A conversation between Logan Berry (theatre director, co-editor of SELFFUCK, and author of the forthcoming
Runoff Sugar, Crystal Lake) and John Trefry (architect, publisher of Inside The Castle and author of the books Plats, Thy Decay Thou Seest By Thy Desire, Apparitions of the Living and the forthcoming MASSIVE).
JT: If you had to take 10 seconds from a Friday the 13th movie and throw away the rest of the franchise, what would you keep? —–> Follow up, would CRYSTAL LAKE still embody those 10 seconds? Ie, do you think that the franchise is a fractal?
LB: I meditated on this for a few days before realizing I’d have to cheat. In the spirit of CRYSTAL LAKE, I’d splice together footage from a few of them, speed them up, and make a frenetic 10-second montage. By design, CRYSTAL LAKE would embody these seconds:
These questions are perceptive. I do think the franchise is a fractal. When I think about the Friday the 13th series, I think about them all at once. It occupies a particular position in my mind. (Of course, thinking about specificities–certain shots, textures, sequences, characters, etc. does puncture the Mass and makes its many-ingredient mess spill into consciousness). It’s a capacious zone with a clearly demarcated edge. I suspect that the edge is made of the plot tropes and other technical devices that render each movie, video game, novelization, and fan fiction part of the franchise. The interior zone might be where the variables–novel plot twists, unfamiliar settings, revised mythologies, etc.–persist.
I want to stick with the fractal image/concept/question for a moment. If we agree the interior zone is where mutation, creation, and destruction occur, I’d wager F13 V, VIII, IX, and X, for all their shortcomings as “Scary Slashers”, work the most to expand the fractal. They explore novel territories that were, in some ways, always already there, but obscured from the action of preceding movies. V intrigues me most. It’s set at a halfway house for troubled youth, and *SPOILER ALERT* the killer is a Jason copycat. The violence of Crystal Lake echoes beyond the campground; its spectacles become mimetic.
When I entered the fractal to write the book, things changed. Like a detective or a clinician, I came in with my own baggage and biases that mapped over the situation at hand. It was unavoidable. I dragged in the muck of the Real, siphoning in its venom, its evil banalities, its inescapable cruelties, its dazzling, obscure densities. And (like a detective or clinician) I was overcome by the subjects. I couldn’t distinguish between it and it. Clanging pareidolias abounded. The fractal became a blighted, prismatic terror.
JT: I love PART V. That gif is great. It has one of the bits where — in what I called an “enjambment shot” in the HUNCHBACK ‘88 essay — the camera is giving you what seems to be a Jason POV shot approaching the victim (Violet ❤️) coupled with a shot of Jason’s feet approaching (obviously that shot is from PART V so it isn’t actually Jason). What I love about those shots is that they always include a shot from the front of the victim cut into it where there is nobody behind them even though the POV has crept so close to them that there is no way Jason would not be right behind them. That scene in V is probably the best example that I can think of. The other one that comes to mind is Mark on the porch of the cabin in II. To me these are exemplary of what makes horror cinema so useful to contemporary writing. It — in many ways besides this one — allows for a total destruction of time, but not in the way a montage destroys time. To me montage isn’t interesting to literature anymore. Montage came from literature. It is that in this series of cuts that are “smoothed” together into 1 timespace where there is commutativity of the related parts. The reader sees them all at once as a passage through a unified timespace (or scene?) but their sequence is clearly not existing in causal time. I dunno if I’m making sense… doubtful.
