In the Sharkcage with Curtis White

An Interview by Alt-X Bagman Trevor Dodge


Trevor Dodge: I think it was Borges who theorized that each new writer reinterprets those that have come before her, that we get a different "read" of generational writers through the eyes of subsequent generations. First of all, can writing even be thought of as "generational," and if so, how is your generation of postmodernists, writers like yourself and the three Rs, Ron Sukenick, Raymond Federman, and Robert Coover, rewriting those who have come before you?

Curtis White: I'm leery of this question. Certainly, there is a strong generational aspect to my fiction. No hippies, no Curt. No 60s, no Curt. No poststructuralism, no Curt. No Hegel,...well, I won't get carried away. But I don't tend to think of it in writer-generational terms. Laurence Sterne and Rabelais and Henry James (yeah, Hank too) are as important to me as a writer as are any of the infinite generations of pomo writers, most of whom I respect, enjoy, etc., especially Barth and Sorrentino. (And Hawkes on postmodern-fiction-writer-as-symbolist-poet Thursday.) Mostly, I'm tired of talking about postmodernism as this "thing". Figure it out. C'mon folks. It ain't that hard. Worrying about, attacking, defending postmodernism, or simply allowing it to be real makes it more difficult to do real work. Writers, especially young writers, shouldn't worry about how they fit into this on-going thing. Find your own way of looking. Get serious. Invent your own voices! Say something that you really mean. Say something that you wouldn't not say even if they threatened to kill you or make you watch TV all day. Or made you live on the fucked up internet. Or read interviews on Alt-X. I'm worried about there being a few human beings left in the world. And a few birds. Everything else is trivia. Forget pomo. Insist on being alive. It's an old fashioned thing to say, I know. I'm kinda cute that way.

TD: Your work has always struck me as having a certain ambivalence, if not a tense fuck-it/beat-it attitude towards, PostmodernismTM in light of meditation. In The Idea of Home (1992 Sun & Moon), for instance, you're describing many a "real nowhere," a "realizable illusion," as if to problematize (if not spit in the face of) the pomo mantra that we can't know anything about the real. Where are those pockets of the real in your writing? Is there a slipstream anymore?

CW: You've hit on a sensitive spot there. I don't know that the idea of "no real" is a pomo idea originally (most of the American pomo writers of the sixties and thereafter certainly made abundant claims about the real--love, ethics--think of Barth's "Night Sea Journey"), or if it's a half-understood idea out of Derrida/Foucault that was imported into postmodern thinking. The writer who really claims to believe in the full moral implication of "no real" is Baudrillard. Everything is the ecstatic flow of signs. But me, I'm a Marxist-Hegelian-Humanist-Deconstructive-kinda postmodernist. There is no unmediated real. The real is always already constituted and "supplemented" by Derrida's notion of the "grammatological." C'est vrai.

But Hegel would want to argue, so what? The real is not for us the ding-an-sich that Kant worried over and hasn't been since Kant. And I think that part of the problem here is that a lot of people in English, in particular, haven't read Kant and Hegel. For Hegel, Spirit is precisely supplemented reality. Spirit is not the Real, it's our real, our history, our tradition. So if I want to propose in my fiction that it's worth our while to think through the idea of utopia, that change is real, that things can be other than they are, for whom is this news? Lotsa folks unfortunately. They would prefer to charge, "Uh-uh, that's essentialism!"

But Trevor, let me ask you, isn't this gesture of mine absurd? Trying to talk about Hegel on the internet. The Net is the enemy of human thought working at the complexity that Hegel works at. That's why technological change of this kind threatens to reinvent the species, us I mean. And do you think that my dear friend Mark Amerika and his brain-child Alt-X will have control of this change? No fuckin' way. Welcome to more life in the brain of capitalist corporations.

This disaster makes me want to say stupid things like David Crosby, "Let's get back to the garden, man." I'd rather start there than with "Hey isn't hypertext cool?"

