Author Archives: Alexander J. Allison

Pride (In the Name of Dissent)

Yesterday, I sat across the room from the most decorated Olympian of all time. Michael Phelps was playing poker at a private table with his friends and girlfriend. When Phelps walked in, I initiated a round of applause. In a room of fifty to sixty people, no more than six people joined me. I asked my tablemates why they weren’t clapping. One replied that he doesn’t clap Americans.

The difference between nationalism and national pride seems vague at best. Like many online natives, I find nationalism to be a stale and musty concept. National borders don’t impact my life in any significant way. By opening my laptop, I am given access to communicate with every English speaking nation on Earth.

In ‘real life’, my social group is multicultural and multi-ethnic. For the most part, we lean towards a cynical consensus on matters like the Royal Family, the Conservative Party and ‘traditional’ British values. Within our group, I’ve certainly never felt compelled to identify myself as British or English, let alone debate the semantics of their difference. Yet in this Olympic fortnight, that same social group has been caught in a maelstrom of national pride.

Pride is a messy, inarticulate emotion. This is well evidenced in the nonsense lyrics of U2’s classic power ballad Pride (In the Name of Love). The song is supposedly about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I for one did not realise.

In researching this article, I conducted a few interviews with my friends. When I challenged them to justify their pride for our Olympic athletes, they unanimously resorted to tautology. They are proud because they are. Obviously. As I probed further, they began to distinguish between the notions of individual pride and collective pride. Most concluded that pride on someone else’s behalf is no more than happiness. Undoubtedly, this capacity for compassion is crucial to proper moral and human behaviours, but it also carries a rather dangerous implication, since pride for some necessarily means shame for others.

Other friends took a different line when pressed, becoming strictly analytical. One explained that his taxes have contributed towards the funding of each athlete’s training. He is therefore somehow complicit in the success of that individual/team, even if only by the most tenuous extension.

We know that pride can be blinding. We learned that in Nazi Germany. We learned that in Iraq. We learned that in Penn State. Watch here as young, bright minds riot in support of a paedophile.

In this fortnight, there has been no mention of this danger. Here, The Independent run an article lambasting Morrissey for pointing out the jingoism surrounding Olympic euphoria. He is labelled a sensationalist for noting the lack of a dissenting voice in the national press.

Somehow, international competition justifies what is no more than a tribal and territorial response. To be part of something, to know ones place: it all somehow enforces the prized maxim of the western world – Know Thyself. A wisdom that refutes space for abstraction. A wisdom too stubborn to not understand. Know Thyself and with that pride, you shall never have to be humble enough to concede, wise enough to relinquish, or small enough to be lost. You are what you are. Don’t you ever go trying to change.

Pride can be a force for good. When uniting an oppressed people, there’s a lot of emotional force that pride can harness. Otherwise, idgi.

‘I want to be able to help’ – A Conversation with Richard Chiem

I have been Facebook-friends with Richard Chiem since March 2011. We have 146 mutual friends. This amount makes up around 10% of Richard’s total friends. We started speaking on a semi-regular basis during early stages of a [now defunct] literary project spearheaded by Frank Hinton. In the time I have known Richard, he has been writing fiction almost exclusively. Before this he was the 2009 recipient of the UCSD Stewart award for poetry.

Richard’s literary persona is demure and composed, his reading voice is a balmy lullaby. Here, he reads Frank Hinton’s ‘Something Pure and Good’ from her collection, I Don’t Respect Female Expression.

In many ways, Richard is the literary antithesis to Steve Roggenbuck’s brand of hyper-positivity. Despite this, the two are friends. Steve appears regularly on Richard’s tumblr and they recently performed together in Seattle. I spoke to Richard about his connection to the Pop Serial collective.

Artifice

  • Do you feel part of the Pop Serial group? Stephen [Tully Dierks] has been a big fan of your work for a long time.

