ordinary radical

Dimensional Traveller

Cover art by absolute-complete-trash

A playlist for interdimensional outlaws stuck wandering the universe for 30 odd years.

Mountains Message To Bears // Another Night On Mars The Maine // All This Wandering Around Ivan & Alyosha // Where There Is Light VNV Nation // Drops of Jupiter Train // Are We Ready? (Wreck) Two Door Cinema Club // Hopeless Wanderer Mumford & Sons // Blue Lips Regina Spektor // Atlas Coldplay // The World At Large Modest Mouse // Meet Me In The Woods Lord Huron // Who Are You, Really? Mikky Ekko // Spaceman The Killers // Space & Time VNV Nation // U.F.O. Coldplay // The River, The Woods Astronautalis // Mountain Sound Of Monsters & Men // King’s Cross Pet Shop Boys // The Road Frank Turner // The Crooked Kind Radical Face // Ordinary World Green Day // Lost In My Mind The Head and The Heart // Ghost Towns Radical Face

"Words and utterance and magic and power, all tied into one centuries-old knot."

An Interview with Ali Smith

Since her first story collection Free Love and Other Stories, Ali Smith has consistently earned critical acclaim for her layered, beguiling wordplay and texts that experiment with the boundaries of form and genre. Her latest novel, the Booker Prize-nominated How to Be Both, comes out in the U.S. today.

How to be Both functions as a diptych: depending on your edition of the text, the reader may first encounter Francesco del Cossa, a gender-nonconforming Renaissance artist in Ferrara, Italy, or George, a teenage girl in the contemporary U.K. who has recently lost her mother. In The Guardian, Smith stated that she hopes the book “gestures to all the ways to read that are possible.”

Cossa’s story moves from poetry, prose, and across the adventurous landscape between the two; George’s narrative is more conventional, though no less dazzling. The two narratives intertwine and complement each other; images accumulate meaning and then skillfully contort. Duality is at the core of the stories—dead and living, man and woman, past and present.

I conducted this interview via email over several months. Smith’s interest in simultaneity was immediately reflected in our correspondence, enthusiastically veering into parentheticals and conversational fragments separated by asterisks. I read the title of the novel, fittingly, as both a statement and a question. And if there is an question posed, perhaps the answer is: joyfully.

—Amy Feltman


THE BELIEVER: I read in your 2012 interview with The Quietus that you said, “Form will tell you everything about where [people] live and what shape they’re in.” Can you speak to how form functions in How to be Both

ALI SMITH: I came at this novel with form foremost in mind. I wanted to write something that would gesture to fresco structure. I’d been reading about Renaissance frescos and fresco technique after having traveled down in the bowels of San Clemente in Rome, a place where several different layers of the building (which has, upstairs in its surface-level church, a glorious set of frescoes depicting the martyrdom of St. Catherine opposite the Popeship of St. Ambrose—a gender lesson in itself) sift, as it were, downward, literally through time and belief systems, and end, several levels below, in a bit of ancient Roman street and an underground spring.  

I’d gotten excited about a particular physical conceit: how fresco restoration—which begins with the painstaking removal of the layer of the wall into the original wet plaster of which the fresco had been painted all the centuries ago—invariably reveals the underdrawing, or sinopia, under the surface: the first work of the artist, which has been under there all this time invisible. And these underdrawings, the original designs for the work on the surface, sometimes differed wildly from, sometimes differed a tiny little bit from, and sometimes were exactly related to, that surface work. I began to think about how this is like story structure. I’ve always believed that all stories (all utterances, all language constructs) travel with the undershadows or understories of themselves.

I’d simultaneously been worrying at something Saramago says in his novel The Stone Raft, where he part comically, part seriously, laments that narrative being by nature sequential, can’t ever really do simultaneity. Like him, I think we live our lives in a dimensional meld of communal and individual and what might be called historical simultaneities. How to express this? Especially in the novel, the most societally sensitive and time-tied of the literary forms.

Someone else, a proper critic, will be able to tell you what this means about where we live and what shape we’re in, I can’t critique my own forms. I know I wanted to find one which would not just graft together the seeming disparate, and reveal that they’re not disparate at all but part of the same branch, same tree, and honor the ways in which, we contradict ourselves. A form which would make visible the things invisible to us if we stay on the surface.

I know I love and am drawn to the places where the arts cross over into each other, and love the soaring-over of all the visible and invisible borders. The novel comes in two separate parts that act as the opposite of division. They don’t just hold the keys to but crucially engage and are delivered by the imaginations of each other.  

