Dear readers, today my interlocutors are Victoria Brown and Richard Brammer of publisher Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
Vlad Savich: Dear Richard and Victoria, I usually ask my interlocutors to talk a little about themselves.
Dostoyevsky Wannabe: We can’t talk about ourselves too much because we’re representing Dostoyevsky Wannabe. Dostoyevsky Wannabe is more of an important thing to talk about here, even though in some ways, it’s not important at all in the great scheme of things. Dostoyevsky Wannabe was initially the two of us and, although we remain at the core of it, we would now want to include all of the writers and readers of Dostoyevsky Wannabe and all the guest-editors and general well-wishers. Anyone can be a Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
We have no budget. We make no money but we also lose no money because we use a print on demand company as if it were a giant-photocopier to print our books. We publish only the best or the worst (in a good way) or the coolest books and we won’t say which ones are which because we don’t know ourselves. It’s not up to us to know these things.
VS: Dostoevsky! His hero Rodion Raskolnikov had the help of an axe, how about you?
DW: No. No axe. We’re really lovely people. All Dostoyevsky Wannabes are pretty cool and lovely people. Our consciences are reasonably clear. We have only read some Dostoyevsky because it wouldn’t do for a Dostoyevsky Wannabe to have actually read too much Dostoyevsky because where would the Wannabe come into it (‘Wannabe’ means ‘want to be’ in American by the way). We’re not even sure if it pays to be too well read at all really. We’re not sure it’s good for literature for people to be too well read. How would anyone know what to read in the first place? Nobody can read everything. Not even very very very rich people who seem to contribute fuck all to society can read everything. If a person believes in and reads the accepted canon for instance then they only get a very thin slice of the world and certainly not the whole world. They get a slice of the world as chosen by various, usually rich and privileged, but still arbitrary people. It’s all very subjective but it masquerades as objective.
Canons are dangerous, we think. Canons are a bit like cannons. Sometimes they go bang and they can hurt a lot of people and they’re built for warfare and warfare isn’t good. We want to do things to make people feel better if we can and not hurt people. It doesn’t always work because the world is sometimes complex isn’t it. We feel like it is anyway. Some people think that the English Literature canon was only invented as a way of pacifying working-class and other outsider people around the time that lots of people stopped believing in religion and that it was invented because the ruling classes were worried that the newly unreligious masses might revolt and so they made up this new ideology to ‘civilize’ people to make them behave in the way that the ruling classes wanted them to. It wasn’t even invented that long ago was it, the literary canon. Everyone who believes in it says it’s really ancient but there’s an argument that the English Literature canon is only about as old as football or factories or something.
Maybe we’re sympathetic to such anti-canonical thoughts. We probably are. It’s hard to know anything though isn’t it really so maybe we’re wrong. Maybe we’re wrong about everything. Who knows?
Or maybe we’re right about everything?
What we do know is that we really like certain colour palettes at the moment. Today we’ve been talking to each other and learning about fluorescent colour and we like colour-palettes from Biba. You know Biba? It was that shop from the Sixties in London. When we stop talking to you, we’re going to go on the internet and go onto Google Scholar and we’re going to find out everything we can about Sixties boutiques because we’re really into that today. Tomorrow it will be something different.
VS: “We’re really lovely people”. When I was young I loved Foreigner’s song “I Want To Know What Love Is” Can you explain to me, what love is?
DW: For probably the entirety of our lives, we’ve thought that that Foreigner song and other related soft-rock to be well… shit. Like we’ve always thought it to be just a really really uncool song. It’s hard to know though isn’t it? People nowadays might invoke the guilty pleasures thing and say ‘Aha! No, you’re wrong that’s a really cool song’ but that guilty pleasures thing must surely be old by now too? Don’t we need to move on?
