An Interview by Josh Cook at Bookslut, 2012
Why does the rise of digital technology have to result in the death of print technology?
Because Mr. Ford ate the last working horse, thus making room for the racing horse. Technologically, the horse is a skeuomorph, but symbolically its power is increased tenfold by its selectively bred descendent. What we call "book" now will also likely be a magical thing that was once common. The symbolic book of the future will be a deluxe object related only slightly to its current Random House ancestor. Current print technology is dying as a mass-tool and will be reborn as art. Art is the last stage of capitalism.
Can we hold on to the sensuality of page turning and digitize the world's books?
If you're a twentieth-century-born reader, odds are that books are your best furniture, either as a library, a room divider, or a straightener of crooked things. If you can stay home, have the luxury of time, and are reading your English class homework under adult supervision, the sensuality of turning the pages is your consolation. But if you're a grownup, you now have some mighty forces aligned against that setup: books are heavy, and you're never alone. An electronic butler is with you always. Reading on public transportation is a good defense against the mob, but the pleasure is marred by the sea of judgment about your reading matter -- everyone who sees the cover pigeonholes you, a real buzz kill. In your car, the complexity is increased: you cannot read a print book unless you are a cult follower of Ed Dorn's essay "Reading and Driving." Barring that, you will nonetheless experience an ongoing battle between good and evil: an invisible e-reader going at it in the womb of your car titillates you with the hands-free choice between fast food and literature. You can mix it up between porn and the classics by asking Alexa, a sensual experience more intense than turning pages, albeit briefer. If you like your reading dirty with just a touch of "literature" to justify your college debt, like a sprinkling of truffle on a cheeseburger, you can only have it electronically. If there are enough stoplights, that is, and it's a light day on .doc, Facebook, Twitter, and spouse on Skype. Time is speeding up, and there is less of it, so you might want to hold the truffle.
But if you do enjoy the aesthetic of the paper book, you have a vast back list at your fingertips (i.e., search engines), and you will also be catered to by makers of book-art, objects that serve simultaneously as things to read and things to wear (or display). If you enjoy book-art, you will need to obtain leisure by any means possible ("Poetry Requires Unemployment," André Breton, or "Independent Wealth," Andrei Codrescu). Architects are already using the millions of hardback remainders from vanished commercial houses as bricks to build houses that "read" to their residents, and there is at least one car manufacturer making a car from books that doesn't just read out loud as you drive, but moves also like pages sensually turning. As you lie there being exercised by your womb gym.
In other words, yes, of course, the sensuality of turning pages will be available, but at a much higher price, like organically grown coffee. The paper book will be a boutique product, far from the products of today's publishing giants that are collapsing as we speak. The noise that you hear is actually the sound of editors-in-chief being sucked down the Amazon-dot-vacuum. So, the short answer is: yes. All books will be digitized, and all print books will be available either as print-on-demand from your computer or as art from your local snob-shop owner. The only problem is the one that freaked me out in Bibliodeath: all writing, print, digital, archived, anything recorded anywhere, will not only be with us, but it will occupy every space available, including our bodies, which will function as storage units. The real problem is that nothing really dies; it just piles up in every media and fills the world with endless copies. Our consciousness is bound to go nova at some point from the weight of endless repetition.
It struck me that some of the rhetoric of the fascism you experienced, such as a lack of educational attainment proving one's purity, or the anti-Semitic association of Jews with city living, is similar to the anti-intellectual rhetoric of contemporary conservatism; you can't be a "real American" if you're too educated or your city is too big. Are these similarities meaningful, or are they the result of my efforts to find a personal connection with what I'm reading? How do you tell the difference?
