Harold Jaffe Interview with Larry Fondation for Rain Taxi

During the summer of 2008, Larry Fondation interviewed Harold Jaffe for Rain Taxi. To buy the issue, click here.

Larry Fondation: Talk a little bit about docufiction – how and why you started producing it…

Harold Jaffe: Some thirty-five years ago, Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, and a few other “journalists” set about deliberately melding journalistic “fact” with fiction; the suggestion was that this is what mainstream journalism was doing without acknowledging it, so they (Wolfe and Thompson) would foreground the melding for their own purposes.

The usurpation of “fact” has moved very rapidly, even exponentially, along with the almost total reliance on technology. Information becomes disinformation without apology; one datum contradicts a previous datum posted a few hours before; corporate ads are inserted into TV news programs as if they are news; medical technology makes no distinction between the “artificial” and the “natural.” For example, when Janet Jackson’s wardrobe “malfunctioned” a few years ago during the Super Bowl halftime show and a “breast” was exposed, the institutionalized media went wacky, but nobody pointed out that it wasn’t her 45-year-old breast but rather the surgically implanted “artificial” nubile breast that was briefly exposed.

Before the techno-cult became omnipotent there was at least a nominal distinction made between the “real” and the image or mask. Now virtually everything depends on the efficacy of the mask. The notion of sincerity and authenticity (in Lionel Trilling’s words) simply has no purchase.

Hence, my use of docufiction attempts to ape the mainstream culture while deconstructing it; the deconstruction is what puzzles less discerning readers, who don’t see the pastiche element, the deliberate distortions.

How does my docufiction make the reader feel? Disconcerted, I hope. With Brecht (contra Aristotle), I’d like readers to come away from having read my work pent rather than purged; with troubled questions on their mind.

LF: In the August issue of Esquire, Stephen Marche writes: “Obsessed with violence and terrified of sex: That’s practically the definition of American culture.” What do you think about that?

HJ: Too easy a formulation, I’d say. If Americans are terrified of sex what do we make of the huge online pornography industry featuring young middle-class Americans engaged in just about every sexual configuration imaginable?

It is a complex phenomenon. The fact that the “extreme” sex is online appears to insulate it from “real time.”

Also this is the first full generation since the HIV pandemic and — more important — the HIV propaganda which transformed the flesh and blood body into a site of struggle.

Do my sexual organs belong to me or to the US government who tells me to beware of the poisoned body?

Partly in response to the HIV-era repression, the sexual body is currently foregrounded, especially when mediated by the Internet. But the sex itself, interfacing with what traditionally has been considered pornography, is moving so fast from one “deviation” to the next that it is likely to expire in its own ashes. Aided and abetted by corporate American morality.

Violence in America is often related to sexuality. That a newspaper can represent a body mutilated in war but is prohibited from representing that same body naked and healthy suggests that the two images are neurotically allied.

“Repressive desublimation” is Marcuse’s term for an image that appears to expose or “desublimate,” but is in fact repressive; such as obscenely representing the body in pain instead of the prohibited body in pleasure.

During Lent we need surrogate releases for the sexual demon, such as exulting in the violence of the NFL and extreme sports.

During Carnival the pleasurable body requires no surrogate.

Sustained carnivals have been rare in the US.

LF: The sexual obsession novel has been with us since at least The Scarlet Letter. Violent books for a long time stayed away from sex. Most of your previous docufiction books have focused on violence — both state-sponsored and individual violence. Of course, 15 Serial Killers by definition elides sex and violence. Did that “cocktail” lead you to Manson?

Why Manson? And in what sense is he a “resistance” figure? There was no “publicness” to his violence — he attacked actresses and grocers, not bankers and oilmen. In “the family,” sexual control masked as sexual freedom. He was racist. The killings seemed designed as revenge as much as rebellion. And you have written a novel based on that. I’m repelled a bit, but I’m intrigued.

