As originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003), with accompanying photography by Shawn Mortensen…
‘The whole planet is the museum!’
Author-theorist Douglas Rushkoff takes tea and talks shop with veteran mindboggler/conceptualist/artist/visionary Genesis P-Orridge, best known for his work as co-founder of seminal industrial outfit Throbbing Gristle and leader of neo-primitive-shamanic ravists Psychic TV
I met Genesis in the early ’90s in the Bay Area. He needed a lift to Timothy Leary’s house in Beverly Hills, and I needed an interview for a book I was writing about viral media. We spent about six hours in the car together, trying to impress one another with our strangest thoughts while Gen’s two daughters fought in the back seat.
We’ve been friends ever since.
I guess it’s about ten years later, now. I’ve gotten married, become an author and university professor, while Gen has been kicked out of the UK forever, gotten divorced and married again, replaced his teeth with gold ones, and done some other stuff to his body that I’d be scared to. Still, in spite of our outward differences, we’re on the same path, and often use one another for guidance along the way.
See, if you’re going to be an artist or writer or magician, you’ve got to navigate through some treacherous zones. If you’re not traversing new territory (or at least forgotten territory) then why write instead of just reading? And many of these regions and be culturally, intellectually, physically, and psychically challenging. Disorientation can’t be avoided—it is the rule. Panic is the thing you have to watch out for.
So, Gen and I have these long talks every month or so. Sometimes they’re data dumps, and sometimes they’re progress reports. This one is probably a little more the latter, coming as it does on the release of Gen’s new book, Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge (Soft Skull Shortwave). —Douglas Rushkoff
Dougas Rushkoff (DR): Your new book has served for me as an occasion to look back on the history of cut-and-paste, as well as its tremendous influence on art and culture every since. Cut-and-paste can even be understood as a first, rebellious step towards the attainment of genuine co-authorship. From a broad, historical perspective, it seems to me that we move through three stages. We begin by passively absorbing the information that’s fed to us—the datastream. Then, maybe with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press, we gained the ability to interpret this information for ourselves, to some extent. Then, with cut and paste, we achieve the ability to take what’s been presented to us and move it around a little bit. We can create new meanings through transpositions of what’s there, but that’s limited, in a sense, to a kind of satire or self-conscious juxtaposition. And now, finally, with computing and the internet, with the ability to actually author what for lack of a better word would be ‘original’ material, now we move into artistry. But a truly interesting moment was that first cut-and-paste moment, that first moment of, “Okay this is being fed to us, BUT we can do this with it, or to it, and get something else.” I’d be interested in hearing from you what was it like to be part of that moment.
Genesis P-Orridge (G P-O): Well… The preamble would be this: in the early ‘60s, somewhat parallel to my becoming aware of the beatniks, I started to discover Dada and Surrealism. The first time I’d heard of cut n paste, I think was Brion Gysin giving Raoul Hausman and one or two of the Dadaists the credit as one of his inspirations. He said they would cut up words from one of their poems, putting them in a hat, and then they’d draw words out of the hat, and make a new poem. What had happened was that more emotionally based artists, the ones who were actually involved in feeling human as well as just glorifying creativity, had become very disconnected from the concept of linearity, the concept of Reason, all the material concepts of the world. They had just experienced the first world war, which had led to this Armageddon, this hell on earth, and this was their reaction against what they saw as that war’s cause: the misplaced celebration of Reason, the control over information and culture in society, the harmful repression of irrationality, which has backfired.
That’s really where the first step came, that disconnection from, and obsession with, a finished, perfect result that was ‘owned’ by the artist that made it. One of Brion Gysin’s greatest poems, which I didn’t understand until very recently, was ‘Poets don’t own words.” He would do a permutation: “Poets don’t own words, words poets don’t own, own words poets don’t” and it was only recently that I actually experienced it in a visceral way, that that’s been the big change. This is what you’re talking about: that we are blessed, or gifted, or pushed, by various events to deal with the information that’s coming at us, and that society and culture are, if you like, a solidity that’s based on the inertia and linearity. This solidity is oppressive, and in order to even begin to be anything one might label ‘free’ or ‘liberated, you have to, as Burroughs used to put it, ‘First you have to short-circuit control.’ Because control is ultimately an oppressor. Control really does contain all the feedback loops of consumer culture that you’ve talked about so astutely.
