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Roger Keen on Metacrime and Metahorror

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

My colleagues at Darkness Visible have conducted this with interview with me, concentrating on the metafictional aspects of Literary Stalker and also touching on the broader aspects of ‘self-knowing’ fictionality in film and literature, citing some of my favourite examples:


 

Roger’s new novel Literary Stalker is a psychological crime thriller with horror overtones, but it’s also metafictional – that is, it has self-awareness about its fictionality – and Roger has used the terms ‘metacrime’ and ‘metahorror’ to describe this tendency within the genres the novel occupies. So, we thought we’d ask him explain a little bit more deeply about what he means, and give us some other examples.

Darkness Visible: Literary Stalker involves Nick, a writer who is composing a novel about revenge murders. Is it this layering of novels-within-novels that gives rise to the meta dimension you talk about? And how is this different from a novel taking place in the real world, as oppose to a fantasy, for example?

Roger: Yes, the layering is part of it, certainly, but only one aspect. And Nick indeed does inhabit the ‘real world’, but that ‘reality’ is constantly being called into question by what he does and thinks. As an ‘unreliable narrator’ Nick is in a league of his own! He’s writing his novel – The Facebook Murders – where the characters are effectively his real enemies (he even keeps the same names for the purposes of a first draft), and he gets his alter ego narrator, Jago, to murder them in stylised ways, as in the movie Theatre of Blood.

So his novel is a projection of his wishes, a realisation of the revenge he desires in real life. And as the story progresses, the lines blur, fiction and reality interchange, as Nick is progressively ‘taken over’ by his novel. Which is a very ‘horror’ idea, but because it’s ‘psychological’ rather than ‘supernatural’, it still retains ‘real world’ integrity – at least for most of the time. But throughout there are these ‘nudge-wink’ moments, and towards the end the metafictional undermining and rug-pulling gets stronger, till the twists at the climax which leave you wondering what exactly is ‘real’ and what isn’t.

Read more on Medium.

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Literary Stalker, a Novel by Roger Keen

Literary Stalker CoverThree years ago, in the autumn of 2014 – and extending into 2015 – I experienced a kind of creative fugue, which resulted in my entire ‘novelistic memoir’ approach to past, present and future extended works being rebased as pure fiction – but of the metafictional kind. As a result, Literary Stalker – an old idea from the 1990s – got a new lease of life, and The Empty Chair, my next intended novelistic memoir, got recalled to the workshop.

As a psychological crime/horror novel, Literary Stalker would seem a large and radical departure from that novelistic memoir direction, and in some ways it is, but not in others. I did write psychologically-orientated crime, horror, fantasy and noir fiction back in the ’90s, having short stories published in various (now largely forgotten) small press magazines such as Psychotrope, Threads, Sierra Heaven and others with similarly freakish names. I also wrote two or three novels running along the same lines, which never saw the light of day, though one came close. This whole authorial thrust petered out in the late ’90s, and though I continued writing articles and reviews concerning weird and genre fiction and film, I lost the inspiration for actually creating such fiction myself. Instead, amongst other projects, I pressed on with more versions of the semi-autobiographical novels that would eventually be (almost!) de-fictionalised as The Mad Artist and The Empty Chair.

Though nominally a memoir, my previous book, The Mad Artist, is based as much on my attempts to turn its material into novels as it is on the events – the psychonautic adventures – themselves. That’s what gave me the incentive to write it in the form that I eventually chose – a self-begetting narrative with nested versions of itself and strong metafictional overtones. The Empty Chair also follows in that direction, but is taken much, much further. My creative journey of September 2015 onwards involved applying these same techniques to a piece of actual made-up fiction rather than assemblages of autobiography. And the ‘Literary Stalker’ project, which came from my horror-writing days of the ’90s, proved an ideal vehicle.

