Endnotes on Experimentation: Sheila Heti, Alexander Chee, and More Voices from Thresholds
Hosted by Jordan Kisner and Drew Broussard
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 essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
It’s the end of our “experimentation” capsule of episodes, and Jordan is joined in the studio by Thresholds producer Drew Broussard for a grab-bag of outtakes: Sheila Heti asks Jordan a question she’s never been asked before; Alexander Chee recommends some books, music, and more to get a person through stressful times; Jordan tells Drew about a poem by Jericho Brown that knocked her over; and advice for what to do when the writing gets hard.
Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!
From the episode:
Sheila Heti: Why are you interested in thresholds?
Jordan Kisner: Nobody’s ever asked me that question. I feel like they are, elliptically speaking, the kind of thing that I always want to write about, the thing that I’m always looking to write about, usually because I’m interested in stories about reversals or subversion. I’m always interested in a story that turns itself inside out or turns around in some way.
And the moment where that’s happening, both in life and technically in the essay, I think about as—threshold is one word you could use to describe a moment like that. And I’m very attracted to that as a phenomenon in the world and as something to try to execute on the page, but it’s really hard. And so, when someone asked me what I would want to talk to other writers about, I wanted to ask them about that. How they’ve wrestled with that in their lives and then in their practices.
Sheila Heti: So wait, what was an experience in your life or a life that you heard about in which something turned around? I’m just curious for a tangible example of that.
Jordan Kisner: I worked for a while on this essay about deep brain stimulation, which is this procedure that can be used where you implant electrodes into the brain and sort of hook your brain up to a pacemaker, and it can be used to help people with really intractable depression or OCD. And I got really fascinated in the idea that there’s a part of the brain that you can stimulate to radically change your experience of being a person in the world. I was interested in writing about like what is happening just then, where everything changes but there’s nothing to see exactly. It’s just a felt thing. And I feel like a threshold is one way of talking about something like that. And I am always curious about people who are writing in ways that evoke that, too, in some way. Which it feels like Pure Colour does.
Sheila Heti: Right, right. It’s interesting that moment that everything changes in the brain, because I guess, if you get down to like nanoseconds—I mean, so what’s happening in my head is I’m like, well, is there a decisive moment when things do change? Or is it when you get down as granular as you can, is it all so amorphous that you can’t pinpoint the moment that something changes? So that brings you that question in life: are there pivotal moments or epiphany or crisis, or is it all gradual, all threshold, as you put it?