RockCritics.com
 



Concrete Jungle: Interview with Darren Wershler-Henry

By Scott Woods

This interview with Darren Wershler-Henry was conducted ten years ago, in 1997, I'm pretty sure--I can't find the exact date. It was originally published in Popped, my first online 'zine, back when we were both still working at HMV. (See, kids, there's hope for all of you.)

A little bit about Darren: an experimental poet, born in Winnipeg and based in Toronto, he is author/editor/co-author of nearly a dozen books, mainly on poetry and technology. NICHOLODEON: a book of lowerglyphs is a book of concrete poetry that had just been published prior to this discussion. (For elucidation of the term "concrete," read on.) More recently, he has written The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting, a widely acclaimed "intelligent, irreverent, and humorous history that traces the haphazard trajectory of the typewriter’s development and its various evolutionary dead ends"--so says the New York Times. While not a rock critic per se--though that depends how far you stretch that title; me, I tend to stretch it as far as it can go--rock and roll nonetheless infuses both Darren's writing and his conversation. Several times in this interview, we start on the thorny subject of poetry and end up talking about blues, about hip-hop, about metal--like that.

This conversation took place over nachos and beer, at Pauper's Pub in Toronto. We were joined part way through by our mutual friend Lucas Mulder--also at the time a concrete poet and HMV employee (the ratio of concrete poets to non-concrete poets at the HMV Superstore was surely some kind of record as far as music retail goes). Lucas was kind enough to transcribe this discussion. Or anyway, half of it.

Further reading

  • New York Times review of The Iron Whim
  • The New Yorker review of The Iron Whim


    -  -  -   -  -  -  -  -  -   -  -  -  -  -   -  -  -  -  -  -   -  -  -  -  -   -  -  -  -  -  -   -  -


    Scott:  Before coming across your book, I'd never, to my knowledge anyway, encountered concrete poetry; I'd never actually heard of it, until I started hanging around with Lucas, and then your book made a big splash in my life. Oddly, I'm still not completely sure what it is. Before I get you to define it, I want to give you my probably simplistic definition of what concrete poetry is...

    Darren:  Okay.

    Scott:  Fully aware that there's many more tiers to it than what I'm going to offer you here, and then you can respond. My feeling is that concrete poetry is, ideally, a poetry you can actually touch. Meaning you take everyday, commonplace materials and symbols, and produce a language out of it.

    Darren:  Well I think--I would sort of re-position that by saying what it does, what concrete poetry does when it works, is it reveals the everyday aspect of language, in that language is in many cases something that many people believe is part of the priesthood: it's this sacred thing, and poets are the people up on the mountain, in touch with the muse or some sort of higher mind or something, and they go out and they have these mystical experiences and they bring them back to the people in the form of poetry. But I think what concrete poetry does is it says, no, language is a material thing, as material as the table we're sitting at or the pen that you write with. And words are tools, they're things--you can do things with them. And people are so used to not thinking about them as things, that they tend to see words and books as something like a window that you look through into some sort of abstract meaning. But concrete poetry is like turning the window into a stained-glass window, so that you realize, okay, well this paint is red and this one's green, but this poem that you're reading is actually made out of physical letters. That's the importance of it to me.

    When I write visual things I like to do them in such a way that you're forced to read something that you normally think of as visual art; you sort of have to stop, conversely, and think about it as a visual object. Why is this font on this paper, why is it on this size page? All those things matter. That's the guts of it, and what bpNichol used to say was that concrete poetry for him was a VISceral experience, it wasn't a head thing at all--it was something that you experienced immediately and physically, and it's part of the world that's all around you all of the time. So yeah--that's a good, solid start.

    Scott:  So, in respect to language... what is language? Are all mediums a language?

