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Patrice Carrer, author of the French translation of Tony O’Neill‘s Notre Dame du Vide, mentions me and the Offbeats in his postface (pp. 237-238). The book was published in June 2009.

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Patrice Carrer, “Repères Critiques,” Notre Dame du Vide by Tony O’Neill (Paris: 13E Note Editions, 2009)

Parmi les principaux mouvements littéraires radicaux comptant de nombreux “amis en ligne” — notamment des figures de la contre-culture tels Dan Fante ou Billy Childish —, on trouve, à part nos Brutalists ou encore le collectif Riot Lit, l’Offbeat Generation, pareillement portée sur Huysmans, Bukowski et la dive bouteille. D’après son porte-parole Andrew Gallix, rédacteur en chef du magazine littéraire en ligne 3:AM, l’âge de ses auteurs s’échelonne de dix-huit à quarante ans; l’O.G. réunit des gens qui se sentent “aliénés dans un monde éditorial dominé par le maketing”. …Phénomène anglo-saxon, ces mouvements cousins sont de plus en plus présents sur le Net. Parmi les auteurs qui montent, retenons les noms de Heidi James-Garwood, Laura Hird, Matthew Coleman, Ben Myers, Tom McCarthy, H.P. Tinker, Andrew Gallix… et, d’abord, bien sûr, Tony O’Neill.

Heroin Love Songs Interview

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I am interviewed by Jack Henry in 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 a resurgence in writing and poetry. Perhaps this is due to so many online outlets. Also, movements such as the Brutalists and Offbeat Generation owe their existence to the Internet and various online outlets, including 3:AM. I think some of these movements and/or online 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 bestsellers lists utilize formula and structure that will satisfy the widest possible audience, with limited 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 awhile now. I have always been impressed with the quality of writing that comes out of it. With the Internet providing a global platform and online 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 give exposure to 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.

JH: 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.

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Inés Martin Rodrigo mentions me in “Alunizaje perfecto de la armada offbeat” which appeared in Spanish daily ABC on 26 March 2009:

“Alunizaje perfecto de la armada offbeat”
La generación literaria más transgresora de los últimos años acaba de aterrizar en España. Heidi James, Tony O’Neill y Gerry Feehily ejercen ya de abanderados con sus primeras novelas en castellano.

La generación offbeat no tiene reglas y tampoco desea tenerlas. Su desembarco en la industria editorial española, observado con curioso escepticismo (por no decir morbo inquisitivo) desde las alturas literarias, desencadenó una extraña metamorfosis en la que ellos, potenciales alienígenas de la narrativa, se convirtieron en maestros del lenguaje y dejaron su nave espacial aparcada en el bar de la esquina, donde todos terminamos parando.

Heidi James, una joven escritora británica con pinta menuda y una extraordinaria lucidez en la oratoria, ha tenido el excelso honor de abanderar en España el aterrizaje (no forzoso) de una generación que, curiosamente, reniega del sistema al que tanto ha enseñado durante estos escasos días de lecturas y conversación.

Ha recalado en Madrid para presentar su primera novela en castellano, «Carbono» (Ed. El Tercer Nombre), el relato de un personaje que, en palabras de la propia Heidi, «está roto y por eso tiene una sexualidad subversiva, es como el síntoma de una enfermedad». La autora offbeat confiesa que su objetivo era «crear un personaje que se disolviera, que estuviera rompiéndose en pedazos y completamente inmoral». Objetivo alcanzado, pues la lectura de «Carbono» resulta tan explícitamente dolorosa como vehemente para comprender la posición de la mujer en la actual sociedad.

Ausencia de voces femeninas

Una mujer que, para nostalgia (y sucinto cabreo) de Heidi James (feminista confesa y practicante), prácticamente no existe en la generación offbeat salvo en el caso de la propia Heidi y de Adelle Stripe (fundadora del grupo poético «The Brutalists» junto a Ben Myers y Tony O’Neill). No obstante, tras enamorarse de las palabras al escuchar con tres añitos una conversación en la «habitación (nunca) propia» de su abuela y su madre, Heidi decidió dedicarse en cuerpo y sobre todo alma a la escritura.