I’m know I’m going in a weird loop here, but basically the point is that during the middle of the last century, the idea of having to be an Artist who owned each thing fell apart. The Dadaists did live events. They did collaborations. They did The Exquisite Corpse, where they would do a drawing, fold it, next person would draw some more, fold it, and then the result was the art. And of course no one could say with any of these activities, ‘I did that.’ They all did it, but it also made itself. That process intrigued the more interesting artists from then on.
Now, it’s always good to look at what’s happening parallel to the art world in science at the time, whether it’s called ‘alchemy, or ‘science’ or ‘physics.’ Here, the big moment, really, is just after the Second World War, when we learnt to split the atom and we also learned to split consciousness with psychedelics at almost exactly the same time. Then you had people like Brion Gysin and William Burroughs learning to split the cultural atom with cut-ups in a much more methodical and conscientious way. Instead of it being a reaction against the Horror, it was actually a considered and very carefully and very meticulously observed process of… Well, in a sense they challenged themselves: How do we short-circuit linearity and control? Let’s experiment, and let’s be methodical, let’s CHOP THINGS UP—just like a scientist would!—and see what the building blocks are. And in their case of course, the thing to chop up would be language. So they started to chop up words.
I came in around this point, where suddenly it’s ALL up for grabs. I was born in 1950, so in 1960 I’m ten: my mind’s beginning to really think, make thought processes as well as just observe and absorb, and so I was really blessed in that the material world, the world of consciousness, and the world of accepted forms of writing and painting and music, all suddenly came up for grabs. They all became malleable. To many people, the rulebooks were thrown out. I don’t think it’s just coincidental—I think that it was a very important evolutionary moment, that we still haven’t fully grasped. As you said, it’s TOTALLY affected the culture on every possible level—on television all the adverts are just cut-ups!—to degrees that most people haven’t even considered yet.
I was being educated in an English public school and the basic bumper sticker for those is, We’re building the leaders of tomorrow. The ‘leaders of tomorrow’ were supposed to be the shepherds and farmers of inertia: to maintain the status quo, the Establishment. There was a book that came out that was called The Shock of the New. [pausing] Let me think about what it felt like. I’m just trying to track back. I remember, this seems weird to say this, I remember the Cuban missile crisis. I remember going to school, being told, You may not come home tonight because there might be an atomic war. And I was on a bus, with my face on the window of the bus, and I suddenly imagined the glass just melting around my face. I imagined there being an explosion, and the result of that being me, enfolded in molten glass, preserved in this shell of molten atomic glass. That image somehow simultaneously suggested the idea of preserving oneself, and that the shell that is oneself is invisible and transparent, and that in fact everything I’d been told about reality just wasn’t true. [laughing] Don’t ask me why that image made that happen for me! But that was my epiphany, and that was when I decided to seek out alternative methods of reporting upon experience.
In a way, I think that what we’ve always looked for is methods and media and techniques to report back upon what experience is and what being alive is. And as social life and civilization and Western Culture, which is what I know, as they have developed and become more and more complex, you would think that that implies we would be seeing some kind of shimmering atomic kaleidoscope that would be really vibrant and exciting, and constantly getting more complex. But the irony is that Western civilization seems to be more and more like threads binding rather than atomic splitting.
So what happened was, I was given a tape recorder by somebody at around the same time. Because I had very little tape, it just became natural to go back and use the tape more than once. It didn’t take long to notice that as I used it, I got these weird intersections of sound. So, on my own, by a mixture of poverty and desire, I discovered that I could actually change the order of time and reality and information. And it was exciting. I started to look for other ways of describing what I was feeling, because what I was being told was a description of being alive and reality just didn’t fit what I was feeling. As I said, I came across the Surrealists, the Dadaists and the Beatniks. At that time, it was not well documented that the beatniks were cutting up and pasting. But because of my own experiments and these little bits of information from the Dadaists, when I did see little references to tape recorder experiments, it had a really profound resonance for me, and I started to seek out all the information I could, and later on get to know the Beats too. And at the same time I started getting involved with all the underground press and so on.
What you really end up doing is, you surrender to the idea of oblivion. At some point you have to wipe absolutely clean every preconception that’s given to you both by the senses and by the culture—the ‘datastream’ that you talk about. You have to actually at some point dismiss it totally, and then you can start to make choices about what you wish to allow back in.
