THE NAKED DARKNESS - re-issue from December 2009 (S.D.E., Paris)

The first official collection of short stories by Daph Nobody


(March 2007)

Interviewer: Why did you choose these particular genres of literature? Horror, Fantasy, Thriller?


Daph Nobody.: Well, maybe because these are genres you do not really choose, actually. They choose you, so to speak, like demons possessing you, and from the moment they’ve taken you under their wing, you keep flying with them, because if you want to fly by yourself, since you have no wings, you fall down and crash onto the earth.


I: You often express yourself through imagery, in your daily speech as well as in your books. You like that game, don’t you?


D.N.: You must be right. Using detours sometimes helps you to stick more to the point.


I: Could you explain that?


D.N.: Sometimes, a human brain understands better things through images than through words. Or, at least, perceives and experiences them better, emotionally speaking. When you’re confronted to a purely intellectual approach of a situation, you may adopt a very cold behaviour regarding pain, sorrow, injustice… But when you’re faced with images, your emotional repertoire is requested, so you can feel involved, touched, upset by a situation. For that reason, in general, I do not encourage intellectual approaches of life. For instance, if you listen to the radio and hear that twenty people were killed in an act of terrorism, you will merely picture the scene, and you may go on with your breakfast, only recording in your perception a fact and a number. But if you’re shown footage taken live on the set, with bodies mutilated, covered with blood, or still alive and howling with pain, you will become aware of the horror that took place, you will be part of it, and you will start to identify with the injured people. You’ll be one of them, in some way. It’s purely an emotional process. If, as a writer or a movie director, you want to awaken some feelings and a sense of reasoning in the mind of your audience, you have to use imagery. Words are useless if they’re only words or concepts. The world doesn’t really need words, not too many words at least. Besides, words are dangerous when they’re not illustrated, because they can convince ignorant people to join an extremist political tendency without really picturing what the implications of its policy are. As a consequence of that, I try to build up books that are visual, some sort of comic strips for grown-ups. That way, people understand much better the message you’re trying to convey. The same way, singers make videos to promote their songs, so words’ emotional power is still increased by the pictures accompanying the songs. Of course, pictures can be as manipulative as words. But when you state some-thing, when you tell a story, you do necessarily manipulate your audience to win it over. When you tell something, you’re always looking for an approval.


I: You were mentioning the idea of ‘manipulation’ a few seconds ago. Let’s talk it over. One of your stories, Reigning Raining Darkness, is a very special experience in literature, because it definitely belongs to the fantasy genre due to its atmosphere, but eventually, when you read the ending lines, you realize that nothing is supernatural in it, although it seemed for twenty pages that you were plunged into a supernatural plot. A Belgian critic said that, especially with that story, you must be considered as a brilliant fantasy author.


D.N.: Actually, writing is a game of tricking people, and a game of self-entertainment too. So, it seemed to me interesting and exciting to develop a realistic plot in a very weird way, to prove that fantasy is not only a matter of story, but also a matter of setting, of using the five senses to distort reality, to create fantastic emotions and an out-of-this-world experience. Fantasy worlds can be amazingly manipulative. In this short story, indeed, when the secret is revealed, we realize that we’re dealing with the most realistic plot ever. It’s also very helpful to use characters who are different from the average man, and which difference lists them apart in our streets. I often stage such characters in my stories: a blind man, an overweighed man, an amputated man… aliens in a broad sense… people who see the world differently, because the world looks at them differently than it would look at so-called normal people.


I: What are you trying to tell through your stories? That the world is dying? That chaos has settled for good? That hope is a meaningless word? That evil is the king?


D.N.: Well, I would lie if I said that I’m rather optimistic about the future. But obviously, humanity is entering a transitory period of its story. The climatic conditions are dramatically changing, the cataclysms will be more and more frequent and more and more devastating. We are more and more numerous, and something’s got to happen to regulate the blowing up of the limits. If humanity is not able to solve the problems, nature will. Nature is a regulator. A powerful watchdog. You may call me a bird of ill omen, but you must confess that it has become pretty hard to still believe in a bright sunshining future, considering what we know and see. I am not involved in politics, but writing is nevertheless a political position towards society. And I guess I must be unconsciously campaigning against hell. I believe that, by depicting hell with the most horrid cruelty and perversity, you can dissuade people from perpetrating irreversible acts. People are like kids, you know. Take the fingertip of a child near a flame, and he/she will understand that it burns and that he/she’d better keep away from it if he/she doesn’t want to get burned. That’s the idea. And that’s the point…

Besides, since my universe is dark and violent, I often rely on irony to depict it, in order to make it bearable. Irony is the best key to use when you want to open the door to the demons that defeat us, and when you invite hell for a tea.