«Crecí leyendo a Lynn Tillman, Clarice Lispector, Marie Darrieusecq, Angela Carter o Virginia Woolf. Siempre intento comunicar el realismo subjetivo de mis personajes, desestabilizar las modalidades que existen a nivel social, explorar diferentes modos de ser». Exploración que siempre lleva a cabo, con metódica y obsesiva obediencia, entre las nueve y media de la mañana y las cuatro de la tarde, aunque estos días haya visto agradablemente interrumpida su actividad para darnos a conocer «Carbono».
En este paseo literario por nuestro país Heidi James ha ido de la mano de Gerry Feehily, un reciente descubrimiento offbeat de Andrew Gallix (editor de «3:AM Magazine») en Francia cuya primera novela en castellano, «Fiebre», pronto veremos publicada. Sabemos a lo que han venido: «Queremos derribar las barreras que hoy en día existen en el mundo literario y examinar la vida en todas sus formas, lo que significa ser humano. La literatura de masas es decadente e inmmoral, también la española». Y, a juzgar por las señales, lo van a conseguir.

Las señales adecuadas

Una señales que han llegado a oídos de gente tan poco relacionada con la cultura de masas como Matt Elliott (está estos días en nuestro país presentando su último trabajo, «Howling Songs»), Nacho Vegas (recien llegado del «South by South West Festival» tejano), Rafa Cortés (en un break neoyorquino) o el mismísimo José Luis Cuerda. Ellos no fueron los únicos en seguir con atención los primeros pasos de la generación offbeat en España, pues una nutrida legión de no alienados fanáticos de la literatura de calidad escucharon con atención sus palabras, performances y lecturas en Madrid. Todo ello amenizado con música de raíz offbetiana como Primal Scream, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, los Ramones, My Bloody Valentine o The Velvet Underground.

Frescos, demoledores, ofensivos, renovadores, ambiciosos, desaprensivos, sin prejuicios, talentosos, genuinos y enganchados a la más adictiva de las drogas: la literatura. Así es la generación offbeat, privilegiados yonquis de la literatura sin pelos en la lengua. En España hemos sido testigos del aterrizaje de la primera hornada, pero el terremoto offbeat está por llegar.

¿Qué piensan de España el resto de offbeat?

Lee Rourke: «Los offbeats son una masa reaccionaria de disidentes literarios que simplemente quieren escuchar una nueva voz; nos hemos desarrollado, poco a poco, con nuestras propias condiciones y nunca nos hemos plegado a las demandas de los grandes conglomerados (no nos importa lo que piensen acerca de quiénes somos o lo que hacemos). Esto es un nuevo paso hacia adelante, un nuevo rumbo gracias al cual en España podréis descubrir a algunos de los escritores más apasionantes de nuestra generación».

Tao Lin: «Me encanta formar parte de la generación offbeat y estoy muy orgulloso y nervioso ante la posibilidad de que los offbeat empecemos a publicar en España».

Adelle Stripe: «Es maravilloso saber que los offbeat finalmente van a publicar en España. Siempre he pensado que existe un público objetivo para nuestra literatura en otros países y para alguien como Heidi James, una escritora a la que respeto muchísimo, es una oportunidad única a nivel internacional. Espero también que esto anime a otros offbeat españoles a escribirnos en respuesta. Sería un placer que nuestra literatura se leyese, digiriese y regresase a nosotros con pasión y firmeza».

The Socialite Manifesto

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I wrote a short presentation of Christiana Spens‘s The Socialite Manifesto for the Spring 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 68, p. 92):

From her publicity shots, Christiana Spens stares out at you with the faraway look of innocence lost. This 21-year-old Cambridge student is the precocious golden girl of our gilded age. Christiana launched her writing career at fifteen when she began filing copy for various arts and music magazines. “The deadlines gave me discipline, the music gave me dialogue and the art gave me ideals — so I was all set to start.” Last year, she published her debut novel which established her reputation as the poet laureate of elegantly-wasted Sloanedom. Reminiscent of Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and Bret Easton Ellis, The Wrecking Ball zeroes in on the existential nightmare at the heart of the consumer dream — a theme that is also central to her latest project.

The Socialite Manifesto — which we showcase in the following pages — is clearly more graphic than novel. “My parents both write art books, so I grew up surrounded by picture books of every kind,” Christiana explains. “In a way, visual books are more natural to me than straightforward novels.” She was also inspired by a recent exhibition of collaborations between French writers and artists as well as a felicitous bout of writer’s block. “I started painting properly again when I had writer’s block in the spring. Painting seemed a more direct and sensual way to express myself, and gave me an elation writing didn’t. I swing from one to the other though. When one brings me down, the other brings me up.”

