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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ne Je'schijchte, jleewe onn en Gloowe

CBC-1’s Shelagh Rogers: The Last Chapter 23 
April 2012,“It’s about the ghosts of family”.
Some of Alexi Zentner’s thought on myth, belief and faith… 
Ne Je’schijchte dee fonn oole Tiede staumt, jleewe onn en Gloowe
Alexi Zentner (c) Peter J. Thompson
(Note that this is not a complete transcript – to review this material, please reference the CBC link archive: (downloaded 23 April 2012).

Roger’s questions are approximations.  The answers are as accurate as possible.

Alexi Zentner is the author of Touch.

It is impossible to determine what is myth and what is Truth” says Steven, an Anglican priest in Zentner’s debut novel Touch.  

“Memories are another way to raise the dead.” Quoting Zentner from People Magazine.

It’s about ghosts of family … it’s really sort of a book about the way in which stories become myths and become legends and the ways that families pass them down, not only within families but within countries and nations…”

What interests you about family stories?

“… my parents were story tellers and one of the things I loved about them is trying to figure out what part of them are actually true… and I think that that is something that does happen within families – an event happens, and it’s true, and its told and retold and passed down… by the time that it gets down to the grandchildren, they become these big fish stories… but we tend to forget that there is usually something true at the heart of them … and it’s interesting to me which of those family stories survive and why.”

Can you apply this to the nature of myth….?

… I think some of them started as sort of cautionary tales, but most of those cautionary tales are built in some sort of reality… we dress them up in larger stories…  Myths start somewhere and they have a resonance for a reason and I think that most myths are very specific stories and because of that specificity they become universal.

Mythic Mural, Juneau, Alaska
I want to talk to you about the land and the wilderness… there’s a balance between the land and the people and the land will claw back when it needs to…

I think that if you spend too much time in the city, you forget how incredibly dangerous the outdoors are … [and that] there are still places where if you make a poor decision, you will die.  …
You write about a great blizzard that dropped 30’ of snow – did that really happen?
I am not actually sure of that… my goal as a writer is to do the exact minimum amount [of] research I can get away with … Every writer is different with this but for me the more research that I do, the more it becomes a book report.  There have storms of that sort in certain parts of the country, but as for the actual timeline… I am not sure … I did not base it on that.

I think its important to have enough research so that details are accurate… but the world I invented is a world complete in and of itself.  I think that people, … people read fiction for human concerns, not for pure information.

What does the term Mythical Realism mean?

… it seems that I’m parsing a term a little bit, but when we talk about magical realism, magical realism is very firmly rooted in the cultures and traditions of Central and South America or parts of Europe.  I think that if you take those forms and just place them onto of own landscape, you end up with a sort of palimpsest where sort of the ghostly traces of those cultures shows through… and I do think you can create good work that way, interesting work, but I was trying to create something new and different.  To sort of write about mythology in a very North American way, to talk about the way that we as Canadians … and even as Americans and Canadians, the way that national mythology affects us because it does affect it us differently that it affects these other countries. … for me one of the goals is to have that myth really entwined throughout the lives of the characters that it becomes almost a background.  It was important to me to not have magic be just a parlor trick – you know, moments of magic to just suddenly come out of the blue and feel as if … I didn’t want the reader to say, “Oh here is Alexi doing something dazzling and fun,” … they need to feel organic and part of the story.  I think that it’s important for us to understand that we can borrow from other literary traditions, but if we do more than that, then we are writing those literary traditions instead of making our own.

Do you think that we have a national myth that binds us together in this country?

Absolutely.  I think that it’s funny when I was growing up, you know, one of the big questions was … what it means to be Canadian and when I was growing up the answer to that was that it meant to be not American.  And I think that defining ourselves by an absence is problematic, but I think that the other problem is that we’re looking for a simple answer and there is no simple answer as to what it means to be Canadian.  There’s sort of a thousand answers that come together, but part of that is there is a national mythology.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent your entire life in the city or not, you understand sort of the importance of canoeing.  … You don’t have to ever set foot in a canoe to understand the importance of canoes to Canadian culture.  In the same way that most Americans have never ridden a horse and they understand how important sort of the cowboy mythology is.  There are things that sort of by dint of breathing the air we understand a part of our tradition as a whole even if they are not part of our personal tradition. 

Where did that image of the ice come from?

Henri Rousseau, Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
… from thin air … people ask me a lot where a sort of ideas come from and the thing I always say is that they’re there for everybody but the difference is that if you are a writer, if you’re taking your craft seriously, you pay attention to them and you write them down and you keep them and you hold them tight to you.  Whereas if you’re not, you see them and they come to you and they’re things that you notice and you let them go.  You sort of let them disappear into the wind. …

Can I go back to magic for a moment?  … are you saying something about spiritualism here?

Uh… yes, but I don’t know what.  … I think that we lose sight a little bit of … where we are coming from – that it really wasn’t very long ago that everybody believed, deeply believed in some of these myths and whether the myths were sort of Aboriginal myths or they were religious myths in terms of church or whatever religion you were, … we’re really not that far away from believing that when you saw a map and on the edge of the map it said, “Thar be dragons”, it was not that long ago that we thought “Thar be dragons.”  … even now for modern Canadians, most of us hold multiple levels of belief.  … Whether we hold religious beliefs or other beliefs we juggle sort of all of these belief around.  Umm, and I think that we don’t think about that that often and why we believe what we believe and why we used to believe something and no longer do. 

Les neiges éternelles
Le Monde Article paru dans l'édition du 02.09.11

Sol gelé au cimetière. Il faut attendre que la neige ait fondu pour enterrer les morts de l'hiver. Avec les premiers beaux jours peuvent commencer de boueuses funérailles... Triste temps du redoux. Mais, à Sawgamet, d'une saison à l'autre la forêt, le fleuve, le froid, emportent, à chaque fois, leurs parts de vies humaines. Stephen le sait bien, lui qui, l'année de ses 10 ans, a vu disparaître sous la glace encore fragile d'octobre sa petite soeur et son père. Prêtre anglican, il est revenu à présent dans ce bourg de bûcherons et d'orpailleurs du Nord canadien, pour y reprendre l'église et pour y voir mourir sa mère. Les Bois de Sawgamet est un livre de réminiscences et de correspondances. Dans le labyrinthe des grands arbres se cachent les esprits des légendes et des anciennes histoires. Et Stephen de se rappeler celle de son grand-père, de son chien volé à une presque sorcière et de son amour fou pour sa femme. Ce premier roman d'Alexi Zentner est d'une effrayante beauté. Tant que dure l'hiver, la neige à Sawgamet recouvre les secrets.

Xavier Houssin

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