Richard Chiem

  • I owe a lot to Stephen and Pop Serial. He was one of the first people to solicit my work. I remember at the time, how excited and honored I felt. I think for me, it always comes down to the work ethic and how people behave. I love what’s going on right now, and I agree with Steve Roggenbuck, that not everyone needs to be prolific, but I am tired of being lazy. I never want to be lazy another day in my life, unless it’s with loved ones. I think I fear, but only a little, being grouped with other Gen Ys. I think Gen Ys are called spoiled and lazy a lot. I want to be able to help. Help what? I am not sure, but I know I want to be able to.

Like Roggenbuck, Richard dropped out of writing school, feeling aversion to the culture of coasting by, on the ‘little nods’ from professors. Where he might differ stylistically from other Pop Serial contributors, Dierks clearly recognises some unity in Richard’s work ethic and good tempered spirit.

Richard certainly does not come across as lazy. He is the founding editor of vertebrae, a journal of art and poetry. In the last twenty-four months, he has been published widely, appearing in issues Two and Three of the seminal journal, Pop Serial and our own Artifice 4. In the time I have known him, Richard has authored two ebooks, What if, Wendy (Pangur Ban Party, 2010) and the exceptional Oh No Everything Is Wet Now (Magic Helicopter Press, 2011), a multimedia collage co-authored with Ana Carrete, a fellow Pop Serial writer.

In 2011, Richard moved to Seattle to live with Frances Dinger, another member of the Pop Serial community. We discussed how this move affected his work.

Richard Chiem

  • Well, in San Diego, aside from Ana [Carrete], I felt like I was a lone wolf in a way. There were writers there, but they were all old school and highly academic. I feel if writers come to San Diego, it’s to get away or something. In Seattle, I feel like every other person is a writer, which made things more competitive at first for me, but then I realized it was more important to kind of slow down and step back and know the most important thing was to be human.

Though Richard can now speak positively about his decision to move on from writing school, he recounts the period immediately after as one of severe depression. During this period, he wrote the majority of what became the short-story collection, You Private Person (Scrambler Books, 2012). We spoke about his motivations that produced this work.

Artifice

  • Is there a theme to the collection? Some overall thing to be taken away?

Richard Chiem

  • Perhaps survival; the young surviving. I was definitely trying to see if I could survive without academia and I knew the only way to do that was hard work and being human. I hope that reflects in the book. How to be human, however strangely.

Artifice

  • Are you a private person?

Richard Chiem

  • I grew up as a private person, I think. I am definitely an introverted person that likes to take risks and sometimes those risks are simply talking to other people. But I don’t know, after middle school or so, I became more confident and excited for conversation. I try to never feel embarrassed, which is hard to get away from, but when I manage it, it feels like skateboarding or something. How about you?

Artifice

  • My instinct was to reply that I was. But it wouldn’t be true.

Richard Chiem

  • Yeah, me too. I think more than anything, I am more disciplined now, which causes me to stay in more often. I don’t think it makes me more private though. I enjoy the things I don’t share equally to those things that I do share.

Artifice

  • Do you feel your book is something intimate that you’re sharing?

Richard Chiem

  • Yeah, I think it has to be, or else it’s not worth putting out. […] I’m proud but I don’t think that’s the point. I am very eager to keep going. I just don’t want to get too caught up in the celebration. Like, I don’t think it’s time to celebrate yet. I would rather use the merit for fuel.

Artifice

  • Is there anything you read/listened to while putting You Private Person together? Anything that influenced the way it was composed?

Richard Chiem

  • Movies actually had more of an impact. They’re more like weirdly inspired by things. ‘What If, Wendy’ is actually my own fan fiction of Half Nelson. ‘Planet B Boy’ is titled after the documentary of the same name. ‘Cutty’ is my fan fiction of The Wire.

Artifice

  • Can you see yourself writing professionally?

Richard Chiem

  • That is the goal, yes. I just have to put the work in. There are examples to follow, Tao just being one of them, Blake Butler another [Blake has written one of three blurbs to You Private Person].

Artifice

  • Have you met Tao or Blake?

