By Ian MacAllen on Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 at 9:04 am
Ottessa Moshfegh read from her story collection, Homesick for Another World at the new Greenlight Bookstore in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. She was joined for conversation by Michele Filgate where they talked about body manipulation, Donald Trump’s presidency, and leaving New York City for Los Angeles.
“I am an egomaniac” Moshfegh confesses to Filgate, describing her stories as a big game she is playing. Her writing is a constant pursuit of her own entertainment.
“I’m only manipulating myself.”
Filgate points out that many of the stories in the collection confront the disintegration of the body wondering about the origins in Moshfegh’s writing.
Moshfegh has been fascinated by her body since she was a teenager. When she was thirteen or fourteen, she had an ingrown hair impaling her skin on her tailbone. It had ended up forming a painful cyst, and because of where it was, she had a hard time sitting down. She had no idea why her bottom was so painful. She struggled to explain the problem to her parents. Eventually the doctor she attended explained the hair had been twisting around for years.
Since then, Moshfegh has become fascinated with manipulating her own body. The body is who we are, she says, and then adds that she is from New England, so she has spent her whole life pretending things are totally normal when they aren’t.
Moshfegh’s work is often described as unsettling by critics and reviewers. Yet, she cites Anne Tyler, author of what Moshfegh describes as detailed, banal domestic novel, as inspirational. What is it about an ordinary novel that she draws on? As Moshfegh explains, Tyler has simply dedicated her life to finding the perfect variation of the form, and that is what she aspires to as well.
“When I die, I hope I’ve been writing toward something interesting,” she says. She has so far been writing for twenty years, but hopes to write for another sixty.
When she was nine, Moshfegh read Dick Gregory’s autobiography. He was a black writer who was not afraid to talk about being black, she says, and that it showed her what writing can do.
As a child, she didn’t have internet, and her parents spoke English as a second language. But she had a lot of books, and many times her parents weren’t aware of what she was reading. So to her, English was something that belonged to her. “I love English,” she says.
“I knew I was a writer when I started writing.”
Filgate asks about a Vice interview where Moshfegh described her first novel, Eileen, as black-and-white. The interview happened in the middle of promoting the novel, Moshfegh clarifies, and by then she had talked about the book so much, to her it did seem black-and-white. She much prefers dealing in the gray areas and says that the gray is much more interesting.
When Moshfegh turned thirty, she says she realized it was a waste of time to pretend she was someone she was not. Who was it going to please? Her mother? She asks, rhetorically. She since has decided to please herself, to be who she is, and that happens to be an arrogant person.
“What does it mean to be a good person, or normal?” she asks.
She has quit social media like Facebook, in part because she sees it as a meaningless. The only use is to stalk people.
She also thinks the world is perpetually in a time of political unrest. “I’m thrilled Trump is president because people will be pissed off.”
For now, Moshfegh is focused on writing long-form fiction. “I don’t feel I need to write short stories anymore,” she says.
She credits her style to editing and a need to keep herself entertained. “I get bored easily,” before adding that she has a fast mind, and that’s simply the way she thinks.
“I’m not trying to be subversive, it’s just the way I think.”
For most of her twenties, Moshfegh lived in New York City. There she says she felt out of touch with the world, and eventually left. Part of living in New York City is worrying what other people think and how to dress. “I don’t feel I need to get laid all the time,” she adds.
Now she lives Los Angeles, a city she likes better. “I feel I own my time now.”
“L.A. Isn’t real.”