Author of fifteen books of fiction, most recently the story collection Fugue State, and the novella Baby Leg, winner of the O. Henry Award for his short story â€śTwo Brothers,â€ť the International Horror Guild Award for his story collection The Wavering Knife, and the ALA/RUSA prize for his novel Last Days, Brian Evenson has quickly become one of the most important American writers of our time. Questioning the rationalism posited by Cartesian metaphysics, Evensonâ€™s oeuvre can be taken as a critique on the traditional values of a realist-dominated American literature. While many of his contemporaries simply assume the possibility of human rationalityâ€”endlessly repeating the formulaic (and profitable) clichĂ©s of free will and epiphanyâ€”Evenson takes the epistemological dilemmas delineated by postmodernism seriously. With a jarring brand of intellectual horror, he explores the problems of human perception, language, and the unconscious, and breaks the artificial boundaries between so-called literary fiction and genre.
Steve: Reading Altmannâ€™s Tongue, my first experience of your work, I knew Iâ€™d discovered something special in the literary worldâ€”the dark mystery and humor, the visceral use of language to create startling effects. This was powerful writing that unapologetically shocked with inexplicable violence yet ran deep in its epistemological subtext, that respected genre and employed it to its full intellectual potential. Whatâ€™s it like to be the inspiration of a whole new generation of writers?
Brian: I donâ€™t know how to answer this exactly. I feel at once flattered and a little afraid, like the next step will be for me to be ritually executed and eaten. It also makes me feel older than I want to feel, but maybe thatâ€™s a good thing in that it suggests that I might be too tough and stringy to eat, even ritually.
Steve: Unfortunately, stringiness has never been sufficient reason to escape ritual execution, or eating. But I can promise you that your apostles will attempt to tenderize your flesh before taking their first communion. Fortunately, a mallet solves most spiritual problems.
Brian: We should move on. All this talk of food is making me hungry.
Steve: I see your work holding a broken mirror up to reality. I say â€śbrokenâ€ť because it seems, in principle, your characters have no logical possibility of accessing an objective reality or truth, Kantâ€™s â€śthing-in-itself.â€ť They are blocked by perception, language, the unconscious. Do you consider your work a critique of literary realism?
Brian: Broken mirror is a nice way to think about it. I think my work has a lot of the qualities of mimetic fiction but that there are irreconcilable differences that exist between us, and that Iâ€™m more interested in the way the reflection is fragmented or compromised than I am in whatâ€™s reflected. I suppose my work is partly a critique of literary realism, but I also donâ€™t think all that much about literary realism when Iâ€™m writing: a good story interested in doing its own thing by whatever means necessary. Iâ€™m very interested in trying to sort through the way that consciousness works and the way that perception works, but also interested in intensely questioning epistemology. I guess I see that as being more part of an embodied philosophical conversation than of a literary conversation. One of the reasons Iâ€™m not all that interested in literary realism is that I think it rarely approaches issues or questions that I find all that interesting. The good realistic writers do approach such questions. Iâ€™m very fond, for instance, of a couple of William Trevor stories, but Iâ€™d also argue that their realism is somewhat beside the point: a story like â€śMiss Smithâ€ť is able to do something remarkable with narrative sympathy and do it in such a way that I donâ€™t much care whether the story is realistic or not.