Jodorowsky took the time to suffer and experience life before formulating what he would say on film. He worked with-at the feet of, if you will-Marceau and Arrabal. He is often compared with Bunuel. He has been laboring in shadows. Liberation from the masters was a part of the theme of El Topo. It is a prominent part of The Holy Mountain, which should be having its American premiere at about the time you are reading this. (If Jodorowsky remains true to his track record the film will be condemned and censored in Mexico, where he produced it and where he now lives.) Holy Mountain is the story of how a group of powerful and rich people came together-with one thief-to seek the guidance of a master, who is played by Jodorowsky. The master is to lead them up a holy mountain in search of immortality and enlightenment.
But Jodorowsky, an eclectic believer in the Asian systems of meditation, preaches the emptying of the mind, so that true enlightenment within us may manifest itself.
Doesn't sound too bizarre or gory?
Well, in his films people bleed-they bleed all the time. And they bleed strange things: birds, cherries, green blood. Lots of people find such things upsetting.
In the first scenes of El Topo a circular pool of blood is discovered and a child is found impaled. Then we see 100 women, dressed in bridal white, lying raped and murdered. Inside a church swing the corpses of their 100 bridegrooms. Later, El Topo (Jodorowsky) castrates the colonel responsible for the atrocity.
When El Topo's seven-year-old son (Jodorowsky's real son, Brontis) attempts to follow him, he kicks him in the mouth and tells him, "Destroy me. You no longer depend on anyone." In the end, El Topo immolates himself like a protesting Buddhist. For the scene, Jodorowsky covered a skeleton with beefsteak and set it afire.
Jodorowsky says he is not seeking shock for shock's sake and you rather tend to believe him because, should he choose to make a smooth box-office shocker, he could probably do it better than anyone.
Instead he continues to give birth to a riot of symbols in an attempt to ". . . speak to your unconscious from my unconscious." In El Topo for example, he took a legless man and an armless man and put them together to make one "John Wayne." They hated each other and fought incessantly. "That is how we are, no?" asks Jodorowsky. "That is symbolic. Our arms fighting our legs. One part of us always fighting against another. Such waste."
In his private life he is just as apt to shake up people as he is in his films. He once approached a man he had never met and demanded: "Who are you? Why are you wearing those clothes? You know what I think you need? To be fucked in the ass."
Jodorowsky is now married to a lady named Valerie. He has three sons (each by a different woman) all of whom live with him. He also has a daughter who lives in Germany with her mother. He was born in Iqueque, Chile, a town of 2,000, and moved to Santiago when he was 12. He later entered the university with ideas of becoming a doctor. But the lure of the theater forced him to drop out after two years. He worked with marionettes and then for six years he was with Marcel Marceau, touring the world and creating mimes including The Mask and The Cage. Most important were his collaborations with Arrabal, master of the Theater of Cruelty. He then moved to Mexico City where he now lives.
Among the talents which help support him are those of a comic-strip artist. His cartoons "Panic Fables" appear in Mexican newspapers and they are, of course, controversial. He has directed more than 100 plays, including the works of Ionesco and Beckett, and he has done four films. His first picture, in Paris, was based on The Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann. Later he directed his own version of Arrabal's Fando and Lis. It was entered in the 1968 Acapulco Film Festival and was roundly denounced as "corrosive and corrupting." Undaunted, Jodorowsky made El Topo. It sent the Mexican authorities reeling. They refused to sponsor it at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.
He works on shoestring budgets with anybody he feels can do a job for him. Cripples, prostitutes, rock musicians, retired public officials. Even real actors. Except for operating the camera, Jodorowsky does all the major creative work. In both El Topo and The Holy Mountain he produced, directed, wrote, scored, costumed and did the scenic design. And, of course, he played the starring roles. He is possibly the only producer in history who puts clauses in the contracts of his female players guaranteeing that they do not have to sleep with him.
Despite his sometimes ferocious words and actions, he is a soft spoken, polite man who is an attentive listener. His sometimes strange grammar is due partly to Spanish structures, and partly to his unique way of expressing himself. This Penthouse interview was put together over a period of almost a year by Rick Kleiner while on location for The Holy Mountain, but with contributions by Jules Siegel and Penthouse Interview Editor Richard Ballad.
Penthouse: Many people call you a madman. Are you?
Jodorowsky: Sometimes I feel myself absolutely mad. I say what I am doing here? Because I feel reality so unreal and myself so strange. I have a mind, a liver, a heart. Everything I look and I feel is inside myself. It's not reality. What I am is enormous reaction. It is not the thing. I am not the feeling. I am what is felt. The man who feels. Everything is so subjective. If someone say to me, I am mad, I say yes, I am absolutely mad like all the civilization and like all the persons in this planet. I think all the humanity now is absolutely crazy and mad. And some day when my essence sees myself, how my ego is crazy and mad, I laugh-with love and compassion. And in the moment when you have the enlightenment you start to laugh. Because you see yourself, how crazy and mad you are. Then you feel compassion. I have great pity on myself because I am so mad and crazy.
Penthouse: You have a volatile temper. But how much of it is real and how much contrived?
Jodorowsky: If you go to water . . . if the water runs and finds a stone which impedes its flow, the water attacks the stone and moves it so that the stone goes with the water to the ocean. In every situation where there is a stone I lose my temper in order to move the stone. I must make a fight in order to get some reaction from the other person. But it is only in order to achieve that. I never lose my temper when I am with a person doing another thing. Not doing my work.
Penthouse: Some people can't accept your efforts as sincere. They don't understand you and they ask, in effect, "What's your game?"
