Interview with Ian Macartney
Writing allows for this superposition between being in the moment, and not, a focus of thought so intense you pass through into non-awareness. In contrast, the end result, the finished work, is always impure, because to make something readable and good it has to be edited then edited, polish upon polish, until the art is no longer rooted to the pure experience it was birthed from, but rather its own thing, its own system of meanings, and all the rest of it.
Today, we're interviewing one of our contributors, Ian Macartney—you can read his poem "beautiful moth captured in glass then released!!!!!!!!!!!!" in ISSUE I here, as well as more of his work at https://www.ianmacartney.scot/.
IAN MACARTNEY is a writer. He has been published in [Untitled] Falkirk, Suma Lima, Meanwhile, Grass, Icarus, The Attic, Re-Analogue, Scoot Around, Leopard Arts, Tenebrae, Little Stone Journal, The Gaudie, The Scotsman, and The Guardian. His work has been collected in anthologies like Time and Tide (Arachne Press), The Centenary Collection (Speculative Books) and is forthcoming in #UntitledThree (Polygon). He can be found at https://www.ianmacartney.scot/.
SL: Tell us a bit about yourself.
IM: I’m Ian, I’m a writer, I’m from a small town in Scotland called Linlithgow (our only 24-hour shop is an M&S petrol station) though for the last four years I’ve been based in Aberdeen, I’m happy to be here, my Instagram is @ian.macaroni98…
SL: How did you get involved in so many genres of art and writing? Do you have a favorite one? How has working in different genres influenced your overall artistic style?
IM: 032c published a great essay on the “Big Flat Now.” I don’t totally agree with it, but it does raise valid points on how the digital turn has blurred artistic distinctions we used to make (I’d say we’re probably one our way to a "universal literacy" of creative programs like Photoshop, DAWs, etc.) So being myriad in terms of what I do probably comes from having a creative adolescence online. Other genres just unlock different things I want to try and do—if I get bored with short fiction then I can jump to a script, if bored with script jump to a creative essay, and so on.
I don’t really have a favourite for those reasons, but the most stubborn one, I suppose, is prose fiction. That’s what I’ve wanted to pursue since age twelve. Poetry emerged as a kind of adolescent gush, a more enticing option in the attention economy of DeviantArt when I frequented the site, and scripts occurred when working with Ewan McIntosh, so that’s a more straightforward origin. Music and anything non-literary is just an attempt to force myself into the mindset of a beginner again so I don’t get complacent (and because it’s really fun!!).
The cross-pollination reinforces certain elements that are often overlooked in a genre, so it’s definitely helped my writing in that regard. Take screenwriting—scripts are usually treated as means to a manufactured end, not their own poetic documents, texts which stand on their own merit and don’t "need" to be translated into a visual medium. So that’s a sensibility cultivated from working with fiction and poetry, where the text is very much total; it’s all there (or if not, rooted to the page, not a desired end-product). An industry doesn’t exist to convert them into other cultural products; that’s not a given with literature, that’s a choice. Cross-pollination lets me nab things from completely different pools of inspiration versus being stuck with the usual "canon" or standard, basically.
SL: Who do you write for?
IM: That depends on what I’m writing, I guess. Screenplays, again, are the closest I have to a "public arena." If I was going to do something as crass as a a "state of the nation" work then it would land best there, I think, because from its start cinema has been focalised through notions of the public; it began in crowds. Poetry has a very lateral value, so its experiments are different and skew to the introspective, while prose lets me tell a narrative and flesh out elements that wouldn’t usually appear so bright elsewhere. But "audience" is still an individual-by-individual basis, I feel—both in consumption, but also because prose lends itself to an infinity of images, since each reader imagines a different apple when they see the word "apple," while in a film everyone sees the same apple, so there’s a continuity in the latter that doesn’t exist with literature (which is its radical potential, I think, being unshackled from the visual). Though of course, there’s always exceptions – Michael Symmons Roberts uses the term "stadium poetry" for pieces which land best in colossal crowds, Maya Angelou and Rita Dove etc., and some films have extremely limited releases (maybe the festival circuit is as contained as regional poetry scenes?!)
There’s also the cliché of "writing for myself." Writing allows for this superposition between being in the moment, and not, a focus of thought so intense you pass through into non-awareness. In contrast, the end result, the finished work, is always impure, because to make something readable and good it has to be edited then edited, polish upon polish, until the art is no longer rooted to the pure experience it was birthed from, but rather its own thing, its own system of meanings, and all the rest of it. Which is beautiful, obviously (Heaven is a company, Hell is an art) but sometimes I get melancholic about that. Enxhi Mandija once explained to me how the Igbo view the object created from art as a side-effect, worthless, because the real art was the art-making process, and sometimes I feel that way, that all my finished words are just black phlegm on paper, language as stain on nothing, to paraphrase Beckett… I’m usually more cheery than that, though :)
SL: What are your obsessions? Or what themes, topics, or images do you find yourself always going back to?
IM: Nothingness comes up a lot, which is inconvenient. Like, using “the void” as a landscape in some weird way. Then populating it with weird colourful characters (this is literally just the webcomic I made when I was fifteen). God likes to jump up, sometimes, in very weird ways. It’s not really about belief, it’s just this subconscious thing. If I write without thinking He’ll be there, vibing, as He always does.
