The work is the death mask of its conception.
People have been asking me questions and doing things with my responses, lately. The lovely Carolyn Kellog interviewed me for the LA Times. Handsome man Brad Listi let me flap my mouth for Other People*. During What Are You Reading?, Matt Debenham asked me about books and religion and stuff. I wrote about art and video games for Thought Catalog. The outlets have been a privilege.
* Topics for Brad’s podcast include but are not limited to: dead bodies, horse sex, “horse nethers”, raccoon pets, dad profanity, Abilene, parent swapping, young reading, competition, being spoiled, skin in the game, “Fuck your god”, lesbian lap dances, selling Pokémon, the Oakwood, doing drugs/not doing drugs, carbs, moviemaking, Secret Life, meeting Aviva, Michelle Williams, fooling yourself, humans as destroyers, ecology, idealism, societal collapse, too much art, silence, benign pursuits, THE STRANGER, Tao Lin, Blake Butler, Austin Kleon, geography.
Nothing like distracting myself from my imminent novel deadline by reading Artaud and Guattari and then having to shout at myself—out loud—to put down the copy of A Thousand Plateaus and just get to fucking work already. And now here I am, writing into this box instead of the novel box.
In the introduction to Watchfiends & Rack Screams, Clayton Eshleman points out that Artaud’s life conforms to the shamanic journey, popularly referred to in Hollywood and in comparative religion studies as the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell popularized his idea of the monomyth (a word borrowed from Finnegans Wake, which is arguably Campbell’s favorite work of literature), and now Clayton has shown that even the life of a madman—especially the life of a madman—follows the patterns. What Artaud’s shamanic journey lacked, though, was a vital role in keeping his community together.
Now, with philosophers like Deleuze & Guattari ingesting & transforming Artaud’s work into a total philosophical shitstorm of radical analyses and practical methods, maybe Artaud’s view of the world and its pains will have the last laugh, as far as artistic prophecy goes. The world certainly feels crazier every day. Find a person alive that would argue otherwise.
It’s interesting to me that Campbell—who labored his entire life to find the connective spirit in the world’s body of myth/self-narration—would key into Finnegans Wake so much. I love Finnegans Wake. It’s one of those books that I could rave about for hours and hours, and often have, to the distress of anyone around me with ears. But Campbell’s love makes makes sense in a way, in that Joyce compresses so much cultural information, and with such an angle of play and pun and humor, that it would be an unlocked treasure chest for a guy as erudite and open as Campbell. I love the book because of what it does to me, and what I think it’s meant to do. The book takes the rhythms of speech and reminds you that they exist. It brings the music back to communication. Although, I wonder: If Finnegans Wake was translated into Swahili (lord god, I wouldn’t want that job), would the primarily West Germanic and Gaelic rhythms of the book—in its massive use of English and Irish—would they work in Bantu’s structure?
One of my oldest friends and I are engaged in an argument that has lasted about a decade. Our positions, crudely stated: He thinks narrative is a salve, I think it’s a war crime. Of course, we both oscillate between these two feelings, but he more often embraces Story as a Very Important Human Endeavor, while I often think that Story and our brain’s over-reliance on peeing neat little streams of causality on everything is Ultimately Bad, and Will Be The Death Of Us. Trademarks pending.
This is a roundabout way of pointing back at myself and the novel I’m currently avoiding. It is strictly chronological. Mostly. It is narratively comprehensible. Mostly. It’s structurally complicated, but definite in its shape. It feels like a puzzle. I’ve had a hard time with it, because it also dwells in reality. Mostly. I haven’t written anything with such strict limitations and such deep ambitions, in lockstep. It might never see the light of day. Who knows.
Reading Artaud and Guattari, and rereading Straw Dogs, has reminded of a question that I’ve posed to a bunch of friends in the last couple years. It’s this: Because of humanity’s glut of existing and accessible culture, and our ecological precariousness, might it be better to stop making new culture and instead live a life that is as quiet and non-generative as possible? In simpler terms: If there is too much of everything, shouldn’t the next few generations stop making more of everything? Wouldn’t that be a noble sacrifice? This is the question that is posed and radically answered in A Task. But unlike the central presence of the novel, I don’t think suicide is a viable answer to any problem, except the outstanding experiences of excruciating pain, as addressed by people like Dr. Kevorkian.
But every person I’ve put this question to—every artist—has blanched. People that normally will entertain the wildest notions do not want to touch this idea. And I get it. Who in the hell wants to be told that it’s bad to do the thing they most want to do? Especially when it’s something as benign as making and sharing art.
My answer to this question, when I question myself (which is often): Art is about the only domain left we can inhabit without the possibility of hurting people. Its potential to improve someone’s life is intense and private, and its potential to vitally wound someone is slight and singular. (Insert counterpoint.) The most common ill side effect: You waste someone’s attention. Which isn’t harmless, but I’d still rather waste someone’s attention than their health, wealth, or abilities. Art seems like a little pyramid scheme, but the capital is instead attention and imagination. (SECOND DRAFT EDIT: Nice domains that tangibly save lives? Firefighting. Nursing. Be a surgeon, or a social worker. Ken: Please keep inhabiting your little fancy flitty art world, you dummy.)
Apologies if you’ve read this far and have already read writing from me that moves into these ideas. I don’t claim novelty, or the ability to not repeat myself. Yet.
Goodnight and goodmorning.