Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents Publishing recently interviewed me for his lively and interesting Euro-traditionalist website/bookshop. I'm glad he did, because the interview gave me the opportunity to think about and try to explain what I do as a small-time publisher of outre books as well as to discuss some of the issues and controversies that have held my attention over the years. It also provided a platform -- which no one should give me! -- to promote a number of past, present, and future 9BB projects and to talk personally about the writers whose work I have had the pleasure and honor of publishing. I also managed to work in a reference to Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case.
The interview went long (my fault), so it was presented in a series of three installments. With Greg's kind permission, I am reprinting below the full text with header links to each of the original segments. I have preserved the original links throughout but may add a few of my own as time permits.
Chip, tell us a bit about your background: where you are from, where you went to school, who your people are.
I was born and bred in central Appalachia. Working class family. Child of divorce. Not much to tell. A lot of people leave this area when they wise up, but for some reason that never occurred to me. After I nearly flunked out of high school in the late ’80s, I managed to get into a low-rung state college where I learned a few things and earned a useless degree. When I failed to secure professional employment, I did construction work for my father until the day when I ran into a former philosophy professor who offered me a job at a used bookstore that he managed. I liked that job very much, and I learned a lot about books—about regional literature, identifying first editions, the book trade from a distance. My book collection grew exponentially, and I read a lot.
After a few years the bookstore gig was up and I returned to the want-ads. Worked in a dry-cleaning plant. Did shitwork for a local print shop. Maintenance for an apartment complex. Some other stuff. Eventually, I stumbled into something more gainful and I stuck with it. The publishing thing—it was always on my mind, but money was an impediment. I don’t make money publishing books.
As to my “people,” well, I’m not sure. Maybe having the surname “Smith” makes genealogy seem less romantic, or maybe it’s that I never got on that well with my family, but for whatever reason, I never really felt the itch to investigate my lineage. If you’ve read Albion’s Seed, you’ll know that Appalachia was overwhelmingly populated by Scotch-Irish in the grungy fourth migratory wave from the British borderlands. From what little I understand, my roots may trace more to a Dutch-British line, but nothing would surprise me. I’d get a kick out of calling myself a Melungeon, but my blond hair and blue eyes make that implausible.
If I were to consider the question in more cosmopolitan terms, I guess I would list skeptics, misfits, monomaniacs, contrarians, sentimental losers. Anyone who ever had a heart, to quote Lou Reed (with the understanding that I alone stand in judgment of whose heart is true). Such, I suppose, are “my people.”
When did you found Nine-Banded Books, and what is the significance of the name?
Well, Bradley Smith’s book—The Man Who Saw His Own Liver—went to press in late 2007, so I guess that’s when 9BB got its formal start. I had approached Bradley maybe a year earlier about publishing his loosely biographical novel, A Personal History of Moral Decay, but he felt it needed work so we did Liver instead. It’s a novelization based on a one act play that was actually produced and prominently reviewed in the early ’80s, before Bradley came to be associated with Holocaust revisionism. I think it works really well as a novel, though I understand that some readers will find the Cold War anti-nuke sentiments to be a bit dated. I tried to address this in my preface, while making the case for Bradley Smith as a writer of little-remarked literary import. His stuff reminds me of Richard Brautigan.
Still, I’m not sure there was a founding event as such. Since I was a teenager, I’ve followed independent presses the way music geeks follow record labels, and I was always drawn to the idea that one enterprising individual could sort of take the reins and brand a body of literature over time. I think this is essentially what Barney Rosset did with Grove/Evergreen, and his example was one source of inspiration to me.
Another was Adam Parfrey of Amok and Feral House. I remember reading Apocalypse Culture when I was maybe 17. It was such a mind-blowing book at that time, and I came away with a sense that publishing was—or could be—a kind of garage punk performance. Parfrey had keen curatorial instincts that made all the difference. Apocalypse was billed as a kind of intellectual freakshow, but the bait and switch is what kept things interesting; once you were in, you discovered that the dark carnival being barked was about more than just tweaking bourgeois sensibilities.
Retrospectively, I think Parfrey was serving up a heaping dense platter of what Sister Y (Sarah Perry) has since described as “insight porn,” the sort of head-lit that tends to re-route mental polarities—that, in her words, gets you “epistemically pushed off of your reality.” Shock value only counts when there’s resonance, and with Parfrey’s literary provocations—and here I would be remiss not to also mention Rants and Incendiary Tracts and Cult Rapture—the afterburn has lasted for decades.
Anyway, that was the germ. The one that stands out in hindsight. Of course, it would be years before I got around to publishing books. The Hoover Hog came first, and I’m not entirely sure what I was doing there. I know that I had been ordering lots of “fringe” literature and haunting the stacks at local university libraries, just following one book or article or footnote to the next until I was sort of immersed in these controversial hot spots that absolutely demanded my attention.
At the same time, I really liked what Jim Goad was up to with ANSWER Me!—the wicked humor and literate personal investment he brought to troublesome topics. So I guess that provided the template when I began to channel these disparate threads—criminology, aberrant sexology, revisionism, sociobiology, bioethics, etc.—into a kind of low-rent journalistic hobby. Zine culture was running full-on back then so I threw two issues of The Hoover Hog into the din, to no consequence. They really weren’t very good.
I know this seems like the sort of thing you should grow out of, but I just never did. I was a latecomer to the Web, but I know that when I revived the Hog as a blog in I’m thinking 2005, I was firmly committed to the idea of publishing books.
The name? Just a nod to our friend the nine-banded armadillo. The story is that they were referred to as “Hoover hogs” during the depression when people in dire straits were reduced to dine on dillo-meat in lieu of pork. “Nine-Banded Books” just gilds the lily. There’s no deeper meaning, though I know that some readers have assumed that “Banded” is meant as a near-homonym for “Banned.”
The background is that when I was in college I wrote a paper about the use of armadillos in leprosy research and I found that I kept thinking about the little fuckers—to the point where armadillo imagery sort of melded with whatever I was reading. So, I don’t know, maybe I was trying to cure a neuro-quirk. They’re really interesting animals. They have litters of identical quadruplets.
Your authors Tito Perdue, Jonathan Bowden, and Andy Nowicki fall into the New Right or Alt-Right sphere. You also publish revisionist works by Bradley Smith, L. A. Rollins, and Samuel Crowell, the readership of which tends to be on the far Right. Tell us about your intellectual and political views. How did you end up publishing thought-criminals?
The alt-right association is more accidental—or incidental—than you might assume. There’s just so much low-hanging fruit on the right side of the vine—some really insightful and provocative and excellent writing. Mainstream publishers don’t want to touch it because, perhaps ironically, their decisions really are governed by political sensibility. I’m much more naïve. I just want these books to exist.
