Interview with David Roden by Tom Bland


I first encountered David's work in Edia Connole and Gary J Shipley’s edited volumed Serial Killing: A Philosophical Anthology published by Schism Press. They are also the publisher of David's new novella, Snuff Memories, an experimental labyrinth of sexuality, body horror, mutation, posthumanism, and the weirdness of becoming something other than human or what is "conceived" to be human.

Your new book, Snuff Memories, is about to come out. How did this work come about?

Snuff Memories has its immediate genesis in a prose piece ‘In the Country of the Broken’, published in Gary Shipley’s journal, gobbet back in 2017. But I guess it goes deeper than that for me. I’ve always had a sense that our habits of sense-making are feeble compared with the geologic pull and drift of things. My father had a golden childhood in Czechoslovakia before the Second World War – brutally erased after the Nazi invasion: his immediate family exterminated after he came to the UK on the last Kindertransport. He was perpetually grappling with this ineffable loss that nothing could ameliorate, that just kept returning like tape loop. This, to me, is the only absolute and I respond to it with tactics of abstraction and sublimated desire. An impossible identification, as I suggest in SM.


In an article or interview – I forget which one - the philosopher Nick Land entertains the Marxist heresy that modernity is not about the emancipation of people, but of things – intelligent machines, inhuman systems proliferating over the Earth. For me – maybe for him, idk - there is a profound ambivalence towards this incalculable violence, a desire to be shattered and overwhelmed by it. Skynet wins because we secretly want the future to extirpate us. Modernity has exhausted us even as it continues to ramify. Perhaps the gleaming chromium skull of Things-to-Come will save us from ourselves in the end.


From tape loop to time loop…


My Posthuman Life: philosophy at the edge of the human was an attempt to articulate this moral impasse with the rigor and consequence of analytic philosophy – But that book couldn’t convey the libidinal underside of the posthuman condition – our collective desire, it seems, for a scorched Earth. So, I followed it up with writing on serial killers, shards of poetry, a sci-fi-horror-philosophy montage for the 9th Berlin Biennale, some (as yet unpublished) erotica, all appended to a philosophical output that ‘unbound’ my earlier work on ‘speculative posthumanism’ setting it on epistemic auto-destruct.


‘Broken’ belongs to this disparate series, but somehow felt naggingly incomplete, like disparate samples grabbed from a larger work. I had the insane idea that I wanted to work in a larger format. Snuff Memories is what grew from that seed.

Click on photo to enlarge - Snuff Memories


The work focuses on death and you very much utilise the idea of death as an open ended enquiry into its own nature. How do you understand death?


Let’s see - there’s death as an empirical fact, the end of organic life, meaning, consciousness, metabolism, sense etc. A corpse laid out on a hospital bed, shit-stained, bloody, freshly cleaned for viewing, a ruptured body shattered by violence, rotting in filth on a road or battlefield ...


There are the ways we conceive, mythologize, and even eroticize death – all of which seem to invite failure and conceptual collapse. For Heidegger in Being and Time, my death closes off my possibilities, shows that these are always individualized, never interchangeable with others. Thus, in understanding my-being-towards-death I understand how to grasp my most singular possibilities for being. For Hegel, again, death is a negotiable limit that must be overcome as human consciousness attains its independence and (as in Marx) becomes the progressive agent of history.


Then, for Bataille and Derrida death exceeds both the individual (pace Heidegger) and the social meaning accorded to it in Hegel’s work. In Bataille, the erotic “is” death because it exceeds the organism’s security systems – the erotic body-without-organs is always on the lip of the volcano. In Derrida, writing (and thereby literature) is death because it is always open to non-meaning and drift, zombie loops of abstraction which exceed any context of meaning or action.


In an elaboration of this modern, anti-humanist discourse on death, Ray Brassier has argued that the long run effects of physical reality, entropy, and the decay of matter, means that death is no longer proper or unique to the human. Everything dies in the same way. The sun dies as you and I die. Cosmic death exceeds and blanks the horizon of human finitude explored by Heidegger – it is a death we can neither encounter nor identify.


This is also very close to what I have argued is the ‘Posthuman Thought of death’; although, with the posthuman, importantly, there is still a residual connection to the body on which subjectivity, life and ethics depend, a ‘biomorphic’ body exposed to ramifying forces of production which can no longer be subjected to collective human control.


