Kim Gek Lin Short with Brenna Lee

Kim Gek Lin

Installment Two | Author Two
[six words six authors six issues]

The 666 Interview Series is an attempt to explore language, the conceptual, and experimentation in writing and art-making by creating a space of vulnerability and transfiguration through engaging simultaneously with a structured and open format.

Take a fragment of clear quartz. Hold it in your palm. Place it beneath your tongue. Suck on it. Bite it. Spit it out. Step on it. Smash it. Break the thing into splinters and shells and mirrors. Play Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on repeat. Lay naked in the sun with the pieces spread over your body. This is what it’s like to engage with Kim Gek Lin Short’s most recent lyric novel, China Cowboy (Tarpaulin Sky Press 2012), where the reader enters a simultaneously surreal rollick through a Patsy Cline album and a hellish 1980’s Hong Kong through the eyes of 12-year-old La La, an aspiring country music star, despite her mother’s assertion that “COWGIRLS DON’T HAVE FLAT FACES.” There are monsters everywhere—as kidnappers, tourists, parents— and even as an apparition of a chain-smoking Clint Eastwood who lurks in the shadows. La La meets or is kidnapped by or runs-away with Lao Ren (pronounced “run”), an American soybean farmer and artist, who inevitably turns La La’s body into a site of habitation for monstrosity by keeping her as a sex slave.

A text is a book-object in the literal, physical sense, but it is also a body-object, especially in China Cowboy. Short’s novel allows the reader to experience the intimate perspective of the young-girl object, La La, as we engage with her story through her perspective and other fragmented perspectives. Through these shifts, intimacy becomes irrevocably interconnected with exploitation, resulting in intimacy metastasizing into a disconnection that is material and exterior. The text is the young-girl object. La La’s body-object, as the site of monstrosity, becomes an incubatory site for dreams and mutants, which is an alien gestation that is both explicit and tender. Within this body-object exhibition, the reader becomes an object that witnesses the shift in the unreliability of time, memory, and now. This shift, or the engagement of the shift, results in the experience and the performance of fantasy, dissolution, daydream, and death dream.

Agency, and its inherent blurriness, overshadows everything, which results in agency itself operating as a performance of dream as well. These dreams act as language and vice versa, both of which reinforces language as material and intangible, as an object that does not adhere to binaries, and as an object of mediumcy that has agency. The object-body is the site of this alchemy. The triangulation of bodies, dreams, and language act as vectors capable of communication and transformation, that reinforces the act of object-mediumcy. This site of transmutation resurfaces in the public space of the book-object as projected fractals.

Why was I born? I ask my mother. We are in the front seat of a rusted Cortina saloon and Ren is in the back. She gets the knife out of her purse and gives it to me. I can see my mouth in the blade. I am chewing gum. I squeeze it between my teeth it is blue. The knife I pretend is a microphone but outside the typhoon is so loud I can’t hear the radio. I stop singing.

These half-sightings and remnants and reflections accumulate and allow the narrative to unfold, furl again, be swallowed completely, double, and then break away. This instability creates a juncture for hybridity, other mediums, as in the section “Installations”, a disclaimer on the title page that states “China Cowboy is told in Technicolor”, and La La’s name itself, which functions as a kind of song. La La’s fractal story is the thread between selves, forms, and visions that dissolves binaries among the shared and separate stories. Short’s ability to create and sequester the image creates a space of transmutation, for her book to ultimately act as the transitional object, as a stepping stone toward understanding a world that is both interior and exterior, and the multiplicities of the girl-body-object that, dead or alive, refuses to be defeated.

In Autumn 2013, I presented six words to Short, the first word, “Love” is an offering from the previous 666 installment with Bhanu Kapil. Short responded to each word prompt with concepts and language surrounding her own writing and process. The form of this interaction creates a space of intersection for each artist’s interview to be in conversation between and among each other, as well as to create new collaborations.