Jodorowsky: When I start to make art I was a neurotic. In the university, I have degrees in philosophy, mathematics and physics. In the University of Santiago. But I was so lazy-I only like to see pictures, and go to the movies, see paintings and read poems. It was a great party. But study was not. In two days I prepare for all the examens. I have great qualifications and then I forget. One day I say I want not to study like this. I say "No." I want to devote myself to marionettes, to puppets. And I start to make circus puppets, and theater puppets. But always my ego was there and I was trying to be famous. You know why? Because at same time I realize I was a mortal. I will die. I hadn't any answer to this problem. So in my South American environment I choose to become famous. To make a work in order to never die in history. No ? This was my first game. Little by little, in Fando and Lis, and then more in El Topo, I start to accept death completely, and I feel very good about this. I start El Topo absolutely closed. In the end of El Topo, I am more open to this human problem. And then in this picture, The Holy Mountain, step by step, I forget all the problems of being famous, all the problems of having money. I forget everything, the only game I am making now is to make a picture. But to make a picture absolutely involved with my objective life. For me, now, there is no difference between the picture and the life. Also, for me the most important thing is shooting the picture, not the picture. This is my game now. It's a certain kind of way to open yourself, to progress, to be more near the completely man.
Penthouse: Can you tell us a little of the sequence of events in The Holy Mountain?
Jodorowsky: The movement of the picture is from a fairy tale to the realistic, no? The theme is very simple. The master takes nine other persons, who make a solar system, and promises to these persons immortality. In all the traditions there is a sacred holy mountain. And on top of the mountain-there are always immortals, Olympians. Then the master says: "We need to steal from them the secret of immortality. Other persons put together all their force in order to steal money, to steal from a bank. Why we do not put our forces together to steal the secret of immortality? The immortals are wise persons, enlightened persons. In order to fight with them we need to become wise and enlightened. And then we need to travel and be powerful in our wisdom to fight with the immortals." We come to the top of the mountain and ... but no, I cannot tell you what is in the picture. But I finish it in a very surprised way.
Penthouse: You speak so much of symbols. If we get too many don't they become like thumbs in our eyes?
Jodorowsky: There are many ways to speak. You can yell at a person or you can speak very sweet. Normally a picture speaks to certain parts of the human being. We make a distinction among the athletic-muscular part of the human being and his sexual life, his mental life and his emotional life. I don't speak to any one of these centers. I speak with my unconscious to your unconscious. It's another kind of language. I am trying to put the dreams into reality and not trying to put reality into dreams. When you sit with me to see the picture what I am doing is to put your symbols in reality. Everyone of us have in his unconscious symbols. You have everything in your mind. Man is not a creator. But man is all the time discovering. What I am trying to do when I use symbols is to awaken in your unconscious some reaction. I am very conscious of what I am using because symbols can be very dangerous. When we use normal language we can defend ourselves because our society is a linguistic society, a semantic society. But when you start to speak, not with words, but only with images, the people cannot defend themselves. That is why a picture like this you hate or you love. You can not be indifferent. In every scene I put animals. I went to study the meaning of animals. We have the meaning of animals within ourselves because we have collective memory. When you take for example the hippopotamus. The hippo was a god for the Egyptians. He is the weight of the earth. When I put in a hippopotamus I know exactly how a person's unconscious would feel.
Penthouse: There was much talk about violence in El Topo. Is there a great deal of bloodletting or substitutes for bloodletting in The Holy Mountain?
Jodorowsky: Not so much.
Penthouse: Tell us about the Arica training classes for the people in your film.
Jodorowsky: Ah, yes. I was searching for masters because in my picture I speak about masters. And then I went to see some Hindu yoga classic masters-gurus. Also I had two years of training with a Zen master. And before we made the picture I went with my wife to a seven -days-without-sleep training of this master. When we finished this-suffering a lot-we take for one month the Arica training. The Arica training has some Hindu exercises, some Japan exercises, some Egyptian exercises. Very eclectic. The secret of this training is the mixture, also there was a master there, the creator of the training, and I studied him in order to play myself a master. With him I feel a kind of initiation and I feel like I'm playing a real master, not a fairy-tale master.
Penthouse: You have-said that you studied with a master until you realized that you cannot really learn from a master.
Jodorowsky: Yes, the only thing a master can teach is how to learn about yourself. There are no secrets. They are only techniques to waken yourself. There are some massage techniques. There are some breathing techniques, etc. No? So then I give to all the group in my picture one month Arica training. Another month, living together. We don't go out to the street. We sleep only four hours.
Penthouse: Did it have an effect on them?
Jodorowsky: You live together for four months, any kind of training is useful. You learn something and you change a lot. You know DeBono, the English writer? He wrote Lateral Thinking. I think he is a fantastic man. He says a person will give so much time to learn how to play golf, but not how to work his own mind. They think they can already do it, and the only thing they need is to know some secret. it's not like this. When a group starts to work together in any kind of training it works for the group. The training makes a group. It brings them together. We were like brothers. You will see the picture.
Penthouse: What happens to the concept of the individual hero?
Jodorowsky: In The Holy Mountain I decided to finish with the individual hero because I think it's an invention of Hollywood. The individual hero against the society. I think of the collective man. Man is humanity. In The Holy Mountain I take a collective hero. There are 12 persons. Ten of them, they are the solar system. Two more persons make the zodiac. And then we go to the complete adventure, like a collective group. We are searching not for our inner faith. What we are searching for is our inner humanity. I can explain this more clearly if I make a comparison between Freud and Jung. Freud was searching for the individual conscience and Jung was searching for the collective unconscious. I take a Jungian position, a Wilhelm Reich position. Reich felt that in order to give health to the individual we must give health to society.
Penthouse: I'm sure we'd have to qualify this in some way because you, Alejandro Jodorowsky, are certainly an individualist.
Jodorowsky: I agree we are all individuals. But all the secret teachings, all the esoteric societies are searching for is the objective man and not the subjective man. There was a time when Proust and all kinds of writers like Kafka and all kinds of artists were searching for subjective art. I am searching for objective art. When my subjectivity is put out, then I can say, this was the search of The Holy Mountain. Killing the subjectivity. Finding myself the complete or the universal man.
Penthouse: You were allowing yourself to become a vessel, a tool.
Jodorowsky: Yes, like all the poets and the mystics in the world. No? You don't oppose the universal will. You don't oppose yourself. Let the thing come and go out. No?
Penthouse: One of the afflictions of modern man is the feeling that he is alone. How does your idea of "the collective man" deal with this?