The Socialite Manifesto is meant to be the diary of one Ivana Denisovich whose name is an obvious nod to Solzhenitsyn. “I was interested in how there are all these Russian oligarchs around who have so much money it’s vulgar — and that that came out of communism. Where Ivan Denisovich was trapped by the Soviet regime, Ivana is trapped in the gilded frame of capitalism.” The writing is kept to a minimum to ensure that Ivana remains largely a blank canvas. “I was thinking of all the visual icons, like models and actresses, who never have anything to say but are stars because everyone projects their fantasies on them. I wanted my main character to be everyone’s personal fantasy, so to do that I couldn’t make her speak too much. If she started talking you might not want her anymore.” Christiana Spens subverts the traditional division between author and reader by inviting us to colour in the artwork and fill in some of the diary entries thus transforming the book into a truly collaborative experience. As for the eponymous Socialite Manifesto, there is not one — “just blank pages and a feeling that something isn’t quite right.”

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ArtGerust, a Spanish social network which focuses on the arts, published an article on the Offbeats on 18 February 2009:

ArtGerust, “La literatura Offbeat, el nacimiento de una nueva generación”

Se está hablando últimamente de una nueva generación literaria conocida como los “Offbeat”, término acuñado por uno de sus máximos exponentes el responable de la revista online 3:AM Magazine, Andrew Gallix, el conocido como Rimbaud de la red y también francés como él, y que se refiere a esos autores de entre 18 y 40 años -año arriba año abajo- que usan Internet para colgar su obra, que tienen como máxima influencia a la Generación Beatnik y el “surrealismo de fregadero”, es decir, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Bukowski, beben de la música de Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Scott Walker, David Bowie, etcétera, y que si tienen un lema común es “sea lo que sea, estoy contra ello”. Todo un fenómeno literario. Y ArtGerust, con su pretensión de ser una red social cultural lo más integral posible tiene que dar cuenta de este fenómeno.

Como sucesores de aquella generación de escritores malditos, estos autores suelen andar un poco al margen de la industria editorial -no demasiado, seamos sinceros, la industria hoy es día es tan amplia que puede dar cabida a cualquier grupúsculo por pequeño y políticamente incorrecto que sea- y aprovechan la libertad que da Intenet para darse a conocer y mostrar su imágen cínica e irónica del mundo.

La lista de integrantes es bastante amplia aunque todos tienen en común ciertas cosas que nos permiten hablar ya de una nueva genración en la literatura, una generación que esperamos que de sí todo lo posible, ya que falta hace al mundo cultural actual algo de originalidad y de calidad. Y que esta generación sea el primer paso al nacimiento de muchas otras.

Destacan autores como Laura Hird, escritora escocesa, Noah Cicero, novelista norteamericano, Ben Myers, idem inglés, Adelle Stripe, poeta británica, el mismo Andew Gallix, Heidi James, la que no esá muy conforme con la acuñación de Gallix, Tao Lin y muchos otros. Pero quizás si alguno destaca más que ningún otro es Tony O’Neill, neoyorkino devoto de Bukowski. Ex heroinómano y autor ya de cuatro novelas.

En España, está vez hemos tenido algo de suerte, y pronto llegarán alguna de estas obras en nuestro idioma. Se sabe que en marzo se publicará en español la última novela de Tony O’Neill Down and Out On Murder Mile, y también en marzo podremos disfrutar de Carbono de Heidi James, de la obra de Tao Lin, y a lo largo del año “The Bird Room” novela de Chris Killen.

Por supuesto, cualquier industria, incluida la editorial, quiere vender su producto. Es normal, el dinero es lo mantiene cualquier negocio. Pero hay que reconocer que esta generación tiene muy buena pinta. Y aunque, como siempre, desde el fin de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, se nos pretenda hacer creer que todo movimiento artístico de calidad e innovador, llega de EEUU y de su sucursal en Europa, Inglaterra, sin embargo, nos puede ayudar a dar a conocer una idea de literatura que en España -y por supuesto en otros países- ya había cuajado y dejaba auténticas joyas muy desconocidas para el gran público pero muy asentadas en ciertos círculos de Internet. Nosotros no creemos que éste sea un movimiento anglosajón sino más bien común a todos, por nacido de la abulia que crea la vida en esta aldea global, y no hay forma más sibarita y buguesa, eso está claro, que manifestar nuestro descontento social creando arte. Si bien es cierto que tenemos una prensa que primero se fija en lo que pasa allí que en lo que pasa aquí, bienvenido sea que, al fin, se vayan haciendo eco que hay una nueva forma de hacer literatura. Espero que disfruten del viaje.

Para terminar alguna recomendación:

– Sabemos que es un poco endogámico, pero la endogamia no es estrictamente negativa si tiene sentido. En ArtGerust contamos con dos autores -dentro de la red de blogs- que por influencias, modos y formas podrían enmarcarse dentro de esta generación Offbeat, que son IDT y Marquitos, y que todas las semanas nos dejan unos artículos que son una delicia. Por supuesto, no desmerecemos al resto de nuestros bloggers, pero sus influencias y formas ya no están ancladas en este tipo de generación de escritores.

