the mad heiress interview:
mh: what compels you to write?
bw: it’s just a habit, really. i went to duke young writer’s camp when i was a kid and got turned onto the idea of journal writing. it is sort of like a habit; you get into this thing where you feel compelled to write these things down as some sort of record of your existence. you could say it’s a certain type of vanity, but also a feeling that you could contribute to human society in some way through this writing. i’ve just been doing it so long, i feel compelled to do it. i feel like with my current writing i’ve finally reached the point where i’ve given up trying to write something that’s in any way to satisfy some exterior market and as something i’m writing just to be something that satisfies myself. i guess it took me a long time to get there, but i’m happy that i finally got to this point.
mh: what insights would you like the reader to come away with after reading the secret theater?
bw: i think, ultimately, what i’m trying to express is that corporate culture is identical to avant-garde culture and that avant-garde culture and corporate culture both represent a hyper-specialized form of communication that accepts constant change and also restricts human meaning to the physical body, the physical form. it’s, in many ways i think, a very radical thing to say because most people who are avant-garde…in my essay there’s a writer who says, “there’s nothing outside the corporation.” and he makes the point that the avant-garde artists of today actually seek corporate funding and that’s how they fund most of their projects. he’s written other articles where he sort of says that when avant-garde is highly successful, it’s also not very creative in a sense that successful avant-garde culture becomes very static, and you have this sort of fixed type of avant-garde that can become successful and can get funded and is performed and is socially accepted, whereas, when avant-garde culture is in a very creative phase, it puts out lots of really bad work that no one likes and people don’t accept. his point is that that conflict is where their creativity comes from.
i think ultimately i’d just like people to accept the fact that they exist in society and if your society engages in waterboarding or torture, whatever you want to call it, then it’s foolish to try to deny it. for example, these corporations, the corporations that i think in many ways dominate our society, they would never condone torture, they would never admit to condoning torture, but really this sort of avant-garde thinking and this corporate thinking, i find them to be the sort of two ends of the spectrum come together and are the same. they’re identical to me and they both condone torture. artaud wanted to stop people from committing war and committing acts of aggression with his art. he wanted to get rid of the text and you can see that he was trying to get rid of the rules of society. in a sense, i’m sort of echoing artaud's notion that really it’s the rules of society that creates this sort of murder and war and torture. i think people would like to deny that and i think you have to accept it. i don’t know if there’s a way to accept it, because it’s something that i have difficulty accepting. i can’t say that i completely accept it. it’s hard to wrap your mind around the notion of torture, war, murder, as part of your society, but it is.
[for another take on this idea, you could do a lot worse than to hear the great american band x share their thoughts. go here. contains footage from el salvador and nazi germany that you might find disturbing.]
mh: i think we live in an age where a lot of citizens want their elected officials to engage in those acts on behalf of their domestic safety.
bw: i firmly believe that self-defense is a human right. i think self-defense is a natural right. people feel threatened and when they feel threatened they want to use violence to protect themselves. but we live in such a complex society that it’s no longer the case of your neighbor coming at you with a rock in his hand. it’s more the case of these complex systems that result in this sort of asymmetric warfare that we’re caught up in. so people feel threatened and they use words and they say things to defend themselves, which i think is human. it’s part of human nature, so i can’t necessarily fault people for that. i mean, we’re caught in a complex system that’s created some conflicting ideologies and there are extremists who would like to murder and kill and do all kinds of terrible things. people are afraid of that and i don’t blame them. i’m not sure i could assign blame to any particular person about certain things that happen in society.
mh: what kinds of insights would you like folks to have after reading the atrocity is the message?
bw: i think, ultimately, that is about the fact that we all have to live…i don’t think there’s any escape from terrorism. i think terrorism is just a result of the modern system that we’re in. in the same way that human nature, the freedom to be human, to assert your individuality, is ultimately defined as the freedom to commit violence, which is difficult to accept and is unpleasant in many ways. but we live in a system that’s organized by states, where states are granted the power to commit violence. we kind of organize ourselves around that and the side effect of that is that there will be people who, for various reasons, you might agree with or you might not agree with.
the american colonists certainly organized themselves, and could have been called traitors or terrorists, in their own way, but i personally would agree with much of what they did. then again, i don’t want to relativize it and try to minimize the criminal acts that people commit. i’m not trying to “side with the terrorists” or the people who are opposed to the united states or its political system, but at the same time, i think in a certain sense, we have to accept the fact that we live in a modern system of state and, the way this communication system is developed, you’re going to have people who feel that they have to commit acts of violence in order to communicate their political intent. and i think that’s inevitable, there’s no escape from that. i guess a certain attempt to grapple just with the practical reality, the realist position that we have to accept that this is our reality and that’s just the way it is. i personally think we have to defend ourselves. again, i think self-defense is a human right.