Jodorowsky: When a man says, "I am alone" it is because he does not know how to be with himself. When I speak of the collective man I am not speaking of being with more people. I am speaking of a man who feels in himself the whole of humanity. If you are an optimist you can say, "the universe is a construction." We can work for the construction of the universe, the construction of the human being or we can attack the universe and we can work to destroy the human being. When you take the position to work for the universe you start to work for yourself. In order to be a collective man you must make a sacrifice. Your life security, your family security. The collective man is the man working for humanity, even alone. And asking nothing. There are two kinds of prayer. The prayer to ask for something or the prayer to say "thank you" for everything I am having. This last prayer is that of the universal man. The universal man cannot feel guilty. The past is finished. There is a moment when you can say to your karma, "I love you. All the mistakes I have made were to reach this level. If I didn't do what I needed to do it is because I am not like what I am now. I was learning, I was fighting, I was making myself. I cannot feel guilty. The only thing I can do is to never repeat the same mistake. If I repeat the same mistake then I will be guilty."
You must transform yourself from the ill man to the healthy man. Because really we need to cure our society's ills. There are war, there are pollution, we are killing the planet, so many have nothing to eat. So we are like the samurai. We win or we die. Now I think is a fantastic moment for all of us because now we are fighting for our world, our life. Now is the moment to be awake or to die. We are not alone.
Penthouse: How important is your family compared to your films?
Jodorowsky: I think everything you do in life have the same importance. No? The film exists. And the family exists, on another level, in another situation. I don't know, maybe Valerie can answer this. The only thing I want to give my sons is happiness. Nothing more. The apple tree doesn't want to give happiness to the apples. He just makes the apples. In the family, I just make the family. In the film, I just make a picture. In the picture you must fight with so many problems and with the family you must not fight. It's only three, four or five persons. Nothing more. In the film there is 10,000 persons, 5,000 persons. Is more difficult. But I think more difficult than to make a picture or make a family is to make yourself. This for me is the most difficult of anything in life. To make a battle with yourself. This is really terrible work. I don't know, maybe because I am an artist I have so many great egos, so many mistakes, so many depression. When I make the picture my nervous system is so sensitive. I am really Ill of my nervous system. The actors come and just act. But, really, myself I am very ill in the night, every day thinking what I will do creating and inventing the situation and searching for what object I want or what I want to say, is a terrible thing. No? It's difficult to win the battle with yourself because in society we have a high percentage of self- destruction . . . Thanatos. You have 50% of Eros (creation) and 50% of Thanatos (destruction). This self-destruction is so strong in myself I must fight every day in order to have confidence in myself, not to be critical of myself, to only have the pleasure. I am looking all the time how I am not awake, how I am not enlightened, how in some part I am like a little boy. When I read what Buddha was, what Zen monk was, I feel so down I fight with myself. I want to cry. What difficulties I have to control myself with other persons. Always fighting not to be affected by the newspapers. Every day the newspaper insults me. Every day I have a new problem with society. This is difficult, to be a real, completely man. So making a family with me is easier. To make myself is terrible. To do it with family, is not so terrible.
Penthouse: What kind of father are you?
Jodorowsky: Valerie can say what kind of father I am, what kind of husband I am.
Valerie: I don't know really if he's a father. He spends very little time with the children. But the moments he spends with them, he is completely 100%. When he is filming he sees them twice a week for 15 minutes, a half-hour. And the children really enjoy it. Because he acts like a child with them. He is not trying to be the dominant father trying to teach the children. He reacts to what they need at the moment. If there are certain questions, Alejandro answers these questions.
Jodorowsky: I finish with the idea of father and mother. They call us Alejandro and Valerie. I finish with the authority. They can dress themselves like they want. They can choose the schools that they want. If they don't want to love their father, then they don't love their father. There are no fathers and no mothers. No sons. No daughters. It is humanity helping humanity. Nothing more. You need to give to a child the opportunity to grow and to be himself. I don't like the father saying, "This is my child." Why do we have an ego? It is necessary to have an ego-it's like an egg. The eggshell must be strong to make a good bird. The ego must be very strong in a child in order later that same ego will make emptiness.
Valerie: If they don't agree with what we do, we make a meeting and they say exactly what they don't agree. One day, I reacted very nervous and I hit Axel. He went to Alejandro and said I was being unfair. At the meeting we decided that he should hit me.
Jodorowsky: I decided. Also they can hit their father. Not just their mother. I am not a chauvinist male.
Valerie: Axel is very interested in the sexual situation.
Jodorowsky: He have seven years. He started very early at five years. One of the books he likes best is Sexual Positions, A couple of young persons making all the positions of love. One day he look at this book and say, "Look, I have an erection." I think it was fantastic. He have a curiosity about sex, I give him the material he need to know what is sex. One day I am making love with Valerie and Axel look through the door. I realize he was looking. I do nothing and suddenly we say, "OK, Axel, why are you looking? What you will know?" We say for him to come inside the room and we show him all the positions. We did this, we did this, we did this. What's the mystery? We are naked all the time. There are no problems. When they have an erection, they have an erection. They aren't ashamed to have erection. I make some jokes with Brontis about masturbation. And we laugh. Because he knows nothing is a sin. There are no mysteries, there are no sins. And then I sometimes tell Brontis and Axel to go out of the room because I will make love to Valerie. Then they go away. They understand. I don't say a lie. "Go to bed, etc." Reality is reality.
Penthouse: Do you see more of the children when you are here in New York, not shooting a film?
Jodorowsky: I work here from 10 o'clock in the morning to eight o'clock in the evening. They are waiting for me and we spend every day together from eight o'clock until one o'clock in the morning. I come to New York and I always bring my wife, my three children, my cat, and I drag all my books, hundreds and hundreds of books. I travel with all these people, all these things. I travel like a gypsy.
Penthouse: Wait. You once said you destroyed all your books. Were you speaking figuratively?
Jodorowsky: Yes, I spoke figuratively. It's an old Japanese and Buddhist tradition. When you have enlightenment you destroy the 10,000 books. But you don't destroy them, physically. People may say to you, what can you find in a book? I say, what can you find in a flower? It is impossible to find nothing in a flower. And to me, books are flowers. I find an enormous pleasure in reading. Maybe I don't need books to live. But also I don't need flowers to live.
