Kane X. Faucher is a literary madman: part Hunter S. Thompson transplanted to the Great White North and part deft academic theorist in the mode of Marshall McCluhan. Faucher is everywhere at once: he’s present as a sort of pixilated specter as I write this, and he’s the implied author and mock reader of the text to follow. He’s a post-structuralist time bomb sent from the future by Derridean agents intent on erasing themselves from history, and his latest novel, The Vicious Circulation of Dr. Catastrophe: A Polemical Ensemble (Enigmatic Ink 2010), is fulminating on a virtual bookshelf near you.
Get it before it gets you. After you read the twisted mindslag we call “The Big Other Interview.” You can also learn how Faucher repudiates large chunks of his writerly past. Oh, and check out the “pendant” photo on his homepage.
Davis Schneiderman: Tell us about The Vicious Circulation of Dr. Catastrophe: A Polemical Ensemble, but you must do so using words you have never before used to describe the book.
Kane X. Faucher: In terms of pleasure on both the reading and writing ends, I have always been drawn to moments of polemic and vitriol (hence my admiration and joy in reading Celine). I like the rant, and found I needed just one more outlet to issue a big bang of punditry before retiring that mode for a while. There is something a bit intoxicating and vertiginous about the depths of a tirade, no longer anchored by reason, it free-falls into lunacy according to its own special logic. Like it or not, polemic is a creative act, a nasty invective in long sputum-strings of combative adjectives and irrational-authoritative utterances. It is a totalizing form of discourse, a creation that is used for destruction. The hostile way of speaking is its own kind of play, and we find it in Nietzsche, especially, who espoused the idea that creating and destroying are one and the same act. It accords with a hazy semi-theory of mine that certain narrative acts actually construct a blinding space, a layer or veil that ironically reveals the failure of language as an effective communicative tool.
The Catastrophe book is a loose roundup of some polemical “types”—you can think of them as examples or cases of polemical speech. I find it liberating in a way to let loose a big cannonade of vicious spiel, for it is in those moments of catharsis that the dis-inhibited (and perhaps delirious) person has the temerity to attack the sacred and the stupid. I can say that the book is more of a training exercise to develop these strains of voice for a subsequent book on playing the epigones. Now that this experiment in voice has reached its arc of intended development, I can say that I am done writing about grumpy old men and can proceed to the next phase of writing.
Davis: You seem to be involved in ten thousand things at once with a frenetic energy that is contagious and perhaps contagion. Tell us what you are up to now—maybe a snapshot of a day or a single work session.
Kane: 2010 has been one of those formative years of cleaning up. My old tendencies of starting and getting involved in too many projects had led me to a state of unproductive paralysis. I did fancy myself the kind of tireless polymath who has the ability to amplify time by working quickly. This was performed in a way that is no big secret; in fact, it is simply honouring this principle that one must efficiently organize time and leave no blanks—so, I would have a variety of projects that corresponded to different moods. When I fell into a particular mood, I would work on the appropriate project. I am always taking notes for several projects at once, which I find somewhat helpful. However, as I said, I’ve been letting things go…scrapping projects I know I will never complete when the initial enthusiasm cannot be resurrected. I no longer write poetry. I’ve finished writing drafts of novels and deleted several others to resist the temptation to salvage them. And, perhaps just as importantly, I have changed my outlook on the submission circuit.
I made a pact / experiment with a friend and colleague of mine where we would alter our submission tactics. As it stands, I am someone who has over 1,100 pieces published and, to be honest, it really has not done much for me…or the positive recognition of my name. In fact, it may have done the opposite. I freely admit: I’ve rushed to publish often, throwing off big trivial guffs of half-baked writing, and turned out the common crime of the writer’s twee diarizing. So, for this year—and I expect this to be renewed as common practice—I have agreed to a pact that states I will not submit any work unless I am directly solicited, or it pays, or if the journal has a sizable readership. I no longer feel the pressure to throw a bunch of text on the internet, just to see how my work looks on someone else’s website for it to languish there unread. It seems an absurd practice for writers to write for other writers, all the while just fussing narcissistically with one’s own name in a context that appears different, but becomes purely redundant.
