Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Interview about "Ich Will"

Here's a recent interview I had the pleasure of giving to Niika Nenn from "Wolf on Water Publishing"

NN:    What inspired you to write Ich Will?

I did my Undergraduate degree in philosophy in Romania, at the University of Bucharest. I didn’t have to pay for school, because post-secondary education was still funded by the government. In addition, my parents supported me throughout. This gave me the opportunity to dedicate almost exclusively to studying and not worry too much about anything else. When I came to Canada in 2004, one of the things that shocked me most was youngsters struggling to pay for school. Many were working sordid jobs like McDonald’s to pay for tuition and housing. This made me think: what if I had studied here, instead of Bucharest? And, what if my parents hadn’t had money to support me? I think in this alternative reality I would have been more hateful of the rich and of society in general. This gave rise to Adrian Norton, the main character of “Ich Will”.

Most people, when faced with adversity, try to adapt. They promptly give up on themselves and do what society expects of them. In the case of post-secondary education, students forget about what really interests them and they get a degree in accounting or business, something which sells in “the real world” and gets them a job. But this is because in present day capitalism, education is no longer a good in itself but an instrument for making profit. Universities are administered as corporations. A degree is a good to be bought on the market, and its value is determined by how much money it makes for you in return.

However, while most youngsters are eager to adapt to a rotten system, Adrian decides to stand his ground and stick to his guns. He is strong willed and stubborn. He knows he’s passionate about books and philosophy and doesn’t want to give it up without a fight. I wanted a character with a lot to lose and a strong desire to win at all cost. Like, if a highly talented beautiful girl gets raped, falls into a spiral of depression, and commits suicide, we feel deeply shaken and sad. But if an old comatose female patient gets raped and dies, we don’t know exactly what to feel. Was her death an event? Was her being alive a fact? That’s why I can’t write about ordinary people.

When faced with looming adversity, we also tend to project ourselves into the future. This defense mechanism is made explicit and ironized by Friedrich Nietzsche. It is pervasive in western culture, especially in the Christian illusion of an afterlife. It also invades the way we plan our careers. The average person has no qualms about working a mind-numbing, alienating job for their entire life just to save money for retirement. It doesn’t cross their mind that the last year on the job may also coincide with the first stage of dementia. By the time they go on their long awaited golden age vacation they will have been so flagellated their own shadow would make them faint. Nietzsche’s Myth of the Eternal Return is an antidote to all such cowardly projections of the self. He says that this life, each and every moment of it, will repeat for all eternity. Every day is judgment day. Eternity exists in every detail, every scene, every character. Adrian comes in contact with Nietzsche’s idea and decides to save his soul, his present self. He hears Nietzsche’s wake-up call clearly. He realizes that he is encircled by alien forces bent on ripping him apart and that he has to either fight or self-destruct. He decides to take a stand. As the tension between Adrian and his social environment intensifies, blood begins to spray like from a fountain.

NN: Philosophy is prevalent in the novel. Which philosophers do you find most influenced this work?

Other than Nietzsche, Romanian nihilist philosopher Emil Cioran influenced “Ich Will”. Cioran grew up in Romania but moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his career and wrote in French. Throughout his life Cioran suffered from insomnia and this affliction is a theme of his writing. Basically, he argues that sleep makes life bearable and creates the illusion of meaning. Cioran thought of himself as the only lucid thinker, the only philosopher who can stare into the abyss without blinking. A lover of libraries and brothels, he dedicated himself to challenging God and the entire universe in a most beautiful literary style.

Cioran’s life-long struggle with insomnia reminded me of other mental mechanisms designed by evolution to make life bearable. Three of these are forgetting, repressing, and self-deception. With regards to forgetting, it’s strange how many of us remember adolescence as an idyllic time, but we know, deep down, that back then we were confused and miserable. In effect, I wanted Adrian Norton’s thinking to be like Cioran’s; that is, free from the Maya veil created by adaptive cognitive tools. When something bothers Adrian, for instance, he remembers it vividly. When his mind designs a story meant to hide an ugly truth, he throws away the narrative veil and examines the repulsive truth with a magnifying glass. In consequence, Adrian’s project of redeeming himself in the face of Eternal Recurrence becomes more urgent and dramatic than that of someone with a normal psychology.

NN: What do you think Ich Will has to offer the youth of today?

“Ich Will” is a call to arms, a battle cry. The youth today feel, deep inside, that they are being cheated by a perverse and oppressive social system; that their social environment doesn’t even give them the chance to develop an identity, to form a soul. They don’t have the tools to articulate their problems and express themselves. Among other things, this is because education has become a commodity. Capitalism commodities everything, it’s a grinder that sucks absolute values and turns them into goods for sale on the market. This is a system rooted in our atavistic fear of being free, the unconscious desire to balance this impotence by oppressing others, and a collective primal compulsion towards mass-suicide.

“Ich Will” is a close look at the way capitalist society tries to discipline and domesticate Adrian Norton. It advocates the idea that Adrian is morally justified in resisting systemic violence as a form of self-defence. There’s nothing wrong with fighting violence with violence. On the contrary, it’s strange when being repeatedly disrespected doesn’t give rise to any instinctive response, like in the case of a comatose patient. Then the organism is not healthy. But this sort of passivity is to be expected in a society which mangles and brutalizes its youth. Adrian was lucky enough to escape this spiritual holocaust and attain self-knowledge. He’s prepared to defend what he holds sacred and enact his own justice. In this sense he’s exemplary.

Some of the scenes in “Ich Will” may offend some readers’ moral sense but this is partly because our western society has a hypocritical and narrow perspective on violence. We ostracize physical violence but we turn a blind eye to psychological violence or systemic societal brutality. Let’s say John is a teenager who loves poetry and wants to go to a summer camp for young poets. Charles Bukowsky, his favourite writer, will be there, running poetry workshops. John is so excited about the prospect of learning from his idol Bukowsky that he tells one of his friends, more or less jokingly, “Oh man, I’d give my left arm to go to the poetry camp.” John’s parents, however, don’t let him go because they think that poetry is a waste of time and time is money. The point is: isn’t this act of refusal the same, or even worse, than ripping John’s arm off? But our reaction to John’s parents ripping their kid’s arm out of its socket is much stronger than to them not letting him go to a camp. However, this gut reaction is misleading, the simple product of our evolutionary make-up, since John himself perceives the second act as being more savage.

NN: What are you working on next?

I’m working on a novel with the working title Odin Down South. While the story of “Ich Will” takes place in Canada, Odin Down South happens in Romania of the early ’90s, after the fall of Ceausescu’s communist regime and the invasion of American-style capitalism. It’s about a group of rebellious teenagers who realize that God is dead while discovering the mind-altering effects of hard-liquor and extreme metal imported from the West.

It is commonplace in our culture that adults are judgmental and repulsed by angry teenagers and their erratic behavior. In most documentaries about adolescents there’s some narcotized soccer-mom complaining about her kid playing video games all day and saying “Whatever” when she tries to reach out. Odin Down South is based on a reversed perspective. It is the rebellious teenagers who try to struggle out of the various forms of putrefaction and decay they find around them. It is about their judgment of adulthood. The novel is a metaphysical journey, under the guiding light of primal aggression and disgust, into the rotten core of what we call “being alive”.

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