quarta-feira, 28 de maio de 2014

[Interview] Matt Cardin - Life and Mind of a Teeming Brain

Matt Cardin
RF: Hey, Matt! Good that you agreed to the interview. How are you? Tell us all a little bit about yourself, for all who don't know you yet! 

MC: I'm always a bit stymied by this type of request. Maybe it's just that I don't know what to lead with, or how to frame the boundaries of the question. A little bit about myself? How about just the basic demographic facts, to begin with. I'm American, white, 43 years old, middle class, married. By cultural upbringing I'm an evangelical Protestant. By spiritual and philosophical predilection I'm a kind of Zen Christian agnostic/skeptic with occult and esoteric leanings. I'm a native of the Missouri Ozarks but now I live in Central Texas. I teach college English. I formerly taught high school, sold Yamaha pianos and digital keyboards, worked as a communications specialist and loan originator for a mortgage company, produced video courses for a state university, and did live video production work for Glen Campbell, the Mandrells, Eddie Rabbitt, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, and a bunch of other country and pop music stars in Branson, Missouri. My general lifestyle on an average daily basis is intensely mundane.

RF: What about writing? I'm a fan of your work, and I know a little bit about your stuff, but please, tell to my readers a bit about your books, what kind of genre you prefer to write in and why.

MC: I write about the intersection of supernatural horror with religion. I've had two books published in that area with a third on the way. The first was Divinations of the Deep in 2002. It's a collection of supernatural horror stories. The second was Dark Awakenings in 2010. It contains both supernatural horror stories and some academic nonfiction that explores the same themes as the stories. I have a third book on the way, a horror fiction collection titled To Rouse Leviathan, but it has been delayed -- entirely my fault, as I'll admit right up front -- for over a year as I have tried to find the time and inner resources to complete some major revisions to one of the stories. A few years ago I also self-published a free ebook titled Demonic Creativity: A Writer's Guide to the Inner Genius, about the theory and experience of the muse, daemon, or genius, and I continue to be surprised at how far its reach has gone. Fairly frequently people will approach me out of nowhere to say they've read it, loved it, and found it to be personally valuable. Most recently I've found myself talking by phone and email with a Hollywood producer who loves the ebook and got in touch with me to shoot the breeze about esoteric and paranormal topics related to its themes.
In a separate but related vein, I recently finished editing an encyclopedia of mummies in history, religion, and popular culture for an academic publishing company, with scientists and scholars from all around the world contributing articles to it. Right now I'm in the middle of editing an encyclopedia of the paranormal for the same company. I also edited Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti, which collects key interviews with Ligotti that span the length of his career from the late 1980s to the present. It's due out in June from Subterranean Press. 

I also write and think a lot about apocalyptic ideas and trends -- peak fossil fuels, dystopian cultural developments, economic collapse, that kind of thing -- and about Robert Anton Wilson's Chapel Perilous and Patrick Harpur's "daimonic reality," and about the clash between scientific materialism and paranormal/anomalous experiences. 

RF: What do you think helped you in becoming a writer? 

MC: I have a deeply depressive personality that I mostly show only in my writing. This has been crucial. So has the fact that my psyche kind of came apart when I was in my twenties due to some pretty grim and frightful experiences with sleep paralysis and accompanying paranormal assault-type episodes. I wrote more frequently and obsessively during that period than at any other time in my life. It lasted from about 1992 to 2000, during my first few years after college, and most of what I wrote went into private journals and was driven by a real, piercing, and pretty much unendurable sense of despair. The basic desire to write goes back farther than that, though. I can't really say why I wanted to "be a writer" -- something I started saying when I was very young -- but the type of writer that I would turn out to be was virtually written in the stars, or at least it feels that way.

RF: What is your process of writing? Do you follow any rules or rituals when you are planning to write?

MC: It seems to happen differently each time, when it happens at all. I have written stories, papers, and essays that started with notes I made from ideas bubbling up from my unconscious, and I have also started "cold" by just diving in without any plans and seeing what comes up. I've started writing when I felt inspired and driven by an idea that excited me, and I've started writing mechanically, just for the sheer purpose of getting something down on paper, or on a computer screen.

