Louis Armand Interview with Karen StefanoThere are so many stunning sentences in this piece –they make it come alive:
The eye of the train kept coming through the night. The roar, the blasting whistle, steam billowing out from it. And when it was almost on top of him, the eye vanished and it started all over again.
Then he was crawling, down into an enemy trench. A face came at him out of the gloom. A sergeant from the 14th. They’d captured the trench but the mortars hadn’t stopped. More faces. They were weaving their way through the labyrinth, pushing on to the next line. And then the next.
Corporal Chat Bourke’s turn came at Pozières. He didn’t even make it out of the trench, blown to smithereens by a mortar shell. The ex-compositor’s apprentice had survived Gallipoli only to be shipped off to France and turned into mud. One more name buried among the reams of brittle army paper.
Louis, the voice in this piece is stunning. It is absolutely loaded with understated emotion. How do you find your words? What is your process? What is your approach to craft? What do you look for in a sentence?
There are those hackneyed adages you hear all the time about showing, not telling; saying, not doing. It’s a different proposition when you talk about words or sentences this way. The question for me is, What does doing mean? What does language do? What does it mean now, right here on the page? What will it mean later, over there where you’re reading it? Someone once said that a writer is really a kind of tactician, working in the absence of an overall strategy. Language is one contingency on top of another—like one of those later Godard films where, on a certain level, everything’s just montage. There’s a point where nothing seems to be going anywhere, or everything’s going in too many directions all at once—and then maybe, in the midst of all that, you realise there’s a particular word or sentence waiting to be set in motion—the one that’s going to bring everything else into relation and reveal the big picture to you, the “overall.” Once you find that line, you just keep on following it.
The characters in this piece face the horrors of war. What horrors have you faced in your life?
There’s no comparison to what the men and women on the Western Front experienced. Society at the time was particularly ill-equipped to deal with the needs of returning servicemen and women, many of whom received little or no emotional support upon their return—such as we see with Sid Smith in the novel (Abacus, from which “The Eye of the Storm” is an excerpt), who, upon returning home from Europe, finds himself alienated from his family and community and, like so many others, ends up destitute—an embarrassing legacy of wartime jingoism and “patriotic” pressganging. As he says to another character later on in the book: “‘Lest we forget. Haven’t you seen ’em? Ghosts. Shell-shock men. Door-to-door peddling matches for their next meal. Rootless unprovers of God and Glory. They’d prefer to’ve buried us all. That’d make a pretty little monument for the poets to put their rhymes on.”
You’re Australian, but you’ve lived in Prague since 1994. Why Prague? What brought you there? What has kept you there?
In the ’90s, Prague was an exciting place to be—it’s a city that’s had a profound influence on my life and work. There used to be a lot of talk about the “Prague novel,” but much of the excellent writing that came out of the city at that time and since is more experimental and interesting than the frequent invocation of models like Hemingway or Ginsberg would’ve led anyone to suspect. Consider, for example, the work of writers like Lukáš Tomin (who wrote and published in English up until his death in 1995), Tom McCarthy, Joshua Cohen, Travis Jeppesen, Thor Garcia, and Holly Tavel (an incredible writer now living in Brooklyn, whose long-awaited first book, The Weather in Fritz Bemelmens Park is due out any day from Equus Press). In 2010 I had the privilege of editing an almost 1000-page anthology of international writers linked to the “Prague Rennaissance” during the twenty years since the fall of Communism—which gives just some indication of how dynamic the city has been recently in terms of writing and translation. It’s also been at the crossroads of many of the social and political changes that have been occurring across Europe and elsewhere—major antiglobalisation demonstrations in 2000, for example, and more recently a growing anti-austerity movement and (in the face of a regional shift towards the extreme right) a pro-immigration movement. These changes are reflected across the arts scene and have had a real impact on areas of the city itself and how it operates, and will no doubt continue to do so. We’re entering a period in which some of the promise suggested by the Velvet Revolution in 1989 is finally being realized. Back in 1994, one of the factors in drawing me to Prague no doubt had to do with the election of Václav Havel to the presidency, as well as the revived legacies of the Prague Spring which were very much in the air, at least in terms of an immediate historical reference point for those optimistic about continuing change. Another major factor was, of course, those Prague writers—from Kafka to Hrabal and numerous others—whose work communicated a combative sense of possibility, of invention, unrestricted by the prevailing dogmas of their or our own time, constantly pushing at the limits of what is apparently “permitted” in art and literature.
You’re a poet and a novelist. Which form do you most identify with?
I’ve just published a small book dedicated to the great tenor saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, called East Broadway Rundown (in tribute to his 1966 album of the same name). It’s part photography, part poetry, but the poetry doesn’t stick to any given idea of what “poetry” is—like jazz. You just follow the line, see where it takes you, which forms it throws in your way. My novel, Canicule (2013) was described by Sean Carswell as “new wave,” in the sense of Godard’s films (which is flattering)—but he meant it in the sense of what the French call a “cinema novel,” a ciné roman, a kind of hybrid for which in English there’s no equivalent term. It’s these in-between forms that I’m especially interested in, because language isn’t as obedient as the category purveyors would like everyone to believe, and it’s only when so-called “literature” allows itself to be similarly disobedient that it becomes capable of exposing us to more substantial truths about the human condition.
Thank you so much, Louis! We’re delighted to feature you here at Connotation Press!
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.