Serious writers do a lot of reading. We pay attention to style, theme, and plot. We've seen just about every variation of theme and plot imaginable. We've seen detailed flowery prose and terse compact sentences; romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and all manner of genres and sub-genres. Steve Aylett, apparently bored with what's gone before, moves past it all, often in a humorous way. Other writers get it. It's not that he disdains what has come before him, he just doesn't want to read what seems to him as the same books over and over again. Here's one example: A few years ago I got interested in astronomer/alchemist John Dee and his working relationship with spirit medium/occultist Edward Kelley. I read books, articles, and essays on these men. Much later, in the Appendix to Aylett's Shamanspace, I found a single sentence that cracked me up with laughter, because it summarized everything I'd read about Dee and Kelley with, "Elizabethan alchemist John Dee witnessed the scarab star of god blooming with a creak from the wooden table at Clerkenwell - a vision immediately waylaid by the arrival of unwitting holy man Edward Kelley who wasted years of Dee's time with useless signs and wonders." It was like, that's all you need to know! You know? If I call someone a "guitarist's guitarist" it means that because I play the guitar, I can see just what they are doing, even though I can't do it myself. Maybe I can learn to do it, but I would have never thought of it.
What I love about this anthology is that it's a very readable discourse on technique and execution, rather than an analysis of plot. Because of the way Aylett writes, his novels are open to interpretation, and the writers of these essays have likened his work to that of Captain Beefheart, Mark E Smith, William Burroughs and others. You mentioned Slade's book on Pynchon as the inspiration for this anthology; are there any other authors whose work you would like to see evaluated in this way?
Poet R. W. Watkins is someone to watch. I can foresee somebody wanting to analyze his work as his output continues to grow. There's a book about Samuel R. Delany, written by Jeffrey Allen Tucker, that is on my reading list. Most of my favorite writers have already been written about extensively.
Aylett's prose is sharp and compressed. He has mastered the technique of saying all that needs to be said, and beautifully, in very few words. As a writer, I used to love flowery prose like Poppy Z Brite's romantic, gothic fiction. But it wasn't until I was turned onto noir and later crime fiction that made me see how adding in some punchier, shorter sentences can really keep a narrative from sagging. Is there any particular author/genre/book that has had a big influence on your own writing?
Well, besides Steve Aylett, I like a wide variety of authors, including Poe, Thomas Pynchon, Kris Saknussemm, Joan Didion, Philip K. Dick, Tessa B. Dick, William S. Burroughs, Ralph Ellison, D. Harlan Wilson, Craig A. Buckley (also known as Goathead Buckley), Ira Sukrungruang, Hunter Thompson, Madeleine L'Engle (her non-fiction as well as her fiction), Henry David Thoreau, William Gibson, James Morrow, and Thomas Love Peacock. Alan Moore is a brilliant and prolific graphic novelist who I would like to meet, just to hear anything he has to say. I like his commentaries on YouTube. And Rachel, I have to add that I dig your novel Stranger Days
, and I'm not just saying that because you're interviewing me.
Thank you very much. That leads me nicely to my final question actually. Stranger Days was published by a small press, as is Steve Aylett: a Critical Anthology. Do you think independent publishing will continue to flourish in the future and how do you think the internet has moved the goal posts for publishing in general?
I don't think things will change all that much. There have always been small presses and that won't change. Some will fall by the wayside and some will flourish. Some just seem to have more staying power than others, which comes from a combination of persistence and talent. And marketing, probably. Small publishing houses will go on and on just like people who grow their own vegetables or make their own fruit jelly and sell them at the farmer's market. And some of those little cottage industries really take off! Ultimately, it's what is written that's important, not how it gets published. Whether it's a Master's thesis, a collection of blog entries, some kind of literary experiment, or one of the more conventional forms, once you put it in book format, if you like it, someone else out there will like it.
Steve Aylett: A Critical Anthology
Available from Amazon
in paperback and kindle formats
Sein und Werden / Books