Julius M. Henry.
Daulton Dickey is a nobody. No one’s interested in him. Yet he runs around the Internet begging for attention and whinging about how no one will publish his artsy-fartsy novels. In a blatant and unapologetic act of theft, I’ve decided to ripoff Kurt Vonnegut’s interview from the Paris Review and track down Daulton—spoiler: he wasn’t hard to find—to ask him questions about life, writing, philosophy, and whatever else popped into my head. Knowing Daulton, I expect pretentious answers. And bullshit—spoiler: he’s an asshole.
Daulton Dickey [DD]: So. Here we are.
Daulton Dickey [Dd]: Indeed.
DD: I wanted to start by filling the audience in on a few things.
Dd: What audience?
DD: The audience reading this.
Dd: Are you high? No one reads this.
DD: This blog has had over 18,000 views.
Dd: Maybe so, but no one’s going to read this twaddle.
DD: Let’s agree to disagree. [Pause.] Now why don’t we start by telling the audience a little something about you?
Art is an activity—by that I mean the activity of creation. The artist is a person engaged in the activity—in the moment of creation. We can only qualify the object itself—whether it’s a story or a poem, a sculpture or a painting or a film, etc.—as art while it is in the process of being created.
Before it is created, an object of art is mere fantasy; the artist, a thinker; the activity, an abstraction. After it is created, an object is a commodity; the artist, a bullshitter; the activity, a memory.
To those who are passive in the arts—i.e., the viewers or readers, etc.—the activity is the intention; the object, an ambiguity, something open to interpretation; the artist, a craftsman.
The act of creation—active—and the act of interpretation—passive—are distinct acts. Any theory of art that doesn’t take the distinction between the active and the passive into account is an incomplete theory.
In 2003, my cousin died in a car accident. I received the news while loafing around in New Mexico. I had traveled there earlier in the year, and, after a brief stint in Las Vegas, felt lost. But I had left Indiana—hopefully—for good, and I was determined to start a new life somewhere else. Jobless and low on money, I resisted giving in. I resisted going home.
Then news of his death arrived, and it hit me hard. I felt isolated. My determination to stay transformed into a desire to leave, to go back home, to spend time with my friends and family. To fill the hole my cousin had left.
Although he was a year younger than me, we grew up together—and we were close: we made the same mistakes together, tried alcohol and pot together, developed a similar sense of humor, and developed similar tastes in movies and music, in pop culture in general.
Rage filled me when he died, and I felt the urge to write about it. I tried and failed several times before I hit on the opening chapter of Bastard Virtues. My desire to honor my cousin gave way to my anger and rage, which consumed me whenever I thought about his death. Early on, I realized the novel wasn’t about him as much as it was about my anger, my rage, my sadness—emotions transformed into themes which dominated the novel.
On embracing the anger and rage, I decided to pick influences for the novel which reflected my relationship with my cousin. Some of the influences are mine alone, and reflect nothing more than my preoccupations at the time. Other influences, however, represent shared interests between my cousin and me.
Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson’s influence is apparent early on in the novel, the opening section of which was inspired by The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Although Thompson’s story meant nothing to my cousin, it was a starting off point for me. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas connected my cousin and me to Thompson, which is what inspired the setting early in the novel. Thompson’s cynicism and vitriol hit a nerve with us when we were teenagers; it was the language we had already used, and in Thompson we’d found a sort of spiritual guide. Continue reading
If literature were a person, it’d be in a vegetative state. Nothing new is said, nothing new is to be learned, nothing new is offered—the appearances might change but the forms remain the same.
A cliche persists in our culture that if you want to change the system you must first become part of the system. This is an illusion meant to persuade people to embrace the system; it’s designed to inculcate conformity.
Like our culture, literature itself is homogenized while taking on the appearance of heterogeny.
In an image-obsessed culture, appearances are everything.
Another cliche with which we’re familiar warns us to refrain from judging a book by its cover. In reality, we should judge a book by its form. Form should supersede appearances. But in accordance with our species, a peculiar mammal with the cognitive ability to process and model information linearly, the form remains the same while the appearances change.
