Vlad Interviews: Eli S. Evans

Vlad Savich: Hello Jesus. My name is Vlad. I am living in Montreal, Canada. Russell gave me your address. If you are interested, we can do interviews with you. I’m waiting for your answer.

Eli S. Evans: Let’s do it. Should I have sent you the small book I did last year? Should I send some stories and you can pick one to be published alongside the interview (I’d like this). Now I await your response!

VS: Hello readers. Today I am opening the Interview heading again. Today my interlocutor, Eli Evans. Eli, tell me and our reader a little bit about yourself.

ESE: As a writer of very minor repute, I go by Eli S. Evans, mainly because there are other Eli Evanses in the world, including another (more famous) writer by the name of Eli N. Evans. There is also an Eli Evans – this is an awful story with something of a happy ending – who was saved after his mother was killed while he was still in utero, and who went on, the last I read of him (at least twelve or fifteen years ago) to play on his high school football (American football) team. Going back to Eli N. Evans, I’ve been confused with him on a couple of occasions, once by a woman hoping to track him down for possibly romantic or remunerative purposes and another time by representatives from a Jewish magazine hoping to interview him. This latter was a little painful, because I had been publishing just enough work prior to that request that even though I replied that they were probably looking for “Eli N. Evans,” I held out some hope – subsequently dashed – that it was really me they wanted. So in an effort to not be confused with other Eli Evanses, especially Eli N. Evans, I always use the S. in my capacities as a writer. At work and in other situations, I usually do not. The S is for “Singh,” because although I am of Jewish heritage, my parents were practicing a version of Sikhism under the guidance of the late and since disgraced Yoga Bhajan at the time of my conception and subsequent birth.

VS: I know Bill Evans American jazz pianist and composer. Please tell me, I was always interested in the question: Do music and literature have something in common? Can you tell me what they have in common? Thank you

ESE: I don’t think I can! I remember once, when I was much younger and had actually signed with a real gatekeeping literary agent at what was then the Henry Dunow Agency (I don’t know if it still exists), I was trying to give him ideas about how to pitch my work – terrible ideas, in fact – and I suggested he describe it as “literary jazz,” I suppose because I fancied there was something improvisational about my writing. But other than that … I guess they’re both expressive forms and they both involve rhythm and composition, but those are pretty generic features of all expressive artistic forms, aren’t they? All that said, there is a literary magazine called Music & Literature, so maybe there is an answer to this question and the editors of Music & Literature could provide it.

VS: You wrote the book last year. Can you tell us about this book?

ESE: Well, this is a small book of small stories published by a small publishing endeavor located in a small city. After reading it, one of my mother’s friends wrote to her in a text message: “I just finished reading Eli’s book. I never realized he was so talented!” I was both flattered and insulted, of course. About the book, I hope people would say that it is “delightful.” I think the best place to read it is in the bathroom, and it so happens I have a friend who loves me and so keeps that book and other works of mine that have made it into the world as printed matter in his bathroom, and I am often complimented by people who have read it at his house. I wonder if they realize they are also telling me they used the bathroom at his house for long enough to read a story – or more? In this book, most of the stories are at least a few years old by now, since everything happens slowly, but with the exception of the closing bit of the first story, I was very satisfied with them after making revisions just prior to going to the printer. The last thing I’d say about the work in this book, and my work in general, is that it’s sort of the opposite of that Rembrandt painting where the students are watching the doctor cut open a gentleman’s arm (“The Anatomy Lesson,” I think it’s called). As a writer – maybe a person – I am no longer so interested, after three graduate degrees including a Ph.D., in cutting open the world, peeling back its skin to figure out (or show) how it “really” works; rather, I am interested in the places where it’s ticklish, so to speak. If my writing were a painting, I guess it would be called “The Tickle Spot.” But of course, there are many tickle spots, so actually it would have to be a long, maybe interminable series of paintings called “The Tickle Spots.” Fortunately, I am not a painter, since I would be a very bad one, although in the fourth grade I once drew an excellent cheetah.

VS: If you were not the author Eli N. Evans but a reader Eli N. Evans, what would you tell your friends about this book? Is it worth reading or not?

ESE: Well, I’m not sure what I’d say if I were Eli N. Evans, because Eli N. Evans is, as I mentioned, somebody else with whom I have occasionally been confused (coincidentally, I received an email on Thursday, following our correspondence on Wednesday, from someone who had confused me with Eli N. Evans). As Eli S. Evans, however, I would tell my friends that it is indeed delightful and that they will be surprised to find that despite their length, the sentences I write are not so hard to navigate. On the other hand, I hope that my own friends, as opposed to my mother’s friends, already consider me talented, and would therefore not be surprised to find their opinion confirmed in this regard. If they do not consider me talented, I hope they at least consider me kind and amusing. If they consider me neither talented nor kind nor amusing, well, I’m not rich, so I’m not really sure what they’re getting out of our friendship in that case.

VS: Tell us a little about your book. About the heroes of the book. What are they doing? What worries them? Where and what are they striving for? What do they expect from life? Why do they live and eventually what is life about?

