Sonora Review

SR 72 Contributor Interviews: Lisa Chen

What is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

I’m drawn to forms animated by what Viktor Shklovsky called ostranenie, or “making strange”—sometimes translated as “estrangement” or “defamiliarization.” Otherwise we are lulled to stupor and blindness by familiar narratives, gestures, humors, small talk, breakfast cereals…

How does this published piece fit in with the larger thematic concerns that you see in your overall work?

 This piece is part of a manuscript in progress about the durational artist Tehching Hsieh, time, work, institutions, decay and the life of projects.

What are you influenced by? 

 Lately I’ve been fed by the creativity and methods of documentary filmmakers—Brett Story’s The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture, Laurie Jo Reynold’s Space Ghost, Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Each has found a formal way to come at a central trauma at a slant, through fragment, collage, the exploration of collateral consequences, and in Panh’s case, clay figures. They go beyond looking to seeing.

 I’m a resident in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Program this year. I have a colleague there, the playwright Amina Henry, who recently said she’s primarily interested in the “messy”—messy lives, messy forms. I’m on that frequency. I worry when I get too tidy or close the circuit. These artists break things: Chris Marker, Sesshu Foster, Young Jean Lee, Hilton Als, Paul Beatty, Bhanu Kapil, and of course Tehching Hsieh.

What does your typical writing schedule look like? What aspects of working do you look forward to? What aspects frustrate you? 

Mornings, mostly. Afternoons, sometimes. Evenings, rarely. Procrastination, mediocrity are challenges, as is the internet. I look forward to the editing part.

For fun, if you could pick one meal that matches the piece we published, what would it be and why?

 Kholodets, the traditional Ukranian jellied meat dish. Kholod is the Russian word for “cold.” On the TV show that appears in the Sonora Review piece, Hannibal Lecter describes it as “a Ukranian dish whose outcome can never be predicted.”

LISA CHEN is a Brooklyn-based writer born in Taipei. She is the author of Mouth (Kaya Press) and has recent or forthcoming work in the Seneca Review, Ninth Letter Online, AGNI and The Threepenny Review.