Amerika Online: Selling The Dark Soul (Part Two) Amerika Online

The Big Mo: Selling the Dark Soul of Amerika (Part Two)

Mark Amerika

Part Two

(click here for Part One of this column)


It's real obvious to me, having completed my tour of both the heartland and coasts of America, that just as the mainstream publishing industry is giving up on serious literary fiction, claiming they can no longer make any money on their Mid-List Authors and therefore can't justify supporting them, something completely different is circulating within the avant-pop underground, an aesthetic sensibility that is opening itself up to the inmixture of alterna-writing, zine publishing, network culture, sexy guitars with orgasmic fuzz blasting out, and collective self-reliance, the kind of self-reliance that flies in the face of the current wave of ultra-conservative dogma coming out of Washington, a self-reliance that sees the self as an ever-metamorphosing construct composed of language-shards ripped from the architextural ambiance of our contemporary mediascape, the evolving Interzone where anything can happen and often does.


What can literature be in a post-literate culture? So, hey, okay, some of us still read more than the Daily Propaganda's sports section or who divorced who in _People_ magazine, some of us will even move our brain-functions beyond the pages of _Details_ and _Wired_ and _Esquire_, but the fact of the matter is, we live in a multi-track culture whose eclectic noise is so all-encompassing and distracting, it's hard to focus on the linear pseudo-progressions of most crappy novels and short stories being sold in bookstores today. Many of the folks who came to my readings throughout the country were suggesting that during my next tour I get the bookstores to let me plug in a few amplifiers, stratocasters, keyboards, prerecorded soundtracks, etc., and perform a set a of narrative songs.


What makes an avant-pop performance different from other kinds of writing acts? How can the avant-pop performance present its difference to you in a live format that, out of necessity, brings to life the body of work's mysterious resonances? Is there such a thing as the writer's voice and how does digitally-effected tonal quality, processed by the machinery of the high-tech paraculture, change the delivery? What is it that lives within the confines of the book itself that suggests it needs to be repurposed as a live performance where the supposed "author" of these words takes credit for having patterned them into a special resemblance of meaning? Would you rather receive some stranger's text via a voice coming to you hot and full of electricity or via the dead weight of paper resting sexually in the palm of your hand? How about depersonalized yet swollen-with-intensity, multi-media e-mail?


The book, Sexual Blood, is much more than a genderfuck, but genderfuck is what turns on a lot of people nowadays so that's what became the focus of much post-performance conversation. One woman, during the post-reading book signing, was convinced that my lead-figure, Mal, was an honest portrayal of a homosexual who was stuck inside the wrong kind of body. But then again, she said, maybe he's like Ed Wood, that weird movie director played in the movie by Johnny Depp, in that he wanted to dress like a woman but was really an ultra-sensitive heterosexual. Then she kind of stumped herself and brought it all back to a personal level. What attracted her to me personally, she insisted, was that I could portray the homosexual so honestly without becoming one myself, and that that meant I would be a good lover.


Can you imagine what would have happened if George Carlin, Richard Pryor or Steve Martin came out on stage during one of their tours in the mid-70s with a book or small manuscript in their hands and started reading? Or if Beck or Liz Phair came out with a chapbook of poems and started doing their spoken word thang? What is it about having either memorized or technologized (like Laurie Anderson does) the letter-based line of flight all writers lose themselves in? During the tour, I would find myself performing the work as if the book in my hand had suddenly disappeared and I had quite literally become the text-in-performance. And yet, I never rehearsed, and never thought of myself as the kind of performer who has to know "by heart" everything that I write. But maybe, without even thinking about it, that's exactly what happened, and the idea of learning oneself "by heart" is what the writing practice is all about (sounds mushy, but rings true).


