Greer, James. “More Parody Than Satire.” Interview by Andrew Gallix. 3:AM Magazine, 16 July 2022.
3:AM: In Bad Eminence, France’s most famous author, Not Michel Houellebecq (or at least one of them, as there may be two!) asks the narrator-protagonist, Vanessa Salomon, to translate his new novel before he’s even written it. In other words, he wants her to produce a copy without an original. To what extent did Baudrillard’s take on the simulacrum shape your book, and when did you hit upon the idea of the twin (Vanessa claims to have a “bitch twin sister”) as simulacrum?
JG: A Parisian friend once told me that she went to high school with the (now famous) actor Eva Green, and that Eva had a twin sister. Everyone at her school assumed that the twin sister was much more likely to become a famous actor, because she was outgoing and dramatic, whereas Eva was bookish and shy. No idea if that story’s true, but I thought it might make a promising start to . . . something. One of these days I’ll have to read some Baudrillard.
3:AM: Which goes to prove, once again, that you don’t need to have read Baudrillard to be influenced by him!
Not Michel Houellebecq’s impossible demand reflects the primacy of translation — the recurring idea, in the book, that all writing is already a form of translation (of ideas, feelings, the world, into words). As Kafka puts it (in translation!) in The Zürau Aphorisms, “All language is but a poor translation”. Do you share this view to a certain extent?
JG: I don’t know about “poor” — I might substitute the word “failed” or “inadequate” — but I do share his view, and would go further and say that all lived experience is a translation of sense perceptions into stories we tell (ourselves) about ourselves. There are good translations and bad translations, but you always want to read the original when possible. It’s just that it’s almost always not possible.
3:AM: The novel reaches a metatextual crescendo, when Vanessa parses a sentence she has just written: “I shut the lid of the laptop and headed back to bed”. She goes on to point out that this can only have been typed before or after the event. Does this remark reflect her dream of writing a book that would inhabit “the spaces between the binary code of our existence”? Are you also trying to occupy this liminal space?
JG: I don’t think Vanessa is that self-aware, honestly. She strikes me as someone who’s trying to pretend that she’s smarter than she actually is, and throws up a wall of superficial erudition to prevent anyone getting too close. But speaking for myself, yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.
3:AM: Once the narrative has caught up with itself, the novel seems to implode in real time as it becomes increasingly clear that Vanessa’s translations have been contaminating the rest of her life: everything and everyone seems to be a copy — her world is awash with doppelgängers and simulacra. It is, in particular, the Robbe-Grillet novel she is translating at the beginning, which is seeping through, so I was wondering what relationship you had with the nouveau romancier’s work?
JG: An uneasy one. I’ve always been a fan of the way Robbe-Grillet and some of the other writers lumped under that clumsy but useful self-designation tried to expand the possibilities of the novel — not always successfully, but still. They tried. When I write films, for example, I have no choice but to adhere to a specific format, which can also be quite liberating in its own way (like trying to write a sonnet, or build a car); but when I set out to write a novel I can’t seem to help plunging ahead like I’ve just been freed from Making Sense jail, which is a real place that exists. I’m less enamored of some of Robbe-Grillet’s specific obsessions (for example, degrading sexual violence), but a book like Dans le labyrinthe was formative for me, almost comically so. I love a good maze. Of the nouveau roman writers, I tend to prefer Nathalie Sarraute. How I came to hit on Souvenirs du triangle d’or as the urtext for Bad Eminence is a thing no longer accessible by my brain. It just felt right at the time, I guess.
L to R James Greer, Vanessa Salomon. Copyright Thomas Early.
3:AM: Please tell us about the black-and-white photographs. They are obviously reminiscent of W. G. Sebald, who is namechecked several times, but is there also a link with Francesca Woodman, whom Vanessa is obsessed with (to the point of living in her former apartment)?