Richard has a conspiracy theory about the kinds of guilty pleasures that started to appear in the 2000s. He things that in the 2000s corporations co-opted the concept of guilty pleasures for their own benefit in order to get rid of dissent and to remove the divide between youth and adulthood, between hip and square and to reconfigure the concept of coolness away from the types of ideas that generally inspired people who believed in those things to take up left-wing politics. Guilty pleasures were formerly the territory of what Susan Sontag would call a camp sensibility but corporations took over the concept and used it to aid the crossover potential of their existing products and to bring the family unit together under one big bland banner. Early examples were The Simpsons and how they deliberately included a number of stereotypes (the sort of hilariously idiot father, the guilty housewife, the liberal daughter and the naughty teenager) in a way that meant that the whole family could watch it together and get something out of it. Later that extended to adults being into computer games (formerly the province of children) and also to everyone being into major movie franchises and all that and action films where there’s something in it for lots of people and they can sell it to lots of people instead of just smaller demographics. The same went for books about wizards which all of a sudden qualified as literature for both children and adults. At the same time, the concept of coolness and creativity, usually the province of the left-wing, were terms that were suddenly transferred to corporate business when really they should be the antithesis of business. Now we have a situation where kids want to be interns rather play in bands or whatever. Not that rock n’roll or any of that old ‘coolness’ was untouchable and there was plenty wrong with it. It’s a fun theory anyway. His overall point is that throughout all of these things there has been a large-scale conservative mentality that has prospered and the left has been pushed out. Also all of this seems invisible to people and it’s fishy when suddenly everyone starts to agree with each other about a thing. Like it’s worth wondering what’s behind it.
With all of this in mind, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that we think that the song ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ is shit and is very uncool and is therefore bad. That is what we would’ve said had it been 1993. We’re not sure what we would have said at the time of its release. We were only around 7-9 years old when it came out in 1984 and small children sometimes love power ballads so maybe we’d have loved it but we don’t remember loving it. Power ballads are probably really only meant for kids and for divorce scenes in yuppie era episodes of Only Fools and Horses aren’t they? The way that small children like power ballads is borne out by the soundtracks to movies like Back to the Future where it’s all about makeshift skateboards and Huey Lewis power ballads and Michael J Fox saying things like ‘Holy Shit!’ when he’s just about to collide dangerously with something. That’s power ballads. Also can we not get so wrapped up in the corporate version (circa 2000s) of guilty pleasures that a character like Patrick Bateman is suddenly seen as ok because he wasn’t was he and we know he loved Huey Lewis and the News.
None of this explains what love is though does it? We don’t think we can explain what it is. Clearly, the people from Foreigner didn’t know what it was either, hence all the heartfelt soul-searching. We don’t believe their heartfelt soul-searching either. It seemed disingenuous. What is love? Maybe love was an alibi that allowed lots of people to write cool pop songs, like perfect pop, but we don’t class this Foreigner song as a perfect pop song. It was too perfect for a start wasn’t it, the Foreigner song, its sound, and a perfect pop song should maybe always be slightly imperfect, maybe that’s rule number one.
The guy from Foreigner said a very pretentious thing. The kind of thing that inverted commas “artists” or hedge fund managers say sometimes that goes something like ‘It was 3am and the song just came to me. It spoke through me’ and all that nonsense. That sounds like the forerunner for economic political forecasts that you see on the BBC News where apparently the market is both analyzable and yet simultaneously unknowable which is just an excuse for really bad behaviour and for bankers and right-wing politicians to simply make it all up as they go along.
The song got to number 1 in the UK, in Australia, in Canada, in Ireland, in New Zealand, in Norway, in Sweden and in the USA but it only got to number 25 in Italy and number 6 in Belgium so can we draw any conclusions from that as to what love is on an international level? We don’t think it does.
Another thing was that it was only around a week before the song got to number 1 that Ronald Reagan was elected and only a few months before Australian banks were deregulated, at the same time Tetris had been invented in Russia, Marvin Gaye was shot by his father and Apple released one of its early computers. There was a lot going on. Plus it was a leap year. We remember watching news of a lot of this on breakfast television which was new in Britain at the time but you can’t find out what love is via breakfast television. Love is kind of a notoriously abstract concept isn’t it and we’re sorry we can’t help with a potted explanation of it.
VS: Dostoevsky once said “Beauty shall save the world”. What do you think about it?
DW: Not sure. It’s another abstract one isn’t it, beauty. Sometimes that type of quotation might be used to justify a lot of annoyingly normative literary or artistic self-importance when really it’s much more important to bring an end to things like homelessness and, in a British context, to ensure that the NHS remains free at the point of use. We certainly wouldn’t make such big claims for what we do with Dostoyevsky Wannabe or for literature more generally as it seems a bit insulting. People do that though, and have done it in the past. It’s the kind of phrase that has sometimes been used in a manner that evokes something silly and self-serving like Matthew Arnold’s ‘The best which has been thought and said’ phrase, which bears a family resemblance to the Dostoyevsky phrase.