What made the idea work, content-wise, was my rediscovery and multiple re-watching of a favourite hoary old horror movie of the 1970s: Theatre of Blood, staring Vincent Price as the deranged Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart, who compiles a hit list of the critics who’ve given him bad reviews and then murders each one in a different theatrical setting taken from a Shakespeare play. My idea was to make Literary Stalker a pastiche of Theatre of Blood, where the narrator, Nick Chatterton, uses the plots of classic crime and horror films as the templates for the revenge murders of his enemies. But he’s not actually committing these murders, he is writing them up in his novel The Facebook Murders, and the story of Literary Stalker is the story of the composition of that novel-within-a-novel.

The Facebook murders are actually being committed by Jago Farrar, Nick’s alter ego and narrator, and Jago himself is writing a novel – Social Media Avenger – based on his murders, which is narrated by Miles Hunniford…Etcetera! This might remind you of the wonderful model village in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds, which contains a model of itself, and a model of the model, and a model of the model of the model. And indeed it’s also like that sublime movie Synedoche New York, about an autobiographical playwright who gets to workshop his own life story, eventually needing to dramatise the workshopping itself, and then to dramatise the dramatisation of the workshopping, and so on infinitely, with actors playing actors playing actors…

So, in a sense Literary Stalker marks the completion of a circle or loop or Möbius strip between my old ’90s horror/crime work and the later meta-memoir tendency. The narrator, Nick Chatterton, is gay – for reasons which become clear as the novel progresses – and his creation was something of a challenge for a straight author…but that’s another story. I will be penning more pieces – and perhaps making some films – about the gay, homicidal and metafictional aspects of the work, so stay tuned.

More details about Literary Stalker can be found on the publisher site here: Darkness Visible.

An excellent review by Noel Megahey appears here on The Digital Fix: Geek Life.

It is available as a paperback and on Kindle in the UK here: Amazon.co.uk

And in the United States here: Amazon.com. Also on other Amazons worldwide.

The Soundless Hum: Psychonautic Underpinnings of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch

October 28, 2014 2 comments
Fragments By Doug Brown

Picture by Doug Brown

This article was originally published in the Psychedelic Press UK print journal 2013 Vol.2 and is now up on the Psypress site.

Mostly everyone has heard of William Burroughs’ drug-inspired masterpiece Naked Lunch, but far fewer have actually read it from cover to cover and fewer still have properly understood what Burroughs is doing in its pages.

Often dismissed as incomprehensible, pornographic and, due to its lack of formal narrative structure, unfilmable, Naked Lunch was nevertheless tackled on celluloid by David Cronenberg in 1991, resulting in a movie that is only minimally representative of the book and tends to deepen its mystery rather than clarify it. Reinventing from scratch and substituting his own authorship, Cronenberg ‘sampled’ Burroughs’ life and work in order to produce a body-horror pastiche that owes as much to the Ted Morgan biography and the novels Exterminator and Junkie as Naked Lunch itself. But for many people that film stands for what Naked Lunch is about.

Another common misconception is that Naked Lunch is about ‘the horrors of addiction,’ a description more suited to Burroughs’ autobiographical first novel Junkie. By the time of Naked Lunch, he’d moved on considerably from depicting anything so mundane or literal as that. What Naked Lunch represents is the fruit of a pharmo-picaresque creative journey that was partly inspired by opiate addiction but that rapidly expanded to encompass the visions of majoun, peyote and most particularly ayahuasca or yagé, whose psychonautic propensity underscores much of the grotesque, lurid phantasmagoria for which the novel is famous… Read more on Psypress UK

My in-depth review of Barry Miles’ biography of William Burroughs is included in the new issue of the Psypress magazine. More information at the Psypress Shop.

Mad Art and Reality Hunger

March 25, 2011 1 comment

The Mad Artist, Reality Hunger, A Million Little PiecesIt’s always heartening to discover another writer who, perhaps by taking a very different path, has nonetheless arrived at a very similar creative place to oneself. This happened when I saw David Shields being interviewed on a BBC arts programme about his book Reality Hunger and the broader implications of the concept. He talked about the impoverishment of traditional fictional techniques and how today’s writers are incorporating more and more ‘reality’—that is, what really happened as opposed to what they made up—into their work. There is, he reckoned, a larger ‘reality hunger’ out there, manifesting in other media, such as reality television and the less adorned, more immediate communication afforded by the internet. Listening to Shields, I thought: that could be me talking, and I was amused by the discussion session following the film insert, where several panel members disagreed with him. 

