You know the scene – very humdrum
Interview by Chris Killen.
Lee Rourke‘s short story collection Everyday focuses on boredom, anger, frustration and about a million other topics. His writing is bleak, funny, and powerful. As Lee discusses in this interview, his work is often informed by theory, yet there is also something very violent and instinctive and immediate about it. As well as Everyday [Social Disease Books], Lee is the author of a novel, The Canal, forthcoming from Melville House Publishing.
3:AM: Did you have any ‘models’ when writing Everyday; like, an existing structure or certain writers in mind to ‘work towards’, before you started?
LR: Joyce’s Dubliners for starters. Although, I was more inspired by the writing/criticism of Maurice Blanchot and Heidegger’s lectures on boredom in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics… There’s a great book called The Vertigo of Late Modernity by Jock Young too… Obviously there are writers of fiction who have influenced me along the way, in terms of making me want to write, so I would have to mention Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Tom McCarthy, Stewart Home and Samuel Beckett. But I would never try to write like them, I don’t have the brain capacity for that; it’s much easier to create themes, fragments of the everyday. Well, it is for me anyway. I like the inauthenticity of it.
3:AM: How do you mean — ‘inauthenticity’?
LR: All I can think about at the moment is the INS’s declaration: all art is inauthentic: the mere reproduction of a copy. I first read the declaration not long after I had completed Everyday and it immediately clicked. Nothing is original in Everyday; it’s all happened before. The same patterns, over and over again. Everyday works in the same simple way as Warhol when recreating the same iconic image over and over again, or Stewart Home openly reiterating the narratives that precede his own fictions. Tom McCarthy and philosopher Simon Critchley have elucidated this much more soundly than I ever could in their ‘Joint Declaration on Inauthenticity’ for the INS, clause two is of particular interest to me:
For us, art is the consequence and experience of failed transcendence. We could even say, borrowing defunct religious terminology, that it produces icons of that failure. An icon is not an original, but a copy, the copy of another icon. Art is not about originality, but about the repetition of the copy.
I see my writing fitting into this theory. It’s all good fun, I suppose. What truly interests me is why Everyday was created in the first place: I guess I wanted to recreate, or copy, the base materiality around me: the same faces walking to work each day, the same arguments in the road, cyclists falling off their ‘fixers’ and ‘Bromptons’, the same conversations, the same daydreams, the same photocopying machines… A copy of the things of the everyday. I’m interested in Blanchot’s idea that we are all riveted to existence.
3:AM: So, were you consciously thinking of theory when you were writing?
LR: Definitely. A theory of ‘the everyday’, of ‘repetition’ and ‘failure’. And I definitely wrote each fragment in the collection with Heidegger’s lectures on boredom by my side. I was once asked by a journalist I respect if I was writing about some kind of ‘male crisis’, which utterly missed the point of the book (the interview never got published – I think they disliked my book). Forgetting gender, there’s not even a ‘crisis’ per se I’m writing about, I’m just repeating the ‘everyday’. The ‘everyday’ that contains everything: violence, misogyny, love, hatred, boredom, ecstasy, movement, stasis, geometry, et cetera. My book Everyday fails to escape this. It fails. It’s a series of fragmented anti-epiphanies. To return to Blanchot: just as the suicide fails in escaping life, to transcend the ‘everyday’: the only thing that is felt towards death is the noose tightening around the neck, riveting the suicide to the very existence they are trying to escape. Beckett coped with this well, I’m thinking of that beautiful ending to his novel The Unnamable.
3:AM: As well as boredom, a lot of the characters in Everyday feel/vocalise a kind of frustration and anger? How frustrated/angry are you in real life, on a day-to-day basis?
