Eleventh Transmission - James Dangerous Profile, by Kirk Ramdath
A Student, and Master, of Genre A Profile of Calgary artist James Dangerous
Interview by Kirk Ramdath Photos by James Dangerous
Scroll to the bottom for downloadable music tracks.
James Dangerous Biography (written by James Dangerous)
He has been a writer for as long as he can remember, and writes short fiction, novels, poetry, critical theory, logomythos, and song. Most of that work deals with what he calls “Ludacris Realism”, or the absurdity of the everyday deconstructed. His written work has been published in Sweden and in Canada, most recently in NōD Magazine, fillingStation, and dANDelion. His story entitled "This Mess of Fiction" was nominated for the 2005 McLelland and Stewart Journey Prize. His current large project is a logomythos entitled Two Eternities of Darkness, the creation of a people, geography, and culture out of the creation of a fictional language, complete with alphabet, grammar, and etymology.
As a musician, James is engaged in two album-length projects: Legalize Evil, and experimental work; and The Poisoned Knives, an album of country music described by one audience member as “Dangerous Country”. He primarily sings and plays the guitar, although he maintains a large collection of real and toy instruments, as well as a collection of odds and ends that aren’t really instruments, but sound good.
James also pursues visual arts; his drawings and paintings are mostly found in posters and written work.
Acting is also a part of James’ repertoire: he is currently filming The Brothers Dangerous, a feature-length film by André Rodrigues. The film is based on James’ story "The Plagiarist Expedition", and features James as seven characters.
Performance is a large part of James’ repertoire, and he has performed recently at South Country Fair, the Soda Lounge, the fillingStation Blow Out! Festival, and the Dead Man’s Wheelchair Revolution Series. He loves performance, especially hybrid or multi-disciplinary performances involving collaboration. His favourite collaborator is his partner Jocelyn Grossé, with whom he has performed to rave reviews several times.
James Dangerous Interview
You mentioned that you are interested in “Ludacris realism.” How long have you been a hip hop fan?
Heh. I noticed that typo right after I sent the bio out, and thought: What the hell, why not refer to a rapper I’ve never heard? I AM a hip-hop fan, and have been for the last five or six years, despite not having heard a word of Ludacris’ flow. Or of 50 Cent’s. Or whoever else is big-time right now. I find that my tastes in hip-hop are often not transferable in conversation to other hip-hop fans: not having heard the gangsta pop cranked out in advertising, I find that mentioning MF Doom, Danger Mouse, Blackalicious, etc. confuses some people (although Gnarls Barkley might change that for the Mouse). I even had a conversation with younger hip-hop fans that had them all puzzled as to who the Wu-Tang were. That blew my mind out of my bald spot. What sort of hip-hop fan hasn’t heard 36 chambers? That reminds me of a 19-year old hardcore punk I once worked with who’d never heard of The Clash.
You are currently engaged in a logomythos project entitled Two Eternities of Darkness. I did a google search for “logomythos” and the result was surprising – not one page was found. This tells me that you are doing something that not a lot of other people are doing, or even aware of. Tell us a about logomythos in general, as well as the challenges of creating a people, geography, and culture out of a fictional language, and of course, the challenge of creating a fictional language.
I’m not surprised that google didn’t turn up any results for “logomythos” (λογομΰθος), because I coined the term. It comes from two Greek words: logos (word), which philosophically refers to explanations carried through explicit rational means, and mythos (root of our word “Myth”) which philosophically refers to explanations with figurative significance. Philo Judaeus personified logos as a supernatural (i.e. divine) agent of creation and flow. I think John 1:1—“ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—refers to this, too.
There’s more philosophical hullaboo behind the creation of the term “logomythos” (a portmanteau word, really), but the gist/geist of the term is this: the creation of a mythos (myth/figuratively significant place) via the creation of logos (or “divine(d)” words). Or, in this case, creating the country of Kolophaa via the creation of the Kolophaaj language.
So Two Eternities of Darkness is my foray into/creation of a logomythos, a novel-length project dealing with the translation of a Kolophaan poet into English. But to translate (or to create the language one is translating from!), a lot of cultural significance becomes important. But culture is formed through history, geography, language, and a hundred other means. So these need to be determined to enact the translation, which expands beyond the poetry to become a novel of Kolophaa; or a novel of a translator’s discovery of Kolophaa.
The challenges of creating a language from scratch are multitudinous. Alphabet, grammar, rules of usage, slang, high and low versions of the tongue, exceptions to rules, et cetera, crop up like nobody’s business. There are also different calendar systems, time systems, et cetera, that are uniquely Kolophaan. The intensity of the project is tremendous. But, like any other high-powered freak-grade nerd would, I’m having a great time with it.
In order to make sense to the reader, and in order to retain your own sanity as an artist, the work must have some roots in our world and our word – our reality. How do you navigate the relationship between the reality you are creating and the one we live in, so that your work has the maximum effect?
