Sometimes what feels risky to me might seem quite guarded to readers.
Tess Liem: In your writing, especially in “Heart Museum,” you use repetition to create rhythm and stylize how thoughts are lodged within other thoughts within memories within reflex reactions within moods, and so on. When you talk about the way your father repeats things, repetition takes on more significance: “Nobody was going to tell your story unless you told it yourself. And nobody was going to remember it unless you repeated it enough for your memories to develop their own rhythm.” How do you think of your writing style in relation to this idea of your story, or story in general?
Durga Chew-Bose: My story, or at the least the many (often fragmented ones) I chose to tell in this collection, were heavily dependent on my style. A large part of this collection is devoted to memory — how impossible it is to achieve exactness, how in repeating the same image or sentiment, I can get close to capturing what it is I mean to say, share with the reader, or reignite. I love rhythm. I love a sentence that dips and stalls, and picks up, and then quiets. I’m particularly drawn to the possibility of arriving at the one mood through many entry points. My style, I’d guess, impacts how and what I decide to share of my story. Because when I’m writing, and the rhythm is naturally forming, certain memories make themselves known. Whatever rises up inside of me is, it’s possible, a consequence of my commitment to rhythm.
TL: In “Part of a Greater Pattern,” you write, “No matter how dull whatever I observed was, a fairly hectic and illicit surge would coarse through me…an intimacy I’d never deemed intimate until it belonged to a stranger who had no idea I was bearing witness.” For me, you are describing both the act of watching a neighbour as well as what you are offering to your reader, a glimpse, or a place from which to witness you. How do you think about your own privacy and how you manage what parts of yourself you’re willing to let readers see?
DCB: I’m not sure I manage it very well actually. I share, to a point. I circle, mostly. I’m a private person who shares. This answer is unhelpful, I realize. There are topics I feel more compelled to explore on the page, and other stuff that I trust will reveal itself to become necessary later. Or never. Sometimes what feels risky to me might seem quite guarded to readers. I wonder how much the idea of privacy relies on how privacy is interpreted by the person being invited in?
TL: Your essays are about your life, memory, and writing but they are also about art, books and films. Of course our experiences of art are not separate from the art itself, but do you think the personal essay has a role in arts criticism?
DCB: Yes. and no. I’m still trying to figure this out.
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