Chad Kultgen's first novel was a breakthrough book for me because it made me realize that I was capable of writing a novel.
Why? The simple answer is it was the prose. Kultgen's style was sparse, minimalistic, and clean, with few accroutements. Although I'd later realize that this sort of writing is actually not at all easy to produce, it gave me a sort of false confidence that I could readily write a similar type of "fratire" genre novel. My earlier drafts were a pure aping of his style, and over time, I started to develop my own twist on his contemporary conversational prose.
Really, though, I think the reason this book made something click inside of me was the banality of the protagonist. Although Bret Easton Ellis's novels are famous for their apparent lack of plot-based structure, it's difficult to relate to his very specific presentation of upper-class White Californian or New Yorker lifestyles. There's an other-worldliness to his fiction that isn't there in Kultgen's work, which is emphatically realist. Even though the protagonist in The Average American Male does little other than masturbate, play video games, and focus on sex, there's something engaging about the way Kultgen writes about his daily life, a kind of joie de vivre with which he approaches the description of modern aimlessness and boredom.
The Average American Male is clearly a satire about American masculinity and is meant to illuminate the supposedly base sexual motivations of young men, but the actual character simply reads like a straightforward sociopath with minimal affect or inner emotional life. The influence of Bret East on Ellis is clear, and Kultgen's stories have a distinct feel to them - his style and characters are more accessible and realistically drawn.
Deliberate or not, the title of the novel is definitely a misnomer. In fact, I'd submit that the power of fiction with young men as protagonists is that it can discuss the inner emotional lives of men that are typically deliberately blunted when interacting with others. Longing, loneliness, heartbreak, and pain are feelings that I'd argue fit squarely within the realm of realism for a lot of twentysomething men, even those who look like caricatures of over the top frat boys and the like. There's a reason men in this age cohort kill themselves with alarming frequency and it's not because they're detached hypersexualized sociopaths (in any event, sociopathy makes you more psychologically resilient). In any event, in Kultgen's later books, his intent veers back to the sincere, and although there are certainly satirical elements still present, the identical protagonist in The Average American Marriage is a fully fleshed out character, a veritable human being and not just a tool of satire.
This novel was Kultgen's first, and became a breakout success due in part to a viral marketing campaign (deliberately polarizing, Kultgen knows his readership well), but also because there aren't a lot of general fiction novels that are targeted toward young men (I am excluding genre fiction, obviously). I'm going through the querying process now, and it's clear to me that the literati in New York represent the old guard of establishment taste. The only agents that have asked for pages are those under the age of 30, and I'm not surprised by that.
There's an obvious homogenizing effect that comes from the top-down in the publishing industry, which is why so much literary fiction reads like the same old boring shit about middle class, maybe academic White people and the boring as fuck navel gazing lives. To take a chance on something really risky - like, say, a novel about a white supremacist misogynist written in the first person by a person of colour - well, that's probably not going to happen.
On Kultgen's blog, he writes that it took him seven years of trying before he made it through one of the gatekeepers who took a chance on him, and I'm not the least bit surprised. His writing is raw and honest and unflinching, but it's not the good kind of "raw and honest" that the literati like to splash on back covers full of recommendations.
Regardless, Chad, if you're reading this, thank you.
I wonder how many opportunities I've missed because I was crippled with self doubt, this gnawing feeling of not being good enough.
Like most people, when I look back, the best things I ever did came from taking longshots - things I've made when I had no experience making them, relationships that were doomed from the start but worth pursuing anyways, and connections made from reaching across the chasm of what could be and turning that into reality. There is nothing in value in this life you'll get without some measure of risk and failure. I learned that after living in a self-enclosed hugbox whose walls I had built myself (to protect me from bad feels).
For my first novel, I'm querying agents right now, and it's a process that, by its very nature, injects you with self doubt. Rejections piling upon rejections, each one of them adding to the existing doubts you already have about your own ability. If you're unpublished, are you being rejected because your book doesn't match the agent's commercial preferences? Or is it because you fucking suck?
It's a trick question, because the answer doesn't matter. If you love the process enough, the act is its own reward. I love writing. I love entering the flow state and entering a trance-like meditative mindspace where the characters inside of me have come alive and the scene if unfolding before my very eyes and I'm just a conduit, a channel that's transcribing this onto paper. With anything worth doing, you've got to do it, and just let go of the outcome.
So you failed a couple times? A hundred times? A thousand times?
Keep going. Just keep going. That's what life is - one foot after another.
Start from your death and work your way backwards. How do you want to die? Who do you want to be when the lights close out on you? Don't become one of those old men who asks himself what if...
The devil is a Hollywood executive, offering you a Faustian bargain, exchanging fame for the debasement of your entire race.
Pop quiz: name a working Asian male actor who isn't Ken Jeong or Jackie Chang. Are you able to?
