Negotiating Postmodern Nightmares: Jonathan Ball on Writing

Jonathan Ball is a poet, professor, and film director based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was shortlisted for the John Hirsch Most Promising Writer Award at the 2012 Manitoba Book Awards. His column, Haiku Horoscopes, runs quarterly in Grain.

 W: Could you tell us about your earliest writing?

 B: My earliest works were poems that resulted from failed transcriptions of song lyrics. I used to write out songs I taped from friends who had recently gone into the city, since where I grew up there were no music stores and no radio station that played contemporary music. After noticing a host of deviations between what I thought I heard and what they were really singing –probably because I listened to mostly grunge and heavy metal– I preferred what I’d misheard and began to write my own lyrics and poems.

W: How does Ex Machina explore humanity’s relationship with machines?

B: The title effectively summarizes my core idea: that once one removes ‘God’ (Deus) from the cosmic picture, one ends up in a universe without a guarantor of humanity’s permanence/essence and place near the top of some hierarchy of being. At that point, it’s easy to see yourself as an evolutionary step in the rise of technology and understand the idea that books might be considered a species of technology that we exist simply to create, service, and be altered by.

W: The Politics of Knives compares words and violence. Is there violence in words?

B: In postmodernism you have all of these attempts in experimental art to undermine narrative and communication –which are seen as having negative political implications– alongside an acknowledgement of the impossibility and sometimes even the undesirability of this. That space of anxiety is the space I want to occupy —and possibly escape, but without retreating towards some sort of conservative position.

W: Who are some authors and artists that influence you?

B: The largest luminaries in my artistic life have been –in no order– Guy Maddin, George Toles, Solomon Nagler, Robert Kroetsch, Christian Bök, Natalee Caple, Suzette Mayr, and David Bergen, among others. Influences I don’t know –again, in no order– include David Lynch, Lisa Robertson, Shirley Jackson, and the Freud/Lacan/Žižek trinity.

W: Tell us about writing Clockfire. Are these glimpses or sketches of possible stage plays?

B: Writing Clockfire required me to think about what kind of theatre we might produce if we weren’t shackled by morality, mortality, and physics. With Clockfire readers are ultimately responsible for “staging” the plays in the theatres of their imaginations –one requires the destruction of the sun, another requires you to burn down the theatre with the audience inside, and so forth. It would be more accurate to call them glimpses or sketches of impossible stage plays.

This desire for reader engagement is also why I released my three books under a Creative Commons license, which allows and encourages remixes.

Visit Jonathan here.