There is no comparison at all. The rhetoric of commie national-fascism in my native Romania was backed up by the secret police. It meant nothing to anyone, except that any dissent was punished, and anything (not just violation of the rhetoric) could be interpreted as dissent if a cockroach in the state apparatus chose to interpret it that way. The individual was both powerless and silenced. The American brand of anti-urban, anti-immigration, anti-college sentiment is a populist strain that runs throughout American history: it's Jefferson versus Madison. Ruralism versus urbanism, self-sufficiency versus government planning, these are rhetorical tropes trotted out by politicians at every election. No secret police enforces either of them: they are the warp and woof of our national fabric. There is no telling what a third party committed to the rural rhetoric might do if it ever got into power, but at this point it's just how we roll.
Footnotes usually prioritize. The ideas footnoted are less important than those in the body of the work. What happens to that organization when a footnote fills entire pages, replacing the body on those pages?
In Bibliodeath, I used footnotes to write a parallel book, related to the main text, but standing on its own. The footnotes here are irruptions of the unconscious (or whatever it is that interrupts you when you're talking). Most writers choose to ignore that voice (it often contradicts the just-typed assertion), but I decided to let it surface. The result is that whenever the voice wants the podium, my sentence makes room for it, so there is often a footnote appearing mid-sentence like a lava upflow.
The result, methinks, is a topography: the text gets texture. Less typography, more topography. My use of footnotes in this way started with the book Whatever Gets You Through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments, and it was suggested by the fact that The 1,001 Nights have been so often translated, each version deserves its own book, a fact that mirrors in an odd way the frame-story of the Nights. This use of footnotes to make books-within-books like Russian egg dolls is different from Nabokov's use of the novel-length footnote in Pale Fire to explain a poem, or David Foster Wallace's sinking into self-canceling analytical essays, though they are all related as a fictional technique. I've been working on a new form that incorporates memoir, exegesis, poetry, and philosophy, since The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess. The three books that followed employ this combo and can be read, I hope, pleasurably, without any overt tricks of perspective.
Is there a difference between the archives we make through writing, Tweeting, posting on Facebook, and the archives we generate with the information we leave in our wake from our genes to our credit card purchases? Will these two personal archives converge as information-gathering technology becomes more advanced and more omnipresent? Do the systems of power value one archive higher?
That's a grape cluster of questions, Josh. Let's see if we can break them down a little. To your first big question, as to the difference between our so-called private social traces and the products we consume as a result of being commercially read, I'll say that there is no difference. I'm fine with your opinion that our social ejaculations exhibit genetic markers (one can't help but be who one is when one speaks or writes), but your archive of communication with your intimates differs only infinitesimally from the reading of product peddlers. The infinitesimal difference is the illusion (or delusion) of the autonomy of your sentiments. One imagines that within the imaginary circle drawn by notions of privacy, autonomy, and genetically-tinged desire, one individual speaks specifically to another. In the faith-based production of this archive, it is possible to ignore that anyone else is listening, and that this particular listener is a corporation or a robot. But the net effect of creating a personal archive is to broadcast desire that will or will not be accepted by particular individuals, but will always be accepted by the collective or corporation. The archive of desire always has an attentive listener called The Consumer Index. (Our true and faithful lover.) The Consumer Index values archives equally, it cares only for the specifics of what the message broadcaster requires. The merger, if there ever was one, occurred with the advent of language; the ability to convey desire symbolically was collective property from the start.
Excepting those physically stained with actual bodily fluids and residues, are there any works of literature impossible to digitize or particularly resistant to digitizing? If a writer wanted to resist digital archiving are there stylistic techniques to do so?
Everything can be digitized, including your jizz on page twenty-three of Spinoza's Ethics. In fact, that jizz might help clone a whole Spinoza. There are only technical difficulties. Why would a writer resist digitization? A person who did that would not be a writer. Herm would be a silent monastic. Anyone who writes will be digitized, and there is no great drama in this. The mystery I chase in Bibliodeath is that of communication, in whatever media. Who or what is it we are talking or writing to or for, and where and when and why or why not?
You've written and read in several languages in your life, sometimes translating your own work from one to the other. You've also written poetry, fiction, memoir, and have recently worked in a critico-fictive or fictional-critical voice, and those voices and styles could be considered foreign languages. Do all of these languages unify in the brain? If so, what does that sound and feel like? If not, does this mean you experience a kind of controlled multiple personality disorder, or is there a better metaphor for the experience of language and voice in your mind?
