I met with Arthur Rimbaud on February 28, 2014 in the cafeteria of Le Bateau ivre, the prize container ship of his Arabica coffee conglomerate, Gentleman Savages Inc. He generously, if inconveniently, summoned me to join him on a transoceanic passage to deliver a shipment from Ethiopia to New Jersey. He doesn’t do phone interviews and doesn’t have the time to indulge in the erotic mechanics – his words – of sitting around some merdique hotel answering the merdique questions of culture salesmen. Well aware of his reputation for solitariness, general orneryness, and robust cynicism, I was naturally taken aback when I received his invitation. I nonetheless interpreted his mandate – come to Ethiopia – as somewhat of a geographical deterrent. Right. Off I flew to Dire Dawa International near the Gulf of Aden. The present interview was conducted on a series of afternoons during our journey. Generally, Monsieur Rimbaud would get around to “answering”, in his way, only a single question in a sitting. What follows is the tapestry of these afternoons, each panel joined as well as could be along a seam of thought. On these occasions we would mostly sit eating bread and salted butter and jam, drinking coffee, and speak about what humans and art could be and do and why these days he, for the most part, detests both. By way of preamble, a note on the interviewee’s brief but startlingly radiant pre-mercantilist career. The touchstone of generations of avant-gardes, Arthur Rimbaud was the punk wanderer par excellence, the poet of universal consciousness, tragic and mythic, the hobo god of gods, and I would argue a supreme, albeit, phenomenally nascent wave rider. He completed the works that would revolutionize the written word by the time he was nineteen, abandoning and violently repudiating it all when most kids are picking the last booger of their tidy, if slightly overpriced, little university degrees and smearing it to the under-brim those ridiculous tasseled square caps. Like all good bodhisattvas he was the herald of the adventure into (other)self(lessness) – the self being a middle/mediate term/mode at best, annihilation, and transformation. He killed all who followed him, after the hunt or libation. All followed him…
[Interview by Thaddeus O’Neil / Illustration by Hugo Guinness]
Tilda Swinton’s language is as bewitching as her look. The ethereal Scot drops truisms like Jenny Holzer and evidences her claims in metaphors of nature, adventure, and lore. Life, as per Swinton, “is a wander through strange woods, whistling and following bread crumbs.” She plays. Not acts, plays. She’s played the widow of a high school shooter in We Need to Talk About Kevin, an adulterous Russian trophy wife in I Am Love, the White Witch of Narnia, David Bowie’s double, both man and woman in Orlando, and a too-dutiful general counsel in Michael Clayton. Most recently, she’s played an 84-year-old lover to Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a computerised therapist in Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, a dictator in Bong Joon-Ho’s sci-fi Snowpiercer, and 3000-year-old vampire, Eve, in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. The latter role is most of what Swinton and I discussed in this interview, which was conducted via e-mail; she writing from her home in Scotland, me from mine in Brooklyn. This distance set my hypermediated imagination in overdrive – Tilda, to me, is both star and constellation: a singular artist, a self, but also a composite of every role she’s played. I pictured her in a stone chateau in the country of my forefathers, wrapped in tapestries like Eve, “Moonage Daydream” playing in the background.
[Interview by Fiona Duncan / Photo by Juergen Teller]
At the edge, at the limit of breath,
time for a new sensation —
the gun abrupt and clumsy in his hands.
Thumb tracing the line of his lip,
sun-dazzle over trees, and then the bridge,
the river flowing under Notre-Dame.
Her T-shirt on the Avenue, tribune:
herald of a new wave rising.
Tonight I will be with you in Paradise.
What you believe in the long conversation,
Matisse and Renoir on the wall, the tiny room
filled by a bed and William Faulkner.
The man on the street pointing him out, and
pointing you the way to go. A phone call’s betrayal —
Trying to reach the intersection,
staggering, falling, falling again.
What does it mean?
What does that strange word mean?
[Poem by Stephen Scobie]
His farmhouse in Normandy
foursquare and stone
like an apple
As soon as I learned that the Grand Palais in Paris was going to host a major retrospective of the work of Georges Braque in the autumn of 2013, I knew that I had to drop everything and go. It was, after all, the first major retrospective of Braque in Paris for over thirty years.2 It would be the first time that the complete series of nine paintings named Les Ateliers, the Studios, had ever been shown together in Paris (for some of these paintings, the first time they had ever been shown in Paris at all, even singly). This was a major event.
I have been in love with Braque ever since the winter of 1975-76, when I was staying in Paris with my late wife Maureen, and I used to spend long gloomy afternoons in the basement of the Musée de l’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris,3 communing with the dark splendours of his 1920s still lifes, and with the deep and glorious mystery of his billiard tables. In 1997, I travelled to Houston, Texas, for the monumental exhibition of his late work at the Menil Collection. So I scarcely came to Paris this November as a neutral or unbiased spectator.
