EWR Interviews Author and Editor Harold Jaffe
Harold Jaffe (http://www.jaffeantijaffe.com)
is the author of 16 books, including 10 fiction (or docufiction)
collections, five novels and one volume of essays: Brando Bleeds
(forthcoming, 2110), OD (forthcoming, 2110), Jesus Coyote
(RDSP, 2007); Beyond the Techno-Cave: A Guerrilla Writer’s Guide to
Post-Millennial Culture (Starcherone Books 2006); Terror-dot-Gov
(RDSP, 2003); 15 Serial Killers (RDSP, 2002); False Positive
(FC2, 2001); Sex for the Millennium (Black Ice Books, Spring 1999;
Othello Blues (FictionNet, 1996); Straight Razor (Black Ice
Books, 1995); Eros Anti-Eros (City Lights, 1990); Madonna and
Other Spectacles (PAJ/FSG), 1988); Beasts (Curbstone,
1986); Dos Indios (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1983); Mourning Crazy
Horse (Fiction Collective, 1982); and Mole's Pity
(Fiction Collective, 1979).
fiction has appeared in such journals as Mississippi Review; City Lights
Review; Paris Review; New Directions in Prose and Poetry; Chicago Review;
Chelsea; Fiction; Central Park, Witness; Black Ice; Minnesota Review;
Boundary 2; ACM ; Black Warrior Review; Cream City Review, Two
Girls'Review, and New Novel Review . And his fictions have been
anthologized in Pushcart Prize; Best American Stories; Best of American
Humor; Storming the Reality Studio; American Made; Avant Pop: Fiction for a
Daydreaming Nation; After Yesterday's Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology;
Bateria and Am Lit (Germany), Borderlands (Mexico),
Praz (Italy), Positive (Japan), and elsewhere.
issue of The Journal of Experimental Fiction called “The Literary
Terrorism of Harold Jaffe” was devoted to his writings in 2004.
novels and stories have been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish,
Italian, French, Turkish, Dutch, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian.
has won two NEA grants in fiction, two Fulbright fellowships, a New York
CAPS grant, a California Arts Council fellowship in fiction, a San Diego
fellowship (COMBO) in fiction, and three Pushcart Prizes in fiction.
is editor-in-chief of the literary/cultural journal Fiction International
He corresponded with us by email.
EWR: You have been editor of Fiction
International (http://www.fictioninternational.com/) since 1983 and
sole editor since 1992, and the magazine is billed as “the only literary
journal in the United States emphasizing formal innovation and progressive
politics.” Does the magazine have a political agenda?
Jaffe: No. The journal is politically “progressive” and maintains
that art-making and social activism should not be segregated. In other
countries that notion would be axiomatic. In the US it is for a number of
reasons problematic. In any case, I wouldn’t call it an agenda.
EWR: As a writer your political interests and understanding of
different controversial atrocities and in human brutality seems vast, and
it is clear that your writing has a message and a desired impact. To that
end, as the editor of Fiction International, does the magazine usually
match your political interests?
Jaffe: I try to select themes which reflect my interests but which
also are responsive to the interests of writers in the US and abroad. I am
sometimes—but not always—successful.
EWR: It seems that you are using your writing, your art, as a tool,
not just to probe into individual human condition but into the
“collective” human condition. Some artists would argue that the internal
world of humans is our true condition and others might argue that it is our
interaction, and our relationships that give us better insight into who we
are. Do you feel that it is the internal human nature that defines us or
the interaction and conflict?
Jaffe: I’ve phrased it (borrowing form the Canadian philosopher
Charles Taylor) as the distinction between art-making that endorses a
liberation of nature as opposed to a liberation from nature.
I believe in the former. That is, like Gramsci (“pessimist of the
intellect, but optimist of the will”), I’ve willed myself to believe that
the human condition (not excluding animals, plants and the planet overall)
is capable of being modified and democratized and that art can play a role
in that effort.