Penthouse: Were you exposed to sex at a young age?
Jodorowsky: Yes, I lived in a little town and when the sailors came to town there were prostitutes all over. I live a very sexual childhood. We started to masturbate ourselves at four or five years. All together. By seven or nine years they make love with the little prostitutes. One day a little friend, eight years old, came with a bucket and there was a male sex inside. He was friend of the daughter of one of the prostitutes. The prostitutes had killed a sailor and cut off his sex and he showed us. It was very strange. We went to a cemetery and made a little grave and we buried the sex. Also, one day we found a great stone, an enormous stone, floating in the sea. This stone came floating in to the beach.
Penthouse: A floating stone?
Jodorowsky: Yes and we could not move this stone. No one believed us. I was followed by a bee, a golden bee. For three years, every day, the golden bee follow me.
Penthouse: You said once that the other kids persecuted you because you were the only white person.
Jodorowsky: They persecuted me for two things. I was white and my sex had the form of a mushroom. We masturbated together and the sex of the other boys was pointed.
Penthouse: You were circumcised?
Jodorowsky: Circumcised? I don't know. Anyway, it was like a mushroom and they didn't like me. I had no friends. I could not go with them to the prostitutes. I never smoke marijuana with them. I never violated the cats.
Penthouse: The what?
Jodorowsky: The cats. They used to violate cats and some female dogs. I never could do this. Also they like to drink dog milk. They kill the little dogs and then six of my friends drink the mother's milk. They got drunk. That was my childhood.
Penthouse: In the book El Topo you talked about making love in the sand and how the sand gets into your sex and it's terrible.
Penthouse: Well, why do it?
Jodorowsky: Because you must make love every place. In a different place, love is different. I was searching for a new place.
Penthouse: Let's get back to the ego. Are Americans hung up on the ego? Will the public schools ever teach meditation, yoga, the empty mind?
Jodorowsky: I think yes. It will happen because one day the young person will be old. He will be a master one day and will propose this. Now I am speaking about enlightenment, about levels, about centers, and chakras. For example, when I speak about chakras, it is poetic. You must create these centers in the body because they are abstract. In reality I have no flowers in my body. I must invent this, make poetry. The level of this exercise is visualization. In visualization you put in your head a letter. Then you become the letter with all your body. And if your complete mind is a letter then tomorrow you can be a tiger, a man, an angel. You can be plastic. This is why I like so much the plastic man of the "Fantastic Four" in Marvel Comics. What's his name? He is married to the Invisible Girl. Plastic man and Invisible Woman can be great pornography. Plastic man fucking the girl and then he make his penis very, very, very thin and put inside her vein, and the penis can go, and go, and go from her vein to her heart. He can ejaculate in the center of his woman's heart. Fantastic! Fantastic!
Penthouse: You are a magnetic man. You attract disciples. Is it necessary to achieve? Does it matter if you drop out?
Jodorowsky: In order to be something, you must do something. On this planet, you must win your bread with the sweat of your brow. What is bread? Bread is the complete man. You will have work in something. Anything. Making shoes. Making pictures. Making wonderful shit sculptures. If you are young, you will find a way. You must find something to do. You have found something to do, you are making an interview. Maybe you can make fantastic interviews. If you discover something to do and you do it well, you are helping yourself, you are helping humanity, you are realizing yourself. But doing nothing-it is impossible to do nothing unless you rest in a bed and you rest very well and don't move for 20 years.
Penthouse: Are the people around you so in awe of you that they neglect to challenge you, even when you make conflicting statements?
Jodorowsky: I don't care. I am not trying to prove anything. I am trying to have a beautiful moment when a person comes to me. I want the person to have a beautiful moment. A peaceful moment. To learn something. To do something. But I am not trying to prove any kind of doctrines. I think the meaning of two persons together is the meaning of the tea ceremony. There are two persons, a person who has a house and the visitor. The person who has the house offers the most beautiful house...in his way. If he has a poor house, it is very clean, very beautiful. He makes the tea the best he can. He shows a painting, the best he have. The visitor take tea with the most great pleasure, and look at the picture with great pleasure. And love the house. And when they are together, they forget the world. They feel they are an eternity. They drink the tea. They aren't prisoners. They say goodbye. They go to another house. The experience is finished. No? It is a beautiful moment and nothing more.
Penthouse: It has been said that meditation can be a copout to enable you to avoid thinking about your problems.
Jodorowsky: I have no problems. Nobody has any problems.
Penthouse: Even if they think they do?
Jodorowsky: Wait a moment. All the universe is an enormous solution. It somebody tells me he has a problem, I try to show him he has no problem. I don't try to tell him he has no problem. I am not a guru. I am not a master. I am a moviemaker and nothing more. But if someone comes with a problem, I try to show him.
Penthouse: So he can use you as his magic?
Jodorowsky: Yes. A person who is creative never thinks of using anything. Everything is using him. I am very happy because everything is using me. And everything is using you. The complete galaxy is using you. For something. I don't know what. I don't know, but maybe the trees are used by the planet to take the sun and make a kind of cookie. And then you eat these sun cookies. You call them fruits. You are eating the sun. You are used as a radio.
Penthouse: A receiving set?
Penthouse: That is very poetic, but through all the storm and stress of making your movie you never had a problem?
Jodorowsky: I don't have any problems. I can have difficulties. It can be very hard to finish a picture or do anything. I can be ill. But it is not a problem. They are normal things, part of the great solution. I think illness has a magic meaning. You need this illness to complete something in the future. You must not fight against this illness. You must take it like a friend and understand why you are ill.
Penthouse: How can you do this?
Jodorowsky: When you have an illness, you must work in order to finish with the illness. In this moment you are separated from society and your ego. You need to concentrate and to create an anti-corps against the bacteria. When the illness is finished, after the time of concentration, you have more soul. You give to life a wonderful meaning. You taste health, like a fantastic water. You know you had a problem, but you finished it. Illness is a symptom of weakness. When society is weak, illness is born. It is good for society. And this is the meaning of every war. Society needs to come to the messiah, to be enlightened and to have a collective soul. Society does not work in this way, war comes to demonstrate this symptom of weakness. In order to finish with war, society must be enlightened. I suffer so much. All my life. With all kinds of problems. I was full of problems. Till the day I listen to the words of Marcel Duchamp. There are no solutions because there are no problems. I then understand. To understand the world as a problem is only a human activity. But the universe is an enormous solution.
