Jack Dann has been writing fiction of the most fantastic
sort for years. His stories and novels delve into the murky folds and
creases of life experience and root around, in the most gleeful spirit
of curiosity, to feel out the strange and sometimes non-rational edges
of whatever world lies behind the world we think we see and know. But
Dann remains rooted in our consensual reality by merging his metaphysical
meditations with sharp-eyed observation of human psychology. In The
Silent, for instance, his young narrator wanders through an almost
mystical battle-ravaged South as the Civil War rages; he follows a spectral
dog. It's an eerie tale, one told in retrospect by the narrator, who
has been left mute by the trauma of his experiences. In The Memory
Cathedral, Dann imagines that some of Leonardo De Vinci's flying
machines actually worked, and takes good advantage of the actual possibility
that Da Vinci may have spent some time as a military engineer in the
employ of an Arabian noble; against that "secret history" are moments
of spiritual mystery as Da Vinci finds his own psyche becoming a battle
ground between the pure beauty of reason and the primal emotions that
drive war and lust. In Dann's latest work, the new novel The Rebel:
An Imagined Life of James Dean, the theme of memory is explored
anew, this time in an alternate history where Dean is not killed in
the car crash that took place in the mid-1950s, but instead survives
to become a witness, and a prime mover, of the turbulent 1960s.
Aside from his novels, Dann is the author of numerous
short stories. Last year saw the publication of two volumes of his collected
shorter works, Visitations and the larger, more comprehensive Jubilee.
Jack Dann corresponded from Australia with infinity
plus recently, in a chat about his short stories, the thematic
connections between his novels, and this profound, unsettling mystery
we call life.
Kilian Melloy: What took
you to Australia? Are you an artistic exile or expatriate in some sense,
or is it more a matter of that's how life worked out (you married an
Jack Dann: Ah, got it in one! Yes, I married
an Australian, critic and author Janeen Webb. Met her at a conference
in San Francisco. Three months later I had moved to Melbourne. Love
at first sight. Never looked back. All that. So, yes, in a sense, it
is more a matter of how life worked out, but being an expatriate is
another transformation; it changes you profoundly. You become the quintessential
outsider. You feel like a stranger everywhere, even in your home town,
yet you are comfortable everywhere. An odd mix, but a good one for a
writer, I think. Since I've been living in Australia (over ten years
now), I've been writing about America. Distance seems to give a certain
Kilian Melloy: The Silent
seems to transcend genre (much of your work does, really) in that it
is an examination of a dark and troubled corner of human existence;
the work seems highly metaphorical, and brings to mind works like Moby
Dick in its level of sophistication. Was this what you planned on when
setting out to write The Silent?
I've thought of my work, certainly my more recent stories and novels,
as crossing genres. I've been writing essentially mainstream stories
that use genre tropes, and in certain instances, even the tropes get
left behind, as in my road novel Counting Coup (titled Bad
Medicine in the Australian edition). But I consider Counting
Coup to be a work of magical realism, and I believe that Americans
have developed a down-home form of magical realism, which isn't particularly
influenced by the South American literature. The Silent
could be considered a work of magical realism, but I wrote it as a psychological
study of a boy caught up in the horror of war. Like Jerzy Kosinski's
protagonist in The Painted Bird, my character Mundy McDowell
translates the terrible reality of what he sees into a magical reality
that he can make some sense of. In the opening chapter, he witnesses
the murder of both his parents and the torching of the family home.
He bears his own survivor guilt, and believes that the only way he could
have possibly survived was by being...invisible. He sees a dog -- an
apparition of the legendary ghost dog, which is part of Civil War folklore
-- and he follows the apparition. He becomes, in effect, a ghost: mute,
Ah, writers cannot just answer a simple
question, can they? Well, possibly not this writer. Okay, did I set
out to write a metaphorical work of fiction?
Truth to tell, no.
