An Interview With Erik Stinson: Online and Off, Too!
by Elias Tezapsidis
Erik Stinson is a writer of short fiction and poetry, an essayist, web artist and associate copywriter. His most collection of stories, Tropic Midtown, came out on the 18th of April and is available here. The line of Stinson’s creative products are superblurry anyway and he finds unconventional ways to promote his work, for example the visual trailer with which he promoted his collection of essays And Then I Disappeared Again. Watching the trailer makes me feel ambivalent. I unwillingly focus on his outrageous glasses, and I ultimately conclude: “this is annoying, but I love it.”
I feel similarly towards the marketing strategy behind Sense Europa: The Only European Men’s Magazine Published in NYC, which Stinson coedited. This erotic literary publication was only made available in limited print editions or in password-protected PDF. A desire for control of the readership arises as an exercise in shifting the power dynamic between the creator and the audience. It becomes apparent that there is a romantic pursuit for the content to find its intended niche: it is indicative of favoring a more meaningful connection with fewer over a mass misconnection.
I had been emailing Stinson for approximately two weeks prior to randomly walking into him and recognizing him in the street on Houston, by the Angelika. It was a particularly bad day for me emotionally – or rather, “professionally?” – as I had completed an immense amount of work I did not feel happy conducting and had spent approximately half an hour crying uncontrollably in a cubicle. “Erik?” I said, to which he responded affirmatively.
My shock was not shared. Stinson has encountered such an experience numerous times before. He swiftly confided that the Internet functioned as a gateway for him to meet individuals who approach their current realities in a fashion similar to his: quirky, neurotic, a little manic. Above all, his style is one that embraces the antithetical yet symbiotic duality of knowledge and ignorance the World Wide Web has introduced.
A dialogue with Stinson on the choice and agency of creatives in exercising their creativity, and how it may fit in a corporate lifestyle, follows.
Please describe how we met IRL and how you feel about it.
We met on a street-corner in Manhattan. You were upset about something which I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of. I was tired from nightwork at a big agency. We walked together on Houston for a few blocks. I went to dinner.
In your online bios this is how you identify: “writer of short fiction and poetry, an essayist, web artist and associate copywriter.” Why this order in description? Does your corporate identity end up being the least important?
That order is probably wrong.
The corporate identity is more important, because that’s how I make money and it’s usually the source of what I’m thinking about. It’s how people understand the things I do. However, under everything, I’m probably just a writer. Copywriters are always trying to be something else; usually a screenwriter. I was a screenwriter first and I’m not interesting in that, not now. I’m a writer trying to be a copywriter, trying to make something that matters, not to like a self-identified poetry-art-film segment, but just to people who are trying to understand how the world works, not excluding the tasteless mire, the politically inept, the middle-culture addled, the based brand assets.
Can you discuss your creative process? What are your thoughts on fantastical reality in creativity? What is your stance on a “psychology of success:” the idea that if you think something is good and project it confidently, other will agree?
A lot of the writing is either theoretical or gestural when it starts. I struggle to write solid, plot-driven things with gradually revealed characters. Stories don’t usually come to me that way, and they don’t leave me that way without some kind of heavy process.
The authority in the work comes from a pretty heady cultural theory background. I graduated from this elite west coast research school honors program in three years – thesis on the suppression of the female gaze in late capitalist cinema authored by female directors – with no trouble, then went directly into advertising school, where I mostly just caroused. To contrast with fluency in critical theory, I had this pure, seething, certainty that it could easily be discarded (so many people learn to ignore the mechanics behind power, yes?). My mentors talked to drug culture, high culture. They talked about the insanity of powerful men, nihilism at the center of accepted truth. I wrote something non-fiction about lineage of robotic whites, fueled by cocaine, for a grad-level anthropology seminar. Perfect marks. I could take a true dive and it seemed painful and terrible, but OK. You could ride it.
Writing goes on like that. I can just write a funny short thing about tacos and bad TV, anytime. There’s no shame in just starting to type, if it feels good. I read something both humor-object and system-critique like Cool Memories by Baudrillard and wonder if it would better of worse for me, if more people understood Marxism as part of daily American life, if people understood all their motions as an art practice or a value exchange. I’m not at all sure that it would be better. But in the circles I travel at least, that point of view is still useful.
As an internet artist, how do you view the way culture and its commercialization works today? How are young creatives to capitalize in a system of order that gives so much for free?
