This is a printer-friendly version of this article. Click here to return to Rain Taxi.
Polemarchy: Urdoxa, Codex Obscura and beyond
an interview with Kane Faucher
by Astrid Jaida
Kane Faucher was born in Ottawa in 1977. The author of two novels, Urdoxa (2004) and Codex Obscura (2005), which contains an introduction by Raymond Federman), he writes for both academic and literary markets. He is currently in the PhD program at the University of Western Ontario's Centre for the Study of Theory & Criticism.
Astrid Jaida: One element of your prose that struck me was its polemical tone. Could you say a few words about why you chose polemical prose as an expressive vehicle in your last two tomes?
Kane X. Faucher: For me, literatures of excess must produce cancerous multiplicities, and I found that reviving the notion of polemic as a literary concept was keeping in line with some of my most treasured writers: Francois Rabelais, Louis-Ferdinand Celine (my biggest influence, especially his final trilogy), H. L. Mencken, and more contemporaneously, Hunter S. Thompson and P. J. O' Rourke. The benefit of polemical writing, and not in the archaic scholastic sense of the term (to which it owes its roots) is the ability to place in the mouth of a character what I call a combinatory streaming; that is, I combine vitriolic terms from a varied lexicon: 17th century nautical slang, Victorian rebuffs, 1920s flapperspeak, contemporary political punditry, and good ol' 20th century expletives. These I shuffle together with a dash of various pop culture references, a flurry of neologisms, and an unapologetic usage of heavy theory terminology. This produces a kind of mosaic effect, or glyptolaliac mˇlange. I started the Urdoxa series with a more plot-based narrative, and it wasn't until penning Codex Obscura that I came into my stride and style, forsaking plot in favour of disjointed rants and elliptical statements knitted together in a weave of character-based diegesis—and occasionally violating that diegesis with intentional inconsistencies and contradictions. Really, Urdoxa and Codex Obscura are character studies of one impossible figure named Jonkil Calembour, who—like a Deleuzian assemblage—is never one, but many, in a state of perpetual becomings. One of his firm polemical principles is that of Ekel, or, the poetic will to vomit. Polemic is a lot like that—vomiting, that is—since it is the last form of viable resistance left to us when the other two forms constantly run aground (either academic critique which no one in power reads in our climate of hostile anti-intellectualism, or physical resistance in the form of storming barricades, which only justifies bigger police budgets and the dialectic between State and small-s subject). Polemicizing is a purging, and one can do it literarily.
AJ: The format of the books seems to conform to a fictional appropriation of critical academic texts. Your use of endnotes and laudatory—or bloated—introductions by fictional appraisers of the main character's life and works appears to poke humour at that market niche of reprintings of famous scribes and thinkers preceded by academic encomiums. How does this fit into your own textual matrix?
KF: I pulled that trick from Jorge Luis Borges and his (or his characters') self-effacing footnotes. Blurring the line between fiction and life, fiction and theory, would have to be one of my main focuses in producing books like Urdoxa. I find it patently ridiculous when academicians attempt to reduce a writer's life to the simple metrics of a chronology, not to mention that grievous assault when, posthumously, writings are pigeonholed into an illusory strata of unity, forcibly tied like a caboose to the tradition in order to grant validity to that writer. To me, an introduction of that stripe is a rhetorical attempt to bargain with the reader, to demonstrate relevance in capsule form as to why we should honour dead writer so-and-so. Imagine trying to make Artaud tidy or to give Nietzsche a bowtie—such attempts at "damage control" by "established critics" of a dead writer seem to detract from the writer's oeuvre. My satirical counterpunch was to illustrate the inherent and imminent failure of enshrining the dead and tidying up the empirical messiness of their lives. The main character of both of my books, Jonkil Calembour (whose last name means "nonsense"), is impossible to define by a mere cluster of criticisms and persona-determinations. Moreover, he is painfully aware of his future posthumous fame (as was Celine), and so endeavours to make it as difficult as possible for future scholars to assess the truth behind his works, life events, etc. Calembour goes out of his way to muddy up the clues and create a barrel of red herrings—one such instance is his tearing up of all his unpublished manuscripts, inserting them at random into his vast library, only for future assessors to question whether there was a poignant reason or not for his including manuscript page 455 in page 128 of Hegel's Logic. In sum, Calembour is a polymath who "harlequinizes" the academic industry, forever violating that dictate of the honest narrator. What I am hoping to achieve is that blurred line that causes one to question whether or not Calembour really exists, or at the very least, exists as a type.