1] Love: Primitive. Love is the wonderful the terrible the magical the ordinary. A serial monogamist, love. A womanizer, love. A parent. Apparent. Even on an empty stomach, love will toss its last dollar into the guitar case of a street musician. It will also kill, love. It destroys. It creates. If enlightened people are like water, like Taoist water, then love is the ford that allows the wonderful the terrible the magical the ordinary to pass. In many stories I like, Love is a primitive monster threatened by the civilizing modern world. Too loud followed by too sad, Love vacillates between illness and recovery, circumvention and invention, and is endearingly ridiculous, all while being the most serious thing in the whole wide world.

2] Boundary: Artificial, this divide. It wants to block something. What? Why? Instead, it is a medium. Like “TV Buddha,” the video installation by Nam June Paik. In “TV Buddha” Paik places a bronze Buddha on a platform in front of both a video camera and the television into which the filmed image of the Buddha is played. So what you have in whole is the Buddha contemplating himself contemplate himself. Or maybe what you have is an audience contemplating the Buddha contemplate himself. In doing so, the past and future merge into a singular and simultaneous space. An artificial space. Like a boundary. So not only does this installation show an instance of medium divided by medium, it demonstrates one of the primary functions of medium, which is to create artificial space and time in order to transport (or prevent) experience: boundary. In “TV Buddha,” the audience is the subject and the object, and perhaps this demonstrates an example of very pure boundary, or maybe an example of very polluted boundary, depending on your world view.

3] Ghost: If you had to choose one, would you rather live in a house riddled with mice, roaches, or ghosts? How you answer this says a lot about you.

4] Image: Sound. Frank Zappa. For Frank Zappa images were sound. Frank Zappa made sound sculptures—sketched drafts of his songs—b/c music came to him visually. How cool is that? To me, this is important stuff, b/c it expands the origins of sound. That is, images do not have to contain conventional movement in order to produce poetic sound. For me, just thinking “sound sculpture” stimulates my poetic gland. It’s a great trigger, like these images: “orphans” and “children with hairy legs.”

5] Omen: This is a true story. It is November 7, 2011. I am sitting on my bed writing an email to a friend. We’re talking about literature. I am thinking about something that Tomas Segovia said about how we understand literature. Or something he said about how what is written, those puny details we writers labor over, how they are not important. Something like, “It is not important what is written, but what happens between what is written and the reader.” I am thinking how true this is. It is not the details, it is the something magical that can happen between the words and the reader. But here is the real story: At this moment (on November 7, 2011), I Google Tomas Segovia’s puny Wikipedia page and it says that he died on November 7, 2011. There is something prophetic at work in everything.

6] Descent: Emotion. Or, the inadequacy of rational thought in deriving enlightenment. The poetic. Poetry works in instinctive ways (it’s primitive, glandular even). Maybe this is because the main thing that poetry (and art) does is: it asserts a world view. And that is all that boundaries are: windows for world views. The thing about world views is they are not really informed by reality. Instead, they are the product of emotion. And Emotion, as poetry knows, is a world arrived at through descent. It might not sound like it, but this can be a good thing: enlightenment. This elevation of emotion over reality (elevating descent) is what allows us to assert Taoist world views like: be like water.

Lastly, please leave us with a word, an offering for the next interview: Limbo.



Kim Gek Lin Short is the author of two lyric novels The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits and China Cowboy, both from Tarpaulin Sky Press, and the cross-genre chapbooks The Residents (dancing girl press) and Run (Rope-a-Dope). Her work has been described as stealing back “for prose both the compressed sounds of poetry and the tugs and pangs of story” (Denver Quarterly) and as “a carnivalesque romp through a sorrowful Patsy Cline album” (American Book Review). Kim lives in Philadelphia with her family. 


Brenna Lee received her MFA in Prose from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where she was the recipient of the Leslie Scalapino Award for Postmodern Experimental Poetics. Her manuscript, THE SCOUT OF SLEEP, was a semifinalist for the 2013 Switchback Books Gatewood Prize. She is the creator of a new theory of feminist passivity, entitled Radical Objects. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Bombay Gin, Jupiter 88, and Upstairs at Duroc. Brenna works as an event planner and teacher at the Center for Arts and Healing Arts. She also co-curates the transmedia outlet Blooming Plants, with her husband, photographer Ian Rummell. They live with their dog in Pittsburgh.


GestureKim Gek Lin Short with Brenna Lee