Al Dixon and The Real Pleasure in Life-#Interview-@PunctuationFace

You are about to enter an interview like you’ve never seen before, so I thought I would give you  a heads up that you aren’t reading typos. What you see is how the author truly writes for the book of discussion. And honestly, there isn’t anything wrong with it. I’ve read his book, written this way, and you don’t even notice anything after a few pages.Al Dixon Image

Meet Al Dixon, who teaches English at The University of Georgia, my alma mater.

Can you explain what nonstandard English is to our readers? Maybe you could use it in your responses if you like.

it basicly means writing however you want, as long as people can understand you. if you wana use capital letters and apostrophes and spell gona “going to,” go for it. but dont act like evrybody else has to do it too. we say we need a writing standard in order to understand eachother, but this is an invented need. standard written english [ or standard rotten, as they call it in the novel ] is much more effectiv at marking people as different based on race, class, and education-level than it is at promoting clarity. this makes sense historicly: in almost all languages and cultures, the development of a written standard coincided with the rise of capitalism.

Okay, give us an example of some things, although you are doing it already.

lets say a student writes “Davids car” or “David car” instead of “David’s car,” or “I seen ” instead of “I saw,” or they use ironic colloquially instead of according to its dictionary definition [ english teachers especialy hate that one. ]  why is this wrong? the car belongs to david. seen and saw mean the same thing. ironic can mean suprizing, because thats how people use it now. whats not to understand?

In your opinion, if we can understand English however its written, then why the fuss over the details?

whether we realize it or not, educated people enforce language standards for the same reason the wealthy want to eliminate regulation and taxes to create a supposed “free market”–you workd hard to get on top, and you wana stay there. intrestingly, the people who claim not to be able to read the book or who call it distracting or who want to know why i write like that are english teachers, editors, writers, agents–people whose currency is the written word. other people rarely remark on it at all. if pressd, they say they thought it was fun or they stopt noticing it after awhile. so its kind of like reverse-discrimination for literacy.

to me, the real standard of language comes from the people who speak it. we celebrate variety in speech, in song, in film. why not in literture? can you imagine faulting robert johnson for saying “Me and the devil was walkin side-by-side,” instead of “The devil and I were walking…” or the sex pistols for shouting “I wanna destroy” instead of “I want to…” not only would this be preposterous, it would get in the way of artistic and cultural expression. to me, as an artist, its important to make people question why literture lags behind in this area.

also, i am obsessd with how people talk. not so much what they say as how they say it. the slang, the accents, the rhythm of their speech. sometimes they say probably, other times probly.  ‘have to’ and ‘hafta’ are not interchangeable. they mean basicly the same thing, but they are used in difrent contexts. in cases like these, the artificiality of standard language actualy gets in the way of writing.


The Real Pleasure In LifeReading The Real Pleasure in Life, as far as the language and spelling are concerned were not a problems except when the letter x would normally be used, and that was on one occasion out of the entire book. The only thing that got to me at times was the animation of the text and only then when it came to the speed of some of the changes.

awsom! that means a lot coming from a fellow writer. its hard to get the speed of the animations perfect. i did a lot of testing and found zero consensus: people read in radicly difrent ways and at very difrent speeds. i spose the animations are sposeto fuck with you a little bit anyway, keep you from getting too comfterble. so its obviusly not for evrybody.


How long have you been teaching at UGA?

i started at the university of georgia three years ago, but ive been teaching college english for about 15 years. ive taught at 6 difrent colleges, but UGA has the best students. those kids can write. when i went to school there, theyd let anybody in! not so now.


Is nonstandard English something you promote in the classes you are involved with?

not directly, no. i’ll expand on that in a second. but first i’d like to give props to my students: i learnd more about writing from them than they learnd from me, i think. i useto get angry when they made run-on sentences or wrote your instead of you’re, think they were dumb, judge them, which is what we are traind to do as english teachers. but i came to realize that i like it–the slight deformity in the expected sequence of letters and punctuation produces an intresting reaction in my brain. when i was writing the real pleasure in life, i had to unlearn evrything i learnd about writing, and that allowd me to see what my students already knew: nonstandard isnt stupid, its awsom!

but to your question: in the classroom, i make a distinction between writing for school and personal or creative work. when students are in a college english class, they want access to “professional” language so they can advance in their fields. it is my responsibility to make sure they learn it. but at the beginning of the semester, i let them know that standard written english isn’t “real” or “correct” english, its just the english they need to know in order not to be judged negativly by potential employers and other people in positions of power. as a teacher, i need to show them these standards. but as an artist, i dont have to reinforce them. infact, its important not to.