I: Do you think literature nowadays still has an impact on the course of things?


D.N.: It never really had, because no artistic revolution ever changed things fundamentally, only temporarily. Look around, things are going on the way they’ve been going on for millenniums. Wars, cataclysms, conquests, social inequalities… You’ve got breaks like Woodstock, but they’re only short breaks, and if during these breaks a number of people happen to think differently, to imagine a different world with different rules, eventually things come back to the usual way, being a very aggressive and oppressive way. To come back to your question… no, I think today literature is the artistic discipline that has the smallest impact on the world, because we’ve entered the era of visual communication means. Films can have a bigger impact, although too many movies are produced nowadays. Check how much time a movie remains on the schedule of a theatre: a few weeks, sometimes a few days only, unlike the movies that were released twenty years ago and that were sometimes shown for a whole year on the big screens. We’re dealing with consumption logic, and if you want to have an impact on the world, sorry to say this but… don’t be an artist, you’d better become a kamikaze terrorist.


I: So, why are you writing? And who do you write for, actually?


D.N.: I write for dreamers like me. Thank God, our sect is still widespread. And in dreams, of course, I include nightmares… I write because writing has always been my favourite way of communicating. You know, I’m not good at talking live, and in general I’m a very silent guy. I actually never – or almost never – have anything to say in daily life. My conversations with people do not often exceed three minutes. Everybody needs to find the way of communication that fits them most. Some friends of mine do not write, but are able to talk for hours and hours about a thousand things. They really fascinate me. Really, I envy them, because it seems that life is simpler when you can communicate without ink. In general, people that surround me are very talkative, unlike me. Because it makes a good balance. If people around me were as silent as I am, our relation would lead to nowhere. It’s precisely because our way of communicating is different, that we can share different experiences. Because your perception is different when you describe things with your voice in present time, and when you write about things with the hiatus of time settled between what you’ve seen and the moment you will describe on a sheet of paper what you’ve seen. Yes, the perception, the way of recording events and information, is absolutely dissimilar. And it’s difference that produces conversations. When you completely share somebody’s opinion, pretty soon you actually have nothing left to say, because you agree on everything and your perception of things is completely the same. It’s totally uninteresting… No debate, no chat. I think I’m a rather boring guy in life, not very entertaining in parties. And I’m very lonely too. Loneliness is essential for a writer, along with incompatibility (meaning that your vision and expectations are incompatible with the world’s), it provides a real motivation in creating a parallel world. I never have anything to say about my life, or I can sum up in three lines what happened to me for the last twelve months, which is not very productive in the process of live communication, I guess. But that’s my nature. I listen to people rather than making them listen to me. I have nothing to say, nothing special, nothing new. But if you give me a pen and a sheet of paper, I will write down a whole century. This is why I’m a writer, because I’m not good at using my vocal chords… Did I really answer to your question? I’m not sure. Actually, I write because I’ve always been writing since I was seven, and I don’t question myself on that particular point. I eat, I drink, I breathe, I sleep, I write. It’s a matter of need. It’s a matter of survival.


I: You are telling me that you have a difficult contact with people in general. But how is it then, that you find yourself comfortable as an actor on a movie set or on stage? Because you’re a very good actor, and when you appear on a screen or on a stage, you give the feeling that the audience is, to your eyes, a family gathering, in front of which you have no stress, no taboos, no shyness. How do you explain that?


D.N.: I think the problem is myself. I precisely created Daph Nobody in order to forget my real name, because my real name is related to my past, and to all the suffering that belongs to this past and that traumatized me to the point of turning me into a silent, autistic-like person. But when you’re on a stage or acting in a movie, you’re not really yourself. You use yourself to create someone else who is obviously a reflection of what you are deep inside of yourself, but you’re not your common self. I always wanted to be someone else. So, when I’m not myself anymore, as it happens on a stage, I automatically feel good and comfortable. I feel alive. And when you enjoy yourself on a stage or on a screen, believe me, it’s contagious: people will also enjoy themselves watching you. Actually, I feel only good when I’m someone else. Sometimes I tell myself that I should be a full-time actor. Things would be less painful, less complicated. I had several opportunities, but I turned them down because there’s this need of writing always calling me back into loneliness and introspection. My ideal life: being an actor… and a writer.


I: How do you start a story? Where do you get your ideas, your plots? Do some elements of your own life inspire you?


