Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Michael Turner: "Everything I have goes into everything I do."

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Michael Turner: "Everything I have goes into everything I do."

Nathaniel G. Moore’s Conflict of Interest column appears biweekly.

In his first book in nearly a decade, Michael Turner is back with the pared down 8 x 10, a book which tells a story about the lives of eight people — and the lives they come in contact with — exposed over ten events, each. With stealth precision, 8 x 10 is instant, engaging and direct: a book without character or city names, a book without race, religion or nominal indicators, a book devoid of Turner's usual bag of tricks, (script or screenplay breaking up prose), a book in which the character's actions — not their identity — moves the story to its dramatic core and nervous system. Michael Turner is the author of several books, including Hard Core Logo, which was made into a feature film by Bruce McDonald and for which Turner received a Genie Award for his contribution to the movie’s soundtrack. His 2000 book, The Pornographer's Poem, won that year's BC Book Prize's Ethel Wilson Award for Fiction, was also published in the United States by Soft Skull Press and is in development as a feature film. What follows is an interview with the Vancouver author about what went into the process of creating 8 x 10.

NGM:

8x10 is considerably mute in terms of naming characters and locations. Was there ever an overdeveloped name and location-heavy version of the manuscript, or did it just work out in this very unique, sparse way?

MT:

The first eight people we meet are engaged with those who appear at the subjective centre of the next eight events. As we move through the totality of these events, the potential for people to appear out of sequence increases — to the point where they abstract, become all people. This is what is best about keeping names, places, races and dates out of it: the development of a subjectivity based on pattern and recurrence; the structures that govern our lives, determine our bodies.

We live at a moment when the dominant mode of production (full-tilt since the 18th century) is inverting. The world that had poverty and homelessness as symptoms of structural problems (dismissed as pimples, stuff we'll grow out of through legislation, revolution) — that world has turned, and these structures have suddenly stepped from the fog and are staring us in the face.

8x10 is an attempt to make portraits of such structures, to turn them into people. What is happening in Vancouver is not unlike what is happening in Johannesburg. The second invasion of Iraq showed us that the rich in Baghdad are not unlike the rich in Las Vegas.

Wherever this book is read I would like its setting to be wherever the reader is reading it — be it Melbourne or Karachi, Oslo or Tel Aviv. To the question of whether this book could have been written clothed, then stripped naked later — it wouldn't have worked. 8x10 owes more to multiplication than subtraction.

NGM:

It's been ten years since you've published anything in CanLit. Some of your past works have included working in the music lyric, poetry and the screenplay. Some of the lives in your new book include a poet and a musician. How much of yourself do you think went into 8x10?

MT:

Everything. Everything I have goes into everything I do.

NGM:

Do you think that we, as a society, are too spatially, nominally aware? Was the removal of location, race and identity a statement on its own about our current over-identified world?

MT:

The Enlightenment brought with it a desire to name, classify and map. Once something's named, there's a death — from which we begin again (a point of departure? imperialism?), or the lid gets slammed on the pot (Hiroshima?).

The world is no longer enchanted. Many of the younger people I come in contact with — those who aren't obsessed with money — are affecting the strangest behaviours, and in some ways I think this is in response to the unenchanted world.

The condition these people aspire to is a kind of autism, a world of innate and unquestioned genius, where no one is accountable and everyone has their own names for things, and are anxious to see those names endure. There is no critique, only anger, diffidence and, as a last resort, the fetal position. For them, irony's the enemy, because it is perceived to be mean-spirited, useless when it comes to healing, or making money. I despair both ends, and I refuse to call what's left the middle.

Author Photo by Judy Radul.

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