I believe that it's the author's job to
describe the surface action, to describe as precisely and with as much
detail as needed exactly what is going on. The reader should be able
to see, hear, and smell a story. A novel is essentially collaborative,
in that the reader re-imagines and translates what the author has written.
I believe the author's job is to facilitate, to conduct that re-imagining;
and, to my mind, good fiction works through the author's handling of
time and transition and the detail of description and action. As I often
tell young writers, if you've done the research, if you know the characters
and place absolutely cold, if you can describe what's going on on the
surface, then -- if you have the juice, if you're writing material that
speaks to you -- then the shadows might just be revealed. Then the work
might have depth, coruscation, and perhaps true brilliance. Then the
story might work symbolically and on all the levels of metaphor. But
it's not the author's job to worry about that. It's enough to try to
describe what's going on, line by line.
For me, writing is an act of ridiculous
ego and profound humility. That I can believe my stories will speak
to the world is an act of hubris (but if I didn't believe it on some
level, I would never put pen to paper). Yet when I sit down to write,
I feel humbled by the enormity of the task... to try to enter the great
conversation, to speak across time. And with every word I realize that
most everything anyone writes will disappear into remainder racks, into
the dead shelves of library basements and fifty-cent Sunday sales, to
end up moldering in attics and basements. (And that's being optimistic!)
But there is always the chance that we
will speak to our generation... that someone out there will hear us.
And somehow that makes it worth it all. That someone out there will
be touched by the symbolism and metaphor...
Kilian Melloy: You mention
your road trip novel Counting Coup, which is perhaps my favorite of
your novels. As you put it, Counting Coup is about two men out to
show the world (and themselves) that they still -- as Charlie puts it
-- have the "juice", the "jizzum," and they ain't dead quite yet! But
in the course of their adventures they break an awful lot of laws and
do an alarming amount of damage to other people's property. Is this
an example of the Trickster spirit at work? Should we honor and tolerate
that spirit of anarchy and chaos more than we do -- would we be a better
society for it if we did? In brief, are you saying that bad behavior
can be good medicine?
Jack Dann: That's
an interesting question, one I didn't consider when I wrote Counting
Coup. Can bad behavior be good medicine? Perhaps ... perhaps. John
and Charlie, my main characters, are two old men out to prove that they're
still vital, that they're still "young," even though they're old men;
and the job of youth, it seems to me, is to explore, confront the status
quo, and try to work out new patterns of being in the world. That's
what my characters try to do. Their quest is futile and doomed, yet
in a more profound sense, although their wild spiritual binge brings
death and destruction, it also brings healing and reconciliation. So,
yes, I guess I'm saying that we should tolerate the wild and unpredictable,
lest we all end up wearing double-breasted suits and voting Republican.
Kilian Melloy: You mentioned
in your afterword to Counting Coup that the story was inspired
by things that occurred in your own life -- at the time you were writing
the afterword, those things were too personal for you to want to share
them. How about now? Are you comfortable talking about the things that
went into that book directly from your own experience?
Jack Dann: Actually,
I shared quite a bit of my personal history in the afterword. A lot
of that book comes out of my personal experience. But my personal history
is personal, and I leave it to my readers to guess which parts are
John and Charlie, and which are John and Charlie and Jack.
Kilian Melloy: Taking a broader
view of your works, it seems that in your longer form work you return
again and again to an element of the fantastic that can only be called
spiritual in nature -- though you like to approach that spiritual element
from different cultural perspectives. You have spirits and magical realism
and a kind of magical warfare going on in Counting Coup; you have
a fascinating case of possession (love as an image that can take one
over) in The Memory Cathedral; and there is the ghost dog you had
referred to previously in The Silent. What draws you to this aspect
of the fantastic as opposed to, say, aliens with ray guns and flying
Jack Dann: I think
I'm drawn to the fantastic elements of "the lived life," if that makes
any sense. Much of my work is closer in texture to magical realism than
science fiction or traditional fantasy, perhaps because my interest
is to use the fantastic to illuminate what might laughingly be called
real life. Of course, science fiction and fantasy can do this with a
vengeance; but I often use fantastic tropes to thicken and expand and
(to use that word again) illuminate what are essentially mainstream
stories. I think that can be easily sighted in Counting Coup and The
Silent. In my latest novel The Rebel: an Imagined Life of James Dean,
my concerns are outside of what we commonly think of as genre fiction,
yet it is definitely and absolutely alternate history. But it is alternate
history in the same sense as Ada by Vladimar Nabakov.