LB: I think you’re making sense. This “smoothing” together that the montage accomplishes creates a new kind of causal logic. Even though the cuts may be from different temporal situations, their flowing together creates another steady passage through unified timespace. Whereas a filmic enjambment sputters the flow. It’s a breakage rather than a replication of the steady stream. The dis
ruption. A half-dozen
eggs in open carton caked
in mold, spider
nests, & blood upon the wet, cragged
sill––cast in shadow,
sea mist beheld
by the broken casement. I am und
one petting yr dust
-y chicks. Point yr fingerguns
at my heart. I am liquid
How does this play out in your own work? Let me rephrase this question. I’d like to quote your HUNCHBACK essay ((yes, I linked it twice, reader–it’s that good)) at length:
(I)nstead of stringing these full words together across time and space in a gallivanting tale that undervalues the expansive breadth of each word, is it possible that the entirety of a book is the protraction of a single instant, a single image, or flicker of a few frames from a movie, quite similar to the way a geologic timespan is described using our 24 hour clock where humans arrive on the scene at 11:59:59. This may sound like a shortcoming—after all the movie has thousands of these moments strung together in a grand spectrum of fluid titillation—but it is the book that has stopped time, that has crawled inside the instant like into a cave or a fractal to gaze around at its leisure on the fascinations and possibilities of the entire universe of human knowledge contained in that moment.
It seems to me that MASSIVE is accomplishing this. I wrote to you in an earlier email that “DRYWALL” reads like a security camera system narrating as much of what it sees as fast as possible. What sorts of constraints did you give yourself when starting this work? Were they in aim of any particular ends?
JT: Hahaha… when I write reviews I think I usually just use them to talk about my own thoughts, or like try to confront some issues that I am interested in in literature through the lens of that book. So yeah, as much as I was writing about Norris’s book there, I was kinda trying to unpack a way of talking about my own work. So, in the spirit of what you’ve quoted there, the primary conceit of MASSIVE is that it is aspiring to take on the eternalist conception of “time”, or “block time” if you will, as a reading practice.
It’s goal is to study eternalism through its narrative structure, which, um, I haven’t figured out yet, and has much more to do with the distribution and collating of materials on each page than any kind of arc, so I think it will need to be kind of a mathematical process. To study eternalism through its hyper articulation, its all-at-onceness, its kaleidomicroscopic detailing (like a kitchen sink approach to narrative, or some might call it going overboard on “worldbuilding” where I’ve written probably more “nonfiction” in the book (about drywall for instance, or a particular mineral that allows you to “flash” to different events in the block universe, or manifold geometry, techniques for pig butchery, background processes in computers, or all the lists, like the list of all the rivers in Russia, or the list of all the words with the ‘zh sound’ /ʒ/, or the list of all the parts of the skull, or the list of recently extinct birds) than I have the actual “story” of Osip Mandelstam. All of these things are born out of or inspired by my reading about Mandelstam and Stalin, but none of them directly impact the compartment of his narrative in the book. And then finally to study eternalism through its language, where I am barring myself from using any word that is not in the present continuous tense, so that includes when using a noun that is also commonly a verb, for instance I cannot say “entering a vacant chamber, red paint on the wall” because “paint” is a verb in the simple present, so I have to find a word that is not commonly a verb, like “entering a vacant chamber, red latex pigmentation on the wall.” It leads to a very jargon-heavy prose, which I like (and I have embraced that, although people have busted on me for previous books having words they have to look up, I have gone full bore, finding very precise words that have involved reading scientific papers or technical documents or legal codes, just because I think they look gorgeous, and although they are the perfect word choice, I generally forget what they mean after a while and just like seeing them in the text). The alternative to the word replacement is to just “cut” to a sentence about the wall actually being painted, which obviously is not occurring at the same time, but allows me to approach what I was talking about with the F13 shot above, “entering a vacant chamber, maintenance laborers on ladders are painting the drywall red.”
