The world is a bizarre place and certainly not for the faint of heart. Sometimes reality can blindside you. In my latest installment of Imitating Order, I had a pretty rad chat with Kirk Jones, author of stories that force a reader to look at the world around them in a whole new and sometimes unsettling light.
Matt: What even is reality, anyways? This massive, semi-consensual hallucination. How do we translate, and filter it with our stories?
Kirk: If you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, reality has a virtually infinite propensity for cruelty. That’s not such a bad thing. Since there appears to be no growth without pain, and humans have a seemingly infinite capacity for growth (likely because we’re infinitely stupid as a species), we need an infinitely cruel reality to propel us forward.
As for translating reality and filtering it with stories, I think purveyors of mainstream fiction are more concerned with reality as a social construct: What is safe? What sells? As such, we don’t always get a robust sense of interpretations humans have about reality in mainstream fiction.
I think small-press and independent fiction draws a different kind of readership, one more receptive to alternative interpretations of reality. There’s less of a need to filter our interpretations of reality for marketability. That’s pretty liberating.
As for translation from one mind to another, that might be out of the question. We put things on paper hoping to forge connections with others, but we have no control over reception of our work. Look at Fight Club, a book that mocks and critiques masculinity as a dying measure of power in modern society. The cult following that grew around the movie completely missed the author’s underlying message and took it in the opposite direction. Any interaction on this planet is just a part of the eternal game of telephone that we all have a tenuous grasp on at best.
M: You’ve picked an interesting hill to plant your flag upon. What is it about the more surreal, more visceral strains of the Bizarre that appeals to you so much? How did you come to make it your vehicle?
Kirk: Comparatively speaking, the surreal and experimental is a less saturated area of fiction, or at least it struck me as so. I had to dig pretty damned hard back in the mid 90’s to find oddities. Vertigo and DC had some good material. Clive Barker was kicking around as well, but before the internet and before college I really had to scour the landscape to find material that piqued my interest. So I wanted to fill what I saw in my naivete as an empty space for folks in the future. Of course, once I found a place for my work, I found there was a lot more of the strange and bizarre out there than I had previously known. In finding a place to publish, I also found a wealth of reading material. The same thing happened with Atlatl and Grindhouse. There was a while where all I read was Atlatl books before writing Die Empty. I’m just a fan of the kind of material I write and I want to put more of it into the world.
M: It being such a, dare I say, niche category of fiction, where would you point someone in search of something deeply strange? What are a couple of books you consider required reading to truly understand where your stories are coming from?
K: Bizarro is a flavor that can easily be infused into any genre, and it comes in many forms. I think it is best to search for the strange yourself. That’s half the fun. But if you want recommendations for some of the subcategories associated with the strange, start with Eraserhead Press if you’re looking for Bizarro.
Go for Philip K. Dick if you’re looking for paranoid fiction. His work is a madman’s aggregate of everything real and imagined, and his last few books were so good at blurring the lines between those two variables.
Go for Bradley Sands’ Liquid Status if you’re looking for surrealism.
Go for Douglas Hackle’s Clown Tear Junkies if you’re looking for absurdism.
Once you get through those, you’ll have a better sense of where your preferences fall. Then you can start looking for more work in those areas.
M: Where do you fall on hope? Some would say the world around us is burning and there’s nothing to be hopeful about. Some would say we need it now more than ever.
K: I think the real problem right now is that there are a lot of “glass half empty” people out there who are afraid to hope because they are worried the worst of humanity will make them look naive.
Look, there are shitty people everywhere, and even the best of us have the propensity for evil. But I’d rather hope and be wrong than be a cynical dick who somehow revels in watching the world burn because I get to say, “told you so” to people who kept hanging on to the bitter end. Losing hope is giving up. Losing hope is a weakness, not a strength. Nihilism is passe. Shit matters now. If a tree frog can manage to sustain its survival drive amidst the chaos of the world, people damned well ought to be able to manage as well.
