The Emperor’s New Clothes in Reverse

Jack Henry, “3:AM Magazine Interview: Andrew Gallix,” Heroin Love Songs 5 Spring 2009: 87-90

JH: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

AG: My pleasure!

JH: My primary interest is in New Media and what some refer to as New Media Literature. In addition there seems to be resurgence in writing and poetry. Perhaps this is due to so many on-line outlets. Also, movements such as the Brutalist and Offbeat Generation owe their existence to the Internet and various on-line outlets, including 3:AM. I think some of these movements and/or on-line journals have sprung from some post-punk anarchy reaction against mainstream publishing. I’ve read as much and agree with it. Some of these questions may seem obvious, but I am sure others are curious, as am I, to your unique perspective.

What is the importance of a movement or school of work? Is it an idea or concept developed from a historical perspective or can it be witnessed in the present, as it emerges?

AG: We never sat down one day and said ‘Let’s launch a new literary movement!’. We sat down one day and realised that we were part of a movement. It was already there, and all it needed was a name to gain visibility. It was the Emperor’s New Clothes in reverse. So, to answer your question, we have been observing the development of the Offbeat phenomenon since 2005 when we became conscious of it.

JH: What can a writer gain, if anything, from the inclusion within a movement?

AG: First of all, I must make it quite clear that the Offbeats are a movement and not a school of writing. Offbeat writers are individuals — they all have different styles and influences, even though they all share certain values and a certain rebellious spirit. Writing is a solitary activity, so it feels good to also have that collective experience.

JH: What are the unifying characteristics of the Brutalists or Offbeats? What is their historical heritage?

AG: The Brutalists are not a movement; they’re a trio of writers (Adelle Stripe, Ben Myers, and Tony O’Neill) who sometimes come together to write under that banner. Instead of forming a band, they write poetry. The Brutalists are very much part of the Offbeat scene. What unites all the Offbeats is a rejection of a publishing industry increasingly dominated by marketing, rather than literary, concerns. The name ‘Offbeat’ is an obvious nod to the Beats, but punk is perhaps the biggest historical reference. At least for some of us.

JH: In a few interviews I have read, the Offbeat Generation does not exist within a single style or genre, I am curious what the literary influences have been to this group? And, more specifically, any influences from areas outside of writing?

AG: That’s quite right, and since there is no house style, influences are pretty diverse. There’s the Bukowski-John Fante Real McCoy school of writing embodied by Tony O’Neill. There’s the Maurice Blanchot-Francis Ponge-William Burroughs axis led by Tom McCarthy. There’s the Barthelmesque comic postmodernism of HP Tinker. There’s the more quirky Brautigan-tinged world of Chris Killen or Tao Lin. And then there’s all the others with their personal influences.
Music is indeed very important to many Offbeats. Tony O’Neill played in bands like Kenickie or the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Ben Myers is also a music journalist and he even used to have his own indie label. Will Ashon has a hip hop label. As far as I’m concerned, Howard Devoto’s early lyrics are right up there with the works of the greatest writers.

JH: As the Beats of the 50s/60s gained popularity, pop culture turned them into a caricature of their origins. Is there a fear that current movements could be mainstreamed and, potentially, lose their power as a dissenting voice?

AG: Definitely. In a way, it’s already happened. There are lots of young writers who think they’re being Offbeat by spouting clichés about sex and drugs.

JH: What is the goal of a movement? Is it collective? Or individualistic?

AG: Total surrender of mainstream publishing!
It’s both individual and collective.

JH: It is my opinion that America’s “disposable mentality” has migrated to literature and our literary tradition. Publishers rely on a bestseller to support their efforts with other books. In my opinion, a majority of these best sellers are total shit. Writers that repeatedly appear on best-sellers’ lists utilize formula and structure that will satisfy the widest possible audience, with lim-ited concern for craft, exploration and daring. Subsequently, the wider audience is “dumbed down.” Additionally, marketing departments focus a majority of their budgets on bestsellers thereby limiting marketing funds for up and coming writers. In short, big publishers continue to promote disposable writing in order to earn the quick buck. Does literature still exist, either via New Media or traditional outlets? What is the future of literature?