    Darren:  Well, a 'sign' in basic semiotics, a sign is anything that can be used to tell a lie. That's what Umberto Eco says. The implication is that any act of communication has some sort of noise or falsity in it, so basically everything, in a sense, is a lie because there's always a slight fuck-up somewhere, a misinterpretation, a misunderstanding, and that's part of the reason when you get to the back of my book you find this set of "surplus explanations" that points out from the start that maybe what you're looking for isn't going to be there, these explanations aren't necessarily accurate or even relevant.

    Scott:  You say "misreading is mandatory."

    Darren:  Yeah, yeah, I think that's true across the board. Language--getting back to the question of what language is--you know, language is what we use 'cause we don't have anything that works better.

    Scott:  Understand that I'm coming at this from a layman's perspective, but there does also seem to be something very abstract about concrete poetry, especially to the untrained eye or the untrained mind. There's stuff in your book that to me, and I'm sure to a lot of other people unfamiliar with the genre, looks like squiggly lines and weird pictures. I mean, that's also what I kind of like about it. I was kind of expecting a long book of poems, basically, and was not looking that forward to it, thinking, you know, I don't really want to read a whole book of poetry. But then when I saw what you were doing with images and that, it seemed a lot more interesting. But a lot of it, still, to me, is an abstraction. So, first of all, is it accurate to call it an abstraction? And if so, is it sometimes an abstraction for the sake of abstraction?

    Darren:  Well, it's one of the ironies of the name. You have this thing that's called 'concrete,' and it often is very abstract. One of the things about it is it's a set of codes, like anything else, like a genre of music, like rap or jazz or funk...

    Scott:  Metal...

    Darren:  Or metal. Concrete is like a set of conventions that you have to learn to sort of understand the genre. And the stuff in the book ranges from things that come from the codes that most people will know in everyday life. Like the one poem that everybody seems to grab onto is the grain poem, because that falls into a set of codes that you'll learn: if you know anything about puns--and most people do--and if you've ever seen something like "Sesame Street," that could've been a clip straight out of something like that. Things that allude specifically to the history of concrete poetry--which is kind of the secret history of western literature; even most people inside the academy don't know about this stuff, because it comes out in very small print runs and has a highly specific audience, often composed of people who have deliberately removed themselves from the mainstream of academic studies... So yeah, there is an abstract element to it. And I sort of wanted to have the whole range in my book, things that people would get immediately, and things that would be more puzzling. There are things in there that are very close to pure abstraction, things that are there simply because I like the shape of them or there was some quality about it that I found interesting or funny, and not because it has any deeper intrinsic meaning...

    Waitress:  Two more?

    Scott:  Sure.

    Darren:   Yeah, please... And I think what makes a successful poem--or what makes good art--is how resonant something is in terms of how many layers you can pile on top of each other...

    [Enter Lucas mulder, fellow HMV-er, concrete poet, and a member of the Popped top brass...]

    Scott:  Hey!

    Darren:  How many ways are there to read a given object? And as an artist your job is to make something as dense as possible so that...

    Lucas:   It matches your readers...

    Darren:  [laughing] Matches your readers! Hey Lucas--good entry line!

    Lucas:  Sorry I'm a little late.

    Scott:  No problem, glad you came. We're on, like, question two of about 40. On to a more obvious question, how and when did you discover concrete poetry?

    Darren:  My official story--and I'm sticking to it--is the first poem I ever read and liked instinctively, without anyone telling me I had to like it, was this poem written by bpNichol called "Blues". And "Blues" basically does what all blues does, it takes the word 'love' and reverses it into 'evol'--e.v.o.l. And the pun there is not only on 'evil' but on 'evolve.' So the poem was written in 1966 and it's in just about every concrete poem anthology that's ever existed. It has this massive job of representing, monolithically, all of concrete poetry...

    Waitress [to Lucas]:  Can I get you something?

    Lucas:  I'll just have a coke. [pause] Or can you make that ginger ale?

    Waitress:   Sure.

    Darren:  It was interesting and fortuitous that it would be that poem, but not all that surprising.