LR: I’m very happy: in love, getting married, solvent. I’m a complete pacifist and abhor violence. Many readers/reviewers have pointed out how Everyday is a reaction against misogyny and the objectification of women, two things I especially detest. At readings I always get asked who my characters are based on. If they are based on real people I know. My characters are constructs; complete composites of my understanding of boredom. There are two character constructs in Everyday: those who accept boredom and those who try to resist it. I am interested in the friction this causes: those who try (and fail) to resist boredom often feel very angry about this. They display this anger/turmoil in their actions: be it verbal or physical. I truly believe that if we all embraced boredom there would be less violence. But then, in a world where nothing happens, I’d have nothing to write about. I find all this highly amusing; our daily struggle to defeat boredom is quite hilarious.
3:AM: Did you have to ditch some stories that you liked but didn’t ‘fit in’ with an overall aesthetic/idea? Are there ‘deleted scenes’?
LR: Yes, there are a few that didn’t make the book. Writing is something I find extremely difficult; it doesn’t come naturally to me. So there are lots of false starts rather than deleted scenes. The stories were written in 2006. I write differently now. There is less noise in my fictions now; I have slowed things down. There is hardly any movement at all in my novel The Canal. I am very proud of The Canal. I think I have finally written something that I can be proud of. I feel honoured that Melville House will be publishing it.
(Lee Rourke with fellow North West Offbeat Tony O’Neill in New York)
3:AM: which contemporary writers do you like? (I might be wrong) but you seem to like a lot of fiction in translation? I would like a big ‘Lee Rourke Reading List’ please.
LR: Oh, yes please; I would urge anyone to read everything by: Gabriel Josipovici, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Francis Ponge, Samuel Beckett, Simon Critchley, Maurice Blanchot, Tom McCarthy, Jon Fosse, Anna Kavan, Ann Quin, Marie Darrieussecq, Michel Houellebecq, JG Ballard, Blaise Cendrars, Stewart Home, Gwendoline Riley, HP Tinker, Jacques Roubaud, Marguerite Duras, Céline, James Joyce, Dumitru Tsepeneag, Juan Rulfo, Gilbert Sorrentino, Lydie Salvayre, Gert Jonke, Fernando Pessoa, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Michal Ajvaz, Juan Filloy, Zoran Živkovic, Nathalie Sarraute, Benoît Duteurtre, Thomas Bernhard…There’s so many more, but I guess you get the picture.
3:AM: What do you think is the future of publishing/writing in Britain and elsewhere?
LR: The future has got to be with the independents, hasn’t it? They’re the only people taking risks, publishing work that matters. I mean, the big conglomerate houses aren’t interested in the continuation of Literature, or culture, that’s how I see it; they just want to sell trash to people who have become mollified by a culture of quick-fix explications; resulting in a brash insistence to disengage from the obscure, a collective escape towards a vapid, homogenised cultural void where celebrity, with its myriad fads, has become a way of finding validity. We are wheeling within a sanitised epoch that is told to shun anything difficult; anything ‘different’… It’s a sad state of affairs, really.
3:AM: How long have you lived in London, and has living there changed the way you write at all?
LR: Yes, it has. It has given me distance; I can observe things more objectively here. In Manchester — being a Mancunian — it was all too close. Maybe the longer I stay away from my much-loved Manchester the easier it will be for me to write about it. One day I would like to place some of my fictions there, I guess. I have lived in London for about five years — I became a writer here… I love London. London has everything I need.
3:AM: ‘Manchester; so much to answer for’?
LR: Manchester’s input culturally to the world is quite staggering. Be it music, politics, sport, literature, art… The Romans who built it, the Irish, Arabic, Jewish, Eastern European, Slavic, Asian and African diasporas who made it their home and enriched its culture. Marx and Engels writing their observations and early manifestos in the John Ryland’s Library, the Peterloo Massacre, and the first municipal library in St Anne’s Square. Quality Street sending the Kray twins back down to London on the very next train at Piccadilly Station. Central Station Design (my cousin). The first atom was split in Manchester; the first computer was invented in Manchester (Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), Charles Babbage); there is something distilled in the River Irwell that feeds every Mancunian a desire to make their mark, I’m pretty sure of that. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
(see Lee Rourke’s interview with Chris Killen here.)
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, February 19th, 2009.