“All there is between our fingers is the remnant of an idea”: Fragments of a Correspondence with Christina Tudor-Sideri — Tobias Ryan

Knowing her debut novel Disembodied was set for a summer release, a few months ago I approached writer and translator Christina Tudor-Sideri about the possibility of an interview. Rather than a straightforward Q&A however, I proposed that we begin a correspondence, opening a Google Doc to which we could both contribute as and when we pleased.

As the document grew (it is currently over 20,000 words) the question of how to present what we had shared arose. Our solution was to publish the text in fragments.

The following were all taken from Tudor-Sideri’s missives and offer, in highly truncated form, an overview of the topics our correspondence touched on, including her new book, her creative process, her translations, and more wide-ranging reflections on literature and its place in her, and our, lives.

[P]erhaps, since there is ample time, we could begin a conversation about whatever and see where it might take us. (17/04)

I find myself today in search of [kinship], though perhaps a kinship with the world, a manner in which to recognise myself in the day-to-day and also to have it reflected in my waters, so to speak. It’s a thought that has been circling my mind for a while, yet today, perhaps guided, or driven, by circumstances, doesn’t seem to want to let go. And so, instead of writing it in a notebook, or uttering it to myself in the shine of an unfamiliar room, I am going to try and untangle the thread here, amidst the many silences of these virtual pages. (12/05)

I write to make sense of things, to understand or at least follow paths in several directions, to be able to say that I have travelled them and taken in what they had to offer. (16/05)

It simply happened that that is how I wrote, from the beginning, whether poem or essay or spells or whatever else I wanted or needed to write. (30/05)

Deleuze writes somewhere, I believe in Essays Critical and Clinical, that the writer is not a patient, but rather a physician, “the physician of himself and of the world.” Which is something that I agree with but also find rather odd. (21/04)

I need, even if at times it is a mere illusion, that sense of continuity – the continuity of writing rather than of what it is written. (30/05)

Everything we write ends up integrating us into the world we are creating around it, and that is what [Disembodied] did, because, at its core, it is less about myself than it is about distant, even opposite versions of myself – or not about myself at all […] (16/05)

I have written since before growing up, I could say, given that all this is nothing else than living in the world as a human being aware of actions and consequences and the ways in which life itself marks you. (21/04)

Having finished Disembodied, edits and all, I find myself searching for a way to escape that world, to no longer be that woman, because of course, everything we write ends up being about ourselves […] (17/04)

[R]ecognising craft falls more on them: on editors and reviewers and critics, readers even? But when it comes to the writer, the thought of it might even be paralysing. It depends on the process and how everyone writes, or why, and even on what one understands by craft, since there are styles that are equally loved and hated. But yes, in the end, I have very little idea of what it actually means […] (30/05)

[I]n writing her, I set no boundaries and allowed myself to visit any realms, all realms. (17/04)

I felt an urge to allow myself more: to play with something different, more permissive, although permissive is not necessarily what I mean – I needed a larger playground, as simple as that. And the novel, a dash of fiction, allowed me to do so. I did not plan anything, I did not know where I would arrive, I had nothing in mind aside from the beginning, which I pulled from a dream, same as a few other scenes […] (16/05)

I thought then, and it still makes sense to me, that people have it backwards when they speak of this. You know, first person writing is self-involved, the writers will most likely end up voicing their own ideas, thoughts, and so on (I am speaking here of fiction), but to me it was rather like this: the ‘I’ belongs to the character, and the character can say anything. For many years for me it was like that, my young brain did not even register the fictional ‘I’ was something belonging to the writer. With the third person – that is the voice of a narrator – whom we can easily associate with the writer, and that voice not only tells a story, but sometimes offers commentary on that story, on the characters of the story, explaining an action, justifying an emotion, etc., well, for me, that was always more self-centred than the other option. (31/05)

[M]y voice is not the voice that speaks […] (16/05)

So yes, I suppose mystery is involved. (31/05)

[W]riting has never been frustrating to me, though it matters also that I know when to abandon it, just before reaching that moment, which I have sensed at times, but merely as something that is approaching, that might come, not a real possibility, because I stopped. (30/05)

