- 1. In a interview you gave to Global Graffiti Magazine, you said: « My writing would be better if I was less busy in my spirit and my mind. If I wasn’t distracted by wars and riots and traffic, with the music turned up full blast, my books would be easier to read and make more sense. ». Do you think that « too many people, too much life » is always dangerous, at some point, for the particular quality of a writer’s work? Can a writer be excellent although he might be eager to live life at its full, even if he is « careless »?
A writer can be excellent even if confused, or perfectly confused, like Louis Ferdinand Celine, because of it. In order to understand this confused human consciousness better, I have asked two North American novelists, Rick Harsch and Ben Ehrenreich, to help me answer these questions. Rick (author of Billy Verité and Le Bal des inertes in French, and Arjun and the Good Snake and other books in English) and Ben (author of Ether and The Suitors) will answer these questions with me, and it’s up to the reader to decide which of us delivers the best answer.
For example, in answer to your question:
Those Global Graffiti guys got it all wrong. I was talking about fish soup. I spilled half a bowl on my laptop and three of the characters in the novel I’ve been working on turned into stalks of fennel. In some chapters their love interest is a halibut and by the end she’s four cloves of garlic. Talk about careless.
No writer is excellent. The act of writing, by the way, is one of the least dangerous pursuits on the planet. No danger whatsoever is involved. Unfortunately, even a moderate degree of success delivers authors to interviewers, and sometimes we must say the kinds of things I said to Global Graffiti. The truth of it is, sometimes I have nothing to write, so I visit the spirit/obscene war world.
That’s it, just like that.
- 2. Behind this, I would like to know if you analyse the distinction between the world and the self, society and the individual, or if on the contrary through your writing, you are trying to solve the eternal conflict between « the we and the i »?
I never analyse anything; that’s what’s great about fiction–you never have to.
Between the world and the individual, between the self and society are 3 writers—let them answer. One can flee in the most romantic longing, one can drink and dance the fandango, one can take the brunt.
From what I understand that conflict was resolved in a little-known addendum to the gang truce negotiated between rival sets of Crips in L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens projects in 1992, one day before the riots. That was the real reason that Bush Senior sent the Marines to South-Central—it had nothing to do with the whole Rodney King thing, looting, any of that. The politicians never cared about all those diapers and steaks and neighborhoods burning—when did they ever?—but the we/I truce really freaked them out. If it caught on they knew it would put them out of business for good. So they made sure the truce didn’t make the papers, even less than the gang peace had, and the LAPD and the FBI and Interpol and the CIA have been doing their best ever since to guarantee that nobody ever thinks of resolving that one again. As far as I’m concerned, though, that war is over, signed on the dotted line.
3. David Foster Wallace told that « you were in the story what Hunter Thompson was to journalism, a super vitamined punk who could not care less about reality » Precisely, what is your relationship with informations/news and journalism in general? and with Gonzo journalism in particular?
I’m still mad at Hunter Thompson for what he did to Oscar Zeta Acosta, turning the best Chicano revolutionary novelist of the day into a clownish ether-stoned Samoan named Dr. Gonzo. They were friends, Thompson and Acosta, or at least Thompson said they were and seemed to mean it—Acosta never cared to weigh in—but the vicious old redneck drunk sold out his friend for book sales and a particularly stupid variety of celebrity. After that he descended for decades into a cartoon-worthy vortex of alcoholism and self-hate, from which he emerged years later with a bang and a terrible mess. My sources tell me Acosta still lives, haunting the borderlands, sneaking up on racist vigilantes, tying their shoelaces to their lawn chairs and scaring them awake with his laughter. I saw him once in an almond orchard outside Modesto, eating nuts from the trees, teaching the moths and the hummingbirds how to drop mini-Molotovs on police cruisers and realtors.
Gonzo journalism was Hunter Thompson and only Hunter Thompson.
I am a victim of the news media, I love its fictive narratives, I sit with my coffee and waste hours reading the New York Times, the New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books, Facebook articles and rantings, it makes my nose run and my teeth fall out. It gives me gum disease. I love the news and its phony stories, it makes me feel as if I were there. I was never there.
4. In France, there are only a few people involved in the field of highly subjective writing of Gonzo, what about in the US? Who are the survivors (or precursors) of Gonzo?