So, it is in the thought of the posthuman that the cosmic and the erotic collide. This the zone where the narrative of Snuff Memories plays out. ‘Snuff’ is, of course, a genre of pornography that eroticizes death. But that object is systematically elusive, as we have seen. It is necessary to pass through this loss and collapse, since modernity is the production and dissemination of death and we cannot, I think, relinquish it. But this task is also impossible since this very open endedness deprives desire of its specificity.


Snuff Memories concerns this impossible non-project; the attempt to identify with and even politicize the inscrutable mechanisms of cosmic death. This identification takes at least two forms. First, the bodily eroticization of death. It is just a given that death, extinction, and pain are what its characters ultimately crave. Neither they nor I give explanation or apology for this. Its narrator, a Wellsian Time Pilot, addresses its prime political mover, the Cabalist saying “Like you, I would die but cannot. Not in a way that might satisfy you”.


But can she really die with more finality or conviction? Later he says of her “You told us the sun will strangle itself with or without our help – But, no matter, let’s help.”


Why catalyse the death of the sun, or the death of God(s), for that matter? I do not think I can answer the questions that the novella sets out, but that they confront us I have little doubt.


Who is JG Ballard to you?

I once told the SF writer Scott Bakker that I was an infant Ballardian. By this I meant not that I read Ballard from an early age – although I did – but that something about Ballard’s writing seemed more familiar, more apt to my lived experience than the capacious psychologies and dense social meshes of mainstream literature. Maybe it is something about being born in the suburbs, having that sense of artificial landscapes under open skies, of an intimate modernity in which the dreams of the late 20th Century could flourish. I sensed the future in the enthusiastic modernity of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds. I rode to the Staines Sewage works (one of the topoi of Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition) regularly when I lived in Surrey. But more specifically, Ballard is the writer who best captures how our consciousness has been altered by the drug of technological modernity and the reciprocating mechanisms of advanced global capitalism, the way violence and dreams of strange cataclysms are being sold to keep a system which clearly has no purpose outside itself, in operation.  


Georges Bataille voiced the idea of nonprocreational sex outside of the lifegiving sanctimony of marriage as being death driven, and that to invert and “escape” Catholicism we must fully embrace sex as death. Is this something you agree with or do you have another kind of perspective?


What is it to fully embrace sex as death? Can we? There are many fetishists into death as a fantasy and soi disant autassassinophiliacs who avow that they want to die out of some erotic need (some do die in pursuit of their fetish, of course!). But even here death as an erotic aim is, as I hinted earlier, intrinsically problematic. If we assume that erotic desire aims at a subjective condition, the desire to end subjectivity is a self-vitiating one. A necro fetishist may imagine being a corpse, but a feeling corpse is no corpse. Whatever this ‘death’ is, it is not death. However, I don’t think Bataille saw death as a sexual aim but – along the lines sketched above – as a generative process, at once destructive and cumulative, of loss and sumptuary excess.


Somewhat tangentially this reminds me of a recent debate prompted by queer theorist Lee Edelman. He claims that figuring the future in the child – for example, when Starmer portrays Labour as the ‘the party of the family’ – is an inherently heteronormative an exclusionary move that should be resisted by embracing the death drive and rejecting ‘reproductive futurity’. Conversely, this brings home how central reproduction, and the family is to the very idea of progressive politics as we’ve understood it. Even the Marxist/accelerationist idea that our politics should cultivate and extend collective rationality, to dominate domination itself – as Brassier nicely puts it – presupposes that a substrate of intelligence (not necessarily a biologically human one) is reproduced into an indeterminate future. So Bataille’s injunction is very radical indeed. I’m not sure if it is a question of agreeing with it, so much as generatively counterposing its virulence to the procreative infinitude of Reason – exploring its consequences and affects. In a way, Snuff Memories can be assimilated to this project. It is a book that takes the many sides of death.


Are we becoming posthuman or is this a way of avoiding the reality of being human?

The theory of Speculative Posthumanism I develop in Posthuman Life argues that becoming posthuman is a rupture, a disconnection from the human (the disconnection thesis) rather than the assumption of a particular identity or nature. But what is disconnection here? In PHL I argue that this would be a kind of technological autonomy with respect to human society and institutions. But lately I’ve asked whether this can be performed in discrete or little ways, micro-disconnections, if you will. The ethical impasse here is that this posthuman can only be thought through its production. To think the posthuman, we must produce it. So, it is like the death drive, fundamentally headless and ramifying. By the same token, if this is right, then becoming posthuman is a real event, it isn’t an avoidance of reality so much as the engineering of a new one.


