Michael Perkins is a poet and a novelist. Subversive, iconoclastic, profound, erotic, are all terms that may be applied to his diverse and superbly paced fictions. Among his published titles are Dark Matter, and Ceremonies Of The Flesh, and I recommend them both unreservedly. Michael met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about the need for a writer to challenge society, and alternative fictional paradigms.
Your fictions may be described as inhabiting that body of literature known as transgressive. How do you see your novels, and to what extent is transgression necessary for a writer to challenge prevailing social hypocrisies control programmes?
“Transgression” is a co-opted word stolen by advertising and pop culture some time ago. It’s no longer literary, and literature has been my obsession since I first read Nightwood at 16. That book remains transgressive. So does Evil Companions. (I am not comparing the two books as literary artifacts; that would be absurd. I am speaking now of motivation. )
In the Sixties, every night television held up a mirror: our best and brightest were dumping napalm on children. It is the artist’s duty to express a society’s pain. I sat down at my typewriter and reportted for duty,Transgression? The violation of. commandments? That was for those who care about such things. They wanted to clean the temple of our civilization. Our species.
I wanted, like blind Samson, to tear it down. I wanted to set its heart on fire. And I wouldn’t piss down its throat.
Is it necessary for a writer to subvert society, to ‘Epater la bourgeoisie’, as the French decadent poets of the 19th Century, exhorted writers to do, and do you think the best fictions offer alternative paradigms to those we are presented with?
Those writers who are in the subversive business know that it is counter- productive to attack what’s left of the middle class. They buy our books. They also provide us with the raw material for our dreams,the surprise and shock we never–being delicate creatures–would have thought of. No; we must treasure our readers. Who else would be so foolish as to open their minds and spread their legs for us? We wish to be dangerous, but will settle for scandalous.
Your novel Dark Matter deals with family abuse, rebellion and alternate lifestyles, sects, and the occult. What are you spiritual views and to what extent do you think religion is part of a social propaganda?
The priests have always kept us enslaved. It is their job to keep us away from the truly spiritual. My spiritual views? Gnostic, Taoist–along those lines. I believe that I have a
soul,and most do not. I believe that everything is alive, and that the writer’s work is always spiritual. I believe that literature is either hard work at low pay, or a calling to which you must devote your life.
As for Dark Matter, I simply wrote what I saw. Most of DM’s characters are portraits of real people,doing things I saw happen. This novel, like Evil Companions, was conceived in anger, and given birth by c-section.
Ted Hughes wrote, in his poem Theology,
“No, the serpent did not
Seduce Eve to the apple.
All that’s simply
Corruption of the facts.
Adam ate the apple.
Eve ate Adam.
The serpent ate Eve.
This is the dark intestine.
The serpent, meanwhile,
Sleeps his meal off in Paradise –
Smiling to hear
God’s querulous calling.”
What are your views on his statement?
Women are smarter than men by a long shot, perhaps because they are schooled by reptiles when still in nappies. The only thing a man can do is to take a stick when he goes among women — not for them, but for their serpents.
Michael, thank you for a great interview.