Congratulations on the recent release of your book CICATRIZATION out of London’s Infinity Land Press. Before continuing with questions regarding the book, I’d like to say that I sincerely hope this email finds you and your loved ones well. This year has been turbulent and transformational politically, economically, environmentally and otherwise. How does it feel having your book released into this social climate, and has it affected your current writing or process?
Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you are doing well.
Recently I was walking on a beach at night, with the moon breaking the water to glass and the black surf beating the beach like a drum, and it seemed to me it was pounding out the sound of each mounting catastrophe. The present moment is so full of wreckage, one catastrophe exacerbating the other. The plague, the wildfires, the crumbling of order. And yet I know this is my human ear and my human brain that registers this. The surf beats the shore for no human mind. Stone will be ground to dust by water a thousand years after the death of Men. Eternity is longer than stone but stone is its testament. Solid and cold and indifferent to the collective nervous system of humanity. The present moment is an awesome thing to behold and to shake through, but ultimately my place is on the margins, as a witness. It has not affected my writing practice much, although it has given me a lot to chew on intellectually and emotionally. My hope is that this is the beginning of civilization’s end, although I am not that optimistic.
In your published work preceding CICATRIZATION (e.g. The Extinction Cycle, The Agony of the Sun, Rituals, and On Appeasing Angry Gods [Void Front Press], Psalms [SELFFUCK], as well as writing published online) there is an overarching sense of transformation: the reader follows in a trance-like progression through layers of decay, hallucination, terror, and bodily violence towards a void-like horizon. In your opening statement to CICATRIZATION you introduce a thematic contrast between fantasized death and “real death”. Are these themes obsessions? If so, why is obsession necessary for writing?
Yes, transformation and death and the blistering heat of hallucination are all obsessions of mine. These are born partly from experiences drawn from the death of my father. The golden light that filled the room at the time of his passing. The energy crackling as his bones shivered in their death rattle, his lips cracking against their chapped hide, to smile out of this world and into the next. I did not know until then that death was like this. Hot and bright and full of fear, a dream berserk. It has marked me and so I return again and again to these moments. What world did he see into at that moment? The brain boils in mystery at our passing and the bacteria lie silent in the gut waiting to chew through us. The dead roll in their silent tombs, or sweat in the heat of decay, and dream the world we live inside of.
Again, a story. I was reading by porchlight, and in the dulled glow a cicada came screaming into the door frame I was sitting next to. It ticked and buzzed and screamed and then fell silent. The night was eerie, and I sweat in fear and in humidity and I watched this thing die. It went slowly, screaming at the night intermittently. This is the nature of the world, to molt screaming into the alien reaches of death and dream through the painful decay of transformation. There is a tendon that connects each living thing and it vibrates in acoustical pain. The wheel of samsara turns and each soul molts into every other in agony. Everything dies and yet nothing leaves. That scream vibrates in eternity.
I think obsession is necessary for my writing. My brain is brutal and repetitious, and obsessions control me. Whatever dwells in my unconscious, dwells there permanently.
There is a tangible ambiguity in your work, rising primarily from your choice to remain anonymous, as well as the lack of specificity surrounding persons and places. In my opinion, this lack of “naming” or “facing” lends characteristics of mystery and universality to your work, as well as a black and opaque feeling. Like night. Like horror. Like ink. I know that you revere the writing of Cormac McCarthy and personally consider him the “greatest novelist of all time.” Because of this influence I think your landscapes can feel aesthetically American. Do you consider your writing “American”?
First, to address anonymity. In dream all are faceless, and all names are false names. A child killed is every child, either in this dream or the next. Writing is a way to move through the world that lives beneath the surface of this one. The waking day is buoyed by the darker waters of the night.
I do not really consider my writing American, because I do not really understand America. What is America? Is it the landscape or is it the mall or is it the commercials for new cars? I feel at a remove from both the fires of my peers and that of my enemies. I am influenced mostly by the landscape of the eastern woodlands and the death and life inherent there. A rotting deer will stick in my mind much longer than any conversation and I am generally isolated from any kind of “community”.
I am heavily influenced by American writers and their attachment to the land. Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Annie Proulx and William Gay are all huge influences. The poetry of Robinson Jeffers has recently been pounding through my brain regularly. But again, I do not know if my writing is distinctly “American.” I have crisscrossed the country 5-6 times by car, and the landscape has certainly made an impression. Beyond that, I do not know.
The first definition that comes up when you google the noun Cicatrix is “the scar of a healed wound.” The second definition is “a scar on the bark of a tree.” A definition that comes up for Cicatrization is “The process of a wound healing to produce scar tissue”, or “wound healing”. Nature, the environment and the animal kingdom play a large role in your writing. In many cases the earth and its animals are suffering along with the human subjects. In the descriptions of this agony there seems to be a heightened sensitivity and reverence paid to the non-human beings, organisms and the land itself. Is this a response to the historic treatment of the environment, animals and indigenous peoples after industrialization and colonialism?