JG: In an ideal world, i.e. one in which money did not exist, the photos would have been in colour. The nod to Sebald is, as you say obvious, and as with the “sponsored content” both parodic and serious, depending on context. If I could compose pictures half as beautifully as Francesca Woodman did, I would absolutely claim a link there, but I can’t, so I won’t. Nonetheless, her work, which seems to exist in the liminal space you referred to earlier, very much resonates with me, and I hope that resonance is to some degree reflected in the text.
3:AM: Even though the novel is hilarious and very playful, it is also the study of a divided self, isn’t it?
JG: One of my selves emphatically agrees with you. Another thinks you’re crazy. Still another wants to sue, for some reason, but don’t worry, I never listen to any of them.
3:AM: In an age of earnest autofiction and misery memoirs, your novel seems audaciously — almost procatively — ludic and self-referential. Did you have the feeling, when writing Bad Eminence, that you were going against the grain?
JG: I knew as it developed tentacles and tangents that Bad Eminence would likely be swimming against what no one ever calls (but should?) the literary tide. That’s always been the case with me, a person who is not particularly good at swimming. Having said that, I do read more or less everything w/r/t contemporary literature, and enjoy quite a bit of what I read. I didn’t set out to write something in opposition to anything else. My brain doesn’t work that way. I wish I could just write something that people enjoy on a large and commercially successful scale, but — this could be my 90s indierock roots showing — I have an unfortunate tendency to sabotage anything that comes across as overly earnest. I think it’s because I am by nature a sentimental fool and I’m scared that people will find that out and make fun of me. As a result, I often end up writing novels that amuse only me, which is the kind of narrowcasting publishers live for.
3:AM: Why is Bad Eminence being released in the UK before the US?
JG: It’s not, in fact, unless something changed and I’m in the dark (not for the first time). The publication date is the same in the US and the UK, it’s just that And Other Stories, who is publishing the book in both countries, is based in the UK. Because I was writing in the voice of a French/British woman who’d been living in NYC for five years, I was very careful to mix in a confusing array of Anglicisms, Americanisms, clunky literal translations from her French brain into English, and a mishmash of different spellings and made-up words. The overall effect, if I’ve done my job, is to make you think the book was published in the UK before the US.
3:AM: Finally, could you please tell us about the “sponsored content”? At first, I thought it was merely satire, but now I’m not so sure!
JG: Singani 63 is a real brand of liquor imported by a real film director named Steven Soderbergh, with whom I have had a long and fruitful working relationship. Any suggestion that I included his brand in my “sponsored content” in exchange for a better deal on my next project with him is a fabrication. Also, not to pick nits, but I think it’s more parody than satire.
Here is my interview with Matthew Turner for 3:AM Magazine, 6 April 2021.
Matthew, last year you were Visiting Professor of Architecture and Visual Theory at the University of Bergen, and are currently a Lecturer at Chelsea College of Arts, as well as an editor at an architectural magazine (LOBBY), so it seems quite natural that both your non-fiction (I’m thinking of your superb piece for frieze on the ‘architecture of fascism’ in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina) and fiction should revolve around architecture, as the title of your first collection of short stories — Other Rooms (Hesterglock Press, 2019/ Dodo Ink, 2020) — attests. Your fiction, in particular, delineates a poetics of space — an architecture of the mind — that often focuses, as we shall see, on the liminal or uncanny.
You seem to be exploring very similar themes — the intersection between built and mental space — through your academic work, criticism and creative writing: could you tell us a little about these different approaches?
MT: I could answer this by describing how they all relate, and they do, but the real reason is pragmatic. It’s difficult to have the time and funding to think and develop new work, and working across these different areas allows for that. The needs of the students and readers come first of course, and unpacking books which have triggered something for me, but a by-product is that the academic work and criticism are a kind of test site for what filters into the fiction. I don’t have the Nevada Desert to experiment in, however, these more immaterial locations work well at the moment.
The precursor to Loom was an essay on what I called ‘Interior Edgelands’ for Icon Magazine (Icon 196: The London Issue), where I showed how the traditional edgelands, those strange areas on the outskirts of cities where the urban met rural, were migrating inwards because of properties bought for investment and left vacant, and all the buildings sites that pollute the small fragments of nature in the city with toxic dust and other detritus. And that was what I initially proposed to Emma Bolland at Gordian Projects.