D.N.: Not really. I don’t think so. Or maybe in a so indirect way that it is hardly mentionable. Actually, my books could be autobiographic at one level: I haven’t lived what my characters experience in the stories in which I involve them, but in general, in front of their ordeals, they think what I would think. Yes, that’s it: I haven’t lived what they live, but they think what I think. This is the best way to describe my relation with my characters, and my modus operandi in shaping them and creating their psychological pattern.


I: Some people compare you to Poe, Shakespeare, Kafka… Why do you think such relations are mentioned around your work?


D.N.: Possibly because I try to deal with matters that are timeless and that do not belong to a special geographical spot. I’m not campaigning for any political view, as a matter of fact, I always see humanity as a psycho-physical congregation lost in the middle of the universe, subject to its own self-destructiveness and saved throughout the centuries by the miracle of life. Although the language radically changed generations after generations, the messages conveyed in these fabulous authors’ work remain coherent and relevant as far as nowadays society is concerned. For this reason, they’re as enriching as any Holy Bible.


I: Do you think your books will survive the ages, as theirs?


D.N.: I actually don’t think so, because the themes I tackle were already developed in their works. But my purpose is somehow different. My basic concern is to describe nowadays society, with its tendency to reach the extremes, to go beyond the limits, not only technologically speaking, but also at the level of intra- and inter-national social relations: it’s a world of powerism, of massification, of overness, sorry to use new words in a language that isn’t my mother tongue, but I think they have a unique meaning. Authors who were born centuries ago, couldn’t describe this very world of ours today. So, no matter how timeless their stories are, the context, the setting in which the themes reappear are so different that it deserves an up-to-date approach. It’s a linguistic, technical, technological, ethnological retelling, not a brand new set of themes. This is why, I think that if my books happen to survive a few centuries, it will only be possible because people will be curious to (re)discover a special state of mind related to these very years we’re living now. The same way you can watch again and again Apocalypse Now, not because the story is new (Joseph Conrad’s novel was written a bunch of decades before, so no new stuff), but because you rediscover all the social, cultural, political, ethical, artistic patterns that belonged to the years during which the movie was made. Shakespeare or any other genius of his era could not have written what I am writing today, simply because I am dealing with the 21st century, and it is no science-fiction either. It is all about love and hate, good and evil, power and powerlessness, but in another era.


I: You’ve been publishing short stories for a while, but are you planning to write novels too, or will you stick to the shortest way to telling a story?


D.N.: I’ve written many novels. Actually, I’ve started with novels, but they were refused by the French publishers in general, because my novels were too long, and contrary to what happens in the UK or in the USA, French publishers do not like to introduce an author with a long text. They forced me into writing short stories to be published, which I did, and eventually I was published. Today, the short-storytelling does not satisfy me anymore, because I want to give my characters a whole lifetime, and not only a drive around the block. I don’t think that forcing authors into starting with short stories is the best ideas those publishers could get, considering that in France short stories are almost not promoted on the literary market. There seems to be some contradiction in their policy… meaning that I’ve written half a dozen novels, and that they’re ready to be published. I’m working right now on a novel that is the following part of two short stories appeared in The Naked Darkness and in Lights from Beyond; but it can be read independently. I’ve been working on it for two years now, and I should be done with it in about ten months or so. Unfortunately, it’s all written in French…


I: Your parents were Italian natives, but you were born and always lived in Belgium. Which way, do you think, your roots were expressed in your work?


D.N.: I think my ethnical origins influenced my unconscious choice of the genre in which I’m settling my stories. Indeed, the horror genre is a whole tradition in Italy, with great authors such as Dario Argento, George Romero, Mario and Lamberto Bava, but also Ruggero Deodato, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Stivaletti. The Giallo represents a mass production in Italy, and my mother used to paint mysterious phantasmagorical paintings, two of which were used as illustrations for the front covers of my first two books. I guess there must be some genetic influence in the way the universes will fascinate you or not, and in which you will eventually develop your own ideas and stories. But Belgium had also an amazing tradition of fantasy literature. It vanished when their main champions died, but also when the French publishers bought out the Belgian publishers to get the monopoly in the bookshops, especially since France has absolutely no tradition in these genres – it even despises them, describing them as a complete nonsense, childish and ridiculous. And the French publishers killed these genres, with a smiling scorn, so to speak. Too bad! French literature, with its flow of disillusioned love stories all written in the first person singular sounds very pretentious and is very hollow, shallow and immensely boring. I don’t feel comfortable in the French artistic milieu, I’m afraid. Things are much better in Italy or in England or in the USA or even in Spain, where imaginary genres still have their place to stay. Books like Harry Potter’s adventures would have been refused in France, for sure. And if they were born in Paris, Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick would probably not exist at all.