AG: I totally agree with your analysis of the state of things. It’s the same in Britain — perhaps even worse because of the presence of a huge middlebrow market. In the States, it’s either total shit or pure genius.
But, yes, literature still exists and will continue to exist. I can’t predict what its future will be, but I think the western notion of The Writer may be on the way out. I think there will be fewer career writers in the future: writers who write simply because that’s what writers do. People will write a novel when they really feel the need to do so, but will also have other creative outlets.

JH: Returning to New Media, how important are New Media platforms (blogs, social networks, YouTube, etc.) to writers? Is there such a thing as New Media Literature?

AG: Well, I think you need to make a distinction between e-literature which uses the Internet as a new medium, and most online creative writing which simply uses the web as a medium. As I wrote here, I get the impression that the future of e-literature is to merge into digital art. That view seems to be highly controversial in e-lit circles. As for webzines, blogs etc. I think their role has been essential. The Offbeat movement is the first literary movement of the digital age. Without the Internet, it probably wouldn’t have existed in the first place.

JH: 3:AM is a widely admired online journal and has been around a while now. I have always been impressed with the quality of writing that comes out of it. With the Internet providing a global platform and on-line outlets (websites, blogzines, etc.) is there a dilution of quality writing? Or, more specifically, is there too much content? Or, perhaps, is it just too easy to get published online?

AG: Thanks for the kind words.
Interesting questions. A band that releases an album on its own label has credibility. Writers who do that are accused of vanity publishing. It’s true that there are thousands of rubbish writers out there who publish themselves on the Internet, but there are also stacks of rubbish writers whose works are published by big concerns — just visit any bookshop to see what I’m talking about. Bad writers will give up eventually; the good ones will float to the surface.

JH: How important is marketing to a New Media outlet or, as a whole, “underground” writers and publishers? With my journal I market wholly to exposure the writers I admire and feel have talent. The only real cost is time. With the press, I have a different attitude. I want to promote the writer, but I want to have some profit, no matter how minimal, in order to publish more writers. In the age of New Media Literature and the expectation of everything on the Internet should be free or relatively inexpensive, how does a press survive?

AG: I’ve been editing 3:AM Magazine since 2000; we get thousands of unique visitors a day, and yet I’ve never made any money out of it. There’s very little money in serious fiction.

JH: Is it more important to publish than publish and profit?

AG: Definitely.

JH: Okay, enough of my bullshit, let’s focus on 3:AM. Would 3:AM exist without the Internet?

AG: An emphatic no. I’d been toying with the idea of a post-punk literary journal for years, but the logistics just made it virtually impossible.

JH: In researching this project I have read through a number of issues from 3:AM. In terms of quality and content, it is definitely one of the better online magazines available. You have had a long tenure on the Internet, longer than most. What do you attribute that to?

AG: To the fact that we’re genuinely interested in writing, and that we don’t expect to make any money out of it.

JH: What are the future goals of 3:AM?

AG: To continue to spread the word.

Interview conducted on 21 May 2009.

Surplus Will: the Stories of Andrew Gallix

The second chapter of Tom Bradley‘s Put It Down in a Book is devoted to a brilliant analysis of some of my short stories. It’s a slightly altered version of an essay that appeared in nthposition in 2007:

Tom Bradley. “Surplus Will: the Stories of Andrew Gallix.” Put It Down in a Book. Cedar Park, TX: 2009. 21-26.

A myriadminded man, Mr Best reminded.
Coleridge called him a myriadminded man…
His unremitting intellect is the hornmad Iago…

— James Joyce, Ulysses

Almost nobody has ever adequately evoked that gorgeous monster-hardon called Paris. But Andrew Gallix has nailed it to the wall like a luminiferous aether of opium jelly. I reckon he can do it because his language is lush and orgiastic as the topic it encompasses. Well up to the task, with plenty left over.