I made contact with Andy after reading his stuff in the right-anarchist journal, The Last Ditch. When he sent me the manuscript for Considering Suicide, I read it in a couple of sittings and found myself in profound disagreement with much of his—or his narrators’—worldview. At the same time, I thought the book “worked.” I thought it had a sly edge, and perhaps because I am a convinced atheist, I liked the idea of publishing a novel that thrummed at these weird, theo-reactionary, Kierkegaardian chords. It seems that everyone plays on “teams” these days, but my view is that a partisan mindset is anathema to the reading life. For me, an abiding virtue of literature is that it allows you to set aside your priors and get into the headspace of someone—whether it’s a character or a scholar or a polemicist or a psychotic or all of the above rolled into one—who sees the world through a different lens. I like to think there was a time when this was better understood.
My political views have always skewed libertarian, or anti-authoritarian. It’s the sort of thing I might have argued passionately about when I was younger, but nowadays I’m more resigned to the idea that politics is largely an aesthetic trench. I hate taxes and gun control and drug prohibition and censorship for the same reason I hate Kevin Smith movies and the smell of sun-baked roadkill—because I’m constitutionally predisposed to viscerally abominate things such that harsh my buzz or stink up a room.
I’ll also admit to being susceptible to romantic or nostalgic vagaries, at times to the point of being a bit of a curmudgeon. I miss smoke-filled bars and free-range neighborhood dogs and casual drunk driving and the homosexual as cultural outlaw and dangerous playground equipment, and I remain stubbornly ambivalent about seatbelts. Do such tendencies enhance my crypto-reactionary cred? I don’t know. I do think extremism is more illuminating than guarded discourse.
If I have one counter-libertarian bug, it isn’t immigration but animal welfare. At least in theory, I can imagine the negative externalities of open borders being sorted out under a propertarian regime (I realize, of course, that we do not live under such a system), but with high-yield factory-farmed livestock, I think we are faced with perhaps a sui generis instance where market efficiency overwhelmingly tends to perpetuate and conceal vast amounts of very real suffering. I’m not sure what can be done about this in a world where paleo diets are in fashion and bacon has become a byword for gluttonous pleasure, but I find it very troubling. I do view the development of lab meat as a positive turn and I am cautiously hopeful that as technology advances and taste improves, inexpensive live meat alternatives will lead to a reevaluation of the industrial treatment of animals. Steven Pinker’s recent thesis on the decline of violence is at least encouraging in this area—his focus on upheavals in moral sensitivity.
My broader intellectual disposition is maybe a bit more complicated in that I try to draw from different currents to make sense of the world. I’m really interested what might be described as collective social behavior and the sociology of belief formation, which covers a raft of subjects: popular delusions, hoaxes, mass hysteria, fads and manias, moral panics—everything from dietary crazes to war fever.
In a related sense, I am forever fascinated—and troubled—by the mysterious process whereby beliefs and ideas come to be culturally entrenched or, as Jonathan Haidt would put it, “sacralized.” You know this is happening when contrary lines of inquiry come to be stigmatized (or in some few contemporary instances, legally proscribed).
I think the “denial” shibboleth, whether it’s invoked to describe Holocaust revisionism or counter-consensus climate research or any number of other dissident perspectives, can be understood as a nasty little bug in this process. By calling someone a “denier,” the accuser is at once signaling his fealty to some entrenched consensus view while at the same time preempting the possibility of good faith intellectual engagement with contrary arguments or evidence.
This is how taboos are bred, and this is how discourse is corrupted. We see it for what it is in the context of religion proper (where “heretics” and “apostates” assume the role of “deniers”), but secular iterations are more insidious and generally withheld from critical analysis. I think many of the books I publish—certainly Crowell’s The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes—can at some level be understood as disruptive experiments against the prevailing clubhouse vocabulary.
Tell us about Jonathan Bowden’s book Mad and how you came to publish it.
I ordered a copy of the original Egotist Press edition of Mad from the Loompanics catalog back in the early ’90s. I loved it then, and I love it now. It’s a difficult book to describe. It’s sort of a feverish prose-poetic discursion centered around Hobbesian strife. Scholarship as outsider art. I’m never sure where to pin it, but I love the modernist music and urgency of the thing. I even love the syntactic idiosyncrasies, the Britishisms, and the halting clauses that Jonathan insisted be preserved for the reprint. He was emphatic, for what it’s worth, that Mad was essentially a Stirnerite experiment. That makes sense to me. He told me he wrote it when he was a teenager, which is amazing.
How I came to publish it isn’t much of a story. I found myself thinking about the book one day and soon discovered that it had never been reprinted. So I looked up Jonathan’s website and sent him a note explaining that I admired the book and inquiring as to whether he would be amenable to seeing it re-issued under the 9BB logo. He was very gracious throughout our subsequent correspondence, and we were quick to work out an agreement. I don’t think I was much aware of his affiliation with British nationalism at the time, not that it would have mattered. I really don’t think of Mad as a rightist tract, in any case.
Do you have plans to publish any other Bowden books?
Yes. Before he died, Jonathan assigned 9BB publishing rights for two books: Sade and Aryan—both of which were originally released in the early ’90s, around the same time as Mad, and read, as far as I can tell, by no one. I love the intense amphetamine groove of his “early” books, where the pedantic voice comes laced with so much crazy energy. Sade, as you might guess, is a study—an eccentrically pitched study, to be sure—of the life and work of the Marquis de Sade. It recently moved to the front burner and should go to press later this year. I’m just waiting for my cover design guy to do his thing. Aryan is a different bird, appropriating novelistic devices to explore the psychology and praxis of Nazism. Reactionary readers who come expecting an apologia will be sorely disappointed.
Tell us about Tito Perdue and how you came to publish The Node.
One day a note from Tito appeared in my inbox. He explained a little about his work and asked if I would be interested in looking at this dystopian novel he had written, something that more established publishing houses wouldn’t touch. So, knowing little about Tito’s previous writing, I began reading the manuscript for The Node and soon found myself giggling like a kid. I know that critics to date have focused on the book’s political and satirical themes, which is appropriate, but it’s such a rich stew of invention—and it is, I think, a genuine comic masterpiece.
I responded to Tito before I had finished the book, telling him it would be an honor to publish it, but I was careful — perhaps suspiciously careful — to explain that his literary reputation would scarcely benefit from his association with a dodgy, marginal publishing venture like mine. He assured me that wouldn’t be a problem, that he had already written himself into a corner and to hell with the big houses anyway. And so it went. Tito was an absolute pleasure to work with.
Of course, I’ve since had the opportunity to acquaint myself with Tito’s larger body of work—which is to say, the “Lee” novels (including, most recently, Morning Crafts). What a trove. Tito is American original, and I’m very proud to include The Node in the Nine-Banded catalog. I only wish I could do more to promote it. But that’s true with all of the books. I send out the press kits and review copies, and crickets chirp back. I always feel that I’m letting my writers down.
Peter Sotos is a writer whose name I have seen but whose work I have not read. Tell us about him.
Peter is a friend. Long ago we sort of bonded over our mutual appreciation of Andrea Dworkin’s work. He’s been very generous and supportive over the years, and I always look forward to arguing with him over drinks when I’m in Chicago. In person, he’s an incisive conversationalist and the kind of guy who puts people at ease. He’s charming, with a great sense of humor. He has a subtle command presence, as many writers do.