I might also mention that the case of
possession in The Memory Cathedral was based on an actual exorcism.
I often find that what appear to be the most fantastical episodes of
my novels are actually taken from real accounts.
Kilian Melloy: Let's talk
a bit more about The Memory Cathedral before addressing The
Rebel. Would you characterize
The Memory Cathedral as a work of alternate history? Certainly,
there are stretches of time in Da Vinci's life when he might have gone
off to the East and been of some service to the Arabian Devatdar, as
you mention in the books notes, but it does seem unlikely, in our reality
anyway, that Da Vinci put his ideas for flying machines to use in a
war against the Turks.
Jack Dann: It was Leonardo's great dream to
be a military engineer, and he did work for the Borgias as an engineer
later in life. But did he put his ideas for flying machines to use in
a war against the Turks? Well ... let me say, not that we know of. I
took advantage of a few cracks in known history. I based the idea of
Leonardo being in Syria on letters Leonardo wrote to the Devatdar of
Syria ostensibly when he, Leonardo, was in the Middle East. Most historians
don't take these letters seriously and shrug them off as tall tales
But Jean Paul Richter, who compiled the
definitive two volume set, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, wrote:
"We have no information as to Leonardo's history between 1482 and 1486;
it cannot be proved that he was either in Milan or in Florence. On the
other hand the tenor of this letter (the letter to the Devatdar) does
not require us to assume a longer absence than a year or two. For, even
if his appointment as Engineer in Syria had been a permanent one, it
might have become untenable -- by the death of perhaps the Devatdar,
his patron, or by his removal from office -- and Leonardo on his return
home may have kept silence on the subject of an episode which probably
had ended in failure and disappointment."
So I extrapolated, wriggled around in
the cracks of history, and put Leonardo in a position to be of use to
the sultan of Egypt in a small war that wasn't recorded in the history
books. I wanted to see what Leonardo would do if he could actually bring
his inventions to life. It is not out of the realm of possibility that
Leonardo might have been employed by the sultan, if, indeed, he were
really in the region. He tried to convince Lodovico Sforza, ruler of
Milan, to take him on as a military engineer. Most of Leonardo's inventions
would have worked.
So is this alternate history? I think
I am probably picking the nits here, but I would think it is secret
history, the history that could have been, but we don't -- or can't
know -- if it had been. I excerpted a story from The Memory Cathedral,
which I reworked and [to which I] added 5,000 words of new material.
It was titled "Da Vinci Rising," and Gardner Dozois bought it for Asimov's
Science Fiction. In that story I have Leonardo's flying machine affecting
Florentine history, changing history. To my mind "Da Vinci Rising" would
be alternative history. Something different from the secret history
of The Memory Cathedral.
Melloy: Which brings me to the next question. In the afterword to
your collection of stories Jubilee, you mention that the idea for
writing about Da Vinci arrived in the form of a visual idea -- while
reading about Da Vinci, you say, you imagined "a squadron of high-Gothic
looking airplanes flying over Renaissance Florence." That's an irresistible
image, to be sure! What happened along the way to writing the book --
why did the airplanes turn into gliders and the actually flying take
place in Arabia?
Jack Dann: Yes, that was a wonderful, hallucinatory
image, and it was the engine of the novel ... yet no Gothic looking
airplanes ever fly over Florence in The Memory Cathedral. Why?
It's difficult to say, difficult to see into one's own creative process.