TD: Well, certainly The Internet is a Baudrillardian wetdream, especially at this point in the milieu when The Web (is it any wonder why we're capitalizing, in all senses, these terms??) is one more simulation of a simulated nowhere, and yeah, let's consider for a moment the full implications of people getting their Kant and Hegel off Microsoft CD-ROMs and the 24 hour infomercial that we've come to know as The Web. Amerika's been ranting for some time about using the media to subvert the media, but how subversive is a network geared to sell FC2/Black Ice products anymore subversive than Toyota or Budweiser hocking cars and beer? As co-director of FC2, is the access worth the excess?

CW: Good point. Yes, certainly, FC2 is complicit (if not guilty) of using the net to try to find an audience for its "commodities." In some ways I guess you could say that treating the net as a subversive activity is a form of pre-coopting. Marcuse used to worry over capitalism's ability to co-opt any new subversive cultural forms (long hair, rock'n'roll, communes (condos!)), but now it appears that subversive culture is ahead of the curve by being behind it. Hyper-think is such a powerful form of oppressive mass-mindedness that rather than waiting for it to overwhelm our next good thing, we'll simply get started right away. "I can see what you're going to do to me, and rather than wait, I'll just do it to myself." Hand me that club. My point is that the net is not going to help anybody stay human. I for one still think we ought to want to be one of Marx's "natural children," impossible and utopic though that thought may be. But, for someone like Paul Ricoeur (who really can think full, capacious human thoughts), the very function of utopia is not to be, but to provide a place from which to look at what we have.

My advice to the lost folk allowing their lives to seep into the fractal interstices of the net: take a week off and read Paul Ricoeur's Ideology and Utopia. It will hurt, but it will hurt good.

TD: Certainly Mark Leyner, a Fiction Collective Hall 'o Famer, falls into that sado-masochist strain of "mass-mindedness," which is funny to an extent but ultimately debilitating, wouldn't you say? What/who is going to "save" fiction from the corporate sharks?

CW: I don't do the "mark leyner is a sell-out" mantra. And there is nothing mass-minded about him. He uses the mass mind for comedy. Et tu, Babe is a telling commentary on cult status. Will he continue to be able to walk the line? I don't know. No one is going to save us from the corporate sharks. My last comment indicated pretty clearly that even subversives find it pretty comfy in the shark's belly. There's lots of neat stuff in there that the shark has swallowed while wandering around. Poor sharks. Still the symbol of evil even while they're being wiped out by factory trawlers (that devastate the food chain) and yuppie gourmands. Shark fillets with delicate mushroom sauce and my fave chard! Gimme two.

Let's face it. Corporations have won. The odds are hopeless. We're just keeping ideas alive, and a few literal and conceptual autonomous zones active. FC2 is an autonomous zone, but it is no threat to corporate publishing.

TD: So, ultimately, what's the point of your writing and publishing if not to threaten the Big Whatever? Should avant writers who have been apparently hijacked by New York, people like Leyner, William Vollmann, and David Wallace simply enjoy the enzymes? You're talking about subversives poisoning the shark, so is this idea of coopting it giving our friend Mark Amerika something to chew on?

CW: The point is to keep your own ideas alive. Ideas about what it means to be human, free, alive, etc. Ideas about what a world is. A world that is not McWorld. The idea is to continue creating and helping to flourish other kinds of autonomous zones. Some local people here in Central Illinois have created an organic food co-op that delivers to your door. That's a food autonomous zone. No factory farms, no corporate anti-union supermarkets, and no fuckin' poison. The idea is that one day these ideas might be powerful again. Assuming that the logic of capital ever exhausts itself. But right now, it's sadly obvious, capital is more resourceful in recreating itself than leftism is. We're left with dumb stuff like "the revolution is in the streets" all in the name of that ultimate phantasm to which American socialists bring their tears like worshippers bathing the plaster feet of the Madonna: THE PEOPLE.

Writers like Leyner and Wallace have no more control over the situation than others do. Does Dave Wallace always like the way he is presented in the media? No. Does Mark? Probably, but he's funny that way.

As for Alt-X, it too can be an autonomous zone on the net. Hey, this place isn't an infomercial.

But I still doubt that anyone READS on the net. And I have no idea why they would want to read an interview with me on the net. Hey you, don't you have anything better to do?