It was a bizarre proposition really but I set it as a kind of thought problem to myself and hoped someone else might be intrigued. I essentially wrote a proposal describing this perennially exchanging urban condition, and asked whether someone who was on the run could evade capture by using it. And that happens in Loom, an urban myth of a persona called Olian who is on the run and there are rumours of hidden money that apparently nobody can find.
At the time I was thinking about other crime fiction based on changing urban conditions, such as Chinatown (1974) with its backdrop of changing water landscapes, the California water wars, as well as Scarface (1983) which is supposedly set in Miami, though more often the locations are simulated with these brilliantly grotesque wallpapers and plastic palm trees which really capture the unreality of that city, and, how anything is permissible.
These two examples really capture what I’m interested in when it comes to space, something I explored in the Bachmann piece. There is lots of discussion about how spaces can express personalities and dogmas, while I think they are more effective as incubators that create personas. J. G. Ballard usually described his ‘psychic landscapes’ as emanations from his characters’ minds, but really I think his brutal environments are incubators for these characters. They are made by it and for me that makes them more powerful, because they are real and not fitful projections. You can also see it in Patricia Highsmith’s writing, who was well aware of how spaces can be used to uncover disassociated psychological states. Remember that her first protagonist in Strangers on a Train is an architect who becomes paranoid that his guilt will somehow be shown in the buildings he is designing, yet when they are reviewed his peers see only ‘serenity’. Again, Tom, in The Talented Mr. Ripley, people know he’s evil, however, he gains some kind of redemption because of his exquisite taste in clothes, furniture and painting — which is most likely Highsmith toying with the shallow morals of the reader. All this stuff is not an emanation of his good taste at all, rather the environment is Tom Ripley because he has no solid personality of his own. The intense opulence of this incubator he creates for himself only underscores his lack of psyche. Similarly in Loom I wanted to explore how a corrupt built environment can affect the minds of the people who inhabit it. What kind of person does corruption carve out?
Your new novella, Loom (Gordian Projects), is rooted in the reality of contemporary London — or at least one aspect of it: it revolves around an uninhabited residence on a ‘Potemkin’ street (Millionaire’s Row) in a ghost (part of) town, where houses are investments not homes. The book immediately veers into stranger (and, arguably, far more interesting) territory, but I first wanted to ask you where you stand on psychogeography…
MT: Psychogeography is a tricky term for me. I grew up in such a boring and grey town that using your ‘imagination to remake the world’, as the psychogeographers say, was the only way to cope, and I knew that before I could put a name to it. My friends were all skateboarders and they were great at using the city in way that was opposed to how it was designed. We can’t have been alone in doing that.
As a teenager though, I really enjoyed reading Peter Ackroyd, but I think his writing is very different from the other writers using that term, and I’m not even sure he would label himself a psychogeographer. Reading Patrick Keiller’s book of essays The View From the Train was also a turning point, along with Anna Minton’s brilliant assessments of subtle control mechanisms and corrupt flows of wealth in London. Minton’s books come across as surreal quasi-fictions at first, but that is the reality of the city now. Surrealism made concrete.
As for the other writers most often associated with psychogeography, I think they commandeered writing about place, which already had an incredibly rich history in literature, put a name to it and overthought the whole thing into something which is, at its worst, close to trainspotting. They had a tendency to fetishise place and architecture to an extent that it put other people off writing about it who weren’t in the club, or, didn’t want to be associated. It might be why lots of fiction now has a very weak relationship to space and environment, whereas in the past, this link has been rich. I’m thinking of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square and Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight — he would have hated psychogeography of course, yet it is a great journey through a ghostly landscape. This sense of movement from place to place is also missing from a lot of current fiction and it makes me feel quite detached from the narrative, like some dimension of it is missing. Maybe this is more to do with seeing IRL spaces like digital spaces, where transitions are fast and seamless. Non-existent almost, without a real journey.
