KID SHIRT

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

D. HARLAN WILSON: "DR. IDENTITY"

Some of the more progressive cats amongst ya may have already encountered American writer D. Harlan Wilson in yr literary travels. Whilst he’s not (yet) a household name, he’s been appearing increasingly on my own personal radar recently, mostly as a member of a loosely affiliated group of forward-thinkin’ experimental neo-pulp writers whose ranks include the likes of John Lawson, Bradley Sands, Carlton Mellick III, Eckhard Gerdes and Steve Aylett.

It’s prob. incorrect to call them a full-on movement as such, but right now they feel more like a posse or a Post-Cyberpunk street-gang of some sort who’re heading in roughly the same iconoclastic, envelope-pushin’ direction, but whose personal styles n techniques vary radically, from Avant Punk or Alt.Splatter.Lit to pedal-to-the-metal Irrealist sensory assault. If there is some sort of vague linkage that binds this disparate group of fellas into some faintly cohesive bundle of freshly laundered clothes, then it’s the fact that they come on like the idiot bastard grandchildren (by marriage, not blood) of Bill Burroughs…combining old-school literary chops w/ a hunger for savage transgressive satire, irrationalist idea-mongering, ultraviolence, surreal imagery, Pulp SF tropes (filtered thru the churning DMT-like tunnel of the post-millennial mediascape) and… ah, well, you get the idea…

Dr. Identity, Or, Farewell to Plaquedemia is DHW’s fourth novel (after The Kafka Effekt, Stranger on the Loose and Pseudo-City) and seems almost preternaturally destined to resonate with some of the people that read this blog. Well, okay, so maybe I haven’t actually read it yet (something I intend to remedy pronto), but I’m familiar w/ his short stories and I like the push n pulse of his prose…some (but not all) of it is based on implied repetitions and it reads, in places, like sequences of word-DNA that loop back in on themselves and recombine into new structures, new meanings, that slowly dissolve any logic in their path…the prose thrusts itself at the reader, reinforcing and re-emphasising itself even as it changes and takes you off somewhere new…(a musical metaphor might be The Fall or Kraut Motorik, I guess) ...it’s canny stuff, but, then again, he is a professor of English Lit. so I guess he kinda knows what he’s doing, but it doesn’t always read that way: logic is splintered and bent out of shape while the narrative plunges ever onward, seeming oblivious to its own changing shape…it’s funny as fuck too. Savagely funny. His fiction holds up a mirror – nah, a hall of trick mirrors – to the post-millennial mediascape and our own moronic, sugar-enslaved monkey-brain behaviour, amplifying images, ideas and details until they overlap and blur and turn into something new, something that short-circuits or points to possible exits from the labyrinth of Technocapitalist excess that we currently inhabit.

Set in a world where citizens have android doppellgangers of themselves to do all the stuff they can't be bothered with, Dr. Identity's main protagonist is a, uh, English Lit. professor (a plaquedemic at Corndog University, where all literary professors have to assume the identity of a major literary figure) who uses a 'ganger of himself to teach his students. The 'ganger (called Dr. Identity), however, turns pychotic and kills a student, forcing the pair of them to go on the run, with the 'ganger acting as a sort of debauched mentor figure who carries out all the professor's repressed taboo fantasies. The result is satirical carnage and mass slaughter, that pokes more than a little fun at political parties, writers, the internet, blahblahblah...

Dunno about you, but I figure that any novel that has a chapter called

Excerpt from "The Post(post)/post-post+postmodern Icklyophobe: Ultra/counter/hyper-nihilism in Fiona Birdwater's Megaanti-micronovel, The Ypsilanti Factor"

has to be worth a look. DHW has posted a bunch of discussion questions and writing prompts up here. So you can all form a Book Club, get high and sound knowledgable when you discuss it round Mandy's house.

I've been looking thru some of DHW's non-fiction papers (he's a Deleuze/Guattari/Zizek junkie) and dug his stuff about Postcapitalist Sci-Fi, recasting PKD's surrogates/android simulacra as human-beings that effectively reinvented/rebranded themselves as commodities, etc. He also did a cool/funny rant about how mainstream publishing-houses now primarily exist to provide Hollywood w/ material, and that Absurdist/Irrealist literature helps short-circuit/disrupt that process...well, The Spectacle will ultimately devour/absorb everything eventually, even that which you might initially think is indigestible (eg Surrealism in NY in the 40s), but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

So, anyway, D kindly agreed to talk to the Kid Shirt blog about his writing...

I'm not sure how many people reading this blog are actually aware of the Bizarro ‘movement.’ Perhaps it would be better described as a loose affiliation of similar-minded writers, a network of individuals interested in pushing the boundaries of New Sci-Pulp or Pop Lit. What do you think?