I also think he’s a brilliant and important artist and litterateur. There’s an epigram by Cioran where he says that only by continually approaching solecism can writing give the appearance of life. At the most granular level, I think that captures the alchemic genius of Peter’s work. Even as his writing has evolved, his literary voice has remained instantly recognizable, and I am frankly astonished by his singular command of language, by the way he constantly—and instinctively, I think—renders and reinvents modes of expression to corner and record such fragile currents of perception that would otherwise remain ineffable.
Of course, I am aware that the formalist defense never cuts it where Sotos is concerned, and I am just as aware of the profound stigma—there’s no other word, really—that surrounds his oeuvre. His subject, neurotically and “problematically” invested, is sex. More specifically, his subject is pornography. Yet more specifically, his subject is sexual violence as apotheosized in the forbidden language of child porn. And his form settles, for lack of better terms, around a volatile amalgam of critical and confessional extrapolation and interpretation. There’s nothing else like it.
Every biographical note will emphasize the fact that Peter was arrested for obscenity at some fateful turn, and that he was convicted for something arguably worse. Mikita Brottman calls him a “latter-day homo sacer” for good reason. I’m not inclined to argue with those who stop at revulsion, but for readers who take a wider view of art, who allow that prevailing cultural narratives—such as we may certainly document with reference to the terrain that preoccupies Peter, or, if you prefer, Peter’s writing—exist to be disrupted and subverted and, from whatever terrible vantage, understood, then I think the value of the work is self-evident.
In my introduction to Tool. [the period is part of the title—Ed.] (not the work that Peter or I would suggest as representative), I take polite issue with the “narrow defense” that some critics have proffered in justification of Sotos’ psycho-literary project—that it holds up a proverbial mirror to society’s underside and provides a commentary on media-glossed morality cum hypocrisy. I do think there is an incidental kernel of truth in this line, but the drift too often has the desperate, cloying ring of apology. And frankly, Peter deserves better. I am not interested in apologizing for literature that I find at once fascinating, mysterious, revelatory, and troubling.
Rosset had Genet with Sartre’s imprimatur. Those of us who have published Sotos are strung across a chasm without a net. I don’t expect everyone to understand that that’s the appeal, but I’m betting that the literati will catch up in time.
What is your take on revisionism?
In an important sense, I think revisionism simply refers to the ongoing process of investigating and interpreting history. It’s like when we were kids and we learned that Pluto was the ninth planet from the sun. Now it’s just a rock, or a proto-planet, or whatever. Only I just read where they’ve discovered that Pluto has moons. Does that mean it will be promoted to planet status again? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Notwithstanding a few matters of seismically politicized controversy, where science is concerned most of us live with a tacit understanding that correction, or even upheaval, is part of the process, that new discoveries can supplement or overturn a given theoretical framework that’s been rehearsed in textbooks for decades or more. Once in a while this will manifest in a full-on paradigm shift, and most of us layfolk are yet resigned to adjust our understanding perforce, even if it takes a while. I still have fun arguing with people who believe that peptic ulcers are caused by stress.
When it comes to history, however, people feel a kind of personal investment in the fixed narrative. This fealty can be intensely partisan, and it often comes with deep cultural and emotional moorings, as was evidenced by the recent row over the discovery of the skeletal remains of King Richard III. Such sentiments may be understandable, but they are often at odds with the scholarly enterprise of history, which, like a proper scientific discipline, favors continual revision.
Of course, when most people think of historical revisionism, they have in mind something different. Rather than being rooted in disinterested investigation and interpretation, the kind of revisionism that typically arouses suspicion or hostility has a dissident character that tends—or seeks—not to merely supplement a standing historical narrative but to uproot and replace it with a radically different historical counter-narrative.
This has always been the sticking point with Zinn’s labor-centric alternative history of the United States, to cite one well-known and acceptably controversial example. There are countless other examples of “dissident” revisionism that we could mention without being kicked off the reservation: Windschuttle’s study of the Tasmanian genocide, Michelle Malkin’s defense of Japanese internment during the Second World War, David Graeber’s contrarian study of the roots of money and debt, as well in their general drift as works by Tom Woods, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and the granddaddy of American revisionism, Harry Elmer Barnes.
I think there’s also a meta-revisionist cast to the neoreactionary cultural critique that Mencius Moldbug keeps annotating, and I would say the same regarding Errol Morris’s investigative studies of iconic photojournalism.
In a similar sense, I would say that a nascent strain of dissident revisionism can be detected in a spate of recent books that question aspects of the “Good War” and the corresponding mythos of the “Greatest Generation.” Here I would mention Mary Louise Roberts’ What Soldiers Do, Charles Glass’s The Deserters, and, tracking back a bit further, Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which I reviewed for Inconvenient History).
Properly understood, Holocaust revisionism—which I suspect is really what you’re asking about—draws on elements of positivist (or disinterested) historical revisionism along with more motivated (or dissident) currents. I find the subject fascinating not least because of the unique aura of taboo—and the very real threat of prosecution (and persecution)—that surrounds it, but also because it is one of very few areas I can think of where the intellectual substance of a body of scholarship exists at such stark remove from public understanding. I’m loath to even discuss the controversy on interpersonal terms because there are vast swaths of misapprehension and bad faith to be overcome before you even get to the point of rational disagreement. And there’s a very real possibility that you’ll lose friends in the process.
So, with that much as backmatter, I guess I might offer my take on Holocaust revisionism in the following way.
First, I think it is well to note that the subject comes with a long pedigree; that is, for as long as the “court narrative” of Nazi atrocity has been codified, there have been scholars who have professed skepticism about certain elements of the orthodox account.
Second, I think it is important to note that over this long haul, the outline of the revisionist critique has, somewhat remarkably, hovered around three obdurate themes: 1) that there is no credible documentary evidence of an official order or administrative chain of command decreeing the extermination of European Jewry; 2) that there is no credible evidence that homicidal gas chambers were used for the purpose of mass killing or could have operated in the manner posited; and 3) that the purported number of Jewish people who were killed or who died under the yoke of Nazism has been profoundly exaggerated.
When someone is accused of being a “Holocaust denier,” it is generally because he has said or written something that tends to support one or more of these claims. Yet with reference to each of these three points of critique, the scholarship that has followed in the wake of modern Holocaust revisionists like Robert Faurisson and Arthur Butz can, I think, be fairly characterized as hyper-empirical, drawing as it does on cliometric, forensic, demographic and other broadly non-speculative and replicable methods of historical investigation.
Finally, I would emphasize that it is instructive and important to distinguish credible Holocaust revisionist scholarship from various species of “conspiracy theory” with which it is commonly associated and rhetorically conflated. Because of my open interest in proscribed areas of inquiry, people are sometimes surprised to learn that I am skeptical of most conspiracy claims and that I am generally dismissive of that more nebulous goblin, “conspiracy theory.” But there’s no real inconsistency in this, and the reasons matter.