Despite this, there are people at the moment who write about place in a really inventive way. Just to name a few: Nicholas Royle, Joanna Walsh and Chris Power in his new book A Lonely Man, which is very clever in its use of a gentrified Berlin as a setting, tedious and ripe for paranoid delusions, and includes a drunken dérive-like taxi ride through London.
As for Loom, after Emma at Gordian Projects initially expressed an interest, we met and she challenged me by asking whether we needed another book about a man walking around London. This question led to the narrator being repositioned as a blind spot, unsure of who they are, resulting in this blurring of the house with the person that’s inhabiting it. For me, the psychogeographic writers I’ve come across write from a very masculine point of view, whereas when I read people like Marion Shoard and Luke Turner, places such as the edgelands are much more fluid in terms of gender and sexuality. In Loom the gender of the narrator is never mentioned, their pronouns will depend on the default setting the reader has in their mind. It will be interesting to see what this is.
The title Loom seems apt given the pervasive sense of foreboding, but it also refers to the all-important piece of gold thread that finds an echo, for instance, in the electric cables the protagonist attends to like ‘a medical student separating a circulatory system from an old cadaver’…
MT: It works in a few ways to hint at the book’s themes, while also functioning to join the personal events in the narrative to some kind of collective catastrophe. It’s easy to imagine the gold thread in Loom making its way beyond the house into all the invisible infrastructure, drains, pipes, internet cables, that could link it to the rest of the world.
The title also alludes to narrative threads. When I was young my mother made lace gloves for these rich aristocrats that nobody had ever heard of and were still living in a fantasy of the past. I see writing as being a bit like that weaving process, a filigree thing where you lay down threads, or, a machine, a loom.
At the same time, the title is somewhat paradoxical because what seems to be looming has, in a sense, already happened (like the disaster for Maurice Blanchot). Would you agree?
MT: Yes, I think this feeling of constant suspense without conclusion is a much more truthful depiction of the times we live in than, say, moving towards one dramatic event. There are these monumental catastrophes that are so big we can’t see them, and they are so carefully stage-managed that it’s rare for there to be a distinct climax. We’re in a moment of these low-frequency ‘borderless disasters’, as M. John Harrison calls them in The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, that are largely unseen and constantly ongoing, but must secretly contribute to a sense of suspense and anxiety that people can’t directly pinpoint. Gilles Deleuze writes about this kind of thing in his Postscript on the Societies of Control, mapping how control has metamorphosed from Foucault’s prisons to a serpentine gas that has infiltrated everything. Again, this relates to the pervasive gold thread you mentioned in the previous question.
The real protagonist is this seemingly sentient house, right?
Yes and no. The protagonist fuses with the environment so they are both parts of each other. As I mentioned previously, the house incubates a kind of person to the point where it’s hard to tell which is which. I was interested in how a house built from corruption can create a person, whether it results in a corrupt person is for the reader to decide.
Buildings, and how we interact with them, are shadows of thoughts and feeling before we become fully conscious of them. A cluttered home can be stream of consciousness made real, which is much more convincing than traditional articulations of that narrative mode, that for me is usually too ordered and well defined. Space in my writing expresses pre-conscious and pre-personal undercurrents which one of my favourite writers, Nathalie Sarraute, defined as ‘tropisms’ — a phrase borrowed from how plants move towards the sun or other stimulus, such as wind, gravity and darkness. I think my characters grow towards walls and objects, and in turn spaces grow inwards around them. Kafka wrote in one of his notebooks that everyone carries a room around inside of them, and we can hear the noises it makes — it’s this kind of relationship.
We are told that this house was modelled on Alfred Loos’s Villa Müller in Prague, which is famously all about its interior. Here, the original is criticised for containing — like many great artworks — ‘too much of its creator’. What are we to make of this remark when applied to the copy?
