My Shadow Book: Preface and Self-Interview from Jordan Rothacker
The following is an excerpt from the book itself.
In the summer of 2011, I discovered Maawaam’s being in a box. The form his being took in that box was in journals, scraps of paper, scribbled on leaves, photographs, and drawings. The journals were the most significant abundance of being. For the last six years I have studied his being in the form I found it. The work you hold is a disservice to being, but what I hope is a service to the world because the being of Maawaam is worth beholding. My crime is that of order; from the gods I have stolen form and given it to Maawaam, the being. I have put his writings into his journals where they fit chronologically and evidentially. I have found what I believe to be the thread of development toward being from box to book. My worry is that as the form becomes, the being dies.
It has been an honor and burden to behold these texts. Like Brod to Kafka, I have felt a duty to this writer to give his work to the world, even against his wishes. Laborious hours I have spent enrapt and even subdued by the hundreds of pages of hand-written journals, with my eyes given respite at times by the typed pages taped within. Moreover, Maawaam is a self-proclaimed traitor to his order. Maawaam names names. Where is my culpability? My simple belief is that the world needs to know the secrets that Maawaam has kept. Sheltered in truth, I await and accept the consequences.
I have served my function as editor to not only reduce the original bulk down to a manageable whole, but also one that flows through a progression toward understanding this character as he comes to understand himself. These are his own writings and the question of their veracity—and the veracity of the Shadowmen—is now in your hands. I have valued them as simply what they are: prose, thoughts, and a life; as incomplete and shadowy as any will ever truly appear.
As once said by one of the Shadowmen mentioned here within:
Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this touches a man
self-interview from Jordan Rothacker
Q: As a literary scholar—you have a doctorate in Comparative Literature—of what tradition would you place Maawaam as a writer?
A: Whether he intends it or not, Maawaam is of the prophetic tradition, he is a mythmaker. Like an ancient bard and like the old gray bard, Maawaam sings of himself and sings the world. He believes in the protean nature of reality and the power of words for transformation. He is an embodiment of the thrice-great Hermes, or at least he believes himself to be, which is all that really matters with an artist. Maawaam is a shadowman, working in the shadows as a handmaid of humanity. Rilke once said that he had to make himself into a poet, to live and act like a poet to become a poet, and as we see it worked.
Q: After reading your Editor’s Preface I wonder if you have any guilt about the book now that it is out in the world?
A: Well, I’m just the curator. There is of course the chance that Maawaam is just a madman and delusional and there are no Shadow Men or Women out there. It’s bleak, but it’s the most likely scenario. What matters is what we have, Maawaam’s writings. Even if we don’t take them literally we can still learn a lot from them and enjoy their beauty. The real credit goes to Shaunn Grulkowski and Nate Ragolia at Spaceboy Books for publishing the crazy thing.
Q: Even though you only serve as editor here, this is your third book. Can you tell us a little about your last two books?
A: Those are straight up works of fiction. The first one, The Pit, and No Other Stories (Black Hill Press, 2015), is a micro-epic, 110 pages that is a brief read but scales big as each chapter is a different time period, location, voice, and style. You’ve got some detective noir, sci-fi, small town gothic, Hollywood, business, western road trip, nautical, and academic. It all connects by the end highlighting the darkness of capitalism and the American Dream. In regards to form, it’s in the vein of Calvino who a freshman year writing teacher turned me on to saying, “you’d like him, he’s like you, really creative and lazy, can’t write a whole straightforward novel.” I proved her wrong on my second published book, And Wind Will Wash Away (Deeds, 2016), a 400-page novel that took me three years to write and was finished in 2005. In 2015, when a publisher was finally interested, I got the crazy opportunity to edit my ten years younger self. It was an amazingly freeing experience and I took that 28-year-old brat down a few pegs, making his book worlds better by chopping down some ridiculously Faulknerian sentences. The novel itself is a love letter to Atlanta, a twisting sojourn through the religious underbelly of that post-modern, pluralist metropolis in the guise of a literary detective story. It involves goddess worshippers, Aztec revival cults, sacred prostitution, and the dangers of binary thinking.
Q: Your favorite living writers?
A: In regards to the smaller presses, those down in the trenches with me, I’m pretty blown away by Quintan Ana Wikswo, D. Foy, James Reich (his Stalking Horse Press is a hit factory), Mike Kitchell, Erika T. Wurth, and Jeff Jackson. And even though his newest book is at Viking I still think of him as a small press guy (not a slight, it’s just that six small press books before a seventh at a major is pretty substantial), Jarett Kobek is a significant force in American letters. His books ATTA and I Hate the Internet are important texts for understanding our contemporary world. I can’t wait for his 33 1/3 on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s solo album, Return to the 36 Chambers.
I’m always telling people they need a basic reading diet of Audre Lorde and bell hooks but recently I’ve added to my prescription Leonora Carrington, Anna Kavan, and Ann Quin.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I’m currently working on two very different books that actually have some shared research materials. One is a Bush II war years spy novel, a paranoid, surreal, vertigo-inducing romp called, Yes, Virginia, Jet Fuel Doesn’t Melt Steel Beams. The other is a non-fiction book called, Bush/Franco: White Privilege and Outsider Art, in which I compare the paintings of both George W. Bush and James Franco and the art world contexts surrounding both of them. The main hook of the book is that somehow a war-criminal like Bush gets a pass as a sweet old man trying his best at painting while Franco—who is responsible for no deaths that we know of—is slagged as a monster of arrogance and pretention for venturing into yet another artistic medium. I’m kind of intrigued as to who is in the center of the Venn diagram for interest in both of these very different books.
Q: Where do we stand in contemporary literature? Is it worth it to keep going when we have a President who denigrates the role of media and seems to have no respect for truth or language and yet leads a party that dominates society’s meta-narrative with the help of almost every media outlet? Is there a place for literature when the US has the first reality show president?
A: Well, lest we implode by some meta-loop of interview inception, I spoke with the novelist Jeff Jackson last year for The Believer and he hinted that we might be in a sort of Golden Age of literature. He wasn’t talking about Trump. I had just asked him to name some of the other writers who he would consider fellow travelers. It was a long list. But I think he might be right. There are so many great writers and artists in this country alone that I start getting Pollyanna-hopeful that we might actually be able to subvert the meta-narrative, broaden the public’s ways of thinking, and get people in the streets demanding social and economic justice. But hey, we writers are just as screwed up as screwed up as everybody else.