If you think about something like “9/11 Truth” (or “critical 9/11 studies,” to avoid pejorative implications), for example, you find a kind of argument that, however it proceeds at the technical level, ultimately rests on the implicit assumption that acts of profound magnitude, complexity, and enormity can be carried out from behind a credulity-defying veil of impenetrable secrecy. This is always the tell with CT—the psychologically seductive notion that strings are being pulled from on high by eternally shadowy figures, leaving nary a trace of clear-cut evidence behind.
Now, it may be possible, in the strictest metaphysical sense, that such nefarious plots are being hatched and directed from behind a wizard’s curtain, just as it’s possible that Satanists constructed an elaborate network of tunnels underneath the McMartin preschool where they ritually tortured kids during lunch breaks.
The problem is that such notions simply do not comport with any useful account of reality, to say nothing of how State actors—or human beings—actually operate. And without real evidence, we’re left with these endless spirals of dragon-chasing, dot-connecting, spider-sensey speculation. “Just asking questions,” as the conspiracy theorist will insist. Only when answers are provided, the questions shift and widen to re-anoint the sinister mystery in perpetuum.
Now, when we turn to Holocaust scholarship, do we find a narrative centered on covert machinations and some vastly interwoven skein of surreptitiously issued directives? Indeed we do. Only instead of being evident in the outline of the revisionist critique, as Michael Shermer would have us believe, such features actually constitute the salient core of the dominant extermination-by-killing-machine narrative that we find in movies and textbooks.
When hard evidence of gas chambers collapses under scrutiny, we’re next assured that those preternaturally resourceful Nazis covered their tracks at all turns—that the archived blueprints for showers and shelters were gas chamber plans in subterfuge, that extermination orders were concealed under an elaborate euphemistic code, that budgetary allocations are slyly nested under the copious camouflage of quotidian expense reports, work orders, and so on. It’s all right there in Walter’s Laqueur’s The Terrible Secret, or in just about any standard history you care to pick up in the Holocaust studies section of your local Barnes & Noble—all the hallmarks of conspiracy theory surreally accorded the stature of a master narrative.
Of course, some people will counter that such ostensibly preposterous claims are more than outweighed by the sweeping absurdity of the revisionist position. Yet what strikes me about the revisionist line is that once you mine past some generally plausible accounts of the (very real) role black propaganda in the war effort and such internecine affairs on the part of the Allies as have been either demonstrated or suspected, the counter-story basically proceeds after a prima facie reading of the evidence.
You had these vast population transports—never a good idea—and there were typhus outbreaks that followed and that had to be controlled. It is no longer a point of controversy that the vast majority of the insecticide Zyklon B was used for its label-intended purpose, nor is it a genuine point of controversy that large scale cremation (which would have been profoundly offensive to Jewish religious tradition) was utilized for hygienic purposes.
Nor, of course, is there any question that Jewish people at the camps and throughout Eastern Europe were treated cruelly under Hitler’s regime. People were uprooted and looted and imprisoned, and people were lined up and shot. There are logs, without code words, that attest to all of this. Just as there are, rather curiously, medically authorized death reports from Auschwitz that attest to vast infirmity and mortality. Reams of them. None of this is denied in the broad scheme of Holocaust revisionism, the skeptical gravamen of which has remained narrowly focused on the instrumental administration of Nazi extermination policy.
I’ve gone on at too much length already, but realize this subject is a problem for many readers and I want to note that my general impression of Holocaust revisionism—that it has demonstrable scholarly value and shouldn’t be subject to censorship or criminalization in any case—goes some way toward explaining why I chose to publish Samuel Crowell’s book The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes and Other Writings on the Holocaust, Revisionism, and Historical Understanding, which, I am convinced, is a truly important book.
But there’s another reason that tracks back to what I was saying earlier about my interest in mass psychology and moral panics. The annoying thing about much—not all—revisionist literature, to my mind, isn’t that it codes an anti-Semitic or Germanophilic agenda (though you can certainly find instances of both overlapping tendencies) but that so much of it tends to proceed in the Aspergery absence of any nuanced understanding of how people—State actors and common people—behave in a state of crisis.
Butz sort of nicks the surface in his discussion of the witch trial parallels and in his remarks on the Wilkomirski affair, but Crowell’s work stands apart because it isn’t, to borrow van Pelt’s term, “negationist,” but genuinely and humanely illuminating (it’s not for nothing that the subtitle of his book makes explicit reference to “Historical Understanding”). He’s the only guy in the room who seems to appreciate the powerful role of rumor, media feedback, and sociogenic belief formation that, to whatever extent, clouded and molded contemporaneous accounts of mechanized atrocity, potentially fueling a kind of mass delusion rooted in the fog of culture-bound fear.
I don’t doubt that there are bases for good faith disagreement with Crowell’s theses, but I defy anyone who actually reads the 9BB edition of The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes to locate a trace of anti-Semitism or Nazi apology, and I defy anyone who comes to Crowell’s empathic framing of Mary Antin’s memoir not to be hooked. The book is a scrupulously sourced page-turner.
My only real regret as Crowell’s publisher is that I haven’t been able to do more to get his work into the minds of people who, quite understandably, view Holocaust revisionism with suspicion. I sent examination and review copies to so many scholars and professors. With the exception of a couple of supportive emails from sources I am obligated not to divulge, there has been no response. Crowell doesn’t worry about it. Alas, I have a more restive temperament.
One final point. I know that after all of this, certain readers will be convinced that I am avoiding the pregnant question: Do you deny the Holocaust? The problem with this question, I think, is the precept that “the Holocaust” can be reduced to a falsifiable—or deniable—set of claims. This kind of toggle-switch mentality unfortunately gets a lot of mileage on both “sides” of the revisionist controversy. It’s obtuse.
Along with most intellectually mature people, my understanding of the Holocaust is that it is, in a very crucial sense, an extra-historical narrative—Crowell calls it a signifier, and he’s not wrong—that encompasses and memorializes the trajectory of a multitude of calamitous events that European Jews experienced under the reign of a virulently anti-Jewish German State. It refers in broad outline to the scheme of events that saw innocent people dragooned and pillaged and executed and transferred to camps where the ravages of war and pestilence and starvation wrought catastrophic consequences, effectively destroying deeply rooted communities and branding a particular narrative of suffering and persecution and destruction that has at turns been garbled and mythologized and seeped into legend.
Some revisionists like to minimize the central ordeal of Jewish suffering—just as some antebellum revisionists like to minimize the injustice of slavery—but not one, if you read carefully, denies that a lot of terrible shit went down. Nor, obviously I hope, do I. I am inclined to doubt that millions of people were murdered in Nazi gas chambers for essentially the same reason that I take a skeptical view of Gulf War syndrome or Satanic ritual abuse allegations—because such cases exemplify the kind of extraordinary claims (all believed by millions of people, it should be noted) that, lacking hard evidence, can be more parsimoniously apprehended as evanescent episodes of media-facilitated epidemic hysteria. Presented with compelling evidence, I would change my tune in an instant.