[C]reation does not need to be painful, and most of the time, it is not, at least not how we have come to describe it, a process that tortures and torments and squeezes the life out of you in order to breathe life into that which you have created. And I also don’t believe that creation, literary or otherwise, is a universal solution to that which ails us, more so when it comes to physical ailments. But perhaps I understand the reasoning behind it […] (21/04)

I wish (at least at times) to offer more, or perhaps to write in a manner that is more … polished? closer to a style that doesn’t erase itself the very next second, but the nature of my writing process makes it nearly impossible. (16/05)

I am getting dangerously close to the idea of how one should write, which is something we should hurry up and obliterate already. (30/05)

What do I expect from a book? Everything and nothing at the same time. And again I feel that I might have left some things out, but also that I could have said all this in a couple of lines. What I need from books is to give me the world I am yet to discover; if not, new ways of seeing the world I know. To nurture and preserve movement in the mind. (31/05)

What it means to love an author or their work? It’s intimate. It reaches your very core and lingers there, whether for mere seconds or an eternity, it doesn’t even matter, it touched you, and you will live with that touch for as long as you are in the world. I feel this way mostly toward authors and texts I have encountered in my childhood, […] Cioran, Proust, Kafka, Montaigne, Dante, Eliade, Blanchot, Jelinek, Duras, Kristeva, Bachmann, Bataille – (19/04)

[T]hey move us and put us on our own path – whether one of creation, discovery, healing, or merely one that walks beside you like a trusted companion, a path that through its mere presence, recognizes the human in us and tells us it is okay to move, no matter toward what we are moving. This is why the unfinished matters a great deal, especially in literature, the unsaid, the half-travelled, it points us toward something of our own, rather than having us replicate from beginning to end the paths of others. (21/04)

I have now distanced myself from such times to the point of no longer feeling as if they were ever a part of my years, but rather a story – stories to keep at hand, stories for when the silence is too defeating and one does not know what to say in the company of old friends you haven’t seen in years, and so one of you says, “do you remember when we used to bring light home from the church?” or “do you remember how we used to swim in the river, holding hands as to not be carried away by currents?” (17/04)

I’ve carved my own path, more so when encountering an obstacle, such as opinion that I found absurd in school, and after all these years of, let’s call it solitary, or unguided reading, I find myself here, in this place, being this reader, this writer, who thinks outside of generalisation and the universal language that literature is supposed to be for us all. (31/05)

I don’t have a certain position, something stable, rooted in a philosophical system, nothing that I can state with certainty that I would follow it to the depths of the earth. I play with everything – my mind pulls at these threads; it tangles and untangles them and from it streams my writing. (16/05)

We go on this incredulous journey of self-discovery thinking, saying to ourselves and to all others: here I am, I hold in my hands the heart I plucked from my very chest, when all there is between our fingers is the remnant of an idea, bloodied, yes, flesh-like enough as to fool us, however merely an idea of how we once thought, of how someone once told us that hearts should look and feel and throb. And yet, the child draws along the lines of a given template in a process of discovery, while we do it to cover up that which is lacking. And we are lacking to such extremes – I would say nowadays, but perhaps it has always been so – even mere survival skills. (12/05)

I myself am a bit timeless, and I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing, but I have always felt that way, and my interests, my appearance even, testify to it […] Though if one is aware, or too aware, of her timelessness, then it is not timelessness after all, is it? What I did not know, until you mentioned it today, even if to some extent I too appreciate it in the books I read, is that this is a good thing. (16/05)

Why or how do we come to love an author? I think of love here as something similar to the love for another – personal, impossible to define, impossible to mirror. I do not believe that two human beings love in the same manner, feel the exact same feelings as someone else, and I think that this extends to the love we feel for writers and their texts, for artists and their creations, for directors and their films, for autumn and its rustling leaves, and so on. (19/04)

Works that shine a light, guiding or otherwise, but that do not provide consolation, are also the works that move something in us, and movement is of utmost importance to me […] (21/04)

I’ve written so much and yet I am barely at the beginning of your message. (30/05)