At the current moment - of course things change so quickly - how do you see the production of the posthuman reality?

There are distinct conceptions of ‘posthuman reality’ that it’s important to keep them apart for analytical purposes. For example, the philosophy of Critical Posthumanism argues that all reality is posthuman (or nonhuman) because the very idea of the human as an autonomous, self-transparent subject is myth whose efficacy is fading. Speculative Posthumanism has overlaps with Critical Posthumanism here, but it is more concerned with the possibility of a rupture or disconnection from the human generated within human technological societies. As I said, I conceive that as a kind of autonomy but I’m careful to argue that there are many conceivable ways in which this could arise: e.g., generally intelligent AI, synthetic life etc, space colonization. The last of these constitutes an interesting test case because the world’s richest individuals – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – are committed to either planetary or space colonization, as in the recent proposal to use the raw materials of the asteroid Ceres to create a system of linked colonies with artificial gravity. I lack the expertise to comment on the ultimate feasibility of these projects, but the prospect that humans would adapt to a non-terrestrial environment, altering and augmenting bodies and social systems over hundreds or thousands of years, might well qualify as a disconnection in my sense. If so, space colonization amounts to an existential choice - not to terraform but to xenoform. What interests me currently is precisely mapping the ‘xenophilic’ desire behind this incalculable decision to become our own aliens.  


Three fav books…


Crash, J G Ballard

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

Nova, Samuel R. Delaney


As the transgressive books of philosophy such as Bataille explode in podcasts and social media platforms, do you welcome this or feel it waters down the true value of these ideas?


No. There are some excellent podcasts run by people who are seriously engaged and knowledgeable about this stuff – most of them much better read than me! - such as Wyrd Signal and Theory Talk.


What are you working on next?

I’m slowly developing an anthology of dark erotic and erotic horror stories, provisionally entitled Zero D. Mostly these will be written in a more conventional way than Snuff Memories. Apart from a couple of academic papers in process, I’ve been planning a follow up to Posthuman Life for a while too, but it’s been delayed, in part because I wanted to work on fiction and theory-fic, but also because the philosophical terrain it needs to compass is so intimidatingly vast. I’d also like to write a not-quite-sequel to Snuff Memories with the feel of an abstract space opera unfolding on multiple ‘worlds’ – working title is The Bubble War. You heard it here first!

Anything else you would like to add?

Just to thank you for being such a brilliant and enthusiastic interlocutor Tom. I’ve loved answering these questions, and they’ve materially helped me think through the concepts we’ve discussed.

Interview with Matthew Caley


Matthew Caley's new pamphlet, Prophecy is Easy, is coming out with BluePrint Press, which follows his collection, Trawlerman's Turquoise. He teaches poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London. He needs no introduction here, his writing expounds on the small details turning them upside down into ideas that distort and transform the everyday world.

A pamphlet, Prophecy is Easy, of some of your loose versions of French Surrealist/Modernist poets is just about to come out from BluePrint Press. How did this work arise? 

Spontaneously. By the usual Jungian chain of co-incidence. 

My most recent and sixth full length collection Trawlerman’s Turquoise had come out end of Sept 2019, and I was doing as many readings as possible - tiny bookshops, big festivals, pubs, weddings, bar mitzvahs, both before and after Yule. I had just finished StAnza 2020 in early March, with more gigs to go, on what I [slightly ironically] dubbed the ‘TrawlerTour’, when Lockdown happened.

I found myself back at the flat, not with any official job at the time, trying to feed the family on Mentoring poets and other odd bits of work, but with more time than is usual, so thought I’d better do something useful with all the excess energy I had saved up from the curtailed gigs. 

Firstly, I got my next full-length collection in first MS form - even though it’s not going to be out for ages yet and will no doubt change, bit by bit, like The Argo, no doubt. I thought this would take a long while but it came together surprisingly quickly. I was ‘in the zone’.

After that, still ‘high’ from touring I fell back on what I’d done occasionally before, started working on ‘loose versions’ of [mainly] French poets. [Three versions from Czech poets are in the current issue of Modern Poetry in Translation]. The first one was from Tristan Corbière - a thing called Marais De Guerande. I was fiddling with the last line when a message pinged onto my screen from Carol Anne Duffy [she’d contacted nearly all the poets there are through their publishers] asking for poems from poets in Lockdown for Manchester Metropolitan’s Write Where You Are Now project. The Corbière thing was perfect - about pestilence and such - so I sent it off by reply and up it went.