I repeat: gonzo journalism was Hunter Thompson and only Hunter Thompson. Perhaps in France there are journalists engaged in Foie d’ blaise journalism or something like that.
The precursors or survivors of Gonzo included E. Hemingway, Jack London, J. Kerouac, George Orwell, L. F. Celine, Isabelle Eberhardt, Hernan Cortez, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Thor Heyerdahl, Jose Lopez-Feliu, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Kathy Acker, Osamu Dazai, Juan Goytisolo, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, Oscar Zeta Acosta and Charles Baudelaire, among others. There are lots of others but their books get lost in corners or under sofas.
- 5. In relation to this, in Atomik Aztex, your writing is wonderfully unbridled, the novel presents itself as a real “mixed casserole”, a « pot-au-fou »; do you think you are crazy like that everyday or is it that the writing allows you to reach a climax of madness that is prohibited in “real life”? In that could you eat the wolf or dance the Bamba slaughtering pigs, for example?
I have eaten things I could have been arrested for, that’s all I will say about that. Otherwise, madness as I seem to think you understand it, is a intrinsic to the post-Ramapithecans.
Do you really think anything is prohibited in “real life”? Slaughter is a local specialty in these parts, has been since at least the 1600s. We built a whole legal system to protect it and a vast international bureaucracy to safeguard its export. I understand it has been immensely popular, even more so than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, except in a few scattered rebellious parts of the globe where they don’t have internet yet and haven’t learned how to shut up and be cool. Which wolf are you referring to?
Once I broke my leg in a river 40 miles from my car in the North Cascades by the Canada border; once I walked around Southern Mexico and ate mushrooms floating in lake scum and explored caves with burning pine sticks; I have traveled through war-time Managua hanging off the outside of over-crowded teetering buses and planted trees on volcanoes; I have landed via helicopter to fight great forest fires in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming; I punched out factory windows with my bare hands when I was 12 years old till my hands were shredded, bleeding—but I still can’t dance, I can’t dance la Bamba.
6. How do you correct your texts? Your style at least is similar to a freshly painted wall; it IS shinY, it’s new, it’s exciting, but we feel that it is fragile, that all the layers are not yet “toughened “… It is far from the logic of the test or a study of the workings of the detective novel. Do you rework every sentence, every word, despite the impression of “letting go” in writing?
“I” am not even writing this. See answer to question 2, above.
My methods of composition include collage, collaborative experiments like this “interview,” borrowing and plagiarism, sampling and expurgation, so that passages should sound like dialogue overheard, perhaps imperfectly overheard or recorded (with errors), and corresponding to the fitful lacunae of ordinary activities, where we are regularly interrupted by others. Sometimes there is an explosion of
I have never corrected anything in my life, much less my ‘writing’. Sometimes I have made changes, but any changes I have made have likely been for the worse. And I never let go. That would be a tremendous mistake, akin, if you don’t mind my putting it this way, to squeezing out quietly a long suppressed fart.
7. At the end, is logic an asshole for you? What sort of writing bores you? What are you against, if not at war? What are you wrestling with?
Music makes me feel grandiose like a hairy mammoth. I never feel extinct when I am dreaming and arguing with the universe. The universe says, “Poet, kill this chicken.” I kill the chicken. You insert the chicken into a traffic cone upsidedown, head down, feet in the air. You cut its throat after it looks at you with yellow eyes of trust. I eat chicken feeling I am Poet of the Universe. It’s not a bad job, many are worse. I have come this far with greasy fingers. If you come over my house I will barbecue for you.
Logic is a friend who won’t leave when it is time for me to sleep. I just leave him with his beer on the balcony and go to sleep. I am at war with everything in the world destructive to the human. I am often bored by books that are too logical in their display of battles against things destructive to the human. I wrestle with anything/anyone who wants to wrestle with me. I guess you could say I was a born wrestler.
Logic is like one of those magician’s boxes with a false bottom. It’s not a problem for anyone but the most gullible kids in the audience. I’m basically a man of peace, but I still struggle with potholes, foxtails, standardized testing, kale, the overzealous policing and regulation of urban airspace, insufficiently seasoned broth, the fungus that grows over everything, the mildew that grows on the fungus, the mold that grows on the mildew.
