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Interview with Manuel Marrero – Aiden Burke

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The following interview was conducted live in a hotel room in suburban Queens. Its subject sat recumbent across from me on a nondescript chaise longue wearing wool pajamas, occasionally taking drags from a crack pipe filled with marijuana. He politely declined to be photographed.

So you’re in exile?

Well, it’s pretty hard to pay the extortionate rent here when you have no day job, are manifestly unemployable and a bit of a cunt. Plus, I don’t want to have to earn a living. My parents did that, so it’d be cosmically redundant.

You lived all throughout NYC for five years. In that time, how has your impression developed?

I lived in three boroughs, in order — the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Bushwick and Ridgewood, Queens, the whole time fleeing a swath of gentrification and incredible rent hikes. I know it’s practically staid fable at this point, but just about everything the city stood for is gone. It’s a husk of its former self, and the people who made it legendary would never flourish here now. Safe to say it’s a pastiche of its history, with no new ideas on the horizon. It’s a haven for the very wealthiest and the largest scale free-zone of sociopathic labor exploitation for everyone else. It’s also got great food and one of the most thriving art cultures in the world, so there you have your bedfellows.

Seems like you harbor a lot of spite…

Of course. I do. I watched people get evicted when their landlords abruptly raised their rent by $900. On a dime, just like that! I watched people take up smack to relieve the tedium and drudgery of their hardscrabble work ethics, and worst of all, I watched the people living comfortably take advantage. The landscape changed. In five years, things got exponentially more costly, literally, and the quality of life arguably stayed the same, if that. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with this city when I was nine years old, said I would move here, and did, and I fell in love with the city and many of its inhabitants. I am changed and am grateful, and see myself haunting it as necessary. I may also dispense with dollops of acrimony here and opprobrium there for collegiates conceived of every possible privilege and advantage parroting what they read in books and in the classroom. That’s part of why it’s called Thousands of Lies. To dispel the notion that books contain irrefutable truths. If cleverness is a poor man’s intelligence, then books are a poor man’s refuge from first-hand experience. Just some asshole’s opinion envisaged. The only difference is, experience can get rote and tedious, while books have inexhaustible psychic dimension, because if it’s honest, a book is all dimension and substance, whereas experience invites you, or shuns you, flirts with you, to perceive what’s beneath the prima facie to get that dimension. What’s wonderful about books is that they don’t hide, even when they do. Even then it’s in plain sight. You just have to read it and sometimes dwell on it.

How would you describe Thousands of Lies?

I wouldn’t.

Why not?

Because I can and at great volubility and cost, and that’s a pretty egregious indication that I shouldn’t.

How do you figure?

I serve the work. You don’t need my hamfisted take on something I labored over — I can literally talk about this thing forever, but instead choose to practice austerity and asceticism. I yield to the natural recumbence of the universe, and am repelled by its thrust. I identify heavily with Eastern modes of thought. Creative people are eager to invite themselves to precede their output with their opinions on it. The fact is that it doesn’t matter. If it’s too obvious like that, chances are you shouldn’t do it. It meddles with the mystique. It projects on the reader. Why not just read the damned thing and decide for yourself if it matters?

But… humor me here.

Okay, it’s like eavesdropping on a dissonant chorus of hums.

What’s your take on poststructuralism?

I think it’s good.

Your novel is disjointed, to say the least.

Yes, everything is happening at once and not at all. It would be disingenuous to present it any other way. That premise is frontloaded so you don’t get tricked into having expectations.

What’s the deal with the bold subheaders?

Concessions to clarity. It’s okay to get a little lost — I’m interested in surreal, undulant segues and all that — but I had a couple trusted readers look at it and tell me that at certain points they couldn’t grasp what was happening at the microlevel. There are multiple first-person voices switching off and I didn’t want to jar the reader to the point of completely derailing their comprehension, because there is a narrative. So I aped Godard’s hack in Vivre Sa Vie, McCarthy with Blood Meridian and so on…

There are lots of internal references to real peoples’ work…

 It’s authentic theft. An echo. Often I didn’t realize I was doing it…

Like for example?

The first two paragraphs are awfully reminiscent of Notes from Underground. I hadn’t noticed it until a friend pointed it out.

Why is there no index as referenced in the very first chapter?

Reference is made to a major character eating it.

Literally?

Yes. Agent Rx “swallows the index.” The whole thing employs meta to accost the reader into breaking the fourth wall and believing every word is memoir, while drowning it in science fiction implausibility. Even the title is a tease. It’s about the excruciating process of creation, and that competition with oneself. But see, now you’ve got me saying too much. It’s too fresh for commentary, too personal. I respect it too much to will it to mean anything. It’s like my child. I want it to grow unfettered.

Talk to me about time travel.

 It’s a conceit, nothing more. In art, you get to tell the whole story the way it happened, and again the way it didn’t. And again and again. Creativity is a recursive problem, and I wanted to fully inhabit it.

If you could distill the message of the novel, like what is it trying to say, what would that be?

