Q&A With Mathias Svalinaby Anna Laird Barto, Anna Laird Barto • 08.10.2011
Can you tell us a little about the origin of the project and how it evolved into its current form?
I Am a Very Productive Entrepreneur originated when my friend Nathan Young & I were talking about how much it would cost to cover everything in the universe in cardboard & then stamp the word “pornography” on the outside. We decided we were going to try to come up with a budget for this project, including the process of manufacturing Earth-like atmospheres in an infinite number of planets so that we could grow an infinite amount of trees to pulp in order to create an infinite amount of cardboard, not to mention the stamp factories, as we’d want to have size-appropriate stamps for each of the things.
Do I dare ask what you and your friend were drinking and/or smoking when this conversation took place?
Ha, we were probably drunk. Either that or g-chatting, which is kind of like being drunk. Nathan is an awesome video artist & makes fantastic Nu-Age music. Soon I hope to be able to work on his farm. As soon as he starts his farm, that is.
We never wrote that budget but I did end up writing a piece about starting a business that would do such work. At this time my father had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer & I was pretty sad. I was writing a lot of sad stuff. In order to try to not treat writing as a pit of sadness I started writing these business pieces to cheer myself up. Then I ended up writing a bunch of them. They became this book.
I’m sorry to hear about your father. You said you started writing these vignettes in order to cheer yourself up. Obviously there is no fix for that kind of sadness, but did writing help at all in your grieving process?
I think writing is a vocation. I don’t think it solves anything or helps anything. It’s a calling & one does it. One can affect people, but there is nothing political inherent in the act of writing, just as there is nothing salvational.
As a writer, it doesn’t surprise me that the project grew out of a random conversation/thought experiment rather than your sitting down one to day to write critique of a “Randian post-industrial society.” To what extent was the social commentary deliberate, and to what extent did it emerge organically?
I’m not sure I considered the social critique consciously. The way my mind works, I usually extend things into illogical absurdities as I think about them. When it comes to writing projects, I feel like those absurdities have to be part of a rhetoric that has cultural gravitas to it yet still has the potential slightness needed to allow the absurdity to work. So I’ve written a book of creation myths, a currently unpublished book of instructions for children’s games, this book of businesses & now I’m working on a book of spells. Each one has a built-in social critique to it, but I didn’t actively choose the forms because of that social critique. I try not to think too much about what I’m doing when I’m generating work; rather I follow what seems interesting, what seems productive, with the hopes that whatever I find interesting the community may also find interesting.
The critique, though I hesitate to use that word as reflective of my process because it sounds more deliberate than I was, is mainly in the editing, in deciding which of the pieces has the merit to want a reader & I think at that point it has to work on multiple levels of interpretation. Absurdism is always both allegorical & attempting to defer allegory, so my hope is that each of the pieces ostends toward meaningfulness without fully making meaning.
Can you give us the name of a spell or two from your upcoming book (unless your agent wants to keep it top secret or something)?
Ha. Agent. Right.
You wouldn’t believe how many writers invoke their agent (real or fictitious) when we catch them sim subbing on the sly.
The first third of the manuscript are all spells against things that upset my girlfriend, Julia Cohen: “Against unlocked Doors,” “Against Voices from a Distance,” “Against the Degradation of the Land,” “Against the Dropping of Things.” The second section is thirteen poems all entitled “Against Suicide.” The third section I haven’t written yet.