The literary defense system has been threatened at the seams as of late by the sprouting army of like-but unlike, casually ironic and completely satirical brains working out of a central location somewhere in the McSweeney’s compound.
Neal Pollack is one such brain. His first novel “The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature” satirizes itself, while satirizing satire all woven through slew of short stories.
The book, Pollack’s first (although he claims to have written scads of books in the Introduction, including a version of the Bible which was later adapted into a Tony-winning musical called “Neal Pollack presents the Bible”) was at its hardcover inception the first literary offspring from the McSweeney’s birthing stirrups.
His anthology features a variety of stories mocking the typewriter-toting, white male journalist of the modern-era. Pollack aims much of his book’s satire toward the crosshairs of authorial vanity, taking vicious shots at ego with a pump-action twelve-gauge. On tour currently, Pollack took time to answer a series of questions from The Michigan Daily via e-mail.
The Michigan Daily: Question the first. This interview, like many of the things I’ve found myself involved in lately is incorrigible, incomprehensible, hackneyed and slapped together at the last moment with the cheapest form of crazy glue – it is no one’s fault other than my own. How do you feel about things that are incorrigible, hackneyed and incomprehensible?
Neal Pollack: Since that pretty much describes my life’s work, I have to say that I have a great deal of affection for such things. Some of our best art is incomprehensible.
TMD: McSweeney’s Literary Collective is the Rat Pack of modern literature. Considering that ,who would you compare yourself more to – Peter Lawford or Joey Bishop?
NP: Definitely Peter Lawford. My friend Kenneth, who is lounging next to me as I look at his “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and Jobs With Justice posters, agrees. “In no way are you Joey Bishop,” he says. I actually think I’m Sammy Davis Jr.
TMD: How do you feel about being placed into this sort of post-modern pantheon of writers by my Creative Writing GSI (Graduate Student Instructor, for the sake of Mr. Pollack) amongst others?
NP: I don’t feel that I am a post-modern writer. Yes, there are some tricks that I deploy, and my work is self-aware, but for the most part, I think I’m a realist, even if my work is satirical. My narrative style is not tricky, and my prose style is clear and unelliptical. Besides, I thought postmodernism was dead.
TMD: (Interrupting Mr. Pollack) I have a general problem with this idea of post-modernism, on a few accounts. First, it feels like I must’ve missed out on something modern, and I’m left in some sort of proverbial dust. You are living in very modern times, far as I can tell. Second, how can anything be post-modern, if what I’m living on a daily basis is modern, I’m not living outside of this modernity and into something post, am I?
TMD: Why is insincerity funny?
NP: I’m not so sure insincerity is funny, and I’m not so sure my work is insincere. I sincerely satirize what I satirize, and that may be why it’s funny, if you think it’s funny.
TMD: Why are untruths funny?
NP: Well, I don’t know for sure. But untruths generally mask a larger truth and … I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.
TMD: This is your opportunity to promote your book. Go!
NP: It’s definitely the funniest book published this year, definitely funnier than Michael Moore’s unfunny book, and, why not, may even be a classic of its kind. It also has sexy naked pictures of me and lots of blowjob jokes. A little something for everyone, except maybe grandma, unless your grandma is Diane DiPrima, and then she might appreciate it.
TMD: Back to this idea of the McSweeney’s Literary Army – there is an assault of authors publishing in McSweeney’s, getting book deals and marching forward in a literary takeover, keeping this in mind, which G.I. Joe team member are you in this attack on the Cobra of the Literary World. Side note: Duke is taken, Dave Eggers is Duke.
NP: I like the guy in the Marine Corps who wore his dress blue uniform. He had the shaved head when he took his hat off. He kicked ass.
Editor’s note: The G.I Joe in question is Gung-Ho circa 1987.
TMD: When you brought The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature from McSweeney’s to Harper Collins for the paperback edition, were you selling out? If so, is the selling out working well for you?
NP: I don’t think I sold out. The book, if anything, is even harsher on the literary establishment in this edition, which is about 100 pages longer. The idea of a writer “selling out” is absurd. The vast majority of writers don’t make any better than a middle-class salary. If selling out means having my books in more bookstores, then yes, and yes, it is working for me. That’s not to take anything away from McSweeney’s, which is the greatest, but in the end, an independent publisher can only take you so far. The big publishers and chain bookstores have a hammerlock on the industry.
TMD: Inevitably tomorrow’s book signing will yield a slew of private, personal moments for recipients of your signature, moments that they will cherish indefinitely – moments that will be bought out when signed copies of your book appear on Ebay, selling for ridiculous amounts of cash that you will never see – how does that grab you?
NP: I think it’s hilarious. If I am going to be a cultural commodity, then I want to be one all the way. Sell my used toilet paper for all I care.