    Scott:  Did you discover it in university?

    Darren:  Yeah, it was in this anthology called 20th Century Poetry and Poetics. Gary Geddes, the guy who edited it, actually cut the concrete poetry out of the second edition.

    Lucas:  He considered it no longer relevant.

    Darren:  Yeah, he said, "It doesn't matter anymore, I'm gonna cut it out." And of course Lucas and I take high exception to that. But Fred Wah was telling me apparently they're going to put it back in.

    Lucas:  I didn't take any more courses at Concordia because of that. Second year poetry I dropped out.

    Darren:  It's an interesting thing, the politics of that, how art movements get--they sort of wax and wane in relevance. Who knew when Paul's Boutique came out that in 1997 we'd be sort of hailing it as the lost masterpiece of the late '80s? It's the same thing with concrete: it comes and goes in its relevance. Like right now there are 15 people that I know of actively writing concrete in Toronto, which is a pretty good number. It's really the only coherent aesthetic movement in poetry in this city right now. So yeah, the relevance comes and goes. And in my book there are a number of places where that poem ["Evil"] keeps coming back up, one of them is "Bluesexplosion," you know, playing off not only the importance of that to me, but the importance of Jon Spencer.

    There was a comment from a friend of mine that the book didn't have enough sex in it, so I thought by, you know, putting in blues and Jon Spencer specifically, and the image of this curvy, 1950s sexy woman--there's the sex, right? And the other place is there's a poem in there called "Amo(i)re," which is the poem "Blues" turned into a grid and then rotated and dropped back on itself. So it's a physical translation of the poem, but it also literally addresses the notion of love, you know, the 'i' being in love and how that all plays itself out. And it's the only poem in the book that uses colour, and of course, it uses red instead of blue; so there are all kinds of resonances going on there. If you look at the notes there's a reference not only to bp, but to a Czech poet named Jiri Valoch, who made a specialty out of making moire concrete poems, things that used repetitive patterns imposed on themselves. So, that poem, I've got a lot of mileage out of that. My friend Steve Cain has a parody of it called "New Age Blues," which I think is really funny, where he uses the same structure, you know, the love-evol, but he took the word 'evian' and reversed it into 'naive.'

    Scott:  Do you think Sonic Youth were at all aware of that when they named their EP Evol? I mean, they might have just stumbled across the same pattern...

    Darren:  Yeah, I mean that whole sort of love-evol thing, that's one of the most basic chops in rock and blues, and Thurston Moore being an art guy, maybe he'd seen bp somewhere but I'd be kind of surprised... You never know, though.

    Scott:  Yeah, as you say, with them being art guys.

    Darren:  The whole weird connection between Richard Meltzer and Dick Higgins is an interesting case in point. Dick Higgins being one of the most interesting, really experimental poets, and publishing one of the first books of rock criticism in North America.

    Scott:  It's interesting what you said earlier on about how "Blues" was the first poem you discovered without being told to. As you explored concrete poetry more and more did you find you had to work at it, or did bpNichol's stuff tend to really hit you in the gut? What I'm trying to get at is comparing it to rock and roll--you know, often it'll just hit you over the head, hit you in the gut. Or does it require reading into it, or whatever?

    Darren:  It depends on the piece.

    Scott:  Yeah, yeah, for sure.

    Darren:  But I'm the same way with music...

    Lucas:  Lost...

    Darren:  I remember the first time I heard Public Enemy's Nation of Millions; you know, it took a long time to learn how to listen to that. I mean, I thought it was brilliant, and I couldn't get enough of it... Or, I don't know, the first time I heard really really fast thrash, the first time I heard D.R.I.'s Dealing With It, or something--it took awhile to figure out how to listen to that, too. The flipside of that is that Rheostatics' song, "Me and Stupid," he's talking about how having something happen was like the first time he heard Aerosmith or the first time he heard the Ramones. Finding "Blues" was the "first time I heard the Ramones" experience. But something like, say, the poetry of Steve McCaffery, who was bp's partner in writing.

