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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.

Petit Guignol

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Here is my story which appears in 3:AM London, New York, Paris edited by Andrew Stevens and published by Social Disease in February 2008.

Petit Guignol

I was feeling homesick for the event while it was happening
– Douglas Coupland, Generation X

Daintily, a faun-like figure stole across the cluttered room, pirouetting over the bottles and ashtrays that littered the splattered floorboards. She was the first to notice, having been awakened by a muffled squishy sound as of manifold foreskins peeled back in unison.
Fanny sat up and fumbled for her cigarettes which she dimly recalled leaving beside a dog-eared magazine. She pouted outrageously, mimicking Asia Argento on the glossy cover, but feeling (if truth be told) more like Ségolène Royal gone feral. Not that anyone could see her, nor she anyone. Except when she sparked up and caught a glimpse of the other partygoers who had crashed on the rugs. The expensive Persian rugs with their expansive mindfuck designs: it was all coming back now.

Frédéric Beigbeder in hot pursuit of a statuesque demi-mondaine modelling a lampshade hat. That fucking twat, with his sweater knotted around his neck, whose inanities were still audible above Naast. Astrid surrounded by livid creatures of indeterminate gender lapping up the dark glamour of a voluptuous breakaway Zutiste. Patrick Eudeline reclining on a Moroccan pouffe drinking champagne from a shiny boot of leather. An amazon (with a blonde beehive and the blank expression of a blow-up doll) fellating an oversize banana in some dark (dank?) corner. Gérard Genette doing the twist to Klaxons: rather tentatively at first, then letting rip. Some obscure artist (with an impressive pompadour and an unresolved mother fixation) showing off his collection of potato prints to a bemused Chloé Delaume. A boy who looked like a girl almost kissing a girl who looked like a boy before recoiling in sheer horror. Nick Kent, ashen-faced, claiming to have seen the ghost of Alain Pacadis. Astrid astride an up-and-coming neo-Post-Structuralist who kept neighing and bucking bronco-fashion. Jean-Luc Godard describing his new film project as Blake Edwards meets Russ Meyer. Florian Zeller in hot pursuit of a statuesque demi-mondaine modelling a lampshade hat…

…At some point, there had been a blackout. Matches were struck, candles were lit, she could remember that distinctly.
Probing eyes, disembodied, unblinking and bloodshot, trained on her, boring through. Bleeding gashes in the cloak of night.
Writhing couples, vertical, horizontal or higgledy-piggledy, their serpentine hips suddenly illuminated like quattrocento manuscripts. A torch flashed into the deepest recess.
Astrid, bent over a Formica table — Jackie O hairdo in disarray, retro ski pants concertinaed around her ankles — emitting unmistakably teutonic grunts while a rolly-polly Pataphysician with a twirly moustache bobbed up and down behind her in slo-mo.
Wall-to-wall hip young gunslingers, every one a baby Johnny Thunders.
Pointillist ponces in pointy shoes atomised under the strobe light: lithe, lank youths, all floppy fringes and flailing arms, moonstomping to Plastiscines like there was no tomorrow, although tomorrow was today.

Today was tomorrow when 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.
How could she ever forget what it was like?

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He had pounced out of nowhere and pinned her by the arms to the soft furnishings, his breath as fresh as a lungful of menthol, his greedy fingers foraging deep and she had put up a feeble show of resistance like a heroine in some cheap novel and the only time he ever smiled was when he slapped her and it only made her wetter still and she was confused because her mum was a feminist and Gülcher were on the stereo and she closed her eyes as soul surrendered to body and the world melted all around.

“You can only take so much beauty,” he said blowing a plume of smoke at the plaster putti on the ceiling, “before you hit the bottle”. Up close, he looked even more like Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. Same fragile strength. Same studied abandon. A panther in a tonic suit. A pugilist cherub after a few rounds.