So all of these things together are seeking a sense that the prose is happening at that moment, it isn’t pointing somewhere, it just is, right then, on the page. I guess what you are saying about narrating as fast as possible comes from that, but I am also not overly hung up on the order of things in a block of text I am writing, If something comes to mind I will just put it in there. I am trying to limit my editing, kinda inspired by Roubaud’s “project.” Mike Corrao talked about it in terms of the “kino-eye”, or the, like you said, the surveillance camera, which I think is neat. As long as it is the reader sitting in front of a panel of camera monitors in real time and not watching playback of a camera. I am not interested in the clinical aesthetic of surveillance, just in its presentness. In order to make it work so that it isn’t like a document of something that has happened that just utilizes the language of the present, the other big conceit is the way the text will work on the page. Corrao talked about that as kind of its “ludological” playability, where each page is nested units from all different facets of the text structured to be read in many ways, utilizing what I would call “text wrap of text” to keep everything on the same lineation but you end up either being beckoned to read what seems to be the isolated block of prose, or flowing across a line which may contain parts from three blocks, or just allowing your eye to jump around the page. So each reading will necessarily be in the present. In the study I did for this several years ago I called it “an atemporal, spatial text, for unique reading performances.” I tried to do something with Mike Kleine along these lines in our “Meadow Mapping” project but I am just not savvy enough with tech to get it to work really fluidly, so it’s kind of a choppy segmented version of what I mean.
Given your work in theater and performance, how would you describe the, or would you describe the function of CRYSTAL LAKE as mediating the static repeatability of film with the… hmmm… the improvisational nature of performance? Or maybe, where do you think your writing/making process of CRYSTAL LAKE falls between the static nature of a film and the ephemeral nature of performance… obviously the performance of reading the book is ephemeral… more interested in your making.
LB: I see a continuum between my performance-making and writing processes. It’s probably worth noting that I typically direct my plays, though I have occasionally performed in them. In both writing and directing I’m interested in investigating something I’ve come to call Unnatural Theatre. Though the process transforms depending on the subject matter, it’s generally interested in spectacle, in hypertheatricality, in seducing or bombarding audiences/readers with sensory overload, in (e)merging mediums. Technology. Death. Mass extinction. Pageantry. Its cold eye belongs to that which renders humans, minerals, etc. into data farm equipment. Its other eye aims to unnaturalize the Real, to create a total work of art. It conflates things with other things. Its actors, setting, props, etc. are hypersensitive to the sprawling infrastructural preconditions that give rise to their performance. Everything is mise-en-scene.
Words are cheap. I love working with actors, animals, designers, fabric, etc., but I always have access to language. I hate words and want them to be more than they are. The process always begins as a failure, then, since I want the words to explode off the page. I want them to dance in your head. To dance on your lap! To open portals. To nuzzle in your brain’s gray matter and echo. To be undead. Maybe words do do that. I don’t know. Maybe I love words. Regardless, I treat them as decor of particular powers when casting them to perform in the books. They’re in conversation w/ each other and with the paratext. Everything is mise-en-scene.
The page as a stage; the stage as a page. Can this ever be reconciled? Aren’t they both alive for the time being, albeit at different stages of decay?
Translating written notes to the computer is the first step of staging the text. I think about how the text is going to look early into the process. With CRYSTAL LAKE you probably noticed that each writing chunk is pretty small on the page. I initially imagined the book designed to look like a detective’s small notebook. The book would feel like fractured notes on dialogue/settings/crime scenes/clues. Perhaps a fucked-up screenplay. I sent it out as a 4 inch by 5 inch book.
Working with Mike Corrao on the design was a lot like working on a play. We discussed our new visions for the piece, I sent him research (over 500 images for inspiration and a couple of letters/essays about my thoughts on the project), and he used them to reformat the piece into a maximalist spectacle. I added an additional 70 pages of text for the new project. He would comb through the manuscript, front-to-back, to find new places to design. We tinkered and went back and forth about it for months. It was intensive and communal and a lot of fun. What I’d want from a play rehearsal process, honestly.
What is your writing performance like? Do you write quickly or slowly or does it vary? Also, I’d like to acknowledge that there was a two week gap between your last question and my response. I’m reticent to give specifics, but suffice to say I’m trying to find footing in a precarious situation. How does day-to-day stuff affect your work? Does it ever become material for you? Your novels are so dense and self-contained, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said it didn’t.
