An Interview with Amina Cain
Amina Cain’s second book, Creature, came out last November, and its inner-workings have only grown more mysterious to me as time goes on. Her stories use language to get to a place entirely outside of language, to the maid’s room in Clarice Lispector’s The Passion of G.H., a room inside of your home where you haven’t been for a while, that when you enter, nothing’s as you had expected, and when you leave, whoever it is that’s leaving is different from whoever had gone inside.
Amina Cain and I emailed about Creature over the course of several months, and the conversation is as follows.
I. A KIND OF CONTAINER
THE BELIEVER: Your writing feels very far away from speech—like it may have been spoken at one point, but that now it’s been culled and shaped into the bare containers of speech, and it makes me wonder about the level of rhetoric in your writing. In shaping stories, do you feel like there’s someone you’re addressing?
AMINA CAIN: I love that idea: that the writing may have been speech at one point, but becomes a kind of container. When I’m writing, I don’t feel a distance from language, necessarily, but as if I am using it to get to something else, some place, so a container does make sense to me.
In terms of address, there have been times when I am oriented toward another (real or fictionalized) when writing a story (like someone I once loved, or Vitória in Clarice Lispector’s The Apple in the Dark), and that includes a few of the stories in Creature. And then there are times when what I’m facing is more like a landscape (the desert, a tropical farm, the mountains), or an intense experience, or a simple one, in which I felt very connected (riding my bike on a summer evening), or even a whole swath of time (when I felt very close to a group of friends). I think I address things as much as I address people, and sometimes I address writing others have done that I feel some deep kinship towards. In the novel I am now working on, I seem to be addressing, very lightly, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.
I hope that those others, those landscapes, those texts, and those experiences are also addressing me. In many ways I think so, yes; it’s maybe why I’m called to say something too.
BLVR: Does writing come out of a response, then? If you were stuck in a bare room for the rest of your life, would you still feel pushed to write?
AC: It’s probably always a response, if even to my own mind. If I were stuck in a bare room I would still write, imagining my way out of it. The need to respond might even be stronger—to the past, to some future.