So ‘Beauty shall save the world’ is a very ambiguous and, in our opinion, much misused line. We find Martin Creed’s song ‘Fuck Off’ quite beautiful and his Turner Prize winning work of art where the lights go off and then they come on again and then they go off again, we find that beautiful but not because it won a prize, rather more because everyone said it shouldn’t have done. We find certain kinds of vocal acid house songs beautiful, a song such as Debbie Malone’s ‘Rescue Me’, which came out in 1989, at the End of History, for instance. As we said earlier, we currently find colour palettes such as the one used by Biba in the Sixties beautiful, it was all plum and mulberry colours. You should look at it, it’s really cool. Paint your house in it. And, of course, we find certain sequences of words beautiful after a fashion.
We’re not sure it can save the world though, literature. It can help maybe. What we find beautiful helps us and we like things that can help people in good ways. We wonder what Dostoyevsky meant by it, we wouldn’t claim to be any authority on Dostoyevsky or on literature. Would it be better if people never claimed to be authorities on things which are, in the end, quite subjective?
VS: Homo sapiens are the only extant members of the subtribe Hominina, a branch of the tribe Hominini belonging to the family of great apes. What is a man?
DW: Being merely publishers (‘publishers’ even), we don’t know that much about the ins and outs of evolution beyond the basic ideas. It seems like the people who’ve studied and developed the theory of evolution have given it a good bit of thought. It seems like a reasonable explanation of humans to us. We haven’t got any better ideas. We can’t say we’re really in the flat-earth camp that seems to be mysteriously growing. We still believe what we read in our beginner’s encyclopaedia of science, 1983.
We think it’s a bit silly and grand that quite boring corporate business bureaucracies talk in terms of evolution and certainly the general misreading of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ seems to be an often cited reason for lots of bad things to happen. Maybe it’s best if those meanings were more often put in their proper original contexts.
VS: “Being merely a publisher”, do you think that the book will still exist in the future? Or literature at all?”
DW: Books have been a pretty successful technology haven’t they so we don’t think they’re going anywhere. We’re not technophobes at Dostoyevsky Wannabe but we’re not super-wowed by technology either. Facebook and Twitter are in many ways just an extension of those big rubbish chain emails that everyone used to forward to each other in the ’90s aren’t they? We’ve seen already that the e-book hasn’t taken over and isn’t going to take over wholesale from the physical book. Along with the internet, the e-book has mostly just changed things around a bit but nothing too revolutionary. Things are changing but then maybe things have always been changing.
We’re quite into being a bit auto-didactic. Obviously we’re not ‘against experts’ but we quite like artistic careers to retain an auto-didactic flavor. At one time, before everything became corporately professionalized, one of the strengths of writing seemed, to us anyway, to come from its status as a largely amateur activity with no need to spend thousands going to university to do it. That felt that bit more egalitarian to us. The fact that anybody could try and write and stand a chance of being published seemed a good thing to us. Often maybe only a slim chance of being published but a chance all the same. Don’t listen to us though. What do we know?
VS: Do we need state censorship?
DW: No. No state censorship, no matter what form of system of governance is in place.
VS: There are things like music, ballet, architecture and so on. What kind of art is poetry in your opinion?
DW: We’re not fans of special pleading for different artistic mediums/types. Most have similar principles of composition and design principles and so on haven’t they? Obviously they’re all inflected differently and there’s more sound in music than in a painting and, conversely, there are more things to do with your eye in painting than in music, seems to us like there’s a lot of crossover too, though. Suppose we have to factor in the fact that different artistic mediums have historically been supported in different social and economic ways according to different historical and cultural contexts so there’s that too. It’s all the same if you take a bunch of magic mushrooms or if you watch too many episodes of Homeland in a row though isn’t it? It’s all sense manipulation of one form or another in the end. We’re not much for piety about one art form over another. It’s just not for us. Why not play nice, we think. We’d hate to wander around lobbying for the idea that books are the best art form.
VS: Lenin thought Dostoevsky was against the people. Lenin wanted change, but Dos, a church guy, was like “naw,” so Lenin called him out? Do you think that was fair?
DW: It’s ironic to think of our lack of interest in piety when compared to Dostoyevsky’s devotion to Christianity but more prosaically, and less nobly, the name of our press comes from a 1991 American indie film named Slacker and hasn’t got that much to do with Dostoyevsky. It’s got more to do with Madonna’s pap smear and band practice and all that (see Slacker 1991, the film).
VS: Dostoevsky was called a soothsayer. Can Dostoyevsky Wannabe see into the future?
DW: Jesus! It’s looking grim currently isn’t it, the future. Let’s be positive and say that we hope things swing more to the left than the right and some form of fairer and more equitable consensus can come out of it all. That’s more of a wish than a prophecy though, and a vague wish. Prophecy isn’t our bag. We’re Soothsayer Wannabes and not actual soothsayers.
VS: What is the publishing policy of Dostoyevsky Wannabe? What do you publish with pleasure and what do you reject immediately?
DW: It’s a mixed bag. We like to publish outsider writers, whether those people are outsiders by choice, for reasons of eccentricity or creativity, or by circumstance, but we don’t have a very strict policy because such strict policies would tend to defeat our purpose and perhaps only serve to set up new boundaries and cabals that could be said to be equally problematic for the future. We would stress that we mean we like to publish outsider writers and that’s not quite the same as Outsider Art. That’s a different thing.
As we said earlier, we say we publish what’s really good, what’s really bad in a good way and what’s really cool. It’s a device that we use in the hope of chiseling away some of the more ‘professional literary’ edges and airs and graces of the book publishing world. We’re not gatekeepers. We’re not worthy and no independent press is worthy of such a lofty ideal and don’t trust them if they say they are. And mainstream presses? Well if you believe them to be worthy of such things either then go and see how copies of the same generic celebrity chef cookbook, each with ever so slightly reconfigured recipes inside from year to year (recipes are copyrightable, an interesting fact when you see how many cookbooks exist in the world). We might do some cookbooks ourselves actually but you won’t have seen cookbooks like them before. Publishing shouldn’t get ahead of itself or become too arrogant. Publishing is only made up of people who had the money already or who found a way to pay a printing bill after all.
We’re not super-keen on people who approach us CV style because we tend to think that the two CVs of the age – curriculum vitaes and cardiovascular exercise – are responsible for most of the boring, often quite damagingly ubiquitous Capitalist Realism that comes as standard as part and parcel of the contemporary world. The faux efficiency of the private sector, the running around pretending to be busy, the need to curate a dead and sanitized social-media presence in a bid to impress a future employer, none of that does anything to create any excitement or risk within culture in our opinion. Even when the corporate machine does get its tokenistic house in order and employs suitable proportions of people of colour and people of differing sexuality and gender and non-specific gender and so on, we still don’t trust it at all. Getting the right headline to avoid a Twitter-storm doesn’t seem to us to amount to actually caring about difference. People who have a very ‘professional’ or careerist take on writing tend to ape and swallow the marketing image thing and it’s fair to say that we do tend to be put off when that happens and when people approach us in that manner (not always, there are always exceptions). That’s not to say that if people can find out how to get paid through writing that we’d be against it though. Who’d be against being able to make a living from this thing? The economics don’t support it but we’re not against it. If you can find a way then let us know. Not all writers approach us that way, we sometimes get the opposite and get quite rude writers (usually male) who sometimes approach us like they’re fighting us from the outset and that’s no fun either.
What else do we automatically reject? Well, as proudly liberal ‘snowflakes’, we obviously reject anything that is involved with any form of hate. Again though, that too has subjective elements and is mostly to do with what makes us uncomfortable and what doesn’t and we’re not infallible. Then again, we don’t have quotas, we’re not a public service and we’re not McDonald’s. We’re not signed up to any official policies on that kind of thing. We’re independent.
