1) Where did the idea for Eight Cuts originate and what is the significance of the name?
In a very early interview I did I claimed that eight cuts gallery had no real meaning. If I try and graft one on now, I will kind of prove what they say about retrospective mythmaking. The idea came after I’d written at the end of 2009 about the literary world needing to take a leaf out of the art world’s book. I wasn’t really seeing that happen – I didn’t see any Nick Serota or Jay Jopling figures in literature. Er, I’ll stop there before I answer question 2 by accident, but long story short I thought if no one else was doing it, I would. Also, after working in the collective environment of Year Zero, ah bugger I’m doing it again with question 3.
2) You describe yourself as a “curator” rather than publisher and the emphasis of Eight Cuts is on, for want of a better word, experimental writing. Your books have no ISBNs and you’ve described Eight Cuts as an “alternative” publisher? What does all this mean? What’s wrong with the current model?
The curator thing is really important to me. It’s something I wasn’t seeing in literature – both organisers of material and the kind of impresario figure, putting together a collection of work and shouting about it. It happens, yes, but a lot of the people who put things together are also writers. OK, I’m a writer, but I keep that separate from eight cuts. My writing fits what eight cuts does, but it has no place there (the exception being live shows – I’m the group exhibitionist) – my personality is in eight cuts solely in the way I put things together. I should add that since starting eight cuts I came across the amazing people at Peirene Press who do for literature in translation exactly what I had in mind – the care as well as the chutzpah that goes into their list is amazing.
With the online shows, I literally curate. I collect pieces of writing, art, music, film around a theme and put them together in interesting ways. That’s curating the same way you would an anthology or actual gallery, but the internet lets me play with readers using hyperlinks to guide people around the shows, readers choose when and where to click – and on what words/images, and where they get taken sometimes reinforces and sometimes subverts their ideas about where they expected to be taken. It makes them see pieces differently from just having them there on the page one after another. That comes from two things – the fact I wish I’d got into the art world, and reviewing a series of poetry books that all suffered the same problem of giving off the feeling they’d just been bunged down in chronological order. That’s lazy. It’s also rude. It’s like The Smiths endlessly rehashing singles in a different order. I feel like saying, we can read your stuff online, or buy the back issues – why should we bother with the book? Tell me something with it that I won’t get from Google. Put the poem about your first twelve year-old wank next to the one about your mum slicing watermelons. Or something. Yes I like your stuff, and I’ll buy your book, but make me glad I did rather than used.
I guess the writing on the publishing side isn’t regular stuff. This year’s four books are a lot more experimental than last year’s. Mainly they’re just great books that happen to be an awkward novella-ish length. Oli is doing something interesting with the non-reflective first person, but that’s a long way down his list of priorities (the most I’ve got from him is “people can’t write first person for shit. ‘I wonder if…’ Who says that? They don’t. It’s shit”). All our writers are people telling their truths. Maybe that’s experimental – an unflinching commitment to hounding down the truth.
I don’t think publishing’s broken. I just don’t think it suits our kind of books. They have more in common with zines, which isn’t surprising. Cody‘s writing was first published by the US zinesters Love Bunni Press and Geneva 13, and Oli runs Gupter Puncher, a free zine distributed in London, Toronto, Oxford and New York. And I didn’t want people to be able to buy the books on Amazon, or order them from Waterstone’s. We want to work with a tiny number of independent stores. Most of the “real” books we put out there are special editions, limited runs. They don’t need an ISBN. They’re more like limited edition prints than cans of corned beef.
3) How is Year Zero connected to Eight Cuts?
Year Zero is a big collective group that spans a vast array of genres. It’s a fantastic place to showcase writing, and discuss ideas. eight cuts is a place where I have curatorial control over the material, and make no pretence to collectivity. And it sells stuff. I really don’t think Year Zero should be about selling – the focus would be wrong. It’d clog people up. Year Zero‘s about experimenting, playing, pushing without any constraints. eight cuts is about taking finished work and presenting it in interesting ways.
4) Your first two books, Charcoal and The Dead Beat, came out last
year could you introduce them?