Representation matters, which is why something like this makes me sick:
When people think of working American Asian actors, the first person they think of is this motherfucker. The worst part is the eagerness with which he participates in the whole thing. I've never seen a man so enthusiastically get on his knees.
Here is a video where Ken Jeong explains why he is not popular in Korea:
My theory of Hollywood is that it's a vortex that slurps up all the humanity within a forty-mile radius, leaving behind only animated corpses.
Here's how to become a famous Korean without abetting white supremacy:
If nothing else, check out his excellent lists of aggregated links, which include brief commentary. Frankly, I often enjoy them even more than reddit, since they're the product of deliberate curation. Seliger is a generalist, with thoughtful insights on a broad number of issues, including sex, economics, startups, technology, academia, and education.
My medical friends also highly recommend his post on whether or not you should become a doctor.
Let's assume that one day, we will eventually reach the intelligence explosion, a moment where the first true artificial general intelligence - equivalent to a human mind - can recursively improve itself over and over again until it's exponentially smarter than even the smartest human being.
Such an intelligence could do anything a human could do - but better. Much better.
People are worried about how this machine might kill us or wipe out all life on earth. I'm interested in alternative possibility: what if it wrote a novel?
Imagine: a being of such immense intelligence that it could reverse engineer the neurological circuits that trigger emotion, deep feeling, and sensations of transcendence. Imagine the caliber of story that it could deliver, playing your brain like a master pianist.
Would this story have a soul? Could a reductionist algorithm produce a work of art that moves you in a way no human work ever could? What if artists have no special faculty, no access to the heart of what it means to be a human being?
It's disturbing to think about, because it devalues us. The truth is, an intelligence explosion devalues all human accomplishment since it's so clearly going to pale against the incredible capabilities of this god-like being. What would a mind that makes Einstein look like an ant be truly capable of? Would it write a story that makes Hemingway look like the work of child?
There is a frailty to viewing the value of your life in terms of your accomplishments, as they are crushed under the weight of time and the escalating rate of progress in all fields, art included (that's why people like the new shit).
Regardless, this book I'm positing is something I'd love to read.
My cousin and I are ordering schwarma from the sole Turkish stall in the city when the brawl breaks out. Five black teens, maybe North African, are getting beat up by a group of white kids, maybe twenty years old. The groups separate without anyone getting killed and the immigrants back off and then one of the one white kids takes his shirt off and throws a heil hitler salute and I am reminded that yes, I am in rural Scandinavia, and now I'm remembering that my cousin, despite completing military service, probably doesn't know how to fight, and although I am bigger than most of the kids in the group it's doubtful that we can win if it comes to that.
I'm jacked up, the fear priming my muscles for something I don't want to do and that's when I am reminded that being half-white is not the same thing as being white.
I am in the country of my birth, a land whose blood courses through my veins, and once again, I am a stranger, a man looking from the outside in. It does not matter where you go. Belonging is something that exists inside of your head. It's not real.
I am in bed, and the girl covers the right side of my face with her hand, revealing the side with the double eyelid. "White," she says, smiling. She switches hands, covering the left side, and now it's the monolid that's staring back at her. "Asian," she says.
Biology is full of metaphors.
The girl, who is from Seoul, was born long after Korea's first exposure to the biracial. The "real" first generation was generally perceived to be the spawn of American soldiers and Korean prostitutes, and was treated as such. Years earlier, I came across a photo of a couple of these boys taken in the nineteen-sixties from an orphanage.
Three biracial children staring at the cameraman, who's caught them unfiltered. I remember being transfixed by the picture. Their eyes cut right through you. You could see the shame and hatred, the distrust. They knew they were unwanted. They became living ghosts of the past, ostracized since birth. Mistakenly thinking I was part of the first "real" generation of hapas, I was struck by how prototypically "half" their features were: a characteristic blend of East Asian and European facial structures that I'd recognize in an instant.
In a generation, those same faces would appear on runways and billboards across Asia. It's still incredible to me how, in the span of several decades, a group of people could rise from a reviled to fetishized status. Then again, such is the power of White Supremacy, the mimetic mind virus that propagates itself around the world, trailing in the wake of globalization.
Months later, when we are still together, the same girl tells me she's not attracted to Asian men, and I almost choke on my own laughter.
Life is trying to tell you something. It's not that your sense of disorientation isn't real, it's that you're one of the few people with your eyes held open. The circumstances of your birth have forced you to ask yourself a question that few others ever will: are you the colour of your skin?
On some level, I've always been disgusted by the concept of ethnic pride. I've always thought this form of ethnocentrism a kind of weakness, an inability to determine your identity for yourself. If your identity is contingent upon your membership to a group, you are subjugating your individuality to the conformity of the masses. It's a form of exchange, a form of brusque triabalism. We are living in the twenty-first century now, and we don't need these vestigial artifacts.
