Interview with Richard Mehdi

Do you think art and literature are dead in the 21st century?
No. Most art made in every era is bad art - humanity is not really deteriorating. The best work is always the radical, subversive, cataclysmic stuff, the outsiders and raw geniuses like Rimbaud, Baudelaire, James Joyce, and Frank Stanford. But these days people are called to evolve to a higher, more poetic reading of the world and language, as though the world itself really is Torah.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite writers are Dostoevsky, Kafka, Paul Celan, and Hart Crane. I've also been heavily influenced by Ian Curtis, Richey Edwards, Kurt Cobain, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Do you feel that writing, for you, is a responsible moral act?
Yes. I think that my writings communicate important, even urgent, insights and that they are also in themselves beautiful objects of art that can enrich people's lives. Art is communication, it's social - it lets people learn about each other and the world.
How personal are the fictions you write to you?
I think that most all creative writers write what is deeply personal to us - the stories aren't literally true, but they are true and honest on a deeper, mythological level the way dreams, nightmares and parables are true. My novels are true morally, in that they show people as they really are.
Does your mental illness affect your writing for the better?
I'm paranoid schizophrenic and depressive and I think both those things help me dream to the edge of the human condition on the axis of suffering and alienation and also on that of the strangely beautiful and ethereal. My schizophrenia helps me think in poetry; it makes me more able to harness reality with vivid metaphor, hyperbole, synecdoche, and parable.
Are you an idealist?
I'm so idealistic it sometimes appears backed into a corner near-nihilistically. I believe in God, though not in organized religion, and I believe that all eternity is God's planned and perfect creation. I don't believe in freedom of the will except in the sense that it's a necessary human illusion.
Do you feel any particular attachment to your generation?
I was born in 1988 but that doesn't mean a lot to me. I don't stay with the times or music trends, I don't like the internet, and most of my friends are older than me. And postmodernism really bothers me.
Do you feel guilty or ashamed for not having a job by which you support yourself?
Not usually. Being disabled by mental illness frees up my time for the real creative work I do, the writing and painting. (I take meds, which help, but not completely.) I think I'm lucky to have the opportunity to do this real work rather than aimless busy work that capitalism ruins lives with.
What are your political views?
I tend toward anarchosyndicalism, the idea that people would be better off in small communist communities, but I admit that I find it difficult to envision this in detail. All political questions are ethical questions for me.
What goodwill wishes do you have for your readers?
I want everyone to have the opportunity to live up to their full potentials as sensing, thinking, interacting, loving, creating members of the human community. I think that true individualism is selfless, not selfish, because every person is called to a unique self and life.
Published 2015-09-02.
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