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Globalization of the Worst Kind


Andrew Stevens interviews Arthur Nersesian for 3:AM.

3:AM: Your latest, The Swing Voter of Staten Island, is another New York novel from you and another which references geography in the title.

AN: Actually this ‘Staten Island’ is set in Nevada. Recently I wrote another novel that was primarily set in Tennessee, but I’m having a difficult time getting it published, so I think I’m getting a certain pressure to stay in New York. This is unfortunate because the New York I’ve been encountering today is not the same New York I grew up in. Even though the streets and basic layout is the same, a lot of the local institutions and people are different. With a dozen new high rises shooting up in the East Village, New York has become an expensive young person’s city. Whereas the New York I grew up in was somewhat impoverished, older and not nearly so white.

3:AM: Do you see yourself as a New York writer or an American writer?

AN: I see myself as both a New York and American writer, particularly since in many ways I feel that New York carries some of the finest aspects of America. In regard to New York writers, some more current writers whose works I enjoy are Jennifer Belle and Kate Christensen. New York writers of the past who were inspirations for me include Poe, Whitman and Herman Melville.

3:AM: Obviously with a title like The Fuck Up you’re bound to encounter a few problems. Or was it all plain sailing?

AN: That question goes to the very history of The Fuck Up. I initially wrote it in ’87, and tried to get it published the following year. It had a calm title, The New York City Subway System. Still no publisher would touch it.

By ’91, after my agent tossed it back in my lap and said he couldn’t get it published, I decided to publish it myself. While doing so, I asked various Village booksellers I knew for advice. After all, what chance did a self-published novel by an unknown writer have? One bookseller named Harris said put a naked girl on the cover or the word fuck in the title. I always thought that my character was a fuck-up so what the hell, The Fuck Up was born. I sold out of my little printing and reprinted it three times before Akashic Books reprinted it.

After that MTV/Books made a miniscule offer, but I took it. When they were first going to publish it, I wondered if they’d ask me about changing the title. (When a German publisher bought the rights and printed it, they re-entitled it The F Train Blues — without even telling me.) Anyway I’m sure that Fuck Up title was a factor in its success. As far as how MTV handled the title, their designer did a wrap around cover, so on the front all you see is UCK-UP, which became a running joke for awhile. I did remember reading an editorial attacking vulgarity and mentioning The Fuck Up along with a list of other works. Other than that I never had any problems.

3:AM: Returning to Staten Island, what was the idea by replicating New York City in Nevada?

AN: I do feel that New York is undergoing a kind of globalization for the worst. The city is losing a sense of locality — and with it, its history and culture. This is not to be confused with the divide-and-conquer crisis — also in the novel — that America is going through, in which Democrats (fictionalized as Crappers) and Republicans (Piggers) have created such a stalemate that a fascistic group can hijack the leadership and serve large corporate interests. (Halliburton has fled America and set up its headquarters in Dubai, away from Congressional Scrutiny.)

3:AM: I see you read at the Brooklyn Book Festival recently. Do you think Brooklyn is to NYC literature now what the Downtown scene was in the 1980s?

AN: After spending a lifetime in this city, I’ve seen it go through three distinct phases. When I was growing up, the city was in steady decline. It bottomed out in the 70s, and slowly started coming back in the 80s. Initially I remember passing through these neglected communities and wondering if people would ever come back. Now that all this new money is being poured into it, and the cost of living is constantly rising, I’m wondering how long before I’m compelled to leave? I do know for a fact that it will not stay where it is. All that goes up must eventually come down.

3:AM: What is the unpublished Tennessee novel you mentioned, does it have a particular agenda?

AN: It’s set just before Katrina, a mystery about an alcoholic reporter who has been trying to write a story about the inadequacy of FEMA, but instead is sent to cover a tabloid story down south and stumbles over some dead Elvis impersonators. It borrows a bit from the myth of Cassandra, about a prophet who no one listens to.

If by agenda you mean does the novel suggest that our country is obsessed with puerile garbage while we’re ignoring deadly issues — of course not. I’m just trying to tell some funny stories.

Arthur Nersesian is an American novelist, playwright, and poet of Armenian and Irish descent. He was born and raised in New York City. His novels include The Fuck-up, Manhattan Loverboy, dogrun, Chinese Takeout, Suicide Casanova and Unlubricated. He has also published a collection of plays, East Village Tetralogy. He has written three books of poems and one book of plays.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 8th, 2007.