Richard Chiem

  • Not Blake but I met Tao once, I think back in 2010. He was on tour in San Diego and crashed at my place. It was a big deal for me to meet him. When I started to read Tao Lin, I thought ‘cool, another asian male writer’. Maybe it means something to me because I am American born, but my parents were and are foreigners.

Stephen Dierks’ has repeatedly stated his belief that ‘alt lit’ was founded on a connection of people who felt an affinity to Lin’s writing. Richard identifies himself as among these writers. Scrambler Books have previously published fellow Pop Serial contributors, Kendra Grant Malone (Everything is Quiet, 2010) and Matthew Savoca (long love poem with descriptive title, 2010). In addition, they will be issuing the first English translation of Luna Miguel’s poetry (Bluebird and Other Tattoos, 2012). I asked Richard how the Scrambler connection came about.

Richard Chiem

  • I sent Jeremy [Spencer] my manuscript I think back in 2010 and he rejected it first. But I think, something like six or seven months after the rejection, he asked for it again and by that time, the collection was way different. There were more stories and I knew what I wanted to do with the collection. Right before my move to Seattle, like almost a year ago, Jeremy sent me word that he would love to publish it, which was one of the best emails I’ve ever gotten.

Artifice

  • Are you pleased with the cover? What say did you have in that?

Richard Chiem

  • I contacted Mark Leidner, being a big fan of his poetry and collages, and asked him if he could do me the honor of making a cover for YPP. The final cover was actually the second attempt from Mark. The first one was amazing too, but we were worried about copyright issues because it had an image of Princess Diana in front of a galaxy. I am eternally grateful to Mark.

Artifice

  • Do you have anything planned for launch night?

Richard Chiem

  • Haha I actually haven’t thought of the actual book release party thing. I have some close friends here [Seattle] that I would love to celebrate with but there is no clear picture of what it’s going to look like or what venue.

For Richard, writing is life, an on-going project. We spoke about the possibility of his next book.

Artifice

  • What have you been working on since you completed YPP?

Richard Chiem

  • I’ve been working on a novel, tentatively titled, ‘Any Place I Hang Myself Is Home’.

Artifice

  • How is that experience coming out of writing shorter fiction?

Richard Chiem

  • No doubt, writing a novel is one of the hardest things. It has to do with me figuring out what I want.

Artifice

  • Will there be a connection between the novel and any of the stories from YPP?

Richard Chiem

  • All the characters are from the same universe, but I don’t think anyone will ever meet. But maybe. I like breaking my own rules.

You Private Person is due to release in September. Here is its trailer.

Reclaiming Rape

Writers can be selfish about words. We hoard them, we cherish them; the best of us even abuse them. Our most fierce desire is for our words to hold some power. It is a known secret that words themselves hold no force; power is engineered by construction, by setting and moment.

 

In the recent past, swear words were deemed exceptional because of their inappropriacy. At present, there are people in the United Kingdom campaigning for the legal right to insult and be insulted. The existence of these laws  is testimony to the lasting heritage of our shared language. In basic semiotic terms, a word is a signifier, pointing towards a signified. Together, the signifier and signified make a sign. When a signifier no longer points to a recognised signified, context is lost. Verbs like ‘fuck’ are the easiest prey for removal from context. ‘Fuck’ is a Swiss Army Knife, made for punctuating, stressing and stabbing into the audience’s attention. But ultimately, ‘fuck’ lost its shock value.

 

It is my fear that the term ‘rape’ is heading in a similar direction. Losing ‘fuck’ is no casualty for language. Its origins are in the sexual act, and sex should not be scandalised in a liberal age. Rape however, must be. Rape is a specific type of abuse. It is the most heinous assault that one human can inflict on another, both psychologically and physically.

 

Rape therefore, cannot be allowed to slip into a casual lexicon. The familiar term, ‘frape’ – short for ‘Facebook Rape’ – is harmless, but it perpetuates something far more sinister. It implies a culture that has come to terms with the concept and action of raping. Equating the violation of a human being with a juvenile prank has the potential to level off and nullify the signification of the initial term.

