Foto: Håkon Borg

Literary magic

Roskva Koritzinsky is a young, critically acclaimed author who has just published her third book. Koritzinsky received Aschehoug publishing house’s award for best book debut for her short story collection "In Here Somewhere" in 2013, and she was chosen by NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad, financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture) to be in the first group of young authors to represent Norway and new, Norwegian literature on international book fairs and seminars. Having read some of her work, we were curious to know more about the person behind the stories.

Your new book - a collection of short stories called «I Have Not Yet Seen the World». Can you tell us a bit about it?

 

There’a Tibethan night ritual that entails closing your eyes and envisioning all the people that matter to you, standing in a row. In one end of the row is the person you have the most harmonic relationship with (for example your best friend). In the other end is the person you have the most difficult relationship with (for example a parent you’ve stopped having contact with). Imagine that you go and stand in front of each of them one by one – you start in the harmonic end – and look at them until you can free yourself from the fear, envy, identification or expectations you feel when you look at the person. Only when you can look the person in the eyes with a clear feeling of wishing that this person shall be free of the pain (s)he carries, you can move on to the next person.

This, to face other people – whether it’s a brother, a refugee, a stranger, a lover – and look at them purely, without having to position yourself in relation to them, emotionally or intellectually, is difficult, maybe particularly in a culture where the self is perceived as the incontestable core, as the filter the world has to be sifted through to become real. While one in some parts of the world are taught to look at oneself as a part of a larger whole, maybe not even as an individual, this is for us connected to self-effacement, death, loss of meaning.

I think this is a conflict many of the people I write about find themselves in. They want to disappear, but not cease to exist; they want to be at one with everything, they want to lose themselves. There’s an urge for boundlessness, I think. At the same time, they have no strategies for facing the world in a different way. Still, they try, maybe because the longing to melt into their surroundings, become one with every living thing, is so strong.
 
Eeeeeh, yes! The book consists of six short stories. I wrote my debut influenced by several Norwegian short story masters, but this time, I’ve been concerned with completely different places and traditions. In terms of format, I’ve been inspired by the short novels of for example Georges Perec and Édouard Levé, and the books of Judith Hermann and Fleur Jaeggy – to mention some. I’ve also read a lot of Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector (the world’s best writer?) during my work, but that might not be as visible.

Did you choose this profession, or did the profession choose you?

 

I started writing poems and short stories when I was a child, and I’ve just continued, really. In that way, you can say that the profession chose me. At the same time, I wrote almost nothing from I was 19 and until I turned 23. I had lost faith, not only in myself as a writer, but also in literature itself (I know, dramatic stuff!). When I started writing again, on what would become my debut, it was a choice I made.

 

What does a regular workday look like to you? Do you work from home or do you have an office?

 

I have to get up early to get anything done. If I wake up late, the workday is ruined, and I might as well do something else. I have to catch my brain off guard, literally, before it has started making a mess and lots of doubts. I live in a shared flat, but my room is big. I have a desk by the window. I mostly work from there. No, that’s not true, I usually lie in bed and write. Proust is said to have done the same, but that’s a meagre comfort to my back and neck.
 
A few years ago, I sat at the Writing Loft at the House of Literature, but I’ve stopped that. It worked well as long as I had specific tasks to go to – consultant’s statements that had to be written, for example – but when I write my own stuff, I have to be alone. It does happen that my boyfriend and I sit and write in the same room though, and that sometimes creates a very good energy.

Nothing implies that I ever will be able to afford one, but should the miracle happen: I’m dreaming of an apartment with an extra room, so I won’t have to work in the same room as I sleep in.

 

As a writer, you often get your work evaluated in public in a completely different way than in other jobs, are there any reviews that particularly have stayed with you, in either a good or bad way?

 

Very few reviews, whether good or bad, are experienced as particularly relevant. That might be incredibly arrogant to say, but… I don’t think that reviewing is a waste of time – sharp criticism is a joy to read – but the value for me as a writer is limited. If I should start getting caught up in the reviewers’ assessments of my books, I would get confused. To claim that I’m completely unmoved by a critique, would however be a straight up lie. Praise is more comfortable than criticism. At the same time, I deal with criticism quite well, as long as it’s well founded. My debut received a quite critical review in Vagant magazine that I was quite okay with, because I thought the reviewer pointed out some problem areas that I had reflected on myself after the release. I think it’s harder to swallow criticism that in my eyes are based on unreasonable criteria, sloppy reading or lack of insight into literary traditions.

Sometimes – and this is in no way only in regard to the reception of my own books – it seems like a large share of the reviewers evaluate contemporary literature based on their very own set of criteria – criteria which one never would have dared to mention when facing older literature. You criticize a book for prioritizing language at the expense of a good story; you think the mood is too dark, etc. If you’d used these criteria facing large parts of the canonized literature (“The Process is too monotonous,” “Mrs. Dalloway lacks a good story”), it becomes obvious how absurd these criteria are. I allow myself to be provoked, on behalf of myself and others, by the fact that some reviewers seem to think that contemporary literature is best when it reminds them of a mixed bag of candy: a bit salty, a bit sweet, and a bit sour.

 

Many female authors have through history published their books under a pseudonym, either with a male name or with just initials in their forename, so the books wouldn’t be prejudged. Have you ever experience any negativity in connection with being a female author?

 

No, I haven’t. I liberatingly rarely get questions based on gender, but I know that some of my colleagues keep experiencing it. At the same time, there are lots of young writers that problematize gender in in their books, and then it´s becomes more natural to be asked to talk about it afterwards. A more general problem, which I think and hope is about to change, is that men read men, while women read books by both genders. Men, and especially those who work with or study fiction, have a responsibility to read the big, female authors.

"Art is a reaction to, and a conversation with, the world. The art field becomes poorer if one group of people are overrepresented, independent of whether this group is characterized by a particular gender, social class or worldview."

Who are your favourite author(s) and why?

 

Oh, hard. I wasn’t very well read at my debut as a writer, I had many and big gaps. The past five years, I´ve tried to educate myself. Some of the ones I (thus far) cherish the most are Samuel Beckett, Clarice Lispector, Thomas Mann, Marguerite Duras, Franz Kafka and Georges Perec.

 

The main characters in your book are often young women; a group that isn’t very well represented as main characters, neither on film nor in books. Do you think more literary heroines (or anti-heroines!) can have a good influence on society?

 

We’ve seen a few of them in Scandinavian contemporary literature lately! That is of course positive. Art is a reaction to, and a conversation with, the world. The art field becomes poorer if one group of people are overrepresented, independent of whether this group is characterized by a particular gender, social class or worldview.

You’re also very interested in film. Do you use inspiration from the cinematic world when you write, and if so, how?

I’m drawn to linguistic images, rhythm and musicality over riveting stories (even if I like that too), and both music and films are important to me as an author. There is something about film’s ability to operate on a level that’s both below and above language at the same time. There’s something almost religious about it, I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I get the same reaction when I read the literature I cherish the most. Some might call it subtext and symbolism, but that’s a simplification. Karen Blixen wrote that “what I seek in poetry, is an illumination of that, which Goldschmidt calls: the Magic of Life (…) and I say… real art must always involve some witchcraft.”

I’m nodding in agreement here. When it comes to literature, I’m more drawn to the mystical than the realistic, to what twists daily life at the expense of what reflects it, and you could say the same about the filmmakers I cherish the most.

Christmas season is upon us, maybe the best time for both books and films! Can you recommend three books (except for your own!) and three films we should see during the holidays?

I’d like to recommend the two short story collections that made the biggest impression on me last year, and were important “conversational partners” when I wrote my latest book: Summerhouse, Later by the German author Judith Hermann and I Am the Brother of XX by Austrian Fleur Jaeggy. These books have nothing to do with what we in Norway are used to think of as short stories - the scarce, underplayed Kjell Askildsen tradition, that is. Since both of these books are quite thin, you’ll have lots of time to read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann afterwards.
 
When it comes to film, I first want to recommend a six-part documentary on the history of film. You can get it pretty cheaply at Platekompaniet and it is called The Story of film: An Odyssey. It was shown on NRK at night some years ago, and I used to watch it when I couldn’t sleep. Afterwards, I had to order it and watch it more times. It is narrated by Mark Cousins, which I know some people have problems with because of the characteristic narration style, but personally I think it’s like listening to poetry or munks singing.

Other than that, I would recommend one of my absolute favourites, La Notte by Michelangelo Antonioni (It’s a freestanding part of a trilogy, so if you like it, I can recommend watching L'Avventura and L'Eclisse afterwards). Jeez, it’s hard to pick three, I think! So here are some favourites of different calibre:

Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergmann, Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson, Veronika’s Two Lives by Kieslowski, Fucking Åmål by Lukas Moodysson, E.T. by Steven Spielberg, Antichrist by Lars von Trier, Elephant by Gus Van Sant, Baraka by Ron Fricke, The Secret Garden by Agniezscka Holland, I'm Not There by Todd Haynes and The Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky.

There you go. Merry Christmas!