JT: I guess it varies? My first three books all took between 7 and 10 years. I am currently 4.5 years into this one and I expect it is maybe an 8 year book? I don’t have a great sense of how long it takes people to make work, but my impression is that I am on the slow end. I think this is probably for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that when I sit down to work I don’t produce a lot. I think that is mostly because I don’t know exactly what I am trying to accomplish, even though I have a really tight overall project for each book. Each period of writing, usually a couple of hours, is kind of its own discrete thing with its own influences. It would never be affected by my emotions because I wouldn’t sit down to work if I was experiencing any heightened emotions. I would simply do something else, watch a movie, eat some snacks, go to sleep, what have you. I prefer to be pretty glazed over. The past 10 years I have been writing really early in the morning… 4ish. So it is more that something must arise out of the blank stare, usually from a little language seed. For instance, the other morning I had an image of Anna Akhmatova taking a scarf off of her head and the sunlight projecting the colors of the scarf onto her face. So I started looking at scarves, then I started reading about the flowers on the particular scarf I was looking at, then I started collecting botanical terms. So I ended up with two chunks of text, one was a catalog:
viscous droplets across the bitegmic
integument, geophilous, flexistyly,
flaccid, barbellate bifid stem,
urceolate flycatcher, tunicate, trifid
versus bifid, sympetalous, pruinose,
pubescent, pulvinate, pyramidal
infructescence, fugacious, a
fruticose youth sneaking under the
barbwire, forb, moisture gathering
on the hirsute exotesta, exstipulate,
And the other was the bit about Akhmatova:
the sunlight is palpable, drowning
vessel, grain silo of photons,
restriction of respiration by the
warmth of dacha sunlight, Anna is
removing her broadbrim hat and
silkscarf unwindingly from her
short hair projecting the colorful
image of its decoration–red & gold
roses clustering at the vertices &
midpoints of the square amidst
inward reaching posies of Nigella
damascena and gold paisley buta
swirling around brocades of very
small daisies are casting loose
blossoms & inflorescences
diminishing inward over a white
fieldzone–playing over her forehead
and diffusing into her entire visage
aureate & rosy & lavender and
verdantly becoming part of the
So I don’t know how many words that is but it is about 2 hours of sitting at the computer. In my previous 2 novels I think there was a lot more writing about places that I was when I was writing, so like the Marriott Marquis hotel in Atlanta where I spent a ton of time writing APPARITIONS OF THE LIVING is a huge part of the book. Again, nothing about my emotional state or my experiences per se, more just describing the places and letting events come out of the details of the description. But in this book it is way more hermetic. It is focused on the blossoming of information out of information. That blossoming isn’t just an immediate thing. It takes some critical mass. So it is hard to just “sit down and bust something out.” It takes some time of just staring. I think it owes a ton to my project THY DECAY THOU SEEST BY THY DESIRE which was basically a collage project slowly collected from texts I was reading on the internet while I was working over stupid long hours as an architect. It felt like a joke when I was doing it, but that disembodied building up of words or textures from something that isn’t purely your own consciousness is pretty rewarding to me, it lets me be surprised, because I am incredibly disinterested in my own life. It lets words become much more raw material for rhetorical manipulation than personal expression.
LB: Help me trace out the filmic enjambment idea a little more. It seems like there is a recursive process. If visual rhetoric borrows/develops from the textual enjambment (in the V and II shots we discussed and the MEET THE PARENTS shot from yr essay), the return to literature wouldn’t be a return to the traditional enjambment, correct? It would be infected by the film technique. Maybe upon return it should have a different name–perhaps a “temporal enjambment.” What do you think?
