Amnesiascope and "I"

Koshikawa: Since I've already interviewed you twice in Los Angeles*1, I want to ask you now about Amnesiascope, your latest fiction, and hopefully, if we have time, about American Nomad as well. First, I want to ask about the form of Amnesiascope. This novel is narrated by an "I." who reminds me of you, the author, confessing, or telling a story of himself in a fictitious, tricky way. And you never used the first person narrator in your fiction before. This narration seems to be a new enterprise, a new challenge for you. Could you tell me how you chose to write this fiction in the first person?

Erickson: It's true that Amnesiascope is the first novel that is written in the first person from beginning to end. But there are parts of Rubicon Beach that are written in the first person. And the central part of Tours of the Black Clock is written in the first person, in the first person from the point of view of a clearly defined third-personal character, if that makes sense. But it's a first person's voice, and I think any time an author employs a first person's voice, even if he's telling the story ostensibly through another character, his voice becomes part of that voice. I think what happened with Amnesiascope is that this was the first time that the first person's voice has been used consistently in a sustained way from beginning to end. It was also a voice that was, at least to the reader, identifiably mine--the author's voice, rather than Banning Jainlight's voice in Tours of the Black Clock.

There were brief moments in the previous book where suddenly a first person's voice presented itself. And every time it did, it surprised me. I hadn't planned on that happening. And, as I think we may have talked about before the other times we have spoken, a lot of times my novels wind up addressing something that was unfinished in previous novels--something that was better to tell in previous novels in a spontaneous way that I didn't anticipate and had not calculated as part of the schematic of that particular work, so that when the work was over and I've had some time to think about it, I think to myself, "Well, that was kind of interesting." There was something new that came out there that I hadn't planned on. And that becomes the seed for the next book. That's what happened with Arc d'X and Amnesiascope. Arc d'X was, at least on the face of it, a very imagined work. It became a more personal work as I was writing it than I had anticipated. And that led to Amnesiascope, where most of the pretenses were dropped. As I said, a lot of it is casting in clearly fictional terms, but the intent became more overtly confessional.

So, it's always a process of evolution. It's rarely a process of calculation. It's rarely a matter of my saying, "OK, now I'm going to do this," and following in some kind of preconceived strategy. The work usually takes me where it wants to go. At the beginning of a novel the author is the boss, but at some point during the writing of a novel, the novel becomes the boss. The novel starts dictating its own terms and starts telling the author what it's about. And if it doesn't do that, then the novel is probably not very good, because it hasn't taken on a life of its own. And that's what happened in virtually all of my novels.

Koshikawa: I understand that's why you said to me before that you were a spontaneous and unconscious writer. But in an interview by Takayuki Tatsumi and Larry McCaffery*2, you said Amnesiascope would be a very personal novel. Unfortunately, many readers misunderstood you because of that statement. They suspected you were going to confess your own guilt or bad deeds in the fiction. They imagined it wouldn't really be a novel, but just a self-confession. After reading it, I still believe you wrote a novel instead of indulging in self-confession.

Erickson: I think that all of the work is an expression of imagination on the one hand, and experience on the other. A work comes out of what one imagines or what one has experienced. And through all of my novels that has been true. There has been a component of each, imagination and experience. It's just that the balance shifts from book to book. Some books are more imagined and some are more experienced. And some are more clearly the vision of imagination, and some are clearly the voice of experience. But one never completely dominates the other. With Amnesiascope, the voice of experience probably took over to an extent that it hadn't in any of my previous books. But, as you say, it is still being cast in terms, hopefully, of some imaginative vision. That's what makes it a novel. And that is what makes it something more than just self-indulgent. Using the means of art, the author takes something that has happened to him and casts it in terms that are going to mean something to the reader who doesn't know him, who is not there partaking of the experience. And that's where you find some sort of universal compatibility with the reader. Does that make sense?

Koshikawa: Yes. But aren't you interested in creating a character named Steve Erickson in Arc d'X ?

Erickson: Yes.

Koshikawa: Why is that?

Erickson: I don't know. The section that I'm going to read from Arc d'X when I'm in Japan, which is written in the third person, but about a character named Erickson, was a complete surprise. I hadn't anticipated it. It was one of those decisions my creative intuition made that I never stopped to examine very closely. I'm not sure it would be a good thing for me to examine very closely. All I knew was that at the end of that particular section of Arc d'X, not only had I introduced a character named Erickson, but I killed him off. He died, and that's that. And Amnesiascope is the story of that character after he had been killed.

Koshikawa: You didn't name the narrator Erickson in Amnesiascope.

Erickson: It would have closed off too many interpretations. It would have narrowed the meaning of what I was doing. Amnesiascope was already close enough to the bone, if you know what I mean by that. Then to stick my name on the character on top of that not only seemed superfluous, but almost narcissistic. And so I wanted to give the reader a character to whom the reader could apply a name he or she chose.

Koshikawa: I've enjoyed your other works, but Amnesiascope is somehow more interesting to me. That's probably because I know you personally. It's kind of difficult to distinguish you from the character.

Erickson: That was part of the point. That was sort of the idea. And you are not the only person who had that difficulty. It was emotionally and creatively a conducive place to put myself, if that makes sense. By putting the character somewhere between fiction and autobiography, I was then free to say the things that I needed to say in that book. And it helped me find whatever courage I felt I needed to find to write the book. But that too was an instinctive decision that I haven't really figured out.

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