Coming from Hull, England, Andrew Hodgson discusses English Shiterature, torture of birth and rebirth, and how to make a living out of writing.
You have an impressive resume as far your studies are concerned, having studied in both London and Paris. You have recently gotten a PhD in English and Comparative Literature, which means that you must have read a ton of the old classics. How does that influence you and your writing style in particular?
Well, I guess lessons learned from ‘classics’ or ‘canon’ writing would wheedle their way in, but much of my reading has generally been framed to be received as objects trying to dig away at that idea of arbitrarily classicked standards of writing, or big-L Literature. In school English class was generally referred to as ‘English Shiterature’, as from the viewpoint of noughties East Hull, Dickens and Austen and all that were very much alienating entities – they presented a vision of quotidian reality that appeared entirely skewed, or fantastically irreal – I personally, have rarely worn a smoking jacket to post-prandial brandy – and the idea that this was ‘culture’ seemed to reinforce that Literature wasn’t for us, and we couldn’t have a part in it even if we’d wanted.
It wasn’t until later that I found that in the wider field of literary writing the sentiment was shared. For example Brigid Brophy et al.’s ‘Fifty Works of British and American Literature We Could Do Without’ or in writers like François Le Lionnais and Noël Arnaud, the Oulipians who weaponised claims their writing was ‘para’-Literature. They argued that work such as theirs acted as a kind of ‘literary-paraliterature’, an artistic centre to the many artefacts of language that code quotidian reality – tabloids, detective novels, comic books, advertisements, signage; graffiti… that would push against a reductive canon imaging of the real that seemed to posit itself as almost transcendental in the way the act of reading becomes a kind of upper-class mask – you have to exit your life and let the ‘lettered class’ dictate quotidian norms that are not your own in order to participate, for Arnaud and Le Lionnais the perpetuation of Literature acted to reinforce ‘bourgeois’ imaging of reality – and causes a cognitive dissonance in which the quotidian realities of life and the dominant cultural imaging of quotidian realities don’t add up; we live in the former, but undoubting acceptance of canon would force us to façade that we experience a kind of holographic pretence of the latter. The vast majority of the writers I work on view this as a kind of contagious socio-cultural sickness, in which dominant cultural imaging of the real – the tradition of ‘Classics’ – serve to perpetually falsify the world we live in around us, which in itself has its own ‘truthhoods’ and ‘falsehoods’ we should be trying to approach.
As I here sit to respond to you, the tv by the door of the cafe is chucking out poorly dubbed Columbo, with his cigar wagging about in my periphals. Across the road the signs read left to right ‘Restaurant Ice Cream Wifi Delirium [image of pink elephant] Passion Culture Passion Culture’. The five different conversations going on at neighbouring tables slip in and out of each other with variations of forcefulness by which a point must be made or forgotten. On the table is Stephen Coulter’s 1977 ‘The Soyuz Affair’ – it’s shit, but not in the same way as before, nor good-shit, but a kind of shit-good. The real-world is awash in language coda, it would be disingenuous to re-, or de-skin all that.
Your novel ‘Reperfusion’ establishes a deeper connection with the reader by breaking the fourth wall, with one of the most prominent features being an unreliable narrator. Thus, the reader has to read the book thoroughly and carefully in order to understand it. What was it like writing it? Was it a challenge considering it is your first (published) longer piece of writing? Is the novel based on any personal experience?