M: A hostile species of colossal, mountain-sized cosmic bacteria has descended upon the planet and is consuming everything. Thankfully, a more benevolent race has come down to rescue humanity and take them to a new world, but you only get to bring three things with you. What are they, and why?
K: If all of humanity gets to come along, then I’ll settle for possessions. I’d want one of my guitars, a laptop, and a good pair of running shoes.
M: I’m a big movie junkie, and love dreaming about adaptations of beloved books. What’s a story you dearly love that you think would make a killer movie? Anyone in mind for the director, or cast maybe?
K: I would like to see Lewis Klahr take a stab at a surrealism/Bizarro book. He does some really interesting collage work and you can find a few of his short films on YouTube. What I’d really like to see is a pairing of abstract film artists like Klahr direct short films based on the works of Bizarro authors.
Lewis Klahr doing something from Sands maybe; David Firth doing something from Carlton Mellick III; Brittney Payne doing something from Gina Rinalli; Blink Industries doing something from Kevin Donihe or Douglas Hackle; Shinya Tskukamoto playing around with Aetherchrist (because it would be stellar to have something of mine in there. Hey, it’s my fantasy, right?)
I’d love to see CV Hunt, Andersen Prunty, Danger Slater, Garrett Cook, and a plethora of other folks represented as well. There are so many folks who would contribute to a robust representation of the strange. It’d be hard to pick.
M: Here at the end I’d like to give you the opportunity to do two things: push something of yours, and something not yours. What’s something you’ve got going on you’d like folks to know about? And something else you’d like to get in front of people that you’re enamored with.
Kirk: Aetherchrist and Fuck Happiness are my latest books. Aetherchrist has a bit of that Philip K. Dick feel. The premise is that analog waves intended for broadcast were originally designed by the government to suppress psychic abilities, so when we convert to digital frequencies, the analog towers still run to keep the collective unconscious suppressed. But a few people have caught on. Their connection to others is stronger than the frequency intended to suppress it, so they try to take down some of the towers to restore humanity’s natural connection. Some other folks want to stop them, and the protagonist is kind of caught in the middle trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Fuck Happiness has a bit of surrealism mixed in with the bizarre. The world is descending into order—kind of a paradigm shift when compared to the normal “chaos overtakes the world” narrative—and the only thing that can tip the scales back to balance are a handful of people who remember the things they held dear when chaos still had a stronger presence in the world. The protagonist discovers that the key to the world’s salvation is his misery. So he becomes a sacrificial lamb via stagnation. It’s the ultimate hero fantasy in today’s world: do nothing to change everything. Become a hero by just being yourself. I was posting something on Facebook one day and just realized, “holy cow, I fancy myself a mover and shaker and I’m not even leaving my damned house. On some level I think myself a couch-bound Odysseus or some shit because I post about something socially relevant. What the hell is wrong with me?”
So I proceeded to sit on my ass for months and write a book so I could instead fancy myself a couch-bound Homer instead.
But in its infinite cruelty, the world bombards me daily with opportunities for humility. So the only time my delusions of grandeur get too large is when I’m too incapacitated to do anything about it anyway. Once my ass leaves the couch, I go back to being a modern day Charlie Brown, except I have more hair and a decent day job.
As for something I’m enamored with as of late, I’m really enjoying two folks. The first is Robert Anton Wilson, who can get a little out there, but he also has some great ideas. I like the fact that you have to sift through his thoughts to find the gold. Listening to him and learning from him becomes an experiment in and of itself. I’m also interested in the practices of Wim Hof lately. Again, I don’t buy into every facet of the philosophy that guides his practices, but I started doing full-body cold exposure therapy a few weeks ago and I really like it. I am taking baths at around 54 degrees Fahrenheit every few days. My heart rate drops 10-15 points after I take those baths and any inflammation I have relating to workout soreness or injuries is greatly reduced. It is also relaxing. I think everyone ought to check that out.