One is left hankering for more, for a whole book of his “Gelignite Dolly-Bird.” She calls for an unzipping and delectating till consciousness succumbs, spilling out into a larger frame: effusion, sheer tsunamic detail of sense and satire, where one gets to fuck and mock multiple celebrities, ankle deep in menses and jizz, all over million-franc Persian rugs.

Gallix’s heroine has only just awakened from a drunken swoon when she sees a silver-greasepainted faun tiptoeing among the piles of her fellow fucked out orgiasts. He has awakened her with his “muffled squishy sound as of manifold foreskins peeled back in unison,” as he despoils the flopped bodies, the semi-comatose pataphysicians, post-structuralists and “pointilllist ponces in pointy shoes.”

Such a silver faun must soon transmogrify into an incubus outright, and so he does. He coalesces into Beauty itself, personified with a dick attached, and he despoils Gallix’s heroine, to the accompaniment of this mentholated whisper: “You can only take so much Beauty…”

And that’s how much Beauty he gives us. The depravity of Gallix’s Paris is transfigured by paragraphs of sheer transcendent Beauty, given out with virtuosic offhandedness, as we ascend into Gallix’s galaxy: “…Fanny’s angelic features were bathed in gold, her halo melting like fondue cheese, and sparkling fruit carved in dewdrops dangled lasciviously from chandeliers like overripe testes.”

This Beauty, this silver faun, is a slender version of that other incubus whom we once saw tiptoeing and despoiling the flopped bodies at Shrewsbury, on the plain between Prince Hal’s camp and the rebels’. That far fatter faun, metallic with chain mail rather than silver greasepaint, was bent over a supine figure, too, like Gallix’s, and likewise whispered in its ear. But he didn’t say, “You can only take so much beauty.” Rather, he huffed, “if thou embowel me to-day, I’ll give you leave to powder me and eat me too tomorrow… with a new wound in your thigh, come you along with me.”

Falstaff’s embowelling cannibal woundings go direct and deep as Gallix’s Beauty, right down to our connective tissue. The former’s stomping ground was a blood-rank battlefield, while the latter’s is a rut-reeking Parisian parlour. But the deeper parallels hold true, those beauteous similarities obtain. As it is in Henry IV Part I, so it is in “Half-Hearted Confessions of a Gelignite Dolly-Bird”: every phrase of Gallix, every juxtaposition of words, is considered and balanced, faithful to the Shakespearean ideal. And, like Will, he waxes hilarious, at will. An almost random selection of one liners from another Gallixean rhapsody, “Forty Tiddly Winks,” will demonstrate:

God knows how much of his mortal coil ended up in the hoover on a weekly basis.

One of them could actually recall being buggered by Bulgakov, and a bloody good shag it was too…

…as if he had spent the night snogging a siren in the snot-green sea. (Not only the Bard, but Joyce is all through this, thoroughly assimilated and metabolized.)

In “Forty Tiddly Winks”, Gallix obliges so-called Judeo-Christian civilization with a hilariously despairing revision of the first several chapters of Genesis. His could be one of those great revisionist insights that penetrate and suffuse the collective awareness and spur new epochs: “The genocide of humanity itself.”

For Gallix, Adam has been replaced by Tim(e), the Miltonic lecturer who lives opposite Cerberus and is perpetually pursued by his own (Time’s) winged chariot. I can see why “Tim is out of joints,” and why he’s in such deep trouble with “them.” It’s because he has found out the most hideous secret of all: Eve and her hung hubby never ate of the tree in the first place, and were never as gods. Tim has Holocausted us all into a hole, Jew and gentile alike. Tim has run out.

The kiddy classroom in “Forty Tiddly Winks,” like the sixth chapter of Genesis, is peopled by critters procreatively bizarre enough to be identified with the Nephilim. Those tots prematurely pubesce, “ovulating wildly” as they gaze up at the forbidden fruit that oozes “Angel-come,” in a paragraph that, beyond its other-dimensional strangeness, is physically delicious, like so many other Gallixian structures.

