Jake Chapman

10.31.08

Left: The cover for Jake Chapman's The Marriage of Reason & Squalor (2008). Right: Page views from The Marriage of Reason & Squalor.


Jake Chapman is widely known as one-half of the artistic duo Jake and Dinos Chapman. The pair came to prominence with the ascendancy of the Young British Artists movement in the 1990s, and in 2003 the pair were nominated for the Turner Prize. That same year, Jake Chapman also published his first book, Meatphysics. Here Chapman talks about his second book, a novel titled The Marriage of Reason & Squalor, which was published by Fuel Publishing in the UK on October 20.

I FELT LESS INSPIRED THAN COMPELLED to write this book. I quite like the idea of writing things badly, and the idea of picking on an already impoverished genre, the romance, seemed perfect.

It’s a novel with very bad teeth—it has some abscesses and nasty little diseases inside. It’s really about diseased thinking, about occupying the death drive rather than taking a position of critical responsibility. It’s a kind of analogue for the visual work that I make with my brother, and I guess the best way to describe it would be as a cure for insomnia, or a good book to prop up a wonky table.

I think the idea of writing a book with the intention to be unfriendly to the reader is probably in and of itself original. I like the idea of writing something that has less to do with embracing the reader as a collaborator in a process and more to do with causing them to drift off into sleep. It’s a kind of polite maliciousness in which you actually bore someone to death—but there’s still death involved.

My brother described The Marriage of Reason & Squalor as being like a feral child that’s crawled out of a hole and tried to use language. The metaphors eat themselves up—rebounding metaphors that repeat themselves. There’s one passage that goes something like, “Chlamydia Love takes to therapy like a duck to water, and the therapy’s gains roll off her like water off a duck’s back.” The metaphors begin to collapse into psychotic fractals. You embark with good faith at the beginning of a sentence, thinking it’s going to deliver you to the end, and it spirals out of control. I was interested in how you could write a story without really telling it. It’s more about how language doesn’t work, language’s molecularization, than about delivering a story.

I tried to be playful with some of the book’s features. There’s a PO box used in letters written by the character Helmut Mandragorass—and the PO box actually exists. So does the e-mail address belonging to the protagonist Chlamydia Love, which is given toward the end of the book. They’re possible wormholes. Books in my experience have been these self-reducing objects that seem to be bound by a notion of coherence, by an idea of linearity. I like the idea of doing something that does have an overall coherence to it, inasmuch as it has a story, but which is also porous; there are many lines of flight from the thing.

I’ll be manning the other end of the e-mail address and PO box. Who knows? The responses could constitute the sequel. It would probably be rare that anyone would actually read all the way through it, but it would be interesting to see whether there is any kind of feedback. Thinking in a Deleuzian sense, there is some sort of machinic interface, which is to say that the book is already being drawn into fabrication through the feedback. I do leave the book open for a sequel at the end. It’s a very ostentatious ending; the idea that this thing deserves or will ever get a sequel is absurd.

I think my drive to write the book had much more to do with digesting all of the writers that I’ve read. The book is in a sense a total of all the entities and voices that have animated me over the years. I guess if you’re reading people like Deleuze and Guattari and Freud, you’re not really trying to prime yourself to write something that’s full of sincerity and earnestness.

I like to think I have a proximity to Burroughs, to Vonnegut, to Beckett—at least inasmuch as they write from misanthropic places. Reading Burroughs becomes an act of being abused. Or with Alain Robbe-Grillet, you get this fantastic sense of never really getting anywhere. Just a description of the same thing over and over, just slightly shifting—it becomes about the reader’s entropy. I obviously like those kinds of writers. But I’ve got an edge on them because I can’t actually write.

The book took me so long to complete that any kind of spontaneity, ability, or talent is skewered by my talentlessness. I know I can’t write, but it’s nice to sit down to do this thing you can’t actually do, but you do it very unnaturally, so that the thing that you employ as a virtue—its unnaturalness—is what makes the work work. Hopefully.

— As told to David Velasco