Oyster River Pages: Who are the writers who have made you who you are?
Vincent Chabany-Douarre: I learned a lot from Sylvia Plath. Like a number of melodramatic teenagers, I romanticized her as the writer: doomed, waifish, glamorously suicidal, a genius. At a point, I started seeing the story for what it was. In the words of Terry Castle: “incoherent, narcissistic, passive-aggressive, and self-canceling as it was misogynistic, daddy-obsessed, and morbidly heterosexual.”
Falling in and out of love with Plath is a rite of passage. You can still admire Plath’s writing (I do) and find the cult around her, and the model of writer she left, patently idiotic, and creatively arid.
It made me very attentive to creating from a place of joy. A place of excitement, and gratification. To not mistake writing for therapy. Buy into cheap myths, and you’ll produce cheap writing.
If I had to choose models to emulate, the answer would probably a group of writers who inspire me to stay tough, precise, to not cater to the mopey. Writers like Joan Didion, Laura Kipnis, Caitlin Flanagan, Lionel Shriver, Jessa Crispin, Margaret Atwood.
ORP: What are the lenses that shape your worldview?
VCD: Being irate is a big part of my personality. What annoys me becomes the ironic twist I can’t stop seeing in my environment, the evil eye that holds the story together. Now, irritated about what in particular, depends on what I am most exposed to.
Since I teach at a liberal arts college in Portland (of all places) I am concerned with victimhood. I hear tales of magical worlds in which there are clear villains (shadowy hordes of racists, rapists, you name it) and doe-eyed ragdoll victims. The #resistance seems manically aroused by this fantasy. Polarized evil/good systems are convenient. They excuse the dark impulses we all harbor, towards others or ourselves. They legitimize extremes, allowing only for extremist thought. Liminal areas tragically vanish, alongside ambiguity, ambivalence, and complicity. The spaces in which fiction thrives become banned.
This irony, this specific irritation, its ramifications and consequences, has dominated my worldview, at least for the past year or so.
ORP: What’s the most important thing you’ve read/seen lately?
VCD: Anna Biller’s The Love Witch. I adore that movie. The acting, the set and costume design, the cinematography is amazing. But more than anything, it’s a great movie about ambivalence.
ORP: What’s your least favorite word?
VCD: “Flaneur.” I lived in Paris, and the number of dumb Americans I’ve heard define themselves as flaneurs is staggering. It’s such a stupid, narcissistic trope. Taking a walk and not having a work permit does not make you interesting. And calling yourself that makes me not like you as a person.
ORP: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created?
VCD: There’s a paragraph in a short story that I published in 2017 that I enjoyed writing. The story’s called “The Randolph Hotel.” The main character, through dark circumstances, reunites with an ex-boyfriend to support him through a trying time.
“Over the wooden table, I reached for Blake's hand. He did not pull it away.
That is the instinct, physically hold on.
That was my one regret.
I kept thinking back to the late nights or mornings spent in his bed. How the room was tinted blue by the curtains that were always drawn. How he brewed weaker coffee than I liked.
How I should've clung on to him tighter.
That would, I was sure, change the whole deal.
If I were better equipped, I would see that this contains no logic.
Blake's hand was still familiar.”
ORP: What do you want to read/see more of in the world?
VCD: I want writing that that disrupts not the story, but the story we tell ourselves about the story.
ORP: How do you pay it forward?
VCD: I ran a writers group in Paris, at Shakespeare and Company, alongside other writers. (Now called AWOL workshop) I hope they felt like they benefited from my feedback. I advised people who want to submit to online magazines. I publicize the magazines that feature me, best I can.
ORP: What is the space that has shaped you the most?
VCD: If you mean a physical space, I feel every space has been comically formative for me, by giving me something to be annoyed at. I suppose Oxford is a big one. I only spend a year there. I loved the academics. The rest was morally exhausting. It taught me a lot about power. It got me to be less self-indulgent.
ORP: You’ve just written your autobiography. What’s the title?
VCD: Too Young for An Autobiography: A Cash-Grab.
Vincent Chabany-Douarre studies American history at La Sorbonne, Paris. His work has been featured in The Belleville Park Pages; The Bastille; The Birds We Piled Loosely; Gravel; 45th Parallel; Thrice Fiction Magazine; the podcast No Extra Words, Glassworks Magazine, Cecile Writer's Magazine; Foliate Oak, Wedgie Magazine, The Write Launch as well as Junto Magazine. You can find all of these pieces on his Tumblr, https://vincentsmumbles.tumblr.com/. Read his story "Landlocked" from Issue 1.