Steve Finbow is a Londoner. Allen Ginsberg was once brave enough to employ him. His work appears in many forms and in many places. He has collaborated with Quarantine theatre company and assisted the artist Richard Long. His short stories appear in a number of anthologies and his collected online work can be found on http://indifferentmultiplicities.blogspot.com/ He’s moving back to Japan as soon as possible.
He’s interviewed here by David F. Hoenigman author of Burn Your Belongings.
DH: What authors do you admire?
SF: The glib answer would be: I admire all authors. Anyone who can sit all day (or, in Nabokov’s case, stand) and stare at a blank sheet of paper or a screen is very brave; writers survive longs hours of boredom and silence, not to mention the constant nail biting and arse numbing. I’m not saying it’s akin to working down the mines or as a psychiatric nurse, but it’s a difficult, poorly paid, and unforgiving occupation. A more thoughtful answer would be: Well, I suppose the writer who has had more influence on me than any other would be William S. Burroughs, and through him Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, although I haven’t read either Allen or Kerouac in a long while. Authors I keep returning to are Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, James Kelman, Ry?nosuke Akutagawa, Kathy Acker, Derek Raymond, David Peace, and more recently Dan Fante. I still have a lot of time for Martin Amis – despite his reactionary comments, Charles Bukowski – even though he produced some sloppy books, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Julian Maclaren-Ross, and Gustave Flaubert. Poets – my tastes go to Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan, Hannah Weiner, Susan Howe, Alice Notley, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, Tom Raworth, Clark Coolidge, the immense Charles Bernstein, and the late, great and sorely missed Bob Creeley. I also like crossover authors, ones who bend genre, such as Gordon Burn, Iain Sinclair, and Stewart Home – and through that work, the work of Dennis Cooper, Stephen Barber, and Pierre Guyotat. I was introduced to literature through Patti Smith’s Horsesalbum: so there’s always room for Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé, and through them Breton, Aragon, Éluard and always and forever Antonin Artaud. Genre-wise, I love crime/thrillers – the more edgy kind: as well as Woodrell and Peace (arguably more genre-bending than crime authors), I devour Kem Nunn, Ken Bruen, Jack O’Connell, Elmore Leonard, the early Fleming, Ellroy, and am at present reading James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown. SciFi: I love JG Ballard, M John Harrison, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling. I also enjoy literary biographies – looking forward to Through a Glass Darkly – a life of Patrick Hamilton, and also John Williams’s biography of Michael X. I read a lot. Whenever I can. I suspect that if I answered this same question in a year’s time, my answer would be completely different.
DH: Any albums other than Horses that influenced your reading & writing?
SF: I’d have to say Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica with its exploratory lyrics and music, the first Ramones album for its sheer energy and humour, Tom Waits’s Blue Valentine for the down and dirty romanticism – I could go on, but definitely – in no particular order – the first three Velvet Underground albums, Lou Reed’s Berlin and Rock N Roll Animal, Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and Ziggy Stardust, John Cale’s early solo work, all of Dylan up until and including Street Legal, anything by The Pop Group, Rip Rig and Panic, James Chance, The Slits… You get the picture…
DH: Do you think there is a shortage of good publishers?
SF: I think there is a shortage of publishers willing to publish non-mainstream writing. But there are good publishers out there – Serpent’s Tail, Faber, Quercus, Canongate, and Profile have catalogues to challenge the conglomerates; while Salt, Snow, Tindal Street Press, and Apis are making brave forays into the prizes; and there are small publishers like Creation, Feral House, Koma/Amok, and Reaktion publishing extreme writers/writing. I think, in 2008, under the current climate of uncertainty, and if they were writing today, novelists such as BS Johnson, Ann Quin, and even Samuel Beckett would have difficulty finding a publisher.
DH: You mentioned having a few projects at the moment. Can you tell me what they are?
