UV Ray is one of the most powerful voices of the literary underground. Iconoclastic and irreverent, he is the necessary antidote to the smug commercialism of the formulaic publishers and their profit seeking margins. He is a widely published author and a man who writes stories that disturb the self-congratulatory equilibrium earned on the soft back of media manipulation. He has written the non-linear novel ‘Spiral Out’ about late eighties Birmingham. He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about alienation and literature.
William Blake thought artists and criminals were both outsiders. What do you think of his observation?
Well, I read the more well known poets and no wonder so many people don’t bother reading poetry. It is criminal. These bastards inflict incalculable damage on their own chosen art form. So I would suggest that most of these fuckers who refer to themselves as artists should be put to the gallows. I tell you, I’d pull the lever myself – with flourish.
It’s funny you should ask that though because recently I was reading Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind. Some of the ideas Wilson puts forth seem to me to be ill thought out and speculative. However, he does make an interesting observation in that England was a rather stoic and unimaginative place until the Gothic novel emerged in the 1700’s. Literature was little more than reportage prior to this. But after writers began to meld into their work aspects of sex and violence the greater use of the imagination permeated the whole of society. People became more imaginative in their pursuits – including criminals. So according to Wilson the advent of Gothic and romantic fiction instigated a kind of revolution on society. It sounds feasible enough to me.
What two influences or events that have occurred in your life have changed you and how?
I’m not interested in resolutions. I don’t write stories that establish an early conflict and follow a formulaic course to completion. I don’t believe in structure. I do not view fiction as a gleaming new apartment block. I see it as the derelict factory shell; something that once churned with punching machinery but is now only a decrepit carcass. To me, there seems to be a beauty in loss in the same way that unrequited love is often the most intense. My typical world view is one of dystopian wreckage . In much the same way, I believe in breaking the structure of a story down to its barest essentials. Symbolically, my work is a representation of the world I see. It is only by destroying rigid structures we create something greater than the two-dimensional.
I can’t really say that any singular life experience has influenced me. At least nothing beyond a certain aesthetic. My mother had me when she was 18. She was dead at 19. I never knew her. I suppose that changed the direction of my life but I cannot possibly form a conclusion on how because I will never know what the alternative would have been.
The history of modern writing may be crudely divided into the outsiders and insiders. We live in an age of formulaic writing motivated by profit hungry publishers, and much of this is dominated by the economic relation with Hollywood. By contrast, historically we have writers like Jean Genet, who spent most of his life in prison, and the Beat movement among others. Do you think the dichotomy is purely economic or do the underlying reasons go deeper?
I am reminded of… and I can’t remember which actress said it now… but she said, “who do I have to fuck to get off this movie?” I’m pretty much asking the same question. I mean, all of us outsider writers are just banging our heads against a wall. I’ve been skirting the fringes of the literary scene for two decades. I have no idea why I put myself through it. It’s a fucking disease. Coming back to the idea of criminals and artists: I don’t think it’s just writers who can be divided into outsiders and insiders. I think it applies to people as a whole. And some of those outsiders write. Others rob banks and rape and kill. Poets apparently have an unusually high rate of suicide. In the vast majority of cases that notion warms my heart.
I’m not completely sure the relation to Hollywood is the fundamental issue. I think society as a whole has become homogenised and it is symptomatic of that. I’m not too much of an academic thinker so I don’t sit around trying to work it all out. We’re really back to the aesthetics that stimulate me. I’m not saying anything new when I say that most works of great literature, in its own time, hit that same wall we are now hitting our heads against. Writers like Henry Miller, Georges Bataille and Bill Burroughs were all rejects of their time. Even now their works have essentially only garnered a cult following. The great unwashed as a whole remain ignorant of their work. They go out and buy Jackie fucking Collins. I mean Christ almighty, the number of times I have mentioned Lou Reed in conversation and been met with blank faces! But who cares? Let the fuckers eat their shit and die. I mean, what infected vagina spat Justin Bieber into this world? In fact, I don’t think it’s much different now to how it has always been. It might appear the past was a better place, but in reality the scum-sucking bottom feeders that are the hoi polloi have always sucked up shit. But really, I’ve gotta tell you – the rising cost of alcohol concerns me much more than all this. I’m just a writer. My only goal is to in some way preserve moments in time. I take literary snapshots. Predominantly in my poetry, I seek to preserve the essence of a moment, rather than mere reportage. Someone once said I write Zen poetry. I don’t think about it too much. I think in a way I’m just trying to preserve something of myself. I doubt I’ll be around long.
But anyway, fuck the publishers. Fuck them right in the face. The day of the contrived plot driven novel is dead. We are the new avant-garde. All I need is whiskey, my Moleskine notebook and my pen. That, and the conviction that I’m not writing for the common rabble. If I gained the acceptance of the masses I’d go and jump off a cliff in shame. I have greater concerns than the whims of the hoi polloi. What they deserve is a good punch up the knickers and nothing more. If I sound like an elitsist that’s because I am. Many writers have tried to write for the common man. Many have tried to offer them something true and pure. And the bastards have wholly rejected those efforts. So my attitude is fuck ‘em up the jacksie with a red-hot poker. We should take literature back off them and hand it to someone with the wherewithal to appreciate it. Go back to your Jackie Collins novels and your Mills & Boon, you stinking bastards.
Georges Bataille wrote in ‘Erotism’ ‘The transgression does not deny the taboo but transcends it and completes it’. To what extent do you think it’s true that by rebelling, by rejecting the source of authority that is also the cause of opprobrium, we reinforce the predominant power structure?
Well, I am pleased you added that bit at the end because you and I both, of course, know what opprobrium means; but there might have been a few readers who would have had to look that up in a dictionary.
Yeah, it’s like heroin. In not taking it one might strengthen desire. But that is only true if there has been an addiction in the first place.
Politically speaking, the true opposition tactic is to simply ignore, to transcend. Or at least to employ the Judo method – using their own momentum to deck them. But it’s so much more fun pretending to buy John Cooper Clarke a Creme-de-Menthe but slipping him a glass of fairy liquid!
The problem lies in the fact that people have allowed themselves to become subservient to those predominant power structures, rather than those structures being subservient to human potential. Of course, we can speak of human potential as if humanity as a whole possessed it. From what I’ve seen, most of them don’t. I once read someone say that a species that can put a man on the moon shouldn’t be satisfied with eating McDonalds. That’s quite funny.
I’ve already spoken about breaking structures down. It’s like cellular regeneration. I still firmly believe we should stick our fingers up at mainstream publishers and proclaim: “fuck you, Grand-dad, I write what I like!” Now whether or not I am ceding them power, I don’t care. I resist them with every bone and sinew in my body. Their bullcrap mustn’t be allowed to thrive. Cake is far too good for them. Let them eat shit, I say.
There is quite a rare book entitled Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard. Supposedly this is a pseudonym employed by Jack London but it’s not entirely certain who wrote the book. In it Redbeard asserts the basic premise that only the threat of ultimate and unequivocal violence works in the realm of human affairs. And I’ll tell you, for all their superior technology, no alien is ever going to perform medical procedures on me. Of course, I’m veering off the subject somewhat, but if the greys land I’d say: “You come anywhere near me and I’ll deck you, you little twat!”
Tell us about your novel.
Ahh, the much anticipated Spiral Out. Anticipated by whom I am not sure.
I’ve completed two novellas, in fact. I actually think the second one, Jump Cuts, is far better than Spiral Out. But it’s all academic since I doubt either of them will see the light of day. Having said that, a 6000 word excerpt from Jump Cuts is due to appear as a short story in the upcoming Out of the Gutter Magazine, chosen by Danny Bowman of Pulp Press, as part of their UK vs USA noir challenge. Although I should say I don’t consider myself a genre writer of any description.
I’m sure I’m not unique in finding my own work difficult to talk about. When people ask me what it’s about I just can’t explain it. There’s no real plot lines, you see. I wrote both books pretty much straight off the cuff. Spiral Out essentially focuses on the lack lustre existence of bored rich kid Mark Karzoso as he floats around the bars and nightclubs of a late eighties Birmingham city as he struggles to find meaning in his life. Eighties Birmingham was a rather seedy world and the book is 80% autobiographical. It’s definitely a tale of sex, drugs and violence, resulting in inevitable chaos.
