Steve Aylett: Rogue Volts of Satire

December 01st, 2004 | Category: Interviews

Steve AylettReading a Steve Aylett book is like reading an old Public Enemy Bomb Squad track: layers and layers of frenetic clips and blips fly by at light speed. His epigrammatic style packs so much into each line that the pace and energy are relentlessly held at a fever pitch. The characters are adapted to their environs — some albeit with more success than others.

Aylett coined the concept ”fractal litigation” whereby, “the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world results in a massive compensation claim on the other.” He was born in England and regrets the whole thing. He hopes there’s no afterlife because that would mean “more shit to deal with.” His stories take place in decidedly alternate realities: He breaks down the myriad structures of the day, rearranges them into heretofore unseen configurations, and then describes the action along all-new interstices. In these parallel worlds, no juxtaposition of power is safe from Aylett’s blistering satire.

“It is superfluous to be humble on one’s own behalf; so many people are willing to do it for one.” — Celia Green

“I sent The Crime Studio to William Burroughs to ask him to do a blurb comment for the back cover. A week later, he was dead.” — Steve Aylett

“All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day
Swallow up the pieces
Spit ’em at your species” —Aesop Rock, “Night Light”

Steve’s latest book, Tao Te Jinx (Scar Garden, 2004), is a collection of quotations from twelve of his previous works, as well as interviews and other stories. It’s a pocket manual for blowing minds. “Break your own heart — I’m busy,” “A machine is an office for dying,” and “The great thing about being ignored is that you can speak the truth with impunity” are only a few of the classic Aylett epigrams collected here.

Another one, “My interviews are often spiked because I give the wrong answers,” could render the following exchange completely pointless, but I tried it anyway.

Roy Christopher: From this angle, your work is very slippery. Actually from every angle. What is it that you are you trying to do?

Steve Aylett: Most of my writing is satire, and most of that satire talks about manipulations, lies, and evasions, mainly in regard to power manipulations. But I go on about other stuff as well — if you want to be specific about particular stuff you could choose a particular book passage or story and I could walk you through it, but you’d probably find it to be very straightforward when it comes down to it. An exception to the satire stuff is The Inflatable Volunteer (Orion, 2000), which is basically a nonsense book.

RC: This satirical “slipperiness” extends into the ontologies of your stories: cars that run on attitudes, racist guns, etc. The structures of consensus reality are broken down and recombined in utterly new ways. Do ever wonder — or care — how many people really “get it”?

SA: I’d like at least a few people to get it, and at least a few people do.

RC: Even with the blown-apart realities in your books, you have a real beef with postmodernism. Can you tell us a bit about this?

SA: I’m not so much bothered by the matter of literary postmodernism, than by postmodernist notions as they’re used in real life — where people carry those ideas over into the world, thinking that the words are the same thing as the object they label (that the map is the territory, contrary to Robert Anton Wilson’s urging), and that the objects and facts can be shuffled and reorganized in the same way that their labels can be, including actual people. A lot of times this is harmless: if you give a muddy brick to a student of postmodernism and tell him it’s the beer you just bought him, he should accept it with thanks. But human beings have a tendency to turn just about any philosophy into a justification for the manipulation of others, usually by relabelling people as objects or lower-order creatures, which can then be furnaced or disposed of in any old way. But postmodernism doesn’t even have to be subverted to those ends — it’s the archphilosophy of relabelling and can be used to smooth the way for any atrocity or neglect, any sort of evasion of the real results of your actions. Look at the news and see hundreds of examples of this.

I do old-time satire in the Voltaire/Swift tradition. Real satire, by taking people’s arguments (or evasions or justifications) to their logical extremes, snaps people back to the reality of the situation — i.e., that their evasions and justifications are cowardly bullshit. Of course it only works if there’s a scrap of honesty in the reader to begin with, so it doesn’t always work, and the way things are going socially, it’ll work less and less. There’ll be no honesty to appeal to, and no concept of that. There’ll be no admission that there are facts and nobody will even remember the original motive for that evasion — that to deny that there’s such a thing as a fact, means you can do anything to anyone without feeling bad about it. If you tell yourself they didn’t feel what you did to them, they didn’t feel it. To deny you did it means you didn’t do it. Welcome to the swamp.

Depending on which way things go, my stuff will later on be completely baffling (because honesty is one of the main anchor points for the satirical mechanism to work), or be seen as a simple and obvious statement of stuff that was being frantically avoided by almost everyone at the time of writing. This is assuming it’s read at all or if anyone exists to read it. I suspect the baffled reaction will be the one to occur, if anyone’s around. Hypocrisy won’t exist in the future because hypocrisy requires an understanding of honesty as at least a concept. So satire will be a sort of inert, inoperative device which won’t hook into anything.

I’m on a hiding to nothing, is what I mean.

RC: How’d you get started writing anyway?

SA: I started when I couldn’t find the sort of books I wanted to read, so I had to write them myself. Beyond a certain point, or after a certain number of books read (a few thousand, or in fact quite a while before that) it became clear that no new ideas were being related, only repetitions, and even the most obscure searching didn’t turn up any, so, as I said, I had to do it myself.

RC: What’s coming up next?

SA: The next thing to come out is a book called Lint, which I think is the best thing I’ve done. It’s out from Thunders Mouth (Avalon in the US) around April/May 2005.

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