24.1.06

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...Interview with Zack Wentz

Get your freak on with Zack Wentz—writer, musician, artist, and straight up one of the good folks riding around on this planet. Chiasmus is proud to put out his novel The Garbageman and the Prostitute, with artwork by K8 Wince. Check out their exploits and grooviness at www.killmetomorrow.com.

Best,
Chiasmus Staff

Click here for Chiasmus Press home.


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LY: In some ways when I read your novel I feel a zeitgeist asserting itself--one that contemporary culture pretty much doesn't want to admit exists, what with glitzy television reality shows and news programs turned glitz machines and just the overall bogus nature of current events (the show, the serial, the ratings driven schlock-o-rama). Do you think you are "speaking" a certain truth of any sort for a certain kind of individual or group living in so-called America today? Do you move from what might be called a "blind spot" from the point of view of mainstream culture, or do you identify with the tradition of a "counter culture?" Can there even be a counter culture circa 2006 America?

ZW: I wonder if any culture, as a whole, can collectively admit� anything at this point in time. As far as our own culture goes (American?) I don’t know if we’ve come even close. We haven’t been forced into the position where we’ve had to yet. I think a Zeitgeist is always in the process of asserting itself, addressing what came before it. The spirit of a time is always most apparent after the fact and we can call it tagged and bagged. When it’s more of a ghost than an animating principle. I was in Germany recently and it was interesting to see how people my own age and younger lived under an awareness of their history they seem to have collectively taken on, but are just past the point of apologizing for. Their Nazi history is something they live in and grew up with that most of the world simply regards as a kind of convenient shorthand for evil without putting much more thought into it. America hasn’t had to deal with that, but I think we will. When you lose, your closet gets opened. Nothing lasts forever. The American empire has nothing on the Romans, and we’ll eventually fall as well. I’m not giddy or excited about this, but just reading the writing on the walls and trying to be prepared. The most frightening thing is the powers that be� seem intent on taking out the rest of the world with them if that has to happen. We won’t pass the baton, won’t let anybody else have a turn at being king-of-the-hill. It’s human to make mistakes. Horrible mistakes. It’s the humans who make these mistakes and don’t learn from them you should be afraid of. Collectively America still seems made up of the latter kind of humans at this point in time. From a global� perspective I think we provide more negative contrast than a model to live up to. It’s a shame, but it’s our shame.

Sorry for trailing so far off there. Backing off that rant, I think I am speaking a certain truth, or set of them, but as far as this book goes it may well be limited to speaking of myself and the persona(s) I’ve imposed on certain ideas. I really don’t know, really didn’t know, if this book would have anything to say to or for anyone. One always hopes for the “there but for the grace of God go I�” effect, but it’s mostly after the fact. It’s just something I needed, and wanted, to do. I’m glad it’s done.

I’ve identified with a counter culture so far as I’ve fed myself off some things certain people across time have created that made sense to me, but maybe didn’t seem to resonate with the majority. I still do, to some extent. My interests and tastes have grown so eclectic and vast over the last decade, however, I really don’t identify with any particular culture or aspect of it. Or maybe I identify with aspects of so many cultures it’s a moot point. I suppose that isn’t so unusual. I felt drawn toward some vague idea of a counter culture when I was much younger, but never found it. I grew up in a very small town and somehow stumbled into certain relatively obscure things (it used to be much more difficult) that jibed with my impressions and attitudes toward what was going on and they helped me to survive. Of course they caused me a lot of problems too. They helped me to despise my environment on what I, at the time, considered a much more sophisticated level than I thought the average� person was capable of. I feel like I can identify with most things I encounter now. This is not to say I enjoy or like everything I come into contact with. It just all makes a bit of sense.

So I suppose in regards to most things I have always pretty much been flying blind. I think operating from a blind spot is the most any person can honestly hope to do. If I am part of a tradition, I must be so deeply entrenched in it that I don’t notice. But, like I said, most of that kind of business seems to be determined only by looking backward.

Can there be a counter culture now? It depends on what your definition of counter culture is. Most of the things I considered "counter culture" while growing up have been co-opted to such a degree I wonder if there is any meaning left to be wrung out of them, but there always seem to be new things. I believe it is impossible for there not to be new things. Any culture at any point has its counter implicit in it. Everything carries the seed of its own origin and undoing. You wake up in a diaper (or a suit). You see a thread sticking out. You pick at the thread . . . Eventually you’ll end up naked.

LY: The language of your text is orgasmically heteroglossic...all kinds of voices and rhythms and themes crashing into one another without apology. My experience of listening to your music carries with it an even more extreme version of that criss-crossing of forms, themes, and styles...What do you think the links are between your writing and your music?

