Interview with Jimena Berzal de Dios

1/In “Stairs, Seizing,” the reader goes through a courtship, honeymoon phase, and eventual divorce with a staircase. What made you want to write so actively about something inherently passive? When did you realize the stairs had become their own character?

The stairs were the first character. Even before I started writing the piece, I knew it was going to be about stairs. In fact, I’d say that the human actions in the piece are quite contingent. I see stairs as non-contrasting conjunctions; stairs are an “and.” As such, they are indeed extremely passive. At the same time, they are very active in the sense that they force you to exert force whether you like it or not. Stairs are also a simple tool, like a chair or a table. You place a dish over the table and you do not expect the table to fight back. But sometimes objects fight back, like an uncomfortable chair does. We call this bad design, just like urban planners would call a medieval plan of a city bad design. “Stairs, Seizing” is about bad design. It is about the neglected virtues of “ugly” and “impractical,” but not in a romantic way: my intention is not to personify an object. As Deleuze would say: I mean it literally, not metaphorically. My goal is to show the materiality of the object becoming subject, and the subject being forced to become object. This is not a reversal of normal dynamics, but an opening into a multiplicity of relations.

2/Your use of the second person targets all of us, and we are fair game–we who walk on stairs, who abuse them thoughtlessly. But the “you” in “Stairs, Seizing” becomes someone very specific, making the narrator’s direct address a little more accusatory. Is the target still the reader or the narrator, or both?

I use the first person to refer to the writer at the beginning. After that the narration becomes about the reader. It was important for me to shutter the concept of the subject from the very beginning. The piece is an assault on the subject and its relationships with the object, but I wanted to also dissolve the subject from the inside. This is why I make a point of moving quickly from the “I” to the third person, “one,” to the second person, “you.” Instead of starting with the second person, I wanted to show the process and establish the layers. To shift the power from subject to object, especially when the later is a tool, meant that I needed to challenge our basic phenomenological notions. This is why there is something very accusatory about the piece, hostile even: to go through the piece is to literally give up your autonomy. The piece tells you what you are doing and what you will do. I see second person narration as creating a parallel reality; as the brain receives the information, for a fraction of a second, it considers it true and factual. The reader then needs to reject the events or to relate to them.

3/Your title evokes a few different images:  someone trying not to fall, someone in the throes of a physical altercation on stairs, the stairs enveloping someone, etc. Is there a figurative seizing that you hope readers will take from the story?

The most important thing about “seizing” is not the meaning of the word. The most important thing for me is that “seizing” is a gerund.  Gerunds exist both as verbs and nouns, and a single gerund can be a subject and a direct object. This was very important in the conceptual development of the piece. All the potential titles I considered had gerunds in them. “Seize” is also a word of military etymology: to lay claim to something, to take possession of something. The subject is hostile to give up its subjectivity—the subject does not want to become an object—which means the object needs to offensively engage with the subject in order to take his/her place.

4/Sum up your work in apt in five words: go!

Dissembling the pragmatics of conjunctions.

Jimena Berzal de Dios’s story, “Stairs, Seizing,” can be seen in the first print issue of apt, which can be purchased here.

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