The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney: An Interview with Christopher Higgs

TC: It was weird watching the videos, because I’m from Ohio myself, and that is very much how I remember OSU when I have visited it. I remember not really considering it for undergrad though, because I felt that it was just too huge, and too suburban midwestern, and too kind of raptured with sports hysteria. Looking back, I realize these were prejudices I held at my own teenage rebellious point in life. What did you like most about Ohio State as opposed to the other schools you attended?  What do you think of Ohio literature such as that of Noah Cicero and Harvey Pekar and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio?

CH: Columbus, Ohio is the absolute greatest place I have ever lived, and I’ve lived in a bunch of places: born in Kansas, grew up in Wyoming, went to undergad in Las Vegas, worked in the film industry in Los Angeles, brief time in the Peace Corps in West Africa, first grad school in Nebraska, and third grad school now here in north Florida. The three years I spent there were the happiest most productive most wonderful years in my entire life, so far. I met the love of my life there and married her. I wrote Mooney there. I can’t say enough about how much Columbus means to me. It’s a perfect city. Big enough to have everything one might need or want in terms of entertainment, a thriving art scene, a beautiful river, lots of parks, books shops, record stores, excellent restaurants, and so on. But not so big as to be overwhelming or overcrowded.

In terms of Ohio literature, I don’t really have an opinion one way or another. I’m not entirely familiar with Noah Cicero’s work, although he and I did attempt to engage in a correspondence at one point about the relationship between art and politics that was intended to be published, but it didn’t work out. I got to see Harvey Pekar speak at OSU, which was great. I like his stuff. And Sherwood Anderson will most likely end up on my PhD comprehensive exam list, in which case I’ll be reading it for the first time next fall.
TC: In a “long-ass interview” you did for Sam Pink he asks you about lots of different things. I kind of wanted to piggyback off of some of the thoughts that are expressed in that piece, as well as begin to move into a more focused discussion of your novel. To begin, you only briefly discuss authenticity. You say that an “authentic” work of lit will trend towards singularity and the unique, as opposed to ubiquity, in its approach and expression.  I have kind of come to a sort of conclusion that philosophy itself died around the second world war. The feeling of “absurdity” I think is the most pervasive result of existentialism, in that most thinking-people realize that they will get no definite answers from the world during their lives, that any questions they ask will be met with the indifferent response of the universe they encounter. Authenticity then becomes a mirage to the postmodernist thinkers (and  philosophy itself seems to fade as academic specialization becomes paramount). But I think authenticity still has some relevance, not as a truth (a position that seems to end up destroying Sartre’s philosophy, specifically the notion of “bad faith” as “hiding a truth from oneself” as seen from his book Being and Nothingness), but as an attitude or spirit or mindset. Do you think that authenticity still has relevance in the midst of Baudrillard’s thought that you mention that discusses the impossibility in the media-tecnho-crazy contemporary world of separating the real from the non-real, or so on?

CH: First, regarding your hypothesis that philosophy died around the second world war. No, no, no! Let me encourage you to reconsider. Philosophy does some tremendous things after the second world war. Existentialism died, certainly and with good reason, but from its ashes came Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, Irigaray, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Jameson, Said, Cixous, Haraway, Butler, Zizek, Agamben, just to name a few. There’s also this very interesting new school of object oriented philosophy, Speculative Realism, which is on the rise and seems vital and super interesting, see: Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier.

About authenticity: that interview was from a while ago, so I’m not sure what exactly I said but I believe what I meant to identify with that whole notion of singularity versus ubiquity is this sense that in order to recognize the authenticity of a work of literature I need to feel the dominance of unfamiliarity. I tend to call authentic that which does not seem rehearsed. If, as Baudrillard might have it, we now find ourselves in a socio-historical position in which we are permanently detached from the concept of authenticity as site of origin, the obvious conclusion from where I’m standing is not to throw up my hands and go, “oh, well, authenticity died alongside God, life is absurd, etc.” but instead to try and rethink the concept of authenticity. My attempt to succeed at that task is to suggest that we look not for some kernel of essential “trueness” about that which is “authentic” but instead to look for that which resounds above or below the cacophony, that stands out, that is askew, that is unfamiliar.
TC: To turn to “phoniness”, or the type of irony you associate with hipsters (in that interview), I was wondering if you would say that some of this slips into your own novel. It deals with an imaginary work, an imaginary novelist, it features imaginary critics talking about the work, and the very opening quote (which appears at the beginning of “your” novel as well as “Mooney’s” novel) is from Derrida talking about how a text should hide from the reader at all times. I feel these techniques are almost a more hyperintellectual take on the kind of aesthetic that other writers have been using recently (Tao Lin comes to mind). I also think of Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Your novel seems to both imitate and satirize such a work, in that it follows a similar idea but completely jumbles up the still-traditionally-grounded base of Nabokov’s into something totally fragmented and covered in feet of irony. Do you think that I am wrong to make such connections to Pale Fire? I also notice some similarities between your novel and the work of the writer Paul La Farge, are you aware of him? What is the difference between your irony and “hipster” irony, or is irony too restricting a word for your novel (I suppose “hipster” must go too, and we can just talk a bit about Tao Lin, who is kind of a hipster, in a not-derogatory sense, or not a hipster, if the word is used in the derogatory sense)? Are you in any way posing another line of thought in answer to Roland Barthes’ “death of the author” proclamation?

You’ve raised some interesting thoughts.

I am not familiar with Paul la Farge. I’ll check him out.

The Pale Fire connection seems apropos.

The Tao Lin, I’m not sure about. One of the differences I see between his work and mine is the difference between Vicodin and LSD. Tao Lin’s work always seems monotone to me. This is not meant as a criticism, I think what he does is very skillful. But my stuff always seems sporadic to me. Whereas Tao Lin succeeds in consistently maintaining a sort of slow, concentrated somberness; I am more interested in electrocution, turning it up to eleven, up until it gets so loud and emotional that it threatens to deafen the reader. I am after wild, ferocious, unwieldy, screaming bloody murder, slapdash, disjunctive, discursive rambling. Tao Lin, on the other hand, is very controlled. His work values unity in a way mine just doesn’t. As I type this response, it strikes me as so odd to compare his work to mine. I think he and I should do a reading together where I read from Richard Yates and he reads from The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney. That would be fun. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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