ZW: It’s one of those musicians writing a book and another one of them illustrating it. I’m trying to do the same kind of thing, I suppose. Or maybe I’m just doing the only things I know how to do so far in another medium. I’m only trying to do what I think is necessary and maybe enjoy myself in the process when I’m lucky.

LY: Why does a musician want or need to write a novel?

ZW: I don’t know. I actually wrote (and read) long before I made my own music. This isn’t the first book-length work I’ve attempted. I’ve written far more stories and poems and plays etc. than I’ve written songs. Songs are just much easier to get out there and much easier to move people with. More visible,� strangely enough. You could look at it the other way. Why does a writer play music? Many of them seem to. Paint or draw or take photographs, make movies, clothing, tend gardens . . . Hell, why does a writer even write a novel? Sometimes I’m surprised
anyone actually does anymore. I guess I just need to do both, trying to blur the lines between the crafts/activities without completely destroying what I consider their essential elements. Maybe the fact that a lot of non-literary specialists (music fans) will read this book encouraged me more to get it out there. That drive wasn’t there as much when it was just a private hobby. If a certain number of people are genuinely interested in the music I make, perhaps they’ll be interested in the other side of what I do. Like you said, the writing isn’t really that
different from the music.

LY: The interplay between text and image in your novel is breathtaking from my point of view. K8's images are raw and gritty and profound if you look at them by themselves. Your text is equally unnerving. Together--at least for me--they deconstruct or break apart violently the "tradition" of the novel, because they ask a reader to confront a kind of base truth which makes them uncomfortable physically, emotionally, intellectually. Some of my favorite writers of all time took us to a similar edge—George Bataille, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Burroughs, Acker, lots more. Do you think the novel (and story) NEEDS the images, or it wouldn't carry as much weight? What relationship do YOU think the images have to the text?

ZW: Thank you very much. I think K8 is one of the greatest visual artists working right now. I grew up drawing and painting, still do a bit, but when K8 took them up I pretty much threw in the towel. She emerged and developed completely untouched by any sort of desire to be an artist (one of the biggest problems with art in this country, or the world for that matter, in my opinion). I saw this happen. Her stuff is genuinely hers and I see few artists who ever get to that point. It’s terribly difficult, especially with a visual medium in a society that emphasizes the appearance of things above all else. Not to mention a society that emphasizes the necessity of identifying yourself with an occupation from the second you’re old enough to respond to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Anyhoo, initially we thought it was going to be a much shorter one-off kind of thing with the book, maybe a hand-made chapbook, but it got bigger. I have trouble not going overboard on any project I get involved with. I don’t know if the novel in general needs to go in that direction, but it’s the way this particular one went. I don’t want to go too far into how these images relate to the text because they carry a lot of clues, and form a clue altogether, as to what’s happening in the book from a sort of exploded mystery-plot angle, and I don’t want to ruin that any more than I just did.

It is uncomfortable. Unfamiliar on the surface. I do think too many of our entertainments are focused on making us comfortable and obviously didn’t want to pander to that. This whole sex, drugs and apple pie thing we’ve been selling the world since the 20’s or earlier . . . it’s a major part of why America runs the world in regards to entertainment, so of course we won’t let that position go if we can help it. We can absorb anything and make it into entertainment. America can make gangsters and serial killers and war seem comforting. Those Chinese
won’t kill us off because where else could they get their Hollywood? Uncomfortable art is marginalized, thought of as a kind of poison, but it’s acknowledged that people want to take the poison. Watered down doses, we allow that. We’ll always need it for that, the uncut junk. Of course letting people have it in weaker doses over time makes the heavy dose less effective, less devastating. Titillating or merely amusing, then quaint. Our culture progresses by this process of teleological gentrification. I suppose uncomfortable work is better documented than it ever has been before as a result of that, at least. But when it’s new it takes more effort to deal with, the uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and that’s the point. That what makes something a work of art. It’s work from both the perspective of production and appreciation/understanding. If you have to work at it, it’s more likely to take you inside to where it’s more familiar than you could have imagined.

LY: What's your take on the importance of indie music labels and indie presses--do they have a good use? Are they being absorbed by i-pods and technological hoo-doo? Should artists, from your point of view, carve their paths without allegiance to any organized press or production entity?

ZW: We all have a good use. Anything that is has a good use. These indie things are being absorbed, but the so-called indie-minded people are usually among the first to exploit technological hoo-doo, for better or for worse. For a change right now the major entertainment companies have to adjust to the playing field new technologies have created. Artists, the obsessive, driven kind, will always carve their own paths, are the first to adapt to new means of communications and entertainments and try to use them to say what they want. Allegiance to a production entity? Devotion to the work comes first. I think any
production entity that isn’t primarily concerned with making money pretty much leaves it to artist to carve their own path anyway. If someone’s extremely involved in carving your path for you it’s not very likely they’re doing it for your sake, much less the art’s.

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