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Inés Martin Rodrigo has published an in-depth article on the Offbeats in top Spanish daily ABC in which I — “el Rimbaud de la Red”! — am quoted at length:

Inés Martin Rodrigo, “‘Se lo que sea, estoy contra ello,” ABC 16 February 2009

Es el lema de un nuevo grupo de escritores anglosajones con sede en Internet que está revolucionando la industria editorial. No tienen reglas ni manifiestos, pero la Generación Offbeat reclama su lugar en la escena literaria

La industria editorial es aburrida, está embotada y estreñida, desprende un cierto tufillo rancio y amenaza con eliminar todo fragmento de imaginación que aún quede en la mente del lector menos conformista. No es una sentencia categórica de un crítico cabreado con el ultimo best seller que ha llegado a sus manos, ni siquiera la reflexión concienzuda de un intelectual con complejo de Nostradamus. Es el pensamiento y la bandera literario revolucionaria de un nuevo grupo de escritores con sede en la Web y que se (auto)definen como Generación Offbeat.

Qué menos se podía esperar de los potenciales sucesores de Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs y compañía. Autores todos ellos enraizados en la libertad y el compromiso con ser fiel a uno mismo, filosofía de la que dieron buena cuenta en sus años de lucha literaria con las armas de las que disponían. Las armas de la razón hecha palabra y empleada en defensa de la paz, en contra de la Guerra de Vietnam o como sagaz discurso contra el recalcitrante conformismo de la sociedad de la época.

Una generación pegada a los libros

Los años han transcurrido y el discurso se ha transformado, al igual que las armas para evocarlo y defenderlo. Pero la raíz prendió con fuerza en una generación de jóvenes que creció leyendo el “Junky” de Burroughs, “uno de los mayores trabajos literarios sobre el mundo de la droga, al lograr algo que muchos libros que le siguieron fueron incapaces: habló del modo de vivir de un drogadicto”, en palabras de Tony O’Neill, escritor offbeat por excelencia. Y es que Burroughs describió el oscuro laberinto de la drogadicción sin ejercer de falso predicador para el lector, sin miedo a llamar a cada cosa por su nombre. Porque, le pese a quien le pese, un heroinómano no será nunca un pervertido al que adoctrinar. Así, llamando a las cosas por su nombre y leyendo, sobre todo leyendo, empapándose de los popes del movimiento beat fue como este grupo de autores fue regando su propio discurso.

Un discurso que se vertebra en un nuevo y excitante trabajo de ficción, que corre riesgos y que, cada vez con más intensidad, empieza a generar demanda en cuantos lectores se topan con él casi sin pretenderlo. Y es que, demasiado ácidos, diferentes y afilados para la industria editorial tradicional, la generación offbeat se esconde (de momento, aunque cada vez menos) en los amplios (y libres) márgenes de la Web y en alguna que otra editorial independiente.

El origen del movimiento

El primero en usar el término offbeat (y por tanto quien lo acuñó) fue Andrew Gallix, redactor jefe y responsable de la revista literaria online 3:AM Magazine (puestos a hacer comparaciones, valdría decir que sería algo así como el New Yorker de los offbeats). De eso hace ya casi tres años aunque, como el propio Andrew reconoce, “el movimiento llevaba bastante tiempo emergiendo. Es un poco lo que pasó con el punk o los nuevos románticos, al principio no tenían nombre por lo que mucha gente desconocía su existencia”.

Un desconocimiento que se fue disipando a medida que los grupos fueron proliferando en el ciberespacio. Eran escritores, guionistas, periodistas, bloggers, artistas… con un interés común por la literatura pura (sin artificios), que empezaron a gravitar alrededor de 3:AM y a organizar lecturas, conciertos e incluso festivales. “Fue en esos eventos donde comenzaron a establecerse las relaciones –explica Gallix-. La primera vez que fui consciente de que había aparecido un nuevo movimiento fue en el baño de Filthy Macnasty’s (uno de los pubs londinenses preferidos por Pete Doherty), cuando Lee Rourke (escritor y a la postre integrante de la Generación Offbeat) se abalanzó sobre mi y empezó a hablar de la enorme revolución literaria que habíamos iniciado. Aquello fue realmente el comienzo de todo”.

