the Jungle, which New Press published way back, but which I have yet to read.)
As with everything Volodine does, that last statement needs to be unpacked. See, We Monks & Soldiers is written by Lutz Bassmann, one of Volodine’s heteronyms.
Actually, that’s not entirely true either. See, Volodine is a heteronym as well for a French schoolteacher who writes this truly weird, incredibly knotty, endlessly fascinating books under a host of heteronyms. He’s like the French Fernando Pessoa, but more obsessed with the apocalypse.
So, over the past twenty-some-odd years, Volodine, along with counterparts Lutz Bassmann, Elli Kronauer and Manuela Draeger, has written some 40 books (mostly novels, but also some young adult novels, and poetry, such as Bassmann’s Prison Haikus, which will make more sense in a second), many of which inhabit one shared universe. Of sorts.
I can’t claim to know nearly as much about Volodine’s wildly imaginative—and revolutionary—project as J.T. Mahany (author of this review of Bassman’s Les aigles puent and this one of We Monk & Soldiers, and is the translator of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven), but basically, in Volodine’s collective world, shit has gone wrong, or is just about to go horribly wrong. Humanity is on the decline, the spiders are taking over the interior, and capitalism—that dirty bitch—is still unstoppable and fucking is all up.
And all the post-exoticist writers are in jail. Dying.
What is post-exoticism exactly? Well, you can read our forthcoming book (of which I’ll post a sample in just a minute), but in short, it’s a literary movement that employs certain techniques to evade censorship, convey secret messages and ideas of thought, and change the world. In other words, it’s dangerous shit. Hence, the jailing.
To tie together a few of these threads: Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven is written by Volodine about Bassmann’s last days in prison. It explains a lot of the tenets and techniques of the post-exoticist movement (so far as they can be explained . . . for example, Lesson Five, “Let’s Talk about Something Else,” is a list of things the post-exoticists have and haven’t done. They make these long lists to deter the enemy . . .) and is a great starting point—or continuing one—for anyone entering Volodine’s world.
One interesting post-exoticist story: On the jacket copy of Minor Angels, it references the fact that Volodine doesn’t believe the meaning of the book can be found in the text itself, but rather in the dreams that the reader has while reading it. I’m prone to really strange shit entering my dreamstate, so this book was like LSD for my unconscious. But better yet: While J.T. was reading this book he woke up one winter night outside in his pyjamas having sleepwalked himself right out of his apartment. Unfortunate for him, this was a bittercold night and he had locked himself out. See! Dangerous shit.
Anyway, the main point of this post—aside from delaying the bookkeeping and database work that I should be doing right now, and giving me a chance to wax enthusiastic about one of my favorite forthcoming books—is that J.T. found the interview below with the three main Volodine heteronyms and I really wanted to share it.
Also worth noting: We’re planning on following up our Volodine book with a Bassmann one and Draeger one. Bassmann’s been published by the University of Nebraska, but Draeger has yet to be published by a nationally distributed press. Hopefully we’ll be able to do all three books within a 12-14 month window so that there’s not too much of a delay—once you get sucked into Volodine’s world, you’re going to want more . . .
Here’s the “interview,” which, to be honest, will make more sense if you’ve read Minor Angels, We Monks & Soldiers, and Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven:
Your main character trait
Antoine Volodine: Stubbornness.
Lutz Bassmann: Rigidity.
Manuela Draeger: Passion. More exactly, the lucidity at the heart of passion.
Your favorite animal
Antoine Volodine: Tigers. But not paper ones. And also Iponiama Oshawnee, who lives at 17 rue des Soeurs-Tchouvanes, in Valkoumeï.
Lutz Bassmann: Robins. And also cats when they’re not eating robins.
Manuela Draeger: Elephants. No, actually, wooly crabs, trying to float as high as the moon. Or no, rather, eggs. Eggs in general. They’re the promise of an animal. Last but not least, Lili Niagara, the batte, with whom I used to be madly in love.
The defeat, historical or otherwise, you consider the worst
Antoine Volodine: The collapse of the Soviet Union.
Lutz Bassmann: The New Economic Policy instantiated by Lenin in 1921.
Manuela Draeger: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Your favorite slogan
Antoine Volodine: Two or three: DON’T DREAM UNSTRAGE DREAMS! IF MISFORTUNE ARISES, YOU MUST DIE APPROPRIATELY! YOU ARE A WINDOW PANE, NO FLY CAN IMAGINE YOU!
