i finished it
There Is No Reason for Tigers to Be Beautiful, They Just Are by Heiko Julien, now at Thought Catalog in modified form. Originally published in the 4th issue of Pop Serial.
Interview w/ Noah Cicero, the “Godfather” of Alt Lit, re his “Collected Works” volume, a Korean bartender, religion, politics, saying “yolo,” etc.
1. First things first—let’s get this out of the way—you have a book that just came out, “The Collected Works of Noah Cicero.” I imagine this volume would be a good pick-up for anyone who wants to check your stuff out, get acquainted. Say something else about it. Also, aren’t you a little young to have a “collected works” volume out already haha? I guess you have enough material to make a “collected works” book, but it seems kind of tongue in cheek, to me, for a relatively young writer to do this.
I think saying, “young writer to do this’ is basing things off the old paradigm of publishing, when major presses ruled the world. But in the small press world different things matter and can be done. I wrote 6 books in 7 years, the books on average had 40,000 words. If I was a writer with Random House in 1985, all books would be out and sold efficiently at Barnes and Nobles, like they did with Kathy Acker. But big presses don’t do that anymore, they haven’t brought up an indie writers’ books in two decades and sold them individually (not that I know of.) I want my writing to be accessible and to be a nice new package. I thought a Collected Works would be an efficient way to do that. And seriously, I love “basic works” style books.
2. I describe you as “the godfather of alt lit.” When I was first trying to figure out this whole online lit thing I remember reading interviews with you in which people tried to get you to define “alt lit” etc., & you usually seemed to have a pretty good grasp on what’s going on with this whole contemporary online literary world or whatever—you were able to talk about it without sounding like an ass. I won’t make you define “alt lit” again, but do you have any thoughts on the current state of “the game”? In your Return to Relevancy vlog you talk briefly about how when you started there wasn’t really shit online, but now there’s a lot of shit.
I’m really happy about internet literature right now. I like seeing so many people gathered around the idea of literature. Usually something comes out every couple weeks that I enjoy. I really enjoyed Walter Mackey’s pokemon thing, watched it like 5 times. I don’t know if alt-lit is good or bad, i don’t care. It isn’t my job to judge people and their writing. I do what I do and try to have fun, that’s all.
I feel like alt-lit is kind of like New-Formalism or the Black Mountain Poets, little weird lit movements that will produce some writing that will end up in anthologies, maybe. I think to us, it is the biggest thing in the world, we are always meeting people, and doing our thing, and we assume it is amazing. But when we look back on movements, it is usually only a few things that survive. But I don’t think, as of right now, we can tell what will survive, and maybe nothing at all. Maybe it won’t end up being anything but a Tao Lin poem and a Sam Pink short story in a writing anthology in 100 years.
3. I think your subtly a very “political” writer. By “subtly” I mean you’re able to write politically without sounding like an ass. Most of my favorite “moments” in your books involve a fed-up character making some sort of diatribe against “the system” or “America” in an uncharacteristically large paragraph. For example, “The Insurgent” has this extended metaphor about society being a “monster” we don’t control anymore, “Best Behavior” uses the words “The Constitution” a few times, “The Human War” is about an American war. “Nosferatu” & “The Living and the Dead” satirize modern society’s fuckedness in a way that’t not far off from, say, George Saunders or someone.
A lot of writers in “Alt Lit” or whatever we want to call it seem either afraid or unwilling to write something I’d call “political,” I sense. I see a lot of people back away from making bigger claims amid their punchy prose & absurdism, but I feel like you don’t.
I grew up in a political family, on my mom’s side, my aunt is the head of the Republican Party in my county. You can look it up, just google “kathi creed.” My mother’s whole family is obsessed with Republican politics, they even go to the convention every four years. On my dad’s side (all democrats), my great uncle was mayor of a local town for like a decade, which made the family political. I grew up around people talking about politics all the time, politics is just part of me. I don’t have to ‘try’ to be political, which might be the difference between me and most writers. I was raised surrounded by politics, and when I went to college I got a political science degree, it comes naturally to me.
I don’t think alt-lit people in general know a lot about politics, but most Americans don’t, and strangely most politicians don’t. I also don’t think writing about politics is worthwhile, alt-lit writers have a very small audience, they aren’t going to reach the masses so why try.
When I write about politics, I try never to write about politics like it matters. In Best Behavior I tried to show that the Constitution is crumbling, that it isn’t working as a foundation anymore. The next year Republicans wanted a budget amendment, a marriage amendment, people fight constantly about amendment 2, people started fighting saying that campaign donations are out of control. The constitution is not just political, it is a psychological issue in America, and I tried to deal with it as psychology and not politically.
4. I find it hard to imagine your day-to-day life, whereas I can easily picture a lot of other online writers’ more or less. What’s a day in the life of Noah like, these days? Maybe it’s something about the way you maintain your web presence that makes it hard to picture your daily life. Your books seem maybe autobiographical but probably exaggerated.
Currently, I am home in Ohio. I got back from Korea two months ago and plan on going to the Grand Canyon to work as a cashier in a week. But currently, this is what I did:
Woke up at 8AM- checked email, drank detox tea.
Jogged around block, did 4 sets of 15 push ups.
Showered, went to coffee shop and worked on philosophy book.
Went to post office and sent a broken computer to an alt lit person that wanted it, and then returned movies.
Went home and ate hot dogs. The hot dogs had mustard and sauerkraut.
Went to store for friend’s mom, got her potatoes, water, and coke etc.
Got two books of Jatakas. Jatakas are books on the previous lives of the Buddha. There are a lot of Jatakas, so I needed two books. I read the introduction to one of the books.
