interview with matthew kinlin

Nicholas Clemente: I always like to start off by asking about people's influences. In your case it is especially interesting because I detect a direct lineage between your work and that of the French decadents -- Lautreamont, Mirbeau, etc. Is that an unfair characterization? 

Matthew Kinlin: Hi Nick. Thanks for this. Yes, I’d say my writing has definitely been influenced by the decadent movement. There are passages from Lautreamont’s Maldoror that stay with you: dragging his fingernails down a howling youth’s back, a crab making its home in the narrator’s anus. There’s a sense of horrific, delicious cruelty throughout. R.J. Dent has just done a translation that I am looking forward to. His recent translation of Bataille’s The Dead Man was really moving. Baudelaire’s poetry was important but I actually first heard this via American electronic music pioneer Ruth White on her 1969 album Flowers of Evil. Her translations are really striking. I am usually drawn to writing that is very visual. I had not read Rimbaud’s Season in Hell but the colours he pairs with each vowel were the same colours I chose for the five sections of my second novel Curse Red, Curse Blue, Curse Green, which I had actually written before Teenage Hallucination. Contemporary writing like Evan Isoline’s takes me to visual worlds like Rimbaud. I probably write because I can’t paint. I read Huysmans’ Against Nature after the two novels. It’s pretty hilarious. Des Esseintes is such a fabulous and pathetic creature. I like his description of everything as syphilis, his perverse urge to hoard useless artifacts. I imagine gay men like to sit in museums because it’s nice to feel like the youngest object in the room. I see the work of Derek McCormack as a continuation of that decadent spirit, in a way. Why can’t The Well-Dressed Wound be the great American novel?

I haven’t read any Mirbeau. I like the title The Torture Garden and can see an echo there in The Glass Abattoir. I’m imagining it as some kind of cybernetic Eden. There’s a fetish club in London called Torture Garden that some friends would visit, so I think that’s where my mind goes. I’ve read Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs which I liked, alongside the Deleuze analysis. The writers I usually admire are the ones that don’t fit into their own cliques; Artaud being booted out of the surrealists, nomads like Alfred Chester wandering around Israel with his cats in tow. A definite literary influence on The Glass Abattoir would be August Strindberg, specifically his Inferno and Occult Diary. The tragic image of him in some fume-ridden basement, his hands blistered with sulphur as he tries to perform alchemy. That strange meeting of chemistry and spirituality. I somehow read The Ghost Sonata when quite young and that has it all: daytime ghosts, hyacinths, a beautiful woman called the Mummy that thinks she’s a parrot and lives inside a closet. It’s a sitcom waiting to happen. His dream plays are like a séance, which I felt with The Glass Abattoir and these four voices speaking out into the darkness. The novella makes reference to the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg. Scandinavia is an interesting place to dream about; dark waters in November, the endless islands. A land of mirrored palaces, phantasmagoria. A novel that captures the north well would be something like Anna Kavan’s Ice, another incredible writer, her narrator’s surreal dash across the frozen landscape. In Teenage Hallucination, I wrote about Lucifer appearing in Antarctica. What is the endpoint of coldness? The air is trembling.

NC: You've also been explicit, in our private communication, about the influence of cinema on The Glass Abattoir. To what extent did cinema shape this book, and what effect does it have on your work as a whole?

MK: Cinema is extremely important to the writing. I think most contemporary writers I like are often taking from cinema. Gary J. Shipley’s Terminal Park was a great use of the stab scene from Psycho, the insidious repetition of it. There are moments in film that stay with us forever. I always return to Delphine Seyrig as the exquisite Countess in Daughters of Darkness, saying in twinkling candlelight, “I have seen many a night fall away into an even more endless night.” Curse Red, Curse Blue, Curse Green was an exploration of these seductive elements of horror. Rather than being scared of the witch, what happens when we hear her song? It’s like falling in love. I admire characters in Ballard novels that follow the compass of their own hearts. I saw Elizabeth Taylor recently in Identitkit aka The Driver’s Seat which I thought was incredible. The Glass Abattoir is very much influenced by Bergman and I think anyone who knows his work will recognise which film the book uses as its departure. Both Hour of the Wolf (there’s a great M Kitchell book with this title) and Cries and Whispers are inspiring. An interesting film companion to The Glass Abattoir might be Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass; a Muscovy duck on a tavern table in flickering shadow, his hypnotised actors circling a piece of ruby glass. I love the ridiculous titles of giallos: All the Colours of the Dark, Night Has a Thousand Desires. The romantic films of Jean Rollin, sad lesbian vampires wandering the French countryside. There’s that strange effect where they have filmed in the day but underexposed or added a blue tint to make it look like night. Polish and Czech New Wave cinema such as The Hourglass Sanatorium, Valerie and her Week of Wonders. Again, I like psychotropic, visual films. John Trefry has written about films motivated primarily by their visual language, such as Fulci’s The Beyond. There’s a lot of Jess Franco films that have a very dreamlike, odd feel. Everyone is in a trance. The writing and interviews of Stephen Thrower are always great. I recently saw Kier-La Janisse present a beautiful film Trompe-l'œil that uses elements of fantastique and took me to the bird-head collages of Max Ernst. Her box set of 19 films for Severin Films, All the Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium of Folk Horror, is proving perfect viewing for this time of year.

NC: How about the influence of philosophy and theory in your writing? I'm not sure if I would have picked up on it on my own, but I was tipped off by the citations of Deleuze in your review of Evan Isoline's Philosophy of the Sky. But now that I am aware of it, it's hard not to see it. This is because your treatment of monstrosity isn't just for the sake of shock or irony. It seems like all the deformations you depict are actually closer to transformations -- not inhuman but ahuman, something cosmically outside the human which just happens to fall onto (or into) the human. An unpredictable and expansive process of becoming viewed from the subjective standpoint of finite beings.

