When the puzzle pieces do not fit: An interview with Soren A. Gauger

Soren Alberto Gauger was born in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1975. In Krakow, where he presently lives, he has worked as a writer, translator and lecturer at Jagiellonian University. He’s the author of “Hymns to Millionaires” (his first book) and the co-translator of “Waiting for the Dog to Sleep” by Jerzy Ficowski. His essays appeared in a number of journals, including Chicago Review, Jacob’s Ladder, Capilano Review and Prague Literary Review.The Krakow Post: You’ve been living in Poland since 1998. Have any experiences from Poland or any Polish writers influenced the way you wrote “Hymns to Millionaires” or the themes you included there?
Soren A. Gauger: The reason why I came to Poland in the first place was because I absolutely fell in love with Bruno Schultz and when I was still in Canada I tried to write a novel which was extremely derivative of Bruno Schultz. I had to immediately throw it in the garbage because it was just such nonsense. But this is what you have to go through. It was unpublishable of course.
Q: Was it unpublishable in Canada?A: No, it was just bad, simply (laughs). What I’ve learned from that was that the style of contemporary Canadian and North American literature wasn’t interesting at all for me. At the present time literature in the U.S. and Canada is very much influenced by a kind of bare simplicity, Hemingway, for example: very short sentences, very few adjectives. So I wanted to write something that had nothing to do with contemporary North American literary fashion and in that sense I suppose I was very influenced by writing from Poland, Russia, that I was reading at the time.
Q: It?s very hard to say what “Hymns to Millionaires” is about especially to the person who didn’t read it but I think that the key to its meaning is in its style. In some of your stories you use punctuation marks in a very original way. That’s why what is said gets blurred with what actually happens in your prose. To what degree and how does your style influence what you wanted to convey in your stories?A: It?s a complicated question. I think at that time as well I was very much under the influence of the writers like Nabokov and Borges, this kind of meta-narrative style of writing, which I’m a little bit less interested in now, because after reading a certain number of Nabokov’s books, eventually you want something that you would have to call sincerity or rather honesty. After a lot of these games with form this style of writing simply makes you tired. However, in terms of punctuation and the way that dialogue floats into narrative, I was very influenced by Jakov Lind who created essentially such kind of grotesque nightmares in which this flow of dialogue into narration creates slipperiness conveyed in something like a dream flowing quickly into reality and other way round. This reluctance to give the readers footholds and make them know that this is the reality of the situation and not this is something I found very interesting at that time. And still do.
Q: Your style reminds me of stream of consciousness. Did the works of Joyce or other writers who wrote that way influence you?A: Actually, I don’t like Joyce at all. I have a very abstract respect for what he depicts. His books are unbearable. I prefer authors like Hermann Broch, who wrote The Death of Virgil and was very much influenced by Joyce, or Flann O’Brien, who was in Joyce’s shadow. He was also working with the stream of consciousness technique and his writing was much more interesting for me. I think what Joyce did was important but it has right now been repeated so frequently that you need to recreate it in your own fashion to make it seem worth doing at this point. And to some extent I was trying to recreate it in my own fashion.
Q: Why do you use such elaborated language in your book? Why “corporal entity” instead of body or “fortuitous disorder” instead of accidental disorder?A: (Laughs) Well, I was also reading people like Laurence Sterne, who was the master of digression in English literature, and all the people that were influenced by Laurence Sterne as well, such as Viktor Shklovsky, who were very interested in describing things in a way that was so roundabout that the readers sometimes lost track of what the reality of the situation was. It?s about disorienting the reader as much as possible also via languages.
Q: Your book was published by the Czech publishing house ?A: Actually, the publisher?s very picky about this. He’s an American in the Czech Republic so it?s an American publishing house in Prague.
Q: Was your book published there by chance or did you choose Twisted Spoon Press intentionally?A: Well, I originally sent the book to a couple of Canadian publishing houses and they essentially told me: Why would we be interested in a Canadian living in Poland? I found it unusual because I thought there would be something interesting in a Canadian living abroad. There were a couple of things that attracted me to Twisted Spoon Press. One of them was the fact that it was very interested in publishing expatriates. The other thing is that he [the publisher] allows the writer to participate in the making of the book, which is very rare these days. He made his suggestions obviously but everything was my decision ultimately as to how the book was made. And he distributes in America. The advertising he does is very minimum but this was very appealing that I had an influence on the content of the book. I have some friends who write for larger publishing houses where it happens that they get 50 pages cut out because adventure and love plots must be introduced into their works. Obviously, this is not particularly advantageous to literature and I didn’t have to deal with any of that. The cover is done by Cristian Opris, a friend of mine from Romania, who won the national prize for graphic arts. He’s a very talented graphic artist I believe. 
Q: As what happens in your book merges with the dreams of your characters there arises a question whether we could and should trust your narrators or characters in order to enjoy your book?A: I don?t know how much literary theory on literature you’ve read but as a good student of post-structural literary theory I knew all about the unreliable narrator and at the time I was very excited about that. Certainly, I enjoy books where the reader feels the discrepancy between what is actually happening and what they are being told and there is a very old tradition of that in literature. It would be tragic simply if somebody read this book and knew that every time I said I, I was referring to myself. I suppose it’s simply another level of disorientation. If you can?t trust the very person who’s giving you the information, then what exactly can you trust about the story?
Q: At first I tried to make a plan of what was happening in the story but then I gave up when I realized it’s not the way of reading it.A: (Laughs) There are some stories in my book like a story about Odessa which I purposefully constructed the story so that if someone wanted to create the plan the puzzle pieces would not all fit together at the end. Creating something like an impossible narrative that?s what I thought was interesting.

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