I am told my writing is extremely dark and somewhat depressing. Which comes as a shock to me because I was always under the impression I wrote comedy. Spiral Out is currently under consideration and I have completely fucked up any opportunity for self-promotion here. I honestly have no idea how to describe either of the books. Excerpts from both have garnered some keen interest – but I always wonder if people are merely being polite.
You mentioned formulaic writing being motivated by an economic relationship with Hollywood . In fact, Jump Cuts as a title is a reference to Jump Cutting in film. In the book I jump between camera angles focusing on the interlinked lives of its central characters spanning four decades. If the novel has any structure at all, that’s about the only one. What I have essentially done is take a story and chop it up. I hope that doesn’t make it a work of meta-fiction because that wasn’t my intention. I’m interested in that collision of lives through dereliction and desperation.
I don’t know. I just hope those that read the Out of the Gutter excerpt want to read more.
Do you think that black satire subverts the forms of literature that aim for realism since it breaks the lines of discourse?
Again, coming back to what I was saying earlier, I was always frustrated by fiction being two dimensional. It seemed inescapable. I think this was the dilemma Truman Capote felt he was facing when he hit upon his idea of the non-fiction novel when he wrote In Cold Blood. And now I think that concept needs looking at again. Great art provides us with a genuine document of the social climate of which it is born. I’m not really one for such labels but I think black satire is real enough in itself. Does it really break lines of discourse? I’m not so sure it does. I’d never thought of it that way. I think it does hold up a mirror. Perhaps that provides a source of discomfort but I don’t think it breaks lines of discourse. At least, not as I am understanding the polemic.
Deleuze and Guatarri suggest in their book ‘Anti-Oedipus’ that the capitalist machine actually generates states of schizophrenia. Do you think that those who are outside a system, especially one with totalitarian leanings, are conditioned to what mainstream psychiatry views as psychotic states and that art is a counter strategy?
That’s all hypothesis though, surely? I don’t think it matters what system is installed, there will always be those who find themselves on the outside of it. Modern psychiatry appears to be frequently coming out with a right load of old shit. I think they try to classify everything. They seem to be looking for excuses for everything. Sometimes kids don’t have Attention Deficit Disorder – they’re just a little cunt.
There has always appeared to be a perceived correlation between artists and anarchists. There are those who embrace their outsider status. For others, I think being an outsider may well give rise to feelings if alienation. For some people that may well generate mental problems.
Of course, there are other theories that capitalism is the engine of the economy. But appearances can be deceptive. As I have already said people have become subservient to governments and corporations. That’s the way they want it. Remove those safety nets and people start having breakdowns all over the place.
I would have to have read Deleuze and Guatarri’s book to address their assertion. But I won’t be doing so anytime soon. I’m always leery of people with a political agenda. I’ve seen these new Winnie the Pooh box sets. I’d rather read those. I also like the Mister Men. I wonder why they never did a Mister Couldn’t-Give-A-Fuck.
On your site you mention Charles Manson, who was convicted in the late sixties for the incitement of the Tate/LaBianca murders. How do you view his actions and the influence he had over his group in terms of the wider cultural context the killings are set against and the perception of him by the media?
My uncle Charlie has some void within him that always required filling. I think he sought to do this by finding people to idolise him. In doing so he surrounded himself with a bunch of fuck-ups. I’ve corresponded with him and his mind is indeed a strange but compelling affair. Like Hitler or Cliff Richard, Manson has become a symbol of all that is putrid. This is actually a perfect example of how symbolism solidifies perceptions. When in truth no one is completely good or completely evil. Within the parameters of mass perception, Manson is nothing more than a mad-eyed symbol. It’s almost illegal to show any pictures of Hitler behaving in a human manner; almost everything you are allowed to see is footage that serves to solidify that concept of him being the insane beast.
Manson’s trial became a matter of politics. It was him against the government. And it’s strange because you already mentioned this – but he allowed his rebellion to fuel their fire. In a sense, he bought their wrath on himself by opposing them. I mean, they wanted to send him to the gas chamber or the electric chair! I mean, let’s face facts: Charles Manson didn’t actually carry out the Tate / LaBianca murders. To be up for the death penalty – and, as it turned out, life behind bars, is somewhat dubious for incitement to murder. Or as Charlie puts it, “For what? Because I hung around with a bunch of people who killed somebody?”
