This interview was conducted by email in March 2008 to promote the publication of the Lithuanian translation of Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish. It has not yet been published.
What good can come of dwelling upon fetishes and perversions? Is that subject to becoming a marginal point of hedonism, potentially resulting in the fall of humanity?
A few days after I received Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish from the printer, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 occurred. I stood among boxes of books watching the towers of the World Trade Center spew black smoke. It was impossible not to ask myself that very question. Why perversion? How could I justify my researches in depravity when the world was falling apart around me?
Partly I couldn't justify it. Let's be honest. Some things are more important than others. Perversion means nothing in the face of a few thousand dead. But not every day of life is a catastrophe. Things return to normal — or, in the case of perverts, things return to perversity. You could justify it all by saying that perversion is a phenomenon there in the wild, like flowers, and thus it's as worthy of contemplation as anything else.
But the more I thought about perversity in the light of 9/11, the more I realized that the justification consists of something more than that. Perversity is how freedom expresses itself in sexuality. This is not to say that all perversions are good. To be free means that you have to make choices, some of which will be good, some bad. However, that freedom to choose — whether in life or in sex — is itself a good thing. (Doubtless that is why regimes that are politically repressive tend to be sexually repressive as well. For example, consider the status of female sexuality or homosexuality in theocratic states. To lack freedom in such places is to lack sexual freedom.)
So far as hedonism is concerned, I can't see how it would lead to the "fall of humanity." That's preacher talk. To anyone with half a brain, it is clear that the end of the world will result not from hedonism but from the marriage of science and fanaticism. When someone who believes deeply enough in the afterlife obtains a technology sufficiently powerful to decimate the planet, then humanity will fall — or more probably, humanity will rise up into the sky like a mushroom cloud.
But at the end of your book Mercury de Sade becomes radically cruel, and that is the result exactly of contemplation of his perversion. Isn't this enough to call it some kind of fall of humanity?
If by "fall of humanity" you mean not that mankind is doomed but that one man loses his fundamental human values (compassion, respect for life, and so forth), then what you say is true. Mercury de Sade does not possess those values and may never have had them in the first place. His fetish gives him the humanity of a robot. Mercury de Sade is stuck inside a repeat loop whose every iteration obliges him to extract an alien pleasure from a human being. The book depicts him with Ninfa XIX. There were eighteen previous ninfas and an untold number of ninfas to come. His cruelties are less an apostasy, a loss of his humanity, than a possible outcome of every cycle through a dehumanizing perversion.
What positive impact has the Marquis de Sade had on human culture? And what are the prospects for Mercury de Sade's input to humanity?
There are a thousand answers to that, which may help to explain the incredible number of thoughtful and interesting books that have been written about the Marquis de Sade since 1945. It is the sum total of these works that hint at the contribution Sade has made — in spite of himself — to human culture. That is, it is impossible to read Sade without being stirred to think. The irony of Sade is that he inspires little lust and much thought. He speaks less to the body than to the mind. I do not know of a single case in which somebody read 120 Days of Sodom and then rushed out to perpetrate a sex crime. However, I know of many cases — including my own and that of the many scholars who have written about the Divine Marquis — in which the reading of Sade has caused contemplation, analysis, even creation. In that regard, Sade was truly a great philosopher.
So far as Mercury de Sade is concerned, his prospects for contributing to humanity are slim. His concern lies elsewhere — beyond humanity.
Has your subjective philosophical study drawn the attention of the American academic public? (if not, what type of reaction do you see it as worthy of attaining and under what grounds?)
One reason I was determined to publish Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish myself was that I feared a commercial publisher would want to edit out the philosophy portions of the book. I recall reading how Stephen Hawking's publisher advised him to remove the formulas from A Brief History of Time in order to make the book more marketable, and I imagined a publisher would demand the same of me. Subsequently it has been very gratifying to see that, on the whole, readers have appreciated the "Lessons in Exophilosophy."
When it came time to write Necrophilia Variations, however, I consciously chose not to include any material that was so difficult or blatantly intellectual. About death I wanted to speak in a different way. I wanted to speak not to the mind so much as the heart. I wanted to work on an almost subliminal level. When you visit a grave, its impact derives not just from the words you see on the tombstone but from the awareness that something — some person — is buried beneath it. So too with Necrophilia Variations: much of its effect depends less on the words than on what you sense is buried beneath them.
Your philosophical study does not unfold anything sure about aliens, but we do get to know much about human psychology from it. What conclusions, discoveries were the most interesting and surprising to you personally?
I never believed in the existence of aliens but, when I began writing Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish, I was open to the possibility. One joy in writing the book was to explore this possibility using a variety of means — philosophical, sexual, etc. Along the way, there were numerous revelations, none better than creating the concepts of exophilosophy and exophilia.
