In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Mona Zote.
We believe making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate those possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquette, or norms or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?
I’m not sure I agree with the analogy and wouldn’t say it has ever occurred to me that they are similar activities. Or are similar only insofar as writing is a kind of mental journey where you unpack, rather than pack, things, memories, impressions, thoughts, colours. And I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking about writing while writing as that is liable to make me seize up, dry up instantly. What is not-writing is anything that is not-acceptance of differences. Writing is, by its very nature, something you do because you understand the world isn’t linear, compartmentalized and tidily arranged.
Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?
Illustrations, particularly for children’s books. This takes me aback because I am not particularly fond of children, which may explain their occasional fascination with me. I had a wonderful childhood, and much of it was because the house was filled with books, there were gardens to roam and trees to climb. It strikes me now that having a good childhood is important because the loveliness you experience at that time is a continuous source of sustenance.
And I would love to be known as “that intrepid sailor” despite not ever having sailed a boat.
In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?
I think walking is a necessary activity if you want to write. The less one walks — around town, around the neighbourhood, anywhere at all — the more tenuous your grip on the substance and core of life, and life is really what one is constantly engaged with and in, if you write. Travelling itself is not necessary for every writer. Some may prefer to be rooted in one place and sustained by it. I would not dislodge them from their place of comfort. Though yes, there definitely comes a time when you are saturated with one place and need to get away from it in order to see it clearly. It is the point I inhabit at the moment, a need to be away from the usual tropes — hills, bamboo, the cycle of monsoon green and winter brown, more hills — because I am too close to it. And this is the first time I have ever felt this. So, clearly, even if travel isn’t necessary at all times, it is sometimes the one thing you should do in order to be more yourself.
Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?
There are just too many! But since I have to choose, the opening line from Seferis’ Thrush: “The houses I had they took away from me.” I don’t want to dictate what the act of writing poetry is about but the line rings as true as it does even in translation because so much of the act of writing is to reclaim what a bitter tide has swept away. This may be especially true of poetry.
Do respond to the following words:
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” ― Oscar Wilde
Possibly applies to everything I have ever written or dreamed of writing, sans the “clever”!
What do you think of Coldnoon?
I have been following it online for quite a while, and I love the quality of the writing; many of the travel pieces are immensely enjoyable. Not to mention the poems. Coldnoon’s not something one can read through in a single sitting, necessarily! I often find myself wandering around its labyrinthine trails, going from one writing to the other, returning to older issues, back and forth and around and over…it’s a lot like the act of journeying.