8. You taught at the Jack Kerouac Summer School. There is no school of its kind in France and the principle intrigues us very much… What did you teach exactly, there? Do you have a writing technique – precise – narrative? Was is something completely different? Was is a different matter?
The only way to discuss my teaching properly would be for you to track down my students and ask them. but I will say that the last thing I do is try to teach them to be anything like me. I may forget sometimes, but I should tell them all to read Moby Dick.
I taught “Writing as Intervention in Place” based on ideas of Gary Snyder and William Carlos Williams, but it’s not like the old days anyway, when Andrei Codrescu had naked girls running in and out of his room, jumping into the swimming pool, when Diane diPrima was in a bad mood because her writing was no fun so she threw all the furniture off the balcony, and everybody was running around with ugly breath, sniggling marijuana giggles. Nowadays they have a sign on the fence that says, “No Nudity Please” and the workshops are full of wan academics. It’s like the Tassajara Zen Center, where on the gate of the swimming pool they have a sign, “No Children Allowed.” The Buddhists can’t allow kids in the pool while the old folks lay about naked alongside the rushing stream, till they turn the color of Weimaraners? Kids can’t squeak and shout while self-absorbed geezers try to massage their epiphanies?
It’s actually quite rigorous. Due to the unorthodox nature of the program, we are not yet able to award degrees, but we encourage our graduates to call themselves “doctor,” “president,” or “pope.” The first year is mainly animal husbandry with electives available in geology, horticulture, and elementary principles of aviation. The last year is all quantum mechanics and knife skills. Due to the violent neoliberal restructuring conducted over the last three decades, an increasing number of our graduates are having a hard time finding employment in their chosen fields of study, so we’re working on a cosmetology minor.
9. Warning, this is a little awkward question, but I have to put it: you talk a lot about Germany, Russia, the Aztecs of America… but not so much about France. Do you read past or present French authors? If so, who and why? If not, who won’t you you read and why?
What exactly do you mean by “French”?
If you feel awkward you should attend to your breathing, then get into a crouch, spread your legs to shoulder width, bend your knees, and then ask at will. That said, my unkind response would be whether or not you asked, for instance, Juan Carlos Onetti why he didn’t write a novel about France, or including French people. Of course I read and have read numerous French authors and I have to ask you why, though there are so many great French poets and novelists, the best is still Rabelais?
All French practitioners of the prose poem are important to me, as are the Dadaists, the Cubists, the Surrealists, the Detroitists (I am not in love with Oulipo which is the great rage nowadays in the U.S.A.—I will read them but their mathematics is not interesting—it reminds me of static pictures like graphics in graphic novels and comic books), Cendrars, Duras, Celine, Michaux, Delbo, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Mandel, Edmond Jabes, Paul Poissel, Aimé Césaire, Fifa Fafu, Julio Cortazar, Annie Ernaux, and I wish I read more French, but New York oppresses me.
10. To finish with, in Gonzai magazine the slogan is “only the detail counts”: something to say about a detail that you recently noted (today, for example)? What detail did you notice recently which could inspire you a story?
Great and timely question. Just today I was watching the film Miller’s Crossing and a character said, meaning it metaphorically, that another had a wart on his fanny. I realized then that some discomfort I had been feeling but only really noting in the back of my mind was caused by a wart on my fanny. Of course the theme of synchronicity, the real versus the metaphorical, the metaphorical real as metaphorical, the detail as universe, the universe as negligible, the tried and true, the bumpkin and the lawyer, the maid and her skirts, the mother of pearl ear-rings, the sportsmanship crisis, the little predator drone that couldn’t, these and many many other things immediately came to mind, and I have taken time out to answer these question and ask that you look for the product of this topic in one to two years. Thank you.
One detail that I noticed were the faces advancing and retreating into vast space and distance between us all, like they used to do in my nightmares when I was eight years old, the faces would approach intensely and many would would pull back as if on a line, as if being retrieved by some mechanism, in a kind of pulsating rhythm, they would approach with great speed as if in attack (in the Sea of Cortez a female sea lion once approached my face as instantaneously across twelve meters of distance in a couple of seconds, so fast she stuck her nose toward my snorkeling mask to peer directly into my eyes that I of course flinched and jerked back, startling her so that she too flinched, jerked back and swam away) and all the faces are tremulous with outrage and despair, but I can’t communicate with any of them. So I turn to the nearest and ask them how they are today.