April 14, 2019
Supervert interviewed by A VOID
A few years ago my friend and I had arrived early to a fashion show at a small vintage shop, and I was telling him about this great book I was reading called Necrophilia Variations by an authorial entity known only as Supervert, who appears to be based in New York City and employed as a philosophy professor. His hilarious and often beautifully philosophical 2005 book is a "literary monograph on necrophilia, the erotic attraction to corpses and death." It achieved an unusual amount of notoriety for a self-published literary monograph when the porn star Stoya was filmed reading it aloud, to quite mesmeric effect, while she was brought to orgasm with a vibrator, as part of the Hysterical Literature video series.
Ten minutes into my enthusiastic Necrophilia Variations review, the owner of the clothes shop, a woman in her late thirties who had been quietly peeling cucumber into the gin and tonics behind us, interrupted me and hissed: "Stop talking about necrophilia now. There are ladies about to arrive."
Supervert, what would you have said in this situation?
Since it was a vintage shop, I might have complimented the owner on her ability to do business in a sort of sartorial necrophilia. The clothes she sells create an intimacy between the skin of a living person and those of a former owner who is absent or quite possibly dead. Come to think of it, the repulsion that some feel at the thought of wearing secondhand clothes or sleeping in used sheets is likely a weak form of the aversion people have for touching a dead body.
I guess you must have developed a strategy for dealing with the subject of your books in polite company.
As for polite company, it is not much of an issue. I'm polite. Also Supervert is cultish — willfully distant yet compelling to those who feel its call. This filters out the majority of the those would be offended by it.
Can literature ever be perverse, according to the Perversity Think Tank definition?
The secret of Perversity Think Tank is that it sets out but ultimately fails to define perversity. The failure, however, results in the creation of concepts such as perveme and perversionism. That was the book's latent trajectory — from definition, boundary, and fixity to fluidity, open-endedness, and creativity.
So — can literature ever be perverse? Yes. But it is not because of the sexual proclivities of writers or because easy analogies come to mind (such as that literature is to consumer culture what kink is to the missionary position). Flip your question around and the answer reveals itself. What writing is normal or, to make it even clearer, normative? Bibles, law books, contracts, employee agreements, loan documents, software licenses. In addition to religious and legal writing, informational writing such as journalism is normative. It establishes the "facts." In contrast, literature is without limit, taboo, injunction, inhibition, "must," or "should." Literature is freedom in language. It is possible to make other uses of this freedom — for example, in literature that agitates against oppression or injustice — but the fact that freedom is at the foundation of literature ensures that, yes, literature can be perverse.
You write that perversion is motivated by the pervert's knowledge that the act is frowned upon. By your reasoning, a necrophiliac would cease to be interested in corpses, or a paedophile would not be interested in children, if it was normal. Do you not account for the inherent appeal of the thing in itself to the fetishist or the pervert? I don't remember you actually asking any perverts what their motivation was in PTV...
In Perversity Think Tank, I suggested that Baudelaire's "la conscience dans le mal" characterizes something about perversity — its lucidity, its awareness of being in the wrong. I did not mean to imply, however, that perversion is motivated solely by disapproval. That is only one of the complex of factors that cause the sexual equivalent of an idée fixe to take root in someone's mind. You are absolutely right — the desiderata of a fetishist are supercharged, invested with all kinds of psychic enticements. But I do think that they lose something when they become "normal." It's the same with swearing. Imagine how delightful it must once have been to scandalize the gentlefolk with a mere "damn."
In Necrophilia Variations, the most dazzling passage (of many) is in 'Distress in a Dress', where you wonder about a girl whose late father was a holocaust survivor and UN peacekeeper: "would sadness make her sexy?"
The inherited sorrow from the deaths of 6 million people made her incandescent. She was the individual repository of the pogroms and holocausts… she was a vulnerable little thing tossed up by a tidal wave of blood.
As virtuosic as this description is, I've experienced enough liberal hysteria myself to know that when a man describes a woman from this perspective, he's going to have to face the accusation that's it's still just highly imaginative misogyny. Is this something you get a lot, and how do you respond to it?