DR: I have always understood the kinds of shifts you’re talking about as the same kind of shift in perspective that occurs through a full-fledged renaissance. If you look back at the original “capital-R” Renaissance, what do you really have going on there? Perspective painting, successful circumnavigation of the globe, the printing press, calculus, and then the sonnet (which is really just an extended metaphor). Each of these 15th-cenutry innovations is all about being able to see three dimensions where there had formerly been two—or being able to relate two dimensions to three as in calculus, or being able to go around the globe, which is to experience the planet as three-dimensional rather than as flat. That’s renaissance . And we’re going through a similar shift, now. From the 1940s to the present, you have a series of analogous innovations. Instead of being able to circumnavigate the globe, we can blow the globe up!
G P-O: [agreeing] Or go into space and look at it.
DR: Indeed, or go into space and see it from a distance—which is just another increase in perspective. Instead of the printing press, we have the Internet, which rather than just allowing the individual in his drawing room to interpret a piece of literature, enables him or her to write one and then disseminate it through the whole network. Instead of just having perspective painting which allows you to see three dimensions on two, you get the holograph, which allows you to see four dimensions on two: the bird waving its wings, or the girl winking her eye as you walk across the plate. And then instead of calculus, which allows you to relate the second dimension to the third, or the third to the fourth, you get fractals, which is about fractional dimensionality: this thing has two and three-quarters dimensions, and what does that mean? Instead of the sonnet, which gave us the extended metaphor, we get hypertext, which allows us to make anything into a metaphor for something else—it’s all potential allegory.
Now, take a look at the results of the original Renaissance and the newfound ability of people to interpret their own culture and religion. For most of Europe that meant overturning the Catholic Church. It led to the Protestant Reformation, and eventually to bloodbaths. But before then, it was an extremely positive possibility being presented—that every man can interpret religion for himself.
And we are going through something like that again, obviously at a much faster pace, between say 1940 and the year 2000. That’s why we’ve had all these ideologies passing through until very recently—this increased amount of dimensionality, this sense of ‘Anything goes, so what do we want to bring back in?’ Which is what happens during any Renaissance. It’s as if a renaissance is a moment of shift in dimensional perspective which allows for the implantation of a new idea. Renaissance means you’re going to have a rebirth. Literally, a “renaissance,” or re-birth, of old ideas in a new context. What do we want to let back in? There’s a bit of a battle over ideas, over which ideas are going to make it back in now that everyone has the ability to re-frame this thing. Maybe what we’re in now, in the 21st century, is this struggle over authorship, this struggle over story, this global debate over narrative. In other words, whose narrative is going to be used as the template for the next several centuries or more?
G P-O: And of course the answer is no one owns the narrative anymore. That’s the thing that’s disturbing and frightening so many people, is the displacement of ownership in a very, very fundamental way.
DR: It’s a sense of ‘We won. But: uh-oh.’
G P-O: Well yeah, because even DNA is no longer a finite fixed program. DNA was once God’s book, you know. Well, now we can engineer the genetic book, the thing that’s the nearest we have to a source book of the ‘intended unfolding.’ There is no longer a fixed unfolding. For the first time we’ve actually almost surprised ourselves. Instead of us looking in the mirror, the mirror has literally dissolved. Maybe that’s what that glass was about! That metaphor.
The point you’re making is absolutely right. I was looking at the television just yesterday on the news and there was a person from a Muslim country and they were talking and they said, ‘Well you’ll never understand because you’re all Christian.’ And their assumption is still that the narrative in the West is ultimately a linear narrative that has an author, that its an unfolding linear story; and that if you’re not Muslim, you must be Christian, and that your whole behavior is based upon Christian dogma, because theirs is based on their dogma. So, for this Muslim, that’s obviously that’s the problem: it‘s Muslim dogma versus Christian dogma.
But the problem isn’t that at all. The problem is that we in the ‘West,’ are in their sense, amoral. We don’t care! Most people over here DON’T CARE what religion people are, and most people in the West don’t label themselves ‘Christians’ or anything else. The majority in the West are irreligious. They don’t have a faith. I’m not saying that’s a good thing—I’m saying it’s a fact. They’re a godless people. And in a sense, maybe, God is supposed to be ‘The Author.’ In the past, God was the ‘ultimate author.’ Well, guess what? We always said we wanted to challenge god and be like god—and now we have! We’ve just fallen, you know? [laughs] It’s as if the story of the fallen angel—Lucifer—has just happened. In a way, we’ve just started to reap the rewards of having decided to ask the questions.
