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Mike Corrao in Conversation with Vi Khi Nao

By Vi Khi Nao.

Mike Corrao is the author of Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing) and Gut Text (11:11 Press). His work has been featured in publications such as Entropy, Always Crashing and the Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis. Learn more at www.mikecorrao.com.

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Vi Khi Nao: In an interview with Orson’s Publishing, you said, “Film and fiction are very different beasts.” When I read Gut Text, I thought they were of the same medium, although the process of making them might be obscenely different from one another. Your Gut Text is a black and white film. You said in that interview also that, “the most important difference between fiction and film is collaboration.” But wouldn’t you say, your actors and collaborators “ff”, “vv”, etc could be offended by this dismissal? I would.

Mike Corrao: I do think my opinions have changed since that interview. When calling the two mediums different beasts, what I meant was more in regards to process. With film I’m speaking with my cinematographer and co-director about what we want to say and how we want it to look—taking everyone’s taste into account. Whereas with fiction, I’m sitting alone on my laptop over very long periods of time. Influences are less direct. I do think that the writing, especially in the case of Gut Text, influences itself. “ff”, “vv”, etc all feel completely separate from me. And they certainly feel in control of their own segments of the text. I do like this label of Gut Text as a black and white film a lot. I wanted the book to have a much more physical presence than my last project. I wanted it to feel like it couldn’t be adapted into any other medium, like it was only capable of existing in its current form.

VKN: My favorite part of reading your work is the scrolling aspect of it. And, arriving to the fattest period. And the biggest “ff.” And the apiary population and repopulation of the repetitive word “text” bearing resemblance to Islamic art or tiling or architecture, etc. How sinful, playful, artistically overlapping-y were you when you layered with such textual suffocation? How many times did you layer the y’s? Do you count? Your text does seem to believe in this kind of alphabetical amnesia or suffocation, but do you? It reminds me of stacking the human body, as if words are bodies, ontological beings, realmy things, being buried/gassed by the genocide of profusion.

MC: I like the use of the word ‘architecture’ here. With Gut Text being so focused on its relation to the organism, its attempts at becoming, I needed the text to have this spatial quality. It needed to knowingly exist in the physical world. I never want the reader to forget that they’re holding this corporeal object. Moments like the fattest period (which is fatter than any period that Microsoft would let me make normally) or the layered “text” of ff, felt ritualistic during their construction. Like I was very delicately organizing these ceremonial elements. Or building a stone altar. Because I don’t have any good image-making software, it was always such a pain to create the visual elements of the text, and because of that, each layer or oddity was very particular. I can’t tell you how many y’s there are, but I can tell you that they are layered upon themselves six times by the final iteration. Or that there are four layers of text in the ff tiles.

VKN: What is the best way to marry your words to time? In other words, how time-based should we read your Gut Text? And, if so, how many minutes would you allot your audience? Readers?

MC: Because I work in both writing and filmmaking, I’ve been very interested in creating projects that can be read or watched in a single sitting. I don’t necessarily think that this is a must. But I do like the idea that time is felt in a very direct way. It allows a very interesting kind of variety in the reader’s experience. Like Gut Text might feel long because you’ve been sitting for two hours straight reading a book, or it might feel fast because you read it in short spurts, or because each subject tends to accelerate.

VKN: Gut Text wants language to be not read/almost skimmed for the experience, skimmed to see the film roll of its linguistic being into reelness. Should we skim? Do you want us to skim? To see how far “nn” is willing to be a coward for our sake?

MC: Yes, skim! Of course I’m thrilled if someone reads every single word, but it is not completely necessary for you to do so. What is on the page is the entirety of these beings. It is every part of their existence. Everything in “yy” is everything that yy is. I think skimming can allow for this very frantic and exciting kind of flow. It allows the reader to grab onto what draws their eye. It allows each entity to embody what you have noticed about them. And as you say, skimming will allow nn to accelerate and really display their cowardice.