Cody James’ The Dead Beat tells the story of Adam and his dysfunctional friends as they try, and fail, to get themselves off drugs and into life in 1997 San Francisco. The Hale-Bopp comet provides a fantastic metaphor for their lives, whizzing through space but at the same time just hanging there, seeming to go nowhere. What makes Cody’s writing so special are its warmth, humour, and energy. I couldn’t really put it better than she did in an interview last year:
“I think it’s probably easy to dismiss the characters as stereotypes, if you weren’t in the same scene that we were. The truth is that three of the main characters are me, the fourth was a friend of mine, and all the other characters are people I knew and hung out with. We were characters, misfits, and outcasts, and that’s why we gravitated towards each other, towards a scene where there was acceptance, loud music by bands who didn’t know how to play their instruments, S&M clubs, drugs, alcohol, motorcycles and fights. We weren’t stereotypes – that’s who we were. What upsets me more than anything in novels and movies in this genre (Selby Jr. I’m looking at you) is that they seem hell bent on portraying only the moments of shock and depravity – they rob the reader and the viewer of the full experience. Yes, we were really fucked up and yes, we did bad things, but we were still trying. I still spent some Sunday mornings eating cereal and watching cartoons with a 7ft tranny. And, even though you’re all jacked up and your apartment has no furniture, you still try. Even though the person cooking the turkey has been up for three days and can’t remember how to work a stove, and your guests keep going to the bathroom to shoot up and then keep falling asleep in the mashed potatoes, you’re still there celebrating Thanksgiving. There are still moments of utter joy and there is still so much laughter. If, as an artist, you don’t portray that, you’re nothing but a cheap hack.”
Oli Johns’ Charcoal is a poetic nightmare. He sold me the book with the brilliant opening line “I watch Michael Portillo fake dying on TV” and had me all the way from there. The narrator, Oli, is obsessed with suicide. He spends his life reading philosophy to try and understand it – when he’s not screwing an underage Korean girl he met online – but just can’t wrap his head around it. Then he reads in the papers about the suicide of a model, and he becomes convinced he could have saved her if only he’d had the chance. Fortunately his dalliances with philosophy and a whiff of magic realism allow him to go back in time, and he gets the chance to put his theory to the test…
5) What’s next for Eight Cuts?
What’s immediately next is our second exhibition, Once Upon a Time in a Gallery, which runs from February 1st to March 31st and features work from around 30 writers, artists and musicians from around the world. There will be a launch on January 27th at our monthly words and music night in Oxford Castle. It’s a great time to be looking at fairytales, which form society’s foundation myths. As we build new communities online and blending the real and virtual, we are in desperate need of foundation myths for them. There’s some ridiculously good work. It’s impossible to highlight anything, but aside from the work from eight cuts published writers, Kirsty Logan’s haunting Rental Heart and Sarah Spencer’s heartbreaking portraits of dismembered cyborgs fit together perfectly.
We have some great shows coming up at Oxford Castle – on February 10th we have five of London’s finest coming to Oxford for one night only – Lee Rourke, Nikesh Shukla, Gavin James Bower, Niven Govinden and Stuart Evers – before they invite us back to London. We have four incredible books coming out. Penny Goring’s NecroRococo is going to be a game changer. Penny is the most original writer of her generation and does things with words no one else would dare. Sarah E Melville’s debut novel This is Paulie follows her extraordinary illuminated manuscript Beautiful Things that Happen to Ugly People, developing from the snapshots in that book her petulant, disturbed alter ego Paulie. It’s told almost entirely in dialogue and it reads like a roomful of Andy Warhol Marilyns. Stuart Estell’s Verruca Music is a completely unpunctuated stream of consciousness about a housebound guy who picks his feet as therapy for his depression. It’s laugh out loud brilliant and will reduce anyone to tears. And there’s Robert James Russell’s biting collection of short stories The Mating Habits of College Girls which is like Rules of Attraction with a conscience. Only more acerbic.
I’d like to do more installations this year. Last May, Katelan Foisy came over from New York and we did this thing, Lilith Burning where Katelan dressed as Lilith, the archetypal eternal/infernal woman, and we went round Oxford taking photos of people’s reaction to her, then spent the afternoon in the store room of a local gallery making them into an artwork that we displayed that evening at the Albion Beatnik bookstore where we’d invited everyone we’d met back for drinks, double bass music and a series of readings about feminine archetypes. I’d love to do more of that, mixing art forms and venues, part planned, part spontaneous – taking a theme and seeing how far we can push it.
There’ll be a lot more live shows, wherever we can get a gig (if anyone’s reading). This is the one thing where I do my own stuff in the name of eight cuts – I can’t keep away from the microphone. And I tend to write transgressive pieces that change tone half way through – there’s nothing so satisfying as watching an audience laughing then stopping in their tracks because they don’t have the first clue what the fuck they should be thinking.
First posted: Thursday, January 27th, 2011.