 

Rape is an action that goes mostly unreported, untreated and overlooked. I fear that the systematic usage of terms like ‘fraping’ can only accentuate this ghastly statistic. When a term is made acceptable, it becomes harder to take seriously. It becomes commonplace. It can become categorised as humour. The acceptance of rape cannot be allowed. It is not something that ‘just happens’. It is not something that begins and ends. Rape is both avoidable and preventable and is something that needs to be discussed and acknowledged in serious terms.

 

Online privacy is a miasma. Every tweet and status is a literature designed for sharing. This streamed generation of content is beyond mental filtering and comes at such an incessant barrage that it can be difficult to pick out any relevant information. This is doubly complicated where there are authorial issues. If one leaves their Facebook open, how can one be held responsible for their authorial title?

 

This article is not designed to condemn the action of ‘fraping’, nor does it expect to overhaul the mind-set of a liberalised generation of free speakers. Instead, I ask the reader to take responsibility for their words. Terms like rape are charged with a power beyond contextualisation. Rape cannot be rationally justified, and by abusing the term, you are unconsciously doing just that.

The Siting of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is an emotive term. One may feel nostalgic, something can evoke nostalgia. The word itself sounds medical; its etymology is Greek, a compound for ‘home coming’ and ‘ache’. This origin evokes the physicality of the term. Nostalgia has place and location. Nostalgia is sited in a memorable and recent past.

I am coming to the end of a three-year, undergraduate degree. My peer group are flinging the term ‘nostalgia’ about in reckless abandon. They’re nostalgic about being single, they’re nostalgic about loud and long nights, they’re nostalgic about anything that could pass as a formative experience, educational or otherwise. Beyond this, they’re nostalgic in the true spirit of the term, nostalgic for their childhoods. This is repeatedly evidenced by various fancy dress events, Facebook posts about cartoons and 32bit video games. It seems that there’s a need to be nostalgic. Nostalgia is desirable and affordable.

I can only be presumptuous enough to speak on behalf of my own generation, so I will note that since adolescence, I have lived within (what I am terming as) a ‘culture of nostalgia’. Childhood, and particularly the 90s have been phrased to me as something of a promised land, where culture was at a glorious peak.

There is some sense to this. As was the case for most of the western world, the 90s in Britain was (for the most part) a time of economic prosperity. For the first time in modern history, Europe was at (a relative) peace. Charity became a matter of public importance. The culture industry was booming. From 1997, New Labour funded cultural regeneration projects across the country for a post-industrial age. Service industries rose along with the computer. The Blair government promised ‘education, education, education.’ We were told that we could be anything we wanted to be. As Noah Cicero put it, the worst thing that happened in the 90s was when Bill Clinton got a blowjob.

It is no coincidence that our nostalgia is focused on a period of hyper-rapid technological development and economic promise. The 90s are something of a diametric opposite to the reality of my graduation. I am entering a working climate where I would be lucky to receive any level of employment. The 90s promised that boom and bust had been stopped. We bust anyway. Nostalgia presents itself as the purest and most socially approved form of escapism.

Now, the most visible television personalities on the BBC and ITV have graduated from their roles as 90s children’s television presenters.

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Musicians are praised for their ability to evoke nostalgia.

Movies only two decades old are being remastered in 3D and branded as vehicles of nostalgia.

Election campaigns promise a cocktail of ‘change’ along with ‘a return to traditional values’.

This phenomenon of 90s related nostalgia is made available, prevalent and insistent because of the technological revolution. During the 90s, cameras and video became affordable. Culture was retained like never before. Much 90s culture is now available through the internet. Youtube offers an unrivaled form of dissemination for nostalgia. In many ways, the internet is the home of my generation and nostalgia is our ‘home coming’.

I find myself buying in to the culture of nostalgia with a grim self-awareness. I find myself buying in because there’s no alternative. I find myself buying in because Pokemon might well still rule. I find myself buying in because in a digital age, the 90s might end up being the only decade I ever really got a chance to truly experience in any traditional sense.