Writer, publisher of Sator Press, book designer, co-founder of Sweetspot for iPhone, St. John's College student, and human with Crohn's disease. Carbohydrates are my drug.
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Hey Ken. I have friends who attended the St. John's College in Maryland, and they found that many of their classmates were really conservative. Politically, but also in terms of things like getting pissed off about Anne Carson's translations of Greek works for taking too many liberties. Have you found any resistance to your avant-garde proclivities? Or are those aspects of yourself being played down to focus on learning?
It’s not like those people couldn’t fetch the Loeb edition from the library, so fuck ‘em.
I’m likely weirder than ever, as are the texts read at St. John’s. People who think that these books are fundamentally conservative are missing the fact great books are as radical now—i.e. weird, shocking, and novel—as they were when they first surfaced.
This is the argument that I always feel like never gets as much traction as the ‘tortured artist’ argument, [which] is that artists actually have it a little easier because everybody fucking suffers but artists have something to do with it.
No coffee, booze, soda, juices. No cigarettes, cigars, weed, cocaine, heroin, pills; no recreational drugs. No cable, no CNN, no FOX, no MSNBC, no NPR, no New York Times. No newspapers. No ESPN, no UFC, no Speed Channel, no Pay-per-view. No fast food, no candy bars, no Cheetos, Doritos, Lay’s, etc. A few summer blockbusters. No James Patterson, no Dan Brown; no books sold in grocery stores. No People, no Cosmopolitan; no Maxim or GQ; no magazines. Almost no cars. Basically no mortgage. No political party, no red or blue or Left or Right. No big dreams—well, yes not becoming very sick again, and yes, maybe, sadly, writing one great long book. Almost no stocks; almost no gambling. No casinos. No guns. No explicit racism, though yes you might find some. Sadly, ambition. Sadly, investment in common terms. Sadly, “hustling.” Almost no chocolate; no pizza. Yes free porn. No haircuts from barbers. No shopping for pleasure except bookstores. Almost no air conditioning. Almost no visible logos on clothing. No fucking bumper stickers. Sadly, tattoos. Wife, though: no tattoos, no piercings. Married, yes. No religion. No church. No one holy god, no one holy text. Almost no board games. Yes pets. Yes Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram. Yes five email accounts. (Sadly. Sadly.) No pet war, though yes taxes, so yes pet war. Yes college, though late. Yes many books; many, many books. No ideal outer country that I work towards. Unless:
Let’s assume that culture won’t prevent our species from killing itself.
This removes from culture the moral imperative to create a utopia.
Once this imperative is gone, what does culture busy itself with?
I sometimes think of great novels as impossibly accurate spiritual diagnoses.
Great novels grant you meaning, order, confusion, and a hollow feeling. All at once.
The meaning and order: reading, you spend time within a well-ordered system in which the world is limited and presented.
The confusion and hollow feeling: reading, you’re stripped of some common element by which you can combine with most of the world.
Simply: great novels both enliven and alienate you. Great novels are staggeringly whole and intractably anemic.
This manifold quality is the most telling symptom of a peculiar illness. This illness is culture.
(Illness, once adjusted to or beaten, can strengthen its host.)
The illness is given to us by culture, but it is also perfectly diagnosed by culture.
Great novels or great philosophies or great myths show us where and how we are sick. The why is given.
But in that it does not attempt to cure us of its illness, great culture understands that its illness cannot be beat.
There is something sublime about precisely knowing your own end.
We are Aeschylus’s Cassandra, but we are wracked by our own smoke, waste, and weather.
Cassandra is magnificent and beautiful in the face of death, as we can be.
The desire for immortality implies an audience for its achievement, but is a great feat lessened if it is done in private?
In order to live well for as long as we can, we must answer that question: we must say no.
Great novels and myths and philosophies and songs do not lie to us about our condition, and this is how they intensify our living.
And that is why they—we—are worth living for.
Any art assistants or fabricators want to be interviewed (anonymous if you like) for Artillery? email zakzsmith AT hawt mayle
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You heard the man.