MT: You mentioned my piece on Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina for frieze in the introduction. While writing that I was working something out on a map of Vienna and realised the house where the majority of events in Malina take place is just five minutes from Adolf Loos’ apartment and he would walk past the address regularly on the way to the headquarters of the newspaper he wrote for. I find these moments where fiction and reality meet really interesting. Many of the psychological control mechanisms described by Bachmann find their physical manifestation in the architecture of Adolf Loos. Loos designed the Villa Müller so the women inhabiting it could only sit on the built-in furniture, giving him complete control over how they inhabited his spaces. The fixed chairs are usually placed below windows and looking away from them, so in effect void the outside world and reality. The Villa Müller was the epicentre of modernism and partial copies of this house are everywhere, along with the misogynistic and racist spatial politics it promoted. And we don’t even need to look far in the first instance, a slightly longer walk from the Malina house is Haus Wittgenstein that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein designed for his sister, continuing Loos’ principles. It’s an incredibly intimidating house with heavy doors made from iron, and his sister never could live there, writing that it was a house for ‘gods’ rather than ‘small mortals’ like her, echoing Bachmann’s unnamed narrator in Malina.
There is a disquieting centripetal force at play in the novella, as well as an oppressive feeling of claustrophobia: the edgelands have migrated to the city centre; the house ‘turns its back on the outside’ and even haunts itself through its negative space. The house — which is already a copy — harbours its own Matryoshka doll-style doppelganger (the kind of doubling which is often indicative of the unheimlich):
A typical house or flat has a whole host of hidden constructional layers; walls sandwiched with carcinogenic chemicals, asbestos and poisonous lead paints; strange dark voids filled with cigarette ends and vodka bottles from those that built it.
Could you tell us a little more about this very original twist on the haunted house trope? I have already mentioned Blanchot, but were you at all influenced by Emmanuel Levinas’s concept of the il y a (I’m thinking here of the passage where you write that the house ‘obsessively contemplates’ its inhabitants)?
MT: When you invent a ship, you also invent the shipwreck. In some strange way, when you invent a place through writing you also invent its ghost, without really being in control of what that is. This house that haunts itself came about in that way. Its external surfaces are haunted by the secret life of the detritus hidden in its layers of construction. It just happened, but if I were to look back I’m pretty sure Levinas and Blanchot are there.
I was also thinking about how buildings are probably the most effective way to launder money, not just in the sale of whole properties, but all the materials they are constructed from. Due to the complexity of buildings, it’s all very unaccountable and difficult to point fingers at particular individuals when something goes wrong. We are seeing this right now in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Many buildings have ghosts of corruption and potential disaster, we can feel these things intuitively, but don’t really understand them or see them clearly. I think that’s what ghosts really are and why they are such sources of anxiety.
In one of my favourite extracts, the narrator wonders ‘What slips by unnoticed when we’re habitually grasping for a light switch in the dark?’, drawing the conclusion that ‘We dwell in the spatial equivalent of a stranger’. This ties in with the theme of architecture as fiction that runs (like the piece of gold thread) throughout the book, as well as that of hyperobjects. Is architecture a hyperobject like Olian himself?
MT: Hyperobjects are these strange presences that only show themselves through the marks they leave behind. Global warming is a hyperobject and probably the internet in some ways as well. The architecture in Loom could be seen in this way because it only becomes visible in its interactions with the narrator, through the traces they leave on each other.
Loom was written two years before Covid yet the confinement and the emptying of town centres and cities is already there. In this section of the book I was interested in how little of our homes we actually see. If you were to track the parts of your home you actually walk through and interact with, it would be a surprisingly small percentage. You might look at a painting occasionally, but when was the last time you looked at the wall? There are many of these voids. It relates again to what ghosts really are, and for me they are an acknowledgement of all the parts we don’t see or can’t see.
Similar to other themes in Loom this goes beyond the narrative. Work makes us not see things, capitalism doesn’t really require us to be aware of our environment, and this accounts for why the built environment is becoming increasingly boring. Capitalism wants you to keep walking, it doesn’t require you to stop and admire a building. The result is that the places we walk through every day feel as though they are forever someplace else, distant and unreachable, despite the fact that we live in them. A whole city can become a ghost.