Penthouse: In the El Topo book, you said the goal of all human action is enlightenment. Now yousay this is not the goal.
Jodorowsky: Now is not the time to search enlightenment. Now is time to open my mouth. If a poem comes, I say the poem. If a burp comes, I make a burp. I was a searching for enlightenment like a fool. The master, the guru, says: "You must have enlightenment, you're sleeping." And suddenly I finish with all the masters. Why to have masters like this?
Penthouse: What was it that made you understand this?
Jodorowsky: You have a master, you suffer...You suffer so much and you don't understand. No? And you want to have I don't know what ... is honeymoon? But suddenly you realize there is no honeymoon. You have the enlightenment ! You have ! You have! The enlightenment from the master is not yours. The master must teach you to learn of yourself. He can help you but your life is yours. There are no other possibilities.
Penthouse: Then no one need acknowledge a master?
Jodorowsky:. Our masters are the animals and the children. The children are so fantastic. And what they do? They play. Well, we must play. Fantastic games. The game of enlightenment. The games to speak to God. The games to go all over the universe can be so fantastic. The astral travel can be a very beautiful game. Reincarnation-what a game! Reincarnate any kind of thing. Fantastic! The game to die. The game to be married. The game to have children. The game to be ill. The game to have a cancer. The game to kill a person in war. All games. All our movement is a dream.
Penthouse: How do we acquire the attitude to permit us to view life as a series of games?
Jodorowsky: Start with your body. Be comfortable. The solution is to have the courage to know your ego; really like he is. And to say: Maya, Maya (illusion, illusion)-and put away all your problems. But you must know your problems in order to put away your problems. Break the conditioned reflex. Kill the past, change your name, modify your movements. Clean your mind. Clean your heart. Clean your sex. Make an order in your sex, your heart, your mind. Be a new guy. Change all your habits. I think every one of us has in his unconscious the idea of his own perfection. This body is not my body because I didn't do this body. I received this body. I received my life. I didn't do my life. My life is not really my life. It is a gift. This body comes with universal wisdom. The key to all the symbols is the human body. It has everything. Our unconscious is infinitely wise. He knows our perfection. We can be perfect. We can be the complete man. I think in this civilization we are not what we are. We are under all our possibilities. Under. But we are learning, like children. I am very optimistic. But this society gives you a false feeling of your body.
Penthouse: How does society give you a false feeling?
Jodorowsky: Look at yourself when you are face to face with a friend or a woman, or your father and you will feel your body different in each case. You feel your body in different ways in accordance with circumstances. In Africa, you can be naked in the village. Or a Hopi child sucking or fucking his mother for sexual power. Every society has its conceptions of the body. "The body is yours". Even if you don't construct it. But never does society give you the conception that your body is a machine, a temporal space ship, to help you to make the travel from the finite to the infinite. Nobody teaches you that you don't have an individual body. I think this-we have a social body. If there is illness in the world, I am ill. If there is murder in the world, I am the murderer. If there is a value in the world, I have that value. The Jews are waiting for a Messiah-a God-man Who will bring justice to the world. But the real Messiah is a day-the day when all humanity will have wisdom. It will be the day of the collective body and the unique soul.
Penthouse: So you must lose the self-conceptions imposed by society. But how?
Jodorowsky: It starts when you are a child. Because they teach you how to eat. Even if they teach you how to eat freely, they still give you self -conceptions. Those searching for enlightenment in the younger generation are good persons but they have enormous egos. Your family, your school, even your country gives conceptions to you. And then your head give you a conception of you. And then comes a moment, the right moment, you must destroy your self-conceptions because they are mind conceptions. You are not really like this. You must search for a way. Each person needs some kind of training, meditation. But meditation is so difficult.
Penthouse: What about the use of drugs and alcohol?
Jodorowsky: I never drink, I don't take drugs. I am not against anything human beings do to reach their completeness. Drugs can help some experience. But I am against taking drugs to have fun. This kills your health.
Penthouse: Is marijuana worse than alcohol?
Jodorowsky: The world changes from alcohol to marijuana. That is good. Marijuana is better than alcohol. Magic is better than reading. I don't know what you read in the U.S. Love stories? War stories? Idiocies. Magic goes with marijuana. It really prepares the person to have real, new magic. The real solution is man without any kind of dependencies. The real conquest of the complete man. Now we are children playing games.
Penthouse: Wait. A little while ago you said we should play games.
Jodorowsky: Yes, we play games now. But soon we must learn to dance. The music of the solar system is a dance. Life is not a game, it is a dance. The world was made for dancing.
Penthouse: You spoke of playing games like children ... the game of cancer, the game of war ...
Jodorowsky: Yes. Playing games now, But we must learn to dance. My three-year-old son, Teo, I see him in bed. He is sleeping. He is in a complicated position of meditation. A natural Buddha position. The child knows what we forget. He was not playing. No games. He was dancing.
Penthouse: This is like talking to Marshall McLuhan. Have you ever met McLuhan?
Jodorowsky: No, but I would like to. Would you like to know some other people I'd like to meet?
Jodorowsky: I want to meet R. D. Laing and Buckminster Fuller and the poet Ginsberg and Betty Middler.
Jodorowsky: Betty Middler. She is a fantastic singer I see in New York. Also Alan Watts and Carlos Castaneda. You know Castaneda? Fantastic! His stories of Don Juan?
Penthouse: One reviewer said he liked Castaneda but he would not be convinced there really was a Don Juan until he saw him on a television talk show.
Jodorowsky: But it does not matter whether Don Juan exists or not. I think we must read the books like fantastic poetry. Read the books like novels. I think Don Juan, in a few years, will be classic literature.
Penthouse: Could we get back to marijuana, again. What about young people, 12 or 13 years old. Should they use it?