There is no "foreign" language. Before going to school I spoke German, Hungarian, and Romanian, but I didn't know that they were separate languages. They were just how I talked to my friend Peter, who spoke Mitteldeutsch, like my nanny Ilse; to Istvan, who spoke the way I did with my grandmother; and to Ion, who spoke how most of our neighbors did. In school, I learned that I conducted these friendships in different languages. That never took. I didn't believe it then, I don't believe it now.
Everyone can speak every language, and it's only lack of practice and opportunity that creates inflexible monolinguism. I agree with Roman Jakobson that all languages derive from an ur-language, and that the ur-language is hardwired in the brain and can be activated to go live into any of its branches (any language or linguistic family) whenever called upon. When my writing works well you can hear the hum of that ur-language in every sentence. If you use, in addition, the mysterious tool called The Language Crystal, you have extraordinary powers. I'm not going to describe this tool in any way here, but it's in the book.
Is there a difference between words in your head, words archived on paper, and words digitally archived? Is there something inherent in the "word," that is preserved no matter the storage or transmission technology?
Yes. The words in your head cannot be archived by any known means. It's possible that the akashic records have that ability, but I don't know. The sign has to manifest to be reproduced.
You talk about writing as a method of reaching hyperlucidity. What can you see from this state?
Everything I missed before.
Is there a universal style or genre you, and maybe all writers, strive for?
One of the main characters in Bibliodeath is your first writer's notebook that you lost. What would you do if you found it?
I'd burn it.
Del Sol Review, 2009
The Genetics of Poetry: An Interview with Andrei Codrescu
This interview took place at the University of Central Arkansas between poet Andrei Codrescu and the students in Professor Mark Spitzer's poetry workshop. The student interviewers are listed below:
Alan Strain: What do you think is the least important thing we could talk about?
Andrei: Writing. It's everywhere, our world is very text based. It is used to describe every aspect of our lives, even our DNA is text-based. We live in a sea of text. So it's both too complicated and too plain to discuss.
Ben Davis: I'm interested to know what poets you read as a student. Who did you read regularly?
Andrei: I think the reason I edit a literary magazine and the reason we read literary magazines is to find new people to read. I could list authors to you right now, but most of the people I first read were not in English, and most of them haven’t been translated, though some have been translated badly two and three and four times. I'd say that by the age of nineteen a poet should have about twenty-five writers they read regularly, and be able to recite them forwards and backwards. In their sleep.
Melissa Conley: What is the strangest thing you've ever gotten inspiration from in your poetry?
Andrei: Mmm, boy. I'm not sure what you mean by strange. I mean, this is strange, what we're doing now. Bizarre, in fact. Having lived a number of years on the planet, I've experienced an awful lot of strange things, some of which inspired me directly and some which I've forgotten and inspired me indirectly. I don't worry about forgetting things, because if somebody is also there they will remember. So you can trust your existence to the memory of others if they happen to be around. I think I've inspired a number of works because we were in a strange situation. I will have to think about the word "strange."
Andrei: I've never known any genuine hermaphrodites. I saw a gravestone in Italy... and the gravestone said in the Etruscan language—which actually is unknown but they were able to read this patch—it said... "Father, priest, and hermaphrodite." One of the more mysterious inscriptions of all time. I want to know how you do all those things. But anyways, yeah.
Katie Matthew: I was reading an interview you did with 3am. I think it was pretty old, but I was reading it last night when I was trying to come up with questions for today, and there was a little bit of vulgarity and a lot of sexual references, and I've found that a lot in poetry more recently, and I'm finding it in my poetry. I wonder why we're doing that now.
