Outtakes From Self’s Interview with Linh Dinh, Pacific Rim Review of Books, Summer 2008

Self is cleaning out her files and coming up with all sorts of odds and ends:  her published book reviews, tossed hastily into drawers.  Write-ups on her books.  Interviews with other writers.

She pauses over the interview she did with Linh Dinh.  Linh and self first met at the 2005 Berlin Festival on Southeast Asian Art and Literature, organized by the House of World Culture (only six months after the appointment of a new Director, who had been a professor at the University of Heidelberg.  She and two of her graduate students pulled the whole thing together by e-mail.)

The interview she did with him is one of her all-time favorites.  Here are excerpts.  Each of Dinh’s answers reads like a short short:

Self:  You left Vietnam in March 1975, just a month before the fall of Saigon.  And your official biography lists you as having a “fake name,” Ly Ky Kiet.  What was its purpose?

In March of 1975, as the shit was about to hit the fan, my father arranged for his secretary, me and my brother to evacuate with a Chinese family.  This family had a daughter working for the Americans.  In order to safeguard their properties, some of the family chose to stay behind.  And they ended up selling my father three spots.

We all took fake names.  My brother’s was Ly Ky Vinh.  My father hired the secretary to take care of my brother and I.  She was 22, Chinese, with a very short temper, and a face that was round and puffy like a dumpling, liberally sprinkled with meaty pimples.  I wrote about the episode in “April 30th of Ly Ky Kiet.”

*     *     *     *     *

Self:  You write experimentally in both fiction and poetry, and your work seems to consistently break accepted norms in an overt attempt to play with form.  What attracts you to this?

I started out as a painter.  Working with oil, I strived to improvise, to think, as I was painting.  Play was a central concept in my work.  I was also a critic.  In 1994, I curated a show at Moore College of Art called “Toys and Incense,” a reference to Rimbaud’s “pourquoi pas déja les joujoux et l’encens?”  Why not toys and incense already?  To play is to experiment, to make things up as you go along.  Oil is an endlessly malleable substance, though hardly cooperative, much less so than words, which have the quickness of thoughts.  To paint well, one needs tremendous dexterity, to play a musical instrument requires training and skill, but to write well, one merely has to think beautifully and viciously, something countless people are capable of, at least on occasion, I would think.

*     *     *     *

Self:  Where does your attitude —  or maybe an “aversion” —  to narrative come from?

I actually don’t have an aversion to narrative.  There are many relatively straightforward stories in Fake House and even a few in Blood and Soap.  But you’re right, I often employ a collage aesthetic.  There are so many ways to create fiction.

(For the article in its entirety, go to the Pacific Rim Review of Books website)

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