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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).


Jaffe's 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.


An issue of The Journal of Experimental Fiction called “The Literary Terrorism of Harold Jaffe” was devoted to his writings in 2004.


Jaffe’s novels and stories have been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, Turkish, Dutch, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian.


Jaffe 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.

Jaffe is editor-in-chief of the literary/cultural journal Fiction International (http://www.fictioninternational.com/). 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 American society?

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 about?

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 be.

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 http://www.fictioninternational.com/
Fiction International Blog http://www.fictioninternational.blogspot.com/
Harold Jaffe's webpage: http://www.jaffeantijaffe.com/
Harold Jaffe's Facebook http://www.facebook.com/people/Harold-Jaffe/631850391
Harold Jaffe's MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/haroldjaffe


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