Un inicio virtualmente surrealista para un movimiento con integrantes de carne y hueso. Son muchos los offbeats que, incluso sin saberlo, engrosan la lista de esta generación pero, si hubiera que etiquetar al movimiento como tal cabría decir que se caracteriza por la variedad de voces y estilos y la ausencia de reglas (aquí no hay manifiestos). “A pesar de la diversidad, muchos escritores offbeat comparten características. La mayoría son británicos, treintañeros y creen que la escritura es mucho más que un mero entretenimiento”, enfatiza Gallix. Y sienten la música como elemento catalizador y de equilibrio.

Una lista repleta de talento

La lista es interminable y suena francamente bien. Noah Cicero (novelista estadounidense a medio camino entre Samuel Beckett y The Clash), Ben Myers (autor inglés mezcla de Richard Brautigan con Lester Bangs), Adelle Stripe (poeta londinense heredera del cinematográfico “realismo de fregadero” de Sidney Lumet), el propio Andrew Gallix (el Rimbaud de la Red), Tom McCarthy (novelista estadounidense afanado en la deconstrucción de una nueva idea de novela), HP Tinker (joven inglés al que comparan con Pynchon y Barthelme), Tao Lin (el aventajado protegido de Miranda July –a quien pronto veremos publicada en nuestro país gracias a Seix Barral-, con todo lo que eso supone hoy en día) y los primeros (parece que las grandes editoriales empiezan a tomar apuntes) que aterrizarán en España: Chris Killen, cuya novela “The Bird Room” será publicada este año por Alfabia, y Heidi James y Tony O’Neill, ambos con la editorial El Tercer Nombre.

Todos ellos influidos por el particular lirismo de Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Scott Walker o David Bowie, de la misma manera que estos sintieron la influencia de los autores de los que la Generación Offbeat es heredera. Aunque también están los que prefieren huir de las comparaciones. Tal es el caso de Heidi James, para quien la comparación es un poco “perezosa, basada en el hecho de que evitamos formar parte de la corriente principal”. Esta joven autora británica, que en marzo publicará su primera novela en España (“Carbono”, Ed. El Tercer Nombre) y que se confiesa fascinada por Lynne Tillman, Clarice Lispector, Marie Darrieussecq, Angela Carter o Virginia Woolf, es dueña de su propia editorial en Reino Unido, Social Disease. Con ella, que debe su nombre a la famosa frase de Andy Warhol -“Tengo una enfermedad social. Tengo que salir todas las noches”-, Heidi se ha convertido en uno de los estandartes de la Generación Offbeat al publicar “literatura única y genuina al margen de su valor en el mercado”.

Un movimiento coordinado

La propia Heidi James, en una prueba evidente de que el movimiento está coordinado y sabe hacia dónde se dirige, ha publicado en Reino Unido a autores como HP Tinker o Lee Rourke pero, sobre todo, a Tony O’Neill, el máximo exponente de los offbeats. Este joven neoyorquino, devoto de Bukowski, responsable de una prosa brutalmente descarnada, ex heroinómano, miembro de bandas como The Brian Jonestown Massacre, ha publicado ya cuatro novelas (la última, “Colgados en Murder Mile”, llegará a España en primavera) y se erige en líder (sin pretenderlo) del movimiento con ansias de seguir reclutando adeptos.

Como su propio nombre (offbeat) indica, una generación extraña e inusual de escritores, para los que la Red es su campo de acción, con espíritu punk y ganas de comerse la industria literaria tal y como ahora está concebida. El mundo anglosajón ya ha sido testigo de los primeros bocados. En España está al caer, ¡y ni siquiera es una generación! Que tiemble Zafón.

Fresh Out of Dope

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This review of Tony O’Neill‘s Down and Out on Murder Mile appeared in the Times Literary Supplement dated 21 November 2008 (No 5512, p. 20):

Fresh Out of Dope

While suffering from withdrawal symptoms, a drug addict hits herself around the face with a book. Tony O’Neill does not tell us the title, but a copy of his new novel — in which this harrowing scene appears — would be appropriate. Down and Out on Murder Mile is the sequel to Digging the Vein (2006), the novel which established its young author as a figurehead of the “Offbeat” literary movement, alongside the more experimental Tom McCarthy. Unlike McCarthy, whose novels subvert the idea of authenticity, O’Neill belongs to the authentic school of writing as exemplified by Charles Bukowski and John Fante. To his admirers, he is a combination of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady (or André Breton and Jacques Vaché), a resolution in himself of the art/life dichotomy.

Although Down and Out on Murder Mile is subtitled “A novel” and described by its publisher as “semi-autobiographical fiction”, O’Neill makes no bones about how closely it is based on his own history so that one wonders what, if anything, is fictitious about it. In the acknowledgements, for instance, he thanks his “wife and muse” — whose name in fiction, as in fact, is Vanessa — because she does not object to his “airing [their] dirty laundry in public”. The first-person narrator remains anonymous throughout, making him indistinguishable from the author, and the systematic use of the past tense (except for dialogue) reinforces the biographical feel.