‘Reperfusion’ was in itself a daft and arduous project to undergo. I was 21-22 at the time of writing, and after seven or so years of failing to write anything that felt at all close to what I wanted writing to be, was trying to both kill ‘Literature’ from the novel, and kill myself from narrative presence. I wanted vying planes of prerogative over reality to exert themselves on fiction – for the narrator to fully realise its egocentric nature, for the reader to be confronted with their ‘tourist’ position in fictive reality, for character to learn that they are but a mechanism. And to play with these positions – the reader is not inhabiting the fictive world, but turning up on a tour bus sun-screened and bumbagged, the flash from their camera disturbing the people who have to actually live in it – the narrator would slowly learn that, despite their elevated position as mediator, they too, with the close of the book must die, and be, unknowingly reborn again and again to relive their fictive cycle, to eventually die out, as the book-object itself rots and fades away – for the characters that people fiction to understand the contract they signed when being written, that the romance, or tragedy, or comedy, or tragi-comedy lines they have been written on is not a fair trade for being allowed to live at all, but that they must live the most horrifying torture of birth and rebirth within those lines without self-knowledge that they will forever be trapped in the prison of narration and reception by the vulgar disinvested other (the reader picks up a book as carelessly as they put it down). For these people there is no ‘after-book’, until the book itself disappears and they are finally allowed to properly die. It is the reader here, who, in their touristic indifference, enacts this torture.
And so in the book itself the narrator-figure is embodied, but so is the reader-figure, and they tour the fictive space like on car – do not open your doors – safari.
The first lines of it were written in sofa-bed on the rue Meslay to the sound of the demolition of the old Place de République, but the rest was written a while later on Hanway Street by all the Spanish bars, replete with the 8 am til 7pm demolition of the building across the road to build a new Primark (which I’ve since been in, it’s not great). With ‘Reperfusion’ I took ‘kill yourself from book’ somewhat literally, and took the thing to Hull, and built a lot of it around the place and people and my family (the docks, the chippy, the idiom). I don’t know if that achieved anything, but a lot of what I described is not there to be climbed on anymore.
Can we expect something similar from ‘Mnemic Symbols’, your upcoming novelesque?
It’s certainly intended to develop along the idea of asking similar questions, but in different ways maybe, and much less concerned with trying to look like a novel. As the title infers, it’s an attempt to open up fictive self-signification as a kind of Freudianish hysterical remembering.
In one of your articles, you touch on the subject of job struggles of aspiring writers. How did you tackle the problem? At the beginning of their careers, writers have to deal with constant rejection. Is there a point where you simply get used to it?
As regards ‘tackling the problem’ of paying work, not very well I guess. I see these themes of a ‘life of rejection’ or ‘Jekyll and Hyde living’ around writing and academia come up on twitter every now and again; working in a call centre, but doing a reading and signing books at the LRB once every six months &c., or, being expected to publish a monograph and four articles to stand a chance at getting out of ‘teaching fellow’ territory, which entail 4 am writing windows, either way. In terms of ‘creative’ writers, this isn’t much discussed, as if it would dispel the myth of cheroots and bolly in the Ritz bar, I guess. ‘ECR”s, as we seem to be called in someone’s vernacular, seem to be generally more publicly pronounced about the seven jobs they have to maintain just to participate. There’s a great deal of precarity involved, as I think the article you mention discusses. Though I think there I characterised finding a platform for putting out writing, and finding paid work that would allow for said writing as a hopeful war of attrition with life, when rather it’s more like it’s the individual that’s progressively triturated, or diluted – not by life, but by trying to participate in obsessional things like ‘literature’. Probably better sacking off the whole thing, and off to a beach in Argentina, to teach the seagulls EFL.
You have been changing your environment between London and Paris. What is the art scene like in both cities? Which one suits you better?
Writing is a very isolating act, and I find, not particularly conducive to the formation of ‘scenes’. Those I’ve occasionally accidentally slipped into appeared to wear their ‘art’ status like a mink stole, a kind of complicated and redundant stage-dressing to hide an overabundance of money, or lack of imagination, or often both. This appears to transcend maritime boundaries.
So when it comes to writing, your surroundings are not a key factor in finding your inspiration?
It’s not really a thing of inspiration, but the people and place and routines around you are what becomes the way the writing forms at all, in a sense. But then, it’s an art of them and that and those, than some standardised and manifestoed group, or ‘scene’ or movement, or whatever.