Thursday, October 31, 2019

Lindsay Lerman, author of "I'm From Nowhere," is not from nowhere: An Interview

Lindsay Lerman, the author of the novel "I'm From Nowhere, was born in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, and attended Northern Arizona University for her undergraduates studies and later received a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Guelph in Canada. This interview was conducted by email in October 2019 and was edited slightly for clarity and amplification. - Dan Bloom at The Cli-Fi Report.

DAN BLOOM: In a recent interview with Genevieve Pfeiffer, she noted that in the novel you write about death in many forms — the physical death of John, how his death creates a symbolic death in
Clare, and that in the story you tell you also write about another kind of death, the death or
impending death of various species.

She then asks you: "We can connect these continual references to extinction to the impending
sixth extinction. How do you relate Claire’s loss to the loss humanity is facing? What inspired
you to these connections?"

And you reply: "It’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with impending extinction. We see more
evidence of it everyday, and it gets more and more real, but it’s so unthinkable that it
actually doesn’t get more real for most of us. We just carry on."

Can you tell me more about what you mean by "impending extinction"? Do you mean the
Sixth Great Extinction that Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about in her popular non-fiction book about it a
few years ago and the catastrophic extinction event that Greta Thunberg was referring to
in her now-famous speech at the UN on Sept. 23?

Do you think we humans will go extinct soon? Or if not soon, what kind of time frame are
you thinking of?

You told Genevieve Pfeiffer: "There is abundant evidence of extinction and attendant global emergenciesin [my novel], but it’s in the background (or "subcutaneous," as a friend put it), just as it is for most of us in our day to day lives."What did your friend..and you.. mean by the
comment and do you agree with your friend's quote?

LINDSAY LERMAN: This is a big question. I want to start by making it clear that I am not a scientist, and although I read the scientific literature as closely as I can, I think it would be irresponsible of me to make specific predictions about timeframe. But in general, yes, I’m referring to
the Sixth Great Extinction. When I say that it’s unthinkable, I mean that we can read about
the fact that roughly 200 species go extinct everyday, and we can understand that as a
fact that has (and will have) a bearing on every part of our lives, but there’s a disconnect.
We see the cost of food rising, the cost of housing rising, we feel that the weather is
different each year -- seems to follow new patterns -- but adding it all up is intellectually and
emotionally taxing, so I think many times we stop short of adding it up. Some people in
some parts of the world don’t have this luxury of not adding it up -- they’re fleeing areas
without water and other natural resources--and the effects of ecological catastrophe are
felt by them in more immediate ways.

DB: The title of your novel is "I'm From Nowhere." What does the title mean? And to you, as the author, and how did it come to you? And what do you hope it will mean to the readers who will pick upyour book and read it for their personal explorations or for a university literature class?

LL: I initially picked it because it just felt right. I didn’t quite know why I was selecting it.
But now I think I can say that the title reflects the protagonist’s struggle with making sense
of herself and her place in the world. We like to have a clear sense of who and what we
are, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for us. We don’t always know who we are, what
we are, where we belong, where we’re going. Sometimes we don’t even know where
we’ve been.

DB: Is your novel ''cli-fi''? Sci-fi? Literary fiction? Or do you prefer a different way to classify it or label it?

LERMAN: I’m not sure how to classify it. (I think that’s part of what took me so long to find the right publisher.) It’s probably some kind of literary fiction. It’s cli-fi insofar as the climate is itself a
character (though one could say every piece of artwork that features the world is cli-fi, but that’s
another discussion). But Claire, the main character, is not separable from the climate. She is
unable to separate herself from the environment; the climate is not some thing over which she
has clear dominion and can “protect” or whatever. She is subject to the same forces as every
other living thing. She’s tyrannized by all of it, powerless to stop it or change it.

BLOOM: Where did go to college for your undergrad studies, and what was your major and did you do any graduate work after that, too?

LERMAN: For undergrad, I went to Northern Arizona University (NAU). I almost didn’t go to university, but because I was in the top 25 percent of my high school graduating class, I got a letter from NAU saying that if I applied I would be accepted and that I’d likely get some tuition assistance. So I did that. I ended up getting two undergrad degrees simultaneously, one in Philosophy and one in Education. I loved philosophy, but I knew I’d have to work as soon as I left school, so I did the education degree to become a teacher. After teaching for 4 years, I went back to school to get a PhD in philosophy at the University of Guelph in Canada

BLOOM: I'm just curious, since I'm Jewish myself, if given your surname of Lerman: Are you Jewish? Did your Jewish upbringing have anything to do with the way to approached this novel and the theme of possible species extinction, including human extinction?

LERMAN: My father’s family is Ashkenazi Jewish, yes. It depends on what you consider the “tradition,” but I wasn’t really raised in the traditional Jewish way all that much. But I can tell you that one of my favorite parts of Jewish tradition, as I experienced it in my family, however, is continual questioning.

From a really young age, maybe around 6 or 7, I remember my grandfather asking questions about matters that I had previously taken to be settled. He’d ask me why I was wearing what I was wearing, why I had the friends I had, why I read the books I was reading. As a child, I thought of all the questioning as a nuisance, but as I grew (and particularly as I started studying philosophy), I understood it as a gift.

I also remember that it was important to him that I learn how to produce certain sounds
present in (spoken) Hebrew. He would ask me to practice them, so that I didn’t lose the ability to
produce them.

BLOOM: You are a translator from the French language and your first translation is due out in 2020. Congratulations! What is the title of the boook and who wrote it?

LERMAN: Thank you! I translated Fran├žois Laruelle’s first book, ''Phenomenon and Difference: An Essay on the Ontology of Ravaisson,'' from French to English. It was Laruelle’s doctoral thesis.

He has quite a following in France, and a growing following in the Anglo-American philosophy
world, so I think I felt a certain amount of pressure translating it. The publisher is the publishing
house for The New Center for Research and Practice. I don’t know the exact publication
date at the moment, but I can tell you this: I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

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