Vincent Bugliosi certainly had a lot to do with constructing the mythos and hoopla that has surrounded the legend. He welded together fact and fiction to create the mythos. If Hunter S. Thompson can be credited with creating Gonzo journalism then Bugliosi can be credited with Gonzo prosecution.
I liked what Charlie said in an interview from his prison once: “If I wanted to take a shit in this bucket, the next day there would be a rule written – no shitting in buckets.”
Maybe I am of a criminal mindset, I don’t know. But me and my uncle Charlie, we think alike. As per his own quote regarding me: “Had I been bound in u.v.ray’s body I could have written this book.”
Well said, uncle Charlie. Well said.
I have two CDs of Charlies Manson’s music. I think the song “Look at Your Game Girl” from his Lie lp is available on Youtube. It’s a really great song. We’re coming back to artists and criminality again. But Charlie missed his boat. There’s that element of wanting to be loved in all artists, I think. It’s a thin line we walk.
Which living writers do you think have the ability to disturb?
What really disturbs me is how many copies of Jeremy Clarkson’s latest autobiographical effort have been selling! I mean, Jesus H. Christ! The World According to Clarkson. The Cult of Celebrity never ceases to amaze me. Especially when it’s a two-bit b-list celebrity.
I haven’t read Lee Rourke’s The Canal yet, but he seems to have disturbed a lot of people with that offering. And Michel Houellebecq seems to cause something of a hoo ha in France just about every time he completes a book. Though frankly, his Atomised bored me to tears.
But most fiction does, you know, I don’t read much fiction at all. Few works of fiction can hold my attention all the way through. I read mostly non fiction. Who has a natural ability to disturb these days? I don’t know. Everything is so transparent or old news now. In such a politically correct climate I suppose anyone who simply tells the truth would be considered the most disturbing. People seem to have become leery of hearing a few truths. The big taboo at the moment seems to be racial and religious issues – and that does appear to be the case with Houellebecq. The issue itself has most probably been exacerbated since 9/11.
Personally, I don’t care where the terrorist threat comes from. I just wish terrorists would stop misdirecting their energies towards the indiscriminate target of innocent members of the public. We all know who the enemies of man are. I wouldn’t mind a bit of freedom from political tyranny myself. Some might call me a socialist. And they’d be wrong. But let’s not go further down this road otherwise I’ll land myself in hot water. Walls have ears.
I think the most disturbing writers probably don’t get read. We are living in a world where only the blandest of shit gets through the system. I refuse to believe they’re not out there.
Do you think we live in an age of intensive pressure to conform and who profits from it?
Well now I am reminded of a writer I should have mentioned in my answer to the last question! I don’t even think there is an obvious pressure to conform. Someway, somehow what we now have is a will to conform. It’s something that has subtly crept into society, art and politics. This is what I was saying about subservience to corporations. We live in a consumer culture where there is a fear of not being part of the herd. It’s the death of culture. As I have said before we live in a time when Justin Bieber is elevated above Lou Reed. Curtis White in his book, The Middle Mind: Why Consumer Culture Is Turning Us Into The Living Dead, posits that it is a mainstream consensus that does not offend but challenges or moves no one, a media machine that equates Madonna with Milton.
Society has always lived under tyranny. Many years ago the average man had to doff his cap if a member of the wealthy classes passed him in the street. Now they just buy their products and adopt them as a lifestyle choice with the same dogmatic subservience.
I mean, I realise I sound like a bitter man. But the truth is it’s only because I am so dismayed at people. So much potential wasted in their subjugation. I want to put a bomb under them and say: for fuck sake, wake up and realise your human potential! But of course, the vast majority of people accept what is sold to them like animals stand and accept the rain.
I don’t know what it’s going to take to forge some fucking resistance into the bones of mankind. But I wonder whether all this bile is merely an external manifestation of my frustration at myself for my own lack of achievement.
Thank you UV for giving a highly individual and honest interview.