What I am up to now is a grueling effort to finish an academic book under contract detailing my nebulous metaphysics of metastasis, and a few side projects (lectures, articles). In the literary domain, I have settled on another kind of pact: I will only publish three-four more novels in the next 17 years, and novels of substantial research, magnitude, and heft. And this also entails a different approach: none of the process documentation or the twee scaffolding of the text should remain in the finished product. I want to publish less, not more. I am aiming now to write more-accessible novels to a wider readership, not attempt to rewrite Ulysses. Too often, we get myopic, thinking of the pleasure of writing that does not always translate well into the pleasure of reading. Yes, it is gratifying when we add all the clever devices and deeper meanings into our text threaded together in a haughtily pretentious purple prose of eloquent abstraction, but for the reader who wants to read a story, all of that is a bit too self indulgent. We have to think of readers. I am not saying that we need to pander to writing pulp, but there is a meeting in the middle—to have something readable that is pleasurable to a reader without all the documentation we want to dump into our books to explore literary aspects of interest only to the writer.
The books I have in the works at the moment include a Borges-style library mystery, a novel about the reprise of radio as a political instrument, another on art as a form of atrocity, a post-cataclysmic (drinking from the same place as your Drain) “irreal” book on a neo-fedual society based on the future of universities as theocratic units, and a simple book on a man without an imagination. I have no idea if I will publish any of them, which depends on if they agree with my writing agenda and how I envision refining my writing practice.
Davis: The caveats above aside, what drives your manic productivity?
Kane: It used to be vanity. I was weak to seeing my name in different places. I liked to be perceived as an impossible generator. I’m not entirely inured to the occasional ego-stroke, but I suppose I’m a bit more discriminating as to who is doing the stroking, and for what reasons. This question seems to me an indirect way of asking me the reason why I write. I could contrive a variety of noble reasons, but all of those would mask a more common cause: writing is more a compulsive, graphomanic act to aggrandize narcissism. I do not see that as positive or negative—it is just a clear statement of fact. It strains my credulity when someone foams that they write because they have a need to express, to share, to convey ideas, to boost a particular set of special interest causes. That’s all veils. To me, writing is just another mode of seeking personal recognition and chasing after the nostalgic role of being “the writer.” This will hopefully validate one’s mortality by leaving one’s traces on history. Yes, writing is as much a pleasure as it is a labour, but let’s not deceive ourselves about why we are doing what we do.
Davis: What’s the biggest advantage to being Canadian?
Kane: I would say healthcare, but even that is crumbling as our current Canadian “regime” takes governance cues from the Bush Jr. playbook. As the Arrogant Worms say, Canada is filled with rocks and trees. I enjoy the landscape, but would not set myself to make much ado of it in a novel. Really, though, we all eat from the same US media trough, and this inculcates similar values and beliefs. I suppose the one difference would be in our treatment of political critics and dissidents: in the US, this can summon the claims of treason, whereas here such people are just ignored. There is one—albeit waning—advantage to being Canadian: our patriotism is not so trumped up to level of almost-religious zeal.
Now, if you asked me what is wrong with Canadian literature (truncated as CanLit), I could go on at length and make plenty of enemies. In sketch, I will simply say that expectations in CanLit are not exactly to my taste, but despite living in the alleged “global environment” that we do, there is still the practical matter of being geographically rooted to a nation. It is difficult to publish and promote an author here who lives in Kuala Lumpur if only because reading tours and signings are a bit of a strain. I know that my readership is situated mostly in the US and UK, and maybe one day I’ll be given the nod here, but I am not terribly worried about that. CanLit doesn’t always export well. Although I have thumped in the past about literary elitism in this country (and is that any different anywhere else?), there’s no sense kicking the industry when it is down.
At present, draconian changes in the eligibility for publishing funding have been implemented by our “government”, and these threaten the future existence of longstanding presses and periodicals. Less funding means less competition. Less competition means more standardized media and central polarization of message content. In addition, Amazon.com is encroaching upon our territory, which means a lot of independent bookstores and publishers are not going to have an easy time of things. The watchword will be survival, not sustainability. If that were not enough, our council granting system requires a serious program audit leading to an overhaul. As it stands, the councils have far too much say in how publishers are to publish, with all strings attached, and a little too much money is rallied around the literary elites’ favourites.