Later on that night, Fanny pictured him whizzing by at the speed of light on his shiny Lambretta, pork-pie hat cockily at half-cock, skinny tie flailing the air, high on hormones, bent on being. He was just wind in her hair now. A dot in the distance, merging with the background, at one with the cosmos. Pure life force. …Just wind in her hair. …She closed her eyes, but the world did not melt like it had the first time.
How could she ever forget what it was like? What it was like would never be forgotten — of that she was sure — but what it was like was not what it was.

Yet her heart still pounded to yesterday’s pogobeat. Someone said: Nobody has ever been this young, whereupon Astrid and her fawning retinue had repaired to a dodgy sheesha bar near La Flèche d’Or. In the metro, they mingled with the vanguard of the rush hour. Overground, daylight competed with sodium. Several other revellers had woken up to the dinky farting sound of the faun darting around. As their eyes adjusted to the semi-obscurity, it transpired that he had been dipped, stark naked, in silver greasepaint. It also dawned on them that he was stealing everything his slender frame could carry. They all looked on, entranced, as if he were a cross between Vaslav Nijinsky and Arsène Lupin. A smattering of applause accompanied his final exit while tears rolled down Fanny’s eyes. In that instant, she sensed she had lost something she had never found.

Andrew Gallix is editor of 3:AM Magazine, created the first literary weblog and launched the Offbeat Generation movement.

Introduction to Everyday

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Here is my introduction to Lee Rourke‘s short story collection, Everyday (Social Disease, 2007, pp. 9-13). I wrote it in October 2007 and the book was published in December:

Unlike his characters (1), Lee Rourke doesn’t go unnoticed. The first time we met was in the toilet at Filthy Macnasty’s where he’d cornered me during a gig organised by 3:AM Magazine back in April 2005. Oblivious to the funny looks people were giving us, he waxed lyrical about the literary insurrection we had kick-started five years earlier and were celebrating that night. Somewhere in the background, Shane MacGowan was emptying his bladder to the strains of the Monochrome Set. It was there — in what Joe Orton called the last stronghold of male privilege — that I realised a new scene (the Offbeats) had emerged. And Lee was slap-bang in the middle of it. I already knew of him as the editor of Scarecrow who banged the drum for “the unheard, the unconventional, the eccentric, the revolutionary and the radical”. I was soon to discover his short stories — as you are now. Brace yourselves.

What can you expect? Well, it all depends whether you squint or not, of course. If you do: 1) David Brent dry-humping Franz Kafka over the zerox machine, 2) an episode of Nathan Barley penned by Herman Melville and shot by Mike Leigh, 3) The Rakes fronted by Julian Maclaren-Ross with Patrick Hamilton on bass, Ann Quinn on drums and Maurice Blanchot on kazoo. If you don’t: pigeons, pints of bitterness, work, Islington, gratuitous violence, boredom, Hackney twits, psychogeography, pigeons, Hoxton twats, anonymous crushes on public transport, class war, urban alienation, media whores, pigeons, happy slapping, sexual frustration, City yuppies, the threat of terrorism, immigrants from Eastern Europe, boredom, work, binge drinking, pigeons, pigeons and more pigeons…

Lee Rourke certainly has his finger on London’s tachycardiac pulse, but it is the universal he zeroes in on with obvious relish. In one story, William Blake’s sober gravestone suddenly rears into view (“Gravestones”). Baudelaire’s captured albatross — a symbol of the impotence of the artist — reappears here in the shape of one of those big advertising placards modern slaves hold up for a living on busy street corners (“The Only Living Boy on Oxford Street”). The tale of the swan that is killed for kicks by a couple of mindless thugs has all the gravitas and pathos of a Greekish deicide. The pole dancer whose rotting flesh decomposes with every new gyration echoes Webster’s skull beneath the skin (“Night Shift”)…