MK: I think a Deleuzean reading fits well as Isoline’s book goes off in many different directions. That review was also a response to Charlene Elsby who wrote a piece considering Isoline’s book, alongside B.R. Yeager’s Pearl Death and Lindsay Lerman’s What Are You, as examples of literary horizonality: works that reject fixed boundaries regarding unity of form and subject, for malleable horizons, which leads to more open and expansive forms of literature. I just finished Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense, his reading of Lewis Carroll. He speaks of surfaces over depth. He states that even though Alice tumbles underground, her journey in Wonderland is horizontal, amongst these flat characters like the playing cards. Everything exists at the surface of skin. The inverted image of a red queen spilling across a mirrored plane. I like writing that feels like running. Something like Eden Eden Eden. Reading Burroughs is like entering someone else’s mantra. The description you gave of The Glass Abattoir as neo-gothic feels apt. There are certain passages of Teenage Hallucination which read like Gormenghast shoved onto a treadmill. I enjoy hybrid philosophy-fiction from publishers like Urbanomic, the CCRU. A recent work I connected with was Elytron Frass’s Liber Exuvia. A praying mantis decapitating its own head becomes a form on interdimensional travel. A good Deleuze quote for Curse Red, Curse Blue, Curse Green could be: “We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.” A child reaches the edge of a forest. The child chooses darkness. It walks through a mirror.

I read a lot of Georg Trakl poetry whilst writing the Curse book. Nick Land describes Trakl as, “a general confusion of becomings—becoming an animal, becoming a virus, becoming inorganic.” It’s interesting you mention the monstrous, and as you say, the angel in Teenage Hallucination is also transformative and an opportunity for this family to reconsider their nuclear structure. The book has four sections which could be a counterpoint to each character: the son and the Mirror Thief, mother and the Eyeball Countess, father and the Scarecrow King, angel and the Blue Monster. I like innocent demons and fallen angels. In Teenage Hallucination, Lucifer is often weeping. There’s a Borges short story called “Three Versions of Judas”, where a fictional writer argues that the human form that God actually chose to bear was Judas Iscariot. I’m reading Rilke at the moment and he opens his Duino Elegies with: “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we can still barely endure, and while we stand in wonder it coolly disdains to destroy us. Every Angel is terrifying.” In Curse Red, Curse Blue, Curse Green, the monstrous force is very seductive. To die feels like fainting. The Glass Abattoir is a little different. The characters are waiting and sit in judgement. The clock becomes a voice of guilt. They are like cannibals frozen in ice, filled with terrible urges they don’t understand. I did consider writing the book under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, a name Kierkegaard used for Fear and Trembling, as the subject of faith is extremely important in the book, or what Bergman might call the silence of God. I am in pain and alone and I speak out into the night. A writer like Clarice Lispector captures that constant gasping at the present, each moment is a revelation and a defeat. She opens the palm of her hand. A single strand of hair is levitating.

I often like contemporary writers that help me understand ideas on a deeper level. I see M Kitchell’s work as a response to Bataille, John Trefry as a continuation of Robbe-Grillet. There are echoes of Blanchot in Thomas Moore. I like to imagine Nate Lippens’ work as Cioran written by Truman Capote. I think the most important thinker to read as a young person was probably Nietzsche as his philosophy is the most romantic. He has the soul of the poet. One hopes to be the eternal yes-sayer, like Molly Bloom sat amongst the jessamine and geraniums, becoming-destiny, looks into the sapphire-blue Strait of Gibraltar and chants: “I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” That might be the ultimate task.

NC: You tell me you grew up in Lancashire. I don't know much about the UK, unfortunately, but do you think it has influenced your writing at all? Either the tradition of UK literature or the general tenor of local culture.

MK: The UK in general; probably not. There are singular authors I do like such as Ann Quin, whose Berg novel captures the British seaside like no other. I used to read a lot of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Robert Aickman. You could order the one library copy from their reserve stock in Preston for 75p. These writers of the weird fiction genre that often explore English and Welsh landscapes. The history of East Lancashire revolves around Pendle Hill which is infamous for a number of witchcraft trails in the seventeenth century. All the buses are named after different witches and the local pubs play into the spookiness. The witches were known as demdikes, the most well-known being a woman called Alice Nutter. You can visit her grave in a tiny village up the road. It’s a terrible history but as a child, it informs your imagination. Also, growing up in those post-industrial towns, you’re living in the ruins of a different age and that gives you space to dream. Mills rotting into canals, an empty lot filled with nothing but dead weeds, a polluted river. It’s like some alien Tarkovsky zone. I’m fascinated by Blackpool. It’s cheap and seedy and powerful. I like musical artists that mix working class culture with esoterica. Manchester is lurking somewhere in the south. As Mark E. Smith from The Fall sings, “Our city hobgoblins infest my home at night.” Bands and labels such as Broadcast, Ghost Box, Finders Keepers. There’s an electronic duo called Demdike Stare that explore the Pendle mythology. Shackleton is also from the area.

I have lived in Glasgow for a few years now. I had read some Alexander Trocchi when I was younger and Chris Kelso’s recent Burroughs & Scotland was helpful to make further links. I can see how you could find a lot of mystery here too. A film I used to watch as a teenager was Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar. There’s the scene where she’s in the local supermarket, listening to Some Velvet Morning. It’s a sickly-sweet, strange song. After writing Teenage Hallucination, I watched Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen and saw a similarity there. I wrote a lot in that book about the motorways in Lancashire. You are able to see all the different towns at night, in the next valley and then sprawled out into the darkness. You can find beauty and horror in most places.