    Lucas:  In crime...

    Darren:  Yeah, in crime, for many years, that's the Public Enemy experience. Actually, I think that's a pretty good metaphor: bp is to the Ramones as Steve McCaffery is to Public Enemy.

    Scott:  That's interesting that you say that, actually, 'cause one question I had for you was, I was gonna ask you to place bp in the context of a metaphor--I was going to say, "bp is to concrete poetry as _______ is to rock and roll."

    Darren:  Well, I mean the other common metaphor is the Four Horsemen, the sound poetry troop that bp and Steve McCaffery and Paul Dutton belonged to, to the Beatles: bp would have been Paul and Steve would have been John, so you've got a "Paul is dead" scenario, instead of a "John is dead" scenario. [laughs] And we used to have a running joke about going out and playing the Four Horsemen, and fighting over who got to be bp--it was like, "You always get to be bp!"

    Lucas:  Poor Paul.

    Darren:  Yeah, well Paul [Dutton] is like the George Harrison--the misunderstood one.

    Lucas:  Goes off and does his solo albums somewhat in the shadow of his band mates, though it's real cool cool stuff.

    Scott:  Making instrumental synthesizer music?

    Darren:  Well, Paul's a jazz musician, and plays piano, and has all these other interests, and he's still out there plugging away doing all these beautiful and interesting things, but he hasn't certainly got the critical attention that bp and Steve do.

    Lucas:  And, frankly, he deserves it.

    Darren:  Yeah, yeah. I'm trying to do my personal part to redress that. The last chapter of my thesis is entitled "The Plastic Typewriter" after a book of Paul's.

    Scott:  As a concrete poet, while you're actually in the throes of writing, does the question of accessibility enter your mind?

    Darren:  Well, part of--as a poet, you know, your notion of accessibility I think is crucial to how you approach your writing, because if you think about it at all, the decision to be a poet means that you're going to be talking to a limited audience. The statistic that I always remember is 10% of the population buys more than three books a month. Of that 10%, 2% is buying three books of poetry--I'd maybe even say, optimistically, one book of poetry. But talking about someone buying concrete poetry--you're talking about a fraction of the population, right? So, your audience basically ends up being the people you know. And the thing that has been really gratifying about NICHOLODEON has been that the people that have been interested have not just been the writers I know; there's been this whole sort of crossover thing from all the other sections of my life. And there are things in this book that people at HMV recognized that the poets never get, like the whole hommage to Saint Kurt, "The Apocalypse of Saint Kurt" series. Part of it is about Schwitters, the poet, but the rest of is Kurt Cobain, and I remember [fellow HMV staffer] Phil Reilly looking at the middle image, where the angel is dropping the string of letters and numbers, and Phil immediately recognized it as the catalogue number from Nirvana's In Utero. And there's the staff tag made from the Tool stickers.

    So, it goes back to that question of resonance: can you make something significantly layered that even somebody who isn't a poet is going to be able to grab something? And I don't want all the answers to be there, but I want there to be weird little knobby corners. It's like a climbing wall in an indoor rock climbing gym: how many weird little knobby bits can you have sticking off your poem that will allow a number of people to get to the top by doing it in groups?

    Scott:  Is NICHOLODEON actually entwined with your current studies? Does it have anything to do with what you're actually studying right now?

    Darren:  What my dissertation is on is the use of the typewriter in concrete poetry, and bp is really important to that. But in terms of what my interest is, and the interest of people like Lucas and Damian Lopes is what happens in concrete poetry after the typewriter? How do you address the whole question of exploring that field in a world of computers and the world wide wed and desktop publishing? Because, you know, we've all read our McLuhan--you know that the whole thing is going to change as soon as you put a new frame around it. So part of what NICHOLODEON is about, is exploring--it's like the difference between analog and digital, it's exploring the same themes from a digital remaster, going back and saying, "Okay, you can take bp's vocabulary and his ideas, and pour them into the context of a computerized world, and what comes out changes." It's almost a kind of translation process. And there are translations all through the book, and many of them deal explicitly with what happens when you take things that were done in a world of typewriters and simply put them into the computer. The whole game changes.