EWR: You compare the incidents in the Viet Nam village of My Lai
with those of the Abu Ghraib and say that it is not the pressures of war
that drive soldiers to do immoral things. You allude to a brutality that
is almost policy. Do you feel this brutality is increasing or decreasing,
and do you feel it is policy just in the military or is it part of
Jaffe: Brutality (whether direct or indirect) is fast becoming
policy enforced by law not just in the US but globally. Law is
situational, made by institutions, and is not the same as justice.
Countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, what remains of Cuba, and others
that resist “policy” are functionally marginalized.
EWR: You have addressed race relations in some of your interviews,
and in some of your works, since the election of Barak Obama as President
of the United States have you seen a shift or change in how people are
addressing race in their writing? I’m speaking of or to the writings that
you receive for Fiction International. If you have not received any
fiction on the subject, what change, if any, do you think you might see in
addressing race in fiction writing in America?
Jaffe: Many, or most, liberals seem relatively pleased with Obama’s
initiatives in the short time he’s been in office. Radical progressives
are less pleased. Never mind his intelligence and grace, Obama has moved
too slowly and incompletely, and has routinely rescinded his campaign
promises about Iraq, Gitmo, the banking industry, and so on. He takes
half-measures usually without getting to the root of the problem.
In foreign policy, with Bush’s ex-CIA chief Gates as Secretary of Defense,
Obama attempts to present a friendly face while broadening the fruitless
war in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan.
In a word, he is doing what most politicians at the level of President do:
making nice while lying or delivering half-truths and looking over his
shoulder at his ratings.
Real progressives have to put consistent pressure on Obama to follow
through on his promises.
EWR: Your work ranges from the political to the revolutionary and
in some of your other interviews you have described a “postmodern
totalitarianism” at work in today’s society. What do you feel is the
number one threat to free thinking?
Jaffe: The “threat” comes less from a single entity than from a
global network which in effect turns humans away from “real time” to the
various screens of deception that constitute “high” technology. With that
deception in place the official culture will under-represent ethical
dissent while promoting and fetishizing adolescent fantasies. Official
culture will look primarily to short term “gains” while poisoning the
ecology we inhabit collectively. The million-fold poor, such as the people
of Bangladesh, an impoverished country which is being rapidly submerged by
the sea as a result of global warming), will be neglected.
Regarding art-making: We know how the dominant culture manipulates the
response to serious, not to mention, innovative or engaged art.
EWR: Do you feel there are any topics that are not worth writing
Jaffe: In principle, no.
EWR: What advice would you give to young writers who want to become
writers of political fiction?
Jaffe: If this were France, say, or Guatemala, or Nicaragua, I
would be okay with “political fiction.” But for various historical reasons
(http://www.armageddonbuffet.com/writerwartime.htm) “political” is in the
US a bad word when affiliated with art.
I prefer to use “social activist” or “committed” or “engaged.” And the
advice I’d offer is to learn as much about the world as you can, keep your
courage up, and try to recognize that the “returns” are going to be wildly
incommensurate with your effort.
You create engaged art because it is your métier, it is what
you do. Ethical dissent, even revolution, are not finite but perennial.
For as long as humans form institutions which in various ways dishonor the
planet and their fellow creatures there will be dissent. And so must there
EWR: What can our readers look forward to from you in the future?
Jaffe: I’ve written a “docu-novel”, Brando Bleeds, featuring Marlon
Brando, who was in his way an ongoing ethical dissenter.
I also have a volume called OD, which features public people who have died
either intentionally or inadvertently via drug overdoses. Billie Holiday,
Marilyn Monroe, Abbie Hoffman, Freud, Walter Benjamin, Aldous Huxley,
Diane Arbus, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and so on.
I have yet another collection, almost completed, called Orfeo in Hell.
EWR: What can our readers look forward to from Fiction
International in the future?
Jaffe: Our next theme is “Walls,” with a cover designed by the
notable Turkish-American artist-writer, Faruk Ulay (who did an entire book
of photographed walls).
I will also keep the idea of “Race in Fiction” in mind; I like it.
For more information about Harold Jaffe
visit the sites below:
Fiction International Blog
Harold Jaffe's webpage:
Harold Jaffe's Facebook
Harold Jaffe's MySpace page: