-//-Tom Carlson-//-

I think that the world is meaningless. It’s brutal, ambiguous and beautiful. It’s all of those things at the same time. Art is not inherently meaningful, it’s often very ambiguous, it can be very brutal and it’s one of the only things humans are capable of doing where they’re actually able to transpose the impressions that the world gives us. I think that’s the most magical human capacity, to be able to mimic nature in that way. That is what my goal in art is; to reflect that same kind of mystery back.

And beauty and profundity too, if I'm successful. 

Can you walk me through a project, how it all unfolds?
Usually in some way or another I have an idea. Sometimes I have time and I feel motivated and I want to just see what happens. When it comes to my more creative stuff the planning is improvisational. It’s usually like here’s an idea or feeling that I want to get across and the only way for that feeling to be sincere is to let my feeling about that feeling dictate the writing. Not my ideas or my planning or my rational faculties.

Throughout that process what’s your relationship with your ego like?
The thing that makes me so excited about art actually centers around subjectivity and the surrender of the ego. The project that I'm working on right now is centered around a French word that has to do with the disarming or paralysis of agency—of the ego— the thing that differentiates between the self and the objects around it. In my opinion that is where art comes from.

The writer Blanchot writes about the “death of the author” in his book The Space of Literature. I don’t want to oversimplify him because there’s so much about it that I don’t understand still. But what I do understand is that it [the death of the author] has to do with reaching a space where the author dies. Some of the best stuff comes when you forget about the table and the chair that you’re sitting on, the room that you’re in. That’s when the gold arrives. His theories are centered around investigating that space [where the author dies].

It’s interesting because it ends up being a huge criticism of our culture’s prestige that we award to rational thought.

He says one of my favorite things: formerly painting served the gods; poetry made them speak Ever since the gods departed or the gods fled or we killed the gods or however you want to think about it, art has had a lot of trouble accounting for its existence. What he means is something mysterious and above all conceivability that is bigger than us.

And since the scientific enlightenment, our ego is the biggest thing. We think if we can rationally organize everything into a perfect system, channel the powers of the ego and knowledge into the best direction possible- then the problems will go away.

How do you as an artist navigate a society that doesn’t exactly designate your role as being an important part of the world? 
Sometimes I want to stop writing about how important and under-appreciated and mis-understood art is and just do my art. A lot of my art is about art; the application of theories about art. Sometimes I don’t want to defend art anymore, but I think our world is dying for it and we need something grandiose to attach to because we’re flailing.

And because we’re flailing, fucking psychopaths such as Steve Bannon can craft pseudo spiritualities of white nationalism and people jump on board because they are suffering from a void of any real cultural, sacred attachment to anything.

Do you have ideas about how we start to shift to make art and spirituality a center piece in our society or do you think it’s hopeless?
I don’t think it’s hopeless, but I think it’s very niche. I was telling you about Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I think that book is almost a sacred reverent approach to blue and how it makes impressions on us. Blue is in many ways a god.

So it’s not like she’s crafting some spirituality for people to start attending church for. And it’s not fantasy land shit, but at the same time it’s very reverent, there’s a sacredness in it. It squeezes into that very difficult balance, because we are a skeptical people. Now that we have science, we look for verification before we are swept away. There is nothing un-verifiable in that book and she still manages to give me this religious magnitude.

But haven’t we always had art and we continue to progress further away from it, become less attentive to those softer, less rational forces?
Yeah I think we do. And I think it’s real sad.

That doesn’t make it hopeless? It makes me feel hopeless.
It’s good to have work. 
It makes you feel hopeless?


Totally. But it is good to have work.
Yeah you know certain hours of the night it definitely makes me feel hopeless. That’s where the urgency comes in too, that’s where the work needs to be done. 

What do you do about the hopelessness?

How do you define success?
I am not somebody that is afraid to pay attention to audience size and readership. I want readers. I think that it’s a measure of success to be compelling to people. If I don’t have my finger on the pulse of what speaks to people then there is no way that I'll have a large audience. 

Meaning is a thing that I want to shy away from. I don’t like meaning, I like mystery. I hate books that are prescriptive. Writing that gives you a moral description or a moral imperative— I think those are terrifying I think that’s where extremism comes from.

Nature doesn’t offer you a prescription, there are no morals, there’s only what we make up as morals. I'm not saying the world should have license to do whatever the hell it wants but I think finding reverence for the world makes you want to revere people in your life. I think that art is capable of doing that and if I can inspire a reverent religious magnitude of engagement and feeling with the world through my art, that is success for me too. 

I only have one more question for you. What is beauty to you?
That mystery. It is the coarse mixed bag of nature. Tragedy and ecstasy are all part of the ingredients that can create something beautiful. It might be pretty and it might be really ugly. Like any rough sad movie you’ve ever watched it’s ugly but it’s still beautiful. Even shitty breakups, I would go through all that again, I want all of it.