Yes, I do love Blecher. I love all the authors I have translated […] I love what they and their texts, and to some extent their personal lives, have meant for me, how I read them, what I took from them, what remained to guide me. I love and hold close to heart this amalgam, and I want to share it with the world, to share them, their minds, their works, so that readers can experience their own process, so that they can create their own blend and take from these texts and from these writers not what I took, but nevertheless, something that matters in an equal, if not greater amount. (21/04)

We are vessels for understanding the other, and through this understanding, for creating a better collective. Self-realisation serves for nothing unless it tells us that others exist as well, and together; it is not an endgame. (16/05)

This rush to the end of things, where people seem to now be driven solely by what they will find there, fully ignoring the journey, paying no interest to what they find along the way, in fact, shoving and pushing most of it aside because it is not the final answer, but rather something that gets in the way, I don’t understand this type of living. (31/05)

Individuality is a virtue; individualism is a vice – (30/05)

Perhaps I am naïve, and I am working around an empathy that is not hidden or undiscovered, as I sometimes see it, but rather absent altogether. If that is the case, I don’t know if there will ever be a path that leads to anything other than annihilation. Time and nature were supposed to make ruins of us all, yet here we are, beating them to the punch. (30/05)

As a reader, the relationship I develop with a book is on the verge of or is similar to the one I have with a lover. I need a book to show me its ways, but it has to do so in a way that does not bore me, that does not take me on paths I have been on before. Though it is not the path itself – even on familiar paths, the journey is still unknown. That is what I need from a book: to not repeat for me the experience of other journeys. (31/05)

With translation, I can say that I always do my best to put myself first in the position of the reader of that work. Then, to some degree, I put myself in the shoes of the writer and try to make sure I know precisely what they meant. (30/05)

[E]rasing the self is not a solution; but neither is using the self to erase the other. (16/05)

The authors I have translated thus far […] their lives were interrupted, their minds no longer able to create that which they themselves have spoken of wanting to create, in journals, in letters, in other works. And so, through these translations, I strive to keep alive their brilliance, to water the roots of what was left unsaid, so that perhaps others may use it to create their own worlds, to tell their own stories. I find myself in them, without a doubt. (21/04)

I believe it should not be disquieting. What we love, whom we love, although we are able to speak of it, to describe and to compare and to mirror it in the experiences of others, is something deeply intimate that belongs to us alone. (19/04)

The authors I choose are writers I strongly believe need to be remembered, rediscovered, encountered for the first time, that their books need to become fixtures in – how do we call it, the literary canon? (30/05)

I am not keen on genres and classifications and everything that takes something and confines it inside a singular category. To return to Disembodied, I wrote it to be all that it can be. A novel, yes – I suppose one can say that, it has a plot, albeit a faint one, it is fiction, though there are factual elements here and there, but it can also be an essay, a short story, a letter. It exists outside of genre, as does everything I write. (16/05)

[W]riters can write whatever they want, the fault lies more with the publisher than it does with the writer. (30/05)

[S]o much of what people are discussing and agreeing upon and taking as templates as to what to love and what to avoid is unfamiliar to me. […] I am still the child who comes upon a book and picks it up if it speaks to her somehow, I read and reread the books dearest to me, and leave very little room for what is new. Life is both too short and too long for us to read something merely because we feel we have to. (31/05)

We dissect too deeply, we truly do. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sitting down and writing, translating, editing. And speaking of editing, I think the ‘responsibility’ of crafts falls more on this part of the writing process sometimes. Though I myself am not too fond of it […] (30/05)

[M]y writing shouldn’t be read as biographical […] [T]he presence of personal details here and there, often too abstract to even be seen as personal, acts merely as an in-between, a place where to rest and perhaps, yes, find some familiarity, but it is only there to serve as rooting for everything else […] (16/05)

I don’t write to know myself – God, no. That would be unthinkable […] There are as many selves as there are days, and this journey some have embarked on, the journey toward the ‘authentic self’ is nothing but an illusion, a hurtful one even, all the more so when we equate it with a journey toward the centre, as if, if an authentic self, merely one, were to exist, it resides at the very centre of one’s being. And then what? (30/05)

[T]he condition of being human is sufficient. (21/04)

I speak of my writing as erasing itself, but I think what I actually mean is that it is erasing the self – the self of that day, of that moment, making room for what is to come, freeing passages and opening paths for everything else that there is. (30/05)

I used the word timelessness, and ever since, I keep wondering whether atemporality might have been better. Yes – because the distinction is clear, but then I asked myself how does one actually register such a distinction, eternal vs unaffected by time, when there is no way for human beings to actually experience it, outside of one’s mind, but that process as well is bound by time? (08/06)

Philosophy is supposed to help with some of this, is it not? With how the world looks at itself, how it loses itself and ends up seeing nothing but the distortion. I don’t know what happened along the way, how everything became critique and meta-something, and very little time and pages are spent now on life itself. (30/05)

Writing from the sickbed, both literally and metaphorically, gives one a staggering ability, that of seeing within oneself in a manner different than what we have come to collectively understand it – it is not introspection, but rather an x-ray, one that shows both the body and the mind. (21/04)

Aside from the cruelty, aside from our utter inability to understand that we walk these paths together, there is also something else: we are still not talking openly, not even intimately, not even with those closest to us, about all there is – sexuality, death, pain and its consequences, disability, these stretches of life that seem to go on and on, eternal and unbearable, which we keep hidden under lock and key. And more, there is an inexplicable amount of deceit when it comes to the body. As if we were somehow embarrassed to have bodies, embarrassed that those bodies feel pleasure and pain, that they live and die in myriad ways – embarrassed, ashamed, irritated that there is not but one path, but one beauty, but one love. (12/05)

[N]o matter what it is that we are speaking of – the how and why and when of writing – we are speaking of life; a life too personal to be on display often. But [Agnès] Varda speaks of this as being a primal need, and yes, it can be – it is, from time to time, the calling to expose what we ourselves have kept hidden is irresistible. (30/05)

[T]he idea that through writing we cease to be patients and become our own physicians falls short when facing the reality of being ill, of being an ill writer […] What we often don’t consider when we deconstruct sickroom literature, when we admire it and even place it on a higher shelf than anything else, is the fact that, although we do not know what these authors would have written in the absence of their illnesses, we deem it to be of lesser value. (21/04)

(I was thinking now that we will eventually need to gloss over these words again when editing, and I find the thought of doing so, of rereading myself or speaking of myself, rather unbearable). (30/05)

To return to your words on mystery, I see it the way I see movement: vital to life. It’s not a religion, it is fuel, or a path. Same as you cannot live without moving, you can’t read without mystery, you can do very few things in fact without mystery […] (31/05)

You see, pulling at these threads comes with such paradoxes, misunderstandings. I could very well abandon all these words and say: I don’t know. Because I don’t actually; I am permitted glimpses, when looking back, when for example, I am discussing it as we do here, but I feel that this might be a kind of cheating, since it roots it into a single explanation, or it pushes the reader or whoever else is interested into unidimensional thinking, because of course, one believes the writer, no? (30/05)

I can’t help but say to myself, how wonderful it is, to never say the right thing, the expected thing, to never please expectations that were laid beforehand. (17/04)

In writing [Disembodied], I became a part of worlds that I was not aware of before, I allowed my mind to travel other paths and think other thoughts, which is an important part of the reading process to me as well. Writing, reading, films, music, art, everything we interact with should leave us with the understanding that so many other worlds exist. (16/05)

I say to myself now and then that I will stop, but I cannot stop writing, and now, I would not know what to do with that writing – the days when I burnt and drowned and scattered it are far away, and I even find them rather ridiculous […] (30/05)

No one, no matter how they lived, has the privilege of concluding everything. Something will always remain. (17/04)

  • Disembodied is out with Sublunary Editions on July 12th. You can order a copy here.

Christina Tudor-Sideri is a writer and translator. She is the author of the book-length essay Under the Sign of the Labyrinth, and the novel Disembodied. Her translations include works by Max Blecher, Magda Isanos, Anna de Noailles, Mihail Sebastian, and Ilarie Voronca. Twitter: @dreamsofbeing_

Tobias Ryan is an English teacher and translator. He lives in France. Twitter: @tobiasvryan