This has all been part of a long process of experimentation to find out what works best for me. I'm very self-conscious, in fact probably too much so, about the creative act itself. In recent years it has turned out that the best thing is for me to wait until I'm actually moved by some mesmerizing idea that makes me want to commit it to written words so that I can uncover what it's really about. This approach runs directly counter to a great deal of advice about writing that I've dearly loved, and that I've gained from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg, Dorothea Brande, Julia Cameron, and others, who all emphasized the importance of writing regularly and freely to establish a constant outpouring of words. Bradbury was fond of emphasizing the importance of sheer quantity, which he said would inevitably, spontaneously, at some point, result in quality. I love that idea in theory, and the occasional disciplined practice of it has jump-started a few valuable creative projects for me. But in the long run, for the most part, it just doesn't work for me. I dry up and start to hate writing when I make myself do it all the time. So this means I'm a writer who goes for very long periods without writing anything at all. I frequently begin to think or fear that I may never write again. 

RF: What are you main influences for writing about the horror genre? 

MC: My major horror influences include Lovecraft, Ligotti, Ted Klein, and a host of other writers in the weird fiction tradition and the wider tradition of supernatural horror in general. When I was young I read a lot of Poe's and Bradbury's horror stories, and this proved significant. So did a horror record that a friend played for me at his house one late summer afternoon. It featured some spooky sound effects plus a few readings of classic horror stories, including a deliriously unhinged performance of Poe's "The Telltale Heart." I can still hear the narrator's voice as he goes for broke in an over-the-top reading of the final line: "Here! Here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!" That flat-out marked me, man.

Although I don't usually name him in this regard, I suppose I ought to mention Stephen King, too, since I imbibed a large number of his books in my youth , along with the movies adapted from them, and this was influential. My parents didn't let me watch scary stuff when I was young, so when the movie versions of Carrie and The Shining and the television miniseries of Salem's Lot came out in the 1970s, I saw the ads but didn't get to see the movies themselves, and my mind generated all kinds of vague expectations of the colossally frightening things that must be in them. The same thing happened with non-Stephen King movies, too, including Hell Night, Silent Scream, and several more. Whenever I accidentally caught the television advertisements, I was so frightened that I couldn't stop seeing them in my mind's eye for hours afterward. Quite seriously, these commercials filled me with a sense of terror and dread. But at the same time, I found them hypnotically fascinating.

I've realized in recent years that my parents did me a wonderful creative favor, albeit inadvertently, by forbidding me to watch such things, because this worked in tandem with a native bent in my personality to inculcate a deep and tantalizing sense of some elusive horror that's loose in the world, and that can never really be seen or known directly, but that would absolutely fry you if you saw it face to face.

My horror writing is also influenced by a number of nonfiction writers whose works have been deeply important to me, including Rudolf Otto, Theodore Roszak, Alan Watts, Huston Smith, Richard Tarnas, and about a dozen others who have written in the areas of theology, spirituality, philosophy, science, scientism, and wide-scope criticism of modern/postmodern industrial technocratic civilization. My attraction to supernatural horror is bound up with all of these ideas. And I've noticed that I'm not alone in this; I was pretty excited when I first read Ted Klein's "Children of the Kingdom" and saw that he began it with a quote from Huston Smith (who was quoting Rebecca West) that had likewise lodged in my own consciousness.

RF: Do you align yourself with any other kind of genre in fiction?

MC: Although all of the fiction I've written is horror, with much of it falling in the specific subgenre of weird horror, I'm also influenced by fantasy and science fiction, and elements of these have found their way into my work, too. I'm especially wrapped up in dystopian fiction, with Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 standing at the top of the heap.

RF: Which other kinds of media do you find amusing? Do you follow any series or shows?

MC: I'm kind of surprised to report that the only television shows I've been following with any dedication for the past few years have been distinctly realistic instead of speculative. I binge-watched all of the Friday Night Lights television series a couple of years ago with my wife and absolutely loved it. I'm currently watching Person of Interest, which has gone full-on dystopian sci-fi in the past season, much to my increased enjoyment. My favorite show right now is The Good Wife, which is as rich, complex, entertaining, and engrossing as any great film or novel has ever been. I don't know exactly why this shift toward realism has happened, since for most of my life I got very deeply into fantasy, SF, and horror TV shows like The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek: TOS, Tales from the Darkside, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and such. On a practical level, part of the change is due to the fact that I always watch television with my wife now, and she is absolutely and completely uninterested in the speculative genres, so I've accidentally discovered a new taste for realism that was apparently just waiting to come out.

