June 27, 2009KR BlogKR

Deserted Forums and Crowded Minds

What new has the internet allowed literature?

No one’s written the great hypertext novel; a blue moon sees an internet-to-print hopover; the synthetic voice only sometimes makes art art. Well: it will take a new James Wood or Randall Jarrell–a new critical synthesist with a decade’s reading and history–to see where the eddies and the quickest literary currents exist online. In the meantime, we have Van Choojitarom.

Choojitarom uses the blog, and its omnivorous, genre-nimble, digressive environment, for creating literature. I’ve read writers as lightfooted as he is, and I’ve read fiction created online, but I’ve never met them at once; especially not in a writer so generative, intellectually generous, and truly strange. (Reader, tell us if you have!) So. In the first half of my interview with him, we discussed his relocation (four blogs in four years; links below), his self-sense of genre, and the role of fiction. Here, we discuss comics, publication, and Buddhism (he now lives in Thailand, keeping a bloggier [that is, more memoiry] blog and studying to ordain as a monk). Read on!

Did you enjoy comic artist Maria Sputnik’s illustration of your “Great Darkness National Park”?

I loved it. I would never, ever have asked or suggested to anyone to adapt it: it belongs to Maria Sputnik’s particular genius to adapt to a comic a text whose subject is total inscrutable darkness.

[One panel:]

My whole ambition in life was to get a cartoon into The New Yorker: my plan was to sneak in by becoming an important literary figure first (the James Thurber Plan). Now my hands have become atrophied and useless from typing and I can no longer draw.

Great Local Places to Drink

Do you imagine having any or all of your work published as a book someday? Is there any of it you feel can only really live on the internet (i.e. it’d lose something in book form)?

I am a really old person. I fantasize about having a book in print so I can walk around with it all day long, “accidentally” dropping it at caf??s and checkout counters and underlining it in public libraries. Or better yet, people could just buy the book and pretend to read the stories, because I’ll give my books cute titles like 101 Erotic Chess Stories and Van’s Little Book of Highly Inappropriate Christmas Stories; I’d even be happy to provide people with readymade chatter about my facile and superficial work: “it’s just a clever pastiche, the only thing really honest about it is, he’s a perv”; “It’s like The Great Gatsby written by H.P. Lovecraft”; “It’s The Turn of the Screw, only with werewolves.”

The internet offers what writers have always dreamed of: instant publication without having to deal with an editor or a publisher. Like every significant wish of mankind, the result is a total nightmare.

The Turkey Within
The Complete Encouraging Voice of the Labyrinth

Is there any relationship, mutual excitement or mutual in/destruction, between the study of Buddhism and your writing?

The thing I like about Buddhism is that it is, in its essence, a undogmatic humanist philosophy. It’s a practice, a psychology and therapy for the human condition, a way of living, just as Classical Philosophy was. I was trained as a philosopher, so I don’t even believe in skepticism; I’m not sure what the word “spiritual” means. Buddhism is pragmatic and doesn’t ask me to believe anything.

I live under a funny kind of curse in that everything I like to joke about in my writing tends to come back at me, only for real. A lot of my stories are parodies of “enlightenment”; one of the reasons Mr. Dance-Dance Roboto is so well loved is that his breakdancing is a quest for enlightenment.

This was all before I had studied or thought about Buddhism at all. I never thought I would find myself meditating for two hours a day in a monastery and agreeing with Mr. Dance-Dance Roboto: everything does seek enlightenment.

By “enlightenment” I don’t mean anything unfamiliar. “Enlightenment” broadly conceived is what people are interested in other than surviving or gratifying an appetite. Even gluttony, taken to its logical conclusion, becomes philosophical. “Enlightenment” is just an unclear way of referring to the symbolic or meaningful aspect that most humans eventually try and confront, usually by giving away their freedom as quickly as possible to love, drugs, sex, self-pity, fame or money. It’s not unrelated to Nietzsche’s notion of “the will to power”; self-overcoming is the point of all life, otherwise life would have perished.

So Buddhism is the secret punchline that is written in all my stories, but only in the sense that it’s written in every story and this is the sort of irony I have come to believe the Buddha is smirking about.

“Great Darkness National Park” is exceptional in that it was inspired by the experience of meditating.

Lincoln Hunters
To My Hosts

Where do your pieces begin?

Most of what I write begins with a phrase or an idea which I write down. Then I usually have no idea what it says later, or what the instruction “kill all the important and interesting characters” was supposed to suggest. If, by chance, some idea actually survives this process, its shelf life varies between 48 hours to a year or until I have another one.

Despite this–nature’s way of sparing readers more erotic chess stories–I seem to have a lot of ideas. This is why I started writing 100-word stories: so I could remember why I wanted to kill all the important and interesting characters.

A lot of my ideas, I must admit, simply come from B movies. I used to sit up all night with my old roommate Tom who would make me watch horrible movies. I would stumble home, but before going to bed I would write how I thought the story should have gone and stick in his mailbox. Usually this involved Mighty Joe Young visiting Roderick Usher.

Those are nobler prompts for me writing a story: drinking beer and watching old horror movies. The other main reason I wrote was trying to get laid. There is an entire class of stories I wrote entitled “Stories I Wrote to Girls Who Never Wrote Back.” Now these were never inappropriate or offensive stories (I sent them to people in a friendly way on an online dating site). Just completely inappropriate for the person I was sending them to.

If Wittgenstein and Kant got into a bar fight, who would win? Or is this question absurd?

This question admits of a serious, sustained, informed, scholarly and unequivocal answer, because the answer is, of course, Wittgenstein.

In one corner you have Kant, for whom space and time are transcendentally ideal and who is easily tangled up in his own categorical imperative of whether or not the particular axiom to bust open a bottle and make little Vienna Circles in his opponent’s abdomen. In the other you have Ludwig Wittgenstein, for whom explanations come to an end somewhere (Philosophical Investigations, Part 1, ?1), a veteran of the First World War who had shown considerable physical courage and who once famously threatened Karl Popper with a poker. The question presumes that a bar fight is already underway; the result is incontrovertible as there is nothing to prevent Wittgenstein from doing to Kant what so many commentators have already done: render him unrecognizable.

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This concludes my conversation with Van Choojitarom. Who else does work like this? What does the internet do to genre or form? You can visit Van’s blogs (story collections? doodle napkins? deserted forums?) here, here, here and here. Join the conversation about literary blogwriting, and good night!