I started writing the story, and wrote myself away from that central
image. I could say -- and it feels psychologically correct, albeit a
bit superstitious -- that the characters drew me away from that central
image for their own purposes. Writers seem to imbue their characters
with a kind of numinous life that spills off the page, or at least this
writer does. The airplanes turned into gliders because as I researched
Leonardo's thoughts and attempt at flight, I discovered that he had
done a series of sketches, which can be found in the Codex Atlanticus,
that experts agree to be the first European conception of gliding flight.
I wanted to keep Leonardo's flying machine as simple as possible. Rather
than create a science fictional fix for the ornithopter, I opted to
extrapolate the idea of a fixed wing glider, which Lawrence Hargrave
explored centuries later. However, I did get to have my cake and eat
it! I managed to get the flying machine in the air over Florence in
my story "Da Vinci Rising."
Kilian Melloy: Perhaps this
is dipping back into the topic of the fantastic elements that crop up
in real life, but throughout The Memory Cathedral it seems that
Da Vinci is wrestling with the problem of living mentally in a Platonic
world of form and idea, while physically occupying space in a rough
and sometimes ugly human world where blood is spilled and character
assassination is routine. That disparity of living in both an ideal,
mathematical world, and a vicious world of politics and competition,
and trying to reconcile that disparity, seems to be the driving engine
of The Memory Cathedral.
Jack Dann: Yes,
exactly. A good metaphor for the Italian Renaissance itself.
Melloy: At times, Da Vinci's ability to live in that abstract and
perfect world of form seems akin to a religious ecstasy -- I love the
passage in which, and allow me to quote, "He memorized the faces of
those around him, as if they were caught in the instant forever, a painting
without brush or pigment; this, this was the moment of art, the choking
second before pain and grief, the vibrating, shimmering opening up,
as if one could see from every angle, every perspective, through every
eye." And this is while he stands in the midst of a frenzied crowd!
There are other episodes,
too, where ugly physical reality seems to drive Da Vinci higher into
a transcendent state of some sort, rather than pluck him down from the
realm of the eidos and Platonic forms. There are moments in pitched
battle when he is killing and at risk of being killed when he seems
to be both partaking of human brutality and divine placidness all at
once; there are a few moments of sexual near-violence when he's grasping
for something sublime and tantalizing; it's as though moments of extreme
passion are just as useful as deeply still meditation for approaching
the numinous and eternal. Do you see these episodes as defining a disparity,
or perhaps as reconciling seemingly opposite sides of human nature?
Jack Dann: When
I was doing research for my novel Counting Coup, I spent a year with
traditional Native Americans -- Sioux people -- and I participated in
physically demanding religious ceremonies that pushed me to the edges
of consciousness. I found myself experiencing moments of what seemed
like extreme clarity, of double-vision in a larger sense, if you like.
I was experiencing something that was non-rational and which, I discovered
later, was a shared hallucination. On one level I understood I was hallucinating,
but on another level I believed that what I was seeing was somehow real
I believe that heightened experience of
whatever form translates, sometimes automatically, into what can be
experienced as the sublime. I probably haven't answered your question.
But I believe that passion, whether it be violent or still, is the very
core of art. Passion and violence and the sublime defines Leonardo and
his age. Perhaps all ages.
Melloy: You write in an introduction to one of your books about
being gravely ill in your 20s and almost perishing -- in fact, you say
that in a sense, you feel that you did perish, and then came back into
this life. Does that experience color your writing and is that where
you get the blend of physical passion and spiritual striving that shows
up in Counting Coup and The Memory Cathedral?
Jack Dann: Yes,
my experience in hospital, which is probably best depicted in my story
"Camps," was one of the defining experience of my life. It was in the
stranglehold of great pain that I would focus my attention like a laser
beam upon the mundane objects in the room until everything would seem
to glow with its own 'thingness.' Plato sneaking out of the dark cave.