So I approached the book Reality Hunger with considerable excitement, while at the same time anticipating some mild disappointment due to my high expectations. But I wasn’t at all disappointed: the book proved to be everything I had hoped it would. It’s subtitled ‘a manifesto’, and it takes the form of numbered sections of varying lengths, which each have an aphoristic or epigrammatic quality. Many of the shorter ones are actual quotes from a wide range of writers and other artists, which Shields, acting like a DJ or MC, ‘samples’ and incorporates into the overall ‘mashup’. It is very effective and underscores the book’s textual points in a textural way, much like a plastic work of art. And as for the accusation of plagiarism, he answers that in the form of a quote from Picasso: art is theft. Who can argue? 

As a drug memoirist, I had a special interest because I knew from the interview that this is an area Shields touches upon, and to my mind drug writing is an important component in the spectrum of this push toward ‘reality’. Indeed he mentions the Vedas—citing them as the earliest examples of written storytelling—and also De Quincey, Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson before getting stuck into James Frey and his infamous tome A Million Little Pieces. Here is one of the finest examples of an ideological clash between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’ in a contemporary book. Telling the story of a hopeless, burnt-out, twenty-three-year-old drug addict, who mends himself in a rehab centre, Frey firstly wrote the book as a novel, and when he had no success at marketing it, he rebranded it as memoir, after which it was outstandingly successful, selling in the millions. 

Around three years after its first publication, details emerged of falsifications within the book, primarily that Frey had greatly exaggerated his criminal past, creating jail time that didn’t actually exist. This put his publisher in an embarrassing position, regarding the definition of ‘non-fiction’ and opened up a debate on the latitude of factual reportage within memoirs. It reached a climax when Frey and his publisher appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and the result was a public crucifixion for the heresy of daring to place lies into a so-called work of fact. Afterwards Frey was dropped by his agent, and his publishers made him insert an apology into future editions. Past readers were even offered a refund, such was the furore the incident created. 

As reported in Reality Hunger: ‘Oprah has created around herself a “cult of confession” that offers only one prix-fixe menu to those who enter her world. First the teasing crudités of the situation, sin or sorrow hinted at. The entrée is the deep confession or revelation. Next, a palate-cleaning sorbet of regret and repentance, the delicious forgiveness served by Oprah herself on behalf of all humanity… I’m disappointed not that Frey is a liar but that he isn’t a better one. He should have said, Everyone who writes about himself is a liar. I created a person meaner, funnier, more filled with life than I could ever be.’ 

Oh, that rings so many bells. Having written about my twenty- to twenty-four-year-old self in The Mad Artist, I discovered that however much you try to stick to the truth or the facts, you cannot help but turn yourself and others into ‘characters’, and characters start to assume a destiny of their own on the page. For me the writing of a ‘novelistic memoir’ was both an act of serving up reality and one of full literary performance at the same time. Read more…

Andy Letcher and the Strange Case of the Deconstructed Mushroom

August 6, 2010 8 comments

What better place for a discussion on the rarefied subject of magic mushrooms than the hippy-oriented Sunrise Festival in Somerset, England, just down the road from Stonehenge? On a hot Saturday afternoon in early June 2010, a group of us gathered in the Ancient Futures yurt to hear Andy Letcher’s talk on ‘Reading the Codex: Making Sense of Magic Mushrooms’.

Andy Letcher, a holder of two doctorates—the first ecology related, the second concerning Bardic performance in contemporary Paganism—is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, a comprehensive and informative overview of mushroom culture and its position in the larger psychedelic pantheon. Published in 2006, the book was generally well received and critically acclaimed, but due to its revisionist stance on many of the cherished theories concerning psychedelic use throughout history, it has also excited much controversy and opposition. On some internet message boards this has escalated to open hostility and outright abuse, and, perhaps worse still, the accusation that Andy has never even taken mushrooms.