D: "Yes, that’s an adequate description. The authors that have been associated with Bizarro all have their own niche, style and themes within a broader spectrum of offbeat writing that employs the genres of science fiction, fantasy and/or horror. So basically it’s speculative fiction. But I think Bizarros are heavily invested in pushing boundaries, as you say, both for the sake of narrative experimentation and discovery as well as for mere entertainment. As it says in an introduction to The Bizarro Starter Kit, a collection of stories and novellas from ten of the movement’s leading authors, “Bizarro was created by a group of small press publishers in response to the increasing demand for (good) weird fiction and the increasing authors who specialize in it.”"

Bizarro authors all have different styles and modes of working, yet you've been lumped together into this vague grouping. Is it just a flag of convenience or are you guys moving in roughly the same forward direction? Is Bizarro a label that you're comfortable with or happy to work under?

D: "At first I was a little hesitant. The term, after all, inevitably ostracizes many people. If people read at all (most don’t, right?), and if they read fiction (90% of books published are nonfiction), they gravitate towards more “mainstream” narratives. Popular mysteries. Genre horror à la Stephen King. Oprah books. That sort of thing. So I didn’t want to minimize my readership from the onset. But over time I realized that, through the label of Bizarro, I was able to connect with more readers than I could without it. And I learned that there is in fact a growing demand for strange fiction, especially among younger readers. Bizarro is a promotional tool, but what movement isn’t? Surrealism, cyberpunk, Futurism, the New Wave, even modernism—they’re all terms that lump artists together, presently or retroactively, and create a kind of buzz or lure for readers. That’s fine. In the universe of diehard publishing, that’s the name of the game. So I’ve not only become comfortable with Bizarro, I’m extremely proud to be affiliated with it."

It does feel, in some strange way, that you guys might actually be kick-starting some sort of Post-Cyberpunk thing. I might be wrong, but it feels like stuff stagnated during the 90s and you're picking up some sort of literary baton and running with it, though your influences are just as likely to have some from something like Burroughs or Dada or Punk Rock, as the 80s generation of SF authors like Gibson, etc.

D: "I like the idea of Bizarro as a post-cyberpunk formation. That’s a tough act to follow, though. In my view, traditional cyberpunk authors of the 80s (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, Pat Cadigan, etc.) produced some of the best writing of the twentieth century. The same can be said for proto-cyberpunks like William S. Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Alfred Bester and, in some cases, Philip K. Dick. Of course, the notion that Bizarro is an extension of this collective thrills me. Society and culture have become so fragmented, however, it’s increasingly difficult to pinpoint the origins of emergent trends. Moreover, the world has seen the actualization of so many cyberpunk themes that were formerly science fictional and are now real phenomena. Science fiction of this nature has become reality, in other words. So if we’re post-cyberpunks, what are we? Realists? Post-realists? Retro-realists? Perhaps all of these things . . . whatever they mean."

I'm getting the sense of a buzz starting to coalesce around you all. There's a frazzled pulp vibe to all this stuff that reminds me of the really early books of Bruce Sterling or K.W. Jeter, but you've got the literary chops of, say, the late 60s UK 'New Wave.' Anyway, how would you personally describe what you do (or are you too close to it)?

D: "Before Bizarro, I slotted my writing under the category of irrealism, which, in a nutshell, represents a dreamlike, absurdist milieu (The Café Irreal at www.cafeirreal.com is the best source for definitions of irrealism). I still consider myself an irrealist. What this means, I guess, is that I write according to a dream logic rather than abide by the laws of reality. In these terms, my writing can be acausal; the way one thing leads to another for you and I isn’t necessarily the case for my characters. I avidly keep a dream journal, and I used to convert my dreams into stories. I don’t do this as much anymore, but I continue to write within illusory diegeses."

I love that quote of yours: "There aren't enough jetpacks in the world. There aren't enough sentient mustaches and mechanical pterodactyls and spontaneous science fictionalized kung fu fights. Fiction writing allows me to have these things." Are you an idea- or concept-driven writer?

D: "I’m definitely an idea-oriented writer. Which is to say, I focus on small ideas, seemingly insignificant yet vivid details, and I try to arrange these details in such a way that they tell stories for me. I do this to varying degrees of success (and failure). In the introductory story to my book Pseudo-City, I write, “This is a chronicle of minor details.” That more or less sums up my entire m.o.—as a writer and a human being. I’m far more interested in the little things that people do, in the minutia of everyday life. The big things—they don’t concern me, really, unless they have to do with bills, or my family, or my job. That’s good and bad, I suppose."

Why do you like to mix-n-match/cut-n-paste concepts and styles?

D: "Primarily because mixing concepts and styles is a way to be more creative. I’ve written straight genre literature before, but I’m not a very good genre writer. It’s too limiting. I deploy elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror on a regular basis, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Each genre offers me different materials."

Is writing a compulsion with you?

D: "I don’t like to think so. But yes, absolutely. I write just about every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. When I don’t, I get anxious. Part of me thinks that, if I take time off, I’ll forget how to write, or I’ll lose my authorial voice, or I’ll run out of ideas. Or something. For the most part, though, I’m just a little obsessive compulsive!"

Doctor Identity is available thru Raw Dog Screaming Press. (Dig the Flash Trailer for the book!)
And Shocklines. And good ol' Amazon.