    Scott:  There seems to be a lot of chance or something in your book, and I assume in concrete poetry in general.

    Darren:  Yeah, well chance...

    Lucas:  You could go back to Dick Higgins and his work.

    Darren:  Yeah, Dick Higgins, and other people like John Cage, Brian Eno--the "Poem for Brian Eno" is in NICHOLODEON--I've thought a lot about Eno's chance operations.

    Scott:  Right, what was it called, 'Discreet'?

    Darren:  'Discreet Music?'

    Scott:  No, what were the cards?

    Darren:  Oh, "Oblique Strategies." It was funny, I was talking to this guy the other night on CIUT about that, and that was the example I brought up, the "Oblique Strategies" cards. So, there's a lot of cut-up in the book; the poems that are marked with scissors and the word 'exsection' are at least partly cut up. I tend to think of cut-up in the same way that Burroughs does, that it's a device for generating ideas, but it's not something you can just plug in and get a whole poem out of. That happens about as rarely as sitting down and getting a whole poem. All cut-up does is it basically demystifies inspiration, because all you're doing is you're laying out in front of you the process of thinking up an idea, rather than occulting it and pretending it comes from outside from the muse. It's saying, you know, the muse is this thing made of clockwork and springs and printed circuits, and this is exactly how it works. And once you've done that a number of times, you can cop to the fact that, no, you don't have a unified eye and you're not this privileged human being who's receiving these special thoughts, and get on with the business of writing. I was talking to Jeff Derksen, another poet I know, a couple of weeks ago, about the subject of cut-ups and he said, "Yeah, you use cut-ups when you think you still have an 'I' to deconstruct." But once you realize that the lights are on and nobody's home, you can just go about writing from your head--it's all cut up anyway. It's a Zen thing: you learn the process and then you forget it.

    Scott:  There's an interesting line in, I think it's Greil Marcus's Mystery Train, where he quotes some country musician or something, talking about the impact Elvis had, and he says something like, "It was the dance that time forgot, but as soon as it happened, everyone remembered within ten seconds." I don't know if that's kind of the same thing.

    Darren:   Yeah, it's important to think about convention in that way, in literature and music and pop culture, because a convention is only interesting so long as it's not the dominant convention. The example I always use for my students is Quentin Tarantino, because when Reservoir Dogs came out, and that first scene with Tim Roth bleeding all over the inside of that car and screaming like a crazed motherfucker, you know, that came after ten years of Eddie Murphy and Beverley Hills Cop where you can empty 75 bullets into a guy and he stands there and goes [imitates person shaking wildly], and you know, he doesn't bleed, he doesn't fall over, and he sure doesn't scream, so [Reservoir Dogs] actually reintroduced pain and blood...

    [Unfortunately, side 1 of the tape ended at this point, cutting off Darren in mid-sentence. On to side 2 where a new thought is picked up in semi-progress.--ed.]

    Darren:  There are lots of false oppositions in art. Anytime you get two schools sort of warring over each other. It's like, Labatt 'X' or Labatt 'Y'--the only real choice is to drink some other fucking beer.

    Lucas:  Watch television.

    Darren:  Yeah, watch television. Anything but the obvious. You know, Blur vs. Oasis--who gives a fuck?!

    Scott:  Well... yeah...

    Darren:  It's like in the North American context the rules shift, and that rivalry only makes sense in England.

    Scott:  By and large I guess that's true, but from my own perspective I still have this real kind of pop intensity, that I love it when fans get really charged up about music. With something like that [Blur vs. Oasis] I almost always eventually get interested in the music, it almost doesn't matter what it is. So the Blur vs. Oasis thing...