This is where you come in. Next day, I grabbed a copy of The Dover Book of French Poets that was lolling un-noticed for years on my shelves and it broke open on an Andre Breton poem called The Marquis De Sade. I just thought- ‘here goes!’ and dived straight in. Three quarters of the way through my version, another message pinged onto my screen, this time from you Tom [!] asking if anyone had any De Sadean poems [unbelievable, as if you were spying on me through my through my computer à la VideoDrome. You’re Debbi Harry]. I sent it and you kindly put it on your website. Done.

From there the thing gained its own momentum. I started doing more, then posting them up on Facebook every few days and a few other people asked for them, including Bill Herbert for his Postcards from Malthusia site, and a couple went into a bigger anthology Pestilence from Lapwing Press Etc. Etc.

It’s sweet to do something without too much thought or design but get that instant return. Usually there’s much more waiting to be done. And especially during the Lockdown period. It was communication. That heightened it.

In a little over two weeks I completed about 40 versions, sometimes four or five a day, just crazy really. Then the pace slowed, then I slowed, then suddenly felt really tired. Then stopped.

Later,  - I recovered quite quicky - Jo Colley got in contact somewhat out of the blue to say that Julie Hogg and herself, who run BluePrint Press, were wondering if I’d like to do a pamphlet with them. BluePrint do little pamphlets from poets ‘in between’ their full-length collections. They’d done a lovely edition of Paul Summer’s poems and illustrations and I thought some of the versions would suit that.

You describe the work as a desecration of the French surrealists, which in some ways mirror the surrealists’ desecration of the biblical and social fabric of their times. What is the desire to poke holes into the structures of the past to find your own way to speak? 

I was probably referring to the amount of violence my very loose versions do to the originals. The rather cavalier approach I took to them, - no ‘research’, taking a part of one poem, a fragment of another, not being particularly bothered with history or context or accuracy. It was meant to be carefree and spontaneous and … well in the Author’s note I say “I would liken the originals to a trampoline off which I jumped to land in the next-door garden. And we don’t have a garden.” As I wasn’t expecting for any of them to go public I was just having a rip-roaring time. The Dover Book I relied on most as my crib was a re-print from the 1950’s so a fairly conservative selection.  I was less interested in poking holes than in the unashamed beauty of much of the work. Our current moment can appear to be so focused on the socio-political it can seem as if ‘beauty’ is some odd, radical category. Their work has a belief in the aesthetic that is hard to come by these days. They were a mix of Modernist and Surrealist poets both I guess, but, as you know, schools and labels aren’t really so fixed, they help historians keep things simple, but really each poet is their own cosmos. But that thing kept happening, that poems written in completely different contexts seemed to be commenting on Lockdown. How much of that is the originals’, how much my take on them, I have no idea, apart from one ‘retro-fitted’ line it wasn’t conscious. I wrote them in a kind of fever. [Sic] [Sic]. But it happened time and time again.

The British poetry scene has a long tradition of drug use which has remained largely unspoken. How do you understand the desire to shift, refocus, disturb and even explode “consciousness” as a part of poetry? 

[ Names, Tom, names! -Wendy Cope and her habitual crack-pipe?. ] Well, between Baudelaire’s ‘artificial paradise’ and Rimbaud’s ‘systematic disordering of the senses’ lies the elusive truth. The ‘disordering of the senses’ might be more ascribed these days to our relationship to the diorama of Late Capitalism rather than drugs. [One can posit say the heroin trade as the purest form of Capitalism - an utterly non-essential product with a built-in return-for-more clause. I’m amazed more Governments haven’t taken it up.] The lure of the simulacra - consumer-advertising and digital media -the virtual realities everyone is addicted to, we sink further and further into a kind of stupefied hyper-reality. So much of our current reality is unhinged I’m not sure how LSD or other things would match it, everything would look the same. The bad trip of Michael Mcintyre’s Big Christmas Show in a box-set say, or a post-Election party at Trump Towers.

