Here I get to talk to her about Alt Lit, ambition, white privilege, and the Great American Novel. Buckle up for the ride!
1. I often think those who care the most about something are those who get angriest with it. What is it about Alt Lit that you care about so deeply, and what makes you angry with it?
I care about the Fact that Other People my Age are writing. I care about my Peers. What makes me Angry is how Little Depth and Creativity the Vast Majority of the Alt Lit Scene demonstrates, yet how convinced it is of its “Alt”ness : Most write a kNock off of Tao Lin’s Prose - Solipsistic Middle Class Minimalism. Those who are promoted within the Scene are those who imitate Best. That and Girls who have Sx with Famous People. Any One with Ambition to creating a Unique Literary and Artistic Style, Any One writing for Bigger Reasons than telling the World what they ate to Day would be pissed off by this.
2. I want to ask a few questions about the question of privilege, because it's something you are actively engaging with. You talk about making your protagonist aware of her privilege as a way of pre-empting criticism. Talk me through that.
3. You talk elsewhere on your blog about the invalidity of those outside an oppressed group speaking for it. Going back to the previous question, what practical and theoretical questions does that raise for you as an author whose job, many would say, is to imagine yourself outside of your group (I ask this with particular interest as a middle class white male who has a hidden disability, aware of both my privileged and oppressed status and constantly wrestling with whether and how to transcend that)?
4. You talk about what makes a great writer and weave this into your discourse about privilege. Do you feel nervous as, by your admission, a white-privileged writer attempting definitions of what makes great culture? How would you go about talking to a writer from a non-privileged background who had a wholly different opinion, and would your backgrounds be relevant to the conversation?
Art is Subjective. We All like Best what relates to us Personally. My Take on what a “Great” Writer is is Hugely Biased. My Education is in “Western Canonical Literature and Philosophy,” which is Overwhelming White, Male, etc., so, those preJudices affect my Opinions, even when I’m reading Books by Ladies of Color, for Xample ( take my Review of Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues : Esi Edugyan is Black, she’s a Lady, so she’s coming at the Canon from the out Side. Her Book had Great Themes and won the Giller in 2011, a Lot of People loved it, but I found her Prose to be Sloppy ). All I can do is be Honest about this Fact, and be willing to hear those who want to challenge my Point of View, eSpecially when it comes to where I’m Biased. After All, as in Art / as in Nature - Diversity is the Name of the Game. I’m Bored of Well off White Males! I want to see Writers of All Back Grounds flourish. That doesn’t mean I’m going to drop my High Standards, it just means we can’t let our Biases blind us. Honestly, whatever you think is Great Writing is Great Writing ( if you think Half Blood Blues is a Great Novel, it is ). The Fun of being an Art Critic, though, is seeing if you can’t get People to come over to your Side of Things. Where Two Equal but Opposing Opinions meet, we have Dialectical Synthesis, we have Xpanded Minds. Maybe I could get this Imaginary Person to see the Beauty of Tolstoy.
5. Alt Lit is a milieu that immerses itself in the digital world. Full participation in it requires the money to buy technology, being born in a place where technology is available, and having the time to write. I would say it therefore is more prone to being exclusionary than almost any other form of literature. My own feeling is that most practitioners are either completely unaware of the problems of privilege this raises or just dismiss them with a shrug of the shoulders. What's your take?
6. Should writers try to change the world?
7. You describe yourself as the most ambitious person in Alt Lit. What is the object of that ambition?
8. OK, now your book Splendid in/Sanity. Your pronouncements have set you a hell of a task to live up to them. What does your book have that other alt lit books don't?
9. From what I've read of it on your blog, the style is not what I would expect from alt lit. Most alt lit I've read is written in a very close point of view sort of like Burroughs, Kerouac and Brett Easton Ellis put through a blender. Your narrative voice is very distant, impersonal. In a way it's much more "classical" than much contemporary literature...
10. Why are you so interested in the Great American Novel? I ask that as a writer based in the UK where GANs are by and large a huge turn off with their mix of overwheening ego, overtly misogynistic/colonialist structure, and lack of beauty and invention. On the other hand, most UK writers I admire look enviously to French literary culture. Do you think it's a similar thing in Canada?
11. By the age of 30, Andrea Coates would like to have...
12. By the age of 30, Andrea Coates will have...