But that “bias” was born out of instincts – visual, theoretical, aesthetic – which I still trust. To go into the show in a spirit of determined skepticism, distrust just for the sake of it, would be simply perverse. So, well before I left, I tried to write out what my biases were, to give them even a deliberately exaggerated and provocative form. The following section, scrupulously not edited or altered, though at times it is rashly overstated, is what I wrote here in Victoria, several weeks before I set foot in the Grand Palais.
[Essay by Stephen Scobie]
[Photos by Shawn Dogimont / Model Patricia Schmid]
I first met Frédéric over lunch at Allard in the 6ème arrondissement after translating and publishing excerpts from his passionate book on books: First Inventory After the Apocalypse. I’ve since come to realize just how well known and prolific a figure he is. His program Le Cercle exudes intelligence and wit and is, along with The Walking Dead, my favourite show on television. He has penned nine novels which sometime fictionalize his own life, often caricature consumer society, and always pose metaphysical questions. He was one of the first people to sign the manifesto opposing the new legislation penalizing clients of prostitution in France and to me represents the liberal side of a country that was known for revolutions and the Enlightenment: founding the Prix de Flore, keeping the image of Hemingway in A Moveable Feast alive, championing institutions like L’Ami Louis…
Shawn Dogimont — It seems to me like you’ve invented your own career. I find this very inspiring because it’s based on classic interests and talent, your appetite for literature, and I wonder if a professional journey such as yours could exist elsewhere than Paris where film criticism is at the forefront of media, there’s still a love of physical books… You’ve published nine novels and you’ve directed a film. You’re touching on all the things I’ve romanticized doing.
Frédéric Beigbeder — I agree with you – it’s not possible elsewhere because you have in Paris this culture of cinema d’auteurs, the story of the nouvelle vague which basically says: when you are a writer, you can be a director. Because François Truffaut was a film critic, because Sacha Guitry and Marcel Pagnol directed movies, and Jean Cocteau also. So you don’t have this wall between writing and directing movies. Many directors were writers before in France, and still are. So that’s the main difference. When I said to Jay McInerney “I’m going to direct a movie” he said “wow, but did you go to film school?” Of course not, I’m just a writer but in France when you’re a writer you’re someone who’s telling a story and you can tell your story with ‘la camera stylo’. The camera is like a pen here and in America it’s different, there’s a culture based around Hollywood, technique, and if you don’t know everything about movies you’re considered an analphabet I suppose, and maybe it’s right, I don’t know, because many bad movies are made by writers where people talk for hours but ‘c’est permis en France’. It started because I organized parties when I was eighteen. Before any artistic activity I was known for nightlife and I invited many guests to costume balls and things like that. So I became a ‘figure de la nuit’ ‘un noctambule’ and started writing in magazines about this night life. What I wrote seemed funny to some people so I published a novel, was called to work in an advertising agency and as a host on television. I became a character before doing anything. I’m like a Kim Kardashian from the 80s. [laughs] It doesn’t mean I have no talent but it was a succession of accidents, one leading to another, which is why I do a lot of things.
— Where is your ‘âme’ in all this, where do you feel the most at home?
— All these things are connected to writing. If you do a TV show you start with the questions you’re going to ask or what you’re going to say. If you do cinema you have to write a script. If you write a book, you write. If you write an article in a magazine, it’s writing. So it all begins with writing at some point, except when you throw a party. Well, you still have to write an invitation that makes people come. All these forms of expression are different but they begin with one guy alone in a room scratching his head and wondering what he’s going to say.
[Interview & photo by Shawn Dogimont]
Ursula K. LeGuin is one of the most important and widely read writers of the twentieth century. Over the past fifty years, her prolific output — which spans poetry, novels, short stories, children’s books and essays — has been hugely influential, especially to the genre of science fiction. Through her careful construction of worlds not so different from our own, LeGuin’s works have helped redirect science fiction out of the margins of genre literature to an unparalleled category of thought experiments and possibilities for different worlds, lives, and ways of being. Her universes offer “the enduring welcome of the imagined world,” as she so elegantly puts it here. Through her stories, she has created a place in the world for so many of us who wish for great change, an implicit critique ofmasculinist techno-fantasy and industrial capitalism,offering instead the beauty of quiet reflection, joy in relation, and a gracious and humble manner to live with the planet with which we are completely entangled. I had the incredible honour of discussing with her, over email, her books, the space of imagination and time, ecological crisis, feminism, and science fiction today.
Heather Davis — In re-reading many of your books, such as The Telling or The Word for World is Forest, your vision of earth and its human population is both damning and yet full of compassion. Earth is described as a ‘garbage planet,’ as the careless actions of its inhabitants have made it barren and desolate. But despite the egregious actions of some of your characters, there is such a tenderness and compassion to your writing. It feels so good to read your books, like an act of healing. Can you comment on the role of compassion within your worlds and towards even the most unlikable characters?