HJ: Manson’s apparent racism is, as I see it, a kind of reflex. He was the bastard child of a teenaged Appalachian prostitute. 74-years-old now, he started serving time when he was an adolescent and has been in one or another kind of penal institution for more than 60 years.

The swastika tat on his forehead, his attitude toward African Americans and other races . . . To say they come with the territory is not to apologize for them. But I don’t read him as a racist.

Yes, his “free” sexuality was a “controlling” sexuality. Nor did he necessarily harm the people that needed harming.

But that is only part of the story. What he is primarily, at least to me, is a shape-shifter, trickster, survivor, wizard, even a kind of shaman.

His resistance takes the form of refusing to die; of thrusting his scabby old ass in official culture’s face; of his defiantly virtuosic discourse which segues instantly from hipster to hobo to autodidact to raging Appalachian proletariat.

Decrepit and mad as he may seem, ain’t nobody out there in normal-land sharp enough to pin him.

LF: I love the posthumous statements in the Jesus Coyote section called “Night of the Thousand Knives.” You always seem to surround your subjects from multiple points of view — like the sound at a good concert. It allows you to knock “officialdom” off its pedestal. Do you think pulling apart a story in fact rebuilds it?

Has to do with staying a step ahead of The Man. And, in narrative terms, with portraying the complexity of the Manson phenomenon which is nearly always dumbed down, force-fitted into the Procrustean bed of “Serial Killler.”

LF: Returning to the idea of resistance figures — whether we pick Manson or Kathleen Soliah — why do you think there is so little resistance now — when things are so fucked up, much worse than in 1969?

HJ: Official culture’s facility to deceive is infinitely more advanced than in the Sixties. Successful revolutionary models are either not represented or brazenly misrepresented. And Americans are trained to rely on official representations far more than on their unmediated experiences.

Among other lies, we are told that the worldwide student revolt in ’68 was a failure, that revolution as such has lost its purchase, when in truth revolution and the ethical dissent which leads to revolution are ongoing, perennial.

In our rapid move to global homogenization, power has become decentered, much less palpable. The iconic industrial engine with its gears and levers has been replaced by the limbless computer. The question is where in this apparently seamless network of power do you apply pressure?

Even Abbie Hoffman could not figure that one out. When he emerged out of hiding after seven years it was into a world in the process of changing irretrievably.

The culture of gears, levers, big noses and humans who moved their arms while they walked was fading fast.

None of the slick moves Hoffman made in the late Sixties and Seventies could transport him anywhere in the affectless, virtual Eighties.

LF: I really like the line: “The favored theory [for the police investigating the Tate-LaBianca murders] centered around illicit drugs.” Talk a little about the “war on drugs” — then and now.

HJ: Were this 40 years ago, many of the very bright young people invested in “high” technology would instead be writing and ruminating about mind-expanding drugs.

Right brain, dream-space, Buddhism, the flesh and blood body, jouissance. As opposed to left brain, calculation, the virtual body, material advancement, security.

Different Zeitgeist, different accommodation.

The crucial point, I think, is that people are constrained to believe official culture’s definition of happiness and unhappiness. And official happiness notably excludes dream, vision, and psychotropic-induced epiphanies.

Unhappiness, official culture instructs us, must not include sympathy for the thousands of brown-skinned children and adults who have been murdered in Iraq or are sick unto death because of the US’s unconscionable use of depleted uranium in its weaponry.

In a word: Ingesting the appropriate drugs might invoke autonomy and a broad compassion — each of which is prohibited in our global village.

There has been a New Age cooptation of mind-expansion agents: expensive, orchestrated sojourns to the South American jungle to swallow ayahuasca. But that is a different phenomenon from the ingestion of peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, hashish, and LSD in the Sixties.

True, some of the Sixties drug use was promiscuous, but the fundamental inclination was to cultivate inwardness while broadening experience and sympathy.

That inquisitive young people no longer experiment with psychotropic agents testifies to the efficiency of official propaganda. There is also the practical difficulty of locating the substances, since they are responsive to the principle of supply and demand and to the severe penalties for distribu-tion and possession.