The Two Eternities of Darkness logomythos is specifically meant to be mistaken for reality, and—barring any author “disclaimers”—most of the people I’ve shown the material to buy the illusion whole-heartedly:
“Where is Kolophaa?” “Somewhere in the South-west corner of the Caspian sea.” “Wow. I’ve never heard of it before. How can somebody travel there?”
The Kolophaans have been forgotten by us, largely because of a series of bad political incidents with the United States, who eventually devised a solution of officially “forgetting” the country.
There are also Caspian Tigers still living on the Island; that species actually went extinct in the second half of the 20th Century, due to what was basically a genocide campaign by the Russian Government. That history makes me terribly sad every time I think of it, so “resurrecting” the tigers is a lovely way to connect Kolophaa back to our reality.
Most of my work deals with perception, which means that I don’t believe in a singular reality, but rather 6,664,957,401 realities (the world population as of this second), with realities being created and lost every second through births and deaths. It’s amazing we can share enough information to agree on any version of reality.
And oddly enough, the most outlandishly weird components of my art are usually derived from facts. In a world where frogs do rain from the sky, water sometimes boils below zero centigrade instead of freezing, and grass can be red and grow seven feet tall, it’s often the most boring everyday details that my audience members refuse to suspend their disbelief for. And hear, hear, I say. I don’t want to believe in a boring, contrived reality either.
Robert Anton Wilson said: “Reality is what you can get away with.”
I agree. I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini right now, as I sit here in my living room, drinking Turkish Coffee.
That scene is total bullshit. But were I to write those things without disclaimer, they would become real to you. And were I to read this interview in five years, it would become real to me, too. But I’m not actually doing any of those things, sadly.
Can you give us a few words of varying complexity and their meanings?
Enantioseme – a word that is its own antonym.
Crack – has at least 58 meanings, including a fissure, an emotional breakdown, a weakness, the vulva, the ass, and the popular narcotic.
Floccinaucinihilipilification – means to decide that something is valueless or unworthy. It’s basically four Latin words meaning the same thing glued together. A sort of pleonastic portmanteau word.
About – I literally wrote the book on this one: The Myth of About, which is a fictocritical exploration of the word about. It comes from OE onbutan, meaning “on, by, and outwards”. It is actually a generative preposition, even though it is most often used reductively.
You’re a writer, actor, artist, and musician. How do you feel your work and performance in one genre relates to what you create in another?
I’m desperately interested in artistic hybridity, collaboration, or interdisciplinary work, whichever term you’d like to use to describe the process. For instance, in the film I’m working on, I wrote the source material, act in the movie, contribute to the soundtrack, and contribute visual art. Also, we have people who are designers, cinematographers, et al working on the project. So the final project will be a sort of interartistic/interartist blend, which happens a lot in film.
These blendings happen a lot more these days, now that technology enables us to more easily produce “renascence products”. Like a musician recording his own album, designing the artwork, laying out the sleeve, producing the discs and labels, and then distributing them: all from his own living room. It’s rather insane.
I’m also very nervous about being boring on stage, so I usually bring instruments and voices and characters in order to present my poetry. At least I’m not bored. But it increases the ratio of disaster:success by quite a bit.
I also collaborate with other performers quite a bit, because we get crazy ideas together and then execute them. Most often I perform with Jocelyn Grossé—who is also my partner—and we’ve done some wild stuff: performing Christian Bök’s poetry with a medic’s bag full of toy instruments for fillingStation’s flywheel, singing in Kolophaan with a weird chorus of voices and music for the 2nd Blow Out! Festival, and getting into all sorts of mischief at South Country Fair.
“Everything is poetry.” Agree or disagree? Why?
Everything is poetry, everything is film, everything is music, everything is art.
The answer to this question could be a whole series of books (should we write them?), but I do think that down to the last quark, everything can be “translated” into poetry, or a poetics. It all depends on who is the translator.
I recently saw a little black squirrel trying to tear a bird-feeder off my fence, noticing me watching, and then re- doubling his efforts and getting desperate, afraid that I would stop him. I just laughed—and I am still laughing—at the best poem I’ve seen in a while.
I’ve also seen photos which are very good songs, and heard songs which are amazing literature.
You are currently also filming a feature length film called The Brothers Dangerous, directed by André Rodrigues. The fact that part of your name is in the movie title tells me you have a health ego – as every good artist should. However as an actor you must take direction, and allow room for another’s vision. How is that going?
Ah, yes. My ego is actually neither too big, nor too small, which is nice. But that fluctuates. Some days, inside my head, I’m a wee god; but more often I’m big load of crap.
André saw me read my story “The Plagiarist Expedition” for Yard in 2004, and decided that he would adapt it into a short film. The story tells of a literary kleptomaniac, being written by yours truly, who wants to write but definitely does not want to be written by James Dangerous, who only wants to write the character to get rid of him. So I was originally cast to play myself (easy work!), with other actors filling in the other roles.