Without giving too much away, of course, where did the inspiration for Olian come from?
MT: Olian is an amalgamation of the oligarchs we read about in the news, but he is also based on a real person that Orson Welles lived with for over a year. Similar to the character described in my book, Michel Olian was a Latvian fixer, an international financier of extreme dubiousness. He was in the background of many major political events and one of the richest men in the world. Search his name on google now though and he’s disappeared. In Olian there are also shades of François Genoud, who was a similar individual. All these people had a fog-like ubiquity, an ability to seemingly be in multiple places at once, that makes them all human precursors to the darker side of the internet. They were all centres masquerading as peripheries, the same as the urban condition underpinning Loom, they were also hyperobjects before that term was coined.
If we return to the subject of influences, Loom (for me) conjured up J. G. Ballard, Tom McCarthy, Shirley Jackson, ruin porn and the nouveau roman — but I think there’s also a Huysmans-style element in there. In particular, a tension between surfaces (aestheticism) and depths (decadence)…
MT: Around the time of writing Loom I was re-reading Huysmans’ À rebours and Là-bas. In his decadent phase, spaces are part of the cosmos of his characters’ inner world. The intensity of his prose is something I find really addictive and has the feel of a medieval cathedral, it reminds me of Jan van Eyck’s paintings, where there is so much detail you can’t possibly perceive it all at once — there is something of the internet there. Despite being directed towards the future, the internet weirdly strives for the religious symbolism of the past: immateriality, light, point clouds, the similarity between prayers and algorithms. Huysmans helped me realise this. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was also with me at the time, and you can see that influence clearly in the illustrations.
The beautiful illustrations also have a William Morris wallpaper quality, which may be linked to what we have just said apropos of Huysmans. Could you talk about the interaction between the text and the illustrations?
MT: I don’t really see them as drawings but more as an extensions of the text. They are just single lines because I wanted them as similar to writing on a page as possible. There are minimal passages mixed with those that are more rococo in character and the drawings respond to this pace, texture and complexity without illustrating it directly.
I have an interest in Early Netherlandish painting, a time when the distance between text and painting was incredibly fine. The Arnolfini Portrait, for instance, might appear as a painting, but really it contains a good amount of writing and was seen as a legal contract at the time of its creation.
MT: At the moment I’m working on an article about disaster architecture for Port Magazine and finishing my short story collection, which doesn’t have a publisher yet. I’m also in the current issue of Icon Magazine (Icon 203: Spring 2021) writing about unstable ground in London and how it was never as stable as we might like to think. The issue is available for free on their website.
Chitarroni, Luis. “The Novel Without Qualities.” Interview by Andrew Gallix. Gorse, N° 4, 2015, pp. 185-206.
Luis Chitarroni is a prominent Argentine critic, editor, and novelist, whose staggering erudition is only matched by his warmth, humour, and kindness. Over several months—as I edited the following interview — he patiently responded to all my queries. Here is an extract from a message he sent me yesterday, which gives a good idea of the number of references he can cram, quite naturally, into a short paragraph:
The Distant Star is an allusion, almost a reference, to Roberto Bolaño’s title (Estrella distante). The man from Madrid is Javier Marías (an autor [sic] who declared ‘War’ to Jorge Herralde, his previous editor and publisher). The final sentence pretends to enhance Giordano Bruno’s observation on explosions and Shakespeare title’s play.
In the end, I cut the paragraph referred to above, because it still remained too obscure to me. There are other instances where I chose to leave in some rather cryptic sentences, due to their hypnotic rhythm or sheer beauty. After all, as Roland Barthes declared, ‘For writing to be manifest in its truth (and not in its instrumentality) it must be illegible.’ Tidying up Chitarroni’s answers felt, at times, like translating from English into English, which is slightly disquieting, but also ironic. Indeed, Susana Medina — a London-based Spanish novelist — had kindly translated my convoluted questions into her mother tongue, as I wanted Chitarroni to be able to express himself as freely as possible. When the answers came in, however, they were in English. So the questions were in Spanish, the answers in English, and the interview is the gap between the two. Whenever Chitarroni opens his mouth or puts pen to paper, it is the entire history of Western literature that seems to speak, and yet the voice is always unmistakably his. Whatever the language.