VKN: When I read your book, I try to tell myself not to get ahead. It’s almost like reading a mystery novel (you didn’t intend it to be this way, I know), but this novel has no linear mystery. Its clue is in the ontological gesture/misfire of being clueless or embodying cluelessness. Do you feel that the more one gets clueless (awareness through intuition) about Gut Text, the better one’s reading/viewing/listening experience with it?

MC: It depends on the desire of the reader. Selfishly I want to say, “Don’t look into anything. Buy the book and let it do what it will do.” But I know people will go on the store page and read the description or see what certain people have said about the contents. I think what I would like is for people to read this book without knowing what nn, yy, ff, or vv want to do. I think the experience is best if you learn each desire (and each attempt to move closer to that desire) in the moment. Remain clueless and let the text tell you itself what it wants you to know or witness.

VKN: Go away, marketing content, you seem to say, yes? Speaking of contentlessness, when I read Gut Text, it sounds like ambient noise or furniture music, with the volume turned completely down. Do you listen to music when you write, Mike? Your Gut Text also reminds me of the ambient direction of Godard’s Alphaville. Which leads me to ask, what is your least favorite film and why?

MC: Oh definitely. I like this view. As the reader, you are very much a witness to these entities. Although I tend to listen to much more abrasive music while I work. For Gut Text I jumped between this Blaise Siwula album titled Past the Potatoes and Sun Ra’s Fireside Chat with Lucifer. Both are avant-jazz records. I tend to look for hysteria-inducing music. I want to write in this state where I feel paranoid and frantic. Like what’s being written needs to be extracted from my body. There’s certainly some Alphaville influence in there as well. That mid to late 60s Godard. My least favorite film… I really hated Deadpool. It’s so smug and arrogant in how it breaks the fourth wall. It holds onto that very generic superhero plot, but thinks that it’s above other movies of the genre because every couple of minutes it will turn to the camera and say, ‘Yeah this is a film!” This isn’t to say that I don’t want movies to break the fourth wall, rather I’d like them to begin without the pretense of having one. I want the art that does not pull you into this fantasy world.

VKN: Was it difficult to switch mode from a dialogue-gy based novel to this more visually philosophical being, Gut Text? Or did you start Gut Text before you wrote Man, Oh Man? How linearly is your literary production?

MC: I wrote Man, Oh Man in early 2016, and I wrote Gut Text this last August. The book that I have coming out this November was started in 2015 and finished in 2017. So there’s been a lot of fluctuation in what comes out when. There was a much slower escalation from Man, Oh Man to Gut Text than what might be suggested by the release dates. The move from the Beckett-esque style of the first book to the text-object position of the second book was very natural and unplanned. It has a lot to do with the kind of books that I read now compared to then. I used to mostly read dead authors (Angela Carter, Beckett, Burroughs, etc.). Now most of the reading material is from the last five years or so. A lot of it coming from small presses.

VKN: You are a millennial, yes, Mike? How many words do you think would have to be stacked one on top of the other to sink the Titanic? When I read your book, I thought, if this book wasn’t designed to be read in one sitting, he could easily sink the Titanic if he didn’t stop with the layering. For an indirect instance, the gigantic period felt like the heaviest anchor/canon at sea.

MC: Yeah, I’m twenty-two right now, I think I might be one of the last couple of years for ‘millennial’. I’ve always tried to keep my books somewhat short. I don’t think any of them (published or unpublished) have gone over 35,000 words. It’s been a good way for me to keep my thoughts concise and purposeful. As you say, I think Gut Text could have been massive, but I don’t think that would have worked properly. The flow would have been too slow. I think one of the important aspects of these entities is how quickly they try to reorient themselves. Once they are conceived, they almost immediately try to change their ontologies.

VKN: If you view your Gut Text as ontological, if one of your characters was moved ontologically to commit suicide, which entity would that be? And, why? Quoting you, since “nn wants to become nothing”—would that suicidalist be nn then?

