Extraordinary and angry racist aliens: writer Hari Kunzru
It’s like that with writers now. This is what they do.
There was a time when they would go on tours, unpack suitcases in hotel rooms, sign books until their hands hurt, and spoke in front of the audience. Now, in the days of Covid-19, they sit in their studies and Zoom in on the World, and hope the books lined up behind them don’t reveal anything embarrassing.
Rachael King, co-program director of Word Christchurch Festival 2021, had tried for years to bring up British writer Hari Kunzru in Christchurch. He finally said yes, albeit virtually.
He will be one of the stars of Word’s The Faraway Near, an innovative place inside TÅ«ranga. It’s designed to have the privacy of a pub, with the guest writer beaming at every table. Others include Helen McDonald (H is for Hawk), literary podcasters Andy Miller and John Mitchinso n (Backlisted) and AC Grayling (The frontiers of knowledge).
* Words and music at the time of the Covid
* John Summers: Dreaming about ancient New Zealand
* Online hate causes pain in the real world
Kunzru will be at his home in Brooklyn, New York on a Friday evening, but the folks at The Faraway Near will enjoy his company on a Saturday afternoon. Such radical technology.
Novelist, essayist and podcaster, Kunzru is a good candidate for this sort of thing.
He also has an unexpected relationship with Christchurch. Although he lived his life in London and New York and studied in Oxford and Coventry, there was a time when he spent his summers in Christchurch.
It was in the early 2000s, before the earthquakes, mosque attacks and Covid-19. He dated a New Zealand artist based in London, and they escaped the cold London winters for the sun of the antipodes.
So, in March 2019, he knew where the Al Noor Mosque was; he knew Riccarton. He could imagine the park across the road.
He hit the house in another way. Kunzru has long been fascinated by Internet culture in general, and white supremacist culture in particular.
âWhen I was first online in the early 90s, I went looking for far-right content and saw what was there,â he says. âIt was that old-fashioned skinhead culture. It seemed stale, like it was never going to exceed its natural limits. ”
But then there was what can only be called âcultural blossomingâ on the far right. Racists discover very contemporary humor, irony and subversiveness. The Christchurch terrorist “was immersed in this culture of the joke, not the joke that I have seen gradually take hold of angry young men over the years and years.”
by Kunzru New York Book ReviewHis essay, âFor the Lulz,â is one of the best reviews of it all. In Internet slang, “Lulz” means to laugh.
âIt always strikes me how a lot of these things are invisible to traditional decision makers,â he says. “I imagine that gradually people are waking up a bit more, especially after Christchurch.”
The rise of this culture, and the parallel rise of Donald Trump, inspired his latest novel, Red Pill.
âOne of the feelings I wanted to write about was when a weird thing from the margins that you might be paying attention to suddenly becomes everyone’s reality. That thing you almost felt was right in your head going through. metastasize and become a dominant part of the mainstream experience of the world.
“Red pill” is also Internet slang, lifted from The matrix, to describe right-wing radicalization online.
In the novel, an American writer does a residency in Berlin, where he becomes obsessed with a detective reality TV show, Blue lives, and its creator, an enigmatic right-wing intellectual named Anton, who has a Steve Bannon-like vibe. It’s a strangely plausible version of the world we live in.
âMeanwhile, it’s 2016,â as one reviewer put it, âand some rough beast is leaning toward the White House. ”
He gets the paranoia and dread of that time.
âOn a personal level, things have felt less insecure over the past six months or so,â Kunzru admits. âI think I was the most tense around 2016, 2017, when I really had no idea how far things were going to go. I’m not from the United States, but I lived here for 13 years and made my living here. I’m married to an American and we have two American children, but we were seriously discussing where we might go.
“Where could we be able to make a living and also be safe? It was as if we had to at least consider that this was what it might have been in the early 1930s and that the person who took too long to jump was going to get caught.
The fear has subsided for now, he says.
âIt seemed justified at the time, and we are not out of the woods yet. I’m not just talking about Trump. I mean globally there is a huge convulsion around ideas about democratic participation, an increase in inequalities. We return to the social relations of the golden age.
âI think in the future there is going to be a lot of political volatility. It’s sending people to the left and sending people to the right and what doesn’t seem sustainable is the center.
The pandemic has produced new polarizations or made visible those that already existed. Covid masks are ideological symbols. A friend in Los Angeles told Kunzru that in high school, “Democratic kids wear masks and Trump kids don’t wear masks.”
But still, Kunzru found the lockdown relatively bearable. He and his wife, writer Katie Kitamura, had children and were able to continue working. His main project during those months was an eight-episode podcast, In the zone.
“I think it helped me psychologically to have something that there was a short deadline for, that other people needed me to do, and it didn’t require me to be too much in my head. . ”
He also liked the âstrange intimacyâ of the medium. It’s an extraordinary series, covering everything from the racial origins of Europeans to life in Communist East Germany, from Trump’s use of positive thinking to the history of country music. Each episode unfolds like a superbly written essay.
âIt’s quite a challenge to try to come up with complicated ideas. There was one episode where I was trying to do 12 tone music and dialectics, and it was hilarious trying to find ways specific enough to get a feel for these things.
His novels cover equally eclectic subjects. White tears was about blues music. Gods without men deals with UFO cults and My revolutions was about 60s radical. Previous novels featured computer viruses and a young man who, like Kunzru, was of Anglo-Indian descent.
Yes, UFOs. Kunzru wrote Gods without men when he came to the United States on an artist and writer visa, as an alien with extraordinary abilities. It’s a fun category in hindsight.
âI would say I was a writer, and you would get into a conversation about what you write. Literary fiction is not what they wanted to hear.
âSo I used to say, ‘I’m writing a book about UFOs,’ and invariably that got a positive response. Eventually you’ll talk to the immigration guy about what you believe. The most American thing to be interested in UFOs. It says a lot about people’s desire for this to be proof of something alien. “
UFOs have also come from the margins, with the US government recently admitting that some of the sightings on film cannot be explained. For people who have spent decades observing marginal culture, this admission is remarkable. Kunzru has followed the arguments between skeptics and believers, and will admit that one of the published UFO clips looks “true” to him.
There is the intellect, and then there are deeper feelings. When he first heard of those official music videos, did they strike a chord with him? Did he want, as they say, to believe?
âThere is the excitement that the world is bigger than we dreamed of,â he admits. “I definitely share that.”
Details of The Faraway Near can be found at wordchristchurch.co.nz.