Another part of your book that stands out beyond the non-standard English is the animated text. Where did the idea of the animated text come from?

before i wrote this novel, i always tried to write the way your supposed to write, using difrent literary models like raymond carver or denis johnson or whoever was in best american short stories that year. when i started writing the real pleasure in life, it wasnt like that at all. i was chaneling something outside of myself, and in order to do it justice, i had to forget all the things i knew about writing fiction. early on, i realized the narrator was writing from a difrent place, and in that place you dont worry about language standards or a literary tone, you can spell a word two difrent ways in the same sentence, you can have fight scenes and power moves and projectile vomiting, you can be as absurd as you want! at some point, it occurd to me that this included making the words jump around the page and knock eachother over. luckily i had nothing better to do with the next five years of my life, and i’m friends with some brilliant programers who were generous with their time.


Where did the idea for The Real Pleasure In Life come from? By that I mean the story itself.

it was a waking dream–it just started coming one summer when i fortunately was not teaching. i wrote all the raw material in 5 weeks–hundreds and hundreds of pages which i used only a fraction of. i wrote constantly, 16 hours a day, sometimes more. i couldnt stop. i didnt think at all, i just put down the stories and the voices that were in my head–my friends, athens, burning man, music, philosophy, literture. one of my favrite lines in all of literture is the last sentence of flannery o’connors story ‘a good man is hard to find’:   “Shut up, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”  i always wanted to write a book about that line, as a way of trying to understand it. but evrytime i tried to write it, it came out false. it was only when i was well into writing this novel that i realized i was actualy doing it. on accident. or out of necessity.


Being from Athens myself, the way you describe things is very much dead on. I don’t know the late night scene so much, but I know it goes on and can get wild. I’ve been from one bar to another and then to an apartment more crowded than the bar. How much of the atmosphere of the story is from personal experience and how much from conversations with friends or acquaintances?

almost all of it is true, with only slight exaggerations. all the characters except claire are real people, much of the dialog is taken word-for-word from their mouths. sometimes people think the beginning of the novel, the domestic part which is “realistic,” is based on fact, and the rest of it is my depraved imagination. but the opposit is actualy true. the shit that happens in athens, i couldnt make that up. i hafta make sure my mother understands this before she reads it, because if she thinks all that came from inside my brain, she will be certain she faild as a parent.


What is the meaning of life?

immersing ourselvs in life, the connections we make with eachother and the world. the Misfit was right, its no real pleasure in life. that useto terrify me, but now i see the wisdom in it. only when i learnd to accept this could i move on to the important stuff.


What do you think the reception of the book will be?

i imagine it will mostly be ignored. the kind of people who tend to write reviews or be in charge of magazines orwhatever will be annoyed by it, if they look at it at all. and who can blame them? i’m trying to annoy them! i just hope that it can slowly start to connect with a small group of people who delight in the absurd, in chaos, in the extreme–burning man people, neutral milk hotel fans, people who like south park and would like to read contemporary literture but find most of it too precious or stuffy or intentionally obtuse.


How can people get the book?  when the book is released, july 15, they can read it online there, or follow the link to download a free copy. we’ll have an iBook for Apple people and an app for evrybody else. you can read it on any device that will run a web browser–phones, laptops, tablets. you dont need any special software, and its totally free. we dont even ask for donations. you cant give us money, even if you want to. its important that the book not get mixd up in commerce because it is not a commercial product.


What are you working on next in regards to books?

i think i am ready to move on from books. over the last few years, ive been learning how to program. 90% of what i write now is code. i wana see what happens when literture escapes the confines of the page or screen and gets out into the world. maybe a haunted house made of your fears, or speech bubbles that come out of your mouth and collide with other peoples words, stories you can steer like a boat, stuff like that. this shuld keep me busy for at least the next decade.


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