I believe that I learned to live then with a minute-by-minute intensity,
something I haven't lost (for better or for worse) in the thirty-five
years since I stared down death in that hospital room in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Melloy: While we're on that topic, there are at least two short
stories that reflect your stay in the hospital and reference the "blue
land" you mention having hallucinated; in one, the main character dies,
going off with several ghosts attending his sick-bed; in another, the
young man survives, but has had some sort of experience in which he
projected himself into one of the Holocaust's concentration camps. Are
these twists a way of explaining or clarifying for yourself the sense
of transformation you imply you brought with you after being so ill?
Jack Dann: Yes,
I wrote "Visitors" and "Camps" as a way of working through my experience
of being so close to death. Transformation is a theme that works through
my stories and novels, and, indeed, it probably stems from my time in
that terminal ward. Another theme in my work, a minor theme, perhaps,
is that of "testifying" to the Holocaust, even by writers such as myself
who didn't experience it directly. To misquote Santayana: "Those who
forget the past are forced to repeat it."
Melloy: Some of your shorter fiction delves into territory that
is more recognizably speculative, or even (I mean this in the best sense)
pulpy -- like the wonderful story "The Diamond Pit" that appeared in
last year's collection Jubilee, or the story about the "seelie" and
the "unseelie" (Celtic supernatural entities), "Fairy Tale," in the
same book -- outrageous fun, not at all credible, but a real hoot! What
are you going for in stories of those sorts?
Jack Dann: "Fairy Tale," which I wrote in 1981,
was written as an exercise -- to see if I could write humor. I enjoyed
the hell out of writing it, and to my amazement, it was a finalist for
the World Fantasy Award. Go figure. "The Diamond Pit" was a homage to
F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer I admired as I made my bones as a writer.
I read his brilliant (and pulpy) story "The Diamond As Big As the Ritz,"
and the image of the richest man in the world who lived on top of a
mountain of diamond stayed with me through the years. I finally indulged
myself and wrote "The Diamond Pit," extrapolating Fitzgerald's story.
I used his style, and, yes, it was pulp fiction; and, again, great fun.
Melloy: Another characteristic
of some of your shorter work is that they take the reader to some very
disturbing, challenging places. In Jubilee there are two stories in
particular that I found to be both fascinating and sinister -- both
"A Quiet Revolution for Death" and "Blind Shemmy" were full of sex,
death, revelry, and civilized, ritualized forms of violence. Are you
warning us here about what the right wing likes to call "the culture
of death?" Or perhaps are you meditating on something more universal
and elemental to the human psyche?
Jack Dann: Yes
... and yes. "A Quiet Revolution For Death" is about the culture of
death, and it is simply an SF update of the medieval fascination with
death. In the Middle Ages, people picnicked in cemeteries and held revels,
as revealed, if that's a proper way to put it, in my story. It's about
ancient truths that we've perhaps forgotten. "Blind Shemmy" is a story
that I cut out of my novel The Man Who Melted, and it, too, is about
the universal obsession with death ... or perhaps just my obsession,
an old obsession. I find as the years go by, as I approach that dark
horizon, that I'm becoming obsessed with life, living so goddamn hard
and fast that not a moment is wasted.
Melloy: Some (no doubt cynical) people have suggested that James
Dean dying when he did is what gave him such status as an icon of film.
Obviously, in your book, you disagree. If not the timing of his demise,
what was it that made Dean so extraordinary and such a legend?
Jack Dann: Dean
was obsessed with death, and said something like "Live fast, die young,
and leave a good corpse." Dean and Monroe ... they died young and became
instant icons. But there was something more. They both were absolutely
radiant on the screen. The camera somehow concentrated, magnified, and
embraced their particular charisma. Dean starred in only three major
films -- Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant. If you
get a chance to see them again on the big screen, you'll see what I
mean. The films might have dated, but Dean is charisma itself, absolutely
compelling. The same is true of Monroe's best films. Icons of youth
and beauty and yearning. Had they lived, I believe they would have lost
their iconic stature. They would have remained famous, perhaps, as Marlon
Melloy: What caused you to make James Dean the point man for another
avenue for the 1960s to unfold?