LF: I’m surprised there’s so little political anger out there now. Despite the fact that most things public have turned to shit. When the LA murder stats come out each year, a friend of mine — who grew up in South Central — and I always threaten to write an LA Times op ed expressing our surprise not that the homicide rate is so high, but that it’s so low. More broadly, people are riding bicycles and nobody is blowing up gas stations, which puzzles me. What role does anger play in your writing?

HJ: I don’t believe official statistics, whether of nationwide unemployment, homicides in LA or the death-count of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Political anger has been derailed by the Eighties and Nineties phenomenon of “identity politics,” when marginalized groups were fighting among themselves for a larger slice of the ever-shrinking pie rather than thinking and working collectively.

As I said, official power is itself less palpable and mostly decentered, so that it is much harder to know where the pressure points are.

And there is the constant government-media propaganda assuring us that we are just going through a bad patch, that global capitalism allied with technology are still President and Prime Minister of our rapidly degenerating planet.

You ask about my own anger? Heck, I’m as placid as a bodhisattva.

It’s Jesus Coyote who’s pissed, filled with murderous rage at his unforgiving country.

LF: Have you seen Slavoj Zizek’s In Defense of Lost Causes? He has a chapter called “Revolutionary Terror from Robespierre to Mao.” His project seems in some ways to be a companion to your own. Any thoughts?

HJ: Here’s something you evidently do not know about the brilliant, elusive Lacanian-Marxist provocateur Zizek.

Please keep it confidential.

Zizek is in fact the doppelganger of the raunchy-assed, lifelong incorrigible commonly known as Charles Manson.

LF: What’s next?

HJ: I just completed a volume of docufictions called Orfeo, where I inscribe in formally various ways aspects of hell: Wallmart, death row, areas infected by war, corporate boardrooms . . .

I also completed a daily journal while I was in Paris called Paris 60, sixty narrative entries, modeled loosely on Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen.

Now I am working on a novel featuring Marlon Brando.

 

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Interviews from the Edge Reprinted Interview in Bloomsbury with Harold Jaffe, originally published in New Orleans Review

Interviews from the Edge presents a selection of conversations, drawn from 50 years of the international journal New Orleans Review. Robin Andreasen conducted an interview with Harold Jaffe for the New Orleans Review in 2014. To buy the reprinted interview through Bloomsbury, you can click the link here.

Interviewer
Is it possible for a member of an educated elite to adequately speak to the woes and ideals of a racial and economic underclass without appropriating, thus commercializing through reification, the very racial struggles he/she seeks to diagnose and declaim?

Jaffe
No and yes. For example, Brecht, Neruda, and despite his ambivalence over Algeria, Camus, were able to “speak” to the underclass, whereas Whitman (not among the educated elite, as such), who envisioned his Leaves of Grass as another bible, accessible even to the semi-literate, mostly failed.
The underclass will read a book to the best of their capacities, as they consult the Koran, the bible, or Buddhist sutras; but they must be convinced that the book will help them navigate a problematic world. Now, with books obsolescent, at least in the “First World,” it is a moot point.

Mutual Interview between Harold Jaffe and Terese Svoboda in Mad Hatter’s Review

Harold Jaffe and Terese Svoboda held a mutual interview for Mad Hatter’s Review in the fall of 2008 for issue 10.

Jaffe:

So-called journalism is even more palpably fictionalized than historiography, especially in times of perceived crisis.

My “docufiction,” then, is intended to accomplish a few things: expose the pious NY Times or NY Review of Books journalists and fancy historiographers by foregrounding the fiction, while at the same time using the hybrid form to advance my own anti-institutional ideas.

As far as the “well-made” story, docufiction can be well-made on its own terms as, say, a documentary by Eisenstein or Costa-Gavras is well-made. But I also think that crisis-writing, even though it is rapidly composed and nominally addressed to a certain issue, has as much esthetic purchase as what Roland Barthes called “white writing”–texts about texts and deliberately separated from the world outside the imagining mind.

