Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: C. Derick Varn

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July 16, 2019
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July 26, 2019
The Exploding Appendix Questionnaire is an ongoing data collecting exercise that, drawing upon divergent public figures from different intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, seeks to create an ongoing and ever-expanding map of ideas. Through this ever-expanding map of divergent views, we seek a kind of dialogue that, in both its overlaps and contradictions, creates a kind of hive-mind, which, in turn, helps contribute to the intellectual unfoldings of Exploding Appendix’s overall mission.
For the Exploding Appendix Questionnaire, we have asked some of our favourite intellectuals, activists, artists, creatives and commentators to contribute to a series of 11 generic questions. The same generic questions have been sent to everyone, and what you read below is one response to this.

 

1. Who are you and what do you do?
I am C. Derick Varn and I am a poet, teacher, editor, and podcaster. I mostly do interviews with artists and political theorists as well as historians and philosophers and I tangentially write a lot of poetry. I have been told these two things overlap, but I have seen little evidence of it.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
That’s porous. In poetry, I am strongly influenced by Charles Olson, C.D. Wright, Laura Newbern, Wallace Stevens, James Dickey, Bernadette Mayer, Mary Ruefle, Alice Fulton, Bin Ramke, Nicanor Parra, Wendy Carlisle, Ovid, Virgil, Lucretius, Jose Marti, Ai, Jericho Brown. I am really enjoying a lot of younger poets recently: Miller Oberman, Dylan Krieger, Abraham Smith, Vincent A. Celluci, Chen Chen, Joel Long, Franny Choi. You will notice a wide range of types of poets and a mixture of the South and Mountain West predominating in regions because I have a lot of mentors too: Laura Newbern, Alice Friman, Martin Lammon, Jonathan Penton, Oni Buchanan, Joel Peckham. In non-verse literature, Gene Wolfe and Vladimir Nabokov tie as my favorite writers, but also I love William Faulkner, John Langan, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Kathy Acker, Joan Didion, Svetlana Alexievich, Viktor Pelevin, David Markson, Cormac McCarthy, Samuel Delaney. In music, late Charles Coltrane, Mogwai, Aesop Rock, Philip Glass, The Mountain Goats, Baroness, Chelsea Wolfe, Jarboe. In cinema: Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Cronenberg are favorites, but I love Russian cinema and Korean cinema in particular, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, and Konchalovsky are faves as well as Kim Ki Duk, Park Chan-Wook, and Bong Joon-ho.
Of course, all this is probably misleading as this is what I like, and that is not what you asked. It is really impossible to know what truly influences me.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
Culture is the habits that bind a group of people, generally emerging from material and sensuous life, to which traditions evolve and justify. Art are artefacts related to that.
4. What makes something subversive?
That it has an aim contrary to some norm or goal, uses elements from that norm or goal, to achieve a different or opposed norm or goal. Thus subversive may or may not be revolutionary, it may or may not be transgressive, but it is always oppositional and generally sly about that opposition.
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
Honestly, I am a teacher in my day job and poet who gets asked to play the role of pundit and political philosopher/amateur historian a lot. I try to be clear, think of my audience, be bitingly funny when possible, and be sincere. I also try to keep my audience’s expectations in mind, and bend them just enough to make them uncomfortable, but I transgress those boundaries rarely. So that when I do, it’s meaningful. The biggest thing is to be honest, and realize that while you are an individual, your individuality really can only have meaning in a social context. All else is really up to the audience.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
The ability to recognize myself through my relationships with others in an ever widening context. That tension is where freedom is.
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
There is a relationship, surely, but it is not a one-to-one relationship. They are feedback loops, and often keeping hard distinctions between them leads to hypocrisy and abuse, but simply conflating the two leads one to pretending one’s individual predilections are somehow going to prefigure radical social change just because you hold them. That is narcissism. It also leads to putting way too much stock in beliefs over actions.
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
Is there one root? Power relationships manifested in rigid structures that have logics beyond any particular parties’ control is generally the source, but there isn’t one source of those kinds of structures. I mean, I wish I could give you a simple answer like greed, climate change, or agriculture, or the will to power. I can’t though. Coming out of the socialist sphere of thinking, I tend to find economic relationships particularly distorting and alienating, but even then, I don’t know that is the sole root of the problem.
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
Technology accelerates the logic of what makes it. Ipso facto then, it does what it is designed to do. Given the vagaries of the parameters given in “liberate and technology,” my guess is the only way to answer the question is no. Not so much because technology does not play a role in human development, but because there are so many ways to interpret the question, any affirmative answers would miss part of it.
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
I have a thousand visions of utopia, but they are just that: good places that are no places. I am guided as much by negative principles as positive ones: I detest cruelty, alienation, privation, poverty, stagnation. I also seek to create social structures that reduce all those things, but as to a coherent vision to what that is: I don’t trust people who are mired in the current society to be able to conjure up the next society all at once. Seems like a way to turn positive values and human virtue into its opposite if done prematurely and through one individual’s vision.
11. Finally, where can people find more of your work?
I podcast for Zero Books: you can hear my two podcasts, Symptomatic Redness and Alternatives, along side Zero Squared and Inside Zero Books. I am regular or semi-regular guest at The Sectarian, From Alpha to Omega, Swampside Chats, Parallax Views, and have appeared on all sorts of podcasts. I edit the online literary journal, Former People, which used to have its own podcast but that is now on indefinite hiatus, but the magazine still puts out poetry, flash fiction, and interviews. I have published a collection of poetry with Unlikely Books, Apocalyptics, which you can get from Unlikely Books or Amazon. I have published poems at Axe Factory, JMWW, Writing Disorder, Unlikely Stories, Xenith, Cartier Street Review, Thing in Itself, Yes! Poetry, Danse Macabre Online, Writers Without Borders, Full of Crow, Zombie Logic,Rat’s Ass Review and a bunch of places. I used to do interviews and reviews for Hong Kong Review of Books. I did ‘zines in the 90s and early naughts, but good luck finding any of that.

 

 

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