On 15th August, I was interviewed about We’ll Never Have Paris (Repeater Books) for Fernando Augusto Pacheco’s programme, The Stack, on Monocle 24 Radio. The interview was broadcast two days later. You can listen to my segment here. Full programme below.
Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night, edited by Richard Cabutt and Andrew Gallix, is an academic investigation into the legacy of punk, featuring contributions from Penny Rimbaud of Crass, Tom Vague, Mark Fisher and many more. Investigating the philosophical lineage of punk, and the matrix which it provided for its adherents to explore fashion, politics and art, Punk is Dead brings together some of the most astute and insightful critical thinkers on punk in one volume. Andrew Gallix is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of 3:AM Magazine, and lectures at the Sorbonne.
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
My own, rather than someone else’s (then again, je est un autre). I promptly crush such occasional bouts of rebellion by expecting the unexpected, thus defeating the object.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
Or, more fittingly in this instance, like Sid! Pointing is rude, but a recent ill-judged collaboration with a soi-disant friend does spring to mind. This dispiriting experience was an eye-opener worthy of Un Chien andalou, if you see what I mean. After all, vitreous humour is no laughing matter. As Flannery O’Connor observed — through her sizeable spectacles — some people ‘are interested in being a writer, not in writing. They are interested in seeing their names at the top of something printed, it matters not what’. Let them eat deadlines; I prefer mine alive!
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
My son, William.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
Being separated from my mother as a child was terribly traumatic. The pain was unspeakable, and it left me with a pervasive feeling of unreality. Being sent to France, when I did not speak a word of French, also left me with a lifelong sense of exile. Punk, which came along when I was 11, provided a refuge from all that. It was a home for the homeless. In his recent Asperger’s and Me documentary, Chris Packham talks about how punk allowed him to materialise his difference and flaunt it in the face of the world. I can really relate to that. I think that partly explains why the phenomenon was more important to some people who were involved than others.
If you had to make a rap song boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
As a filthy liar.
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
How long have you got?
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
I can’t think of two public figures who would really fit the bill offhand, but I can relate an odd anecdote that occurred, if memory serves, in the early 90s. I was walking in a local park, in South London, when I came upon a guy who was the spitting image of me. We walked past each other, then both stopped in our tracks and turned round at the same time. We faced each other — I myself and he himself — in shocked silence for a few seconds, then turned round and walked on again. I sometimes wonder if my doppelgänger (the word means double walker in German) is living the life I would have led had I remained in England. Has he stolen my life? In Johan Grimonprez‘s film Double Take, written by Tom McCarthy and based on a short story by Borges, we are told that ‘If you meet your double, you should kill him’. Is he still out there somewhere — and does he want to kill me?
If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
My collection of music papers and magazines that I began in 1977. When my mother moved into a smaller house, in 2012, I had to get rid of quite a few of them, but I managed to hold on to all those spanning the glory years of 77-81 and took pictures of all those that I disposed of. I know exactly where I was when I read a specific issue or article and, for some reason, they have always been of considerable importance to me. A tangible link to my past, no doubt. It’s also the interface between writing and punk that makes them so special. I was fascinated by people like Mark Perry, or Patrick Eudeline in France, who navigated from the page to the stage. I wanted to be a fanzine writer more than a musician. When my mother died, earlier this year, I had to bring the papers back to my place. I am surrounded by them now, and the realisation that they will never have the same significance to anyone else once I’m gone is rather disquieting. You keep all these things that mean the world to you, fret over losing them, and then you die.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
Quotations. ‘”Everything is to be found in Peter Rabbit,” the Consul liked to say’ (from Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano). ‘Awesome is the God who is not’ (from George Steiner’s My Unwritten Books).