Thank you for the kind words about Necrophilia Variations. My impression is that Supervert's audience is more female than male. The women I speak to are incredibly thoughtful in what they have to say about my books and about sexuality in general. Stoya, for example, told me one reason she chose to read "Confessions of a Skull Mask" in Hysterical Literature is because it was the only story in Necrophilia Variations that did not have an obviously male narrator. It was a fascinating insight.
No one has ever suggested to me personally that the books are misogynistic. I do not believe that they are but at the same time I recognize that they explore a dangerous place. Over time, I have developed a practical way of managing this. I write from id — meaning that I write with abandon, I write whatever I have to write, without regard for nicety or who's going to be offended by what. But when I edit, I try to adopt different points of view. I imagine how various people, male and female, will respond to what I've written. It's like crowdsourcing the editing process except that I do it by myself. This furnishes me with distance from the text and helps me think through questions like, "Is this important to say? Or am I being an asshole?"
My hope is that this schizoid method of editing, in addition to strengthening every text, enables me to be clear in my point of view. In other words, the books may describe unsavory practices or unpleasant characters but I would be remorseful if they put forth a misogynistic world view. I'm not William Burroughs saying "women are a biological mistake." (Yeah. He actually wrote that.)
You must receive some really weird fan mail. Besides the Stoya video, which is literally an author's masturbation fantasy, what else?
That depends on your definition of "weird." I very much appreciate the things that people write or sometimes send. On the whole they seem to have one of two motives for reaching out. There are those who want to express admiration or love. Whatever form the expressions take — emails, books, recordings, artwork, pictures, love letters, some intimate item — you can't help but be grateful to elicit these feelings in people. Then there are those who are confused or in pain. They are tormented by their desires. They suffer from feelings of isolation, shame, self-loathing. They reach out in the hopes of connection, clarity, absolution. You can't help but be compassionate toward them.
Only once has it really become a problem. There was an arson fetishist who derived great pleasure from describing how he was going to set fire to the place I live. He would do his best to stalk up personal information — GPS coordinates or the names of blood relatives — so that he could appear to be genuinely threatening. It was troublesome but I live in New York. I've seen weirder shit.
Why don't you let anyone else publish your work—is it a BDSM hooded-tormentor control thing?
From time to time I do let someone have a text. Recently, for example, I contributed the introduction to a book of photographs of Stoya. But overall you are right. I don't like to let others publish my work. I write from obsession. I invest an intense amount of thought and conviction in every sentence. I have a very clear vision of Supervert's enterprise. Museum curators don't touch up paintings before they hang them on the wall. Why should an editor touch my text? Why should a marketing department change my title? Why should a designer give my book a cover that gives the wrong impression? A book should not be a compromise between employees who hate their jobs and a writer who would rather sell out than fight to the death for his vision. A book should be like the Edvard Munch painting — a scream, an existential encounter between the writer and the reader. That's what I want you to get from a Supervert production. A blood transfusion. An electric shock. A kiss.
Most of your physical books are sold out and you don't seem interested in reissuing them. Do you get a perverse—or perhaps, entirely rational—kick out of seeing them accumulate in value?
I suffer for what I write. I don't mean to ennoble it, there are clearly worse forms of suffering, but in the end it is a self-lacerating process to put out a book. There are the torments of writing, editing, and design. There are the costs of printing and the time-consuming hassles of shipping. I tend to lose money on the physical books — and I take pride in making this sacrifice. It is my hope that people intuit it somehow, that they see in the books' material qualities that I am willing to hurt and ache in order to put them out into the world.
I like the thought of readers suffering for them too. Casual ones will not care to do this, they will download an electronic version, skim, throw away, that's all fine, I'm copyleft. But the devoted ones, the ones I care about, will appreciate that to read is to suffer, that to understand the texts may take an exertion, that to own or collect the physical books may require a material sacrifice. The compact that I offer, the faustian bargain of the Supervert production, is this: my pain for yours. You and I, writer and reader, can be united intimately through the shared commitment to undergo a literary agony.
One day I would like to produce a book that would deliberately hurt people. The words would wound their feelings and the object would cut their fingers so that they could not turn a page without bleeding on it. A very small number of people would be willing to take this experience on themselves and I would love them for it.
Download Issue 1: https://morbidbooks.b-cdn.net/a-void-issue-1.pdf
Collage © 1975, 2013 by Norman O. Mustill