RF: Any favorite movies? If so, which ones do you like best?

The Matrix always comes to mind when people ask me this. Session 9. It's a Wonderful Life. John Carpenter's The Fog. Some Hitchcock and Welles. Network. George Romero's first three Living Dead movies. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Maybe Monty Python's the Meaning of Life. Sometimes I have to judge these choices by which films continue to play on my mind for years after I see them. The single film that has struck me the most deeply and intensely in recent years is Take Shelter, which is sheer cinematic perfection. And it's apocalyptic to boot, with a focus on the question of delusion and mental illness versus the real prophetic perception of an impending doomsday, so that's all the better. Incidentally, I'm scheduled to talk about Take Shelter on a panel at a conference about faith and film that Baylor University is hosting this fall.

RF: And what about music? What is your preferred genre? Do you have favorite artists in this milieu?

MC: I listen to a huge amount of instrumental music, including lots of movie soundtracks, This has in turn influenced the type of music that I compose and record (I've played piano and keyboards and composed music since I was a kid). Favorite items here including the music for Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris, Ravenous by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn, Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western music, Chariots of Fire by Vangelis, Interview with the Vampire by Elliot Goldenthal, Goblin's soundtrack music (especially for the Argento films), Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass, Andy Warhol's Dracula by Claudio Gizzi, Body Double by Pino Donaggio, Grand Canyon by James Newton Howard, and Rain Man by Hans Zimmer.

I also listen to various rock and metal bands plus lots of non-soundtrack instrumental stuff, some of it mainstream and much of it of kind of esoteric nature. Johann Johannsson has become a major musical presence for me in the past four and five years, especially his Fordlandia album. So have Sigur Ros, who, like Johannsson, are from Iceland. Why I've turned out to like music from Iceland is anybody's's guess. I'm attracted to music that explores darkness, sadness, and weird/mesmerizing philosophical and occult themes, which is why Blue Oyster Cult's Imaginos album has been one of the master musical presences in my life for the past quarter century. I suppose the same also goes for my long-running attraction to Dead Can Dance and Current93. I'm semi-addicted to early Queensryche as well.

RF: For this question, I need you to focus, to tell us a little bit of your whole take on things, philosophically speaking. We see that you mix your fiction with your essays on some fields that are very interesting, like in your Dark Awakenings book. Your research on the origins of angels and demons is particularly intriguing. How does it all connect, in your view? 

MC: It occurs to me that something approaching an answer to this question is scattered throughout my previous answers like pieces of a jumbled-up puzzle. Remember what I said about that sense of a presence that's always lurking behind everything, and that is somehow related to the ultimately fearsome whatever-it-is that I imagined into all of those horror movies I wasn't allowed to watch as a kid? Philosophically speaking, my whole life as a horror writer, and also as someone with a real spiritual outlook and set of practices, and as someone who has found it bizarre and often difficult to be a human being among and around other human beings, and who has been alternately depressed and elated in a kind of undiagnosed life of bipolarity -- philosophically speaking, all of this has been about the attempt to figure out, or at least come to terms with, that hidden presence.

Writing about the origins of angels and demons, which I originally did for an article in S. T. Joshi's Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares, is just more of the same, because angels and demons, especially when we trace them to their roots in Western occult and esoteric philosophy and ancient Greco-Roman and Middle Eastern religious and philosophical concepts, are names and symbols for forces or presences or powers that we can never definitely peg as being either purely subjective/psychological or purely objective in nature. The ancient view is that each person's highest/deepest/truest self is a daimon or daemon, what some members of the Western gnostic, esoteric, and occult subcultures call the Holy Guardian Angel and regard as something that may not really be an aspect of one's self at all but a truly independent entity. This can all sound abstract, but it goes right back to the most immediately and inescapably real experience for each of us, which is that our perception of an objective world around us is mirrored from "behind" or "within" by the complementary perception of a presence that stands behind or prior to our very act of looking and seeing and knowing. Basically, there's someone or something "in here" with us. A long time ago I began to realize that this is mirrored for me on the external level by all of the various symbols for the ultimate mystery of God, including the monstrous symbols for this that appear in various supernatural horror stories, especially in the area of weird fiction. When Lovecraft invokes the idea of unspeakable horrors and sanity-blasting cosmic gods and monsters, and when he says the fundamental supernatural horrific response is basically coeval with the ancient category of consciousness that we call "religious experience," I hear him developing an eccentric version of negative/apophatic theology and helping to clarify the very thing that drives me personally.

