Author Interview with Gary Gautier

Gary Gautier is interviewed by Fiona McVie at Authors’ Interviews.

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The hippies have a quiet moment

The passage below captures a quiet moment early in the novel (circa 1969) for our hippies (click images for links).

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(4.4 out of 5 stars in 19 Amazon reviews so far)

“That’s really good,” said Pepper, and she looked back up at the sky.

The others ate in silence, enjoying the crickets, the bird chatter of dusk, and the occasional sound of a VW bug torqueing around the potholes on St. Roch Street. Ragman bussed the plates and refilled the wine.

“That’s why I never did LSD after that first time with Gina and Tex,” Pepper continued, as if there were no pause. “It was cool at first but then the long agony of coming down. I remember driving across the 24-mile bridge at night and seeing monsters coming out of the water with each turn of the waves, over and over in a hellish rhythm. And then I felt all the organs inside my body splitting open. I could see them and feel them tearing. Fuck that.”

Rag was lighting two tiki torches at the ends of the table.

“What the hell were you doing driving while tripping?” he asked.

“I wasn’t driving. Tex was.”

“Oh, that makes it all better,” joked Zig. “TEX was driving while tripping.” They chuckled at the reckless absurdity of it all, knowing that at least this time all turned out safe.

“But listen,” Jazmine said, thinking now of the tan acid from Ragman’s hideaway closet lab. “You could even do this stuff, Pepper. There is no long, dark coming down part.”

Rag fired up a joint. The match momentarily lit up his face. The hazel eyes gleamed, the cheekbones more prominent as they tapered down to the point of the light brown beard. He looked for a moment like one of the plastic devil heads that come from claw machines. He inhaled hard on the joint and then passed it to Zig, who sat on the bench next to him across from Pepper and Jaz. As Rag momentarily held the pot in his lungs, Jazmine could see a note of concentration in his face.

“What are you thinking, Rag?” she asked quietly.

Rag was equally quiet as he spoke: “This shit could change everything.”

Zig took his hit and passed the joint to Jazmine. The earthy sweet smell of marijuana mixed with the citronella fuel of the tiki torches and wrapped the four faces at the table into their own world. Jazmine, with her dark eyes and ivory glow, fiery Pepper with the ice blue eyes, Zig with his rectangular face framed by long curling black locks, and Ragman: faces close together, dimly lit against the darkening sky, all feeling the wrap and pull of pot-forged kinship, but the attention was on Ragman.

“You ever heard of William Blake?” Jaz suddenly asked. “Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, the visionary poems?”

“I like the concept,” Rag said.

“I like the images,” Jaz smiled.

“I like the conversation,” Ziggy threw in roguishly.

“Well, kumbaya, motherfuckers, I’d like a hit off that joint,” said Pepper, breaking more fully the gravity of the scene. Now everything was light again. The focus on Ragman had shifted.

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“Stay in your lane” vs. Wimsatt and Beardsley

A variation of the “intentional fallacy” has found fertile soil in academia and the body politic.

W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley published their treatise on the intentional fallacy in 1946, in the heyday of formalist literary criticism. The gist of the piece was that much criticism misses the point by considering the author’s intention as the standard of a poem’s meaning. It is nothing of the sort. The fallacy, as Wimsatt and Beardsley put it, is a “confusion between the poem and its origins.” When we study a poem, we have access to the poem but not to the private meaning that may have been inside the author’s head. Indeed, it is impossible to determine the intention of a poem, and authors themselves often have trouble identifying the intention of their own poem. Moreover, there is clearly more to any work than the author could have intended. We now have the tools to analyze, e.g., gender relations of power in Shakespeare that he could not have intended. No one can deny that transactions of power between genders take place in Shakespeare’s plays, and that studying them can yield fascinating results, but all of this takes place outside the scope of Shakespeare’s intention. One could even argue that the unintended meanings in a literary work often have more to tell us than the intended ones. The bottom line is that we have to look at the work closely and judge it on its own merits, not on some unverifiable (and invariably reductive) conjecture about the poet’s intention.

Apply that to today’s political discourse, especially on matters of cultural identity. With increasing frequency, it seems, arguments are judged not by their own objective merits but by whether they were proposed by a white, black, male, gay, trans, etc., person. In order to get a fair hearing, those who would opine on cultural identity seem endlessly compelled to open with, “As a gay/black/female/white/trans/etc.,” as if credibility lay more in the speaker’s birth traits than in the quality of the argument. And indeed they may be right, insofar as demographic traits of the speaker do seem to be where the onus of credibility lies for much of today’s academic and political audience. It is a version of “intentional fallacy” we might call the “identarian fallacy,” wherein we judge a work by the author’s demographic identity rather than by its standalone merits. One’s race or gender can preclude one, as a widespread mindset holds, from making valid claims. “You cannot understand this issue because you are male/white/straight/etc.”; “you cannot speak about this issue because you are not black/female/queer/etc.” In other words, “Stay in Your Lane.”