Read the full interview at Mad Hatter’s Review.

“All the World’s a Docufiction: On Harold Jaffe” an essay by Daniel Green in Kenyon Review

Essayist, Daniel Green, reviews Harold Jaffe’s works of fiction Anti-Twitter and Induced Coma.

“If any writer deliberately proceeded throughout his career to almost ensure his work would be ignored by critics and publishers, it would have to be Harold Jaffe. Jaffe has steadfastly continued to write fiction that is formally and conceptually adventurous while at the same time advancing a radical sociopolitical critique that portrays US culture in the most starkly unfavorable light. From his first novel, Mole’s Pity(1979), to his newest collection of “docufictions,” Induced Coma, Jaffe has challenged assumptions about fiction as a literary form and enlisted his work in the effort to resist the maleficent influences of America’s “official culture,” a culture that undermines human well-being and despises real human freedom. Since inevitably many readers are uncertain how to respond to these objections, at worst confused about, if not actively hostile toward, the purposes behind them, it is not surprising that Jaffe’s books are seldom reviewed and are usually published by small, even marginal, independent presses.”

Read the entire essay at Kenyon Review

Poetry International Interview with Harold Jaffe on Goosestep: Fictions & Docufictions

Interview by Sean Coolican

Coolican:

I’m here with Harold Jaffe, author of 29 books that include 15 Serial Killers, Induced Coma, Revolutionary Brain, Sacred Outcast: Dispatches from India, Paris 60, Dos Indios, Death Café, and Anti-Twitter.  I’m curious about the preface of Goosestep that reads, “I am of the race that sings under torture,” a line that is repeated later in the poetic text, “Mockingbird.”

Where does the quote come from and why did you choose to start the collection with it?

Jaffe:

The quote comes from Rimbaud’s Illuminations and the source is cited at the end of Goosestep.

A good portion of my writing and thinking life has been devoted to the place of art in times of crises. 2018 is arguably the gravest crisis humans have faced collectively. During the most grievous times in human history—the medieval plague, the vast slave trade, the influenza pandemic in the early 20th century, Hiroshima, the Holocaust–one constant in those times was continuity. At some point the vast suffering will be (or seem) ameliorated and human history will resume.

Read the full interview at Poetry International. 

New Orleans Review Interview with Harold Jaffe on Goosestep: Fictions & Docufictions

INTERVIEW by TARA STILLIONS WHITEHEAD

INTERVIEWER

In 2015, you released Death Cafe with Anti-Oedipus Press. That collection constitutes, among other things, a discerning critique of global pain, political hypocrisy, and death itself, which are, of course, not new to your work. With Goosestep: Fictions and Docufictions (JEF, 2016), however, your social critiques are framed much more intimately; one might say Goosestep is more transparent in its autobiography and that this makes it different from your last few books. Do you feel that Goosestep is a departure from DC?

JAFFE

Asked how he is able to comment so widely on literature and culture, Keats, in his early twenties and untraveled, responds “I become the sparrows hopping on my windowsill.” I am Jaffe not Keats, but I too feel an affinity with sparrows, those still alive and hopping in our degraded landscape…

Read full interview at New Orleans Review

Harold Jaffe’s Sacred Geography in NEW ORLEANS REVIEW

ganges-dawn-1

Ganges Dawn

Predawn, everyone’s awake, Kashi’s jumping.
Excluding the homeless thousands who are unawake.
I’m walking cautiously to the ghats in the semi-dark through littered streets, trying to distinguish trash from cardboard and newspaper humps of low-castes sleeping, groaning while sleeping.

Do they dream while they sleep?
Is it a collective dream?
Has their 2000 years of servitude infected their dreams?

