Rob Doyle interviewed by Susan Tomaselli.
Rob Doyle is an Irish-born short story writer and essayist. His novel, Here Are the Young Men (Lilliput Press), is a visceral coming of age story depicting the darker side of Dublin. It is incendiary stuff, steeped in the literary nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis and Michel Houellebecq, the boredom of JG Ballard. Heads turned by images of violence on television news, and in computer games, Matthew, Rez, Kearney and Cocker set out to expose ‘our nation’s corrupted soul to the ravages of the moral plague that has assailed us, and to our collective horror and incomprehension in the face of it,’ by staging their ‘own 9-11.’ Susan Tomaselli met Rob Doyle in the bustling Library Bar. The conversation ran for one hour with the recorder on, then continued for a few hours more, ending in an exhibition of Wally Cassidy’s street photography in Temple Bar. [PDF]
1.1 Welcome to Colony, co-edited by Rob Doyle.
1.2 Rob has a short story, ‘On Nietzsche,’ in the current Dublin Review.
1.3 Rob has been interviewed by tn2 magazine.
1.4 Rob offers ‘bad writing’ advice to The Stinging Fly: “As an artist of any kind, all you really have are your obsessions, fascinations and perversions, and the way to artistic self-definition is to be trenchantly faithful to them. All the rest is dreary obligation: in other words, community service.”
2. S.J. Fowler’s Fjender project exhibits Morten Søndergaard’s Wordpharmacy (Broken Dimanche Press). More on the Fjender project here.
2.2 Steven comperes an evening of poetry from The Quietus and Blue Pavillion writers, 18 March 2014, 30 Broadway Market, London.
3.1 Darran Anderson’s chapbook, A Hubristic Flea has been published by Blue Pavillion press.
3.2 Darran was on the BBC NI’s Arts Show talking about poetry and the resurrection of The Honest Ulsterman.
3.3 Darran on the Gustave Doré exhibition, Master of Imagination, at the Musée D’Orsay.
6. Desmond Hogan has an essay on Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis in the current issue of the London Library Magazine.
7. gorse interviewee Adam Thirlwell is in conversation with Stuart Hammond and Joe Dunthorne, as part of Visual Editions’ Literary Explosions, Ace Hotel Shoreditch, London, Wednesday 2nd April at 7.00pm.
8. David Winters reviews Lydia Davis’ The End of the Story in the Quarterly Conversation.
Thoughts on Michel Houellebecq by Rob Doyle.
Let us be clear: Michel Houellebecq wants to bring you down. If you are happy in your life, he wants to spoil it. Not out of particularly noble motivations: his agenda is propelled by spite, hostility, resentment. He is a nihilist — not in the pure, passive sense (if that were the case, we would never have heard from him) but actively, virulently. He is engaged with the world to the extent that he wants to undermine it. He is not on the side of ‘good’ or of improvement, or of humanity. He is wretched and he wants to infect you — and all the West — with his misery. Because he happens to possess a genius for literary seduction and an authentically harrowing vision, there is every danger that he will succeed. This, to my mind, is what makes him the most fascinating of living novelists.
Objectively speaking, Michel Houellebecq probably should not be read. (I say that as an enthralled reader of everything he has ever published.) In a more robust, self-assured civilisation, Houellebecq and his ideas would be firmly suppressed, or he would simply be ignored by an indifferent public. Houellebecq knows this; the fact that he exists is part of his indictment. His success is his accusation.
Houellebecq drains all the cheer out of life, because cheer requires illusion, ignorance and hypocrisy — all of which are healthy traits in any virile psychic economy, as Nietzsche understood. Again, Houellebecq knows this, having read his Nietzsche. But Houellebecq refuses us our vital errors, driven as he is by (more or less conscious) malice and resentment. In a sense, I wish I had never read him; though of course this is not really true — I read him raptly, and he inflicted exactly the kind of wound I was longing for.
After Nietzsche had first read Schopenhauer, his friends said he was no longer the man he had once been, so enervated was he by his predecessor’s overwhelming pessimism. It took Nietzsche many years to claw his way back, to overcome Schopenhauer and posit new, anti-Schopenhauerian values. It would take a formidable force of will to overcome Houellebecq, once you have allowed him to whisper his insinuations in your ear. It may even be that, if you do have ears for Houellebecq, then you are already beyond help.
How modernism is ancient by Darran Anderson.
‘On or about December 1910,’ Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, ‘human character changed.’ Homo modernus had emerged, like some rough but eloquent beast, in the depths of an English winter. Woolf’s perspective of the birth of modernism was subjective of course and the date has been continually disputed. In his recent study, Constellation of Genius, Kevin Jackson selected as late as 1922 as ‘Modernism Year One.’ For many, T.S. Eliot included, the industrialised threshing of an entire generation of European youths by their parents in the Great War of 1914 to 1918 fragmented the old order and created something different, either as a presence or an absence. This was supported by the appearance of dada in the wartime refuge of Zurich; being a wilfully deranged but, to paraphrase R.D. Laing, rational reaction to an insane world. Yet there were identifiable modernists before this – Apollinaire, Marinetti, Jarry – to say nothing of the forerunners of modernism: Nietzsche, Ibsen, Jean-Pierre Brisset, Conrad, Strindberg, Lautréamont, Rimbaud. What becomes clear the further back you go, is this process does not effectively come to a standstill. There is no absolute point of beginning. As a way of looking at the world and recreating it, modernism, meta-modernism, postmodernism and deconstructionism have always been with us, long before we gave them such ludicrous names.
The timing of modernism is important because of the vacuum it’s perceived to have left when it dissipated (a likewise disputed period between the World Wars). With commendable intentions, the more adventurous writers today bemoan the fall of the movement and the retreat of much of the literary community into pseudo-Victorian ways of approaching the novel. They discuss its loss with a hint of grief and the desire that it will come again, resurrected to save the day, like millenarian peasants awaiting the Messiah or Jacobites the Young Pretender. Who will save us from ourselves? A more compelling view is that modernism was not entirely obliterated in a collective loss of nerve but survived abroad, in isolated pockets, underground, or flourished in science fiction and comic books. Yet when you begin to list the writers who have reputedly kept the spirit of modernism alive, you find their number is colossal, making up the more critically acclaimed sections of contemporary literature. Indeed, the loss of confidence is not restricted to mainstream novelists. The admirable question posed by Gabriel Josipovici – What Ever Happened to Modernism? – has been answered not by polemics but by fiction. It is still there when we search for it.
Modernism didn’t disappear because it never definitively appeared. It has been part of our character since at least the earliest identifiable story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the trail only runs cold there because the archaeology of the written word does. It’s not a question of colonising the past and extending modernism back through the centuries. Rather, it is to merely detect what’s already there when we look back.