AJ: In the first book, Urdoxa, you have Calembour building and destroying empires, owing to his rather arrogant claim that he has no worthy adversary in this world. Does this seem rather nihilistic or does it have a more Nietzschean nuance to it?
KF: For Calembour, arrogance is a symptom of genius. Calembour fancies himself an overman, of sorts, since he has affirmed his return as a type in the eternal return. The long bits on the metaphysics of pop culture came from an old side project of mine, and I must say that many of my incomplete and aborted theoretical projects have found their likely vessel in Calembour. Writing "calembourese" grants me a freedom I do not have in academic contexts; namely, to juggle salient ideas on the page without fear that it would jeopardize that other world of mine, the struggle towards professorship. It's a convenient ruse to hide ideas behind fiction, so much so that one could label a great deal of science fiction in the 1950s and '60s a thinly veiled political science fiction. Calembour's motivation in erecting and dissolving empires—be it the dance club empire, the Voynich manuscript translation fiasco, the Codex Obscura snafu, the gynecological art surgeon blitz in Berlin, and so on, was my way of exceeding the general tendency to reduce an individual to a handful of manageable defining facets. If Calembour can succeed at all these things, then he is definitely a creature of constant becoming, in league with the will to power in the affirmative sense, even if he seems stuck in that active nihilist stage of destruction. Calembour is a self-professed cultural physician, so the texts themselves are studded with constant rabid social critique, even on the notion of terrorism. Controversy doesn't touch a man who is already a pariah, dying of emphysema in a rundown shack, hounded by college newspapers and creditors.
AJ: Your second book, Codex Obscura, is prefaced by Raymond Federman. I would have thought that so much content devoted to one of Calembour's apparently favorite subject, Nazism, would have caused a stir.
KF: I couldn't see why. Calembour does quite loosely and reflexively make links between the current US administration and the Roman empire in its decline, or to make hasty linkages to Nazi Germany...but those who understand Calembour's tone instinctively know when not to take him seriously. I think it goes without saying that Calembour never makes reference to Nazism as something positive, and usually reserves those references to his long streaming polemic. An "Archie comic nazi republic of shame and failure governed by President Babel-Goebbelstein," to quote Calembour, does not wax dismissively on the Holocaust whatsoever...Even he has dignified limits. As for Federman furnishing that introduction, I was absolutely floored. That a giant of laughterature and surfictionalist ecriture would even deign to grant this was nothing short of miraculous. However, he bears his greatness well, with a kind of friendly modesty that makes him very approachable. His care for the small press and emergent writers operating in the experimental milieu demonstrates further that he is in a class all his own, deserving of more honours than we currently have at our disposal.
AJ: Do you think your books are a bit hard to follow without first being well-immersed in the particulars of philosophy, literary theory, and the like?
KF: Perhaps. I have a somewhat unapologetic relationship to readership. That is, I see no reason to pander and condescend when it is just easier to assume my audience has much more elasticity than a homogeneous conception would grant it. If I have an audience at all, that is. By weaving in various pop culture and "low brow" references, I blur the lines, and hopefully don't come off as drawling jargon and skeuomorphs in tow like some browbeaten collegiate at the altar of research experiencing something like pleasure.
AJ: What do you mean by skeuomorphs?
KF: I seem to be violating a tenuous principle of mine in even discussing my work, its metrics, its methods, and so forth. As Foucault might say, I am periodizing myself (which is impossible), and so therefore I am finished. But what I mean here is this: I would be aghast and dumbspoken to actually grant myself some bloated label in the history of literature. Let's face it: as producers of the virtual and the new, the tendency is that we like to tie ourselves to the caboose of the canon at the same time as distance ourselves as something radically different. The conflict "resolves" itself by the construction of an appellation that we can brandish for easy, mnemonic reference among literati aesthetes. Terms like "New Poetics" or "Neo-Victorian Prose" or "Post-Beat Poetry" have a false ring to them in my ears, a jangle that suggests to my rather cynical self little more than posture and the re-creation of prior movements that cannot truly be called "dead" (since we still speak of and study them). There is a hint of largesse—okay, a heaping dose—in aligning oneself with a New York movement that says "art is dead," or a recrudescent hokiness and futility in signing up with neoists planning art strikes that only reify some false religious character to the production of art. One of the major problems in art, if I may make a broad swipe, is the tendency to compensate for lack of creativity or the malaise of "everything's been done before" by trotting out a series of new prefixes to modify the existing lump-categories of artistic movements. This process of skeuomorphization is like a rash on the perennial fruits of artistic labour, and we ought to have done with it. The tight emotional encasement of an artistic production that is insecure about its own identity too often becomes the source of violence as a response—I find neo-anything a form of that violence.