I hope I at least gestured toward answering your question.

RF: Incidentally, I see that you have already answered much of that in the previous answers, but I still wanted to make it clear and narrow down to my readers what are your ideas, worldviews and such, philosophically speaking. And yes, you answered it sufficiently. On a different, lighter tone now, in one of your stories, a very interesting one, you praised coffee a lot. Do you drink a lot of coffee still, or not? 

MC: I have no idea why coffee ended up featuring so highly in that story, which is titled "The Devil and One Lump." That just sort of happened on its own, aside from any intention I brought to the writing. But I do drink coffee myself, although only in the morning, and then only a couple of cups. If I drink more than that, or drink it at any other time of day, much digestive distress and crippling hypoglycemia ensues. I'm definitely no Balzac, although I've always been fascinated by the recountings of the obsessive coffee drinking that fueled his writing and killed him early.

RF: In your texts, both in essays and fictions, you always talk about academia. What do you think of modern academia these days, both in the U.S and outside? Do you stand by the side of modern academia or do you think it can change its ways to accommodate other types and modes of thinking? I mean, academia seems to be rather strict and hierarchic these days. Theses are long and boring because they are required to make extensive use of quotations and pre-approved material. Other than that, scholarships and grants and so on serve to narrow a lot of what students may want to delve into in their papers. Do you agree with all this, or not? What's you take?

Your characterization of the situation as strict and hierarchical, with an overabundance of red tape and a capitulation of much scholarship to monetary concerns, sounds accurate enough to me. That said, I'm mainly familiar with just the American situation. I only have a glancing acquaintance with the situation elsewhere, although I am in contact with a global network of scholars at various universities. Personally, I think the attempt in America -- which has been almost entirely successful over the past 30 years, mind you -- to remake and transform universities into institutions that operate according to corporate business principles has been an unmitigated disaster, and I think this is the real story, as in the foundational explanatory narrative, of what has transpired in American higher education during the past several decades. Well, that, plus the advent of postmodernism and the various schools of "criticism" that arose from the 1960s through the 1990s. We're all still living in the fallout from that. Oh, and there's the stranglehold of scientism and skepticism on the intellectual outlook and cultural tone of the universities. And the rise of Internet-based classes, including the shining example the MOOC (Massively Open Online Class), which exemplifies how easily anything, including a college education, can be turned into a digital parody of itself when it's reconceived to serve the ideology of the Internet. I find much to criticize about the system both institutionally and intellectually.

There are also very smart and wise and honorably intentioned people working within this system. I know many of them myself, some of them in person and more of them through email and other correspondence. I like to think that people like Jeffrey Kripal, for example, may represent a sea change or turning point in what counts as acceptable intellectual and scholarly discourse within the academic community. Jeff is doing mainstream work as a religion scholar while writing and saying things about religion, spirituality, science, and the paranormal that clash directly and dramatically with the reigning orthodoxy of scientific materialism. And there are many others who think like him throughout the U.S., and also in Canada and Europe and elsewhere. It's an interesting time to be involved in academia, what with all the current tumult. Systemically I'm inclined to see much more that's negative than positive, but who knows, the negatives may well drive, and may well be driving, some or all of us toward some positive change. My expectation, for what it's worth, is to see things become positively dystopian before they get any better, but then, that's an outlook that has come to apply to most things for me, and I've become more and more hesitant over time to ascribe any real objective validity to it.

RF: I guess that's it. Thank you very much for this, Mr. Cardin. Leave us your websites, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever, so people can follow you and your work.

MC: People can find me at my author site, www.mattcardin.com, and at The Teeming Brain (www.teemingbrain.com). The latter is a blog magazine that I run, and that features contributions from many additional writers besides me. The tagline is "channeling the multiverse of ideas." The focus is on all of the things I've just been talking about with you: horror, religion, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, culture, and the rise of various apocalyptic and dystopian trends in the world at large.

RF: Cheers.

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I hope you have enjoyed this interview, please comment, share and subscribe the blog for more. Once again, thanks for Matt Cardin, and stay tuned for more. 

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