PAC'N HEAT: Meet The Contributors! Gary Barwin

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Gary Barwin

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Did you ever play Ms. Pac-Man?

I have a vague recollection of a gathering in northern Michigan with a fleet of poets, a dingy afternoon in a dark tavern, dim floral carpets, dank beer and Ms. Pac-Man.

Do you/Did you play other video games?

I play this fascinating interactive game called Facebook. I haven’t figured out what the point is but I’m getting quite good at it.

What do you/did you find most appealing about video games?

Video games fascinate me as an art form with their own mythology, symbolism, social and community structures. And all of that is immersive. You don’t so much play a game as you are in it. It’s not quite a place but it surrounds. It’s like “night” or falling into a vat of Tabasco sauce. I am entranced by the self-sufficient sign-systems of video games—they create their own genres (like the Western, or Noir, or the Elizabethan sonnet) and semantics and often physics. At the same time, I’m also aware of how video games reflect social norms and values and as such have the potential to enact progressive alternatives and conceptual alterities.

What do you /did you find most frustrating?

I would like to let myself engage in a video game in the way that I do with a novel or music, but somehow, I’m a narrative Luddite despite my conceptual understanding of how great it might be.

If you used to play video games and don't anymore, why did you stop?

The last game I played with any frequency (other than facilitating my kids when they were little in “Elroy Hits the Pavement” and other such games) was Pong. My brother bought a very early version which we plugged into a ten inch black and white TV and played. I guess I stopped because I kept playing music and playing music is like a video game in a way. I got better and better at my particular controller: saxophone.

What video game do you wish existed?

Twenty-two-dimensional extra rod-and-cone polysensory postgravity quantum Groucho Marx Franz Kafka Virtual Surreality Chess.

What's better: Original 80s or Retro 80s? And why?

Here I’m assuming 1480s. I’m a big fan of Ockeghem, so definitely the original.

What about Noir as a genre appeals to you?

Much about what I said about video games applies to Noir. The idea that it is a rich semantic system. In traditional haiku you can incline a single leaf an ant’s breath toward autumn and reveal something profound about the reality of being human. You can do that in Noir, though it might be a gun, a fog, the tilt of a hat and a body in a dumpster. And with both haiku and Noir, you can play with these semantic systems, confounding expectations or exploding them.

Dewdrop on leaf end.

Some offed stiff.

Fog for dinner again tonight.

What's your favourite work of Noir? (Book, Comic, Movie...)

My interest in Noir was rekindled by the work of my late friend, Kerry Schooley who wrote Noir under the handle of John Swan. His two novels are Sap and The Rouge Murders. I love how he represented our region, particularly Hamilton, in his fiction. I can’t drive through the rain up James St with some patsy tied up in the trunk without thinking of him. I also love that goofy Richard Brautigan Noir book, Dreaming of Babylon. And lately, I’ve been reading Mickey Spillane as part of a renewed interest in genre. I recently read his Big Kill.

What are you reading these days?

I blurbed The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses by Michael Casteels which I thought was fantastic. I’m rereading it because I loved it but also because I’m interested to see what editorial changes were made after the version that I saw. I’m also reading the late 19th c. German Western novelist, Karl May, particularly Winnetou.

What else are you working on now?

I’ve started about ten new novels. Some of them involve Nazi ventriloquists, flea circuses, a Jewish colony on Mars, a family of seven all with dwarfism who survived Auschwitz (a true story) and a western novel told to Hitler in his bunker as he waits for the Russians to take Berlin. I haven’t figured out which one to finish. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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