mh: what makes for an interesting protagonist and antagonist?
bw: it’s like in animal house, that scene where donald sutherland says, “who’s the most interesting character in milton's paradise lost?” obviously the devil is the most interesting character. part of the thing that’s interesting about him is that everybody knows about the devil, but nobody knows who the devil is. you can’t ever see the devil, you can’t ever describe the devil. and i think that’s in a way, that’s what makes him interesting. he’s like the most famous person in the world, but no one would recognize him. if he were sitting next to you, you wouldn’t even know it.
as protagonists go, the most interesting ones are human and imperfect. that’s always the point for me. i lost interest, for example, as science fiction, where characters become powerful, they gain a sort of god-like powers as they progress through the story and that, for me, is when i lose interest in the character and he ceases to become interesting. there’s no fear involved and i guess i liked the fact that you could be fearful for a character. you can think, well this protagonist could die, this protagonist could fail in whatever their goal is. they might not succeed or they might fail, and that, because i think we all live with that every day, this sort of feeling of being this imperfect human who has certain ideas and goals that we want to achieve, but we can’t always be sure that we’re going to achieve them, and we don’t know what the future holds. so, i guess you could say that my protagonist is sort of the every-man. anyone could be an interesting protagonist, as far as i’m concerned.
mh: it seems like that the hero's journey that joseph campbell described or popularized, is kind of a limiting way to structure stories. take for example star wars, which is fucking tedious to sit through in terms of story arc. you could set your watch to the predictability of its plot points.
bw: yeah, i think you’re right. well, it speaks to a certain…it’s just like music: there are certain tricks you can use that people like, that appeal to people and i think the joseph campbell story is something that has a lot of mass appeal to it. i mean, it’s a story that resonates deeply with people because we want to find something that sort of allows us to transcend the ordinary, the mundane. that allows us to transcend our imperfection. so, i think that’s one of the reasons we like stories like that they are exciting. i’m a fan of those types of stories. i mean, you’d be insane to think that you could be a fan of science fiction or fantasy and not be a fan of the heroic arc. but at the same time, i guess, being a modern person who’s not completely satisfied with modernity, it’s hard to accept that story arc; that it’s a kind of propaganda and there’s always a feeling that it doesn’t resemble your own life completely. but on the other hand, maybe that’s a way of uplifting yourself in a certain sense, to sort of view your life, if it’s a self-help way of viewing life, which i have some conflicts with that as well.
mh: do you think you’d write if you were a satisfied person?
bw: oh, definitely not, i don’t think i would. which is unfortunate i guess, because i would love to be satisfied. i would love to be, i guess you could say, successful. it would be nice to have some books published, movies made from my books, and have a steady paycheck based on just writing, but art, i think, is always an attempt to communicate, and communication, i think, is always due to some irritation in the system. so each person is their own sort of psychic system, and i think a perfectly satisfied psychic system would probably not communicate at all or communicate only to the extent of maintaining the status quo of their existence. and art hardly, i think, maintains that. i think it has to be some sort of irritation, or some sort of problem, that you’re confronting real problem or imaginary problem. it’s all about what your perception is of your reality is. so [laughs] i don’t think i’d write if i were perfectly satisfied.
mh: does having children change your approach to writing and your subject matter?
bw: well, yes it has. and i think it’s made me more mercenary about what i’m going to work on because i’ve realized that i have very limited time. i mean, that’s the thing with having kids is you realize you only have so much time in a day, and so much of it is devoted to your family, that if you have some time at the end of the day, when you get to write, you don’t want to write for anybody else, you want to write for yourself.
i spent a lot of years trying to find a kind of commercial way of writing. i worked on a techno-thriller. i worked on my own commercially imagined version of avant-garde writing. that was the first kind of writing i did, back when i thought of being “being successful” as an avant-garde writer. now i kind of can reconcile to the fact that i like science fiction, i like fantasy, i like some things that are popular, some forms that are popular. but then i’m like, well i have this certain aesthetic that i like and i’m just going to write it and i’m not going to waste my time.
mh: you’re writing a child-friendly cthulhu story. tell me how you made cthulhu kid-friendly.
bw: well, i can tell you that, actually, because i adapted the cthulhu screen-play that you and i wrote. i started telling my daughter stories, based on bud romak and the professor, who are two characters from that screen-play. she’s six and basically i just turned it into an adventure story. i made it sort of a strange adventure: they went to a strange underground city under the ocean, where there were strange sculptures and glowing lights. i made it fantastic and mysterious and i removed violence. so instead of this terrifying horror story, i made into a story of sort of fantastic adventure.