Jack Dann: Dean was an overwhelming icon of
I felt compelled to resurrect him as the drunken god/guide of the 1960's.
Melloy: In The Memory Cathedral, you meditated on St. Augustine's
idea that the past and present could be contained in the present moment
and even could be glimpsed by the spiritually enlightened. In The Rebel
you seem to take this one step further: you seem to be peering into
the moment so deeply as to see what might have been. Did The Rebel
grow, in some way, out of the process of writing The Memory Cathedral?
Jack Dann: I think
the techniques that I used to write and extrapolate The Rebel grew
out of my wrestlings with The Memory Cathedral. Both novels are, of
course, about memory. In The Rebel, many of the memories are personal,
my own, and I can't help but think of the novel as my autobiography
of the 60's.
Melloy: There are definite traces of that earlier book here, in
the way Marilyn Monroe constructs a "memory garden" and in how James
Dean, like Leonard Da Vinci, struggles with the persistent, cutting
edges of his early memories: grief and loss torment him throughout the
book. Were both books meant from the outset to be mediations on the
power of memory and the paradox of wanting to remember (and thus preserve)
one's life, versus the need to be shielded from memories of loss and
Jack Dann: I think
most writers are unconsciously working through their own powerful, personal,
overarching themes. Mine are memory, the nature of time, etc. Not unusual,
as they are overarching human themes. Novels, for me, reveal themselves
through my research, and I suppose I then assemble the parts in the
unconscious darkness. Marilyn actually had a memory garden, if my memory
serves. I am obsessed with memory, with how we construct or rather reconstruct
our past and our present by what we remember and how we remember it.
We are our own constructions in large part, and that fascinates me.
When I wrote my autobiography for Contemporary Authors, I titled it
"A Few Sparks In the Dark," because I imagine that memory is our construction
of those few numinal bits that shine in the darkness of recollection.
We transform and polish those bits until we don't really know what they
Melloy: All the women in The Rebel have real problems with self-esteem;
from what little I know of Marilyn Monroe, she really did have psychiatric
problems. In your book, it's left somewhat ambiguous as to whether,
in the story, Monroe was a victim of a murderous, shadowy conspiracy,
or simply succumbed to her own self-destructive impulses. What seems
most likely to you to be the real story there?
Jack Dann: I purposely
left Marilyn's death ambiguous. I had a brief discussion about Marilyn
with Anthony Summers, author of Goddess: the Secret Lives of Marilyn
Monroe and The Kennedy Conspiracy. Summers believed that Monroe was
murdered. So do I, and I do indicate the possible perpetrators in the
novel. I also had a discussion with my friend Dr. Michael Engleberg,
whose father was Marilyn's physician. Michael believes Marilyn committed
suicide. So there you go. What is important in the novel, however, is
that Jimmy can't know for sure whether Marilyn was murdered and by whom,
and his relationship with RFK must transcend his doubts.
Melloy: James Dean, and Elvis also, are just as insecure and fearful
as Monroe and as Pier, the character Dean ends up marrying in your imagined
life for him. Was Dean as easy to manipulate and as given to bouts of
fear and -- is it depression? -- as you depict him? Are these qualities
that you would say are prevalent in performers, or in people who seek
Jack Dann: I don't
know if Dean -- the Dean in my novel -- was that easy to manipulate.
He allows certain people to manipulate him, but he is a manipulator
himself, and thus always has his own manipulative agenda. From my reading
of biographies about Dean, yes, he was given to bouts of fear and depression.
I tried to depict all my characters as accurately as possible. I did
a lot of research, I researched until I could hear their voices. It's
the way I work. I trained as a method actor, and that's the way I write.