AJ: And, yet, you resort to the creation of several neologisms, about a thousand or so in each of your books.
KF: Indeed I do, although they are mostly portmanteaus. There are two reasons for this: first—and the most obvious reason—is that some terms are limited in their capacity to denote a particular idea or object since it seems that often enough (for me) linguistic referentiality fails to capture what I seek to express. Second, I am poking fun at Theory's tendency to manically overproduce new terms, so much so that I have heard in the select corridors of academe that one may be judged on the profusion of new theoretical neologisms one introduces to the discourse. Neologisms in that vein seem to embrace many functions: as a drug for theory-mad producers, as a private encoded language for those who desire to belong, and as an exclusionary practice to somehow fortify the theory-environs against critical outsiders looking to pick a fight. I prefer the responsible play of language rather than the literary or academic cockfights that try to determine who can produce the most neologisms.
AJ: Okay, I have to ask: why the big books?
KF: I just have that lust for the big book. In that category I place Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, Gass's The Tunnel, Wyndham Lewis's The Apes of God, Joyce's Ulysses, and Cervantes's Don Quixote. I like the feel of the dauntingly overpowering text, the impossible nature of it being read, the engulfing by prose. I won't arrogantly claim myself in the ranks of those just mentioned, but it is something I aspire to, almost as a reaction to the economic realities of production costs and shorter attention spans. Why generalize, though? A big book is a brick, and a brick keeps one's shelves from flying away, I suppose. I have to be honest: not many people like my books. They are large, cumbersome, and studded with dense verbiage—and even the intentional character of it as a form of satire does not win many readers. Others are offended by what they deem a radical liberal punditry, while others take offense to the flippant remarks on Christianity. The polarized nature of readership is fine, just so long as some substantial emotional response is elicited. A tired cliché, but I don't write to be popular, I write what I feel and think I ought to write.
AJ: Nany of your recent pieces were published on the Internet rather than in traditional hard text. Do you find the market more appealing? Dangerous? Convenient? Dynamic?
KF: Maybe I'm lazy and poor. It's easier to send a submission over the dosh and lumber-sparing Internet than through conventional means. Sure, this means that my work will not be in the next Atlantic Monthly—not that I think it would appear there anyhow. I think webwriting does present new and dynamic possibilities, and several cavalier and brazen webzines have emerged with daring mandates, unfettered by the production costs of producing paper journals. There is much more freedom and selection, but with that freedom comes, sadly, more dross. And then there are those webzines that are possessed by their own flummery to the point that they act as yardbullies of what they deem to be "good writing." It is harder to attract the interests of big publishers with a long grocery list of webzines on one's publication vitae, but that does not matter much to me. The community aspect of sharing and reading is what ought to take pole position in writing. I would like to say much more, especially about the emergence of blogging, but nothing I have to say on the matter would be altogether novel. The Internet is a big white space of potentiality that has quickly succumbed to being compartmentalized and hyper-corporatized by opportunist digicrats.
AJ: What is next in the Urdoxa "Decalogue"?
KF: Perhaps the book, Fort & Da, will be next, or Ratio Fragnoscendi. I will continue this ten book-long character study right up until the end when, in Beckett flourish, I write "Jonkil Dies." I have enough material to fill twenty large volumes, so I cannot say if I'll stop at ten. Fort & Da will trace Calembour's brief stint as the horrific art surgeon, but I can't say more than that. Right now I am working on the unwritten works of Nietzsche, the trilogy of transvaluation that his illness prevented him from completing. In that vein, I am postulating from his theoretical trajectory, absorbing his stylistic nuance, and taking a bold run at picking up where he left off—albeit as though he had popped into our contemporary world. My next literary plateau will be more of a return to the first novels I wrote, or at least to the spirit—and viscera—of those days insofar as I wish to construct a work that leaves and indelible mark—the experience of writing that leaves me bearing a scar, something perhaps personally psychologically damaging rather than something so surface as reputation-as-writer. I think in the last five years I've been carrying the narrative at arm's length, sinking into characters like so many masks when the masks ought to be wearing and driving me.