    Lucas:  Blur's better.

    Darren:  [scoffs]

    Scott:  Actually, I took the Blur side first, 'cause when I first heard Oasis I just thought, this is so straight ahead--it's just kind of pathetic that people are interested in it. And I thought Parklife was a great album, but then they released that absolute garbage album [The Great Escape], though I do think the new album [Blur] is really strong... Anyway, the point being, I kind of like having that removed context from it, and yet still feeling like I'm part of it, and I have to admit, I was a total sucker for it, reading the British press closely for a year.

    Lucas:  $15 a magazine.

    Scott:  Yeah, it's kind of pathetic, probably, I'm 32 years old.

    Darren:  But ultimately you still take the dialectical approach; you're sitting outside the two of them and you arrive at this third opinion.

    Scott:  And I can write about it.

    Darren:  Yeah, so you've got a kind of critical distance.

    Scott:  Yeah, but I, I kind of want those kinds of arguments to be happening in the lunchroom.

    Lucas:  You don't necessarily want to take part in it.

    Darren:  It's always been important to me to have a passionate opinion, but an informed opinion, and that takes me to Torque: that was a space I created because there was no other forum to talk about this kind of stuff. And of course, it lends itself to parody very quickly. My friend Brian did a whole series of Torque covers with other names that sounded like it: there was 'Bjork' and 'Kevorque'--as in Jack Kevorkian--and 'Porque' and 'Forque.' And my friend Bill wrote this manual, a tongue-in-cheek manual on how to be a poet in Toronto, starting out with picking which school you're going to belong to and what kind of poet you're going to be, and there's this aside about Torque as this forum, basically for concrete poets to complain about how maligned and badly treated they are by other poets, which I thought was really funny.

    Scott:  That sounds a lot like rock journalism!

    Darren:  And that was exactly what I thought was missing in the first place--you know, to see that delights me in a perverse kind of way. Because in order--you have to make that initial gesture in order to get any kind of dialogue at all. Somebody has to stand up and say, "Excuse me, but I have an opinion." Which just doesn't happen often enough.

    Scott:  Let me ask you a few specifics about NICHOLODEON. I'm curious, is that [pointing to the mutated bar code on the back cover] a concrete poem?

    Darren:  I think so.

    Scott:  You obviously fucked with that.

    Darren:  Yeah, I did fuck with it, it's true. The thing about bar codes...

    Scott:  Bar codes are a passion of mine, actually.

    Darren:   Yeah, I like bar codes too. I mean, we live in an age where everything is reducible to a commodity, because everything has a bar code on it, and in a sense it doesn't matter whether you're running a piece of fruit or a book of poetry over a UPC scanner, it still reads it as a commodity, as a series of numbers, something that can be sold. This goes back to something that bp wrote when he started the "pataphysical hardware company, the motto of which is, "Everything that signifies can be sold." Not only does anything that signifies sell a lot, it can also be sold--you know, the duplicity of commerce that we deal with all the time. So taking a bar code and turning it into something non-utilitarian--it's a political gesture as well as an aesthetic one. And I've been doing a little reading around this, and since I did that I'verealized that there is this whole history of artistically altered bar codes. In [HMV 'systems guy' and poet in his own write] Gary Robertson's office, I saw this a couple of weeks ago, there are these two Rolling Stones bar codes: one of them has a ripple effect in the middle, and on the other one they did a wavy, sort of similar design to that one [pointing to NICHOLODEON]. He had a big poster of it, I couldn't believe it.

    Lucas:  All across America housewives draw reasonable facsimiles of bar codes and send them in, UPC codes, right.

    Darren:  Yeah...

    Lucas:  One UPC code or a reasonable hand drawn facsimile will work. Housewives all over America are doing concrete poetry, to win washing machines and dryers and stuff.