In an age of movies and television, video games and the internet, things must change. Literature cannot excel at telling linear stories the way visual media can; instead, literature should transcend the simulacrum and represent new and alternate ways to experience simulated or emulated realities.
And that is what literature does: it emulates or simulates realities. Contrary to early Wittgenstein, language does not picture reality; instead, it provides instructions for your brain to construct models. Continue reading
A thorn bush bloomed in my skull.
Vines sprouted inside my brain.
They spread throughout my body—their thorns, razor-sharp, tore into my muscles and threatened to deglove me—as fragments of light sparkled and devoured me.
Bugs, or, worse, creatures whose existence had eluded us, crawled across my skin and burrowed into my temples. They danced and stretched a rope from temple to temple, and tried to pull them inward, tried to collapse my skull.
I wanted to scream, couldn’t.
I wanted to dig my fingernails into my skull and remove them one by one.
The ropes pulled inward, inward.
I tapped my temple in search of a hole.
Gummo, inspect my head.
Why hadn’t the words come out?
Why hadn’t I made a sound?
Had my motors skills atrophied?
Where are we?
What the hell is this place?
Why the fuck are we doing this?
Although certain I’d transformed my thoughts into coherent chatter, the expressions from strangers and dealers told me otherwise. Wide or squinted eyes, open mouths or frowns—everyone broadcast a response.
Faces muted confusion or fear. Continue reading
“It’s not a question of reality; it’s a question of our perceptions of these convergences we call ‘reality.’”
If you encountered the man who calls himself Buddha Jones on the street, you’d find little reason to acknowledge him. He’s one of those people who seem to blend in, nondescript in every way, almost generic in appearance.
He’s sitting on a bench in a park a few feet from Lake Michigan, gazing at seagulls. They hop in a sort of chaotic line dance. If they’re following a pattern, it’s indiscernible—at least to someone who doesn’t specialize in ornithology.
“They might be following a pattern,” Buddha says, “at least as far as they’re concerned. [Psychologist B.F.] Skinner found that pigeons will detect patterns even when none exist.” He hisses as he inhales smoke, then sighs as he pushes it out through his nose and mouth. “Those findings extend to people, by the way,” he says. “We’re pattern seekers, and we’ll sometimes find patterns that aren’t there.”
Buddha Jones is one of those people you might know for decades without pegging who he is, without pigeonholing him, without finding patterns, if you will, to enable you to discern cohesion in an otherwise aloof personality. His stories often contradict one another—his father died when he, Buddha, was in his thirties, for example, or he never knew his father; each story he tells, each facet of the life he chooses to share eventually emerges as either a creation or an exaggeration—or a combination of the two.
“People sometimes call writers professional liars,” he says. “That’s bullshit. Writers, and I’m talking about fiction writers here, make shit up, but there’s a difference between a lie and making something up.”
What’s the difference?
“Writing is algorithmic,” he says. “You follow a pattern, replace variables with values you’ve appointed. The point is to entertain or enlighten. Or trick.” He grins. “Or to shock or offend or whatever. To lie is to either avoid consequences, real world consequences, or to illegitimately obtain something, or someone, you want.”
But are the two behaviors mutually exclusive?
“Of course not,” he says. “But a writer sets out to tell a story, for whatever reason, or maybe to play with the notion of storytelling. Look, at the end of the day, a writer’s job is to emulate this hallucination we call ‘reality.’” He curls his fingers in air-quotes whenever he utters the word “reality,” something he never fails to do.
Why does he do that?
“I hate the word,” he says. “‘Reality.’ It misleads people.”
In what way?
“In my experience, people tend to assume ‘reality’ is this objective thing that exists independently of people, that we’re somehow passive participants in this thing we call ‘reality.’”
So then what is it?
“It’s a product of billions of neurons modeling an incomprehensible amount of information every second of every day. Each of us experience ‘reality’ differently because it’s ultimately a product of our brains.”
At this point I make a face without realizing I’d made it.
“You don’t believe me?” he says. “Drop some acid. Or drink some whiskey. These chemicals will literally alter how you experience ‘reality.’ If chemicals affecting your brain alter your experience of ‘reality,’ then isn’t it evidence that ‘reality’ itself is a product of experience?” After a long pause. “Which is itself a product of cognitive processes, of our brains?”