At the risk of overkill, I can and will add unequivocally, even if I won’t be believed, that I am not afflicted with what John Derbyshire calls “the Jew thing.” To be clearer, I think anti-Semitism is an intellectual rut. I have no use for it.
Do you know Bradley Smith, L. A. Rollins, or Samuel Crowell personally?
I know all of these guys through ongoing correspondence and occasional phone conversations. I had the pleasure of meeting Bradley in person a few years ago when my wife and I were in San Diego. The three of us went out for dinner and had a great time. He said—I remember this—that I was “much prettier in person” and he encouraged me to switch up the dated mugshot that sits at the top of the Hoover Hog website. He’s a great guy—a natural raconteur and just a really decent, easy-going centered person with a relaxed old-school California manner and a trove of stories. He gave me an autographed copy of the original playbill for The Man Who Stopped Paying (the production title for The Man Who Saw His Own Liver). When I think of Bradley, I have to remind myself of his notoriety. To me, he’s just a writer—a great writer—in the thrall of a subject. I look forward to publishing A Personal History of Moral Decay.
For the past few years, Lou Rollins has been drip-feeding me (by post) these hand-written installments for the next edition of Lucifer’s Lexicon. I should really get off my ass and publish the thing. He’s a trenchant humorist who can claim some marginal renown in the history of the American libertarian movement (I think, but I might be wrong, that his old journal Invictus is mentioned in a footnote in Brian Daugherty’s Radicals for Capitalism—and of course, he memorably defined “Libertarian movement” as “a herd of individualists stampeding toward freedom”).
Lou is also a bit on the eccentric side of the spectrum, and it’s probably accurate to describe him as a hermit. I don’t think he’s logged onto a computer in years. He speaks in a low monotone and his vocal register puts me in the mind of late night AM radio.
Publishing The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays was a big deal for me because the titular essay had a big impact on my thinking when I was young. I guess it broke the Rothbardian spell I was under, though I still have warm regard for the crotchety old fart (referring to Rothbard, not Rollins; The Ethics of Liberty is such a fun book to argue with).
I think it’s odd that Lou gets bunched in with the Holocaust revisionist crowd just because he once wrote a few articles and book reviews for the IHR. The longest—previously unpublished—revisionist-themed essay that I included in the “Other Essays” portion of his book is actually a relentless evisceration of the many “falsehoods” that can be documented in the relevant revisionist literature. He’s a skeptic in the best and truest sense of the word. He doesn’t play for any team.
Crowell, I’ve already mentioned in substance. I can add that he’s one of the most intelligent and insightful people I’ve come to know through my publishing venture, and that’s saying a lot. He’s a (mostly classical) music aficionado, a serious collector of original vinyl and wax recordings, an animal lover, a polyglot and polymath, and a formally trained scholar. It was Crowell who introduced me to Ricardian historiography (a movement that has curious parallels with Holocaust revisionism), and it was Crowell who inspired me to adopt and internalize a kind of soft hermeneutical strategy in my reading of everything from Foucault to Family Guy. He’s like that one great professor who stands apart from the rest of the faculty.
“Samuel Crowell” is, of course, a pen-name, and it still amuses me to admit that I once suspected that he might have been Elaine Showalter in drag (but never the other way around). I wish he enjoyed a wider readership and I’m confident that he will in time. One thing I can mention here is that 9BB will be publishing at least one more book by Samuel Crowell. It’s called William Fortyhands: Disintegration and Reinvention of the Shakespeare Canon, and, as the title suggests, it offers a novel perspective on the “authorship” controversy that has shadowed Shakespeare studies since forever.
I have been asked before whether I agree with the theses and ideas on offer in the books I put out. The stock answer is, not necessarily. I am, however, convinced that antinatalism (I tend to shear the hyphen) taps an acid truth—that every birth is tragic.
Earlier you asked about my political and intellectual disposition and, mindful of context, I tried to answer honestly. But if you want to play it down to the quick, I suppose my deeper worldview can be reduced to a toxic blend of scientific materialism and deep pessimism. In other words, I allow that reality can be apprehended through reason and experience, but I think the conclusions that follow tend only to affirm our worst suspicions—that, to borrow Thomas Ligotti’s perfect phrase, the universe is not just meaningless, but malignantly useless.
Some people might describe this as nihilism, but I am aware of the logomachian squalls that attend the term. To be a bit clearer, then, I don’t think that “nothing is true” in the sense that not even that grammatical utterance is true, but I do ascribe to a kind of nihilistic (or profoundly pessimistic, in the key of Schopenhauer not Ehrlich) default that counsels absolute skepticism where the polestar of meaning shifts into frame.
Put it this way: I think that Camus was right to reject political and philosophical appeals; I think he was wrong to make nice with the abyss that remains after such appeals have been filed and cert. denied. Mortality salience is key—“your death and mine,” as Jim Goad puts it. It’s just that I am no longer convinced that the inevitability of death endows a life—or “life itself”—with any special significance. The inarguable fact is that every one of us has been dropkicked into a life we didn’t ask for, that leads to death. And the world ends when you die. Not a metaphor. Zeros don’t multiply. The apple isn’t just rotten; it’s shot through with poison.
You say this kind of thing and people respond in predictable ways. I will be enjoined to throw myself off the nearest bridge. I will be advised to man up for the struggle. I will be told that I am a coward or that God is the answer. Don’t think for a second that I haven’t thought it through. There are plenty of shiny distractions to keep my interest for the time being. There are animals to be fed, deadlines to be met, and I want to see how Breaking Bad ends.
But deep pessimism is where aesthetics breaks down for me. In particular, it’s what impels me to reject appeals to transcendent “survival” that resound in racialist and environmentalist rhetoric. Pace every zombie movie ever made, I don’t think “survival”—in the literal, generational, tribal, or metaphorical sense—is anything to celebrate. It’s just a Darwinian tic.
I believe I first came to think about antinatalism when I was reading Murray Rothbard’s essay on “children’s rights” in The Ethics of Liberty. It’s an infamous bit of libertarian theory that sort of tests the limits of the non-aggression principle. The weird result is that Murray, ever the stickler for consistency, ends up defending some repugnant conclusions, such as that parents have no strict ethical obligation to care for, or even feed, their children. The reasoning follows after an ethical abhorrence of the initiation of force. While we might condemn the category of inaction that permits a helpless infant to die for lack of provision, Rothbard argues, strict libertarian ethics precludes the imposition of force—such as by dint of legal sanction or punishment—against non-intervening bystanders, including parents who do not actively aggress against their offspring but merely allow them to die.
Now I am aware that there are many ways out of this knot, including some that don’t violate Rothbard’s cherished non-aggression axiom. But I was trying to think it down on his terms, just for the sport of it, and when I considered carefully his emphasis on initial force, well, it occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t being so bravely consistent as he liked to imagine.
Wasn’t the hypothetical child’s life itself the result of a more germinal initiation of force—the procreative force that would inevitably result in a human death? Well, it certainly wasn’t something that he consented to, any more than so many subsequent floggings and taxes and zoning ordinances that he might endure and that Rothbard would surely condemn if said hypothetical child were lucky enough to be sheltered and fed through his helpless phase. I might emphasize that my armchair rejoinder was little more than a nostrum, nothing epiphanic. But it did stick with me. And then one day I was revisiting the whole business in conversation with a friend, who suggested in turn that I read this new book by a philosopher named David Benatar.
The book was called Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Most people think the title alone is absurd, and when they first hear about the hedonic asymmetry that undergirds and informs Benatar’s antinatalist conclusion, they think it’s just plain silly. I think most people haven’t thought very hard about it and don’t want to. I think it’s also possible that most people accept the asymmetry at face value, but recoil when they sense were it leads. The asymmetry is simply a formalized way of expressing the relationship between pain and pleasure, and perforce, harm and benefit. It’s usually shown in a box divided into quadrants (like Pascal’s Wager), but it goes like this:
1) The presence of pain is bad; and
2) The presence of pleasure is good.
3) The absence of pain is good (even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone); but
4) The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation
The conclusion that’s intuitive to some but repugnant to others is that no matter how much good stuff occurs in a given human life, the alternative of never being brought into existence is always better. Sure, never being brought to life means never enjoying a slice of pizza or such other arguably more refined pleasures that you might care to name. But it also means never experiencing an iota of pain. It means never experiencing the pain of a pricked finger or the pain associated with any number of possible infirmities and misfortunes, from broken bones and influenza to the more emotionally resonant anguish that comes with, for example, the loss of a loved one.
You might think that a super-duper perfect life is enough to offset the imbalance. It’s not. This is because the special category of absence that applies to those who are never brought into existence entails the absence of deprivation. The person who is never born may never know the pleasure of pizza-eating or the pain of a pinprick, but he is eternally spared the latter and he experiences absolutely no sense of deprivation in missing out on the former.
Now, one reflexive response that many people come up with when they first encounter the pleasure/pain asymmetry is some version of the counterclaim that “Pain is NOT bad!” People will say, “I had cancer, and I’m a better person for it!” or “My divorce was terribly painful, but later I met the love of my life, and I’m better for it!” or they might hang their rejection on the textbook case of the a child who naïvely touches an open flame thereby triggering a nerve-sensory response thereby inculcating the useful lesson that, as Phil Hartman’s Frankenstein character would put it, “FIRE BAD!”
The problem with this kneejerk response, of course, is that it confuses the instrumental value of (some) pain with the underlying quality of pain itself, which is always, by definition, bad. That’s why it’s pain. If you don’t accept that, you can just as easily tweak the formulation to apply only to “non-instrumental pain,” which invades every human life.
A more sophisticated objection rests on something called the “non-identity problem,” or simply “non-identity.” This refers to the notion that qualitative states (pain and pleasure) cannot be meaningfully applied to nonexistent or potential beings and that therefore the absence of pleasure or pain is only relevant when applied to already-existing beings.
It sounds impressive at first blush, but people who rest their counterargument on non-identity usually fail to consider how intuitive and commonplace non-identity premised reasoning is in our day-to-day experience. At the front, it’s worth noting that most practical and moral decisions are brokered in consideration of some potential—but presently non-existent—state of affairs. Otherwise no one would take out insurance policies, plan for retirement, save for college, etc., and the entire legal basis for negligence would be nonsensical.
The same intuitive orientation is just as common where the future welfare of potential humans goes. Think of the childless couple who chooses to buy a home near a “good school” because they are “planning a family.” Or think of the last baby shower you were dragged to. Or, if such examples seem a mite trivial, consider the case where a husband and wife both carry the gene for Tay Sachs and contemplate having a child. Does anyone really think that the “non-identity problem” obviates the moral dimension of a decision that entails a 25% chance that a child will be fated to live a short life characterized by excruciating pain? The truth is that the non-identity problem is taken seriously only when it is posited in countermand to philanthropic antinatalist reasoning. It’s more of a refuge than a serious philosophical problem.
Beyond the fact that I happen to be an antinatalist, there’s much that interests me about the subject. I find it fascinating that antinatalist conclusions can be derived from—or “are consistent with” to cite that bordering-on-meaningless refrain—so many different religious and philosophical vantages. I’m an atheist, but for Christians who believe in the reality of eternal damnation, the decision to create a human life comes with the risk that a child may fail to toe the scriptural line and thus be consigned to an eternity in Hell. For deontologists who place a premium on autonomy, procreation poses the problem that no person can consent to his own creation. Anti-abortion votaries who base their argument on the premise that the life begins at conception might consider that the biological continuum they so cherish also ends foreseeably in the harm of death, that the act of procreation is as much of a death sentence as a D&C procedure. For utilitarians, particularly those who skew toward a negative utilitarian calculus, the problems are obvious.
There is also the fact that antinatalism is spectacularly provocative. I’ve observed first-hand how people who come to the subject convinced that the idea is merely silly often become hostile if not downright vituperative as the discussion progresses. And such hostile reactions aren’t confined to popular forums; there’s a scholarly article by Sami Pihlström that argues, inter alia, that antinatalism falls under this weird category of “ethical unthinkabilities” that should be proactively refused entry into the open court of academe. In this regard, my interest in antinatalism overlaps with my interest in other taboo subjects that tend to provoke acrimony, such as Holocaust revisionism, human biodiversity, and a number of troublesome bioethical issues, such as the unorthodox exploration of suicide ethics that animates Sarah Perry’s work. Controversy, when it has a prickly, emotive quality, can be a gateway to insight.
Jim’s book (Confessions of an Antinatalist) is a great one, and it seems to have found a bit of a cult following. I can announce that a revised second edition is in the offing. The new edition will feature an expansion of the “Faux Q&A” section, along with a new afterword by Jim, an introduction by me, a new cover design by Kevin Slaughter, an interview with Jim, and maybe—probably—an annotated bibliography that will be useful to people who want to explore the subject further.
I was probably premature in my announcement of Sarah Perry’s forthcoming book, Every Cradle is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide, since she’s still plugging away at it. But I’ve had the opportunity to read several chapters, and I can assure her readers that their patience will be rewarded. For those who don’t know, Sarah hosts an excellent blog called “The View from Hell” under the pseudonym “Sister Y.” I’ve learned as much from her as I have from anyone online, including Steve Sailer.
In the same wheelhouse, 9BB has agreed to publish a book by Colin Feltham called Keeping Ourselves in the Dark. It’s a collection of loosely interwoven, pessimistically intoned essays that constellate around the crisis of meaning. Feltham has written a number of scholarly books, perhaps most significantly in present context, What’s Wrong with Us: The Anthropathology Thesis. I’m very excited to be in a position to publish his work.
So, do you have any children?
No. And I don’t work for the government.