Davis: Talk about persona: to what extent do we expect our writers to be performers and how conscious are you of your performative style?
Kane: We are the spectacle, no matter what kind of institutional bunting and honorifics we have attached to our name. I see little difference between reading and lecturing, at least insofar as it has to carry all the usual devices of the theatrical. Yes, I do become “someone else” in a reading or lecture—far more animated and expressive, using all the oratorical tricks right down to an instinctual (for me) use of gesticulations, pacing, and maximizing on corporeal presence. I find that someone moving around and making gestures, modulating voice and so forth to be a far more engaging performer for an audience than someone who stands at a lectern and dictates dryly from a page. As to my personal preference, for as much as I like to perform, I am not as keen in seeing performances, as I prefer to read. I’m not much for the aural reception—I like to see the words and have the option to rewind and fast-forward.
Davis: I recall your reading at &NOW Buffalo (2009). You arrived, if I remember correctly, early in the morning—with fatigues and shit-kickers—drank most of the day, and then took off in the evening. How did this work as a conference strategy?
Kane: I am not sure if it was a strategy per se, and not even a persona. I would have to say that that is my usual mode of being. I’m a rough-looking customer, and although I am quite benign, this is how I usually conduct myself. Of course, I’d never drink before lecture, or attend, in my political capacities, in casual attire. But, at literary events, I tend to be an observer, and I tire easily with the usual politics of talking shop or networking for an advantage. Unless I am performing, I find myself—not shy—to be quiet and converse sparingly. I am both a very social and antisocial being, which is to say that my nature is to be antisocial while being quite adept at playing the social beast when I feel the desire. I dimly believe that the most-lively social beings are simply antisocial people who can act in the ideality of sociability.
Having a few beers at ten in the morning seems a bit extreme to some, but I generally wake at 4 or 5 in the morning, so my ten AM beer is more like everybody else’s 3 PM. Despite appearances, I drink moderately now that my grad school years are behind me. As for the attire, I find the army gear to be the most convenient—I am tough on my clothes, so I need them to be well made. I figure if they are good for combat, they’ll be good for my usual wear and tear. And, I do admit a fondness for big boots. Maybe it is a security thing, a kind of preparedness for anything. I am terribly fond of acquiring a good size-13 steel-toed boot that will be good three seasons out of four. I never know when someone may ask me to help move a fridge.
In the past, I had an embarrassingly porous border between my private and public person. Nowadays, I’m tight-lipped, zealously guarding my private life. Of course, I’m not a fortress, so I do allow a bit of my absurd comical aspects to show through since I don’t take myself entirely seriously. And this goes for my books, too. I’m not going to de-sacralize my home life and private matters by using these as source material. These zones are off-limits to everyone but my closest friends and family. I find cultivating a privacy buffer not only healthy, but also a happenstance that has made my life much cleaner and better. In terms of a reading public, the only meaningful relationship I can have with them is through the texts themselves—anything more is superfluous, distracting, and unwelcome. Whatever people desire to know about me is on the web, and nothing else is necessary.
Davis: What’s wrong with literature today?
Kane: There is nothing wrong with literature in itself (it is one of those eternally mutable forms). The problem is that there is far too much supply and very little demand. I would rather see less authors, less publishers, and more readers. It is far too easy to publish, which debases the value of writing. Being an author today is largely meaningless, and text has very little value. The other complaint is the recurring pleasure-problem I stated earlier. My challenge to authors would be the following: “okay, you are satisfied with your literary brilliance, but how much of your writing is merely the dumping of that diary / journal of yourself into the book?” With the pressures to publish and stay “relevant” in our current demands for immediacy, we may be tempted to believe that everything we write must be published. We rush our work into print or online just so that it can fizzle. If we are lucky, we may be remembered for one or two books. I up the ante of the challenge for writers: can you REFRAIN from publishing, and can you show the courage to hit delete on texts that really aren’t going to be of any value when you give them an honest evaluation, sans how important they seem to YOU (and no one else)? Can what you write be read and vetted by 20 readers? Would those same 20 readers, if they are friends, be willing to financially back the publication of your work? I now belong to a harsh iron circle of reader-editors, and no books we slate for 2011 will be published unless it survives many eyes and many editorial blades. And this is before we even submit it to a publisher. We massacre each other’s works in red ink, and edit from hard copy instead of via screens.