Far from being a simple memoir, however, Down and Out on Murder Mile is a deceptively literary work, one which chronicles its own genesis. When the protagonist describes the mental games he once played to provide himself with “a perfect excuse for a little hit”, he takes a dig at the glamorization of junkie writers: “Did William Burroughs sit around, worrying about taking dope? Or did he just do it and then write immortal books?”. At times, heroin stands for the magic potion found in the traditional love story; at others, it brings about the obligatory mating of Eros and Thanatos: the “unspoken agreement” that the junkie couple will “eventually die together”. The fairy-tale qualities of the narrator’s romance with Vanessa are striking, especially in the squalid circumstances in which it takes place. Contact is first made when he drunkenly speed-dials a number at random on someone else’s mobile phone. Vanessa falls for him when he is at his “lowest ebb”, his “worst point”, his “most destroyed, destitute and bankrupted”, and she sees through all that as if he were a prince in disguise. The fatal attraction of dope is depicted in the novel as the result of a childlike rejection of compromise and mediocrity: “I start to realize that the war on drugs is a war on beauty — a war on perfection, because everything is perfect on heroin”. Addiction is thus an attempt to give permanence to the “lightning crack of divinity” glimpsed at when shooting up. Epiphanies like these are better served by writing than by heroin; and this is the concealed theme of a novel ostensibly concerned with the day-to-day survival of an addict.

The opening sentence hits an almost comically low note: “The first time I met Susan she overdosed on a combination of Valium and Ecstasy at a friend’s birthday party at a Motel 6 on Hollywood Boulevard”. The two soon get married and live unhappily ever after until they relocate to Murder Mile in East London, where the narrator is saved in extremis by unconditional love. A late chapter, entitled “Adulthood”, closes in true coming-of-age fashion: “And I know now, I need to grow up”. This is indeed a Bildungsroman but it is also a Künstlerroman — a portrait of the artist as a young junkie. O’Neill never mentions his first novel, which he wrote while on the methadone programme described here, but its composition haunts the book like a character in search of an author.

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All the Latest

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On 5 November, as the first results of the American presidential election were about to come in, I took part — with Gerry Feehily — in a radio programme called Minuit/Dix on France Culture. We talked about the Offbeat literary movement. This is how the programme was presented:

“Animé par un esprit punk, la génération Offbeat est un mouvement littéraire né en réaction à la commercialisation du monde de l’édition aux Etats Unis et, surtout, en Grande-Bretagne. Gerry Feehily, romancier Offbeat vivant à Paris, et Andrew Gallix, auteur d’une anthologie d’écrivains Offbeat, évoqueront les enjeux de ce nouveau courant. De son côté, Christophe a longtemps écouté Etienne Daho pour nous parler aujourd’hui de sa biographie Une Histoire d’Etienne Daho (Flammarion). Un live, enfin, avec le retour d’Arnold Turboust.”

Listen here.

minuitdix

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Offbeat Generation

Jennifer Cuddy, “Offbeat With Andrew Gallix,” Literary Kicks 2 June 2008:

Offbeat With Andrew Gallix

A self conscious ‘movement’ calling itself ‘the Offbeat Generation’ has been emerging in the blogosphere. This generation got its name from Brit-lit Andrew Gallix, founder and editor of 3:AM Magazine, who has been described by underground writer, artist and activist Stewart Home as “the Breton of the post-punk generation, the Rimbaud of the Net, Beckett to my Joyce, and Trocchi to my Beckett.”

Home also says: “Leaving myself aside (although I don’t really see why I should), there aren’t many writers I’d rate higher than Gallix” And who wouldn’t agree? This is from Gallix’s ‘Forty Tiddly Winks’:

Others can just doze off as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Not Tim, though. He needed knocking out flat by dint of drinking himself into a stupor. Otherwise, he was condemned to toss and turn till dawn at the thought of Time’s winged chariot hurrying near: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang you’re dead.

Instinctively, Tim would tune into the hypnotic ticking of his wristwatch on the bedside table. Like a clock in a crocodile, it grew closer by the minute with the implacable inevitability of tragedy until the din became truly deafening. Now, he just knocks back another stiff one and waits for the effect to kick in. The clockodial starts melting, Dali-style. The ticking gradually fades into a tiny, tinny background backbeat. Soon it is drowned out by Pomme’s sonorous snoring. Forty tiddly winks.