Been sitting in this hot ass room doing interviews for a long time.
I tanned for awhile, I listened to KPOP while I tanned. When I listen to headphones, I close my eyes. I let the wind hit my body, it is good.
Then I mowed the grass, the mower kept going on and off, it was annoying.
Then I went in my bedroom and read Pageant of the Popes, it a book about the history of the papacy. I am reading it because I want to read Lives of the Saints, and the Lives of the Saints reference Popes constantly.
Yesterday I had a different day, I went to the Indian Buffet with Brittany Wallace for lunch. I think my favorite thing in the world is eating Indian food on a sunday with Brittany Wallace.
Then Brittany dropped me off and I went and brewed beer with my IRL friends Vince and Paul. Vince is the one who designs the beer, we just sit and talk. We drank a Galaxy IPA from Alaska which was amazing and a Dark Lord stout. The Dark Lord stout was insane, it is a beer that that contains 18% alcohol, but doesn’t taste boozy, and is full of insane flavor. Personally I liked the IPA better, but I respect the genius of the Dark Lord.
We sit around and just talk about beer for hours. I don’t think anyone suspects that I do that with my time.
5. You were in Korea. What the hell was up with that? Talk about Korea.
I went to Korea because Brittany thought it would be cool to go, I thought I needed to travel abroad. It made sense. Teaching in Korea was fun. I used to go down to a bar and play darts on the weekends days alone. I would sit at the bar and play games on my phone. I would play the game hearts. I would sit and the bartender would tell me I had beautiful blue eyes. She would say, “파란 눈 파란 눈.” She would stare at me for a long time. I would have to stare back, letting her look at my eyes. It was funny. We would play darts together. She couldn’t speak any English and I can’t speak Korean, so we played in silence. One night the owner ordered fried chicken pieces, she fed me the chicken pieces with chopsticks. Korean women always fed me, no one feeds me. I am like really lonely now.
6. From namedrops in your writing I get the sense that you’re a pretty avid reader. Can you namedrop some influences? & but also say “why” these particular writers “vibe with” you?
I don’t know who my influences are anymore:
When I go to the Grand Canyon, I am bringing these books:
Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Buddhist Scriptures, The Jatakas, Digha Nikaya, Lives of the Saints, Upanishads, and Saint Teresa of Avila. I have read half these books already, but I do not believe I have read them enough. I am trying to get into religion, feel like I need more religion, feel like I hear people say, I’m fucked” all the time. But like, people have always been fucked, they didn’t have antidepressant medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, they had religion, so I want to enter the world of religion, to see what is there.
Also, I found out that Buddhists have an abundance of literature, Buddhism has folktales, dialogues, long stories, poems, etc. Buddhism is an endless resource for avid readers.
I usually read books in groups- like for a year I read nothing but history of books, I would buy books that said, ‘History of Latin America” “HIstory of Jews” “History of the Black Plague” and then buy it and read it.
When I was in Korea I read epic long novels, Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, 2666, Sometimes a Great Notion, East of Eden, etc. Just long novels, one after another.
I read one to two hours everyday. I just read, it keeps my mind centered.
7. Another “online lit / alt lit” question (“sorry”): I get the sense there is, at this point, maybe a “first generation” & “second generation” of alt lit/ online writers, with yourself, Tao Lin, etc. being the “first generation” & with ppl like Steve Roggenbuck, myself, & a whole flood of other ppl being part of a second generation of onliners—Do you feel me at all on this?
Another thing I’ve noticed in this “generation gap” maybe is that the 1st generation seems to be characterized by pessimistic / bleak tone, whereas the 2nd seems to be characterized by some sort of new love for positivity / optimism. It’s a crude dichotomy I’m trying to draw here, but I think it more or less exists. Do you have any thoughts at all on what I’m saying or is this far off? Personally, I don’t really favor either posi or neg lit; I feel there’s a necessary place for both. I definitely characterize you as more neg / bleak.
I don’t know what pos lit is? Like saying yolo or something? Saying yolo is just pleasure. Telling people to live their dreams is just capitalism, that is what capitalists say to people, “Live your dreams.” The reality of the situation is that my generation and younger are condemned to underemployment, global warming, unwalkable cities, a corporate state, endless war, and strip mall suburbia. It is horrible. The only thing that has saved me is I barely own anything, I own nothing but a Chromebook, guitar and an iPhone, clothes of course. Besides that, I own nothing. And I don’t seek validation from the television media standards. I don’t watch television, don’t read the newspaper, I try to participate at least as possible with corporations and the government. Not because I want those institutions to collapse but because I believe corporations and governments make me mentally unhealthy.
8. I will admit to starting to write at Denny’s because of things you have said about Denny’s. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Respond to this embarrassingly.
I love the Denny’s slamburger.
9. Do you have a Netflix & if so what do you watch on Netflix?
The only shows I watch are It’s Always Sunny and Archer. I watch them over and over again, I study them like a preacher does the bible. Sometimes I watch Paul Newman movies like Hud, A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sometimes a Great Notion.
10. “Go to work and do your job. Care for your children. Pay the bills. Obey the laws. Buy products.” I’ve seen a bunch of images with this apparent title on it. Nice title. What’s the deal with this (I assume) upcoming book? Why are people making image macros with the title?
People are making image macros because Mathew Revert made a prototype copy, then Cameron Pierce publisher for Lazy Fascist showed everyone. People really liked it. Then I told Rachel Bell it was just a fake cover, she responded, “I want to make a fake cover.” So she made a fake cover and then everyone started making fun covers. It was funny.
Thanks to Noah for the thoughtful answers. Buy his new book or something; he’s cool.
Bird Missed Connection