ESE: I suppose the hero of the book is language, which strives to reproduce the world that is but because it is doomed to always miss the mark instead reveals something about the world as it might have been. Other than that, these stories and everything I’ve written for the last several years are of the order of what Borges called his “games with time and infinity” (“games with time and the infinite,” according to Ilan Stavans’ more recent translation, which I don’t necessarily prefer to James Irby’s original), but games whose field of play, as it were, is perfectly mundane. They are usually autobiographically motivated – I watch the world and my own thoughts and when I see an odd or funny situation, I describe it, sometimes allowing the absurd possibilities that are latent in that situation come to the surface. My work also reflects certain scatological preoccupations the origin of which continues to elude me after all these years.

VS: Interesting. Please tell us how the world can be.

ESE: Well, all I mean is that every situation is both itself and all the other possibilities it contains. For example, the other day I was traveling by highway and found myself getting drowsy, so I stopped at a highway rest stop to buy a Coca Cola, the only thing that seems to really wake me up when I get drowsy behind the wheel. I thanked the gentleman who sold me the Coca Cola and he replied, “You got it, boss.” My travels continued, but latent in that exchange was the possibility that I might have disliked being called “boss,” that I might have disliked it so much that I asked the gentleman to repeat himself, employing a different sobriquet, and that if he had refused I might have taken a pre-made salad from the cooler and dumped it on his head in fury, and he might have retaliated by dunking my head in a vat of macaroni and cheese, and on and on it might have gone until we each realized the other in fact looked quite delicious and proceeded to eat each other. Now, this did not happen, but its “might have happened” or “could have happened” did happen, and indeed I wrote a story about being called “boss” at the highway rest stop, and I already had some of these ideas in mind, even that we would eat each other in the story, but other parts of the story only emerged in the writing of it, and only could have emerged through the writing of it without which, or before which, they were simply not yet imaginable, at least not for me. But that’s what I mean when I say something about “the world as it might have been.” As for the future tense, “how can the world be,” I’m not very hopeful, at least as far as the world of we human beings is concerned. I think reason will in the long view turn out to have been an evolutionary disadvantage, which is a cosmic irony that no one will be left to appreciate because it will be consummated only by our definitive disappearance, and along with us, the disappearance of that capacity for reason the perception, not to mention appreciation, of irony requires.

 VS: What do you think – will someone be waiting, how they waited for us in this world, on the other side of life?

ESE: It’s pretty hard to imagine, isn’t it? But I’m going to the dentist this morning, and usually there’s a moment in the dentist’s chair when you realize you are at the mercy of this person you hardly know who is armed with many powerful tools and sharp implements, and in that moment God or the universe sometimes seems to reveal itself, albeit vanishingly. You find your faith, in other words. But no, it’s difficult to imagine popping out on the other side like hey, I’m here, this looks cool. Wandering through the Bardo for forty-nine days or whatever it is before being reborn as an insect strikes me as perhaps less farfetched, but all the same pretty unbelievable. I guess our consciousness probably folds back into the great unnamable from which it emerged, and that great unnamable probably is something without beginning or ending, before or after, and in relation to which a question such as this one therefore makes no sense. Another, probably more phenomenological perspective, is that death, that is to say, the end of life, does not take place, sort of like Baudrillard’s Gulf War did not take place, but also not quite like that. This perspective, however, seems quite convenient, maybe too convenient to be taken completely seriously. One could also approach the question through the lens of “messianic time,” but doing so would probably also lead one to draw suspiciously reassuring conclusions.

VS: Literature will have a future or will it fade as an art form? What do you think about it?

ESE: Well, hopefully the bourgeois family novel will fade into oblivion. I just saw, for instance, that Jonathan Franzen has published the first in a forthcoming trilogy of new novels, which is a shame. I haven’t read any of his novels, making me profoundly unqualified to comment, but all the same I feel I’ve read enough about them (that is, a few lines here and there) to say that it seems like a shame he’s making more. Who needs more stories about nuclear families with their various centripetal and centrifugal forces and always some great secret? And why is there always great secret in these novels? I don’t have any great secrets, unless you count the secrets I’ve kept secret from myself, and that’s a matter for psychoanalysis, not bourgeois novelists. I also hope the plot-conflict version of literature fades into oblivion, which reduces life to an antagonism between the self and world that ends in either success or failure, and furthermore centers causality in a way that was probably useful to the oral storytelling tradition from which it derives – makes things easier to remember – but can’t still be the most useful way to imagine a world in which everything that is could as easily have turned out otherwise. I’m responding to this question pretty early in the morning, so my thoughts aren’t all that organized, but maybe the last thing I’ll say is that I think literature is pretty durable, but at the same time you can’t tell a story when you’re fighting off a hungry bear, you can’t tell a story when you’re drowning … because in these circumstances, language is reduced to its denotative capacities, don’t you think?

VS: What is writing to you? Work, hobby, pleasant pastime, drug, path to fame? You don’t have to write your stories?

ESE: It’s the most important thing to me in the world, leaving aside the people I love. And it’s the only thing that makes sense.

VS: What else do you love besides writing?

ESE: My family. Myself. This interview, which I hope never ends. The desert.

VS: It all ends This interview will end too which I also regret, because you are a very interesting conversationalist. Tell me please what to expect from the future?

ESE: Well, Vlad, that’s a pretty difficult question, which at the moment I feel like I can only respond to by (ironically enough, I guess, since I’m supposedly looking toward the future) quoting two dead white men: Heidegger who, when asked more or less the same question in the famous Der Spiegel interview from if I recall correctly 1966, replied that at that point there was nothing left for us to do but “prepare readiness” for the coming, or not coming, of a “god,” by which I can only assume he meant that which exceeds the limits of human imagination, that is, of language; and then Gilbert Sorrentino, who in his wonderful Splendide-Hôtel writes: “The future is a bore simply because it hasn’t happened.” Then again, thinking of the future, and our future as human beings, maybe I could also quote the character who at the end of Faulkner’s (another dead white man) Wild Palms says: “Between grief and nothing I will take –” But I can never seem to remember how that sentence ends, and the fact that I still haven’t looked it up can only reveal that in this case, at least, I must prefer the wondering.

VS: You work with words and Parts of speech. Which ones do you like: Noun Verb Participle Article Pronoun Preposition Adverb Conjunction…?

ESE: I guess I’d have to go with relative pronouns, and I’d also place high on this list verbs conjugated in the perfect tense, preferably the future perfect. On a case-by-case basis, I prefer pretty much whatever can prolong this or that given sentence without causing it to collapse into itself like a dying star or whatever.

VS: If you could come up with a new part of speech, what would you call it?

ESE: If language were lacking anything, or could be supplemented with anything, I don’t think it would be language, so in that regard I cannot possibly answer this extremely difficult if not altogether unanswerable question. However, if it were possible, and I had to come up with a name for my new part of speech, I would definitely choose something my child says, so that I would be reminded of my child whenever I was reading a grammar handbook.

VS: Tell me please: Which is the best story of those that you wrote? Do you have one?

ESE: The next one, of course!

VS: Good answer! Bravo! Next one. There are such poetic lines: “If only you knew what trash gives rise to verse, without a tinge of shame.” From what rubbish arise your nice stories?

ESE: I mean, the actual answer to this question is that I sacrificed a lot of my childhood, adolescence, twenties, and the first part of my thirties to a really shitty anxiety disorder, and the work I did trying to gain some mastery over it – being that the alternative is to be mastered by it – trained me to become pretty good at observing my own thinking, and I think this mode of observation, whether its focus is inward or outward, has helped me write my best and most consistent work. It’s not a very sexy answer, but it’s probably the most accurate one. As for the wild sex and drugs, I mostly missed out on the former, and the latter have been mostly prescribed pharmaceuticals. I also think I’ve done my best work during the past five or six years, which are also the five or six years of my life when I’ve enjoyed the greatest financial stability – not wealth but just stability, the absence of that constant worrying – and I’ve little doubt there’s some correlation. As I said in response to an earlier question, it’s probably impossible to write a story when your hair is on fire (or a bear is attacking you, etc.). If you accept that any individual measure of economic privilege in our current collective circumstances necessarily corresponds to a lack of the same elsewhere, I suppose it would be reasonable to say, then, that this stability I’ve enjoyed is itself its own inverse, and I know from plenty of experience that the inverse of financial stability is most definitely a whole lot of rubbish

 VS: Can you tell me is life worth the work to be lived or is it not worth it?

ESE: Man, I sure fucking hope so.

VS: It’s your answer?

ESE: I really don’t have any idea how to measure happiness and misery against one another and decide which one comes out on top. This personal inability is only exacerbated by the tendency of each to become the other in retrospect, and then perhaps itself again, and so on. What I mean, to take one example, is that pain associated with our fear or uncertainty before the future often seems, in retrospect, to have not been pain at all, since now we know that we had nothing to fear after all, or in any event if we did have something to fear it wasn’t what we thought it was. But joy, too, can become a form of pain in retrospect, if only because it has passed. And of course, one can as easily feel nostalgia for unhappy times as happy times. There’s the old cliche about the artist turning personal pain into grist for the creative mill, but I think this is probably ideological for reasons I won’t get into here, and furthermore prefer not to seek refuge in it in so far as it provides a kind of offramp to redemption for those who identify themselves as artists while leaving everyone else out in the cold. However, from my own perspective as a writer, it is true that when I am writing with ease and in a way that is true to whoever or whatever I am at this or that particular moment, the challenges of living are more likely to pass as opportunities. Finally, I also think any final calculation of the final balance will be predicated on an understanding of life as something that unfolds between a beginning and an ending, and I’m pretty confident that though we humans cannot understand life any other way, this being the way we experience it, to understand life this way is nonetheless to understand it incorrectly.

VS: On this minor-major, like our life, note, we will end our interview. If you want, you can say a few words to our readers.

ESE: Ha ha, I think I’ve said plenty.


The Interview, Based on a True Story: A Story by Eli S. Evans

by Eli S. Evans

Interviewed, a little-known writer is asked what he considers his greatest accomplishment as a writer, which he considers his greatest accomplishment as a writer.

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