SF: I always have projects on the go and I’m completely anal about filing and creating folders. So, let me think: well, the first project that springs to mind is The Brill – it’s an art gang – a motley collective of writers, musicians, artists, and dancers – we’re London-based but international in scope. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years, and I’m co-leader with my friend Gary Hughes – strange that we were both in a proper gang – The Dudes – when we were growing up – sort of glam-punk-hooligan-aesthetes. The first subject we’re tackling is William Blake’s “London” from Songs of Innocence & Experience. An ongoing project is my new litzine Red Peter – again, something I’ve been meaning to do – I wanted to produce a print magazine – go back to basics – samizdat, Blast, Sniffing Glue – but I didn’t have the time, so it’s now live on the internet http://redpetersdf.blogspot.com/ and published each month as an e-book http://www.scribd.com/doc/3877934/Red-Peter-pdf-June-08 Then there are the books. Always the books. I’m writing a critical analysis, biography, and psychological/philosophical examination of Sergeant Bertrand – a 19th century French necrophile who inspired the Surrealists, particularly Jean Benoît. Sergeant Bertrand’s case first appeared in Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis but since then – despite the increasing interest in paraphilia – he’s been forgotten – so I dropped a line (and a very detailed proposal) to a publisher and am spending my days in the British Library ordering strange books from the catalogue. If I look in my “in progress” folder, I have three novels on the go – a sexual autobiography/animal dictionary, a no-nonsense slasher-come-father-daughter thriller, and a hate story/road-trip/alt-country novel. Quite a few short stories in various conditions of closure. Also, while I lived in NYC in the late eighties/early nineties, I wrote a lot of poetry – mostly inspired by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and New York School poets – eminently unpublishable/unpalatable, so I thought I’d turn them into e-books – give them away to people I don’t like. Other than that, I sit and watch my inbox for an email from my agent or publishers telling me that “Yes, we’d love to publish Balzac of the Badlands or your collection of short stories.” But, until then, I have a lot going on.
DH: What drew you to the story of Sergeant Bertrand?
SF: My art teacher when I was 13. Thinking about it, my teachers at that time had a huge influence on my life – I only realized this when thinking of an answer to your question. That same year, my history teacher lent me copies of Che Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare and Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto, one of my art teachers gave me a copy of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories, and another art teacher presented me with a book on Surrealism – images in this book still haunt and interest me today – Meret Oppenheim’s Fur-covered Cup, Saucer, and Spoon, Victor Brauner’s The Wolf Table, but the most appealing and sinister was Jean Benoît’s The Necrophile (dedicated to Sergeant Bertrand) . Bertrand was a seminal figure for the French Symbolists and Surrealists. His exploits have the gothic appeal of Maldoror or Fantômas. Sergeant Bertrand is a major player in the history of necrophilia – from Ancient Greece and Egypt, to the occult investigations of Thomas Vaughan and Aleister Crowley, and on to Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Nilsen, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the necrophile is the dark flipside of a Casanova or a Fabio. Paraphilia goes hand in latex-glove with “paraliterature” – look at Dennis Cooper, Stewart Home, Peter Sotos, Stephen Barber – even Daren King’s getting in on the act. The exploration of human ethics and morals is a major part of why I write and you don’t get much further out there than necrophilia – it’s not shock tactics, it’s understanding, it’s an attempt at comprehension. It goes alongside my interest in the works of Georges Bataille, Antonin Artaud, Derek Raymond, and David Peace.
DH: Is it necessary to go that far out to explore human ethics and morals?
SF: In the realm of the human imagination, to pickpocket Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there” – that is, there are no further limits. Look at Radovan Karadžić; at the American Government’s actions before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina; at GIs raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then murdering her, her six-year-old sister and her family. What is it that drives seemingly normal, intelligent people to commit these acts? Until Krafft-Ebing, Freud, Reich, and Kinsey, paraphilia was occult. If we look at the work of Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari, we see a politicization of desire, an examination of the social ramifications of sexuality concurrent with an analysis of freedom and will. We live in – to half-inch a term from William Gibson – “The Republic of Desire” – the means of eroticism are at hand (pardon the pun) through instant access to pornography, while the fetishization of the object is manifest in sites such as ebay, Amazon, and lastminute. My intent with Sergeant Bertrand is to step out to the further reaches of human perversion and bring it back to the quotidian – what seems minatory is nugatory, what appears beyond the reach of imagination is not that different from our own small perversions.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.