Interview w/Franziska Hofhansel
On March 6th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-orders for the chapbook, Sorry to Miss You, by Franziska Hofhansel. The book is an interwoven collection of poetry and fiction in which we encounter radicalized fish, a dialogue involving a paint chip, and a border between Wal-Mart and God’s love. Through a mixture of the cosmic and the intimate, the real and the unreal, the voices here almost vibrate with feeling as they lead us through our own mesmerizing and insane world.
To provide a more in-depth look into the book, which ships on April 3rd, I asked Franziska a few questions over email. Read out conversation below!
RM Haines: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Franziska! The first time I read your work was when you released your zine, “Fish Hate Golf.” I love that piece, and I was happy to see an echo of the title show up in the title story of this new collection, “Sorry to Miss You.” Maybe we can begin by talking about how the zine came about, and how it stands in relation to the new work.
Franziska Hofhansel: I have a psychic connection to fish (though unfortunately it has been dwindling lately) and fish feel very strongly about golf, given the way the golfing industry has contributed so greatly to the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems. The story in that particular zine is actually based on a real place: a small town where a golfing company bought some land, with the promise that the golf course would bring economic prosperity to the town. In addition to the environmental effects (golf courses are known to cause pollution of ground and surface water due to the use pesticides, fertilizers, and other contaminants) the construction of the course was an extremely polarizing event, and those who opposed the golf company faced social repercussions and ostracization.
Of course the characters in my story are completely fictional, as are the events and fantastical elements; to my knowledge there is no ‘golf church,’ and the golf course itself is not a magical entity incapable of being destroyed. I feel strongly however that every golf course is a site of colonial and patriarchal violence, and I focus on golf as a facet of imperial rule because it is a particularly notable instance in which the state has successfully obscured its genocidal projects. The statement “golf is violent” sounds insane, but it’s true: not only is golf a sport enjoyed primarily by powerful, property-owning white men who help shape the legal structures responsible for maintaining racial capitalism, the construction and management of golf courses around the globe pose a deadly threat to biodiversity, water quality, and the erosion of shore lines.
The story “Sorry to Miss You” came about in part because I wanted to explore my particular theories about the antagonisms between golf and fish, but also because in the past year I became fixated on a particular metaphor/motif in my writing: the idea of having a fish where your heart’s supposed to be. I remember in a letter to a friend I wrote a while back, I was trying to explain how I was handling the pandemic, and the only way I could think to explain my mental state was that I had a fish in place of my heart. I take that concept very literally with my characters, and in “Sorry to Miss You” I was trying to think through the way someone with that kind of anatomical anomaly might feel Othered, how that might relate to neurodivergency and the experience of being a gender-marginalized person.
RMH: It’s refreshing to see a discussion of psychic intuition in the same breath as a materialist critique of state violence. Very often, it seems these ways of knowing and thinking are kept separate, with some assuming the irreal/surreal/psychic is not politically relevant and is perhaps even reactionary. Could you talk about how these things converge in your writing and politics— or at least toward your attitude toward these?
FH: I’ve personally found that academic institutions—as well as the magazines and nonprofits entangled with them—tend to disparage surrealist/fantastical fiction, or really anything that deviates from realism. This is obviously not true across the board, because I can think of numerous acclaimed authors with book deals and professorships whose work is decidedly fantastical (Amy Bender comes to mind). But when you look at the requirements for MFA programs in the U.S., for example, the majority of these make it pretty clear in one way or another that they’re strictly looking for literary realism. So that’s some of where I’m coming from, in terms of the way I think about and write surrealist fiction; it’s not that I think it’s inherently anti-establishment, but I feel a lot less pressure on my work when I’m writing about talking paint chips or militant fish, because I have no expectation of those pieces being taken seriously. Those are usually the stories that I write solely with the intention of turning them into zines. Ultimately I think my interest in surrealism has led me away from traditional publishing in a lot of ways, because it forced me to seek out different avenues for my work. So even though I don’t think a less traditional or realist approach to creative writing inherently involves or leads to material acts of resistance against capitalism, I do think that creating art which diverges from tradition or standards set by its industry often encourages people to develop a materialist critique of capitalism and its influence on the production of art.
This is less of a materialist critique, but I also feel very strongly that capitalism works to stifle our imaginations, constantly, and so I really appreciate all forms of art that are especially attuned to imagination, not just intellectual rigor or technical skill.
RMH: There is a lot of reference to Catholicism in this collection. Stories refer to God, to Catholic School, the Hail Mary, and “slutty nun Halloween costumes,” among other things. We also learn in “Dialogue Between Cantaloupe and Paint Chip Next Door” that there is a “BORDERBETWEENWALMARTANDGODSLOVE.” In the spirit of the story, I have to ask: is there really such a border? And if so, can we cross it?
FH: I think for cantaloupes and paint chips there really is such a border, yes. Whether it is a border between buildings/objects and God's love I can't say. Probably they would put it in different terms; this is just an approximation. But I think a lot about the psyches of supposedly 'inanimate' objects and their relationship to autonomy and selfhood. I think that behind all forms of domination lies the notion of property, the idea that we are entitled to ownership over an entity, and that this sense of ownership affords us the right to enact violence on this entity if our possession is threatened. In both feminist and post-colonial theory, I have seen this critique of property applied primarily to living things. But why stop there? And why take the binary of alive/unalive at face value? Why should anything—supposedly ‘inanimate’ objects included—be subject to ownership?
In order to develop autonomy, you have to first concieve of yourself as separate from what is around you; how can you come to an understanding of what agency means for you without a firm conception of selfhood? For 'things' like cantaloupes or paint chips, I'm sure that one's autonomy is experienced differently than it is for subjects labelled 'living,' but that doesn't mean it isn't present, and therefore it follows that 'things' would also have their own boundaries, their own sense of where they start and stop. So for me the borders in that story are an attempt to understand objects on their own terms.
RMH: “So Soft” is the longest piece in the collection. We have Max (a newly elected state representative and mediocre intellectual who, in his younger days as an RA, gave lectures on consent) and Grace, a “flexible” and “ethically ambivalent” nineteen year old intern. Through the story, Max moves from a kind of banal and toxic lust for Grace to an experience of terror before her very being. The story does not pin us down with a specific reading of itself, but I wonder how you see Grace. She’s such an incredible character.
FH: Honestly, I wrote that story for the lobsters. For me the center of the story rests in that one line, “a dead lobster can scream as loudly as a living one,” which is a true and deeply disturbing fact to me. When I set out to right “So Soft,” the main thing I was interested in was writing a story where I could talk about why lobsters appear to ‘scream’ when they’re boiled alive, and so with Grace, I mostly wanted to write a character who could bring this up in a way that felt natural and not overly symbolic or metaphorical. Ultimately I think Grace is incredibly naive, and as a result very earnest in ways that Max, who rather forcefully projects experience, slyness and cruelty onto her, completely misses. In the scene where she tells Max about the lobsters, I think she’s operating under the assumption that her speech will humanize her to him, and that this will somehow both stop him from exploiting her and also undo their present power dynamic. Ironically, this does serve to subdue him, but less because he’s seeing her as a full person and more because he finds her inexplicably threatening.
Franziska Hofhansel is an MFA candidate at the University of Montana, where she is the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. A finalist for the 2020 Nick Adams Short Story Contest, her fiction and poetry appears in Gone Lawn, Prolit, Rejection Letters, and After Happy Hour.
Sorry to Miss You is available for pre-order now and will ship on April 3rd. You can place an order here.