Taking any drug is an experience, and everything we ingest alters us somehow, but it’s what you do with any experience that counts. An ineffably boring person can be ineffably boring when they’re straight and still ineffably boring when they’re high. I know, I’ve met them. I reckon Charles and Arthur were interesting totally sober, too. Aldous Huxley and Aleister Crowley and those types of pioneers seem somewhat arcane these days though, as indeed do The Surrealists. But I’m interested in the arcane, the left-behind traces of things, those discredited avenues. They’re full of fervour and pathos.  There’s a poem in one of my books called Quaaludes [a very ‘70’s type of drug] that was written purely because it’s such an extraordinary word. It sounds like a rare sea-bird. You write something like that and people worry you should be in re-hab. But poetry seems largely [with some great exceptions] to display the need to be be very responsible at the moment. Perhaps it needs to be.

Three fav books...? 

Not necessarily Surrealist in the strictest sense at all and not really ‘favourite’ either!---01/ William Burroughs Cities of the Red Night -like De Sade and Bosch fusing Pirates of the Caribbean and noir detective stories in the middle of a sexual plague. A hilariously frightening and awful vision. It saw the AIDS epidemic before it happened. Not sure the moral police would allow a book like this these days.  02/ Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons- better than much of what The Surrealist’s achieved [in my humble opinion]- a kind of pre-L-A-N-G-U-A-G-U-E book. And very funny, too. Utterly contemporary. 03/ Peter Redgrove’s The Weddings at Nether Powers. He’s just a complete magician. Endlessly sustained flights of vision, ancient, contemporary, pagan, full of fetishes, beautiful, bawdy, unfettered. Rich. We just watched a new Czech documentary on the animator/film-maker Jan Švankmajer. He and Redgrove share something in their very meaty, earthy, sometimes scatalogical vision and unrestrained exuberance. These are not normally English traits.

Is there contemporary surrealism or have the idea of surrealism just fallen into the odd image category? 

No and yes, to that. I’ve decided I don’t really like the tag Surrealism-it seems to smother everything it touches and often means bad dream analysis or bad-dream analysis. It can be a cover-up for having no secret architecture. I very much like some of the work but it doesn’t seem to be a current thing. With CGI and Fantasy and Dystopian realms so easy to construct and access and merge with, that path seems blocked off. [That’ll mean a massive Surrealist revival around the corner]. Can’t see many poets out there as ephebe’s to David Gasgoyne’s precursor?. If there were any I’d be interested. Please let me know. I’m no doubt missing something.

I met you as a tutor. Poetry has had a long tradition of oral culture in terms of teaching, the idea that reading poetry is somehow not enough to write it. Is this something you agree with or is there another idea of what teaching poetry can be? 

Living is important, too. Teaching is one of the few things a poet can do to keep the werewolf from the door, so you may as well try to commit to it. For aspiring poets I think it’s less important to join a Poetry Workshop than, if you do, to know exactly the right time to leave one. I don’t agree too much with Harold Bloom but I do agree when he said something to the effect that any true student will find the teacher they need [and vice-versa] at exactly the right moment, without looking. That might be a dead poet, a living academic, a poem, another poet, just another person. Bloom says teaching is a branch of the erotic [nothing sexual] ie just finding what it is you need and getting that stuff. The true student fulfils their own need through someone else and buggers off.  The true teacher is un-depleted. It only happens rarely despite the numbers studying. Timing is crucial. When to encourage, when to kick butt. You can’t do that in University’s anymore [kick butt] or most formal teaching scenarios. [There goes my teaching career -such as it is.]. Ken Smith kicked my butt at a crucial moment years ago.  [It was probably in a pub]. I savour the bruise. It was propulsive and saved me several years. Younger poets are too smart these days anyhow to teach too much to, they’ve mainly got it sorted. I was cloud-headed for ages at their age. Teaching maybe makes you harder on your own work. That’s a good thing.

What else are you working on?

Always the next book – working-title Goodbye Green Afro - but also - seeing as my Dover crib was all guys I started investigating the 19th C French women poets and have been doing some versions of those, posting on Facebook as before. I’ve started slightly earlier than the period Prophesy is Easy covers. Jean Gautier, Renee Vivien, Louise Colet, Nina De Villard and others. It slower, too, as I’m working again at the moment. One survey of European anthologies showed that the French had one of the lowest percentages of women poets represented, so you have to dig a bit harder. But there’s some great stuff. And a few anthologies and websites. Fusing what I do with what they do creates another thing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

One of the aforementioned newer versions from French 19th C Women poets…-

The original -from what I sensed- was draped in a kind of Sapphic languor and drowsy anxiety, with a hint of both shame and defiance. Not my everyday state - but that’s what I’ve tried to get at.  Keep writing. Keep safe. X