Jodorowsky: In the Jewish religion at 13 one is a man. Why does our society think a man of 13 is a little kid? Because to the establishment it is dangerous to give the voting rights to 13-year-olds. The state tries to retard the growth of all its citizens. Man has levels. For his first seven years, man must develop his body and feelings. If not, he is retarded. From seven to age 14 he must develop his mind. If not, he is mentally retarded. And for the rest of his life, he must make his soul. Gurdjieff said clearly, "We come into the world with the seed of our soul. But we must make it." The growth of the soul is a real instinct in man. If society does not give man a possibility to realize this instinct, man is bored. If a man is bored, he will take drugs. At 13 it is very normal to take pot because a kid starts to be bored. I am never against the symptom but always the illness. To smoke pot is a symptom. We must stop thinking of marijuana as a problem and start to think of the development of the soul.
Penthouse: Most of the people around you appear to be rather awed by you. Do you ever long for a gadfly? Your own Alejandro Jodorowsky?
Jodorowsky: But I have! I have. I have fantastic conversations with creative people. With you I am having a fantastic conversation. I am having a wonderful time. A great show. A completely human being here for my own amusement. What a gift. No? Putting our voice there in the little machine. Fantastic. The voice. What an incredible thing. Do you realize what the voice is? It is the most subtle thing in the universe. What you speak comes directly from your nervous system. Your brain. It is the result of all your body. All your body goes to your voice. We are all enlightened, we are the most beautiful beings in the galaxy. Now we will be something because we are fantastic, we will create fantastic works. We will not re-create this world made by suffering people. All society was made by people who were suffering because they were not free. They had religion, political parties, morals. All these bool-sheets. We can make such beautiful cities. A city can be a holy and fantastic thing.
Penthouse: Thank you, Mr. Jodorowsky.
2. During the 'Random Live Broadcast of Recent Book I liked #3,' at HTMLGIANT, Blake Butler read chapter 10 of Flowing. That was really awesome. I was surprised and flattered.
You should watch the entire video. It's archived here. He read from the following books: Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray, The Book of Frank by CAConrad, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting, Selected Poems by Mary Ruefle, Event Factory by Renee Gladman, and Sean Kilpatrick’s “The All Encompassed Drowned” from New York Tyrant Issue eight. All good.
3. Ravi Mangla asked me some questions about books for his blog Recommended Reading, here. Ravi is rad.
4. My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? Was eh.
6. Going to watch White Ribbon.
Haneen Alshujairy and Justin Sirois began collaborating on a novel and a book of short stories in late 2007, working entirely over email. After completing both literary projects, they decided to start a more culturally overt campaign to get everyone in the world to read just one word of Arabic. It is a gesture of goodwill between Western and Arab cultures, a symbol that promotes empathy and understanding over conflict.
The Understanding Campaign is growing into an international nonprofit organization promoting literary projects between the English and Arab worlds. Our nonpartisan initiative seeks to open dialogue through establishing a book donation program where publishers and individuals can easily send books to the Iraqi National Library and Iraqi University libraries.
Ballard watched this ballet tilt and swirl and churn mud up through the snow and watched the lovely blood welter there in its holograph of battle, spray burst from a ruptured lung, the dark heart's blood, pinwheel and pirouette, until shots rang and all was done. A young hound worried the boar's ears and one lay dead with his bright ropy innards folded upon the snow and another whined and dragged himself about. Ballard took his hands from his pockets and took up the rifle from where he had leaned it against a tree. Two small armed and upright figures were moving down along the river, hurrying against the fading light.-- Paragraph from page 69 of Cormac McCarthy's Child of God
This interview was originally published by the defunct Writers' Bloc and will now be archived here.
Butler is the author of EVER (Calamari Press) and Scorch Atlas (Featherproof Books). He is the editor of the internet journal Lamination Colony, and he co-edits the print journal No Colony. He blogs here.
Spivey: How have you been sleeping lately?
Butler: Up until about three weeks ago I’d been sleeping beautifully for about six months. Perfect for probably the longest time in my life. Then about three weeks ago something, maybe it’s just the summer and the heat, but I’m starting to sleep pretty bad again. Which is frustrating after sleeping for six months pretty normally; I thought I had gotten past it. That time when you’re laying down expecting to go to sleep and then you don’t — the period between that and accepting you’re not going to fall asleep is the worst time.
Spivey: Is Inland Empire by David Lynch similar to how you dream?
Butler: Inland Empire is what it feels like to be awake. I have really violent and fucked up dreams. But when I’m awake, when I haven’t slept, that’s when it kind of feels like Inland Empire. It even crosses the line [between awake and dreaming], because when you’re in that area you’ll fall asleep and have two hours of really dead sleep that kind of blurs into not being asleep. That’s why I love that movie. There’s never really been another that’s caught those weird blank spaces so well. So it felt like a lot of regular days, even though it’s such a fucking weird movie. Watching it, I felt like I’d walked out of my house and done that, or at least experienced what that felt like, which is a strange thing to think. I don’t know, a lot of people didn’t connect to it at all — even people who love Lynch — but that one had it all for me.
Spivey: Is EVER autobiographical at all?
Butler: One of my really good friends — my first friend, besides literary ones, that bought the book and read it — said, “This is your life. I see so much of your life in this and you’re just trying to hide it”. Which I can see. I think it always comes into your writing without you controlling it at all. I try not to think about it that way. I’m never thinking: I’m going to write a veiled version of when daddy beat me too hard that one time, but you’re a filter for what’s coming through your head, so you kind of have to, whether you meant to or not. Things are going to come out that are you. During the time that I wrote EVER I was basically living with my parents and my stuff was in boxes from the tornado. I was kind of displaced. So I guess that period of not really having anything that I was used to living with around me had a lot to do with it.
Spivey: I know you have a secret word, a comfort word, that you keep to yourself, but is that word in EVER?
Butler: No. I’ve never written it down. But I often talk in gibberish to myself. So even though there’s a lot of gibberish in the book, and even though it’s not necessarily stuff I say to myself on a regular basis, I think that gibberish is important to me, but I really can’t say why. And ‘comfort word’ — it’s interesting you calling it that. It is a stress reliever. Maybe it’s like speaking in tongues, without making it a religious context; maybe it’s just a release. I don’t even know where it started, but I really wish I could stop saying it. I try really hard, but it’s gotten more complex. Things get added to it, and at this point the word kind of has an evolution. it started off just as this gibberish word, but I append it in all these ways: I don’t know if I should ever tell anyone what they are. Instead of being able to control it, it just keeps getting more convoluted. But then I can’t stop doing it in the convoluted way either. I don’t really know what it means. Or what that means, or why it’s a thing except a habit.
Spivey: It’s a habit you control?
Butler: It’s a habit I control, but it’s a weird double. I know that I’m saying it when I say it, but I also continue to say it without wanting to. It’s like an unconsciously conscious choice or something.
Spivey: Lynch has said that he is a fan of the absurd. Would you consider yourself a fan of the absurd?
Butler: Yeah, definitely. I think that his absurdity is absurd in a way that doesn’t really compare to Monty Python absurd; it’s scary absurd. And I think I like the scary, the terrible. Or one word that describes it: the sublime. It’s scary but pleasing at the same time. All of my favorite art has that double effect; it’s funny, but it also takes you back in a way that you can’t really say why. Since I respond to that most, that’s mostly what I want to create. I think things have to have a sense of humor at the same time that they’re serious. If you take away from either side, you kind of … I don’t like the word ‘earned’ because people love to say in writing “you need to earn this moment,” which I think is fucking bullshit; it either works or it doesn’t, you don’t have to earn shit. But with this, there’s a certain level of it either works or it doesn’t, and in that context of the sublime, it’s either that the thing is supposed to exist or it’s not.
Spivey: Is writing a selfish act or purely for self-fulfillment?
Butler: I don’t know. I was actually talking with someone about this recently. Someone was asking if you’re supposed to have a certain reason for what you make, and I think it’s just kind of a violent thing for me. It’s an outlet to a point. It’s selfish, but a lot of the times I don’t even feel like I’m writing what I write. The things that I’ve felt most proud of, that I felt did the most or the most well honed would be better than proud of; the best objects I’ve made I either a) don’t remember even doing, or b) had very little influence on when I was making them.
Spivey: By influence you mean something outside?
Butler: When I’m typing I get into this mode where I’m not even thinking about the words and I’m more thinking about the rhythm or the sound of it over the meaning. And the meaning is derived from those things. In that way, when the story ends up having impact it seems secondary to the way it was created. I don’t even think I wrote it. Sometimes I’ll go back and read something I wrote and be surprised at what it says, because I don’t remember saying that. I can glean what it means from reading the context, but it’s like I couldn’t have thought that while I was making it. That happens a lot with Beckett; a lot of the things that are more based on sentences and sound are just channeling. Which can go too far. Sometimes Beckett can be boring, and derivatives of Beckett can be really boring. When it’s just all sound. But I think that learning to control that mode without … another duality, control it without controlling it. Have it have some relevance to a reader, and to yourself; control it within that, but really let it come out of you without knowing why.
Spivey: Sounds like a hard place to be.
Butler: You just have to get in the mode. It’s more of being a conduit, like connecting or connectivity, rather than learning the rules of writing. Sometimes I’ll feel like I just get in the zone and I can just keep going for a long time without even knowing what I’m talking about until I’m done. And then in revision a lot of that will get fixed, because no one is perfect as a medium — maybe people have been, but revision helps that out a lot.
Spivey: When I write I want to get to where all I’m doing is revision. That’s where I want to be. Do you like that first initial draft? Is revision a pain, or do you like the revision?
Butler: I guess when I was doing my MFA, one of the big things was all my professors said, “Bust out that first draft,” and then you can revise it to death. That works, that’s a great model, but recently I think I’ve been more in the idea of getting it right the first time. Which isn’t going to happen across the board. No matter how hard you try to get it right the first time, it’s still going to get better in revision. But the more attention you pay to each sentence while you’re making it the first time … I’ve written things that were long and that I went through paying attention on that level and then didn’t even feel like I had to revise. Again, that’s a place that can be hard to reach and it certainly won’t happen all the time, but I think most of the best things I’ve written took me the least amount of time.
Spivey: How long did it take you to write EVER?
Butler: I didn’t even mean to write EVER as a book. I was writing stories when I wrote it that I thought were going to connect eventually, but I didn’t really know when. There were four big sections that I wrote pretty much straight through. I guess the whole book took about a month or a month and a half to write, but there wasn’t a lot of revision besides really tacky things, like little minor details: the sentences I wrote on the first draft, probably. Besides me being obsessive about the sentences, a lot of people wouldn’t have found errors in them. Even since then I’ve gotten more into the idea of getting it right the first time. I think there’s a big question in writing where people think it should take you a really long time, and it should be this labor of love and take you five years to write. Well, how many books took a week to write? Sure there can be flaws in that book, but I also think capturing a certain time in your mind, and getting it out in a certain period has as much value as laboring over it, as long as it’s worthwhile in the end to the reader or as an object.
Spivey: It seems like there’s a trend where writers are creating novels in short sections, and completing novella or novel length works in just a couple of sittings.
Butler: Last year I wrote a book in about ten days. It’s still the best thing I’ve written, I think.
Spivey: What is it?
Butler: Right now it’s called ‘Where Am I Where Have I Been and Where Are You’. It’s not published; it’s being looked at in a couple of places, but I haven’t really pursued it that much. I didn’t really revise that much either. I wrote it in about fifteen hours a day for ten days straight and then I was done. Jesse Ball was a big inspiration for that, after I read his first book Samedi the Deafness, and read about how he’d written it so fast. The way he did it got me interested in writing things more quickly. I think that that’s something — especially with the popularity of short books and books in short sections — writing books in short sections allows you to go quicker and it’s more associative over the way books were built. Even when I’m writing something longer that’s not in short sections, I continually get up and go away from the computer every five or ten minutes. Or I look at a website, check my e-mail or write an e-mail. I think that writing in short periods like that allows your brain to keep refreshing. As much as I like to sometimes write in long sittings, I think there’s a real value to letting yourself take a breath every few minutes — as soon as you feel like you don’t know what to do next. You’ll write in a certain mode for a minute and then you’ll hit that point where you think, “OK now what am I going to do?” If you get up and walk around, go for a run, or go in the other room and eat some nachos, or fucking look at Gmail and talk to someone on there for two minutes; then when you come back and look at it again, it’s almost without having to think about it. The next idea connects itself. I don’t know what other people’s processes are, but I don’t think I could do it another way at this point.