DR: [agreeing] Right. Lately, I’ve started to wonder, ‘What if the painful truth is that we really are a fungus on a rock, hurtling through cold and meaningless space?’
G P-O: [laughs] Oh, I think about that every day!
DR: To me, it doesn’t really matter, because just as easily as the idea that God could have created us with meaning, is the possibility that just as life emerged from this cold and meaningless rock, and that meaning can now emerge…from us!
G P-O: I absolutely agree with you. This is our great opportunity to grow up as a species, and stop being larval. Because ultimately I think we’re still in a larval, primitive stage. Because there’s no other excuse for the way that we treat each other. If this isn’t primitive and pathetic and early behavior, then as a species we really are in trouble!
DR: And just as it’s a painful moment for any child to realize that his parents aren’t gods, it’s a painful moment for a civilization to realize that its god is not a parent.
G P-O: And that it’s actually making itself.
DR: Right. We are the adults here. We are in charge.
G P-O:Hence, it is painful—but fabulous. And that, in a way, is the whole point of the book. That’s why it’s not written just by me. This is dealt with in the book. What happened was, it became impossible for me to make a book that was both by me and about me, because I don’t even know if ‘me’ exists. And whoever ‘me’ is, is shifting and changing too—because one of things I’ve done is cut-and-pasted identity. I’ve taken it even further, you know?
DR: I ran into the same problem in my own SoftSkull book too [the novel Exit Strategy, published earlier this year], which is that if I’m writing a book about our ability to co-author the reality in which we live, how can I do that as a solitary author? So I had to put it online and let people contribute live to it.
G P-O: I think that’s one of the ONLY authentic and the nearest to an honest answer with any integrity is that you have to actually surrender to the fact that we’re in a moment where there is no need for genius to be individualized. Also, it’s not that healthy for it to be individualized because it continues this hierarchy thing. Hierarchical society means injustice, it means that certain numbers of people will follow other people and do damage based upon sort of an unthinking state of mind. So we’re at this amazing point where we have to actually say that no particular person has answers. It’s a collaborative effort.
You’ve always said, and we’ve agreed, that what goes on in art is usually the metaphor for what’s REALLY going on. So when you do an open source book, or I find it impossible to assemble a book about my art that isn’t done by a collective, at the end of it all I can say is, ‘Well, the art is actually the fact.’ Everybody did the book, and the rest is kind of the evidence that that happened, but that’s not the stuff. The pieces of art aren’t the art anymore. It really is the process of not just making it, which is the earlier idea that we had in the art world, but now it actually, truly is the process of Being that’s the only thing that really has any integrity right now.
DR: Talking the talk IS walking the walk.
G P-O: It’s just the classic conundrum which is, I’m using words to describe the fact that they’re useless. Of course, the response to that has always been, ‘But there’s such joy in talking about it.’ [laughter] And then you get back to the cut-up, of course. BECAUSE we’re so aware that, especially in a linear way, language has become this controlling factor–that every word is loaded with meaning and history, that each word is a hologram, and each hologram has all kinds of hidden agendas from all the people who have utilized it–
DR: Your language is an incantation, whether you realize it or not–
G P-O: Absolutely, so how you, at least to some degree, protect yourself and give yourself space to breathe and consider the moment, is to break those patterns that you’ve inherited, and surprise your own holograms. What I mean is this: From the moment of being able to hear words, my nervous system has been trained to an English language program in England, which of course would be different to my body and nervous system being trained in America with the English language. So I’ve got this incredibly inert, inherited, and not self-determined nervous system, that is on a day-to-day basis primarily it expresses and receives information with language, in terms of functioning with other beings. And that makes me very vulnerable because I didn’t pick that program or language! So how can I get some kind of independence from that program? It’s almost like doing karate with a blindfold on, rather than with your eyes open, because… If you’re in a cave, and it’s completely dark, and you know three people are going to attack you, and you have your eyes open, part of you is distracted by, still trying to see the enemy. But if you actually put the blindfold on in the dark, you wouldn’t think about seeing! And you might just hear that tiny bit better that might save your life.
It’s that kind of analogy, that the cut-up gives you that breathing space, in a sense a moment for survival as an intelligent and autonomous being. For me. So, if you take all the words and cut them all up and give yourself the opportunity to have these unexpected collisions, to have things revealed that you would just have forgot, filtered out, were lazy about and so on. It is just SO radical when you start to do it. The sense of empowerment and freedom from expectation…
DR: When you do it consciously—dis-assembly, re-assembly, compression—it’s almost identical to creating a sigil. [A sigil is a picture used in magical incantations. Like the symbols we use for letters, today, they are composed of drawings and symbols that are condensed into simpler sets of lines that can be remembered and meditated upon.]