Ask yourself: who are you?
If your answer is something alone the lines of "ethnic pride," (whatever the hell that means), then I have a hard time differentiating that between wearing a bright red jersey and getting into a drunken brawl with some idiot wearing different colours in the stands of the stadium.
Your ancestors are already dead. You don't get to assume credit for their achievements. This form of chest thumping just doesn't make sense. It's not even wrong, it's nonsensical. You are not them, and they are not you.
If you're going to bleed for something, bleed for an idea. Bleed for the people you love. What really defines a human being is the sum total of the choices they have freely made. Not the things imposed upon them by genetic chance, social constructs, or fate. If you allow yourself to be defined by imposition, that's a form of slavery. Ethnocentrism is a form of imposition, embedded within it a set of cultural expectations about what you can and cannot do. Ultimately, only those things self-determined are of any true value, because those are things you chose for yourself.
What do you believe? How do you live? Who do you love? How did you love them? What did you do with your time here?
Maybe I'm ascribing powers of self determination to a human being that are overly idealistic. Arguably we do not have such unrestrained abilities: like a dog attached to a leash, we are bound by the causal constraints of our past. But that's the very purpose of an ideal: something to reach for, something aspirational. And within that limited space is still a kind of freedom. I catch myself lionizing the achievements of half-Asian people all the time. That's the kind of pull my monkey brain exerts on me, dragging into this lower form of consciousness.
Maybe the scientists are right. Maybe the scientists and computer models are right: maybe racism had some type of genetic game-theoretic advantage in our evolutionary past. Maybe that's why it's such a universal problem. The correct response isn't to be disturbed - it's to be indifferent. Why should we be constrained by the past? Who cares?
Were primates supposed to fly into space?
That sense of displacement you have, because you're from two different worlds? Don't curse it. It's not that you don't belong. You've been given something else instead. You've been granted the freedom to choose who you want to be. No - this freedom has been foisted upon you. You cannot choose either side because you are not merely one of your two halves - you are both, and you are neither.
You are the choices you have made, and nothing else.
it's funny, how a song can so strongly remind you of a woman....
<insert Jonah Lehrer neurobabble here>
so if you ever want to sit down and have your heart ripped directly out of your chest, watch Studio Ghibli's The Grave of the Fireflies. based on a true story, it's about two war-time orphans in Japan who starve to death. to get an idea of the level of sadness of this movie, take Schindler's List and multiply it by Sophie's Choice. in all seriousness, though, I'm not sure I've ever been flat out emotionally devastated by a piece of art in the way that this thing just completely wrecked me (and for the love of God, watch the subtitled version, not the godawful dub).
in the film, the older boy and his younger sister starve, but in real life, the film was based off of an autobiographical short story.
Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓 Hotaru no Haka?) is a 1967 semi-autobiographical short story by Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka. It is based on his experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945. One of his sisters died as the result of a sickness, his adoptive father died during the firebombing proper, and his younger adoptive sister Keiko died of malnutrition in Fukui. It was written as a personal apology to Keiko, regarding her death.
apparently Nosaka, scavenging for food as a young boy, would always eat first, leaving his malnourished younger sister with the leftovers.
as a result, she starved to death.
that kind of survivor's guilt - I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.
part of me wants to sit down and analyze why this film is such a masterwork - and Roger Ebert touches upon that here - but I think I'm not going to do that. I'll just return to the film in a year's time and let it wash over me.
not everything in life is meant to be reduced to its component parts.
I know a lot of people over at The Red Pill are real cynical about this thing called "love," basically arguing that it boils down to a fundamentally transactional genetic exchange between two parties, and so on.
Tomassi's infamous post on Women in Love represents the heart of The Red Pill, which is really just a form of interpersonal nihilism: the proposition that there is a cap on a woman's ability to love a man, a threshold which hypergamy has set, and cannot be exceeded. to propose that a woman's love for a man is, at heart, motivated by selfish genetic concerns, and ultimately wholly contingent upon his continued performance as a dominant Alpha male worthy of her relational investment.
I was wracking my head over counterarguments to this, based off of Evolutionary Psychology, or the actual psychological literature on secure, faithful, heterosexual attachment (surprise! it exists!), and then I came upon this:
On ICU call, sometimes it can get pretty awful, and this night was terrible. It was 3 AM, and I had just finished admitting a patient to the ICU who has gone into respiratory failure, when a code was called overhead. It was a bad scene. The patient was roughly 300 lbs, lying face down on the floor. He had apparently tried to go to the bathroom and never made it. Usually the nurses would be in the midst of CPR by the time I arrived, but they couldn't even roll him over because of his size.
The Red Pill is a model for how the world works, and like every model, it's not going to exhaustively explain everything that you see.
spend some time around the dying, and you'll see what real love looks like.
I may be a cynic, but I'm also an idealist.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis