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TIFF 01 Misha Honcharenko Felix Pilgrim March 2024

Misha Honcharenko is a queer Ukrainian artist and writer. He started diarising his experiences on his Instagram profile almost a decade ago, combining weird objects and landscapes with a photographic exploration of himself, all against the backdrop of the Russian invasion. His first poetry collection, Skin of Nocturnal Apple, was published by Pilot Press in 2023. His forthcoming debut novel, Trap Unfolds Me Greedily, is published by SISSY ANARCHY, a platform exploring queer trans anarchism. It’s a gruelling read: an anti-novel with a narrator who navigates the complexities of the immigration system, queerness, war crimes and violence, while grieving the slow passing of his mother. Honcharenko spoke to P Eldridge and Caitlin McLoughlin, founding editor and designer of SISSY ANARCHY respectively, about the novel’s relationship to damage, illness, loneliness and hope. 

Interview by P Eldridge and Caitlin McLoughlin
Portrait by Felix Pilgrim

CAITLIN MCLOUGHLIN As I was reading Trap Unfolds Me Greedily, I kept thinking about displacement – the physical displacement brought about through war, but also the psychological displacement of grief, loss, of reckoning with queerness in a world that is so hostile to it. What impact did writing from a place of displacement, or rather a non-place, have on the book? 

MISHA HONCHARENKO I cared for my mother through her terminal illness, and it is painstaking to care for a body that is given over to the work of not being dead yet. She died quite recently. I had been taking care of all her communication as she had language problems, being in Ireland and not knowing English, and I felt that I should abandon my life and completely devote myself, in a sense, to care and love – though the medical system has been pure torture, and a never-ending nightmare. I started this book while I was in Ukraine, so my landscape changed enormously, and it feels painful now to revisit the text, as it stands on the threshold of all that hell and pleasure. It is either very hard or easy to feel pain, but ultimately – at some point – you need to stop romanticising it and confront violence, verbal or physical; seeing war crimes that Russians commit daily taught me this. Grief, for me, is the definition of permanence. It never seems to disappear. This huge displacement, transforming the language through experiment, means to dissolve it into shards of glass that injure the reader’s body in the way it has injured mine.

CM The book is written in a mixture of the first and second person. Often the second person is used to create a sense of intimacy with the reader but here, we’re held, albeit incredibly tightly, at a distance, and the “you” addressed remains just beyond our grasp. How, if at all, were you considering the reader as you were writing the book? 

MH I find the tendency toward narrative linearity somewhat boring, given that almost every kind of fiction is submerged in capitalism and the colonisation of thought. The use of first and second person was out of my comfort zone, unconsciously. Edward W. Said in Out of Place: A Memoir (1999) mentions this: “Much as I have no wish to hurt anyone’s feelings, my first obligation has not been to be nice but to be true to my perhaps peculiar memories, experiences and feelings. I, and only I, am responsible for what I recall and see, not individuals in the past who could have known what effect they might have on me. I hope it is also clear that, both as narrator and as character, I have consciously not spared myself the same ironies or embarrassing recitals.” I couldn’t agree more. Still, my novel, or in the end my anti-novel, is about what deconstruction of form looks like, what a stolen and re-created world is. The splitting of the body and language can clarify with more secrecy, memories and time.


Why write if we are all in agreement?


P ELDRIDGE At the beginning of the book, the narrator feels complicated by the idea of loneliness, and you reflect on this through a story from your grandmother. How do you explore and reconcile these feelings of loneliness throughout the novel? 

MH I’ve never tried to hide my own history of violence or despair, which can be disturbing for some – but without sincere, pure emotion, there is no way you would trust your own text, and your audience wouldn’t either. My grandparents were the most emotionally distant people, damaged by loneliness and lack of compassion. From what I’ve heard in my mother’s stories, they lived through a brutal time, which I could not relate to at all. It felt right to start with them and then slowly dissect the ghosts of my own family, or rather, the manipulated picture of what can be called family. My ability to be completely immersed in grief enabled me to unfold my text in the form of a crooked mirror. This is perhaps reminiscent of method acting, though acting is more technical and demands a lot of skills regarding body language, while writing expands the frame.

PE I’m interested to hear about how you navigate your cultural upbringing, queer identity, and being the primary caregiver for your mother whilst experiencing war. How do these aspects of your identity shape your experiences and understanding of self? 

MH It was incredibly important for me, and still is, to be constantly in pursuit of information, cultural enrichment and thought. I want to see, read more, to have a conscious and trusting basis that acts as a protective shield from the traumas that occurred in my past. Caregiving is very active, in-the-moment, exhausting work. It requires a lot of time. That period of caring for my mother was demanding and grim, and then obviously, the war affected me greatly. Some things I will remain silent about so I don’t open a forbidden and foreboding place in me. But people should not forget Ukraine. They should donate to people who have lost their homes, to volunteers who are doing some of the hardest work, to medical workers who save lives every day, to the State Emergency Service. Слава Україні! Героям Слава.

PE Tell me about body horror in the novel. Where did the inspiration come from? 

MH Cinema helped me to understand the transience of life and the value of love. Any art is impossible without love. Writing and the act of writing itself were created so that you or I or anyone else could tell the truth. Why write if we are all in agreement? Body horror is among the most engrossing and versatile art forms in both its development and final result. Intolerance and the deadpan scare me more than gory descriptions of decayed bodies. I adore Chantal Akerman for that reason; her Meetings with Anna (1978) made a very big impression on me when I first encountered it. Angst (1983) by Gerald Kargl was also influential, as well as Guy Maddin and his brilliant Brand Upon the Brain (2006) and My Winnipeg (2006). The list of works that inspired me during the writing the novel is long. In terms of literature, it includes Sátántangó (1985) by László Krasznahorkai, Island of the Doomed (1946) by Stig Dagerman, Solenoid (2015) by Mircea Cărtărescu, Faces (1968) by Tove Ditlevsen, and work by Clarice Lispector, Elfriede Jelinek, Fernanda Melchor and many more. Art cannot be soothing when it takes risks. I do not believe that art is necessarily therapeutic. It just exists – if you don’t like it, move on.

CM Nate Lippens has called the book a “poetically-inclined anti-novel.” The way you’ve used structure and language is imbued with a deeply experimental sensibility, but it’s important to you that it’s characterised as a novel. Why is that? 

MH There are some sections in the book where I use poetry to emphasise the conditional nature of the interactions that the main character has with others, even nameless ones. For me, it is prose, though difficult. It seems to me that this chaos can be perfectly adapted to the definition of the novel, since I cannot fit it under the category of pure poetics. From my perspective, the contiguity of styles and experiments with word formations allows writers to reveal more than the straightforward. Like Kathy Acker, I am highly inspired by collage, though for writing it took me time to get used to concretisation in brokenness. It is much more difficult than poetry. Both prose and poetry are liberating for me. They are the utmost forms of existing. I am currently in the process of writing my second novel. The raw title for it is Failed Revolt, inspired by one of Clarice Lispector’s books. ◉ 


Trap Unfolds Me Greedily will be launched at Housmans Bookshop, London, on 27 June 2024.