In a nutshell, Shroom argues that hard evidence for much of the received wisdom concerning past psychedelic use—with a particular focus on mushrooms—simply isn’t there, and it is largely a wish-fulfilment back projection on the part of the modern psychedelic movement. So, how come such an issue has got many people’s back up? Perhaps it’s the sureness of Andy’s academic position: I must be right because the evidence (or lack of it) speaks for itself. Perhaps it’s because he takes material that is understood by many to serve as myth or half-truth rather than solid fact, and by insisting on holding it up to factual scrutiny rather tramples it into the ground. Or perhaps it’s because his literal evidence-based approach to the subject cuts right against the grain of the enchanted, mythopoeic, supra-rational radiance of mushroom gnosis itself.

As he began his lecture, no doubt aware of this undercurrent of feeling, Andy laid his cards on the table. He described himself as a ‘hippy’, an insider, who, though he’s an academic is still very much ‘one of us’. Indeed he does take mushrooms, though he prefers lower doses, and he has experienced that all-important gnosis first hand. With long flowing centrally parted hair, earrings and a neat distinguished-looking King Charles I-style moustache and goatee, he certainly looks the part of a hippy; and as the talk progressed, he used demotic, non-academic language, such as ‘tripping their tits off’ and liberal lashings of swear words. Read more…

Interview: Roger Keen (via Psychedelic Press UK)

Covers the writing of The Mad Artist, my thoughts on favourite psy-lit and views on the psychedelic and publishing scenes.

Interview: Roger Keen Roger Keen is an English film-maker and writer. He spent nearly 30 years working for companies like the BBC and ITV making television dramas, documentaries, news and consumer programmes. Since 2006 he has concentrated on his writing and his novelistic memoir ‘The Mad Artist – Psychonautic Adventures from the 1970s’ was published in 2010. Set between 1975 and 1979, The Mad Artist explores Roger’s experiences of psychedelic awakenings – the trials … Read More

via Psychedelic Press UK

The Cult of the Novel

A Literary Context For Contemporary Entheogenic Visionary Experience

What do you do if you’ve undergone a profound, like-changing mystical revelation and you want to articulate it in a way that’s workable, comprehensible and will make people take you seriously and not simply dismiss you as a headcase? Unless you already have an appropriate platform in place, it’s not an easy one. Within evangelical churches, most everybody is a visionary and their visions have a uniformity of focus and topic. Outside of such accepted institutionalised frameworks, highly vocal ‘visionaries’, perhaps infected with manic zeal—that certainty that the whole outside world must be automatically tuned into your special wavelength—and publicly acting out accordingly, might well find themselves being dealt with under the Mental Health Act. Labelling religious zealots as ‘lunatics’ has proved doubly convenient for societies throughout the ages, since the visions can be written off as ravings and the subjects can, if needs be, contained through incarceration, medication or both. And if the visions happen to be drug induced, then this is an even greater reason for their rejection by the world at large.

In the autumn of 1979 I underwent a three-week epiphany, an elevation into a higher, cosmically connected visionary space as a result of two medium-dose psilocybin mushroom trips taken close together. I imposed a Zen Buddhist, neoshamanistic context on the experience, as they were my preoccupations at the time. So in those terms I had achieved satori, become enlightened, attained a foothold in Ultimate Reality, which was the same as ordinary reality since the Cosmos had become an undifferentiated whole. In a more conventionally religious context, I could be said to have ‘found God’. Looking at the state from a psychological perspective, it was anything but ‘psychotic’, in fact quite the opposite, being super-connected, high functioning, exuberant, ecstatic. In this it had something in common with mania and hypomania, though it never tipped into the delusion, irrationality and destructive behaviour that often accompany true bipolar disorder. Though I was extraordinarily, superlatively high—‘on top of the world’—I hadn’t relinquished the frame of my ordinary life and in myself I felt basically healthy. Read more…

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