An Interview with Szilvia Molnar
I met Szilvia Molnar in 2010. She was dating my editor at the time. Soft spoken, smart, and from Sweden, is all I knew about her for years. She began publishing poems in literary journals and in 2014 did a photo series imitating male writers smoking cigarettes. She also started making all these weird little art objects she posted on her social media. Her first book, Soft Split, published this month by Future Tense is a strong debut. I feel lucky to have read it pre-publication. I emailed Szilvia while she was traveling in Sweden and Norway, then back to Brooklyn where she lives, to talk about creation, desire, office life, filth, and John Goodman.
THE BELIEVER: Harmony Korine said something like, “I don’t really have anything to say,” and discussed how he wants a film, or a piece of art, to just “wash over” the viewer. Soft Split really has this feel, with all the grayness of the city and the repetition of the color pink (even the volcano I see as pink). It creates a great mood with image and color. It doesn’t rely heavily on plot.
SZILVIA MOLNAR: Soft Split started as a series of dreams which I wrote down last winter and then typed up. But after I did that, I wasn’t sure what they could do on their own or what I wanted to do with them. What stayed obvious were some of the repeating themes (the frustrations, the colors, the sense of being pulled in different directions) and I decided to bring them forward even more, make up scenes and stories (keep the same colors) and see how far I could take it.
If Korine doesn’t have anything to say, what does he want to “wash over” the viewer with? It’s not like he’s not bringing anything to the table.
When you’re writing, do you know where you want to move in between the real and the unreal? Like, let’s say we agree that an office environment is as real as it gets, do you decide to create some cracks, destroy the cubicle, and bring some un-realness into play or does it feel more like a reflex?
BLVR: Korine seems very much a “groove guy” as certain musicians are “groove guys” who don’t care about lyrics so much as feel.
I believe the real and the unreal exist in the same universe. An office might feel, at first, “as real as it gets,” but the more time you spend in an office the more you realize it’s one of the most unreal places around. There’s nothing natural about it.
Soft Split is probably more concerned (at a larger level) with personal identity, feminism, the individual trying to find herself in the world, or maybe I’m reading too much into it? I’m thinking of lines like “I am in this space, floating, but I don’t know where I am. Should I stay? Can I leave? What am I keeping myself from?”
SM: You’re right. It’s also about sexuality and gender, and how fluid it all feels sometimes even though you might simultaneously feel constrained in your own body (with your own gender). Then there’s also desire and drive playing their parts – how sometimes lust can feel like a river, steady flowing and feeding your mind, but then it can also just sit there, like a puddle not knowing what to do with itself.
I find that you can’t think too much about the fact that you are in an office – if that’s where you work – otherwise you’ll go mad. Windows help make me go less nuts in an office. I feel lucky to have a window in my office. Do you have a window?
BLVR: I don’t have a window. What a sad sentence! It’s okay, my office space is big and quiet.
Did you work on Soft Split while at your office? Do you think the actions of the narrator are a reaction from working in an office? I didn’t think that while reading, but maybe? One of my favorite places to write, when I was in my twenties (I’m thirty-five now), was a parked car. It’s kind of like the best office with the most windows in the world and you can change the world every day.
SM: That is a sad sentence. Does it make sunlight sweeter? Here’s another one: I don’t know how to drive! So, I’m not even allowed to rent a car just to sit in it and write. It would be kind of funny if car rental places would just let me sit in their cars and write until someone needs to take it. I guess that would end up being stressful, too. Keep having to leave cars and then see them be driven away. Can’t ever get too attached.
There were a couple of late nights at the office when I edited Soft Split but I spent most of my time working on it at the Brooklyn Writers Space in Gowanus—another type of office (with windows and silence but also with cubicles, which I find so funny and weird in America).
The office environment is certainly meant to add some additional tension to the reactions of the narrator, but it’s not the sole drive—I was aiming for the fear of being cheated on mixed with the urge of wanting to cheat while being in a serious relationship.
BLVR: The guy who invented the modern office, with cubicles, came to hate his design (which was totally changed by companies). He said something like, “this is total insanity” after seeing how the design was changed, all these people working away in boxes.
I’ve done some writing work in my office, but not a ton. Maybe like three novels while at work.
Have you been cheated on? Or do you cheat? Or is this fear just a shark constantly swimming around you?
SM: I’ve been cheated on and I’ve cheated. The shark is constantly swimming around me but sometimes I wonder if it’s a dolphin. I’ve come to understand that cheating is not a black and white thing, and so much of it can be about the restrictions you put on the relationship you’re in, the restrictions you have on yourself or on yourself in the relationship. Desire suffocates when put in a box.
BLVR: This won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t read Soft Split, but do you think John Goodman has ever cheated? I can also see John Goodman being heartbroken, crying in a diner over a burger and fries. Also, why John Goodman?
[The section from the book concerning John Goodman:
I’m walking down the street with my girlfriends & I’m not wearing any pants. It’s the right kind of sunny sweaty day to crave a cool breeze between your legs. We walk past John Goodman & his camera crew. I point at my vagina & scream VAGINA to get it on camera & he comes to grab me, kind of forces himself on me. I try to shit on him to get him off of me & he just gets more aggressive. He pulls down his pants & counter-shits on me in front of everyone.]
SM: John Goodman has cheated, I’m sure—and perhaps that’s what’s made him heartbroken? Cheating is heartbreaking, too.
Sometimes dreams make perfect sense and sometimes John Goodman appears and you write down what he’s doing in your dream and then you fiddle with the text (like fiddling with your genitals) and after a while it comes out as something that makes sense in its own way and this way happened to be Soft Split. It’s so refreshing and freeing to make nonsense stands on its own two feet. Or to write filth! That was so much fun. I need to do that again.
Do you want to make sense in your writing? What are you imagining or hoping for now with your writing?
BLVR: I have no hopes for my writing, only to be writing. I’ve been writing slower and viewing it more as a religious exercise or “worship,” whereas before I was driven by just writing what I thought were pretty and/or powerful images and drafting tons of words in a reckless manner. Now, and going forward, I think, it’s more meditative and a stress on clarity.
So are you going to write filth again? I’m curious if there are any writers you would consider filth that influenced Soft Split.
SM: I need to finish something else first that’s completely different but I’m planting filthy little seeds in my head and already thinking about how far I could push things (and asking myself: what will get me into trouble). Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands has probably been the biggest influence. I still think of the avocado pit from the book and I definitely always think of Wetlands whenever I see a nasty toilet seat. I haven’t read it in a long time so I’m not sure what I would think of it now but I’m so thankful for her writing that book. It’s smelly and oozes of fluids.
Alissa Nutting’s Tampa is not filth but it made me sweat when I read it and I admire her for taking her protagonist’s urges as far as she did. Her short story collection was also very inspiring. So was Miranda July’s when I first read it. Oh and Emmanuel Carrère’s short story “This is for You” is the sexiest piece ever. I wish that could happen to me one day.
BLVR: I kind of wish I could scream vagina at John Goodman, even though I feel like that will never happen. But who’s to say?