Friday, November 10, 2006

PBHP Interviews Lee Rourke.

Lee Rourke, of Scarecrow fame, among many other achivements, accepted to answer our cheeky questionnaire. Shakespeare vs. Jonson, rubbish, murder, pigeons, being Blaise Cendrars, meaninglessness, ultracrepidarians, it's all here.

Please tell us (in any order): who you are, what you're trying to do, why, what you're actually doing, why the discrepancy (if any), and who you'd like to become.

I’m Lee Rourke. I’m a Mancunian who lives in East London. My favourite word is probably “meaningless” (although its meaning for me changes almost constantly). I’m pretty boring and very pretentious. I’m a writer too. I write for glossy magazines like Dazed & Confused. I have been published in many literary magazines too, my favourites being your fine offering and Prague’s BLATT. I also have a book, a short story collection called “Everyday”, that is about to be published by London’s Social Disease Press, it’s retailing at £6.99 which is pretty good value I think. In my spare time I edit (with the help of Matthew Coleman) Scarecrow, an online litblog/zine that has published the likes of Tom McCarthy, Stewart Home, Tony O’Neill, Heidi James, Travis Jeppesen, Mark SaFranko, Robert Woodard, Paul Ewen, HP Tinker, Andrew Gallix, A. Stevens, Matthew Coleman, Noah Cicero, Fern Bryant, Henry Baum, Janice Earlbaum, Ellis Sharp, and many, many more . . .

All this is what I’m actually doing.

No discrepancies of any description (okay, that’s a lie). If at all possible I’d like to become Blaise Cendrars. That would be really good.

What do you reject, loathe, steer clear of? Does it help you to define yourself?

I reject the 3 for 2 table and marketing departments. I steer clear of people who rely on dead philosophers to help mould their own thoughts. I loathe Manchester City Football Club to its very foundations, people who pursue a bohemian existence, and individuals who seek a higher platitude of, supposed, superior existence through Literature or Art. Most of the time I think Literature, like Art, is meaningless and not that important (I am aware though that the vast majority will disagree with me here. But I’ll take it to the grave) ; anyone who thinks that Literature or Art will transform them is probably a pointless ultracrepidarian or a twerp (most probably both) and is to be avoided at all costs. Human folly such as this I find incredibly irksome.

"I’d like to become Blaise Cendrars. That would be really good."

Why write, then?

I write because it’s the only thing I’m mildly good at (mediocre is a word that springs to mind); if I could lay bricks I’d do that (incidentally, Ben Jonson was a bricklayer by trade before turning to the pen, he killed a man during a duel in a field that is now a road just around the corner from where I live. I can feel his presence each time I step out of the door. He is, in my humble opinion, far more exciting than his contemporary Mr William Shakespeare, not that I’m slagging The Bard off you understand), if I liked heights I’d operate a crane and erect sky-scrapers, if I could drive I’d be a taxi driver or something; maybe a bus driver, but not in London as it’s too frustrating; I’d be a bus driver in somewhere like Dorking or Leigh-on-Sea.

"anyone who thinks that Literature or Art will transform them is probably a pointless ultracrepidarian or a twerp"

I once, during my summer holidays aged 15, worked in an umbrella factory in Manchester. My working day consisted of knocking the tips of the umbrella on with a piece of clumsy metal; it had tape wrapped around one end that served as a handle (the result of a previous worker no doubt). I got paid for how many I did in a day (which wasn’t many). The bloke next to me (he was called Douglas) had been doing that job for 25 years. If I learnt one thing that summer it was that life for most people is pretty rubbish, boring, and mundane. If I’d have heard of Sisyphus then I might have come to terms with this fact. To date I never have (come to terms with this, obviously I’ve heard of Sisyphus now). Maybe one day I will. I doubt it though. Nothing much really inspires me. But Vim, I don’t want you to think it is all doom and gloom with me.

I know you didn’t ask me this but I feel I should tell you that I love pigeons. Pigeons make me happy. We live side by side. We keep out of each other’s way. Pigeons are the perfect metaphor.

Being the vainglorious fool that I am, and a true believer that hypocrisy is the greatest luxury, all of the above probably helps, little by little, to define me.

Are you fearless (artistically)?

No. I’m a poltroon artistically. And quite lazy to boot – though never sluggish. I live in constant fear; it penetrates deep into the core of my very being and horrifies me. It is a true, palpable horror that clings to me like a damp, black towel I can’t shake off. This horror gradually haunts me throughout the night and is at its unremitting peak just when the sunlight first starts to creep into my room early in the morning. John Keats (a poet I greatly admire along with Rimbaud, Lowell, and Baudelaire) said:

“Vanish, ye phantoms, from my idle spright, /Into the clouds, and never more return!”

Like Keats I rather like the idea of indolence.