MC: I would certainly consider nn to be a suicidalist. I think, unlike the others, they find this existence irredeemably torturous and rather than trying to become the organism, they see the void as a more reasonable alternative. They still attempt to change, but just in a different direction. This is also why, when they are later brought up by ff and vv, their name is crossed out. It is evidence of nn’s choice to no longer exist, and proof of either their success or failure.

Mike Corrao, Gut Text (11:11 Press, 2019)

VKN: If you were forced to choose one intersection: the intersection between film and book, film and art, thought and text, being and text, nonbeing and text, materiality and immateriality, desire and nonbeing, music fluency and absence of noise, which one would you choose?

MC: For Gut Text, I think it would be being and text, with this fascination that each entity has towards their position as text, and how they can go about changing that (whether by becoming nothing or by becoming organism). And this intersection fits my fascination as the author as well. I wanted to explore text as an object. And what that object might do or attempt to do when give autonomy.

VKN: Both of the presses that published you seem to publish, currently, only male authors. Which leads me to ask, how many brothers do you have? What is the compositional structure of your siblings, if any. Genderwise.

MC: I’ve noticed this as well, and I’m hoping that it doesn’t remain this way for long. I have an older brother and an older sister. Both incredibly different from myself.

VKN: What kind of doors do you hope others would close in opening your work/books/films? If you are not “made with a hammer” (p.146), are you a hammer?

MC: With my books, I’m hoping that I can encourage people to engage with more unconventional literature, and encourage them to engage with more complex and bizarre ideas. When writing, I tend to approach my books more as essay than fiction. I want to work my way through ideas/concepts that have bored their way into my skull. With the film work, because I’m having to incorporate another artist’s project, the goal tends to vary from project to project. Although, like with the books, we’ve wanted to introduce people to stranger and stranger work, with the hopes that they might see it and be inspired to create their own work without necessarily worrying about what films are supposed to do or look like. I think I am made with a hammer as well. As the text is manipulated by my hand, I think I am deeply influenced by what I read/watch/listen to.

VKN: Of the five super-short films I watched on your website, which one is the closest (ontologically speaking) to your heart? And, what was the source of your inspiration for it? What are you hoping to achieve with your films? Are your aspirations similar to your books?

MC: I think How To Stay Warm might be closest to my heart. We made it as part of this Vimeo competition called “5×5” where the films submitted must consist of 5 shots that are 5 seconds each. They do it every couple of months I think. The theme of this one was “Summertime” or something like that. At the time, I was living in a shitty apartment with no air conditioning, it was like 90 degrees every day. I was completely miserable. So Rob (my filmmaking partner) brought this competition to my attention and we started talking about different ways we could represent our exhaustion, and eventually it led to creating this very plastic representation. The subject has incredibly smooth skin. The backgrounds are clean, solid, and pastel. I think with film, my interest has been in creating this very clear distinction between what is cinematic and what is real. Like with my writing, I don’t want to pull the viewer into a diegesis. I want them to always be aware that they are interacting with something. Although it does differ from Gut Text, because there is no physical object; there is nothing in their hands.

VKN: Your Gut Text draws its gravitational force from repetition, which I also noticed in all of your five films. What do you think is the best way to make repetition not boring? Should repetition turn itself into narrative materials to keep itself alive on the page? In film? If being alive isn’t important for it, what is the best way for repetition to be dead, to die?

MC: With repetitive structures, my goal has been for it to inform the content. I do not want to create visual elements whose only use is that they are appealing to look at. In the case of Gut Text, this has much to do with how the entities think and feel. It’s about the progression of their desires. I don’t know if I would say that repetition must be narrative, but I do think that it must be applicable to the project of the book. I think repetition finds its most interesting death in excess. Something like Mike Kleine’s Lonely Men Club is steeped in excess. It’s a machine-assisted novel and each page has a very similar structure. And in that, Kleine creates a very beautiful and rhythmic flue. You skim, you lock onto certain phrases. I think this is the best way that I’ve seen repetition die.

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Vi Khi Nao is the author of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018) and Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014.  Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, March 27th, 2019.