That we’re institutionalized, officially sanctioned inebriation to prevent us from making connections that would drive any sane person beyond the threshold of rationalization, of their lifestyle and of their existential ennui, reduced to utterances and secretions. We’re wedged between the extremes of rank lawful gain at others’ expense and destructive urges to subvert the rule of state and law via force, and writing is an effort to perforate those extremes while existing well within them. It’s a common enough self-conflict. It’s about transformative failure. The book is also an earnest and conscientious effort to dislodge certain notions of taste and taboo in our sickeningly consensus-oriented society.

Like what?

Let me put it this way, what is written is there to transport the reader. A book is a tree, not a person. A good friend of mine once said, and I’m paraphrasing but it goes something like this; it’s so much more interesting to see what is there than to mull over what isn’t. It gnaws at you, taste, reduces you to a manifest accumulation of quirks. I once had somebody say to me “but I have a right not to like something,” as if that was ever begrudged of him on arrival. If you can get past that, and connect with your once rigidly held negative associations, you’ll find yourself more open, less abstruse, and more confabulatory, even forbid, loquacious. You’ll be a good conversationalist, a cunnilinguist.

Why did you write this novel?

Because I’m lonely.

What was your goal?

To inspire at least one person. One’s more than enough.

Inspire them to do what?

To go mad.

Why’d you self-publish?

Because for my intents, purposes and resources, it was the most sensible thing to do. For peace of mind and final cut. Because I don’t believe in anointed gatekeepers. And because Sergio De La Pava’s wife and manager Susanna inspired me not to bend to the will of agents. Then I realized it wasn’t even a new thing — Gertrude Stein self-published. It was great — I got to do everything I wanted, which isn’t to say the editing wasn’t involved or that nobody else helped. There are six people I acknowledge on the copyright page who were instrumental to epiphanies that shaped it fundamentally. It just meant that the buck stopped with me. Autonomy is very important to me. I never even sent the manuscript out. It would definitely have been rejected, and best case scenario, if there was interest, postponed even more so.

What would be your advice to writers?

 Go to hell.

Who’s your favorite contemporary novelist?

Chris Kraus, Sarah Gerard, Steve Erickson, Sergio De La Pava. That’s four.

What sort of preoccupations do you have with the future?

Publishing some of my favorite writers and artists next year and finishing my second book. But the future is tentative, dilatory — people are skittish and tentative. And I believe you have to feel it. I’ll save the more revelatory interview for Oprah.

What’s your next book about?

It’s very different. It’s a more robustly straightforward narrative, a reflection of what I’ve been reading lately I guess. I suppose it’s about the futility of applying free will to a well-made bed with the sheets tucked in, but it’s too soon to tell. It’s about how the world is fucked and always has been, always will be. My goal is to arouse insanity, anarchy. To hasten the inevitable singularity we can only glimpse the contours of. To make something so undeniable it’s concussive to all preconceived notions of marketing.

What inspires you?

Bloodlust and beauty of the sort that gouges eyeballs out. I categorically reject the idea that they can’t coexist. They complement each other like an ensemble of seethers, an arabesque of leaky cauldrons oozing ink onto each other and leaving viscous resinous trails. I like thinking about the shape and topology of something that need not conform to one, like a narrative. The more spherical and synclastic, the more cerebral the form. Like Beckett’s Molloy, high fiction is there to take you in circles around a neurotic psyche. I like the idea of elusive truths that are like impenetrable hypomanic koans. The whole Lovecraftian thing. Of course, this sort of thing is considered arcane in the 2015 post-Twitter world.

What appalls you?

 I’m gonna hang fire. If you wanted brevity, you’d ask “what doesn’t?”

What is fiction?

In my case, 100% words.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Not really. But I should take the time to invite on behalf of the nebulous entity that is Expat to join us and submit your work. Any work. That is, if you’re good and the New Yorker won’t have you. We’re a bit backed up with books but the blog is hurting for some new voices. The forums could use some discussion. I might have to do turn it into a soapbox for my editorializing just to ramp up the content and believe me, I don’t want to be jacking anything up or off. I’d rather be an avuncular sycophant than a blogger.

Why should people write for Expat?

Because presumably, we’d lust for the same things: creative freedom and a jumping-off point for a future no-strings-attached print project. Honesty, rawness and transparency are the credo. The first thing that needs to happen is literature and art need to get over themselves. It’s becoming more and more bleak how the schools have coopted them, subsumed and specialized them into non-autodidactic disciplines. It’s stunting and stifling and breeds the lousiest sheep. It ain’t a brave new world, it’s the preventable cyclical reversion to elitist entitlement, where the bourgeois get to write and the proles get to rot. Monoculture. It ain’t the medium, it’s the message. Everyone should be enabled and empowered to take a crack at themselves, their human condition through redemptive art. Even if it means throwing some modicum or larger degree of habitual, conditioned normalcy and the trappings of stability out the window.

Anything else?

 Yeah, get fucked.

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