G P-O: That’s true, and there’s a whole section in the book all about creating sigils, and some of the possibilities of them.
DR: The strange thing about the sigils is not so much hearing about them or figuring out how they function, but the almost-always surprising truth that they WORK.
G P-O: Yes. [laughter] This is mind-boggling, isn’t it?
DR: I don’t believe in magick, exactly. But I know that sigils work, if they’re created the right way. And sometimes they work so well that they almost come back at you as a joke. Like Grant Morrison was telling me about this big sigil that he wanted to meet Superman, and he was sitting on a park bench and Superman walked up. But it was a guy working at a convention! He treated him like he was Superman, though, and had a great interview. So sometimes it’s obviously not going to be that magical, in the sense of a puff of smoke or something. And obviously if you pick something too specific, you end up getting it, which can be scary.
G P-O: As they say, be careful what you wish for! It’s like the genie-in-the-bottle thing, isn’t it? You’ve got your wishes, except with sigils you get more than three.
DR: Right. And you can work sigil magick completely though language I suppose, but it affects realms way beyond the linguistic ones.
G P-O: Oh yeah. Well, it’s the whole Butterfly-in-the-West Indies thing, isn’t it? I think what’s really important is, if you make a decision to work within life, you let go of the scientific concept of matter being only objects. You see that culture is a material, and that language is a material, and that time is a material, and emotions are material. Basically you think of everything in terms of matter, and all matter is ultimately flexible, fluid, manipulatable and malleable. (Of course, as science and physics goes on, it keeps on confirming everything that we’ve speculated anyway. There’s not been any dissent yet about this, from what I’ve looked at in scientific.) If you start to cut things up and re-assemble them, at first it’s kind of fun. You go, Well ooo that’s nice. But it really does seem to be more than that—cut-and-paste seems to be one of the few practical ways that any person can use to truly re-wire the inherited neural system and the DNA program. You can re-wire what you were given.
DR: That’s why for me the open-source software movement is such a terrific allegory and practice for accepting the fact that we live in a malleable reality. Or certainly for accepting that a hell of a lot more of our world is programmable software than we’ve previously thought. There might be some hardware down there somewhere, but we haven’t got close to that yet. People are starting to accept that they have indeed been the programmers, whether they were witting or not, and that they’re actively programming the world we live in. I think it’s healthy for people to realize this. I think that then they start to experience everything—from their bodies to the air we breathe—as a medium through which they can create and transmit their story.
G P-O: Absolutely. Well you know that Burroughs and Gysin used to say, In a pre-recorded universe, who made the first recording? I’ve thought about that a lot. And what it led me to wasn’t so much wondering about that question, because I think you’re right, it doesn’t matter, actually, but what it did make me realize is that the entire planet is a recording device. That, as you and I are speaking now, on this planet, there is, certainly it seems that way, and we’ll probably find more, there’s some kind of data recorded—whether it be fossils, geological strata—
DR: [laughing]: Or the digital cassette that we’re recording on right now.
G P-O: —basically everything that’s happened so far is still here, recorded. On the planet, and in the planet. And there are people in New Guinea living in different centuries to the ones we’re living in. The people in the Kalahari are living in the pre-Stone Ages. So we actually still have the pre-Stone Age, parallel to the next phase, which is, because some people in the West and Japan and so on, high-tech societies, are already in the future, so allllllll the realities humanity has programmed through history are still here simultaneously! We’re actually layering more on top. So what we really have is a point of intersection, which is the earth, and everything that’s ever been manifested is still here. That’s not just a concept, this is actually HOW IT IS.
I mean, I walk down the street and if I meet somebody that I know who’s from Nepal, I also quite deliberately through my own interest, I remember I’m talking to somebody who’s from a different century, in terms of where they grew up. That doesn’t mean anything in terms of their intelligence! I have to remind myself that there’s ALL these stories happening simultaneously, all the stories are unfolding simultaneously. Each individual being, walking by, is the center of their own particular universe, in terms of subjectivity. You’re the only person who’ll be in your world every second that your world exists. And your world is all the things you perceive while you are—theoretically—‘alive.’ And that is your unique universe, because you do go out into what’s out there just the same as I do. So this place is just amazing, because there’s billions of universe clustered on this point of intersection, and all the stories going right back are still here too! We have trillions and trillions of universes, many of them mobile, because they’re in human bodies, all clustered in these tiny, tiny concentrated places.
