Author Janice Lee talks to Bombay Gin about ghosts, the apocalypse, and the Korean concept of han

 

Bombay Gin’s graduate editor Gabri-EL Dawkins hand-picked a writer whom she deeply admires to indulge in an interview with, about the theme of our upcoming issue #44 of Bombay Gin, “a constellation of ghosts.” See what insight the creative Janice Lee has on the topic, in their conversation below!

Janice Lee is a writer, artist, editor, designer, curator, and scholar. Interested especially in the relationships between metaphors of consciousness, theoretical neuroscience, and experimental narrative, her creative work draws upon a wide variety of sources. Her obsessive research patterns lead her to make connections between the realms of technology, consciousness studies, the paranormal & occult, biological anthropology, psychology, & literary theory. She writes about the filmic long take, slowness, interspecies communication, the apocalypse, architectural spaces, and the concept of han in Korean culture, and asks the question, how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy? 

(taken from writer’s website, http://www.janicel.com)

 

Gabri-EL Dawkins: Who do you admire in the literary/writing world and why?

Janice Lee: So many people, but ones that immediately come to mind at this particular moment in time: Porochista Khakpour & Lidia Yuknavitch, both of whom I admire for so many reasons, not only because they are brilliant writers, but they are vulnerable, brave, generous, visible, hopeful, inspiring, and real. Chiwan Choi & Michael Seidlinger, who are both tireless in the ways they continue to support and believe in the literary community and small press publishing.

GD: How does their work influence yours? What/who else influences your work?

JL: I’m constantly pushed by writers such as them, and others, to not be afraid to be open and vulnerable in my writing, to be okay with what may be articulated in moments of honesty. I think about intimacy and openness, about redemption and truth, about who is reading because they can and who isn’t reading because they can’t.

GD: In what ways do you engage with the idea of ghosts, constellations (could be literal or figurative), and lineage in regards to your writing?

JL: Ghosts have to do with haunting, have to do with questioning, have to do with relating. We often think about ghosts in popular culture as staying in our world because they have “unfinished business,” though of course, it is not the ghosts that have unfinished business with us, it is us that have unfinished business with them. So there are questions like, what am I haunted by and what have I inherited? But also, who am I today? Who was I yesterday? I like to think about Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity—that there are moments in space and time where and when the physical world becomes a text to be read and interpreted, where and when the event is structured not by casual networks of matter but by symbolic references producing meaning. Jeffrey Kripal relates these processes of writing and reading to paranormal processes, coining the phrase “authors of the impossible.” It is this reaching for impossibility that for me unites the “beyond” haunting metaphysics and a personal writing practice that attempts to articulate what happens inside of silences and dreams, what happens when we face our ghosts or turn away from them. Grace Cho asks, “Why study a ghost at all?” From her book Haunting the Korean Diaspora: “Hauntings are not rare supernatural occurrences but, more often, the unexamined irregularities of everyday life… Like the shadowy thing that lives in empty spaces, haunting is a phenomenon that reveals how the past is in the present…”

GD: Why “the apocalypse?” What keeps you drawn to the idea of it?

JL: “We are living in the apocalypse. The first moment of life was the first moment of the apocalypse and death. Please, don’t fear the apocalypse.” This quote by Lazslo Krasznahorkai, is one that really resonates with me, this idea that we are already and have always been living in the apocalypse. The apocalypse, for me, is sort of an anticipatory state. Krasznahorkai also talks about birth as a journey towards failure, this inevitable journey that becomes the life in which we live, bookmarked by these two events in time. So for me, the apocalypse isn’t about a singular event. It may still happen. It may happen tomorrow. But what is interesting to me is how anticipation becomes habitual, how redemption seems impossible, and that real human impulses aren’t always generous but sometimes ugly and uncomfortable and vile. I’m interested in exploring all of this in writing.

GD: Can you speak more about the concept of han in Korean culture? In what ways do you think those concepts weave into American culture (if at all)?

JL: The definition I look to a lot is this one:
“A feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined.” — Suh Nam-dong

Because han signifies more than just historical trauma, there is also the presence of an unresolved corporeal history and the impossibility of articulation or expression in relation to questions of authenticity, historical accuracy, individual subjectivity, lived/embodied experience, loss, shame, guilt. Even the Korean language and alphabet were conceived out of violence and trauma. So even though it is a culturally specific concept, I think there is something here related to the inheritance of trauma more generally, the silences and pain we inherit from our parents, the ways in which we learn to reconcile our invisible pasts with our visible bodies, and how history challenges the limits of language.

GD: In a single sentence for each of the following works you’ve written and published thus far: KEROTAKIS, Daughter, Damnation, Reconsolidation, and The Sky Isn’t Blue, briefly describe what you’ve learned (about yourself, how you read your work, your writing/editing process, etc.).

JL: KEROTAKIS – that a question can be both a beginning and end.

Daughter – that excavation and investigation can take many forms.

Damnation – that there is no redemption, or maybe there is, but that’s not the point.

Reconsolidation – that we are haunted not because the ghosts linger, but because we ask them to stay.

The Sky Isn’t Blue – that intense beauty & absolute devastation can be simultaneous.

GD: What theories have you come up with in regards to your question: “how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy?”

JL: Theories? None really, just that it is possible and worth reaching towards. That it is all worth reaching towards.

 


Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). She is Editor of the imprint #RECURRENT for Civil Coping Mechanisms, Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, Assistant Editor at Fanzine, and recently helped launch (w/ Maggie Nelson) SUBLEVEL, the new online literary magazine based in the CalArts MFA Writing Program. 

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