Those others dropped out due to scheduling snafus, and André suggested that I play all the roles (I’ve acted for stage, but never for film, so my maiden voyage into cinema is a trial by multiple fires!). And then he developed the idea of a family of Dangerouses--sextuplets and their father—who can never seem to accomplish their dreams; as well as the tension, delusions, and murder that disintegrates their family.
André and I are developing the film with a whole host of other people who integrate themselves into the project wherever they see fit. Everyone is equal in both development and on the set (which are often commingled!): neither André’s status or director, nor mine as source material/multidangerous mean squat in the end. The project is more about deviation from our vision than adhering to a particular ethos. That being said, he and I come up with most of the material because we’re the most involved and ridiculously excited about it. Shit yeah, we say, should we do a whole 60s Ed Sullivan-type mock-up with the brothers as a fledgling, ill-fated guest band? Alright!
Working in film is collaboration like I’ve never seen collaboration exercised before, which is good: it’s just too fucking big for me to want to take responsibility for everything. As an actor (the actors?), taking direction is easy: I can’t see myself and have no idea whether my performance was any good at all until we watch the dailies.
If you could choose one artist in every genre you work in, living or dead, to collaborate with, who would they be? That’s a long list already, so give us only briefly the reason why.
Writing: Jorge Luis Borges, because he’s Borges.
Photography: Diane Arbutus. She took pictures mainly of “freaks”, so I’m sure our visions would be somewhat synchronous.
Music: Erik Satie. I’d ask him to show me how to turn an umbrella into music.
Art: Rene Magritte. A real mind-bender to watch work, I’m sure.
Film: The Cohen Brothers. Absoflogginlutely.
Of course, if Robert Kroetsch is reading this, he can drop me a line, too.
A lot of people criticize Calgary for lacking culture. What are your thoughts about the local arts scene?
Calgary doesn’t lack culture. It’s more a lack of endorsement of culture. I mean, we have funding for theatre, but mostly for “A Christmas Carol”-type theatre: guaranteed-return art is what Calgary and Alberta are mostly interested in funding. Or, to put it another way, we like to fund corporate-attractive art and actual Art—with its risks and its explorations—can be damned.
But, oddly enough, that creates a really fantastic dynamic in which artists have to work monstrously hard to get their work out there, which is great in terms of finished artworks, but often hell for the artist. Our local writing scene is absolutely incredible, as is our visual art, and we actually have a phenomenal dance community here (and they get screwed more than any other arts group for funding). If you’ve been in Calgary for any length in time and haven’t met amazing unknown writers, artists, theatre folk, film folk, dancers and musicians—and I mean jaw-dropping stuff—then you’re living in the suburbs. Or in an oil tower.
Really great art is often made under duress: the product’s quality is often determined by the absolute impossibility of its own existence.
What do you think is the role and responsibility of anyone who dares to call themself an artist?
To learn, mostly. Art can be made in ignorance; but often good art is produced by combinations and recombinations of perceived knowledge. I think art is a synergistic process, and also a synergeistic process: a simple, lifeless example would be that of “artist as conduit”, shaping and re-utilizing their perceptions. But it’ s more complicated than that, because roles and responsibilities really have to do more with intention of distribution than intentions of creation. I guess the question is: can a person be an artist without an audience?
I think the answer is yes (look at Van Gogh: obviously he was an artist, but his audience consisted mainly of his brother during the painter’s lifetime); if so, then the artist’s responsibility is solely to him/herself.
But for the sake of the question, let’s argue that the answer is no.
Does the artist, then, have a responsibility to the audience?
If so, it is a responsibility of effort: don’t make shit art!
But the idea of ethical roles and responsibilities, which is what I believe you’re asking, are different to define. Is Charles Bukowski responsible for all the fucked-up young “poets” who get stuck in East Hastings while trying to “be” Bukowski? Probably not. No more than Nietzsche and the authors of the Bible are responsible for Hitler, Nazism, and genocide.
While I do believe in ethical responsibility—strongly—I also need to admit that people’s ethics differ, and ultimately I am responsible to myself. Can I live with this or that work of art? Is it rotten? Is it wrong-headed? Others may disagree, but I need to satisfy my own morality before worrying about whether or not I’m acting ethically as an artist in a Judeo-Christian sense, or a Hindu sense, or any other “actualized” sense.
So we’re back at the same place. We, as artists, as people, are responsible to ourselves in the end. But we should try to keep the self learning and striving towards understanding of the world, so that our selves are worth being responsible to.
James Dangerous Music (.mp3 format. Right click to save.)
Athatikti Ako Phaalkan Zhilap (5.3 MB) - A performance of the Kolophaan poet Aganagaastas Karokasa's Athatikti Ako Phaalkan Zhilap, or "Something I Kill Quietly", with water drum and backing vocals by Jocelyn Grossé, and backing vocals by Donald Jones.