a conversation with szilvia molnar

Future Tense Books’s Kevin Sampsell has basically flawless taste (I’ve been fanning out on Future Tense since Sampsell published the hilariously brilliant Please Don’t Kill the Freshman in 2001) in addition to being a fabulous writer in his own right and a supporter of my own press, Guillotine, from the very beginning (FLAWLESS taste, I am telling you). Thus it comes as no surprise that FT’s newish chapbook release Soft Split is a slick percussive gem of a story: funny, dirty, feral, full of sex and death and masturbation and bad behavior and ladies just trying to get what’s theirs. Brooklyn-based Hungarian-Swedish writer Szilvia Molnar was just named one of Dazed magazine’s alt-lit names to look out for in 2016 (and is also the mastermind behind the glorious viral photo project “The Man, The Writer, and His Cigarette.” Buy a copy of Soft Split here (do yourself a favor and add Girly—one of my favorite reads of 2014—and Excavation to your cart; lament that Chelsea Hodson’s Pity the Animal is out of print, get it from Emily Books), read another interview with Szilvia at Luna Luna Magazine, and, in the words of the great Kanye West, enjoy your weekend. MWAH.
xoxoxo sarah

Soft Split seems like a bit of a departure from (or maybe an extension of) your previous work in that it is less minimal; there’s a lot of very feral imagery and language that’s explicitly lush in places, or luxurious, although like your previous work it moves very swiftly back and forth between the real and the surreal. I’m curious if you started with the idea of writing about dreams or if you started writing and realized you were writing about dreams and then kept going.

I wasn’t well a couple of winters ago; I would wake up in the middle of the night and not manage to fall back asleep. I was dreaming a lot, mainly having nightmares, and I started to write them down just to start doing something. So, Soft Split always originated from a handful of real dreams but then I created more of a story around them and also made up a handful of more dreamlike scenarios.

Do you find that people respond to the chapbook as though it’s “true”? I’m always so interested in how experimental and/or first-person work by women gets received; people always seem to think you’re writing about yourself and your own experiences.

Yes, sometimes. I’ve had some male readers assume that I’m up for sex with them or up for talking about sex with them just because I write about sex in Soft Split. It’s frustrating and infuriating to think that men can view it as an invitation. But, I’m not going to let that hinder me in any way.

You’re a writer and you also work in publishing at an agency where I once interned, ha ha, small world [NOT THE AGENCY DOCUMENTED IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THIS WEBSITE --ed.] and as a translator and I’m always curious how other people move around between modes that are formed around work that’s structurally similar but also involves very different kinds of labor (or maybe it doesn’t for you?). Do you work on a lot of things at once, or do you focus on one project at a time?

Hey small world indeed! I haven’t translated in years so I’m not a translator but I get what you’re saying with the different modes of work that one can do, that may or may not also revolve around art. I need to separate the different things that I do in order to do a good job with them all. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I succeed. But on the side of my office job, I can sometimes work on different things at the same time. It depends on what I’m capable of and what I need to do. Before Soft Split, I was in the middle of writing a novel, but then got stuck and then thinking of Soft Split became so much more fun so I focused on that for a bit and now I have managed to go back to the novel and feel stronger how to approach it. I value that sometimes your work needs to sit and brew and simmer before you can continue.

How do you work? Where and when do you work?

Ha, I work all over the place on a lot of different things at once. I have a hard time figuring that balance out still, to be honest--my paid work usually takes precedence, for obvious reasons, but I’m trying hard to make more room for the writing I’m doing for love. I definitely find that I let my own projects percolate for a long time and then write fairly quickly once I’ve done a lot of thinking. Does most of your work involve that approach or is that a more recent thing?

I’m glad you are. And I’m sure it makes you better at the paid work that you have too.

It’s a wild mix for me. I’ve been working on a novel for two years and I’m still working on it but I’ve made a handful of other projects during that time too (all while working full-time...). And now I’m just back to focusing on the novel, even though there are a bunch of things I’d love to do at the same time. But, at this point, I would just be distracting myself from what I’m meant to be doing.

The other day I was completely stuck and wanted to give up and I texted a friend, an artist who lives in LA and asked him to tell me how it’s possible to keep on keeping on and he told me a story that ended with him encouraging me to keep the dream alive. It was so helpful to be reminded of what is important to you, since it can be so easy to forget.

I loved, loved, loved your photo project “The Man, The Writer, and His Cigarette,” and it made me think a lot about how exhausting it is to me at this point to engage with those kinds of gendered affects in a critical way; it’s a lot more satisfying and a lot less work to just make fun of them, and I think satire can often accomplish the same degree of subversion quite a bit more effectively. Was that impulse behind the project or did it come from a different place? Were you surprised by how much attention it got?

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you like it. I was surprised by the attention because it was just something that I did with a friend and then posted to my friends for us to laugh about but I’m happy that others get a kick out of it too. And you’re totally right, that’s definitely what I was aiming for with my friend, Maria, who helped me with the project. We’re both fascinated by how we can comment on something that is twisted or absurd or wrong! through humor.

Someone like Knausgaard for example, who keeps being photographed again and again with his piles of cigarettes and leather jacket and drum set and wrinkles and crossed arms is just begging to be made fun of (because what kind of a female writer is photographed like that? where are those writers?).

But I don’t care so much about him as about how other people can perceive that “persona” as attractive/interesting or even just taken more seriously. Like, did you see the video interview Vice did with him? Maria and I talked about putting on a sock puppet show where one of us pretends to be Knausgaard and the other one is the journalist and we drink beer and talk about Proust and listen and nod with socks on our hands. Respecting each other fully and taking each other seriously. What do you think—should we do it?

Oh my god. Yes. Yes, absolutely.