Proverb. Never trust a punk with a property portfolio (from experience).
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
My favourite portrait hangs in London’s Courtauld Gallery, sort of. On one occasion, I seemed to be the only visitor in the museum. Each new room I entered was empty, except one. At the far end stood a very elegant lady, probably in her late thirties, wearing an outsize New Look-style hat. She was gazing intently at a small golden frame in which one might expect to discover a little gem by one of the lesser masters. She looked round towards me, before departing, and I was able to see that she was also stunningly beautiful. I rushed towards the picture that had caught her attention for so long only to discover that it was a mirror.
Interview with Andrew Gallix, “The Brief: 3:AM Magazine,” Silent Frame 1 April 2017:
3:AM Magazine is a literary webzine that comprises reviews, critical essays, prose fiction, poetry, and interviews with prominent writers and philosophers. The interview responses below are given by the site’s Editor-in-Chief, Andrew Gallix. Alongside editing 3:AM, Gallix works as a freelance journalist, translator, and lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris. He has written for various publications, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, and the Times Literary Supplement. With Richard Cabut, he co-edited and contributed to Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night (Zero Books, October 2017).
Which book would you recommend to our readers? Remainder by Tom McCarthy. The best French novel ever written in English. It has a special place in 3:AM Magazine’s history, as we were the very first to champion it. This is where twenty-first-century literature began.
Which film would you recommend to our readers? Berberian Sound Studio, directed by Peter Strickland, which revolves around a particularly gruesome giallo, evoked only through sound effects and snatches of overdubbed dialogue and howls — because films should be heard and not seen.
Which architectural work would you recommend to our readers?
The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, where Peter Pan poetically dwells — a new pavilion is built from scratch each year.
Which television episode would you recommend to our readers?
‘Episode 8’ from Series 1 of Life on Mars, directed by John Alexander — the episode where time-travelling protagonist Sam Tyler comes face to face with his young parents, and even catches a glimpse of himself as a child.
Which Mexican artwork would you recommend to our readers? Under the Volcano, a novel by Malcolm Lowry. What I most admire about this most admirable novel is the line, ‘Everything is to be found in Peter Rabbit’.
[NB: Though an English author, Lowry briefly lived in Mexico, where Under the Volcano is also set.]
Which Serbian artwork would you recommend to our readers? Complete Poems by Danilo Kupus, some of which were inspired by Beatrix Potter — because Peter Rabbit is to be found in everything.
Can art erase history?
No, but history can erase art. If art is a de Kooning drawing, history is Robert Rauschenberg’s rubber.
Can children make art?
Yes, but can adults?
Could art end civilisation?
No, but I suspect all great art aspires to do just that.
Is the alphabet a system of oppression?
Absolutely. Language, as Roland Barthes once remarked, is ‘fascist’. It speaks us; compels us to see things in a certain way.
Because the temptation to peek underneath is too great?
What question would you like to ask other Silent Frame interviewees?
What question would you fail to answer?
More to discover: You can read 3:AM Magazinehere, visit Andrew Gallix’s website here, view his contributions to The Guardianhere, and follow them on Twitter @3ammagazine and @andrewgallix.
Caleb Crain. Rev. of Memory Theater, by Simon Critchley. The New York Times 16 December 2015
… In “The Phenomenology of Spirit,” Hegel imagined history as a long, bloody drama acted out by the spirit of history, which played all the characters. Critchley cleverly describes (or rather, claims that his late teacher cleverly described) Hegel’s idea of history as a moving memory theater — “a kind of proto-cinema.” The narrator concludes that his own experiments have failed because his memory theater didn’t move, and he looks forward to a posthuman upgrade: “an endlessly recreating, re-enacting memory mechanism.” This sounds awfully like the Internet, to which it is so tempting nowadays to offload one’s more tedious tasks of remembering — and indeed, in a recent interview with Andrew Gallix of 3:AM Magazine, Critchley has admitted that the Internet is “what the whole thing is about.” Maybe it makes more sense to think of “Memory Theater” as an allegory.