An interview with Christina Tudor-Sideri (2019)

The following interview appeared alongside the July 2019 mailing from Sublunary Editions. It was recently announced that Christina Tudor-Sideri’s debut book, Under the Sign of the Labyrinth, would be released by Sublunary Editions in September of 2020.

Josh Rothes: Is writing an escape, or a means to see things as they are?

Christina Tudor-Sideri: It’s both. It might start as an escape. Not necessarily from a place or a certain moment in my life, but more towards a lost something. A gathering of memories—a home that no longer exists. I write guided by a form of metaphysical exile. It is my corner of soothing darkness in a world much too eager to be blinded by light. So yes, it is also a means to see things as they are. Beautiful, restless, mutilated, wounded, in the shadows.

JR: I’m reminded of the line from Beckett’s Murphy, where the character Neary says, “We look on the dark side[.] It is undeniably less trying to the eyes.”

CTS: Perhaps yes, the dark side is less trying on the eyes, but I am not sure if it’s less trying on the self. Lucian Blaga, one of my favorite Romanian poets, has a beautiful line in his philosophical writings: “When you want to see something clearly, don’t shine too much light on it—don’t exile all the shadows from its surface.” I think the way we strive to experience light might sometimes belittle all the beauty there is to be found in darkness.

JR: How would you characterize your relationship to Milena? Today, do you feel more like Kafka or Milena?

CTS: This question made me pause for a long time, as I found myself pondering on how people actually see Kafka, on how I see Kafka, and most of all, on why I might find it uncomfortable to feel more like him than her. My relationship to Milena is that of wanting the world to see her, and all other ‘muses’ of famous artists, for who they were, for the pieces of themselves that they gifted the world. In some ways, I am like Kafka: I hide, and I am afraid of many things. But I am also like Milena: I stroke the edges of the world with my writing, expecting to save from oblivion the very parts of myself that make me value silence and erasure more than I value words.

JR: From what I know, you seem to read extensively on folk culture… customs, fairy tales, etc. How does this aspect of your reading come through in your writing? Do these things exist in the shadows, in your earlier metaphor, the things that reason seeks to extinguish with its light?

CTS: I grew up in a world utterly shaped by religion, folk beliefs, fear of death, superstitions, and having to behave in a certain way in order to get to where everyone was trying to get. To reach a sort of paradise constructed not on the lightness of finding yourself and understanding what drives you, but on the numbness of conformism and of being sheltered under the umbrella of being just like everyone else. I no longer wanted to be the little girl who believes in fairy tales. So for many years, I willingly denied my love for these things, since it felt like a justification of that world I no longer wanted to be a part of. Recently, I allowed for that part of myself to resurface, in my mind and in my writing. I rediscovered the ‘real’ fairy tales, so to speak. Everything that was hidden from me as a child. And it freed me of something I didn’t even realize I was doing—it freed me of carving away at myself. To answer your question, yes, these things exist in the shadows. They exist for me, at least. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, however. They exist in the moments they left me with, in the warm embraces of my grandmother, in the memories of dancing uncaringly around an outdoor fire on midsummer nights.

JR: In your mind, how does writing differ from memory?

CTS: Perhaps it depends on what you are writing. For me, writing offers more control over my memories. Sometimes taking a painful moment and turning it into a story helps me accept the past. It also creates a place in the world for memories that time would have otherwise altered to the point of non-existence.

JR: Does writing allow us to reframe the past in a way more acceptable to us, or would such writing always ring false?

CTS: I think that reframing the past in a more acceptable way is an illusion. Something we turn to when we don’t know which way to go. When unable to choose a path, we look back toward the past and force ourselves to see it in whatever light will allow us to carry on. To make a choice. It took me years to finally understand what Emil Cioran meant by, “write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone.” I use my past in my writing a lot, often revisiting moments I never shared with anyone, tunneling in search of those dark truths I never even confessed to myself. No, I don’t think such writing rings false. Every retelling of the past has a bit of untruth in it.

JR: Do you always write in English?

CTS: Yes. I have been writing mostly in English since I was about ten years old.

I’m not sure I remember the exact moment when I started writing in English. I used to watch old films on TV before going to school, which is how I learned to write, since sometimes they would run the film with its English subtitle by mistake. I have a memory of myself writing in English in my journal after watching Lilith, the 1964 movie with Jean Seberg, but I am not sure if that’s when it started.

Sometimes I translate my writing into Romanian, either for fun or to see if it ‘means’ the same thing, but I haven’t written something in Romanian in a long time, nor do I think I will anytime soon.

JR: The word “flesh” reoccurs in your work, and a frequent theme seems to be the struggle of an embodied language, or else as an anchor, as certain philosophers remind us that consciousness is an embodied phenomenon.

CTS: It’s a beautiful word, though, isn’t it? Perhaps after reading so much of Merleau-Ponty’s work, I too came to the conclusion that the body is the primary site of knowing the world. We are embodied in existence through our bodies, same as we are embodied in writing through language.

Writing of this struggle, as you call it, provides me with a way through which to recover the flesh of the past without having to bear witness of its rottenness. I pick up a pen, or sit in front of the keyboard, and I turn restlessness inside out with the help of whatever tools I have at my disposal. The body, the mind, craving; the world, rivers, rage, ink, echoes, fragrances, daggers, absence, the tumors of time and the coldness of my hands–anything that gives me the ability to stay rooted in both the fantasy and reality of language and its limitations. Writing is a therapy that deepens the wound it soothes. Yet without it, the heaviness of ephemerality would suffocate me. Writing is an anchor.

JR: What might the limits of writing look like? Is it bounded on all sides?

CTS: This reminds me of something Blanchot said about writing… “Writing is the curve that the turn of seeking has already evoked for us and that we find in the bending of reflection.”

I have not yet experienced the limits of writing, aside from those moments in which I denied myself the embrace of words. There might not be any. There might be countless limits. It depends on the self. If the self is bounded, so is writing.

Christina Tudor-Sideri is a writer and translator living in Eastern Europe. Her work deals with the absent body and its anonymous rhythms, myth, memory, narrative deferral, and the imprisonment of the mind within the time and space of its corporeal vessel. Her upcoming book-length essay, Under the Sign of the Labyrinth, will be released on September 8, 2020 by Sublunary Editions. It can be pre-ordered here.

— Joshua Rothes