I hope.

BLVR: Do you feel like you’ve become more interested in the "undershadows” of stories as you’ve matured as a writer?

AS: No, I think I always have. The first novel I wrote told an untold unsaid understory. I don’t know how it relates to character portrayal. Maybe it’s simply that we know a great deal more about character from silence or minimality, rather than from what’s said.

BLVR: That reminds me of (admittedly my favorite) line from Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, when Quentin says, “Do you want me to say it do you think that if I say it it won’t be"—the idea that, once words are used to express something, the words inherently transform the thing into something else. 

AS: Words and utterance and magic and power, all tied into one centuries-old knot. Which is why art—in all its forms but especially the written—goes one further and is almost always about both: the said and the not said, the apparent and the invisible, the expressed and the inarticulable. Because whatever’s said, as well as working its own magic and laying down its seemingly evident rule of itself, carries the simultaneity of what’s not being said.

 Francesco Del Cossa, from the Griffoni Altar, 1473.

Keep reading

over and over, when i ask god why all of these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, i can feel the spirit whisper to me, “you tell me why we allow this to happen. you are my body, my hands, my feet.”

we are not a voice for the voiceless. the truth is that there are is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. lots of folks have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering. institutions have distanced themselves from the disturbing cries… it is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle.

shane claiborne; the irresistible revolution: living as an ordinary radical \

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical: by Shane Claiborne

“If there is such a thing as a disarming radical, 30-year-old Claiborne is it. A former Tennessee Methodist and born-again, high school prom king, Claiborne is now a founding member of one of a growing number of radical faith communities. His is called the Simple Way, located in a destitute neighborhood of Philadelphia. It is a house of young believers, some single, some married, who live among the poor and homeless. They call themselves "ordinary radicals” because they attempt to live like Christ and the earliest converts to Christianity, ignoring social status and unencumbered by material comforts. Claiborne’s chatty and compelling narrative is magnetic—his stories (from galvanizing a student movement that saved a group of homeless families from eviction to reaching Mother Teresa herself from a dorm phone at 2 a.m.) draw the reader in with humor and intimacy, only to turn the most common ways of practicing religion upside down. He somehow skewers the insulation of suburban living and the hypocrisy of wealthy churches without any self-righteous finger pointing. “The world,” he says, “cannot afford the American dream.” Claiborne’s conviction, personal experience and description of others like him are a clarion call to rethink the meaning of church, conversion and Christianity; no reader will go away unshaken.“

lifestyle and faith update:

Lately I’m just feeling so over-saturated with media and the business of life and technology, it feels like I’m being suffocated by modern life.

And I’m diner felt disheartened at how desensitized to violence etc social media and the news is making me. I’m looking into Christian nonviolence etc.

And an interest in sustainable agriculture is coming back again, along with possibly being vegetarian. (Being vegan wasn’t healthy for me or financially doable.)

I just want to be more simply, you know? I love love LOVE how I feel in mindfulness meditation. Simple, connected, present, aware. No need for complications.

I just want to live more rurally, and use natural remedies and maybe even grow my own food if I don’t buy organic. And pray lots and read scripture and have a big collection of good books, and have a big family and paint too.

It’s actually striking how I hadn’t thought to research into Anabaptist traditions and the like (I’m not familiar with terminology or anything so please bear with me), or Mennonites or Idek. Or even Shane Claiborne’s stuff. Like there’s a whole world out there, that’s only the other side. A whole different way of being Christian, that is true and whole and seems to be more genuine, frankly.

I love learning and finding myself convicted like this. I love educating myself and experiencing things and growing into spiritual maturity, it’s honestly the best.

“Compassion does not mean only ‘to care about.’ It means ’ to ache from the bowels’- to literally become nauseated with injustice and to get sick to our stomachs with suffering.
At one point, Jesus says blessed are those who hunger for justice-some of us have heard that so many times it has lost its punch, but to hunger for justice is a powerful image. Justice is not just something we want to happen. It’s not just something we hope for, like a new car. It’s something that starves us. I think that’s why fasting can be such an important Christian practice-because we begin to feel, our bodies ache a little, along with the 2 billion starving bellies of our world. It affects us physically, then emotionally and spiritually. Not many of us hunger for justice like that. Lots of us want justice. But it’s something else to hunger for it, to be kept awake at night because we are starving for the kingdom to come on earth.”

-Shane Claiborne

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.
—  “Major Life Transition," Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals