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Monday, April 23, 2012

Contributor Spotlight: Hiba Krisht

At this stage in my life, I am a very confused writer. “Boxes,” as it appears in HFR #49, was a sudden breakthrough, the first whole-kernel story to flow from my fingertips. I think I have always treated stories as organisms, conglomerations of body parts fitted together with smooth grooves, smooth lines. I spent too much time building up the bone in a sole limb to remember that it should be attached to something, a something itself true, itself whole. I spent too much time thinking and back-tracking over my words instead of writing new ones. And then, with "Boxes," I forgot this whole stack-the-details obsession of figuring out cohesive plots and mapping out characters like all they were just a bunch of awkwardly connected lists. No characteristic or idiosyncrasy is sufficient to play the role of a tibia. Limbs don’t have to be shiny and perfect and buffed. Limbs don’t have to be balanced. After "Boxes," I realized I dislike pure marble perfection. I dislike Greek sculpture. I think a hunchback is more comely, or Roy the New Year Monster with his unsteady knees. There is character to a totter.

And it came through, somehow, this--in a sense--finished thing. But since “Boxes,” I have become very confused. I have written whole stories, no major organs missing (I can’t speak for things like gall bladders or spleens, and I’m not sure if the skin is thick enough). But where before I had been telescoping in to isolated parts, picking at them with unrecognizable fury and a negative hunger instead of energy, now I am nearly blinded with the motion and flux of too many glowing pictures, confusing and paralyzing me, confusing and paralyzing my writing.

Philosophy is partly to blame. My philosophical wanderings feel scant even after two years in graduate school. Still, I have been exposed to all of these strong and titillating ideas that confound my attempts at writing fiction, even as they inform them.

I am astounded and excited by post-critical theory, by the Foucauldian-Habermasian debate of agency: inescapable power relations animating every life-movement, every motion of structure, of family, of personhood, identity, and love, and then, challenging the premise that you can cancel autonomy, the strong and liberating power of inter-subjective communicative action, of reciprocally recognized claims to validity. How do you express and recognize the validity of the depth and breadth and truth of a visceral human existence? Where do you stop being pushed, pulled, animated, driven? What is more simply direct than a common human drive, and how on earth do you construct an organ that accounts for it? The questions, questions of story and character, are endless.

I don’t even want to start to talk about Nietzsche, because I will never end and come out even more confused. Every writer should read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But I would like to say a word about Deleuze. I am entirely enamored of Deleuzian code-and-flow dynamics, bodies-without-organs, striated space, de-territorialization, by the very bare concept of a nomadology. The splendor of realization that all this can be read into, well, everything: Genesis, the makings of steak-and-kidney pie, politics, and story, story, story. And the terms themselves, never mind the chapters of philosophy behind them, excite me to the point of near exhaustion, and I find myself again mapping out organs, this time marking and color-coding bits and valves, erasing and knotting other appendages.

Philosophy aside, there is this keen and up-building social/political awareness I am starting to have, as a young Arab-American woman with Muslim roots, as a dual national, as an expat, as a citizen and a long-time resident of the Middle East. In “Boxes” I addressed many matters-of-fact about my country of origin: that mothers cannot give their citizenship to their children, that it is strange for a woman to move out of her home before marriage, that marriage is sometimes solely a vehicle for family and companionship rather than an expression of any deep true love. There is so much more than this to be written about in story about Beirut: Beirut, a part of the Levantine, a part of the larger encompassing Arabia. War-torn Beirut, the Beirut of invasion and civil war and guerilla warfare, of constant and prolonged sectarian resentment, conflict. And then the more socially constructed picture: Islam, patriarchy, oppression, regression.

I am confused because somehow, I come to write in the contexts that I know best, that I am so deeply entrenched in, and I find that these are contexts that come tagged with a host of preconceptions and labels, some of them ugly, some of them with unfriendly connotations. I am confused because I do not want to be the writer who battles stereotypes because it offends my sensibilities that I should acknowledge and take seriously the existence of these stereotypes to begin with. Because there is a dynamism and organic nature to this place. It is more relevant and simply truer that elements of each of these tags, these connotations (along with elements from a host of warm, rich, loving, sad, honest, weird, tough, and scintillating non-tags and unmentioneds) will appear in disjunction and permutation, in truly unique and versatile arrangements. In visceral arrangements.

It’s a lovely and satisfying confusion to have. A beautiful and soul-stretching project to tackle. How, how, do I take this wealth, this amassed veritable valley of ideas and truths, and clobber them together into plot, into character, into story and organism? These are very hard organs to construct and match up. But if I can manage to do it, I can make a lovely Picasso-like whole. So that’s what I’m aspiring to: Picasso. My arms are short. No wonder I’m confused. I can’t wait to keep digging in.
Hiba Krisht is an Arab-American residing in Beirut, Lebanon, where she is finishing up her master's degree in philosophy. She is joining the Class of 2015 cohort at Indiana University's MFA program this August, where she will also be an associate instructor in creative writing. She is currently Contributing Fiction Editor of the fledgling Beirut literary and arts review, Rusted Radishes. Her loves include (in no particular order) warm weather, good food, mathematical logic, weird humor, and labneh. Her work appears or is forthcoming from Hayden's Ferry Review, The Evergreen Review, The Banyan Tree, and Rusted Radishes.

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