Ultimately I came to believe it unlikely that aliens — conceived as intelligent, conscious beings — exist. There may well be lower forms of life, such as microbes, plants, or insects, but I personally doubt that "grays" visit earth or that Little Green Men walk the surface of some distant planet. Particularly convincing, I thought, were the arguments for non-existence presented by John Barrow and Frank Tipler in their controversial book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Barrow and Tipler have more incisive things to say about the question of alien life than any philosopher has ever said — although the very fact that they have engaged in speculation about alien life may say a great deal about philosophers themselves.
Who is your main audience in the US?
It used to be that avant-garde literature was distributed to small cliques in major cities — New York, London, Paris, and so on. The internet has changed all that. The readers you acquire are not the ones who find a small-press publication in an underground bookstore in Greenwich Village but the ones who find you via blogs, bulletin boards, and search engines. I receive email and book orders from every corner of the earth.
As a consequence, my audience is pretty much the same everywhere. Endendu's translation of Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish is a great example of this. The important thing is not where the audience is located but what it brings to the subject — and in Supervert's case, I've found it consists mostly of young, highly intelligent people who want to understand perversion and consider literature a valid means of arriving at that understanding.
You've mentioned in one interview: "You have to do weirder, more fucked up things to be perverse." Why should perversion be something to strive for? Isn't it just that contemporary individuals seek to be exceptional by any attainable means?
To be clear, I didn't mean that a person should necessarily do weirder or more fucked up things with himself. I meant that, in a culture where everybody does strive to be exceptional, perversity loses some of its radicality. Many activities considered perverse a generation ago are now relatively normal. It wasn't long ago, for example, that oral sex was considered a perversion. Homosexuality has lost the aura of degeneracy it used to have. Celebrities are no longer ashamed to confess to foot fetishes or transvestitism. With such things undergoing a process of normalization, it becomes more difficult to do something genuinely perverse. To attain depravity you have to edge further out into the weird or the fucked up.
How did the psychological portrait of Mercury de Sade emerge? What did you base it on?
Though his physical appearance was based on a real person, the psychology of Mercury de Sade was based on the impossibility of his affliction. He has an obsession — exophilia, a desire to experience sexual contact with extraterrestrial beings. However, it is almost impossible to fulfill this desire. He can't just order up a vacation package consisting half of space tourism and half of sex tourism. He can't just take himself to an alien brothel. In consequence, he is frustrated and therefore cruel. He attempts to force human sexual encounters to satisfy his extra-human desires. Perhaps he dreams that this might transform his victims into something more gratifying — but ironically, it is he who becomes inhuman.
Your pseudo-philosophical study has left a great impression on me. What was your field of study?
History of art. I dropped out of a PhD program at Yale University to pursue what, in my heart, I knew was my real field of study: perversion.
Why are you hiding your identity? Do you think it has some misleading influence on the reader's relation with the text?
I like to think that it is less a matter of hiding than of revealing. Most people lead "normal" lives while concealing the darkness in their hearts. Supervert does the opposite. It exhibits and explores those darker forces while exercising restraint about the thing that happens to be my "normal" life. My hope is that this restraint keeps the focus where it ought to be: on the work, on the ideas, not on the personality.
After all, it is not difficult to make a spectacle of yourself. You can take heroin, fuck a pit bull, brawl with cops, write it all up. You'll find your name and your face splattered across blogs and newspapers. You'll be a legend in your own time. It's easy. But what remains difficult is to do good work. If you're a notorious person who makes mediocre work, you'll have your moment of fame. But if you do good work, it won't matter much how you lived your life. Look at Kafka. An office job, a failed engagement, a terminal illness — his life was relatively conventional, but his work was so exceptional that it made the most mundane details of his existence fascinating.
What I hope, therefore, is not to be a celebrity but to do good work. (And also to safeguard the conditions that enable me to work. After all, how many artists of whatever sort continue to excel after they become famous? Too often fame is the muse's kiss of death.) If I do my job well — and my job is writing — then readers will have all eternity to figure out my personal life.
What could be the question that you would be glad to answer?
In the stead of posing myself a question, I would formulate some of the questions that I would pose to any writer I admired. How does he work? Does he write in the morning, like Hemingway? Does he write at night, like Kafka? Does he steel himself for the task with alcohol or does he wire himself up with caffeine? Does he work at home or in a café? Does he listen to music or does he require silence? Does he stand, sit, or lie in bed, like Proust? Does he write by hand or does he use a computer? Does he make use of notes or does he start with a clean slate? Does he spurt out a first draft and then revise it later? Or does he proceed meticulously, like Borges, correcting and re-correcting the most minor errors as he goes, so that the last word he writes is the last word he needs to write?
These are only partly questions of biography. They are also ergonomic questions. An athlete puts great care into the regimen that he follows to prepare for a performance. A book is a performance and a writer prepares for it with a training regimen too. In the writer's case, the regimen may be haphazard, ill-conceived, or downright self-destructive. When Arthur Rimbaud proposed that the poet should undergo a deliberate derangement of the senses, he was describing a regimen that, in his hands, produced tremendous literary results but was personally disastrous. Athletes risk — and often sacrifice — their bodies for their sport. What writers risk is their lives.