The sorts of expressions that you and others have used in an effort to categorize Made to Break are all as curious as they are intriguing. My friend, the writer Ron Tanner, said I could call Made to Break “slacker noir.” Shortly afterward, you wrote and said that when reading the book a number of terms popped into your head, things like “noir romanticism,” “squalor glamor,” “postmodern voyeurism” and “death by art.” I love all of these expressions and agree that each of them captures the work in unique ways. Ultimately, though, none of them seem quite to encompass the entirety of my project the way the term “gutter opera” does, which I coined to describe the mode I’ve been working in now for many years. I spoke about this at length in a recent interview with Scott Cheshire over at Tottenville Review—he, too, was at a loss to describe succinctly what I’m doing and asked me to elaborate on the term—so rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I thought it best simply to restate what I said there.
“I reached a place after a time where a single form or style or technique felt insufficient to my needs. I didn’t want just this or that, but all things all at once. And every time I found myself slipping into one mode or other, I felt like a hypocrite scumbag liar. So rather than keep to just one way, I began to meld approaches derived from influences as disparate as film script, allegory, jabberwocky, slang, doggerel, yarn, tale, poetry, journalese, profane street talk, criticism, lyric essay, theory, philosophy, and history, among others in a giant list. Given my history, it made sense. Like Henry Miller, to name just one writer I identify with, I’m a guy who came to the world of letters from the street. I just about failed high school and didn’t put myself through college until I was near thirty. My mother tongue was trash, but by and by I taught myself to speak in a host of other ways, too. It stood to reason that I search out a heteroglossia supple enough to treat low subject matter in high style, and vice versa, in which everything is permitted and nothing forbidden. It stood to reason that I find a medium through which to express the countless baffling ways that beauty emerges from ugliness and ugliness from beauty, that wisdom swims from idiocy and idiocy from wisdom, that faith rises from despair and despair from faith, and, ultimately, since life lives by killing, that life leaps from death and death from life. I wanted to create autobiography as fiction. I wanted to engage social analysis as self-ethnography. And I wanted to write fiction as cultural criticism. ‘Gutter opera’ gave me these freedoms. It opened the door, as well, to a sort of philosophical journalism by which to transcend the “what” of our lives so that we glimpse the invisible “whys.” It was also with gutter opera, I saw, that I could right a thing merely by turning it upside down. The pitiless scrutiny I couldn’t keep away from, the repulsive curiosity, the grotesque apotheosis, scintillating tragedy, the horrific comedy—gutter opera lets me do it all and more. That’s what it is, really, gutter opera, euthanasia with a sledgehammer, confession with a bullhorn, epic in a dumpster, redemption through a needle’s eye. For better or worse, it’s the only way I know to make a saga in a capsule that roars not through outer-space but through the inner-space of our massive human heart, whispering, screaming, moaning, singing, weeping, laughing, howling, and anything else between. But best of all, I don’t have to think about any of this anymore. It’s who and what I am. Nor did I have to become it. All I had to do was allow myself to be what I’ve always been. That’s not as easy as it would seem, actually. It takes a lot of work, continuous work, continuous practice. Of course as painful as it is at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Meet D. Foy on April 16th at PSB at 7pm.