INTERVIEW WITH AUGUST HIGHLAND VIA RHIZOME (FEB 9, 2003)
BY ANDREW SHELLEY
(Andrew Shelley is an Oxford and Cambridge-educated poet, writer, essayist and literary critic. He is the author of two poetry collections: "The Requiem Tree" and "Peaceworks".)
I like the kind of tricks your work is always playing with the literary establishment and with our expectations derived from it and elsewhere, but do you intend your work be taken as anything other than that?
No. Absolutely not. I never play tricks in the sense of hoaxes or games. The tactics i am using are motivated by a very serious commitment to the western literary tradition. My work questions the literary status quo and the expectations of readers because this is what a writer is obligated to do, otherwise he is in the wrong profession.
AS: You have said elsewhere that the implementation of technology aided you in the attainment of your literary voice. How?
AH: This is a very easy question to answer. The answer is very closely tied to what i stated in response to your first question. Another inherent responsibility that a writer must accept is allowing himself to be a vehicle or a voice of the generation in which he is producing his literary work. Otherwise he is creating in a vacuum and his work has no validity for society and makes no contribution to the historical timeline of civilization. We are living in what i call a "technoculture" or "hyper-literary age" or a "digital media generation".
AS: Do you disown all the writing you produced prior to your technology-aided work? Was it more traditional? Would you be willing to let us see some of that work?
AH: I do not disown any writing that i produced prior to my creating "hyper-literary fiction" and to my founding the "worldwide literati mobilization network". My earlier work was more traditional in the sense that i did not utilize digital tools in the production of my text. I would not show anyone this work because it has no pertinence to anything other than being an important stage in my development as a writer.
AS: The "worldwide literati mobilization network" is a simulated literary movement and all the members of the wlmn are your multiple personas. Do you still then want us to see and read your work as "yours" and as issuing from a "voice". Don't those terms issue from the whole mythology of the "autocratic" author and his presiding consciousness you wish to reject?
AH: I do not want the reader to read the work by the members of the wlmn as issuing from me. I reject the whole autocratic mythology. I reject the centralized role of the author. I reject these belief systems or mythologies. The members of the wlmn are not me. Not mine. Each member of the wlmn however IS an autocratic writer. I have rejected the myth. They haven't.
AS: How is a reader to locate himself/herself in your work? What points of reference can you provide?
AH: Just as with the wlmn i have de-centralized the author/authority/authoritarian position of the man/woman behind the writing, the wlmn writers extract from their work as many points of reference that they can without allowing the work to disintegrate. They provide just enough points of reference for the reader to be able to provide his/her own reference points. The writing is consolidated enough for the reader to follow but it is also tenuous enough to allow the reader to infuse the work with his/her own metaphors. The effect of hyper-literary fiction allows the reader to be immersed in the text and at the same time to invest the text with his/her own reality.
AS: What led you to reject the notion of the author as a unified presiding consciousness? Can't we be diverse but unified? One in many and many in one?
AH: My fundamental belief about the human psyche is that the individual is a very small part of a vastly greater whole. The worldwide literati mobilization network is a reflection of this. I believe in the jungian and the archetypal psychology notions that there is a collective unconscious comprised of a multitude of archetypes or discrete transpersonal selves that form the foundation of human consciousness. I also believe in the jungian concept of "complexes" which are a group of selves that are correlated with the archetypes. The distinction between the two is that the archetypal selves are transpersonal or common to all human beings and the complexes are a group of selves unique to each individual. The archetypes are innate. The complexes circumstantial. That is to say that the complexes are formed within our psyche in response to each of our unique set of life experiences. This is what led me to renounce the notion of the author as a unified autocratic consciousness. The second part of your question was: "Can't we be diverse but unified?". Yes we certainly are diverse AND unified. One in many AND many in one. That is exactly the principle concept behind the worldwide literati mobilization network. The members of the wlmn are the "many". But the members of the wlmn, the "many" are not me. I am not the "one". I am just as much a part of the "one" as each of the members are. The "one" is the collective unconscious interacting with the personal unconscious, or the archetypes interacting with complexes. The only role i play in all of this is that i am the person in which all of these psychic forces are dramatically being played out. I am more like the announcer at a soccer match. That's really my role as the author. The players on the field are the archetypes and complexes.