Another major author in the Offbeat scene, and possibly the most revered, is Tony O’Neill. His debut novel Digging the Vein is an accurate portrait of the life of heroin addiction, with its superficial relationships and endless searches for drugs. This book supports the idea that ‘addicts tend to befriend other addicts’, and the constant activity of the protagonist reflects someone desperately attempting to avoid introspection.

Mathew Coleman is another “Offbeat Generation” player who predominately writes erotic fiction. Yet his erotic stories are emotionless, misogynist and often downright vulgar (though he may take this to be a compliment). His stories are more interesting when not alluding to sex, and he shows more depth in his ‘Rants, to Self’:

My greatest challenge in life is to try and let go, to pull off the many masks that I wear and to try and be who I am, to not be afraid anymore. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to conquer — the self.

Joseph Ridgwell, the only true ‘East Ender’ of the Offbeat bunch, writes engaging stories that are strikingly real and down to earth. His stories manage to be edgy without straining to be so. Ridgwell’s stories take you down the dark alleys of the underground, as only someone who has quite literally ‘lived first and wrote later’. You can find Ridgwell’s stories on his blog.

Ben Myers is my personal favorite of the Offbeats. His debut novel The Book of Fuck is a pleasure to read, uproariously funny, story-driven, and remarkably sensitive for a book with such a hard-core title:

I locked up and left the flat dressed for war: knee length overcoat, beanie hat, scarf wrapped around my head PLO-style, hooded top and a couple of jumpers. I had decided that I wasn’t going to allow a British winter to get me this year, I was going to hoist up the portcullis, pull up the drawbridge and close myself off to the world and its cruel elements. No chinks in the armour, it’s all about layers.

Myers is a pugilist poet, novelist, biographer, and frequent journalist for The Guardian’. You can view his writings on his blog, Ben Myers, Man of Letters.

The Offbeats often delve into the unpleasant experiences of the lower middle to lower classes; engaging their characters in ‘street smart’ behavior that supports their struggles to survive. The stories are mostly commonplace and unheroic, the fate of the characters the necessary result of the controlling force of society. Drugs, poverty, alcoholism, alienation, anger and nonconformity are recurrent themes.

I recently asked Andrew Gallix a few questions about the Offbeats, beginning with the definition of the generation.

Andrew: Offbeat writers are nonconcomformists who (at least in their work) feel alienated from mainstream publishing, which is increasingly dominated by marketing people, and often draw inspiration from non-literary material. In some ways, it’s a continuation of the post-punk Blank Generation writers. Some Offbeats also have an offbeat, experimental style, but that’s certainly not the case of all of us. It’s not a movement with a manifesto. All of the Offbeats write in very different styles. What brought us together was our hostility to mainstream publishing.

Jennifer: Is there a criteria for inclusion or exclusion?

Andrew: It’s not a club, so in theory anybody can be an Offbeat writer. There are no criteria as such. There are webzines out there made by people we don’t know who claim to be Offbeat publications, which is great because it means that the movement is growing. In fact, some people who were very dismissive, and even hostile, at first, are now blowing the trumpet for the Offbeats. The original Offbeats coalesced around 3:AM Magazine, and in particular the events we organised in London. We started 3:AM in 2000. By 2003, we started organizing readings and concerts: the future Offbeats started coming along, but didn’t know one another. By 2006 I became aware of the fact that all of these people needed to be brought together. The first thing we needed was a name so I started speaking of the ‘Offbeat generation’.

Jennifer: I have to wonder if it is not the writers who reject the mainstream, and alienate themselves from society through their writing, rather then being rejected and alienated by it. Should we compare this movement to the Naturalist/Realist movement? Why are these periods being repeated in modern literature?

Andrew: Well, I would partially disagree. Some Offbeats like Tony O’Neill are writing in a naturalist tradition, but others like HP Tinker, Tom McCarthy, Steven Hall, or dare I say me, certainly aren’t. The Offbeat scene covers many genres and styles.

Jennifer: Why do you feel that the marketing departments are dictating what is being published?

Andrew: Publishing houses used to support authors simply because they were good or interesting; that’s almost unheard of these days. More and more books are being published, but a lot of them aren’t worth publishing (one thinks of Ecclesiastes: “Of the making of books there is no end”!). More and more books are being published, but there’s less and less choice in book stores.

Jennifer: If there is a large market out there of writers who want to read ( and buy) more literary type books, then why are the marketing departments not seeing this as reflected in sales?