The French New Novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet, who I did my undergraduate work with in the early 80s and who launched an exploration into narrative that absolutely effected the American Postmodernist writing-movements of the late 60s and 70s, said at the end of his 1961 "New Novel, New Man" essay:

"To believe that the novelist has 'something to say' and that he then looks for a way to say it represents the gravest of misconceptions. For it is precisely this 'way,' this manner of speaking, which constitutes his enterprise as a writer, an enterprise more obscure than any other, and which will later be the uncertain content of his book. Ultimately it is perhaps this uncertain content of an obscure enterprise of form which will best serve the cause of freedom. But who knows how long that will take?"

The New Novel, dressed up in ultra-sensitive, hetero clothing, went to the American Booksellers Association (ABA) convention in Chicago to end his Sexual Blood tour. The final feat was a book signing. Escorted by the lovely Media Guide, he was running a few minutes late and so hustled back to the Green Room, picked up his elegant Waterman pen (imported from Paris) and rushed back to the area of his signing, where he came upon a crowd of about a hundred people standing in one long line ready to get a copy his book. He also had the last remaining copies of the now collector's-item poster that went along with the book (contrary to most of the slick book posters that accompany major New York publisher's books, the one for Sexual Blood was created by a team of poster-artists from the Rocky Mountain indie music scene). Most of the folks in line were from bookstores nestled away in the heartland of America. I tried to slow the frantic pace of the book-signing by having them tell me what life was like in the sticks of Oklahoma, Missouri, Connecticut, Ohio, etc. These are the people who are most passionate about their bookstores, who are committed to the same kind of mission we at Alt-X find ourselves connected to: to keep the transgressive spirit of the American idiom alive and kicking...


At the ABA, the ubiquitous June 1995 issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian had an item that said:

Notes from the Overground: Mark Amerika of FC2/Black Ice Books has established the hottest literary broadcast on the World Wide Web, Alt-X...Amerika's career, meanwhile, indicates how similar to the commercial music industry publishing has become. Just as major labels will pick up on a small indie label's idea and momentum, so HarperCollins is considering picking up Amerika's novel The Kafka Chronicles and Penguin USA plans an avant-pop anthology for the fall inspired by the one from Black Ice.

Moral volumes are disrupted by the momentum. Small but beautiful reissues are cleverly repackaged as hipper-than-thou products that keep the economy shifting toward a sense of purpose. Focusing on the special attraction and capitalizing on its potential is both entrepreneurial and open to takeover. Hostile dream-apparatus envisions an enterprise more obscure than any other. The uncertain content of his book suggests he would be a good lover?


Making an appearance. On the page. On the CD. On the vid. In the bookstore. At the convention. At the party. In the media. Through the culture. On the road.


Altered congestion. Can you imagine the shock and dismay of the early pioneers when they first found out that they would have to go at it alone, or in troupes that had no future, bands of art-gypsies traversing the uncharted terrain? Will the digital logic that is now rewriting the laws of the writing practice as a result of the advent of something called "cyberspace" (which emerged as a world described in a cyberpunk novel) enable the new breed of pioneer-composers to experience the ultimate in imaginative freedom? Or will fear and the God of Standardization stop us dead in our tracks?


Can we use this space, this negative space transmuted into another kind of channel, to network our way into the future? Shouldn't we first position ourselves in presence and gesture? Are we always already a readymade design waiting for the final signature? The words continue to invent themselves and are discontinuous. Now we can obsess. Compose real-life stories in the after-life of narrative presumption.


I've never been able to remember my dreams. But I've always wanted to. So I've come up with a different strategy: turn waking life into an exciting dreamlike maneuver and register it in my brain so that I can never forget how fun this whole trip has really been.


"I'm in the pod now, Hal, in the pod, with God, and she doesn't want me to leave her."

Mark Amerika is Director of the Alt-X Publishing Network. He is the author of many books including The Kafka Chronicles (Black Ice Books) and Sexual Blood (Black Ice Books). He is also editor of various anthologies of fiction and nonfiction including Degenerative Prose: Writing Beyond Category (Black Ice Books) and In Memoriam To Postmodernism: Essays On the Avant-Pop (San Diego State University Press).