Andrei: You think that my vulgarity is migrating into yours? That interview was done at 3:00 am in a bar in New Orleans with the very beautiful Utahna Faith, who is a poet herself, and I'm sure there's plenty in there that I don't remember having said at the time and then it showed up on the Internet and so now I'm haunted forever. But, to answer your question, I think that people often write the language that they speak. They speak a language that is made more vivid by the occasional so-called vulgarity. The health of a written language is usually in those things that are not written for a long time. When you write down things you say but haven't written they suddenly acquire a kind of power.
Tara Walls: Do you feel like you write poems for yourself or do you feel like you write poems to appease other people?
Andrei: I write poems to appease the gods because they are angry about what we are doing to nature and the planet, so I am trying to make them happier so that we can get things right.
Emily Hansen: I've read quite a few of your Internet interviews.
Andrei: I'm sorry.
Emily: No, they're interesting, but in one you talk about how many more submissions you get for the Exquisite Corpse since it's gone online. What do you think the ease of online publication is doing to poetry? Is it good for American poetry or is it hurting it?
Andrei: Well, I think it's done a lot of good for those new poets, but when you sit down and write it out and send it away, you don't have as much time to read it. There could be three or four meanings you didn't see when you wrote it, so in that way, it may be bad. But like any new medium, we have to wait and see what the Internet will do for poetry.
Stephanie Darnell: How do you develop place for your poetry and how do you make it vivid for your readers?
Andrei: I think place develops your poem rather than the other way around. I don't think you necessarily need to put in the most vivid aspects of the place you live in. New Orleans is a very vivid city. As my friend Tom Robins says, "too damn vivid." It's very easy to put in all the things that people know about New Orleans like Mardi Gras and music and all this stuff—all the imagery that is associated with the city—so you don't want to do that. You want to cut that out. Let the place speak to you in other ways, that are not touristic, or too well known.
New Orleans is a very hard city to write in for that reason and it's difficult to make a film there. And all the movies you see that have New Orleans in them… they either go overboard and use too much of the character of the city because it's so photogenic, it's so interesting. Or they try to stay away from it and be more severe and not use it at all. So in a way, the place will speak through you and you don’t have to worry about describing the climate and the hills and all that.
Timothy Snediker: I wonder how much living in a place of culture informs and affects your poetry. Because culture is everywhere, but here in Conway, it's not as culturally rich a place as New Orleans. So I didn't know how that would affect the way you write.
Andrei: I like old cities because they're comforting. Because everywhere you sit, someone else sat before, and then died. Like in a restaurant. So the air is thick with ghosts, with presence. And so that is culture. You get this transmission that happens in mysterious ways.
Madeline Philips: How did you end up in New Orleans?
Andrei: I went there on Mardi Gras to visit a friend in 1983. He said "Come on over. There will be about 100 people staying here. This is the floor, and the whole city is friends of mine. And I have to go now." And I didn't see him for the next three days. I thought "This is a terrific city, where people let you stay at their place and not worry about you. You can be gone for three days." That was the beginning.
Then I went there for a job at LSU in Baton Rouge, but I couldn't quite live in Baton Rouge because it seemed awfully sterile, and New Orleans was just so much more alive, so I commuted.
Toni Odom: What is your most commonly asked question as a touring poet/writer?
Andrei: Are you single? Can you come to my house for a drink? Can you publish my poetry? Can you give me some money? Do you like me? Am I great?
Landon Glover: Do you like me?
Andrei: Yes, I like you, Landon.
Landon: What do you think about rules when it comes to writing poetry? Are there any rules? Or are there rules but they're made to be broken?
Andrei: There are only rules. The majority you make up yourself as you go along. Others are made up for you. For instance, if you are writing on an 8½ by 11 sheet you can't go over that, because if you do you'd be writing on the desk. The same thing goes about the computer because the word program will limit you to certain things even if you turn off spell check, which I hope you do—for poetry. Actually, it is grammar check which is a true horror. I know the guy who wrote that and I've given him hell on a number of occasions. His name is David Weise and he works for Microsoft. Don't tell anybody.