Your discussion of anti-natalism is fascinating, but it gives me pause. The existence of a tightly-argued literature for basically doing away with the human race, combined with technologies like birth control, could be taken as a sign that high intelligence is an evolutionary dead end. The kind of people who voluntarily limit reproduction include intelligent people capable of foresight and planning, and socially and ecologically responsible people concerned with the common good of mankind and the planet. But that means that the selfish, irresponsible, and dumb will inherit the earth, which will just make every additional birth even more tragic.
Well, high intelligence may very well be an evolutionary dead-end. I’m certainly at a loss to come up with a good reason as to why a once-adaptive trait that you and I happen to value should enjoy special pleading before the blind algorithmic noise that is natural selection.
But even if the brawny-brained do figure out a way to defy gravity before the sun explodes, I think there are yet reasons to question whether the galloping ascent of mind is really worth cheering on. Futurist geeks will inform us that there are myriad tech revolutions afoot—all spearheaded by smarties, we may be certain. And I would suggest that such of these that converge on the gilded promise of quantum computing and nanotechnology might advise a second reflective pause—one that comes by way of Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and settles at what grim solace remains in the darkest explanations that have always surrounded Fermi’s Enigma.
Maybe I’m being cryptic. What I mean to consider is simply that the evolutionary trajectory of intelligence can, has, and may yet lead to very bad things. It may one day be possible, for example, to create sentient experience—let’s not be so bold as to call it “life”—not out of gametes but in the deep quick of qubit states, and if this much should come to pass, it isn’t so far a stretch to imagine that such intelligent simulations—okay, they’re alive—will be capable of suffering, or that such will be made to suffer, perhaps for sadistic kicks, perhaps in recursive loops of immeasurable intensity that near enough approximate the eternal torture-state that’s threatened in every fevered vision of Hell to render the distinction moot.
What I further mean to consider—again against the hope we assign to intellectual progress, caught up in the story as we are—is that if and when the problem of scarcity is tidily resolved under the reign of nano-bots, that maybe then we’ll be left with basement nukes on the cheap. Or perhaps it’ll be some other smarty-tech-hatched wizardry with which to hasten the final curtain. We haven’t heard from the ETs is all I’m saying, and there’s a reason.
Or perhaps no such things will happen, or perhaps they aren’t worth considering in any case. Could be we’ll just march forward a bit longer, getting slightly stupider or slightly smarter or somehow holding onto the present equilibrium, each of us meeting our own private ends—little apocalypses all—as we continue to behold the dumb show of a natural order that seduces us at turns with chimerical notions of progress and myth and meaning. A bit more of the same, let’s say.
Well. The sun will still explode.
I don’t mean to be impossible or captious. Because the problem you’re getting at—it’s actually one of the more gnarly consequentialist objections to philanthropic antinatalism that I’ve encountered since I first dipped my toes into these turbid waters. The relationship between happiness, dysgenics, and antinatalism is parsed a bit further in an online comment thread that I’ve kept on file. Feel free to click the link and put on your thinking cap, but the meat is nested in the exchange between Sister Y and Jason Malloy, where Malloy’s statistically informed speculation is that antinatalist memes may indeed fuel a kind of “idiocracy effect” leaving more people exposed to greater suffering in a social environment that would tend to be hostile toward the escape valve of suicide.
To amplify the crux of your question, then, it could well be that belief in the philanthropic case against reproduction practically entails unintended consequences that would perpetuate, rather than alleviate, the very harm it seeks to avoid. I think the matter is yet to be empirically resolved, and I’m actually quite serious when I point to the potential dark side of intelligence worship. Still, I’ll admit it’s a troublesome wrinkle.
What’s important to keep in mind is that the reality of an “idiocracy effect” does not refute the descriptive or axiological bases for the view that it is grossly indecent (or worse, if you’re a deontologist) to force new people into existence. For antinatalists who are also committed consequentialists the problem may carry more difficulty, but for those of us who have a constitutional aversion to treating people as means, the idea that we should bite the bullet and have children—or simply refrain from promoting antinatalist reasoning—in order that the aggregate measure of human suffering should diminish or remain stable is unpersuasive. It’s a bit like asking a conscientious objector to take up arms because there’s a calculable scenario under which one more war is likely to reduce the likelihood of future military engagements.
Of course, the problem could be addressed in other ways, which reminds me of Aschwin de Wolf’s provocative discussion of antinatalism in Cryonics, where he suggests that there’s an illiberal seed at the core of antinatalist ethics. I’ve gone on long enough, but if you’re interested in understanding why I think there might be something to Aschwin’s suspicion (though not in the sense he means), my relevant comment is preserved here.
The long and short is that there’s this other idea that we might think of as antinatalism’s mutant conjoined twin, like Belial in Basket Case. It’s something that, as far I know, has yet to be formally exposited, though it has penumbral resonance in the hard logic of negative utilitarianism, and it may, more arguably, be deciphered through a Straussian (i.e., paranoid) reading of David Benatar’s long-form argument. The idea has a name: promortalism. I don’t know what to do with it. Let’s just hope our future “Friendly AI” overlords don’t catch wind.
Your anti-natalist arguments appear to be based on essentially individualistic assumptions. What if individual suffering really did not matter that much, and the object of concern was the nation, the race, or the welfare of the universe itself? What if one did not regard each human life merely as an end in itself, but as a means to higher ends, such as the unfolding of high culture, grand politics, science, exploration, etc.? That sort of vision would give intelligent and responsible people reasons to reproduce, and also furnish an argument for reducing the reproduction of the selfish, dumb, and happy-go-lucky.
I’m not blind to the romance of human achievement. If I were, I wouldn’t bother publishing books, and my reading list would start and stop with instruction manuals. But the Greater Good always strikes me as being a cunt-hair shy of the Greater God, and I lack the imagination to believe in either.
Such abstract objects of concern that could be enthroned above the intractable reality of forced mortal suffering can be better understood, I think, as distractions—or as secular iterations of the transcendental temptation. In Confessions of an Antinatalist, Jim Crawford discusses some of the “escape strategies” that people deploy to avoid confronting the prospect that the universe might reduce to so much useless malignancy, and he makes the important point (I touch on this above) that stories of trans-generational “survival”—whether of races or nations, humanity or Christianity, or even knowledge—are really stories of vicarious (which is to say, fake) survival. If you’re in thrall to the romance of the long march, there’s little I can say to dash your enthusiasm. You should be aware, however, that the soldiers you conscript for the grand mission may not share your sense of adventure, and are sure to die in battle.
Jim cuts it to the marrow when he says, “Hope is my enemy.” And however it’s phrased, the hope of “tomorrow’s promise” (also Jim’s line) is subsumed under the broader teleological conceit that I reject on all grounds. It’s the granddaddy of delusions, this notion that there’s a purpose to any of it. It’s the monster “conspiracy” that lurks above Ligotti’s marionettes.
Your combination of scientific rationalism and pessimism brings to mind H. P. Lovecraft. Are you a reader of his work?
I made the usual rounds with Lovecraft’s fiction when I was young, but it never reached the point of obsession. I just loved the stories—the sense of dread, the adverbially layered, almost schizophrenically-tinged descriptions of nameless, timeless, inchoate horror. It always seemed that he was trying to capture that rushing apocalyptic frisson that wakes you from a nightmare just as some terrible apocalyptic truth is about to be revealed.