Lutz Bassmann: I will give several: GOLDEN DRUMS, THEN SILENCE! IF YOUR FACE IS CLEAR, CUT OFF YOUR MASK! IF THERE ARE STILL RUINS, DEMOLISH THEM! IF THERE ARE STILL CRUMBS, BURN THEM!
Manuela Draeger: I think I might give a few: BLACK WAVES, SCREAM, BREAK! CHANANES’S DAUGHTERS, SING, REGROUP, ATTACK! A THOUSAND SECRET MASTIFFS IN EACH ONE OF US!
Your most oft-recurring dream
Antoine Volodine: Flying while sitting like a fakir, but without a flying carpet, about fifty centimeters off the ground, at a hopelessly slow speed.
Lutz Bassmann: I am walking around a house on a deserted coast. It’s raining, I’m taking shelter under a giant umbrella. I make a complete turn around the house. I am silently exorcising it. From time to time, people that I know try to leave, through the windows, through the doors, but they collapse before they can get outside. I know the house is going to burn. No words are spoken. Everyone is terrorized, and I continue tracing circles as I walk in the damp grass.
Manuela Draeger: I am speaking with other prisoners, with dead friends. We are on the shore of a lake at daybreak. The vegetation is luxurious. The landscape is extremely beautiful. Instead of contemplating in silence, we talk. From time to time, one of us leaves our group and approaches some wavelets. She stays unmoving, petrified, then she returns and reintroduces herself into the conversation. We talk feverishly about a clinic where you can get memory transplats. The deabte is on the sorrow provoking the transplants. I don’t know why, we know we should stop and admire the water, the light, the trees, but we keep reluctantly chatting on subjects that don’t interest us.
Your favorite landscape
Antoine Volodine: The Hoggar Tassili.
Lutz Bassmann: An urban scene. For example Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong.
Manuela Draeger: The ice field when bears walk across it.
The ritual you would like to perform
Antoine Volodine: Knocking three times before opening the shutters.
Lutz Bassmann: The last cigarette.
Manuela Draeger: Does Bolcho Pride from Eleven Dreams of Soot count as a ritual? If so, I’d like to participate in it.
The quality you appreciate most in a combattant
Antoine Volodine: In a female soldier: her coming back alive. In a male soldier: his knowing to run when all is lost.
Lutz Bassmann: Silence after the battle.
Manuela Draeger: Knowing how to walk with eyes closed until the end. Knowing how to die, knowing how not to die. Knowing how to walk with eyes open until the end.
Your favorite hero or heroine in the real, historical, or fantastical world
Antoine Volodine: The stalker in Stalker.
Lutz Bassmann: Chow Yun Fat in The Killer.
Manuela Draeger: Louise in Thelma and Louise.
What you hate the most
Antoine Volodine: Hypocritical reformism, friendly nationalism, warrior nationalism, a speaker’s bad faith, bony fish, the Russian mafia, spiders.
Lutz Bassmann: The self-satisfaction of social democrats, capitalism in all its forms, the obscene insolence of traitors. Swallowing oysters. Hearing the prison guards’ antisemitic jokes.
Manuela Draeger: Barbarism. The imbecility of barbarians, their humanistic and democratic proclamations. And also dishes with chicken gizzards. And in literature when I’m thought of as a clone of Antoine Volodine.
The fault you indulge in the most
Antoine Volodine: Sympathy for sympathizers of the ninth stinking category (intellectuals).
Lutz Bassmann: Excessive severity towards enemies of the people.
Manuela Draeger: Assassinating assassins.
What keeps you from going mad
Antoine Volodine: Having seen madness up close. The pills they give me. I don’t know what they’re called.
Lutz Bassmann: [no response]
Manuela Draeger: The fear of going mad.
The music you would like to hear when you slide into the Bardo
Antoine Volodine: Naïsso Baldakchan’s Third Golden Song.
Lutz Bassmann: If there are musicians, I would like them to try to play a quartet by Brahms or Kaanto Djylas. If there is no one, I would like to hear Grodzo tapping on the pipes and grills.
Manuela Draeger: Like in Eleven Dreams of Soot, I would like to hear at the last minute the voice of the Soviet songstress Liudmilla Zykina. The song doesn’t matter, but one like the girls were listening to in the fire: a very melancholic, very simple song, of unspeakable beauty. The first two words in Russian are “Sronila kolietchko.”
The present state of your mind
Antoine Volodine: After having the idea to listen one last time to Naïsso Baldakchan’s Third Golden Song, I’m a little worried.
Lutz Bassmann: I’m waiting.
Manuela Draeger: I’m looking at the barred window, the sky darkened by twilight, and I’m thinking that I will never see the Aurora Borealis again.