In Tuesday’s episode of “A Week With Brandon,” Brandon and I talk about weird obsessions that actually serve a craft purpose, weird obsessions new parents might develop, Trump, using fiction persuasively (independent of Trump), and Jesus, of course.
RP: So, coming back to this idea of references and influences, Vez obsesses over these bizarre things—one of which was created by Rake: this weird artifact consisting of seven planed boards of wood, glued together, numbered one through seven on the side, with “Oh well. What the hell?” carved into the center of the top board. Vez physically takes this thing with him back to his house and then begins obsessing over it. Am I missing any references here, or did you create things that exist only within this world? Is there a method to the madness?
BDJ: No, you’re not missing anything other than things I’ve had to cut for whatever reason or I had to cut for the purpose of the novella. In the greater book, Vez does dig deeper into the wooden thing that Rake built, but rest assured and sleep well knowing that he still doesn’t figure it out.
RP : Excellent.
BDJ: It isn’t like I saw this thing in some book somewhere that I wanted to emulate for the sake of emulation. It was more or less like how you mentioned feeling in that email you wrote when you said ritual is important whether or not you believe in the whole system that the ritual is based around. I’m a level 1 Catholic right now.
RP : Wait—have you received communion?
RP: OK, so, you’re really like a level 0.2.
BDJ: Oh, OK, my bad. I don’t know how much of this stuff should end up in the interview …
RP: Don’t worry—I won’t make you sound like a Jesus fanatic. Or will I?
BDJ: There’s part of me that worries about when Shannon is old enough to understand that I’m not going up and getting communion while her and her mom are.
RP: You’re really getting ahead of yourself here, Brandon. How old is Shannon now?
BDJ: Like, 15 months.
RP: Maybe you want to think about, you know, her walking and learning how to read before you start thinking about your daughter freaking out because of communion. So, are these really the things a new dad thinks about?
BDJ: Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe these are the things that a new stay-at-home dad thinks about when he sometimes has too many hours to think about things. But as far as ritual goes, if you have a character who thinks a lot and has time to think a lot and you want to try to give readers an opportunity to understand that character’s psychological state, I think that it’s very valuable to have things in the physical world for them to ruminate on rather than have them just sit around and think philosophically about theories. Given that Rake made that thing and was such a big part of Vez’s life, having that artifact sort of serves as a ritual to help readers understand where Vez is coming from.
RP: So this is a craft solution you’ve come up with, then, that’s in direct opposition to movies when they do those voiceovers of internal dialogues of characters, which is the cardinal sin in film. In fiction, then, the equivalent cardinal sin would be having characters just ruminating or having the narrator explain ruminations as opposed to giving a character a focal point and creating a subject-object relationship? You don’t just want an internal monologue.
BDJ: Yeah, and one of the big differences for me—though this isn’t always the case—between fiction and nonfiction is that, with fiction, a lot of the time, I have a good grasp on what the problem is, but it’s not my job in fiction to solve the problem for people. So let’s just say, hypothetically, if the problem in Battle Rattle is that Vez’s idea of what masculinity is has created an unwinnable situation for him at home and at war, then I can just say that in a sentence: “Masculinity’s broken, and it’s breaking people. The war is not just abroad; it’s also at home.” I could just say that. But some people are, on its face, going to be like, “No, that’s wrong.” Because it’s easy to just listen to someone make an argument and just dismiss it. Trump does it all the time.
RP: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Trump is Jesus.
BDJ: Yes, you’re right. I knew it. I knew you were with Trump. Anyway, if you use fiction to give readers an opportunity—and you can do this with poetry and nonfiction as well, but it’s sort of a different animal—to know your character and hopefully empathize with the character somewhat, it makes it harder for them to dismiss the idea on its face.
I can’t speak for everyone, but a lot of people read Catch-22 and say it’s super sexist, but it isn’t any more sexist than reality. In fact, I think it’s less sexist than reality because it’s using men in the military who are bodies and fodder, and women who are prostitutes who are bodies and fodder—just in different ways—and bringing them together to interact with one another, and they need one another to survive, even though it isn’t real. I think that there’s a really interesting situation that Heller presents between those two groups of people, how the systems are set up to reinforce those two groups of people constantly coming into contact with one another at the bottom. Because Yossarian’s not a general.
I think Catch-22 does a good job of showing that men and women could be all the way at the top or bottom and situationally, things can be much more complicated than saying, “Oh, that’s sexist,” or “Hey, listen to this straight, procreating white guy talk about what’s sexist and what’s not,” as I’m doing right now, and then someone just saying, “Well, you can’t talk about that because you’re male.” I can’t control that, genetically, I’m male and psychologically, I identify as male. I don’t think anyone can. Isn’t that the argument? You don’t choose. So if I feel comfortable in the body that I inhabit, how is that my fault, and why am I not allowed to engage in the conversation with people who also feel like it’s not their fault?
Sorry. This is on my mind a lot right now because I read The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. Anyway, I don’t know how we got on this path …
RP: It’s a dark path.
BDJ: If I remember your question, which I don’t think I do … Why am I talking about this?
RP: You started going off about masculinity in the world of Battle Rattle, and then you completely derailed.
RP: It’s awesome. This is why you have to have a conversation, because this never would’ve happened if I just asked you a bunch of questions in an email.
BDJ: Well, I can’t promise you that. The idea is that with fiction, you have an opportunity to lull people into your confidence and discuss ideas through the lives of characters that you might not be able to discuss with them if they know that it’s fact and not truth—because obviously, those are different.