Sacred Geography: Dispatches from India (continued)

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – December 18, 2015

Caste Cannibal

A newlywed couple from Varanasi were arrested over claims they dined on the
Genitals of the woman’s alleged rapist after her husband murdered the alleged

rapist and excised his privates. The victim’s mutilated body was found in a
burnt-out tuk-tuk on a Varanasi sidestreet after the revenge attack, sparked by

claims the new wife, age 20, made that she was raped just three days before her
white wedding in cheery Varanasi. The husband, 26-year-old Hari Pippal,

an untouchable, or Dalit, who became prosperous via his latrine
supply business, has admitted murdering the man after discovering his wife,

also untouchable, was not a virgin on their wedding night in atmos-
pheric Darjeeling, the former British hill station, where they spent

their honeymoon. “I was outraged,” Pippal told the swarming Indian
media after his arrest, adding that his decision to eat the victim’s

genitals was made instantaneously “to cure my heartache.” Police
say that after murdering the man, Pippal transported the victim’s

severed genitals wrapped in butcher paper to his house, ordered his
20-year-old wife to cook the genitals, and the pair then ate them

together, along with rice masala and dahl. The mutilated victim, with
whom the wife formerly consorted, was an elephant handler in a

small dingy zoo four kilometers southwest of Varamasi. Sarasvati, a
local police spokesperson who goes by the one name, told the

swarming Indian media that “the case is still under investigation but
we strongly suspect that this is a premeditated murder.” The

husband is accused of carrying out the murder, with the wife acting
as a willing accomplice. The victim was found dead in a burnt-out

tuk-tuk in the Manikarnika Ghat sector of Kashi. Pippal had ordered
his wife to contact the victim and set up a liaison in a butcher shop

owned by the wife’s brother. When the victim arrived at the butcher
shop, he found only Pippal, who then allegedly hacked him to

death, hung him upside-down from a meat hook, severed his
genitals, removed the mutilated cadaver from the meat hook and put

it in the tuk-tuk which he set on fire. VV Subramanian, the
prosecutor, insists that the brutality of the crime is yet another

reason for maintaining, even “refining,” the much disputed caste
system in India.

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Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – December 18, 2015

Saint Mother

Pope Francis has endorsed a second medical miracle attributed to
the late Mother Teresa, clearing the path for the beloved nun to be
elevated to sainthood next year, the online Roman Catholic
newspaper Avvenire reported Thursday.

Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II in a fast-tracked
ceremony in 2003, in the Vatican, attended by some 300,000
pilgrims.
Beatification is a first step towards sainthood.

Celebrated for her work with the “poorest of the poor” in Kolkata
(Calcutta), Mother Teresa is expected to be officially canonized in
Rome on September 4, 2016, as part of the Pope’s Jubilee Year of
Mercy, according to online Avvenire’s Vatican expert Stefania
Falasca.

The move comes after a panel of Roman Catholic experts (namely
cardinals, taking a break from pederasty) convening three days ago
in the Vatican, officially attributed the miraculous healing of a Muslim
man from Agra with multiple brain tumors to Mother Teresa,
Avvenire reported.

Mother Teresa, along with her posse of nuns, was touring northern
India and had just emerged from the Taj Mahal, in Agra, when a
sickly man pushed to the front of the crowd and petitioned her.
Mother Teresa saw at once that he was gravely ill and wiped his
perspiring brow with her own cotton head covering.
She then blessed him.
The man was instantly cured.
So the story goes.
This miracle occurred in April 1985, and the man is still alive and
cancer-free, living in Agra.
He is married to his fourth wife and has fathered at least nine
children.

India has been faulted for delaying the process of Mother Teresa’s
canonization because the man is Muslim, not Hindu.
India has vehemently denied the accusation, which it attributes to its
long-time enemy, Muslim-dominant Pakistan.

Teresa, born to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje in
Macedonia, was known across the world for her charity work in the
name of Christ.
She died in 1997 at the age of 87.

Nicknamed the “Saint of the Gutters,” she dedicated her life to the
poor, the sick and the dying in the slums of Kolkata.
Tenderly, she touched the untouchables.
She succored them
She baptized them, but never against their will.
Allegedly.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

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