I’d say another problem with “literature” as an industry is our need to be taxonomists. We tend to label literature in this way so as to create a place of belonging. We must cease insisting on these self-sabotaging attempts of marginalizing ourselves, to take pride in a baseless elitism that has only served to set firm limits on our readership. Being among a marginalized elite only makes sense if there is a corresponding benefit of privilege, of influence and power; yet, most independent publishers and authors who claim to be anti-mainstream in producing alleged “experimental” literature fail to understand this crucial point. A homeless person is equally marginalized, and yet their position is hardly a romantic one. Publishers and authors who would be paupers on principle cleave to the romantic delusion that they are alternative voices, but these “voices in the wilderness” are to no avail in a market heavily saturated with other similar voices. The trappings of self-assigning or embracing the label of “experimental” are paltry and largely self-indulgent. Just because you can’t, or have not tried, to get into this nebulous zone of “mainstream,” does it mean that you must prance about as “experimental” by default? What is the use of this dichotomy between mainstream and “experimental” other than trying to force a culture war by creating the conditions of a frivolous exclusivity that are meaningless in both name and function?
“Experimental lit” is an inherent dogmatism, a kind of “schoolism.” However, unlike the dogmatism of the popular with its usual strictures, the “elite” dogmatism is the type of restrictive choice that does not generate variation except with its myopic parameters. It is arid and closed to cross-fertilization, and thus unlike the popular which thrives off rummaging for content any—and everywhere—adapting it to its needs. How quickly we may hasten to apply a fashionable label upon our own work, claiming that it is experimental only on account of it being rejected (rejection becomes the precondition of acceptance to the “experimental” group), unclear, and muddled. It would seem the door to admission for the experimental is wide open with no sifting mechanism, willing to accept any whose work has been denied access into the mainstream. It is here that one may be tempted to make a tragic error in reasoning: to assume without qualification that anything that is rejected by the alleged mainstream must in fact be considered experimental, and further that the invisible claim being that it must have merit unrecognized by an industry blinded by its desire for the formulaic. This, in some cases, may be true, but it seems that there is an overwhelming number of said writers who claim the label of experimental and this number so exceeds what would be an expected statistical distribution. Are we to believe all rejected authors are “experimental”? If that is the case, then the world’s writing population contains a hundred times more James Joyces than Joyce Carol Oateses. Any claim that rejection by the mainstream automatically enrolls the writer’s work in the school of the experimentalist is wrongheaded. If that were the case, one could send dirty laundry to a publisher and, upon rejection, make the claim to being experimental.
Challenging work does have a home in the publishing industry, but it need not bloat itself with the “jargon-eering” of theory and undue complexity to convey its communicative points. This style of writing may appeal to the insecure who seek their own validation in encountering familiar terminology that justifies elitism. But, again, elitism is a way of life that involves privilege and benefit, and never seeks to justify itself. Elites do not engage in defensive behaviour except to protect their own privilege. Those who brandish the heft of literary theoretical terminology and attempt to smuggle this into the public as literature are not among the privileged, and hence their elitism has no basis. More often than not, the brackish prose of the unnecessarily complex tends to repose upon the false claim that it could not have been expressed any more clearly. I see no reason for pride in being declared “experimental” since it comes with zero privilege—or, as much privilege as being “on the margins” would be to someone who is homeless.
It comes down to a lack of discretion and discrimination: what to publish and what to keep private. Too many writers turn out their diaries of personal therapy into the world, or rig the discourse by showing what they read, how clever they are, and so forth. I hate to dredge up that old bugaboo of writing with universal-iz-able criteria in mind, but there must be criteria for what is made public and what is kept as private journey or process. The diaries of the indulgent self are fine as idea generators for public writings, but to disseminate them “as is” without performing that translation becomes premature—belonging to conceptual art and its domain—the same as throwing raw materials out into the market without bothering to render them into finished product. Go ahead and tap out 6,000 pages of notes and documentation for your novel, but use them as your own orientation points—to be removed when the finished product comes out as a tight, svelte 200-page novel that people will want to read. I think it is ideal to have a trusted reader who isn’t intimately involved in the literary world, someone who can administer a readability test. I’m exceedingly fortunate since I now vet all my manuscripts through my wife who has no qualms in telling me when something I write sucks, and there have been several instances where her opinion has resulted in me scrapping a text or editing it with her critical insights firmly in my mind.