Ursula K. LeGuin — I wish that were entirely true. But I really dislike some of the people in my stories. Or despise them, which is worse. But as a novelist, I do have to know how this despicable character got that way, and still more important, what it feels like to be that way – even if I don’t much want to. A character you don’t inhabit, that isn’t in fact part of yourself, is a puppet, or a mouthpiece, or a bogeyman. I am Colonel Davidson in The Word for World is Forest, even if I don’t like to admit it. I suppose that’s a kind of compassion. Not in the great Buddhist sense, though. More like the Roman Terence’s saying “Being human, I consider nothing human alien to me.”
It’s true that there aren’t a lot of real villains in my fiction. I’m no good at Iago. The people in my stories who screw life up for themselves and others mostly do so without intending to, and without enjoying it. Forgiveness is possible, and there are more than four ways to it.
— Many of your stories deal with the strange shifts of time, how time bends, the passage of time across distances, and losing people through time. Shevek, in The Dispossessed becomes important to the universe that he inhabits precisely because of his theories of time, which are the precursor to the ansible, an instantaneous communication device that is used in many of the worlds you created. This reminds me, rather obviously, of the increase of travel in our present world, of instantaneous communication across long distances, but also of the ways in which time can be so discontinuous in our human experience of it. The people in The Word for World is Forest, for example, have dream-time which is a kind of parallel time-world that the characters move in and out of. How do you think about time in your novels
— This is a new idea to me; that I write about time. I’m sure it’s true. (I don’t see a lot of the themes and continuities in my books till somebody else points them out). The fact that the uses of time have changed hugely, drastically, within my lifetime, is certainly true. I lived when simply waiting was a large part of ordinary life: when we waited, gathered around a crackling radio, to hear the infinitely far-away voice of the king of England… I live now when we fuss if our computer can’t bring us everything we want instantly. We deny time. We don’t want to do anything with it, we want to erase it, deny that it passes. What is time in cyberspace? And if you deny time you deny space. After all, it’s a continuum – which separates us. So we talk on a cell phone to people in Indiana while jogging on the beach without seeing the beach, and gather on social media into huge separation-denying disembodied groups while ignoring the people around us.
I find this virtual existence weird, and as a way of life, absurd. This could be because I am eighty-four years old. It could also be because it is weird, an absurd way to live. Anyhow, none of it got into my fiction – except maybe the time-and-space-erasing NAFAL flight, which puts my characters down in imaginary worlds with real tigers in them (to telescope Moore and Borges) where they have lost all their family and friends back on the old world, which would indeed be the penalty of long space flight. And I suppose you could compare my invention, the ansible, to the cell phone – it erases space. But (like me) my people only use it in emergencies.
[Interview by Heather Davis]
Filmmaker, writer, mime, master of tarot, psychomagician, Alejandro Jodorowsky is an artist whose robust sense of living is matched only by the exceptional breadth of his creative practice. Author of dozens of books – from philosophy to poetry – and, with the French artist Moebius, the highly praised L’incal series of graphic novels, Jodorowsky’s works are marked by a great generosity as well as a remarkable ability to provoke. His first film, Fando y Lis (1967), shocked its audience into a riot when it premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival and was subsequently banned in Mexico. His following two films, El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) – beloved and supported by John Lennon – became immediate cult classics, initiating in the United States the “midnight movie” phenomenon in which his films would play for years. Jodorowsky’s recent film, The Dance of Reality (2013) – based on his 2001 autobiography – is a surreal exploration of the dream territories and traumas of his childhood. “The story of my life,” he writes, “is a constant effort to expand the imagination and its limitations, to capture its therapeutic and transformative potential.” Alejandro and I met at his apartment in Paris the evening after his 85th birthday. In his office, surrounded by walls of books and esoteric objects, we discussed his films, his influences, chance and intention, gravity and reality.
Michael Nardone — For The Dance of Reality, you returned to your homeland to shoot a deeply autobiographical work, yet it’s one that uses that personal past to imagine numerous and coexisting presents and futures. Can you describe the process of making this film?
Alejandro Jodorowsky — I made The Dance of Reality in order to have a psychological experience. I was born in a small town called Tocopilla, in Chile. It was near the desert, near mines of copper. I was a child in a time of crisis. Everyone was poor there. Everyone was fighting against poverty. There was only a plant to produce electricity there, and the only people who had jobs worked there. The name of this town is not on any map. During my eighty-five years, the town hasn’t changed. Not one new house. It is exactly the same as when I was a child. The only thing that has changed is that the house and the store of my father burned to the ground.
— What kind of store was it?
— He liked to sell women’s underwear! My father had an obsession with sex. Since there was a port at Tocopilla – the ships came there to take away the copper – sailors would come to town to see prostitutes. Prostitution was the only other way, other than copper, to make any money. Anyway, my father would go by the ships when all the sailors were in town and steal boxes from them. He would open the box and see whatever was inside. One time it would be a box full of scissors, another time all cups. Often it was clothes, and, yes, occasionally, women’s underwear. He would sell anything!
[Interview by Michael Nardone / Photo by Giasco Bertoli]