    Darren:  My favourite thing is that in Japan, they actually have this little hand-held computer game, and it has these little warring robots or something on it, and the robots were powered by--you put a different bar code in each side and the robots fought determined by which bar code was...

    Lucas:  Whichever bar code was bigger; they had it in Canada just briefly.

    Darren:  Yeah, I wish I could've found one of those things, 'cause I really wanted to buy one; it's a really good metaphor for consumer culture. Because you have no idea if the bar code is from a can of peaches or, you know, from the industrial strength vibrator that you buy from some sex shop on Yonge St.--it's gonna win and it's kind of fishy because you don't know what the criteria is. One of my other ideas about art, and I keep coming back to it over and over again, is art is what you get when you take a tool and you use it in a way that it's not supposed to be used. That goes from John Cage's 'prepared' piano, or punk guitar, to, once again, taking a computer and figuring out how to make art from it: there's the bill bissett poem in there ["Nightmare Anthology: The Corrected bill bissett"], where I took just his poetry and ran it through the Microsoft Word spell checker to generate a whole new poem.

    Scott:  And disco and hip-hop music...

    Darren:  Yeah, yeah.

    Scott:  They pull in stuff from everywhere, stuff that's not expected, stuff that shouldn't be there almost, and they make it aesthetically pleasing as well.

    Darren:  Well that's it, the appropriation of a sign from somewhere that's not supposed to be used--that's what makes good art.

    Scott:  Speaking of bar codes, something vaguely related--well, I don't think it's vaguely related, but do you foresee the Wild Palms-type scenario where we're gonna have bar codes...

    Lucas:  You and your Wild Palms!

    Scott:  This is the apocalyptic part of the interview. Do you see that scenario? I mean, let's face it, we're moving into a cashless society, and--I don't know, do you foresee a day when we're gonna have bar codes on our hands? As ridiculous as it sounds to some people.

    Lucas:  Only at Bennetton's.

    Scott:  [laughs]

    Darren:  I think--I mean, it's been proposed on a number of occasions. Like I think Jesse Helms proposed it for HIV-positive people.

    Scott:  And they're putting the chips in the animals so people can find their lost animals. Which I think is pretty horrifying.

    Darren:  Christofer Mills [another of HMV's resident artist-wackos] had a weird street flyer on his office door where somebody had taken one of those things, for the chips they put in animals, and they said, "This is the Mark of the Beast--this will happen to you." My feeling is that it will come more down the route of cell phones, where five years from now, basically you'll be issued a cell phone and a phone number at birth--that will be the thing that you won't be able to get rid of, to the point where it atrophies down to something like the "Star Trek" communicator. People are always bagging on and on about how enlightened and democratic the "Star Trek" society is, but it's this total space of surveillance where the computer knows where everybody is all of the time.

    Scott:  Yeah, yeah. I'm not a Trekkie at all, but I was recently watching--what's the latest "Star Trek" called?

    Lucas:   "Voyager"?

    Scott:  No.

    Lucas:   Deep Space Nine.

    Scott:  Yeah, like I was watching that and thinking, this is really awful what's going on.

    Darren:   Oh yeah. Every now and then there are these weird moments where you sort of catch America with its pants down around its ankles, ideologically speaking.

    Lucas:   Literally too.

    Darren:   On "Deep Space Nine" when they got that little ship that they use--what is that thing called? The little space ship where they go off into the...

    Lucas:   The Defiant?

    Darren:   The Defiant--yeah. It's got cloaking technology on it, and the first time they get it they say, "Well gee, isn't this illegal according to the treaty that we have with the Klingons?" And they go, "Well, yeah, but we had to build it in case the Borg came back." And basically what you have is a metaphor for the American black budget, the military budget that they construct all these weapons that they're not supposed to have; and that happens over and over again in the "Star Trek" universe, you get these sort of translations of really thorny ideological problems--metaphors that people just swallow. It happens with books all the time, too; you know, a press will start up and start publishing things and everybody goes, "Oh gee, isn't this wonderful," and nobody says, "well no, wait a minute, this is kind of fucked up"--why are these people being published now instead of any other sort of slate of options? That has its analogy in poetry too.