I can understand that some demographic groups may want a leg up in the public sphere from which they were long excluded, but perhaps proscribing access to certain discussions based on race and gender is not the way to go. Perhaps we need a recapitulation of Wimsatt and Beardsley. The validity of an argument, the quality of a work of art, should be judged on the merits of the artifact itself, not on some unverifiable (and invariably reductive) conjecture about the speaker’s race or gender. Everyone should be allowed to weigh in on every discussion and the product be judged on its logical or aesthetic soundness with no regard whatsoever to the identity of speaker. If someone proves that cigarettes cause cancer, and is later discovered to be a closet smoker, does that make her research less valid? No, the merits of the argument itself are what counts, as it should be with all manner of public discourse. Let us not fall back into the fallacy of confusing the validity of an argument with the origin of an argument.

The ultimate irony is that those who exalt the identarian fallacy and the correlative “stay in your lane” policy fancy themselves as progressives, indeed as leftist radicals. Probe even to minimal depth and it is easy to see that “stay in your lane” is the most anti-liberal, arch-conservative slogan ever produced by faux-progressives. A society where everyone stays in their inherited lanes is the epitome of a conservative society.

For a truly radical vision, one that would shake off the calcified build-up of the Establishment, you need to look back to the 1960s. Back then, people were being told to stay in their lane, but the preferred phrase was “separate but equal,” and it was the banner cry of Bull Connor segregationists. Martin Luther King and then the hippies combated this ideology with their own ideology, which basically said that you should never stay in your lane and never encourage others to do so. We are all sharing all the lanes from now on. We are all in this together. Never vilify anyone on the grounds of race or gender. Any us vs. them lines in the 1960s progressive vision were based on ideology, not on race or gender. “Stay in your lane” progressives today are no better than the “separate but equal” conservatives of the 60s. Shut the devil out at the front door (Bull Connor) and he comes in at the back (identity politics).

So, too, forget today’s meme about cultural appropriation, which, far from radical, reasserts the capitalist cornerstone of private property into the zone of cultural production. The 60s ideology was culturally socialist and radically integrationist in a way that must horrify today’s conservatives and progressives alike. The 60s ideology favored every form of cultural appropriation in every direction. Full steam ahead with every kind of cross-pollination in arts and ideas. Break the back of private property on the cultural level. Everybody play with everybody else’s stuff. Put yourself in everybody else’s shoes. Cross lines as often as you can. Tear down the walls and celebrate each other across those lines, no shaming, no judgment based on race or gender, just looking toward the future hand in hand. Never trust any ideology (Left or Right) that says we need to respect walls of separation. Today’s faux progressives, on the other hand, emphasize each demographic guarding its turf from appropriation. They emphasize the walls between us and are skeptical of the bridges. Which do you think is the truly radical vision that points into the future toward a harmonious multicultural society, comfortable with diversity, free from shame, in which we all work together and celebrate our differences as well as our shared humanness?

But here come Wimsatt and Beardsley for the final round of our competition: “Stay in your lane” vs. Wimsatt and Beardsley. On the one hand, “Team Stay in Your Lane” has some righteous outrage to express at being long excluded from power and seeks redress by reinforcing lanes for each demographic and setting demographic preconditions for exercising one’s voice. On the other hand, “Team Wimsatt and Beardsley,” with an assist from the hippies, suggest that you will get a better long-term result if you forget about reinforcing the walls around your identity and tear down all the walls in a festive frenzy and usher in the Age of Aquarius. There will still be arguments in that great age, but you will have to judge them on their own merits, not on any “lane” or identity markers assigned to the speaker. This means you will have to lay off the generalizations about, indeed the fetishization of, demographic groups, and judge people as individuals. Demographic backgrounds will still exist, but cultivate this mindset and the walls will slowly crumble, leaving us to celebrate each other across demographic lines where the walls once stood.

As in a previous entry in this fine blog, which pitted the ancients against the moderns in true Augustan style, the laurel wreath goes to the ancients, Wimsatt and Beardsley, for what their “intentional fallacy” can teach us today.

