Alexandra Kleeman on the Artificial Boundary Between the Natural and Man-Made
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on the Thresholds Podcast
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan talks to Alexandra Kleeman about the threshold of the natural and the man-made, how we consistently cross that threshold back and forth, and how cognitive science influenced her new book, Something New Under the Sun.
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From the episode:
I often—in my previous work especially—used to work by juxtaposing something sort of comically manmade, something kind of pathetically manmade, with something that was supposedly more natural. And yet these two things intermingle within our lives, intermingle within our bodies. The snack cakes that my characters were craving and occasionally eating in my first novel, they’re about as unnatural as a food product can be. But at the same time, they are put into this body that is material, that is organic, and that has to find a way to work with and absorb these plasticky creations we’ve made.
The interplay between those two domains looks a little bit different in this new novel, but I think that’s because the novel pays a little more attention to the ways in which that boundary is artificial, instead of just pushing them up against each other and and letting them clash. In this book, there’s sort of a realist storyline, a character-centered storyline that deals with things that we may recognize from our lives, like wanting to achieve success in your job, wanting to repair your marriage, wanting to repair your marriage on your own terms rather than the other person’s terms.
But all of these desires are always sort of jostled and displaced by concerns from the outside environment that unsettle and reorient an individual’s priorities, so there’s this constant tug between thinking about yourself in the traditional self-oriented way and thinking about how to navigate the physical and environmental space of the world. I think increasingly, that is the way we’re going to be living at the intersection of two conceptually-difficult-to-reconcile planes.
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Alexandra Kleeman is the author of Intimations, a short story collection, and the novel You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, which was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Conjunctions, and Guernica, among other publications, and her other writing has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Tin House, n+1, and The Guardian. Her work has received fellowships and support from Bread Loaf, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. She is the winner of the Berlin Prize and the Bard Fiction Prize, and was a Rome Prize Literature Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. She lives in Staten Island and teaches at the New School.