That all sounds very negative though. Check our catalogue out and you’ll find lots of really cool people who we’ve really enjoyed working with. We’re looking forward to lots more, we have anthologies coming out with Minor Literatures[s] who we’ve come to be quite friendly with. Lots of the people at Minor Literature[s] stand for a hell of a lot of what we stand for. Plus their [s] logo is really worthy of a pin-badge, we want a [s] pin-badge. We will happily wear one and join their club. We’ve got another one coming out with the Partisan Hotel people, they’re the guest-editors of our next series of our Cassette sampler imprint. We’ve only met Dominic from Hotel but we definitely felt like we were on the same page what with his magazine’s mix of writers (Dostoyevsky Wannabe faves and long-time friends such Juliet Escoria and Scott McClanahan, also more recently associated writers such as Eley Williams and SJ Fowler (both who contributed to our Dostoyevsky Wannabe Experimental anthology Liberating the Canon which was edited by Isabel Waidner. Also they are extra cool to us because they invite non-literary writers (often musicians) to write: people like Genesis P.Orridge, Nick Cave and Mark Kozalek so we’re really looking forward to that one.
Last but not least, we have TWO anthologies coming out ON THE SAME DAY with both yourselves at Queen Mob’s and also Berfrois. We’ve only just grasped that the way that these anthologies are being released have something to do with two albums by Guns N’Roses that apparently came out on the same day. Russell Bennetts is involved in both of them and we’ve been liaising with him and for anyone who doesn’t know of Russell he’s a bit like the British version of Michael J Seidlinger who runs Civil Coping Mechanisms in America. Both of them are so instrumental in linking SO MANY different people across the independent literature community that in order to cope with their omnivorous social-media output, they seem to have evolved their own personal shorthand in order to communicate on such a wide scale. It’s supremely effective in reaching and often really helping to connect lots of disparate writers and indie publishers across continents and certainly both have been helpful and friendly to Dostoyevsky Wannabe and have helped sell our books at numerous stages of our thing. It’s hard to explain how they do it though so we’re going to approach this very anthropologically. Michael tends to use this marker “\m/ \m/”, sometimes extended out to “\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/” (we think intended according to degrees of enthusiasm) whereas Russell uses a similar extended/unextended according to enthusiasm “Jajajajaja”. We’re not sure but this might be either Spanish or maybe some kind of meme? Answers on a postcard? We missed the meme era, it sort of went on in our peripheral vision and we occasionally noticed it and wondered about it. Michael’s “\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/” is even harder for us to find out about. First off, rather than being easy to type, we find it quite hard to type (lots of scrabbling for forward- and back-slashes) so we don’t know how he keeps it up. Also it’s difficult to Google because if anyone reading this knows anything about coding, it effectively comes up as some kind of escaped string or string in need of escape (ask any geeky coder friends what this means). We’re building a theory that Michael’s thing might be something to do with heavy-metal and since it turned out that Russell’s cryptic message “Jajajajaja use your illusion innit” had something to do with two Guns N’Roses album that were released on the same day then maybe there’s a heavy metal connection going on with both of them. Personally, the two core members of Dostoyevsky Wannabe are constitutionally incapable of the Heavy Metal genre but when you see the quality of the writers that Russell and co have come up with for both the Queen Mob’s and Berfrois anthologies, not to mention how much such literary mags do to connect so many writers together then we can forgive them any and all references to Heavy Metal. Just realized this whole answer wouldn’t fit into a Tweet would it, whereas “Jajajajajaja” and “\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/” does easily do the job. This is why they’re better at social-media and at promoting everybody than we are.
We’re also excited about our Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities thing. We’ve got books coming out and events set up or partially set up for Manchester (guest-edited by Dodo Ink and Minor Literature[s] Thom Cuell), Brooklyn (guest-edited by Bill Lessard and Mary Boo Anderson), Norwich (edited by the people behind Salo Press) and Glasgow edited by Laura Waddell, plus there are more in the pipeline because some really cool people have got in touch offering to host and guest-edit one. Of course this all kicked off with the first Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities at Rough Trade Bristol guest-edited by Paul Hawkins who also had a book out with us this year. There are already too many books that we already have out to mention so please check our site for more details of those: www.dostoyevskywannabe.com.
There are a few more in the future that people may not know about yet such as Alan Cunningham, Jessica Sequeira, Chuck Harp, Matt Bookin, Ben De Vos, Judson Hamilton, Geraldine Snell, Rachel Kass, Andrew Hodgson, Drew Milne and Emma Bolland. Before that this year, we’ve already had a busy year. We’ve released the aforementioned Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature and books by Shane Jesse Christmass, Rose Knapp, Nadia de Vries, Timmy Reed, Rosie Snajdr, Bertie Marshall, Aaron Kent and Cassette 85 guest-edited by Troy James Weaver.