I would say that rage is the motor behind my writing, and that rage is stoked by the history of ecocide and genocide that is civilization.
The world we live in is a world denuded of spirit. The spirits of the land have been buried, and a thousand worlds ground under to create a giant shopping mall. We live in a world debased and emptied, and so our psyches and our souls.
The desert within mirrors the desert without. It is larger and more unforgiving. The world we have is a dismembered relic of the one we had, like the severed arm of a saint. I feel deep pain for the species that are lost, the ecosystems that have been destroyed and the lifeways that have been destroyed that once inhabited this land.
So yes, in a sense you could say this the background of my creation.
In many places you have mentioned faith, the sacred, and sacrifice as thematic interests. Are you religious or do you have a past in religion? Does ritual play a role in your writing process?
I grew up catholic and the imagery and emphasis on suffering certainly made an impression on me. If I have a religion, my religion is Wildfires. Whatever humbles Man is divine, whatever exalts him is evil. The angry gods have not been appeased and now they are wreaking their vengeance. I suffer when anything suffers, including human beings. Yet I know that the world is large, and dark, and human beings walk in ultimate blindness. The desire to control the wild will eventually fail, because all things die. To paraphrase Jeffers, “even cultures have their end”.
CICATRIZATION was released Saturday, 8/29/20, by Infinity Land Press out of London. On ILP’s website, co-founders and multi-media artists Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak describe Infinity Land as “a realm deeply steeped in pathological obsessions, extreme desires, and private aesthetic visions. Having disappeared over the horizon from the nurseries stocked with frivolous babblings of apologetic pleasures, Infinity Land is foundationally a geography configured by the compulsive, annihilating search for impossible beauty. In the words of Yukio Mishima, ‘True beauty is something that attacks, overpowers, robs, and finally destroys.'”
Your work seems like a natural fit given the aesthetic interests of ILP, who have published writers such as Antonin Artaud, Dennis Cooper, Stephen Barber, Steve Finbow, Philip Best, Michael Salerno, Audrey Szasz and many others. What was it like working with Martin and Karolina, who are putting out books of such high artistry, content and design?
Working with Martin and Karolina was excellent throughout the whole process. They were extremely gracious with their time, and their attention to detail was awesome. I am so happy to be published by such an amazing press that works with so many great writers as well as makes beautiful books. The final product looks amazing and I don’t believe another press could create the books Infinity Land is creating. Martin and Karolina are doing such great work and I look forward to all of their releases.
In your interview with Infinity Land you mention a personal history of performing in a punk band and an interest in anarchist literature; the latter influencing your choice of the S.M.H. pen name. I can feel the vibration of heavy music and sound through all of your writing as well as in your book covers and designs. Echoes of Guyotat, Bataille and Artaud are evident in your work, although your words do not feel self-consciously academic in regard to literature. Far from wanton displays of sex, violence, and degeneration, your writing seems to share a political ethos of revolt with these subcultural movements in music, philosophy, art and activism. Do you consider your writing a political tool? An act? A weapon?
No, that is too grandiose. I think my writing is a personal exorcism, no more and no less.
Does an interest in film play a role in the visual nature of your work? Regardless, what is your favorite movie?
The work of Lars von Trier and his imagery has made an impression, but I wouldn’t say it was transformative. Antichrist certainly has some beautiful imagery and paints a picture of demonic nature which I find appealing. But for my favorite movie I must return to McCarthy and No Country For Old Men. I have watched that movie a million times and will watch it a million more.
How important is regular solitude to you as a writer? Spending time in Nature?
Spending time in Nature and solitude are both extremely important. Everything I write comes from my walks in the woods. It is the lifeblood of my imaginary. I am fairly anti-social and so being alone has been a constant in my life. I need that time to read, think and contemplate. The two poles of solitude and nature have been necessary for me to create.
What does the word “apocalypse” mean to you?
Apocalypse is seen as the end but the truth I think, is that there is no end. A thousand worlds have died to build the one we live in now. Thousands of species, cultures, gods. They are the compost of the horror we live in today. All time is the end times. All energy molts painfully into something else, and in the paroxysms of History we see this more plainly.
S.M.H. is the author of The Extinction Cycle, The Agony of the Sun, Rituals and On Appeasing Angry Gods (Void Front Press), Psalms (SELFFUCK), and Cicatrization (Infinity Land Press).
Evan Isoline is a writer and artist living on the Oregon coast. He is the founder/editor of SELFFUCK and his full-length debut ‘Philosophy of the Sky’ is forthcoming from 11:11 Press.
PURCHASE CICATRIZATION HERE.
PURCHASE PSALMS HERE.
PURCHASE THE EXTINCTION CYCLE, THE AGONY OF THE SUN, RITUALS, and ON APPEASING ANGRY GODS HERE.
Header: California wildfires 2020, AP Photo/Noah Berger.
Body: Images of CICATRIZATION from infinitylandpress.com, artwork and design by Karolina Urbaniak.