There’s a scene in David Lynch’s film, Mulholland Drive, that reminds me very much of this aspect of Lovecraft’s horror writing—the part that takes place at Winky’s Diner, where the guy anxiously recounts a recurring dream that’s been traumatizing him . . . as the details he describes quietly manifest and the day-lit environment assumes a sinister pall. I mention this only because the horror that Lovecraft was plying seems at once so fragile and so familiar; like it wants to vanish upon analysis.
Those other aspects of Lovecraft—his voluminous antitheist writings, the criticism, the rational-pessimist philosophical essays, the traditionalist conservatism—that all came to my attention much later, mostly by way of Houellebecq’s biographical portrait and Ligotti’s brilliant treatise, The Conspiracy against the Human Race. A few of Joshi’s essays, too. I have yet to delve as far as I really should.
It does strike me how this dire appraisal of the universe that resonates in the work of Schopenhauer, Zapffe, Lovecraft, and some few others, stands at such implacable remove from the delusional, smiley-faced brand of “new atheism” that’s championed these days by writers of sundry polemical bestsellers. This is something I explore—without, alas, explicit reference to Lovecraft’s importance—in my introduction to a collection of the nonfiction work of Edgar Saltus that’s being put out soon by Underworld Amusements. Saltus’s works on offer—The Philosophy of Disenchantment (about deep pessimism) and The Anatomy of Negation (about antitheism) —were written around the turn of the 19th century, and it’s such a bracing shock to contemplate the gulf that separates his dismal viewpoint from such cheery cant that animates the present-day Dawkins cult. I suppose I would be tempting a joke if I were to call it depressing.
I see you are bringing out Hollister Kopp’s Gun Fag Manifesto with a Preface by Jim Goad. Tell us about that project
Yeah. This one’s a hoot. I’m doing it in collaboration with Kevin Slaughter of Underworld Amusements, so it’s actually a 9BB/UA release—hopefully the first in a series of “Resurrection” reprints of great zines. We have others in our sights.
Gun Fag Manifesto was one of my favorite things to come out of the halcyon days of zinedom, and, as with so many other DIY publications from that micro-era (the mid-’90s), it seems to have disappeared down the memory hole. The subtitle said it all: “Entertainment for the Armed Sociopath.” GFM was lovingly, obsessively, psychotically, and irresponsibly devoted to guns, gun culture, gun counterculture, gun rights, gun art, gun porn, and . . . ammo. The writing is obsessive and funny as hell, blending a hilariously over-the-top (but not ironic) pro-gun editorial stance with a powder keg of smart-witted gonzo reportage in the spirit of ANSWER Me! I’m really tickled that Jim Goad will be kicking off the festivities. His name belongs on this thing for reasons that go way back.
The book itself is just what you’d want: a facsimile reprint of all three issues with a perfect new introduction by Hollister and, of course, Goad’s preface. There’ll be some new artwork to jazz things up at the edges, and maybe a cool promotional gimmick, but that’s the gist. I’ve been wanting to do this one for such a long time, but Hollister was hard to track down. Once I found him, it didn’t take much to convince him. He’s one of the good ones.
What do you envision for the future of Nine-Banded Books? Where would you like to be in ten years?
I remember seeing an interview with John Waters where he described his cinematic achievement as “a footnote that fought its way into a paragraph.” The footnote seems like a cozy enough redoubt for what I do, but I’m content to operate further below the cultural radar—beneath even the footnotes and the asterisks appending the footnotes—as long as I can continue to publish some few books each year that I believe matter in whatever way. There’s no shortage of ideas; I enjoy following my instincts and being surprised by the next obsessive charge that comes. I think I’m a reasonably good editor (though I’m a crappy proofreader, which is why I rely on Ann Sterzinger’s laser eye), and I enjoy working closely with writers. In practical terms, I guess I’d like to fatten up the stock of non-9BB titles on offer, if only to better showcase more of the provocative and overlooked literature that catches my attention. There’s good stuff being put out by other niche publishers. The catalog will grow is all I know.
As far as more immediate future plans go, I can make at least a few relatively firm announcements about what’s on the front burner—some things that haven’t been mentioned above.
First, there’s this nasty little collection of short fiction by Paul Bingham called Down Where the Devil Don’t Go. I’ve been sitting on it for too long, but it’s very nearly ready for press now. I’d describe it as a kind of postmodern picaresque—or “houellebecqesque” if I may coin a silly term. Despicable characters leading despicable lives in a loosely interconnected sequence of misanthropically intoned, pulp-noir-descended stories revolving around themes of alienation, anomie, and cultural degeneration. The flavor is reactionary, and the satirical inflection is pitch-black.
Next in the queue might or might not be Jesus Never Existed: An Introduction to the Ultimate Heresy by Kenneth Humphreys. Ken is an articulate and reliable gadfly for the “mythicist” opposition to the regnant Jesus historiography, and this book presents the thesis in entertaining bite size chunks. It’s a primer, sort of like those “Very Short Introduction” monographs that Oxford has been churning out over the years.
Let’s see . . . I’ve already made note of Colin Feltham’s book and the future releases by Crowell and Bowden, so that leaves me to mention The Nine-Banded Sourcebook and Reader, which is this giant-ass compendium I’ve been working on in fits and starts for some time. I guess you might call it a “magalog” in that it features flagrantly self-promotional content cheek-to-cheek with a bunch of interviews and articles—some reprints, some new—that sort of coalesce around the 9BB brand, such as it is. If you remember the old Whole Earth catalogs or the Loompanics Unlimited annuals, well, that’s sort of the spirit I’m hoping to capture. The cover art is by Billy Spicer, and it’s a fucking knockout.
If it’s not too far afield, I’d like to close with a plug for two writers in the 9BB stable whose work has thus far gone unmentioned. These writers are Ann Sterzinger and Mikita Brottman.
Ann’s books may not mesh so obviously with the countercultural and metapolitical currents that provoke rubbernecking, but I dare anyone to read her novel NVSQVAM (nowhere) and not agree with me that she’s a criminally overlooked writer. I’ve since had the opportunity to read the first draft of a science fiction novel that she’s still perfecting, and it was so good it made my elbows itch (or maybe that was spilled salt on the bar? . . . regardless). I hope to hell she gets her shot with a top-drawer publisher before the last call. I think she will. She deserves it. She’s worked for it. I do worry sometimes that I’ve jinxed the odds by publishing her first.
And then there’s Mikita, whose subversive cultural studies have made such a lasting impression on me. Mikita Brottman is that rare bird who can turn out razor-sharp interdisciplinary scholarship in one stroke and pitch-perfect psychological fiction in the next. She gets in your head, and under your skin. Just read Thirteen Girls. You’ll see.
Thank you Chip, this is been an amazing, mind- and world-expanding interview for me and my readers. I look forward to your future writings and publications.