He had picked up a stick while we talked, and now he’s drawing the Mona Lisa in a patch of sand surrounded by grass. The picture would impress you: by utilizing nearby dirt, he shades the woman’s face, creating an almost three-dimensional picture, or a sepia etching.
On finishing the picture, which took only minutes, he tosses the stick aside and slides his boot—khaki work boots—over the picture, leaving tracers of a worn sole where a depiction of a woman’s face once lay. Continue reading
Oceans above and eyeballs below: the slant of the horizon twists and sways. Nothing forgotten, nothing forgiven. The detriment of the darkness settles on the hands of gloom. Night cracks. Fright moans. Terror settles into the white gold, a diamond crusted experience.
Daulton sits on a windowsill staring at the sky, all loose and soiled, cracked and broken. Fear and anxiety courses through him. Trees in the distance rattle and crack, and the oceans churn and spit out waves that break and collapse onto the starry evening.
The diamond maze
The din of haze
Mocks the crooks
In superior air
In meadowless brooks
Behind the trees
The superior air of the sanctuary in the sky cracks bolts and stows jolts and splays shadows across the faces of buildings and the hazy maze of cemetery trees. Through spirals of fire fucking wood in a funeral pyre, the rate permeates in nostril cells. Bile glows and bows inward, upsets the system and rusts the machinery. All parts are glowing and fatigued, and the darkness lingers and sways—air batted between trees.
The world in an eggshell hooks the yolk and cooks the fat, and daylight cracks and drips, staining the planet with opaque sulfur. Charcoal roasts the dawn, spawns the fawns, the dour-like opinions of inward looking faces.
Lightning blasts the kerosene and gasoline burns and bubbles and burps a cacophony of slivers and terrors and sounds melting the earlobes and scarring the prefrontal cortex. That atoms grow and merge and explode, that neurons tremble and shiver, that all life is a dream funneled into the gaps of nothingness frames hallucinations nestled into a head of sweat forming in the brows of agnostic spinsters.
Blow the horn. Slow the storm. Strong arm the national fervor. Sell the whores. Replace the stores. Burn the engine in despair. Sell the machine to repair the rotten eggs and the faceless cunts and cocks breeding ignorance and death. Fuck the lame and suck the stable. Cannibalize Cain and dismember Able. Chew the gristle of fantasies until you’ve secreted their proteins. Then discard them. You don’t need them anymore. Continue reading
Soft tiled tissue of longing and regret shoot from the prism of circles folding inward from cackles distorting our eyes. Merry go rounds spurt with the juice of ten thousand angels martyred and hung and forced to spend the rest of eternity* spinning in endless circles. Through caves in the universe emerge miasmas of rock and salt, of thoughts brimming with annihilation, and through circles in time, through gaps, they slip in and devour the moment without expression.
Slurp slip sloop, the heavens cry as they distend and droop into the flowers and soil below. And the stench of honeydew permeates the air before flames disintegrate the spirit of neglect. The worlds in the silence of the motion of atoms hum and hem and haw and drum slowly the output of trillions of neurons and sketch flames into the canyons of organic machines too blind to notice the empty gazes in their reflections.
Where concrete and gold flow into the wombs of pregnant cultures, corruption creeps into the smiles of the machines, each of whom trade gold for reflections better suited to their images of hungry and explosive gazes. But nothing is ever complete, and grapes hang on vines and pop and bleed onto the ground; fire ants hatch from the cells of traipsing blood and scurry along the grass, trying to evade their inevitable rise. And sure enough: they do rise. Each ant shifts and evolves and transforms into musical notes and soars onto the tablature of the moment as it skips along the tremolo of the spinning planet.
And we’re left alone, deaf to the songs played by the wind and blind to the black holes devouring our reflections.
*’The rest of eternity’ is, of course, a pun: you cannot quantify that which does not end. Men have tried, and they’ve exalted in the fountains of their newly found neuroses.
[copyright 2014 Daulton Dickey]