All in all, we just feel really lucky that so many really cool and talented writers want to put things out with us.
VS: There is a childrens’ story by the Russian author Vladimir Mayakovsky, “What is Good and What is Bad”. What do you think about this as a philosophical category ?
DW: Dunno about this one. It’s all a bit abstract noun-ish isn’t it. We’re into concrete nouns and concrete more generally. Like Frank O’Hara we can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless there’s a record shop handy.
VS: You lived in different decades of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Which one do you most remember?
DW: We’re more into the 20th century than the 21st somehow maybe. Or perhaps we’d admit to fetishising it a bit more than the current century. We are fond of what we remember of the 20th century. Maybe we’re not ready to accept the technological breakfast cereal blandness of the 21st but then again here we are, we’re 21st century Dostoyevsky Wannabes and we tweet and we code things and so on so…
What else? Well we you can’t go back can you but we tend not to believe a lot of what is claimed to be progress in the 21st century. We’re definitely influenced by the Nineties and the Sixties. There’s this theory about the Sixties and the Nineties being similar to each other. You can read about it in a book by Phillip E. Wegner called Life Between Two Deaths, 1989-2001, it’s an interesting book. To an extent, in the western world, both of those decades, the Nineties and the Sixties, are sometimes characterized as being quite idealistic. Liminal periods of optimism that were thwarted in some way — the Sixties by the Thatcher-Reagan administrations and unfettered “free”-market capitalism (definitely need to put that “free” in scare quotes) and the Nineties by 9/11. Nobody could say that those two decades were perfect but they certainly seemed to us to be periods of idealism in certain ways. We’re probably just getting old though y’know. That’s the standard charge against nostalgia isn’t it?
We’re both kind of a funny age inasmuch as we’re the tail end of so called Generation X and so we have a foot in either camp. Some stupid Silicon Valley interface/social-media sign-up form isn’t going to confuse us but neither is a video cassette recorder. Video shops started up and died on our watch as it were. That probably seems like it means not very much at all but other times, to us, it kind of feels like it means everything, or at least sums up something uncanny that is specific to our generation. There’s this thing that we’ve both felt as we got to the age of forty, and we’re sure it’s something totally familiar to any forty year old in any era but it was sort of a homesickness for our twenties and for the world as it was. Silly of course and not exactly an original sentiment but one that has been tangible to us in recent years. Anyway, we mention it because we think we’ve sort of put that feeling, the kind of feeling that can sometimes just breed a kind of pointless nostalgia, into Dostoyevsky Wannabe. As we said earlier, Dostoyevsky Wannabe is a name pulled from the film Slacker (1991) and there’s a sort of early 90s flavour to our stuff that we re-calibrate using 21st century means. An example of this is our Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities series which is definitely partly influenced by the fashion for regional music scenes in the 1980s and 1990s and by some kind of paradoxical wish to use global internet networks and companies to recover a kind of local feeling despite everything being so nebulous and despite everything seeming so spread all over the place geographically since the advent of the internet and of social-media.
One thing that we try to port over from the 21st century is the practice of trying to create a deliberate context around what we put out and what we do and what we are. In the last ten years, there’s this idea that context and identity can be derived from someone filling out what is essentially a form, tapping their details into the predefined form fields on a social-media interface in the form of ‘Favourite films’, ‘Favourite music’ etc, filling out ‘your profile’ on this or that platform but we don’t think that’s enough. It’s obviously easy to list a load of films or music that you ‘Like’ and to vaguely throw together some quantitative shadow of an identity for yourself from that but it’s lacking in anything qualitative or in any meaning or genuine context. People see a list of films like that and they ignore it, it’s just data and, despite the way in which Snapchat/Instagram attempt to appropriate the concept of ‘Story’, none of this data is really telling any kind of compelling story and that’s what’s missing we think.
An alternative example would be Bandcamp. We love the idea of Bandcamp, it’s one of the better ones, but we were talking about how we don’t find ourselves looking for bands there as much as we might because it doesn’t compel us to stick around (ironically what tech companies call ‘stickability’) and the reason we don’t stick around is that often it doesn’t give the story of the bands, or the bands don’t give the story of themselves through interviews or anything like that. We get a partial story, a story told in album design jpegs and obviously we get the music but where is the rest of the context? For this reason, these platforms can come off a little bland. Don’t even get us started on Spotify. A playlist for doing Monday aerobics too is none of our business. Quantitative data is fairly bland. Similar to Spotify or Goodreads, for all the hype of discovering new artists, it’s like if you see a crowd of 20,000-1,000,000 people you can’t compute which one you want to make into your new favourite band or new favourite author. All you will see is a mass of non-differentiated stuff and no filter. Maybe people have forgotten how much the filter used to matter. Of course that filter could be deeply unfair and heavily subjective. That’s one of the reasons we now see a million re-issued albums that we never saw the first time around due to the fact that the filter of the time filtered them out but no filter often leaves nothing but a sea of undifferentiated stuff and it’s hard to care about undifferentiated stuff. Maybe what we make an attempt to do, possibly idealistically, is to try to make some kind of context around what we do and the things that we put out. Often it’s as much up to the writers to do that for themselves and we are partially limited by them if they don’t want to do that, and hey it’s totally up to how they want to deal with things because we haven’t got time to help promote them too much and we don’t want to promote people unequally. Plus writers have their own identities and have to be left to go about things in any way they feel comfortable.
Of course, this is just publishing and music and books and leisure and these are first world issues that we’re talking about here and no more, we’re aware of that, but without filters, and without trying to establish things in a context, a certain glamour, in the true etymological sense of that word, is lost and that’s quite a valuable communicative trick to miss and it’s often a communicative trick that the tech companies don’t give a fuck about because for them it’s still more quantitative than qualitative and numbers only say so many things and in so many fairly bland ways. Is anyone really genuinely excited by a productivity app or by how many steps they’ve walked? ‘Come on!’.That’s just DULL DULL DULL isn’t it? That’s not a story that’s a statistic, and not even a very interesting one. An amount of intimacy that existed in the 20th century is lost and we want to do our bit to put it back but without resorting to wholly 20th century means. That all sounds very stupid and grand hahaha.
VS: Shakespeare once wrote “All the world’s a stage”. If it’s true then who is writing our role for us?
DW: The tone of that whole speech always sounds quite funny somehow. To an extent it sounds like it’s spoken by Noel Gallagher when he’s giving one of his trademark cynical about everyone interviews to the NME or wherever. We quite like malcontents like Jaques though. Dostoyevsky Wannabe can and does play the role of malcontent sometimes. The Nineties we’re full of malcontent figures. Malcontents are pretty cool to us. We never grew out of that one haha. We’re comfortable being malcontents to an extent but we’re positive malcontents, we’re not total wallowers. If there’s a solution, we’ll take it. We’re not depressives.
VS: Tell me, please, would you return to your twenties if you could? If so, what would you like to change in your past? Did you have anything in your life that you regret?
DW: We’ve been talking about this lately because Vikki turned 40 recently. Yes and no on the wanting to return to our twenties. That’s the cliché isn’t it, that youth is wasted on the young and all that. It’s like Krapp’s Last Tape, you think? The middle-aged one is pissed off with the innocence of his younger self but then the pensioner one is pissed off with the arrogant, self-satisfied and complacent middle-aged version of himself and, at the end of his life, he finds more favour with the innocence he felt in his teens or early twenties.
Regret? Is there necessarily any sense in regretting stuff when it’s done? Everyone probably feels it though. Presumably everyone has a lot that they wish they never did in in the past but then, at other times, those same things/regrets might be seen again in a fresh light and prove to be some important point or turning point in life so…not sure.
In terms of being able to go back to our twenties, we’d like to go back in the sense that we’d ostensibly be gaining more time but obviously you can’t so what’s the point in wishing. If it was possible then we were discussing how we’d hope to be a bit less scared of stuff, less scared of certain types of embarrassment and more willing to go ahead and do some things that perhaps we didn’t do back then. On the other hand, wouldn’t it just be futile to be able to change those things, to change history. Maybe we’ve gained some things now because of some of those decisions? Vlad, your interviews get to all the big questions don’t they.