Spivey: Is that a normal day of writing for you? Is fifteen hours a day a normal sitting?
Butler: No, I was definitely in a zone I hope happens again, but that was rare. But I do spend a lot of time writing. Basically, on days that I write, which is most days, I sit down in front of the computer sometime between 11am and 12 and I don’t get up — well, I get up every ten or fifteen minutes, or at least break my attention every ten or fifteen minutes — until probably 6 or 7pm. So that’s eight hours a day, probably five or six days a week. You’ve got to spend a lot of time sitting, even if you’re not doing that minute to minute sentence writing you’re still … your brain and your unconscious is still active. And I think the unconscious is, like I said for me, when I don’t know exactly what I’m writing and I’m letting sound operate. When you’re writing and the mystery is finding out what’s going to happen, having those periods where your brain continues to go without you actively working on it — that’s the cake.
Spivey: So even when you’re not writing, you’re writing?
Butler: Essentially, yeah. Which leads it into a matter of being a zombie the rest of the time. Sometimes my girlfriend will say that I don’t seem like I’m there, or I don’t talk that much. I have to make a conscious effort to get out of that space. When I’m not in front of the computer I usually go running, which I think is a great kind of refresher and is very connected to the same process. Running, for me, has always been a really great way to give my brain that disconnect for a second, so that it comes back refreshed. Reading does the same thing. But writing is always in the background, especially if you’re working on something extended and you’re in the middle of it; I don’t think you ever stop thinking about it on some level.
Spivey: This is probably an unfair question, but what single work has influenced you the most? If such a thing exists.
Butler: Well, the book that made me want to be a writer was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I used to read a lot as a child — a lot of Dragon Lance, Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy books. Then I guess when I was sixteen I read all of the Beat stuff, and I was really into that. After that I stopped reading because I didn’t know what else to read, and I didn’t really have any connection to the kind of stuff I read now. I think a lot of that is because high schools don’t have any idea how to teach teenagers to want to read; they either just assign you shitty novels or teach them to you in a shitty way. So I quit reading, besides sporadically. I don’t know where I then found out about Infinite Jest, but I asked for the book for Christmas when I was a freshman in college, and as soon as I read it I just said, “Holy shit, this is what a book can actually do”. I’d never read anything like it. I think that even if I read it now, it would have the same effect on me having read as much as I’ve read in between. It has the sublime; it has the sentences; it has everything in it. Even though I don’t really write like Wallace at all. I don’t think anyone can do what he did. As an inspiration and subject matter type thing, I also really like David Markson. I really like the way he phrases things and I like his sentences: the way he makes them not only sound and rhythm, but also saying things that can mean more than one thing, which I think is important. He writes sentences that sound good, but they’re also more than they seem on the surface. I think that also goes back to the whole Lynch thing: the sublime, all of that stuff. It’s one thing on its face, but it leaves a lot of open doors; it leaves more doors open than it connects. As far as people who are alive and working and continually putting stuff out, Brian Evenson is the one that I feel is probably my biggest influence. He gets the whole bag of sheer terror and funny and cold, but put with feeling at the same time. All the dualities are in all of his stuff. Anytime I read one of his pieces, it’s like I end up feeling changed, even though it doesn’t have that human change in it that so many people want out of their books. I’ve never really understood that: they want the story to change within itself and come to a realization. But Evenson does these things that make me feel like I’ve experienced something. That’s the kind of stuff I’m most interested in reading and writing. I’m reading Evenson’s new book, Fugue State, right now, and I think it’s going to bring him a whole new level of attention because the stories in that thing are fucking insane.
In Simon's last post on Writer's Bloc he opened up with "After eighteen months online and some seventy-four articles, stories, interviews, flash fictions, poems and miscellaneous other forms, I’ve decided to close Writers’ Bloc. I feel that it’s run its course and, to be brutally honest, I no longer possess the enthusiasm required to keep it running, reading submissions and putting up new material."
Near the end of the post he said, "The domain name and hosting for Writers’ Bloc both expire in December. Whether or not I pay to keep the site online after that remains to be seen."
Includes the story "Dredge," a Best American Mystery Stories selection, and the story "His Last Great Gift," a Best American Short Stories Distinguished Story of 2009.
In his debut collection How They Were Found, Matt Bell draws from a wide range of genres to create stories that are both formally innovative and imaginatively rich. In one, a 19th-century minister follows ghostly instructions to build a mechanical messiah. In another, a tyrannical army commander watches his apocalyptic command slip away as the memories of his men begin to fade and fail. Elsewhere, murders are indexed, new worlds are mapped, fairy tales are fractured and retold and then fractured again. Throughout these thirteen stories, Bell's careful prose burrows at the foundations of his characters' lives until they topple over, then painstakingly pores over the wreckage for what rubbled humanity might yet remain to be found.
"Reminscent of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Winter War in Tibet in its calm examination and unsettling embodiment of mental and physical extremes, How They Were Found is a dreamer's chronicle of the loss and partial recovery of a world given over to the wrecking ball. Fierce, unflinching, funny, How They Were Found is just the book we need right now, Matt Bell just the writer." —Laird Hunt, author of Ray of the Star
"How They Were Found offers a world with shifting rules, described with a lovely and deceptive simplicity. This guide shows you thirteen different types of wilderness, and you can spend all day exploring before you realize you are lost." —Amelia Gray, author of Museum of the Weird and AM/PM
"You're a robot if the stories in Matt Bell's debut collection don't exhilarate, frighten, and unalterably change you. His wild manipulation of form and genre makes the bulk of contemporary fiction feel bloodless and inert in comparison, but it is Bell's recurring arrival at something sturdy and true about human behavior that makes the stories in How They Were Found so rewarding and resonant." —Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times: Stories
You can and should order it (devour it), here.