The self becomes the product. It’s terrible. Your fetish-time at a desk or on a stage. The insane amounts of empty time, especially in the presence of superiors. Face time with a valuable person is what people end up paying for, whether they are buying a painting or a banner ad. Education attempts to add value to people, to their aura, and it sometimes does. Freelancers obsess over their day-rates; maybe more people should do that. It is insane and uncomfortable that I can make a year’s wages for the average human, in just one day. That’s the enormous problem of value and exchange. Artists can’t avoid it. Nobody can. It takes a serious toll on personal democracy.
Despite the labor market’s perversions, the really quality works will always come from people who know how to focus on ideas and objects, and navigate around the bloated modern narcissism.
Maybe the ability to expertly shift attention to yourself, and then away. Maybe that’s what the market wants.
Describe Slash Lovering  and his influence on you. How were you friends with someone much older at such a young age? What did you do together?
We always saw each other at these punk shows in basements and things like that. He was this older dude who really liked music. He wasn’t that social but like to tell stories. He just didn’t really have anyone who wanted to listen.
Should it matter to me whether he is real or not? It does. Do you think it shouldn’t? Does people’s curiosity offend you?
Slash is a guy who deserves a voice, even if he died without substantial recognition. You’re being thick. This is like that thing where continental philosophy spent a millennium trying to prove the existence of God. Things got more interesting when they stopped picking on God and started picking on monarchy. Let Slash tell you why he doesn’t matter. Figure out if you agree.
Do you ever feel the need for tangibility of having your work offline? I feel weird when people call me an internet writer. Do you think there is a stigma linked to net art and net creatives?
People have always been offering me gallery shows. I figure out how to put the writing on the walls. They offer to buy print books. They click, too.
Do you feel the need to eat tangible food? You can’t you just drink in your data plan, live off information?
Digital publishing isn’t an art ghetto. Ghettos have boarders, insides and outsides. They have institutional racism, famine. The internet isn’t even a medium. It’s an infinite library with no rules. After primary school, nobody has to force you to spend time in libraries. They are great places, built to expand human memory, to increase the capacity of the human brain. What could be more powerful? What has proved more powerful? I worked in a technical library during university. You could blame everything bad and good that has ever happened on accumulated knowledge. It’s bigger than conventional art practice. It might even predate written language, if you think about oral history, cave paintings, genetics. Connect an idea to a trillion other ideas, objects, experiences; accelerate the sum of bio-political experience to the speed of machines. First you get a library, then the Internet. Fuck this petty downtown art stuff, consider a library. I’m smiling.
Would you rather compromise your artistic vision to sell more or remain faithful to it regardless of the repercussions?
If I knew how to do either of those things, I would.
If a compromise was pure or intentional, it would be hard to differentiate that from art. Blah blah blah. Keanu Reeves, undergrads. People ask me if my career is a performance. That’s a huge compliment to my acting ability, I guess. I would need inhuman control over my intentions and self-presentation to do that in a rigorous way. So maybe I’m just doing this slow, aimless performance of vocation? I feel it’s a bit deeper, in terms of my experimentation with value. Eh… delineating this. I just can’t.
I think the idea of uncompromised art is more about Western childhood than art criticism. Blank slate, merit, democracy. Sacred rites and reproducing a culture that is supposedly above the old differentiating factors. Black, white, poor, gay. Selling out? Who knows? People talk about this stuff like it’s some boring indie pop band in California trying to sign to a major and then disappointing their fans. Cool story. Compromise is a function of existence, of evolution.
On the other side of things, are all these wonderful people who never get an option to compromise their art. They aren’t aware of their art in the 20k hits-per-day art blog editorial sense. They aren’t shown the opportunity to monazite a body of experience that society doesn’t value. I’ve read exactly one novel about working at Target. I don’t expect to read another.
Maybe they just don’t give a fuck. That’s always a tantalizing option.
Everyone has to eat. Everyone has to justify their process, however unarticulated. Make sense of that or just give in to it. Pepsi.
How do you think your creativity enhances your corporate performance? How does it hinder it? How do you negotiate the two?
My creativity is a corporate performance. I’m not interested in creativity without a process. That’s called being an Indigo Child. There’s no money in finger painting or dream journals. Unless you have an agent and a gallery.
Thinking, “I’m a creative person” is some fucked up classist shit. Either everyone is creative, or nobody is; some people just get lucky with dinner parties, book deals, HR people and pigment.
Images courtesy of Copy for Nothing
 The quizzical Slash Lovering has been a protagonist of Stinson’s writing: http://htmlgiant.com/author-spotlight/the-last-days-of-slash-lovering/
About the Author:
Elias grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece, prior to attending Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was there that he discovered he was too neurotic and OCD for the Midwest and had a low-tolerance for the MN-nice. The move to NYC post-graduation seemed like the logical next step, and since then downtown New York has been home.