Headquarters for Experimentalism

Sex, Drugs & Av ‘n’ Garde with D. Harlan Wilson

D. Harlan Wilson is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, editor, literary critic, playwright, publisher, and professor of English at Wright State University-Lake Campus. In addition to over twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, hundreds of his stories and essays have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies throughout the world in multiple languages. Wilson serves as reviews editor of the academic SF journal Extrapolation and managing editor of Guide Dog Books, the nonfiction syndicate of Raw Dog Screaming Press. He is also the editor-in-chief of Anti-Oedipus Press. For more information, visit www.DHarlanWilson.com.


DA
Your fiction is often a combination of the concrete and the abstract, pop culture and lit crit, narrative and meta, ultra-violent and ultra-intellectual. What are some of the highest and lowest brow(mance)s in the history of your literary/artistic reception?

DHW
That’s a funny way of putting it! I’ve always had an affection for art and literature in its most complex and most degraded forms. I guess I’m an extremist. I appreciate the principles of high modernism as much a B-movie shlock. Ultimately, I’m inspired by innovation and anything that attempts to reach for the genuinely New in meaningful, self-aware, unaffected ways. I can’t stand formulae, convention, regularity, etc., although I don’t really write experimental fiction. For the most part, experimenting with form and text is little more than the insignia of an amateur who is trying to find a voice or who is using experimentation to hide behind his or her inability to tell a story. Recently somebody called my fiction “intentionally disorienting.” That’s fair, I suppose, but I don’t set out to confuse readers. I don’t give primacy to readers. Contemporary readers are more of a problem than authors, who are symptoms of the idiocy of readers. And readers themselves are symptoms of the idiot-box of culture. That’s not a good way to build an audience, but I gave up caring a long time ago. As I get older, I realize that part of what I’m doing is trying to preserve a mode of aesthetics that dies a little more every day.

DA
William S. Burroughs seems to be a very important influence of yours. Could you comment on his style and its appeal to you?

DHW
Yes, Burroughs was an early influence. He’s one of the few fiction writers I continue to reread. He’s also one of the few experimental writers I like. I was a late bloomer and didn’t get my ass in gear until graduate school when I was in my late twenties. That’s when I first read Naked Lunch. I hadn’t read much contemporary fiction, and I remember being taken aback by the subject matter as much as the writing itself. At first, of course, I was attracted to the cut-up technique, but that wore off quickly, and what I came to admire was his gunmetal prose—sharp, streamlined, graphic and slick. Later Burroughs is particularly compelling. I love Cities of the Red Night.

DA
How do you define irreality?

DHW
I googled myself and found an interview from 2005. This is what I say:

“Irreal fiction combines dreamlike imagery with an absurdist sentimentality in order to represent and expose the latent desires and perversions of the human condition. It depicts imaginary worlds in which the cause and effect schema that you and I are subject to in the real world is sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly obscured. And yet effective irreal fiction connects with readers, reminding them of their own existence and experience. The ideal irreal fiction both alienates readers and provokes them to empathize with its characters—ideally against their will.”

Apparently I used to care more about readers, although I’ve always wanted to assault readers and displace them from their comfort zones. The general notion that irreality is absurdist, alienating and dreamlike—that’s fine. But the way I talk about it in that passage sounds like I make conscious decisions to build a certain narrative world. I don’t think about any of that when I write. I never did. I write what I like. And most of what I like doesn’t exist, which is why I write it.

DA
What kind of connotations or metaphysics are involved in colour attributes (“white god”, “Blue Motel”)?

DHW
I’m not sure. As a reference point, the first thing that comes to mind are the White and Black Lodges in Twin Peaks. There’s also a novel I like by D. M. Thomas called The White Hotel. And Stephen Crane’s story “The Blue Hotel.” Actually, I can’t remember if I’ve read either of those, but I like the titles. I like titles more than narratives, most of which bore me. There’s something resonant to me about juxtaposing colors with objects. Or, in the case of god, concepts onto which we project the human. It adds something ominous yet familiar. Something uncanny in the Freudian sense. Das Unheimliche. That’s a big part of my writing. That’s a big part of how I perceive the world. I see and feel the alien in the human all the time.

DA
Is “assholery” a technical term?

DHW
I don’t think so, but it’s certainly viable. The leader of the free world is orange, after all.

DA
Tell me something about the aesthetics of film and how it figures into your writing?

DHW
Film has factored heavily into my fiction over the years. My aesthetics can be readily traced back to the Frankfurt school. My starting point is Horkheimer and Adorno’s dictum in Dialectic of Enlightenment that “real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies.” That was over 70 years ago. In 1944, I think. In my fiction, not only is there an increasingly indistinguishable divide, the ontology of movies has usurped reality. I’m interested in this dynamic as a critic, too. All of our screens have ensured that our identities, perception, desires, etc. are evolving products of electronic media. We are slaves to our phones and Netflix. It’s science fiction. And science fiction has become our banal reality.

DA
Sentient IMAX cameras might shift into reality in a couple of decades (or days?). What would that kind of development mean for cinema/literature/art?

DHW
Not much. Cinema/literature/art is only as good (or bad) as the filmmakers/authors/artists who extrapolate it from the world and the filters of their imaginations. No matter what happens to our technology, we will continue to be marked by the stain of the human, which limits and confines us more than it emancipates us. Even if a sentient IMAX screen—our creation, directly or indirectly—starts making movies, writing books or painting canvases, it would end with the same all-too-human watermark.

DA
What would the combination of real bodies with metaphorical organs (or the lack thereof) look like?

DHW
I’m writing a story now called “Ablations and Coagulants.” This question will make a good chapter. Here’s the first draft:

Chapter X

Q: What would the combination of real bodies look like with metaphorical organs?

The actor guffaws, then shifts uncomfortably in his seat, biting and tearing hangnails from his fingertips with his teeth as he contemplates a response.

A: Like a woman whose genitalia has been swallowed by the sinkhole of her anus. Beyond the perimeter lies eternity.

DA
Is there an immense (literary) project that you haven’t had the time or peace of mind (or courage) to realize yet?

DHW
I’ve been working on a book about Daniel Paul Schreber for years. In fact, it’s a book around Schreber, who is the primary subject, but it’s more concerned with the writing process, technological subjectivity, and the quest for genuine innovation than with the most famous madman in the history of psychiatry. The first work of literary criticism I published was an article on Alex Proyas’s film Dark City, which is a science fictional extrapolation of his memoirs. I didn’t know anything about Schreber until I saw the film and did some research. That was almost 20 years ago. I started writing my Schreber book around 2010 while I was writing my novel The Kyoto Man (I tend to work on two or three books at the same time). I’m finally nearing the end and will finish it this summer. It’s slated to be published by Stalking Horse Press in 2019. The working title is The Psychotic Doctor Schreber, but that will probably change.

DA
Who is most likely to compose/perform “Velvet Sunshine”?

DHW
I get a lot of ideas for fiction from music. The actual music, I mean. I don’t really listen to or care about lyrics. “Velvet Sunshine” emerged from the collision of several contemporary songs. One was “Cells” by The Servant. I think they broke up. It was the title track on the score for the film adaptation of Sin City. It would be cool to hear something like that put to “Velvet.”

DA
Bonus question: How do you keep up with the Kardashians?

DHW
Not well. They upset me. The celebration of Utter Vacuity. And that’s the future. Hence I’m mad at the future, which, for each of us, always ends in the same way: utter vacuity. The Kardashians, then, are the signposts of Death. Whenever I watch them I can’t look away.


Picture source: © DHW

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