I don't know if Dean's qualities are prevalent in performers or people
who seek fame. I think it just depends on the individual. For every
depressive, you can probably find an actor, such as Paul Newman, who
is very well adjusted.
Melloy: You point out in The Rebel that James Dean and Marilyn
Monroe were able to "turn it on," to light up and become charismatic
-- to become stars, in a word -- at will, despite their inner turmoil.
If performers do tend to be people who suffer inner demons, is that
ability to "turn it on" a survival mechanism or an adaptation of some
kind? Is it a form of schizophrenia? Or are you actually hinting, as
you seem to in the book, that there is something spiritually otherworldly
about people like James Dean, Elvis Presley, and other great stars?
Jack Dann: Dean
and Monroe and Presley were light bulbs, able to turn on their powerful
charisma at will. I know people who have ... charisma, who can electrify
a room, and it remains a mysterious phenomenon to me. I don't think
it is a form of schizophrenia. Does it come from insecurity? Perhaps,
but I feel ill at ease trying to generalize.
Melloy: This book seems, as much as anything, to be your love letter
to the 60s. Given that it's now somewhat fashionable to blame the 1960s
for various present-day social ills and to view that decade with distaste,
are you answering back to that sentiment here?
Jack Dann: No,
none of that. I wrote the novel to try to understand the decade and,
on a very personal level, to work through how those events had effected
and changed me.
Melloy: Without meaning to give anything away, may I ask whether
you ended the novel as you did as a way of re-imagining the outcome
of the 1960s, and even in some sense -- imaginary or maybe trying to
evoke something from that time for us to make use of now -- restoring
some of the positive things from those years?
Jack Dann: As
dark as this novel is, or might seem, it really is optimistic. And in
that way, it reflects the generation. I think the message of the 1960's
was positive, the idea that youth and the disenfranchised could make
Melloy: In The Rebel, there's some indication that James Dean
was receptive to the sexual attentions of other men. Was he bisexual?
Was he in such need of affection that it didn't matter where it came
from? Is this part of the character in the book based on any evidence
that the real James Dean might have been involved with other men?
Jack Dann: Yes,
Dean was bisexual. When asked about his bisexuality, his famous response
was "I won't live my life with one hand tied behind my back." Dean was
involved with other men, and I don't know if he was in such great need
for affection that he didn't care where it came from or whether he was
simply sexually polymorphous. I wrote a novella called "Dharma Bums,"
which is an outtake from The Rebel. It's the story of Dean and Kerouac's
trip to Tangiers to help William Burroughs rewrite Naked Lunch. "Dharma
Bums" is alternate reality fiction, but Kerouac, who was also bisexual,
was aggressively anti-gay. In this story, they rationalize that they
are not gay ... and then have sex. It's reasoning 1950's style.
Melloy: You have James Dean quoting Greek playwrights. Was Dean
something of a classicist?
Jack Dann: I think
Dean was enthralled with the idea of literature. He was probably not
a deep reader or a deep thinker, but he was an enthusiast.
Melloy: Finally... for my own edification... how do you go about
creating a memory cathedral? I'd heard of this before, and tried it,
but I can't ever remember the mnemonics that are supposed to help you
store and retrieve information! Is this something you yourself make
Jack Dann: I would
recommend reading The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan D.
Spence. It's a great overview of the idea. For a look into the general
subject of mnemonics, try The Art of Memory, by Francis Yates. It
is difficult to get a full picture of the earlier mnemonic systems,
as much of it is coded; vital information was passed on from teacher
to student. As for me, I've tried various mnemonic systems -- with little
result. But this probably reflects on me rather than the techniques!
I do use techniques such as lucid dreaming (not a memory system), but,
alas, I don't have my own memory cathedral ... as yet.
© Kilian Melloy 2004.
Jack Dann's The Rebel is published by William
Morrow (July 2004, ISBN: 0380978393).
Order online using these links and infinity
plus will benefit:
...The Rebel, paperback, from Amazon.com
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