DR: That’s why the real artistic act is not one of authorship but one of resonance. You know, being open to these conversations…
G P-O: Yes, it’s remaining open to dialogue. It’s not about the ego—look at me, I’m a great artist, I have something in the Tate, you know? That is SO redundant. Museums? THIS IS THE MUSEUM! The whole planet is the museum! I call all of that The Museum of Magic, because it’s all about illusion. That’s the whole illusion.
We really are in a new place. And as people kind of grasped almost immediately, the Internet is, they knew it would be a metaphor, but it’s actually also a reality. Yes, we are actually building some kind of new brain. A global brain, as Howard [Howard K. Bloom, author of Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000)] would call it. That’s actually going on. These AREN’T abstractions.
That’s the thing that I think that we’ve got to get hold of.
DR: What words of encouragement would you have for the passionate but still currently amateur and underappreciated young artist who might be reading ARTHUR at this moment, who makes her cut-up tapes and homespun zines and online blogs, and yet there’s not anyone willing to pay for what she has to say, not that many people coming. But this person feels she’s resonating with everything that you’re saying now, or might be saying in one of your books…
G P-O: Well… In doing this book, I had to go right back to childhood and look at my entire unfolding so far, as a character. I had to look at everything. And one thing that immediately struck me as significant is that I’ve always worked in collectives. I’ve never had this need, or this motivation, to identify myself as the sole source of anything. ‘Oh, it’s because I’m clever that this happened.’ No. All the time I say, over and over again, we just did what was inevitable anyway. And that’s the important thing, is the people should LET GO of the concept of success and celebrity and fame and fortune. That’s not important. Of course we’d all love to have whatever it might be that represents for us–which is mainly not worrying about bills, for me! I think that although Warhol was wonderful, he did us all a great disservice by making celebrity into this red herring. And I think that people will find that if they just, as I used to say, ‘change your own bedroom and you can change the world.’ It’s about self-discovery and it’s about collaboration and collective action, WITHOUT any kind of narcissistic, secret agenda. That’s over. You know, sometimes someone for whatever reason happens to be chosen to represent a collective metaphor, as a person. That’s why I chose a fictional character, Genesis P-Orridge, in the first place. Neil Megson is the artist, not Genesis. Neil Megson created this fictional character, and then let loose that character to see if it was true that you could cut and paste a person, and what would happen if you put a truly flexible and malleable being out there.
D: But ‘Genesis’ is still the author of the book.
G P-O: Actually I don’t think it says that. I think if you look it doesn’t say that at all. It says it’s by everyone else.
D: Oh, right. “With text by…”
G P-O: Yeah. See?
D: Well, Neil’s not on there.
G P-O: No, but he’s discussed in one chapter. So no, I don’t put myself as the author. I’m not the author. I’m blessed to have let other people do it for me! [laughs] This is an open-source book, see? I said to everybody, Look you’ve got carte blanche for once, no one’s gonna censor you, you can use me as an excuse to say something you’ve always wanted to say, I don’t care, I don’t have to agree with you, use ‘Genesis P-Orridge’ the idea to say whatever you want, and if you need Genesis P-Orridge the idea to trigger something, feel free. And that’s basically how the book happened, as you know. And that’s why I love it so much. Because I got to see it happen too. I was just as much of a witness as anyone who reads it. And of course truly I do feel incredibly humbled and honored by the amount of positive energy that people gave me based around this character, that they HAVE found that something was useful for them. And at the end, the last page says, ‘To be continued.’ For the very reason that this isn’t over, this is an ongoing thing. I don’t know the end. That’s why there’s all these different faces in there. Which one is me? I don’t know. Funny thing is none of those is how I look now, so…
It’s all about letting go of those preconceptions, and not being afraid to not exist in a sense, because even as you are theoretically here and present, you still don’t really know if you exist. It’s incredibly liberating when you let go of that need, and let yourself become fictional–as well as knowing you’re fictional. Because actually we all are fictions. We’re all just stories unfolding.
D: And until you accept that you’re fictional, you don’t stand a chance of writing your own story. You get too bogged down.