    Scott:  Well let me pose this next question to both of you. How do you guys feel, on an emotional and intellectual level, about some of the emerging new technologies? [To Lucas] You've been talking about the 'wave' and stuff, and it ties in with, like--two issues ago Wired had that front page editorial...

    Lucas:  The 'push media' thing, yeah.

    Scott:  The idea that as soon as you boot up your computer, someone's gonna kind of be there.

    Lucas:   Well, see with the wave you're always hooked in, too--you turn your computer on and you're online.

    Scott:  You said yesterday you were looking forward to it.

    Lucas:   I'm looking forward to it, I actually am...

    Darren:   Yeah just wait for the Ted Rogers desktop that's in there...

    Scott:  Well, talk a bit about that.

    Darren:   Well it's like--I think there's something to having a little bit of space between you and the digital environment. It took us forever just to get to the point where we got call answer and answering machines for telephones. Avital Ronell, who's a theorist and translator, she wrote this book called The Telephone Book and it's about the role that technology played in the rise of Nazi Germany, in the Fascist state, the way that the telephone line sort of sutured the state together and allowed it to operate in a certain way. And the Autobahn does the same thing: it's a conduit for moving data and objects. And her thing is--the first line in the book is, "And as soon as you pick it up, you are already saying 'yes'." And the point is that ultimately technology has no off switch, once you've got something you have to use it: we used the A-bomb, you know? Every fucked-up thing that people think up will eventually be used, so you have to figure out a way to cope with that.

    Scott:  Do you believe you can subvert it, or just merely cope?

    Lucas:   Well I think everything can be subverted, but it's contextual. A gesture that's subversive one moment isn't subversive the next. Marilyn Manson is not as interesting as Alice Cooper, and never will be.

    Lucas:   He's in the hospital, by the way.

    Darren:   Marilyn Manson's in the hospital?

    Lucas:  He gashed his head on the amp and passed out due to blood loss, they thought it was cardiac--in Hawaii.

    Darren:  In Hawaii?! Marilyn Manson out getting a tan [laughs]--that's fucked up.

    Lucas:   The press said he slashed his wrist on the stage.

    Darren:   There you go--it's a question of context. After Iggy Pop, mutilation is just not interesting.

    Scott:  Yeah. Well even Alice Cooper to Iggy Pop: Alice Cooper was kind of the grandiose, obvious--I think Alice Cooper's great, don't get me wrong--but Iggy Pop was kind of right in your face, doing it, whereas Alice Cooper was more of an act. And he's the first guy to admit it--that's one of the things I think was great about Alice Cooper.

    Darren:   That's the thing, subversiveness is always contextual, so once you've done something you have to stop doing it and do something else. And there may be a time when it becomes useful to make that gesture again, but you just can't keep doing it over and over and over again, outside of the moment. That's what [Greil Marcus's] Lipstick Traces is all about, this sort of eternal need to to recapture the moment when you were relevant, both in terms of Richard Huelsenbeck and Johnny Rotten changing their names away from the names that they were famous for and then changing them back, trying to recapture that moment when everything was possible and the world could change; but you can't ever have that moment again, you have to come up with a new moment. And, in many ways, Public Image was way more interesting than the Sex Pistols' reunion. It did something that--again, it was ahead of its time.


    [And thus concludes this portion of the interview. Somewhere, in a box stashed away in a cupboard, sits a mini-cassette with another half hour or so of rambling among the three of us about Camille Paglia, the term "postmodernism," and god knows what else. The truth is, I think there's some juicy stuff on that tape... some day, some way, I'll unravel it.]