But there are rules, and it's fun to make up rules yourself. I mean, it's fun to set out to do a work and say: This work will have exactly fourteen lines like a sonnet. But it won't be a sonnet, or it will have twenty-two lines, or it will have a new kind of form. Like ten people I would like to meet. That kind of form, you know? Or the ten best-dressed people in my class, and you write their names. Those are your rules, you can make up forms. It's an ingenious art if you play with the idea of rules as yours to play with.
Meg Houston: I was interested in talking about avant-garde. Do you feel that your avant-garde spirit—which is evident in your poetry—was harbored in your youth as a Romanian revolutionary poet? That is to say, do you feel an impulse to break boundaries?
Andrei: We'll start with the last part. Yes, I do feel an impulse to break boundaries, but I think that goes for every writer. Every time I see the word "avant-garde" I want to write "TM" next to it. It's historical now. It used to be a military term meaning that you were ahead of everybody else. It kept that sense in the twentieth century for a long time because writers and artists had a lot of social constraints and political constraints to work against. That certainly held true for places like Romania, the Soviet Union, and the Communist world where we were censored heavily, so for me to be sixteen years old, I felt like I was going to get into trouble imminently with my poetry. It was a very heavy feeling. It felt terrific. I knew that actually writing something could land me in jail, which was such a marvelous thought! I could actually write something and get arrested for it—it was just tremendous. You can too. What we had to do was write a metaphor which could be interpreted differently—avant-garde.
I discovered poets between the wars: the Romanians, Europeans, Americans who pushed the language much further than it had been, because all through the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries language fell into all sorts of ruts. In the twentieth century writers and artists all of a sudden felt like they had an obligation to renew language and break through. Really, you can trace the term "avant-garde" to 1909 in the Futurist manifesto published by F.T Marinetti in Italy, which was then followed by a whole lot of movements: Dada, Surrealism, Synchronism, Sound poetry, abstract art, etc, etc. So you can't help but be part of the avant-garde tradition.
Meg: Do you think it's in all poets then?
Andrei: Yes, any poet who reads. They better read anyway. But yeah, the work is changing, so what you make of it now is truly interesting. We live in a synergy time of different kinds of ideas and forces, and recently environmental ideas which have always had a place in writing but now suddenly we are meshing our practical concerns with writing in an environmentally conscious way. There is still a lot of work to do. But that's what it means to be avant-garde—to break boundaries.
Meagan Jones: What message do you want readers to get from your works?
Andrei: Oh, that is easy. I want my readers to become happy after reading my poems. I think there is too much unhappiness in this world and we need to be happier. We also need to have courage. I had a teacher who taught me courage when I came here. I want my readers to smile, be happy, and have some courage after they get done reading some of my poems.
Angie Noggle: Do you find that your poetry is different here in America?
Andrei: Oh sure. I was only nineteen when I left Romania and only spoke Romanian. In Romania we speak in very literal terms. When I came to America I went to the New York School of Poetry, where they taught me how to look at things like toasters. Where I was from in Romania we were poor and didn't have the material things we do here in America.
Anthony Natalie: You speak both Romanian and English. Which do you prefer to write in?
Andrei: I actually speak more than that. My first language is German. I lived in a city with a mix of people. I would speak German, Russian, Hungarian, and I wouldn't realize it. I just believed those were the ways you talked to different people. I never knew they were different languages until I started school, which actually made it more difficult to speak, because my brain would tell itself "You don't know this." For instance, once I was talking to this Japanese man and I was speaking Japanese until my brain said "Hey, you can't speak Japanese" and I froze.
I believe language is split into two categories: gibberish, which I speak quite well, and the language of the gods, who make up everything. You, me, everything is language. Language is code and code is text, and we are text-based down to our DNA. With variations of the same four letters. We are puppeteers to language and language is God.
At that point, the sky became kaleidoscopic, the air took on the texture of wool, and even sound began to moo. The imagination/s that may have created the experience above might've gone into overtime, or maybe they just smelled like rain. No one knows. Not the Mayor, not the Priest, not even Hello Kitty, descending in a bathysphere.
And an interview below in Romanian where matters are broached with a different cadence and appetite