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Alongside the ubiquitous pigeons, the emblem of this collection is surely the photocopying machine. This is why the figure of Sisyphus looms so large, from the hypnotic sway of a woman’s rump in “Cruel Work” to the Groundhog Day pattern (2) of “Footfalls”. After being knocked over by a runaway bus, a man is condemned to circle round Soho looking in vain for the young woman who had come to his rescue (“Searching For Amy”). Taking his cue from Dante via Eliot, Rourke describes the vicious Circle Line as a noughties version of the nine circles of Hell all rolled into one. The office drones (a keyword) who inhabit these stories are the direct descendants of the living dead crossing London Bridge in The Waste Land (minus Eliot’s class snobbery). In the author’s words, Everyday expresses “the realisation that we are fragmenting, falling, and that it is never ending: just repeating” (3). Rourke is fascinated by the straw that breaks the camel’s back — the moment when his Bartlebys start running amok or falling apart. As in Michael Andrews’ famous painting, people keep falling over, giving in to gravity, endlessly reenacting their postlapsarian condition (4). After dropping like flies, they squirm on their backs, Kafkaesque insects, while indifferent passersby pass them by. Again and again and again. And when they finally get up, they jump back on the conveyor belt. “I’m not what you could describe ‘as going places’,” says the eponymous narrator of “John Barleycorn” reflecting on the treadmill of his life. These characterless characters are always on the go, but theirs is the restlessness of the undead. They are going nowhere fast.

Some of the stories collected here hardly qualify as stories at all. They are vignettes, or “fragments” to use Rourke’s preferred term — fragments of a bigger picture that doesn’t end (5). There is no whole in Everyday, just a gaping hole in a pair of black tights, a book of blank pages and an all-pervasive Heideggerian boredom. A gaping whole, but no grand narrative. Lee Rourke “documents the little alleyways and back streets,” which brings us back to the toilet at Filthy MacNasty’s where it all began.
Begin!

(1) Rourke is fond of aptronyms (Sheila Hole, Elaine Lowbottom or the bibulous John Barleycorn), some of which advertise the characters’ very banality: “Hack” or “Guy”, for instance, are ideal names for everyday Everymen. And then, of course, there’s “Anon”.

(2) Or should that be Wernham Hogg?

(3) “Purposely Resisting All That: An Interview With Lee Rourke” by Susan Tomaselli, Dogmatika, October 2007.

(4) Here, we are very close to the failed transcendence that lies at the heart of Tom McCarthy’s works (which Rourke has described as “blueprints” for his own).

(5) Originally, the sentence “They are vignettes, or ‘fragments’ to use Rourke’s preferred term — fragments of a bigger picture that doesn’t end” read: “They are vignettes, or ‘fragments’ to use Rourke’s preferred term — fragments of a bigger picture that doesn’t exist”.

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Lee Rourke’s book was reviewed in Time Out (London) on 4 February 2008. John O’Connell devoted a paragraph to my “overexcited” intro (which, by the way, wasn’t written “straightfacedly”). Here is the relevant extract:

“At their best they’re [Lee Rourke’s stories] a delight, but at times their faux-naive simplicity (‘It was two o’clock in the afternoon…’) feels slapdash, as if Rourke were more interested in establishing himself in a specific cultural pantheon than in crafting work that truly moves and endures.

An overexcited introduction by 3:AM Magazine editor Andrew Gallix underscores this, likening one tale, apparently straightfacedly, to ‘an episode of ‘Nathan Barley’ penned by Herman Melville and shot by Mike Leigh’ (a formulation which does the past-its-sell-by-date Hoxton satire of ‘Tale of an Idiot’ no favours) and another, intriguingly, to ‘The Rakes fronted by Julian Maclaren-Ross with Patrick Hamilton on bass, Ann Quin on drums and Maurice Blanchot on kazoo’. But the stories shouldn’t need this buttressing of explained context. As it is, they expend so much energy gesturing beyond themselves rather than simply being that they seem to aspire to some other status entirely — art prank, perhaps”.