This has nothing to do with “artistically” anything but, seeing as you touched upon the notion of fear, I am seriously petrified of all arachnids – especially the ones that have the temerity to break into my flat at night.

"hypocrisy is the greatest luxury"
Literature: a means or an end?

Neither. Literature, for me, is just something to do. I like to write. I like to read. I’m always reading. Although sometimes I get bored and can’t read – even if it’s good literature. Sitting down to write can be pretty boring too if I think about it, it takes up too much time (I hate these writers who say things like “If I wasn’t writing I’d die.” Utter fucking bollocks. They’d be first against the wall come my revolution). So, when things get tough, I go for long walks through the city on my own, stopping off at pubs along the way. Cities are far more interesting than Literature anyway.
Would you say that you are (un)faithful to yourself?

I don’t know. I believe in contradiction and ambiguity. I’m both. Through contradiction you can destroy truth (you can also make yourself look like a twit) which always brings a wry smile to my face. I suppose that’s why I like writing fiction: none of it is true but all of it is real. I also believe in repetition. The humdrum patterns of day-to-day life. Some days I see myself making the same mistakes over and over and over again, yet, some days I don’t. I like that.

"I hate these writers who say things like “If I wasn’t writing I’d die.” Utter fucking bollocks."
What does the word "intellectual" mean for you? (forbidden answer: "nothing")
“Intellectual” immediately makes me think of vanity and ego. Some good, some bad. There are so many different categories of “intellectual” if you think about it. Martin Amis is considered an “intellectual” and he’s a fucking dubious blatherskite at the best of times. Tony Parsons was once considered “intellectual” (maybe he still is somewhere) and look at the utter pointless shit he ejaculates into this world. It’s a bit of an oxymoron but some “intellectuals” can be pretty damn thick. I was in my local boozer the other day and two “intellectuals”, both swathed head-to-toe in black, walked in and sat at the next table from me. I pretended to read my book (Stewart Home’s The Assault on Culture). They began to talk about the state of the modern novel in Britain today. The shorter of the two stated that the British novel is at its strongest since Defoe whilst the taller one rubbed his chin and acquiesced politely before stating that this year’s Booker shortlist was a work of art in itself. I peered at them both over my book, noticing their self-satisfied faces, their haughty accents, and I wanted to say to them that the British novel is pretty much dead and if it wasn’t for writers such as Tom McCarthy and Stewart Home it would be (both are real “intellectual” writers and the way forward.

So the British novel has its saviours?

If you find meaning in Literature then Tom’s debut novel “Remainder” is a turning point and the benchmark for all aspiring writers. It’s where we’re at. “Remainder” is ultimately modern. If, like me, you find most things meaningless then Stewart’s anti-fictions will leave you weak at the knees. He’s the closest thing this country’s got to a genius. He’s “writer in residence” up at Strathclyde University as I type: Scotland will be producing another gaggle of exciting young writers in the next couple of years). Anyway, I wanted to tell these two “intellectuals” that the Booker is stinking pig’s meat. That it’s all hogwash and tripe. I wanted to holler at them that the British novel, and any chance of a new wave of British writers emerging, has been ruined by odious marketing departments.

Martin Amis is considered an “intellectual” and he’s a fucking dubious blatherskite at the best of times.

We live amongst a literary wasteland, a sewer of ruination, a quagmire of “life-style fiction”, “chick-fucking-lit”, and romantic yarns relaying the topsy-turvy woes of this inner-city diaspora and that inner-city community, dreary fictions that always seem to span decades and ignore voice, all beautifully designed and packaged, all made to look good in bookstore window displays on uniform highstreets, all very depressing. Where is the voice? That’s what I want to know? It’s not for me. It never will be.

Of course this incident didn’t ever take place in my local boozer. I just wanted to rant. Seriously, I quite like “intellectuals” (the real ones that is). I see their value (even if I find their interests meaningless). I try not to engage with them though as they’re usually far more intelligent than me and they invariably make me feel small and foolish. I also believe that we need more “intellectuals” of this ilk in this country. All the real “intellectuals” should get together and take it back, reclaim the British novel, snatch it out of the slimy hands of those cretins in the marketing departments the width and breadth of this fair land.
Do you procrastinate as often as you should?

Blaise Cendrars said:
“I don’t want to be part of a gang. I am not behind, as you say, but ahead. It all belongs to yesterday, not today. I will be visible tomorrow. Today, I’m working.”
I’ve always loved that quote. I reckon he meant it too. The thing is, Vim, with me it’s “Today, I’m Procrastinating.” And I do most of my procrastinating in the boozer – which is where I’m off to now actually. Thank-you and toodle-pip.


the enfant terrible said...

Oh, he's quick as a whip that Rouke.

Mark said...

Here's a review of Lee's book: here.