Miss Ramsay, the kiddies’ teacher, is terrible and unparaphrasable. She is the trans-sexed YHWH, jealous, apple-forbidding, seeing that “it was good.” She skips ahead a few pages to peek at the end of the Good Book, and finds herself suddenly in the middle of Saint John’s rant. Seeing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse “beyond the pale, skimming candy-floss clouds on foot-propelled micro-scooters,” Miss Ramsay is turned into a serpent coiffed medusa — one of many magical metamorphoses in this strange Gallixy.

Those micro-scooters go beyond art and beyond criticism, and scoot into realms we can only speculate about. We can only tentatively hazard that something seems to be undulating, or breathing, behind these stories, as in the Hindus’ Unthinkable That — unadulterated strangeness.

This is my favorite kind of writing, all the more pleasurable for its rarity (almost nobody has the chops to do it): exploding with allusions to the big, the timeless, the Biblical, the Shakespearean, the Miltonic, the Joycean, claiming its own niche among those gorgeous monster hardons through sheer dint of artistic and intellectual doughtiness, and at the same time dancing light as a mote of hashish ash.

Nietzsche distinguished between artists who wring their works from a deficit of vitality, and those who blast forth from sheer surplus will. Andrew Gallix is clearly to be counted among the latter.

One Thousand Cranes Can Be Wrong

This piece was meant to appear on the website of a magazine in November 2009, but the artist who is the subject of the article objected to certain passages. Here it is, for the record, minus the artist’s name:

One Thousand Cranes Can Be Wrong

An introduction to **’s “action painting of the heart”

“I want to paint massive canvases so that I can stand in front of them and sense a wave of shade rising high above my head and it feels as if it will break and come crashing down on top of me with surf and sand like the sea.” ** often resorts to maritime similes when describing his elemental artwork. “Each piece,” he says, “is as different as each swell of the ocean”. Not only is this perfectly true — the techniques he employs range from candle-wax dripping to origami via oil painting and photography — but also most apposite for one born in Brighton and bred in nearby Worthing. Like Venus, his giant oil monochromes seem to have sprung fully-formed from the ocean spray. There is also this sense in much of *’s work that the tide is slowly rising. It is both a threat and a promise.

The (noble) savage beauty of the Hand Bursts series — which culminates in a bloody mess that could incarnadine the multitudinous seas — conjures up the fleeting patterns * creates on sundry beaches and then captures on camera. The Lines You Should Not Cross are vicious red pencil renditions of the artist’s bouts of self-harming, but they are also reminiscent of those lines literally drawn in the sand that will be, as it were, littorally washed away. The vibrancy of *’s works often comes from this tension between the compulsion to freeze moments in time (the large paintings are even entitled Frozen Moments in Texture) and the desire to dissolve into an eternal here and now. One of the most poignant pictures is that of hundreds of footprints left by so many Man Fridays on some deserted, seemingly godforsaken South Coast beach. Have all the holidaymakers gone home? Are we looking at fossilised vestiges of prehistoric humanity or the posthistoric consequences of Armageddon? Stone Age or Stoned Age? All we can be sure of is that the image is full of emptiness, achingly so. * shores these fragments against his — indeed our — ruin, but that, I suspect, is only part of the story. I can see him — all at sea on Worthing or Brighton sands — connecting nothing with nothing. Soon, however, the slate will be wiped clean and the canvas will heal: the world will return to its pristine, prelapsarian state. He closes his eyes, sensing a wave of shade rising high above his head… “We are the sea,” he writes, in his beautifully exalted, seer-like prose, “rushing in and out, forever changing as we alter with each swell of the waves. We are the sea.”