JT: Yeah I think that is what I was trying to dig up in that essay. Really it was born out of a pet peeve of people talking about literature that is “cinematic.” I just felt like it was a really lazy way of blowing smoke up someone’s ass because they used an extra adjective in every 3rd paragraph. Obviously literature predates cinema, and the properties people were referring to as cinematic were more likely coopted from Romanticism or Decadence. It was cinema that took those qualities, not the other way around. But to imagine that we are writing now without having been impacted by watching movies our whole lives is just dumb. But it wouldn’t just send us back to writing Gautier or Poe rip-offs would it? Nor is it just referencing movies. I think there is something structurally different with the way we organize information in our brains. It seems like it would make something new in literature, although not necessarily a new language. So I think my interest became more in the rhetorical structuring of images rather than the prose that makes the images. So in the enjambment idea I wondered what cinematic rhetoric was analogous to enjambment in poetry, and the idea of a cut that flips back on itself, the cut being the linebreak obviously, but the continuation after the cut being an inflection of the previous line and not a smash cut to something completely new or something like cutting between two over-the-shoulder shots in a dialog scene that doesn’t really take advantage of the spatiality of information. So, how does that new conception of the rhetorical movement between two images get captured in writing? Since I personally don’t think time is at stake in literature, or not in the kind I am really interested in, or envision being possible, then I think it is about the raw quality of how the two images interact with each other, what their bearing is on one another. And when I say image, I think I am saying the image that is a cluster of words, not the image that the words are pointing to.
I wonder how this factors for you, like in how chaotic I feel your work is. Josiah Morgan, who also has a theatrical background, or foreground, has, I think, a really familiar/similar hybridity in his work to yours. I was telling him that his SELFFUCK chapbook was so heterogenous in technique and content I really just couldn’t imagine working like that. I have said the same sort of thing to you I think regarding the CASKET FLARE book. Do you think it comes out of making literature as a performance? Kitchell is like that too and he is a performer.
LB: This is a really interesting question, and I’m not sure how to answer it. First I’ll say that Morgan and Kitchell’s works are fantastic and ((you, who’s reading this interview)) should open up a couple tabs and consider their stuff. I can’t speak to their particular processes, but your inclination to ask the question creates an interesting circuitry between our works (and perhaps our processes, too). I’ll try talking about my stuff and see if I can connect it back. Each thing I’ve worked on has had a specific set of concerns in mind that led to particular procedures to bring them into textual performance. (I have to say, btw, it’s v amusing to me that I’m writing to you about this with no books out. If I remain a fecal spray of micro-hype till I’m dead––that’d be just fine.).
JT: To be fair, I’ve never had a book published by a publisher, yet here we are, killing it!
LB: Indeed! Anyway, typically subject matter dictates form for me, and they’ll antagonize each other till the project is done and what’s left is the aftermath. CASKET FLARE started with wanting to investigate/aestheticize paranormal phenomena/hallucinations I experienced when I worked the graveyard shift at a group home in a 120-year-old building. I decided a séance would be the most interesting way to do it. I read texts on necromancy from the middle ages and about psychic techniques. I read about spiritualist charlatans and works by prophets and saints who claimed they communicated with/for unseen phenomena/noumenal realms/(un)holy entities. I listened to old episodes of Art Bell’s radio show in which callers talked about ghostly encounters. Books by CA Conrad, M Kitchell, and St. Catherine of Siena helped me think about how to textualize a ritual. I decided wearing a Bluetooth headset, capturing the performance in-the-moment by using the speech-to-text function, would be the best way to create a real-time log and allow the entities to enflesh themselves. I’d become the medium and the message––a breathing, bleeding ouija board. This took three years to plan and three days to execute. The chaos comes from the elements outside of my control. NASIM BLEEDS GREEN came from years pondering upon an image/idea: actors running on treadmills for the duration of a performance. Encountering Nasim Sabz’s YouTube videos changed everything. It became a workout opera. She dragged it to Hell. Other historical characters joined in. Chaos from that project comes from the fine line I like to dance between sensorial seduction/bombardment. I wrote it as both a textual performance and blueprint for actual performance (and was workshopping it in Chicago with the Runaways Lab before the pandemic). CRYSTAL LAKE is a little different because its innards were written over many years, often during moments of heightened emotion after chaotic/disconcerting/potentially dangerous occurrences at my various jobs. The Friday the 13th element came later. What’s consistent in these processes is an attunement to the Unnatural. Lines are edited for sonic impact & ‘look’ above all else. Everything is voices. Pages are stages. The words want to implode, mutate, or transubstantiate (i.e. become more and less than what they are). I’m impatient and want a lot of things at once: ear-worms (the best and worst lines), ideas that barely make (no) sense, mind-blowing ideas, description, ambiguity and tension and humor and horror, and, and, and, etc. Everything is mise-en-scene. I think the answer is yes.