mh: so, you have a one-use time machine that takes you there and back, where would you go and why?
bw: maybe i would just go back and talk to h.p. lovecraft. i probably would talk to him because i would want to ask him questions about his…racism, i guess. which i know is strange, but he’s a favorite writer of mine and he has this sort of cloud hanging over him because of his racism. i’m thinking, and i would want to go back and ask him about it and talk to him about it to kind of humanize it or make it seem less…abhorrent to people who might read his work and maybe want to dismiss him because of that. that seems strange. that just occurred to me, i’d like that. it would be nice to talk to him and just ask him, like about some of the sources for where his ideas came from and how he wrote; why he wrote. it would be interesting to find that out, too.
mh: what fictitious universe or mythology would you like to inhabit?
bw: maybe the lord of the rings. that was like the first alternate world that i really encountered in my life when i was a child and i read the hobbit. i guess, in a way, you’re always looking for a way to go back to that first wondrous moment in your childhood and that, for me, was probably it.
mh: tell us about toys+ bad boy drexel ratch, and who would be best to play him, other than drexel ratch.
bw: [laughs] well, obviously tom sizemore would play drexel ratch. probably.
mh: the tom sizemore of 2001?
bw: tom sizemore of 2001…wait, is that before or after he cracked up on drugs? tom sizemore exists in my imagination in many ways. for some reason i fixated on him. actually i wanted tom sizemore to play bud romak.
mh: what is drexel ratch representative of?
bw: drexel ratch is the ultimate media-whore. a totally mercenary media-whore who will do anything to further his career. there’s no level to which he won’t stoop. but at the same time, he’s sort of this adored figure in the media. no matter how low he goes, in terms of the roles he’s willing to take, he somehow remains untouchable.
mh: he’s a corporate-sanctioned bad-boy.
bw: yes, that’s a good way of putting it. i think you’re right. i mean, yeah, he expresses alternative ideas in ways that are palatable to the mainstream.
mh: while still towing the company line, still fattening their purse?
bw: well, the thing is, the philosopher niklas luhmann said that society can contradict itself, so ratch contradicts society. society upholds certain ideals as good, but drexel ratch would kind of say, “no, to hell with society.” but he’s part of society, saying that, and society wants to have this sort of anti-social creature that gets to run amok and it’s this voyeuristic fascination people have.
mh: at what point do you go too far and have to drink the hemlock? what differentiates someone like drexel ratch from someone like socrates? i mean, obviously that’s a funny comparison…but how far do you go until you basically have to be put down, in terms of being a gadfly, an irritant to the system?
bw: well, that’s tough to answer. it’s funny you say that because, you know, i went to law school and it seems ironic to me that the socratic method is what is touted as this method of teaching in law school, where you ask questions of the person until they can’t answer anymore. yet, it’s one of the greatest trials in history, and socrates, his answer…it’s funny because, socrates, says he’s this gadfly, right? but ultimately, when he is sentenced to death, his followers come to him and they say, “you should leave. you can flee to exile.” but socrates refuses this and i think it was almost accepted. in a way, it was customary, if you were sentenced to death in this fashion in greek society, you could flee, you could be exiled, in a way, if you wanted to escape death, but socrates says, “no, look, society sentenced me to death, and i have a duty as a member of society to accept this.” i guess the thing is, it can change, depending on what the social system views as its goal. so, in a sense, you can be destroyed by society, depending on its whim, which you cannot necessarily know in advance. you can’t know always the end result of your communication. drexel ratch could maybe even be destroyed if he happened to go in a certain direction that society found unpalatable.
mh: how do you see your contributions to madheiress fitting into its, vibe, aesthetic, or however you want to think of it?
bw: i’d like to think that i helped establish a kind of aesthetic, in terms of the stories that are on there, because that’s what i contributed to the most. and toys+, which i guess goes back to your earlier question about what sort of mythology, shared mythology, this world that i’ve been working on and the toys+ corporation that’s kind of developing these really advanced tools to shape human consciousness. that idea is sort of a parody in the sense that i feel like i got from you, because you like to have those sort of real quick one-liners, almost. i think i contributed to that, the text that’s on there and the mythology of it in it's kind of dystopian, yet also… i want to say humorous, because i do see it in a humorous way… i think there’s a sense of humor there that is valuable and important; an important part of it. and actually, it’s funny, in a lot of ways i get too serious with some of my things and it’s nice to have a kind of art site that doesn’t take itself too seriously, you know? i think that’s important.
mh: do you think a company like google has the potential to become a toys+?
bw: [laughs] yes. yes, i think it’s hard to say. i think it’ll be a contest between google and twitter [laughs]. yeah, definitely.