I first met ** at a reading I had co-organised at London’s Aquarium Gallery back in 2005 to showcase the thriving underground literary scene. He was just a member of the audience, but most female eyes were on him owing to his dashing Clark Gable looks. I remember a young lady in thigh-high boots gushing to no one in particular that he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. At the time, Coleman was shooting videos for up-and-coming bands and organising events at a trendy Shoreditch pub. He was also convalescing from a suitably ill-fated affair with a Norwegian junkie he had fallen madly in love with while exploring South East Asia. Soon he would gain a degree of notoriety as the Lord of the Unbuttoned Flies; a kind of Divine Marquis for the Offbeat Generation. Through his prolific priapic prose, he came across as the bastard offspring of Valmont and Sid James — the missing link between libertinage and the saucy seaside postcard.

Deep down, * had always been an artist — rather than just a peddler of literary smut or a budding avant-garde filmmaker — but it took the mother of all depressions to open up his eyes. His breakdown acted like a conversion; suddenly, he was born again. “The intensity, the violence of what I went through completely changed me,” he explains. ‘Intensity’ is a keyword here. *’s artwork is the product of “heightened states of feelings,” hence its air of jubilant inevitability. This, one senses, is a matter of life and death rather than a mere distraction. The canvas is a “battleground” on which the artist squares up to his demons, wielding the palette knife like “a sword”. *, however, is at pains to point out that depression is only the catalyst for his “action painting of the heart,” not its subject.

“I paint from within. I paint what I am.” Contrary to appearances, * is in no danger of disappearing up his own ars rhetorica. The result of his painting “from within” never feels introverted at all. In fact, it looks remarkably like without. Reflecting some kind of inverted pathetic fallacy, mindscapes are expressed as landscapes. Escaping the petty confines of the self is what this is all about. The aforementioned Hand Bursts could be the bloody handprints left by cavemen pounding away at the walls of their caves. When superimposed, they begin to resemble the graceful beating of wings. This metamorphosis reflects the artist’s desire to shed “the thing that wraps an anchor around the self and lets it drop into the dark abyss of fear” — an idea best expressed by his origami installations.

The Cry of a Thousand Cranes — red, blue and yellow paper birds hanging in the Saatchi Gallery or from a tree in the artist’s back garden — was inspired by the old Japanese legend according to which whoever folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish. When I ask him if he believes in this legend, — just smiles. Then he says, “I want yellows and blues and reds, I want to see them everywhere I walk, all exploding like fireworks”. We both stare in silence at the cranes gently swaying in the breeze.

Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls


Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls

It didn’t hit me at first. Not straight away it didn’t. For a few long seconds there, the world was freeze-framed. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. All around, people emitted muffled sounds as if sporting ball-gags under water. Possibly swathed in cotton wool, they spoke in slow motion, their syllables hideously elongated like limbs on the rack. I distinctly recall being put in mind of an unravelling audio cassette, or one of those avant-garde sound poems that were all the rage back in the day. And then it hit me.
Really hard.

To describe the pain as excruciating just wouldn’t do it justice. It was unspeakable, unsputterable; not even stutterable — utterly unutterable. What I can attempt to convey, however — to a certain degree, at least, though not, alas, to the third — is the unrelenting nature of the whole episode. I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. At a loss for words. Mouth agog, screaming on mute. Bent triple, pissing bleeding blood. Pummelled into that liminal zone beyond which no representation is possible. With the benefit of hindsight, I see it as a crash course in transgression, no less. Nothing would ever be the same again. Not quite. Not for me. Uh-uh. Blown was my mind. Rocked were my foundations. Shaken was my core. Topsy-turvy was my world. Over tit was my arse. And then it hit me again.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.

I blame it on Effie. Effing Effie and her fucking iffy frock. A brown flower-print number, the kind usually modelled by ladies of a certain age. Ladies who have long ceased to turn heads. Ladies who are fading away inexorably. Ladies who are almost invisible already. Ladies who, even as we speak, are being cut out of the equation with tiny toenail scissors. Slowly. Surely. Snip, snip — snip. But draped around Effie’s nubility it became impossibly erotic, as if the breath of life had suddenly been pumped into a long deflated blow-up doll. As if all the old biddies in their flower-print dresses were in bloom again, having magically recovered their pertness of yore. As if our very planet were a tight pair of bouncy buttocks and the whole wide universe had a massive hard-on.
Really hard.
Rock on.