In a separate correspondence you told me that your favorite work is something you can read like you’re skating across the surface but sometimes fall through the ice and drown for a little while. Where do you think literature is going? Where would you like to see it drown?
JT: One thing I can tell you definitively is that the future of literature will have nothing to do with me. I realized when I was pretty young that the things I cared about culturally were not widely acceptable, and I think that was one of the things I liked about them. I felt like they could be mine, almost like a secret I kept from people around me. I got really irritated when people latched onto things. I remember a friend in junior high declaring, “I think I’m going to get into Skinny Puppy.” I was like, “The hell you are, dipshit, just keep listening to Toad the Wet Sprocket and Billy Joel.” So whether consciously or not I think my preferences got driven to things that I felt like there was no chance the average people around me would be interested in. Do I like the first Extermination Dismemberment album? Oh, why yes I do! Do I think someone I work with might get into it or would I ever suggest they listen to it? Absolutely not. Is that why I like it? I don’t know anymore. I assume that’s just what taste is, whether you were liking these to fit in or to stand apart, at some point you lose sight and you just like what you like.
And yes, that is the same for literature. I think my tastes are pretty clear given this conversation, I guess. But I guess taste is different from a vision for cultural making. So maybe the future of literature that I want is simply exactly what I’m writing. Not even necessarily what I’m publishing. I think I’ve been pretty transparent in that the books I publish aren’t always things that I myself would be drawn to reading, but I can clearly see how they develop the project of Inside the Castle which is far more important to me than my own dumb tastes. And yes, that project has to do with the ice-skating drowning incident, but not in the EXACT way that I envision, or more specifically, I think you fall into a completely different fluid when reading Sierra, or Wuehle, or Nørth. ……(((And as an aside, I have said before that I have never read an Inside the Castle book, because I can’t read submissions in the way I would read a normal book, so I feel like I’ve missed out on knowing what impact those books would have on me, although the impact has been more through working with someone on a book, seeing how they work and think etc which in many ways is way more formative than impersonally reading their work))…… Only I am writing EXACTLY what I want to read, because it’s my interests that form that fluid. And if you are writing something you are drowning in that fluid. I don’t think you can skate on your own work. And because of how disinterested I am in my tastes being accepted, I’m pretty ok if I’m the only person who wants to read it (even though I can’t, because it’s impossible to read your own work). Obviously my interests aren’t from thin air, they’re from reading/watching/seeing/listening to the work of countless other people. But that synthesis of wide-ranging content (the inhuman, ahuman, antihuman, emotionless, inert, and all of the facets of what make us what we are apart from our humanness) and form (highly driven by the issues that fascinate me about architecture, focused on texture and granularity, rococo, static, overly detailed, excessive, sculptural) are only me. I would be extremely incredulous of a writer who didn’t feel that way. Either they were not writing what they actually wanted, or they thought it was an egotistical thing to say. I think it’s far more egotistical to write something that you think other people would or should want to read, like YOU have something, out of all the people on earth that other people really need access to. That’s fucking deranged. So, whatever the future of literature is, it’s not me, and I kinda don’t even want to know about it, I think it would gross me out.
John Trefry is an architect and the author of the books Plats, Thy Decay Thou Seest By Thy Desire, and Apparitions of the Living. Current works-in-progress: Massive (a novel) & Inanimism (a nonfiction poem). More diminutive writings have appeared in various other outlets. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and on Twitter @trefryesque.
Logan Berry is a theatre director, co-editor of SELFFUCK, and the author of TRANSMISSIONS TO ARTAUD (SELFFUCK), NASIM BLEEDS GREEN (forthcoming from Plays Inverse Press) and
Runoff Sugar Crystal Lake (forthcoming from 11:11 Press).
*Image credit: Art by Evan Isoline.