Unlikely Micro-Interview: Tom Bradley
K.R. Copeland: Let’s pretend you’re the tour guide, leading your readers through the dimly-lit, blood-slicked labyrinth that is We’ll See Who Seduces Whom. What specific instructions do you give them in order to facilitate their safe passage?
Tom Bradley: There are absolutely no "blood slicks" in We’ll See Who Seduces Whom, as the most perfunctory glance at the illustrations will show. We have a few amputees, but they are all furnished with tidy prostheses. You see no bone or connective tissue exposed by trauma. There are some monstrosities, but they're all congenital. One of our gigantic goddesses has a harelip, and even hare-eyes, as it were, but she displays no ragged wounds. You will meet a head with no body, but it's not severed. It's complete in its headness, and sits tight, needing no hackneyed stump of a chopped neck.
That is the point and the beauty of David Aronson's work. He shows mutation in all its intrinsic and fastidious dignity, no generic gore anywhere to titillate the stupider sub-structures of your brain, no puddles of bodily fluid to put your great auntie off her lunch. For this reason, David's art is the opposite of "dimly lit." He shows everything in a clear liminal bardo light that might be called clinical if not for its paradoxical beauty. As for We’ll See Who Seduces Whom being a "labyrinth," I suppose you're not far off.
And why would a writer need to serve as a "tour guide" through his work? If his readers need guidance, either he has done a bad job, or they are deficient. A competently written book needs no introduction. The work itself will spur curiosity among the right readers more than some half-baked pretense of laying out its mysteries in advance. A foreword is something English majors skim in order to get a B-minus without having to read the book.
An author has to select his intended audience well. In these days of childish reading comprehension levels, his readership may be imaginary, a projection toward some future uptopia where literacy somehow reappears. But, his worthy audience being at the moment a fond fantasy, there is no need to condescend, to doubt their ability to arrive at their own conclusions.
That is, unless, like a creative writer, he has couched his work in private language, dealing with private matters which he's too coy or lazy or theoretically constricted to elucidate in the body of the work. Then he's suited to perform at a poetry reading, where people introduce their work with interminable preambles. Tour guides abound at poetry readings.
KRC: While I agree, one’s written work needn’t call for introduction/instruction, I was thinking a bit more figuratively. Your written work, conjoined with Aronson’s visuals, is such a visceral romp through the macabre, I imagine your readers not simply reading through, We’ll See Who Seduces Whom, but actually walking through oo-ing and ah-ing. Hypothetical instruction therefore being, keep arms and legs inside the lines at all times, or, do not look the artwork directly in the eye. And, by dimly-lit, I only mean to suggest that this is an exploration of the darker side of humanity; the perversions and or diversions from the norm that most of us refuse to acknowledge. But, I digress.
You mention the importance of knowing one’s audience. Please describe the typical Tom Bradley enthusiast, and any methodology you might implement to sway an outsider toward your way of thinking.
TB: In my whole life, as far as I know, I've had no more than ten intelligent readers. And no typicality can be reduced from them. They couldn't differ more in age, region, and other demographics. Everyone else opens my books expecting the zippy action to commence in the first paragraph, according to the most rudimentary screenplay manner, with characters and settings lifted from what is now euphemized "generic" but used to be dismissed as "trash" fiction. Heaven forbid that anything like a subtext should peek its head up. People arrive with a simplistic set of ideas spoon-fed them by someone whom they've been told is authoritative. They take a book and misread it with all their negligible might to make it adhere to those ideas. When they finally discover it's impossible, these readers get angry and throw the book aside. And, above all, in fiction and nonfiction, both "popular" and "literary," everything must be couched in simple declarative fourth grade-level language. Any hint of mature syntax sends them running away from the "difficult text." In such a literary milieu it's actually a good augur to be unable to find one's "typical reader."
This is what I meant in my answer to your previous question when I talked about a "readership being an imaginary projection toward some future uptopia where literacy somehow reappears." The projection can go back in time as well, when people weren't nearly so cretinous. I imagine the people who first read and acknowledged the ecstatic prose in certain chapters of Moby Dick, in the entirety of Tale of a Tub, in Nietzsche‘s non-aphoristic works, and in the fiction of the Mighty Pythoness of Dnepropetrovsk, for which she was paid a rate-per-word comparable to Turgenev‘s. I have no idea if more than ten readers of that caliber still exist.
As for "implementing methodology" to "sway outsiders to my way of thinking," my answer is the same one I gave to your "tour guide" question. The book itself does that job. I don't understand the assumption that the writer has functions and responsibilities outside of his books. This is what publishers and publicists do. It's the thinking of the merchant caste, glad-handers, ad-men, charmers and hustlers.
KRC: Pardon me; I frequently sport both writer’s hat and hustler’s gloves so sometimes the lines get blurred. You’re right; of course, the work should speak for itself. Yours, in fact, sings. The inarguably lyrical beauty and well-craftedness of, We’ll See Who Seduces Whom, really helps the “basting sauce of licked and refluxed amniotic caul” go down.
This classic Tom Bradley combination of literary aptitude and often grotesque subject matter has garnered many awards in your favor, and you’ve been referred to as “genius” on more than one occasion. Do you suppose these accolades have at all gone to “your godhead’s botched topside, Pops”?
TB:Among mediocrities, in an age that worships mediocrity and can't recognize anything else, getting accolades is offensive enough. But letting them go to one's head is the gravest of crimes. It's understandable how this would be the case in a class-ridden society like Britain, where envy is braided in the DNA. But it's even truer in America. Disallowed any proper old aristocracy, we're supposed to be anti-intellectual mouth breathers, all of us, to exactly the same debased degree. And we get the education system and "literature" to back that up.
Way back in the seventies, Vonnegut announced that "in these times of childish literacy levels" (America was reading at the seventh grade then, three grades higher than now), he was going to write Dick-and-Jane sentences, with tiny words. Of course, he, too, garnered many awards and was called a genius.
It all depends on who calls you that. If what they say is true, no amount of self-conceit can inflate your skull any more than it already is, by virtue of your unexampled talent, intellect and productivity.