Blake Butler: The Willow Springs Interview

In Blake Butler’s work, the ordinary world is made and remade, the familiar becomes strange, the quotidian becomes uncanny, haunted: families discover their own doubles living among them; homes retain their usual dimensions on the outside, but inside are doubling and expanding with secret passages and dark tunnels and strange rooms; caterpillars mysteriously overrun mailboxes and children get inexplicably sick. But that’s mere content. Butler is also a narratologist’s dream dissertation topic. As one of our interviewers, Joseph Salvatore, wrote about There is No Year in the New York Times Book Review: “[T]his novel presents itself as an eye-widening narrative puzzle. Its surface features alone immediately call attention to themselves. Some of the passages are typographically laid down in verse, running Whitmanesque across the page, Dickinsonianly down in thin shafts or randomly in block stanzas. Italics abound. White space abounds. Footnotes are employed, some of them without primary referents: mere subscripts floating on the empty page like gnats.”

Blake Butler was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where he currently lives. He is the author of three novels, EverScorched Atlas, and There is No Year; as well as a nonfiction book Nothing. Butler also founded and ran the popular website, HTMLGIANT, now defunct.

New York Times review of Nothing noted that “Butler is obsessed with the possibilities of syntax, and the most obvious feature of Nothing is a lyric and intellectual buffer overflow that results in long, often interestingly ungrammatical sentences, sometimes stretching over six pages. The most ornate of these is adorned with footnotes, a nod to David Foster Wallace, to whose memory the book is dedicated. As such the book draws attention to its own linguistic surfaces in ways that most memoirs never attempt.” And from the website Creative Loafing: “Nothing is endlessly surprising, funny, exciting, harrowing. There are some cues from the sprawling internal monologues of Nicholson Baker and the genre-defying nonfiction of William T. Vollmann in this expansive exploration of sleeplessness, but Butler is a writer unto himself.”

Willow Springs editor Samuel Ligon and writers Robert Lopez and Joseph Salvatore met Mr. Butler at the Palmer House in Chicago, where they talked about ordinary and anti-ordinary worlds, insomnia, dementia, parents and children, the use of footnotes, the internet, popular culture, HTMLGIANT, David Lynch, David Foster Wallace, reading habits, houses and homes, and the problems with metaphor.

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