Andrew: I think they are, when they’re ready to take a risk. Tom McCarthy’s extraordinary success is a good illustration of this. The good writers are not being drowned out by the dross; there’s just more choice out there. If a band creates its own label and releases a record, everybody applauds their sense of enterprise; when a writer does the same, some people cry out “vanity publishing”! However, writing is not all about marketing and money. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

I do sense some contradictions in Gallix’s responses. He proclaims that there are less and less choices out there due to the increase in books being published that are basically just crap; and then he says good writers are not being driven out by the dross! With this in mind, I have to wonder why the Offbeats are “feeling alienated from mainstream publishing, which is increasingly dominated by marketing people, and often draw inspiration from non-literary material.” Are good writers being published, but no one is buying? Or are the Offbeats just not adhering to golden rule of thumb of book publishing: you have to write stories that people want to read, not just stories that you want to write?

Brit Lit of the Post-Punk Generation

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Slates (Huw Nessbitt) published an article — “Brit Lit of the Post-Punk Generation” — about the Offbeat Generation on 6 December 2007:

In the burgeoning underground of new British literary talent the ideals of the punk DIY ethic are rampant. Shunned by the major publishing houses that determine trends based upon their potential market viability, and in reaction to the stagnant state of the contemporary literary culture, the latest generation of writers are utilising a new arena to publish their work; the internet. What began on the blogosphere through websites like 3:AM Magazine, created by editor Andrew Gallix as a small effort to raise greater awareness of new writing in 2000, has transformed into a growing cultural phenomenon.

In a recent article on Offbeat writers (a group who have formed a key part of this new wave) in Dazed and Confused, Andrew Gallix suggested that the movement was going overground and that the prospective release of a new anthology of Offbeat poetry that he is editing was akin to the Sex Pistols 1976 gig at the 100 Club. But already such comparisons are increasingly becoming obsolete. Members of its ranks are beginning to gain currency in mainstream publishing and the movement itself continues to further diversify by setting up independent presses of its own both here and internationally.

If such recognition not only in Dazed and Confused but also in the pages of the Guardian and the Independent is to be taken as an indicator of its entry into the zeitgeist, then for many this period of its preliminary development is of lessening importance as it moves away from this and into a definably ‘post-punk’ era. Whatever the case, the achievement of so few in such a short space of time is a revolution in all but name, as the relative success of associated Offbeat writers group the Brutalists illustrates.

Formed in the heatwave of summer 2006 by Adelle Stripe, Tony O’Neill and Ben Myers under the butchered punk motif of ‘Here’s a computer. Here’s a spell check. Now write a novel.’ The trio of have gone on to make big waves from their diminutive roots as a literary collective with only a MySpace page to their name. Most recently Tony O’Neill, one time keys player for Kenickie and The Brian Jonestown Massacre and a former junkie, has signed his first major publishing deal with Harper Collins to co-write the memoirs of flunked NFL star Jason Peter, detailing the sportsman’s battle with drug addiction. Elsewhere O’Neill has toured his collections of poetry at high profile readings that have featured Yoko Ono in the audience amongst other notable guests.

Yet despite their rising notoriety the Brutalists, like other Offbeat writers as they are widely known, are continuing to publish their contributions via a network of indie publishing labels and websites that work closely to support each other. In the wake of 3:AM has sprung a number of affiliated websites, such as Ready Steady Book, The Beat, and most notably Scarecrow, co-edited by Lee Rourke, author of the short story collection Everyday, released by Social Disease, a privately funded publishing project of Offbeat supporter Heidi James. Created from similar frustrations as the writers that she publishes, Social Disease’s approach to the business is reminiscent of the independent houses of Olympia Books or Grove Press that gave luminaries including Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, James Joyce and William Burroughs a home at a time in the twentieth century when their works were either considered obscene or simply substandard.

With this in mind, and in terms of their techniques for disseminating their works, the Offbeats are nothing particularly unique in the history of literature. Writers and poets have distributed their work in the form of pamphlets, zines and small runs of publications for centuries, by everyone from the Romantics to the Beats. Indeed for that matter, the narrow-minded nature of publishers is nothing new either. In an industry that is driven by profit, much like any other, publishers occupy the paradoxical position of simultaneously dictating tastes and also being driven to respond to change in sales by altering these accordingly.

What is different, however, is the way in which these groups have aligned themselves in direct opposition to this practice as a defining principle of their raison d’être. Moreover, with their expanding influence in Europe through other guerrilla bodies in the form of Blatt Magazine (Berlin), Metronome Press (Paris), and the semi-fictitious worldwide arts organisation, the International Necronautical Society chaired by Offbeat associate Tom McCarthy, it would be difficult to imagine this situation retrogressing any time soon. In which case contingency plans need to be made for the future as, if the movement truly is going to go overground, then something needs to be done to protect them from being swallowed up into the mucky realms of its major publishing foes completely when success inevitably knocks at their door.