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Hippies for Christmas

Hippies is FREE this week on Amazon (Kindle). Get your copy now. Or if you have a copy, gift a copy or two to friends. Just tell them to be polite and write a brief and honest Amazon review in return for the freebie 🙂

Click the cover below to link through. (Read some excerpts below that.)

hpp snow

(Note: Paperback, unlike e-book, isn’t free but is 20% off at $10.89.)

Excerpts

Tripping on tan acid

Magic mushroom head shop and dry cleaners

Day tripping with the hippies

A past-life regression

Rebecca’s place

 

Audacious things to say out loud (ten years out)

“Left and Right have become mirror images of each other. There are stories of conspiracy, of America being hijacked by an evil cabal … Their purpose is not to persuade the other side but to keep their bases agitated … to beat the other side into submission … what has been lost in the process … are those shared assumptions – that quality of trust and fellow feeling … [This is politics, but] there is another story … millions of Americans who are going about their business every day … [All] those ordinary citizens … who have found a way – in their own lives, at least – to make peace with their neighbors … are out there, waiting for Democrats and Republicans to catch up with them.”

“Any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we’re in … keeps us locked in either/or thinking.”

“I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe … I reject politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally.”

“I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.”

(click images for links)

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Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now

4 stars out of 5

Pinker’s big push for the Enlightenment values that got us where we are is the right message at the right time. Not perfect, mind you. Pinker’s cheerleading for capitalism goes a little overboard and understates the problems commensurate with it. His treatment of cultural movements that press against the Enlightenment, such as Romanticism, are at times astonishingly simplistic. Enough so to undermine his credibility in isolated passages. When he criticizes Thomas Piketty’s landmark Capital in the 21st Century, Pinker has a point in that Piketty’s emphasis on wealth inequality elides the improvements in material life that have carried all classes forward. But Piketty’s willingness to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of late capitalism makes his work seem more impartial overall, less slanted than Pinker’s. The charts and counter-charts that make Piketty’s book more tedious and less readable than Pinker’s more informal tome also make Piketty’s analysis seem more balanced and complete.

Overall, though, Pinker’s own core thesis is persuasive and exceedingly timely. After all, the Right has always had a deeper investment in religious and authoritarian structures that cut against the Enlightenment’s commitment to open inquiry and to a principle of individual freedom that transcends religion, region, or demographic. It is only recently that the postmodern Left has joined in the attack, often renouncing the Enlightenment standards of universal truth (accessible to reason and science) and condemning the Enlightenment-based liberal Western democracies as hopelessly enmired in racism, sexism, and other oppressive formations. In this regard, Pinker’s pushback against the Left as well as the Right is spot on. Despite the obvious bumps along the way, and bumps that are still with us, the Enlightenment, with its philosophical message of universal rights over tribalism and of the universal standards of reason and science, has resulted in the most humane, anti-sexist, and racially tolerant sensibility in social history. This is measurable in Pinker’s statistical graphs (and most visibly of late in the Washington Post’s worldwide survey-based map). That there were bumps and contradictions along the way, that challenges of social justice are still with us, is no reason to attack the foundation of the Enlightenment and of the Western liberal democracies that go along with it. Indeed, it would be preposterous to expect no bumps, no contradictions and challenges. We need to improve, perhaps even to do so at a revolutionary pace, but we need to start by working with what we have, not throwing it all overboard and creating a vacuum for some less Enlightenment-based power formation to move in.

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James Lee Burke

Cimarron Rose is the first book I’ve read by Louisiana native, James Lee Burke. Thoroughly enjoyed it, though the content was a bit raw and gruesome at times. I would not recommend the book to those who are invested in the culture of “trigger warnings.” For everyone else, go for it!

Like all writers worth their fame, Burke has strong characters driving the plot. And like all good writers of his genre (suspense/crime drama), that plot is very carefully crafted. But Burke’s signature element for me is style – a muscular prose style of the sort sometimes associated with Hemingway but adapted to the genre and the regional setting (small-town Texas and west Louisiana). It is a style paradoxically very sparse and very vivid. Tight sentences with words and images chosen with great efficiency. It reminds me a bit of the way Clint Eastwood created a richness of character in the spaghetti westerns with a few facial gestures and fewer words.

Her arms looked strong, her stomach flat under her breasts. Her black gunbelt was polished and glinted with tiny lights…

His skin had the unblemished smoothness of latex stretched over stone…

Outside the window I could see trees of lightning busting all over the sky.

This style of Burke’s colors all other elements – the sense of place, the characters’ psyches, the pace of the story and of life in the universe of the novel.

If I ever make it back to Burke’s hometown, New Iberia, Louisiana, the place itself might be a little more colored in by this brush with his personality via Cimarron Rose.

(Click for links)

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