G P-O: In answer to that question, then, with those people, right, that you want me to encourage them. However this may sound, this is the basic exercise I’ve used. First of all is the classic Sufi thing, which is ‘Always try to go to sleep feeling that the day you’ve just had, something extra was added into the word’—something that you’re proud of, or pleased about. It may be that you cleaned a room. Or you wrote a nice postcard to a friend. Or made a phone call to Mum. It doesn’t have to be grand. Something happened that day, that wouldn’t’ve happened without you being alive, something that is somehow to you a positive thing. Feed the dog, stroke it, whatever. That’s one thing to do. The other exercise is to be able to think at any moment during the day, whenever you’re doing something… like if you’re writing a letter, think to yourself, ‘If I died now, and my life was judged by what this letter is like, would I be proud of that?’ Do EVERYTHING as if that so meticulously, make it so full of passion and of love for the moment and for the thing that you’re doing, so that you would always be proud to be remembered by that thing. Whatever it is, whether it’s cooking for a friend, washing up, anything. To always feel honorable and proud and that you’ve given love back by the way that you act every day.
And then another exercise is this: Imagine your life is a book, and you’re going to write this book. So when you’re thinking, What should I do? Should I have this relationship or not? or something, you can think in terms of would doing that make for an interesting chapter. Even now sometimes I sit back with Miss Jackie and go, There’s another good page in the book. [laughs] The Theoretical Autobiography that I could never write because it’s too much stuff, but… It’s a good exercise, to just go ‘Well yeah, that was a good bit of the book.’ Sometimes it’s ‘Well that was dramatic, but that was a good bit of the book too.’ Or, ‘That was terrible, oh, argh, but it’ll look great in the book.’ Or if you want to get more contemporary, you can imagine your life as a movie: ‘Was that a good scene?’
Suddenly you will find more balance. The great ups and the great downs start to become the coloring of the story—they start to have their own special value and emotional joy, because it’s YOUR story and it’s your passion and it’s your tragedy and it’s your moment of adulation. It’s your moment of…whatever. All these wonderful emotional events that take place that make us more individual than anything else–those are always wonderful, no matter how hard they are to experience. And that’s the other thing, the other trick: always try to work with other people, because none of us know everything. My feeling is, if I can have one good idea, and it’s quite a good idea, and I know four really clever people, and then I share it with them, then the odds are higher by getting four clever people, or four people I trust, to be involved, it’s gonna be somehow better than I could do on my own. Now why do I need to prove I can do it on my own when it’s not gonna be as good or as useful to other people? The old way was, to try and claim individual genius.
D: That’s the academic’s way, at least.
G P-O: [continuing] But a), it’s not the most efficient method, and b) it’s not glamorous to be narcissistic like that.
D: [laughing] And c), it’s not as much fun!
G P-O: When I did Contemporary Artists (1977), I’d written these questionnaires to the thousand ‘most important’ artists in the last century, and they would write back, and one of the things asked was what were their influences. Most people would say ‘oh I was influenced by meeting this person or reading that book,’ but once in a while you would get somebody who would say, ‘Nothing.’ They would basically say ‘I am just so brilliant and I have this God-given talent that’s MINE ALONE, and NOTHING influenced me.’ That’s ridiculous! Everything that happens to us every second is influencing everything else. That’s the new way. That’s what we’ve taught ourselves.
D: Right, and to be open to that is to be open to being a great artist for this century, and to be closed to that is for an artist die.
G P-O: It’s also just being modern. There’s the old way, which is all about individual ego, individual power, individual self-gratification and so on. It‘s over. Just geographically, there’s too many people now. You’ve GOT to learn to get on with each other. We’re pushed up against each other, that’s why there’s friction right now. There’s a lot of individual universes clustered here, and they’ve got to start to not trying to keep maintaining that little separation, they’ve got to start becoming, if you like, instead of atoms and molecules, instead of molecules, something else. So, as we’re more and more able to go smaller in terms of what we observe with science in a literal sense, we have to, funnily enough, get bigger in terms of us as beings.
Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism, will be published by Crown in April, 2003. A deluxe boxed 24-CD edition of Throbbing Gristle’s 24 Hours of TG has just been released by Mute. A new Throbbing Gristle compilation will be released in early 2003.
For more information on Douglas Rushkoff, visit www.rushkoff.com
For more information on Genesis P-Orridge, visit www.genesisbreyerporridge.com