I know of what I speak and kvetch against because I committed every one of these writing sins. It isn’t enough to push out books like a sausage factory without caring beyond seeing one’s name on the spine. In POD-land, anyone can do that. No book that I have written before 2008 is anything more than a paper trail of shame and regret. Sure, some of the core ideas of those books have salvageable value, but they went to press underdeveloped and ultimately amateurish. Out of the 1000s of pages that went into those books, I’d give the generous estimate that about 200 of those pages have any lasting merit.
Davis: What’s your best invention?
Kane: Oh, I’m always being assailed by ideas for inventions that I never follow through on. The only one that comes to mind is my idea for a new screw head that would never strip. Must be something to do with being Canadian—we did invent the Robertson screwdriver and screw head (which is also, in my opinion, the worst one).
Davis: Should Johann Tetzel have dealt differently with Martin Luther?
Kane: Perhaps Tetzel should have owned up to his real calling, which was as an insurance salesman. Instead of being baited by Luther’s attacks, he could have pulled the usual strategies of embattled mega-corporations and public relations: diminish the importance of the opponent’s message, issued a vague and vacuous corporate mandate with glitter words like “trust” and “integrity,” offered a discount on relics as reward for loyal customers and, if Luther persisted, bring him to court and drag out the case until Luther couldn’t afford to carry on with it and be forced to pay legal fees and drop it. Or, Tetzel could have claimed that Luther was his biggest customer for indulgences, following the old political adage: “sure, it would be a lie to call our opponent a horse thief, but let’s see him try to deny it!” Ah, the shifting of the burden of proof!
Davis: Your prose style—exuberant, elusive, yawling—reminds me to some extent of the work of Mark Spitzer. I know you are acquainted, but is he an influence? Who else are you into?
Kane: I wouldn’t say that Mark and I are inspirations to each other as much as we are inspired by similar literary superheroes. We belong to a similar pedigree of writer, although we write very differently. He’s more like Bukowski decanted through an Artaudian angler, whereas I’m more like John Barth with eruptions of Celine, yet with a desire to write more like Will Self.
I’m into far too much. There is hardly a canonical author that I don’t have an opinion about from some long engagement. I tend to orbit around a few by reading their entire oeuvre: Beckett, Bataille, Borges, Baudrillard, Barth, Bukowski, Celine, Deleuze, Nietzsche, Pound, Will Self, Artaud, etc. I have my other interests in political writings and history, etymology and geeky books about book production. Lately, I’ve been indulging in desultory reading—everything from autobiographies of Ben Franklin, P.T. Barnum, to novels and history textbooks left neglected too long on my shelves.
Davis: You are a professor of Technoculture, among other things. How did you get into that field?
Kane: I saw a spot for filling a niche hitherto not in the course offerings in the Media, Information, and Technoculture program; namely, they didn’t seem to have a course dedicated to propaganda. Being the critical cynic I am, any mention of media is unthinkable to me without also thinking of propaganda. I have now expanded my teaching repertoire by introducing other courses of interest to my research: a history of social networking, digital literature, museum culture, and freakshows. I received my doctorate in Theory & Criticism, which is an interdisciplinary program courageous enough to accept a little of my maverick and dilettantism in writing on sundry matters with a continental philosophy focus (my previous two degrees were in philosophy). The MIT program is perhaps one of the most dynamic, flexible, and interdisciplinary units on campus—if not in the entire province. It is a perfect setting for someone like me who really frustrates anyone’s ability to apply a disciplinary label. There is, in the MIT program, a kind of contemporary manifestation of renaissance thought—at least in its welcoming of multiple perspectives and interdisciplinary approaches. It is one of the few units where one can take courses in serial killers, car crashes, Disney, and Second Life.
Kane X. Faucher is the author of several books, the most recent being a collaborative novel annotated by Tom Bradley entitled Epigonesia. He teaches at the University of Western Ontario for the Media, Information and Technoculture program.