AS: I want to discuss the issue of the relation between randomly generated text and how you modify it? To what extent and how exactly, according to what criteria, do you modify randomly generated text?
AH: There exists a misconception of hyper-literary fiction as being randomly generated or "programmatic" text. It is not. The contribution of the software and programming scripts that i utilize in the production of my work is actually very minimal. At one time, a couple of decades ago or even longer than that, the issue of programmatic versus non-programmatic literary work was a valid subject of discourse and debate. When writers began to use programming aids at the advent of the technological age they were adopting an aesthetic position that was a radical departure from the literary forms that were practiced at that time. Today this is no longer a viable issue. Technological tools form an everyday part of our lives now. They have become "self-extensions". The demarcation between people and technology is no longer an earthquake fault in the landscape of our culture. It is now just a line in the sand. The digital tools i use to assist me in the production of my work are no different than the mallet and chisel of a sculptor carving marble.
AS: How seriously are we to take your work? Isn't it more interesting for the theoretical implications it raises than anything else? Aren't you going to interest academics to the exclusion of other forms of readers? Isn't this more exclusionary than the "autocratic author" ideology?
AH: My audiences are both academia and readers. Hyper-literary fiction has dual-significance. An editor-in-chief of an academic journal or a professor of modern literature or new media will read my work for the conceptual significance and readers will read hyper-literary fiction for the same reason they would want to read any other new literary work that is adding to the spectrum of literary forms and delivering content that engages them. I am a reader and I like to read work that tells me i am an "important" reader and an "intelligent" reader and a "creative" reader and a "self-sufficient" reader. I don't want to hear what is in the author's mind because i really don't care what they think and i really don't care what they have to say. I want the author to be interested in what is in MY mind. This is what i want an author to do for me. I want him/her to collaborate with me and to invite me to contribute to his/her work. I created hyper-literary fiction to meet my own needs as a reader. Since the work by the members of the worldwide literati mobilization network are not me, i cannot be accused of making arrogant assertions by disclosing this. The second part of your question was: Isn't this more exclusionary than the "autocratic author" ideology? I earnestly dismiss this as being part of the motivation behind my work. As i was just saying my work "invites" the reader to project into my work his/her mental landscape or psychological terrain or creative imagery and associations. My work (and also my work as an editor of a literary journal) is founded upon the tenet of inclusion.
AS: Do you think traditional writing can effect the kind of destabilization and derangement you speak of in one of your introductions? If so, why not try to do it that way? Has it ever been done before? Does that matter? Do you want us to look for precedents to your work - Burroughs comes to mind - and how far do you wish to be seen as continuing that trend?
AH: Yes, traditional writing absolutely can achieve the same kind of effect as hyper-literary fiction. In fact nearly all of the writers (over 400 in the winter 2003 issue) in the literary journal of which i am the editor and which is called the "muse apprentice guild" are using traditional means to achieve the same end that i am concerned with achieving. In response to the second part of your question, i do write poetry from a traditional approach almost daily. As for the last part of your question concerning precedents. I do not wish to be seen as continuing the trend of writers like William S. Burroughs. This is because he is classified as an iconoclast and a subversive writer and an eccentric and heroine junkie, etc. We live in a different world now. There is no place in the literary profession for junkies and eccentric narcissists and cult figures and careerists and people with psychological disorders who are not attending to their condition by taking the appropriate medication or for any other type of romanticized self-destructive individuals. The world we live in today is a pro-humanity pro-earth world. So no, i don't want to be associated with anyone who is considered an extremist or a subversive. The only modern writer i can think of whom i consider to have contributed to my development as a writer would be Samuel Beckett, but only the early novels by him and not his dramatic work. I am not making a value statement about his plays. I simply have always read novels.
AS: What do you think of work that is similar to yours but produced entirely by human agency, by writers disabling the "transparent sense-making" part of writing?
AH: I read it with a passion. I publish it with a passion.