Blowing mellow bellows from below, a bracing breeze sported with the hem. Effie even had to hold it down on occasion, which lent her an air of charming vulnerability. Despite this precaution, and after a great deal of hemming and hawing, the flimsy material finally resolved to flare up, possibly in answer to the prayers of all those who had slowed down to admire the young lady’s graceful sway. Time almost came to a standstill as the dress made its giddy ascent in the manner of a Big Dipper inching up the steepest of Battersea slopes. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. Then suddenly — amid a cacophony of catcalls, wolf whistles and screeching tyres — the world went into overdrive frock’n’roll-style. Effie gasped in surprise, looking back instinctively to see how many oglers would be going home with a spring in their proverbial and diaphanous black lace on their minds. As she did so, I couldn’t help but notice the imaginary ejaculates from a hundred passers-by glistening in her hair like so many constellations of icicles. It was hard not to really.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.

The heat was well and truly on. You could almost feel the sap rising as Effie walked by. Men for miles around seemed to be picking up illicit frequencies, pricking up their ears at the mere sound of her killer heels in the distance. I tried to throw them off the scent by accelerating or crossing the road at regular intervals, but to no avail. I knew I would bump into him eventually, or rather he would bump into me. He was out there somewhere — everywhere — whoever he may be. It was just a matter of time now, and now was the time. He loomed up, he loomed large, hurtling towards me with all the inevitability of tragedy. There was no way I could avoid him. In fact, he veered slightly to the right to ensure that we were on a collision course. It was fight or flight. It was lose face and face loss. It was too fucking late.

Effie didn’t notice anything at first. She pursued her monologue looking straight ahead as he rammed into me, only pulling up when I remonstrated with my assailant. This, of course, was the cue he had been waiting for. I was playing right into his big lumberjack hands, which he balled into mighty fists before felling me like a sapling. Effie screamed while I attempted to regain verticality by means of the wall. Paying no heed to the abuse that was being hurled his way, he slowly removed his jacket and folded it rather fastidiously. By the time he had finished rolling up his shirtsleeves, Effie had run out of expletives or patience. I noticed how she rolled her eyes in desperation as I finally staggered to my feet, still puffing and panting, only to hear that I was going to be taught a bloody good lesson in front of my wife. And then he hit me again. Hard. Really hard. Repeatedly. He decked me, then he floored me, then he pulled me up again and decked me some more. At first I was under the cosh, but I soon became conversant with the sentence that was being executed with such surgical precision; I could even distinguish the nuances of each blow. It was like learning a new language.

Taking on the demeanour of an impartial spectator at a boxing match, Effie stepped back to embrace the whole scene. She was more open-minded now, wanted to hear him out. She was hedging her bets: let the best man win, like. At one point — a couple of cheeky jabs followed by a cracking right cross — she even started seeing his, which he put across so eloquently, so forcefully. After all, he was only being fair. Firm but fair. So fair and so firm. Hard, really hard. With her arms folded across her ample bosom, she looked down upon me, sighing and shaking her head, as if she thought, on reflection, that a good lesson would indeed do me the world of good. She was bowing to the inevitable, submitting to a superior force and was silently urging me to do likewise, to let go. All resistance was futile: I had this coming all along and now it had come, and that was that. It was in the order of things to put things in order. It felt right; it even felt good, so good. Hard, so hard. The wicked gleam in her eye proved that she was now baying for blood. Baying, obeying some primitive urge. Harder, really harder.

After an uppercut and a left hook had left me on my knees again, begging for mercy, he slipped his jacket back on and bitch-slapped me to the ground. Blinking through the streaming blood, I caught a glimpse of my wife’s expensive black panties as she stepped over me to join him. They walked off hand in hand into the sunset.

[This story appeared in Everyday Genius on 28 October 2009. It was commissioned by Lee Rourke (who curated the site throughout October 09). The final version (above) features in New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality (Dog Horn Press), an anthology edited by Tom Bradley and published in December 2010.]