In the interests of Dostoyevsky Wannabe continuity, we refer you to the following speech (in its entirely) from the opening of Slacker and spoken by a character who is referred to in the credits as ‘Should’ve stayed at bus stop’:
“I just had the weirdest dream, back on the bus there!? You ever have those dreams that are just completely real, I mean, they’re so vivid, it’s just like, completely real. It’s like, there’s always something bizarre going on in those, I have one about every two years or something, I always remember them really good… like there’s always someone getting run over, or something really weird… um. One time I had lunch with Tolstoy… another time I was a roadie for Frank Zappa. Anyway, so this dream I just had was just like that, except instead of everything bizarre going on, I mean there was nothing going on at all… man, it was like The Omega Man, there was just nobody around, I was just travelling around, you know, staring out the windows of buses and trains and cars, you know. When I was at home, I was like flipping through the TV stations endlessly, reading… I mean, how many dreams do you have where you read in a dream? Wait… man, there was this book I just read on the… well, you know, it was my dream, so I guess I wrote it, or something… but, uh, it was bizarre, it was like, um, the premise for this whole book was that every thought you have creates its own reality. You know, it’s like every choice or decision you make, the thing you choose not to do, fractions off and becomes its own reality, you know, and just goes on from there, forever… I mean, it’s like, um… in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy meets the scarecrow, they do that little dance at that crossroads, and they think about going all these directions and they end up going in that one direction? I mean, all those other directions, just because they thought about it, became separate realities, I mean they just went on from there and lived the rest of their life, you know, it just… I mean, entirely different movies, but we’ll never see it, because we’re kinda trapped in this one reality, restriction type of thing, you know? Another example would be, like, back at the bus station, you know, as I got off the bus, the thought crossed my mind, you know, just for a second about not taking a cab at all, but you know like… maybe walking, or bumming a ride, or something like that. You know, I’mkinda broke right now, I should have done that probably. But, uh, just because that thought crossed my mind, there now exists at this very second a whole other reality, where I’m at the bus station, you know, and you’re probably giving someone else a ride, you know. I mean, and that reality thinks of itself as this, thinks of itself as the only reality, you know, I mean at this very second, you know, I’m in that, I’m back at the bus station, just hanging out, you know, probably thumbing through a paper… you know, probably going up to a payphone. You know, say this beautiful woman just comes up to me, just starts talking to me, you know… uh, she ends up offering me a ride, you know, we’re hitting it off, we play a little pinball… and we go back to her apartment, and she has this great apartment you know – I move in with her! You know? And see, if I have a dream some night that I’m with some strange woman I’ve never met, or I’m, you know, I’m living at some place I’ve never seen before, see that’s just a momentary glimpse into this other reality that was all created back there at the bus station. You know, gee. And then I could have a – a dream from that reality into this one that, like, this is my dream from that reality. You know, of course, that’s kind of like that dream I just, you know, had on the bus, you know, the whole cycle type of thing. Man, shit, I should have stayed at the bus station.”
VS: Suppose our life is a dream. What will you see when you wake up from this dream, what do you think about it?
DW: Doesn’t everyone kind of already believe that the 21st century is a half-utopian, half-dystopian Philip K Dick dream/nightmare anyway? Maybe we’d wake up and try and talk to our smart refrigerator or to our phone and neither would answer back and we’d look stupid because they’d just be phones and refrigerators again and not connected to a server somewhere. Come to that why hasn’t Silicon Valley invented Penfield Mood Organs yet like the ones in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You realise Vlad that these things were supposed to have been invented at the very latest by January 3rd 1992. We could do with one of those occasionally.
If we had Penfield Mood Organs, we could dial 888 which is ‘The Desire to watch TV no matter what is on’, or 481 ‘Awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future’, or whatever number it is that leads to a six hour self-accusatory depression. It’s ok that they never invented it though because we already have books and music and they are probably far less efficient and therefore far better than any Penfield Mood Organ. Go and buy Dostoyevsky Wannabe books (and other interesting independent books) today. Buy them. Read them. Pass them on. Get them back. Read them again. Lose them. Find them again years later and read them all over again and feel differently each time. That’ll do.
VS: Thank you for the interview, Richard and Victoria. What do you want to wish our readers?
DW: Erm, we’d like to wish all the luck in the world to any of your readers who are trying to do artistic things differently and unconventionally.
Victoria Brown and Richard Brammer are founders of Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.
Image from poster for Slacker, Orion Classics, 1991