I: Do you think fiction violence influences reality? Or is it the violence existing in reality that defines the violent tendencies in fiction?


D.N.: It’s an interesting debate, that has been brought to light so many times in the past, notably with movies such as Clockwork Orange, Rambo or Ma 6-T va Crack’er. What I think is that, as far as I’m concerned, I’m interested in writing about reality in my books, and violence is an important element in our daily portrait. I grew up in a very violent area, and the most significant movements worldwide are of a violent nature. So, am I promoting violence because I’m talking about it in my books? Well… Showing people dying and swallowed by a whirl of destruction because of their own violence, sounds to me like a criticism, not like clapping hands. But, on the other hand, it is true that some violent scenes may give ideas to people who are predisposed to adopt a violent behaviour. But it’s part of the game. And it is not by censoring violence in books and movies that you will turn Planet Earth into a heavenly place, anyway. I’m not saying that we should only deal with violence on paper and on screens, but considering that fiction is the masked reflection of reality, it would be hard and unfair to cancel violence from our creative palettes. I’m always surprised to see people dreaming of a peaceful world. Tell me, where the hell have you ever seen a peaceful moment in the History of mankind? Never! Doesn’t that ring some bell to you? In my eyes, it simply means that Man is a violent animal species, and until the end of the world we will have to deal with his/her brutality, cruelty, sadism, perversity. It’s part of Man’s nature. If you call that pessimism or despair, well, I would rather call it a simple logic. Besides, I think that God itself is violent.


I: By the way, do you believe in God and Satan, in good and evil?


D.N.: I believe in a powerful genius who is good and evil. I said that I believed in Its existence, the same way I believe in the existence of George W. Bush, since I saw him on TV yesterday. Meaning that I know he exists. But that doesn’t mean that I have faith in him. That’s the nuance… Well, I haven’t seen God on TV, but looking at the universe, it is obvious that something created it. The same way, a book is a universe created by a writer, and a movie by a film director… Now, having said that, whether I believe in good and evil… hmm… Let’s put it this way. Each human being has a dark and a bright side. So why should there be, somewhere above our heads or under our feet, something being absolutely good or absolutely evil? I think both features make life possible when they’re combined. Fire can burn and warm you up. You can be drowned in water, but water can quench your thirst. Therefore, are water and fire good or evil? I think they’re both. The universe was born because of fire, and in water larvae developed to spread the huge range of animal species we know today. So, why should we separate the positive and negative aspects of things? We’re all good and evil, constructive and destructive, loving and hating. Including God, our Lord Creator.


I: And including you, then…


D.N.: Of course. I like love, but I also appreciate the feeling of hate. Both are very nourishing and creative.


I: Who would you like to work with, in the field of horror and sci-fi?


D.N.: I’d love to work with Stephen King, who is my first Master in the art of writing. With Dario Argento, David Lynch, Brian de Palma, Clive Barker… and John Carpenter, yes, I’d love to work with John Carpenter. But I would probably enjoy meeting and working with so many other artists, such as Steven Spielberg, who gave me so many dreams when I was a teenager (since I had no TV as a kid, I discovered his films when I was about fourteen), or Spike Lee, because Do the Right Thing talked to me as if I had been part of the neighbourhood he describes in it. This is a magical and planetary movie, because, although I was living on the other side of the planet, it shows what I have lived as a teenager thousands of miles from New York. It was so great. It proved that no matter where you live, kids in poor neighbourhoods have all the same dreams, the same nightmares, the same fights, the same hopes and despair, the same joy and sadness, the same quests, the same obstacles, the same violence, the same games, the same need of love, the same relationships with each other, the same lack of understanding and cultural hiatus between them when they belong to various ethnic groups, the same colour of skin as a matter of fact. It’s one of my favourite movies ever. I hope I can have a chat with Spike Lee one day, because from the day I’ve seen that movie he became one of my favourite movie directors, and he still is. I really loved He got game, Mo’ Better Blues… They’re so simple, so human and humane, so true.


I: Is there anything else you would like to say to our audience?


D.N.: Hmm… There’s always something left to say… what could it be this time?… hmmm… Oh yes, maybe we could end our conversation with these words written by Stephen King in his novel entitled “IT”: “You can’t be careful on a skate man!”. Great words to meditate on, I think. It’s all about joy and danger, the best cocktail in life.


I: Thank you for accepting our invitation.


D.N.: No, thank you. The pleasure’s mine. It was a really pleasant conversation.


J.-L. G.


~ by daphnobody on December 23, 2009.

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