Otherwise—dialogue. I feel the most meaningful encounters happen in twos or threes. Total solitude can be severe, but existing in a group can be performative, so dialogue is this ideal balance. Sunsets. I love the colour orange. Public transport—trains, buses, planes—but then also the speculative kind, spaceships and submarines, and then also transitory spaces, like shopping centres, airports… the beach. Jungle/forests. I’m fascinated by deserts.
SL: How do you reconcile your artistic work with the more theory-heavy?
IM: Theory probably emerges in my work right now because I’m only just now out of campus life, one of the very few contexts where theory is at the forefront of your mind, but hopefully that will lessen over time. I don’t want theory to disappear, per se, because I find theory a very useful prism/set of prisms to embrace life with, but I really don’t want it to alienate readers with it either.
It’s a big goal of mine to marry between the two registers of high and low and show they’re not so dissimilar. Or if they are, at least show they’re compatible. Who knows if I’m successful with that, though. I really believe experimental art doesn’t need to be as intimidating as assumed, and I also believe pop culture is worth serious analysis, analysis which can be very rewarding, because of how often that kind of art sits unconsidered. And I mean, this is a project that has been going on since 1945, ostensibly—we’ve went from this distinction between the avant-garde and the mainstream, wherein work on the fringes bled into the popular imagination (artwork by minority voices a lot of the time, BAME and queer creators especially, very rarely recognised) to a kind of "intellectual-pop," where authors like Pynchon or DeLillo (but not Eco as much, so maybe it’s a continental distinction?!) knowingly wink to pop-culture, but in this very patrician way, and now I think it’s kind of reversed, so pop-intellectualism, in all its pejorative and/or tongue-in-cheek glory. Like, innovation is surely happening to the side of the limelight, but the fluidity between those two worlds has never been more porous. In regards to pop music, say, chart hegemony doesn’t really stand for much—Jack Stauber’s “Buttercup” has 130M views on YouTube, HOME’s Resonance is practically an internet anthem with 60M views on the "Electronic Gems" channel, but they’re not on the charts, because of algorithmic (but that’s a whole other kettle of worms). Then you had Kanye West soliciting abrasive noise producers for Yeezus, or Madonna seeking out LCD Soundsystem in the 00s, or St Vincent and Dua Lipa performing at the Grammy’s… you get my point.
Anyway, this is a very long way to say it goes back to the Internet, again, because what the Internet gave me was unfiltered unlimited access to an intellectual sphere I would otherwise never have encountered (Lucy Ives has a really good piece in The Baffler on that, “After the Afterlife of Theory”), compounded with resentment, or at least acute awareness, of ivory-tower academics, or out-of-touch intelligentsia, those kinds of people, which probably comes from growing up in a small town and not really having the permission to be conceited (which I am hugely grateful for; I’m terrified of being a stereotype (which probably has existential overtones too, “I’m not like other girls” etcetera)). Despite that, I also get a sincere thrill and thirst for intellectual exploration, the kind of curiosity which made me seek out Nick Land at age fifteen, precocious brat that I was... I don’t think every Zoomer is literate in theory, but I do think the whole phenomenon of thirteen-year-olds misquoting Derrida on the timeline is quite unique. The access is unprecedented.
SL: What was your thought process behind creating the layers of pseudonyms for Epikinetics (ex. Orin Peridox, Otto Bis-Schnell)? They're absolutely fascinating!
IM: Because it’s fun! And really dumb!! A pseudonym having its own pseudonyms is so ridiculous, I couldn’t resist. That’s honestly an intention for a lot of what I do: because x is funny. I really respect Aphex Twin in that regard, this man who manages to be hugely influential while keeping a personal distance.
Which is to say, if the pseudonym is suddenly generating its own pseudonyms, then it is more a character than a guise, project versus concealer. Orin Peridox does not have the same set of intentions as Ian Macartney writing nonfiction, per se, even if it’s the same singular biological me writing all this stuff down. It’s filters. Because if we’ve moreorless accepted that an authorial voice is not concrete and ultimate but fluid and sometimes/always misleading, then ideally my pseudonyms push into this realm of such performance readers can embrace this newly emerged, um, I hate to use the term “metafiction”—how about, “upper currents” (no, actually, that might be worse)—anyway, I’m freed from both pretending the me writing this is synonymous with flesh-and-blood Ian, but I don’t go full-on Death of the Author, either. Or maybe I do, and just try to have fun with it. Which works into this general self-awareness of self-awareness, i.e. showing the limits of self-awareness, something I’m interested in too, because what self-awareness gets us is solipsism, it gets you this spaghetto of a sentence, and we’ve banked on the assumptive merits of self-awareness/deconstruction for the last half-century and now we’re well and truly in the third millennium I think it’s worth reconsidering those assumptions… Nicola Barker is worth checking out on this.
Jess in Sam Byers’ Perfidious Albion that does this kind of thing, and Byers has this great line about how she thinks that, in creating an army of pseudonyms, she will multiply herself, but in actual fact divides her energy instead. Maybe I should read that as a warning… anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, fun.
SL: What are you working on right now?
IM: I’m chipping away at the next novel (the first one needs major edits and I am either unsure of where to start, or too scared to) but I’m also finishing up a bunch of short stories, including a complete rework of this very old one set in Antarctica. I’m also coming to the end of my novella Trade Product Engine, which I’ve been serialising over on my wiped Facebook profile since the start of the year. Then there’s the usual slate of poems—trying to configure them into pamphlet-orders, for once—and a general tinnitus of ideas, either new or re-remembered, gurgling in the background. I need to learn how to focus.