Quick Questions with Justin Taylor

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On punk rock, spirituality and zines

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Josh Spilker | February 21, 2011

There's that trite saying “there's power in numbers” or someone told me that once and I've only come to understand more in the last few years, i.e. “no man is an island” but maybe there is something bigger, grander in a collective spirit, like 2 + 2 = 5.

There's your PR BS for the day or it could be an appropriate intro to Justin Taylor's new work, The Gospel of Anarchy. At its most literal it's about a Gainesville punk rock collective at the turn of the century, but at it's most meaningful, it's a full-on forward plunge through ideas of belief and hope, uniting a punk rock ethos with observances of spiritual possibility.

Justin Taylor lives in Brooklyn and his collection from last year, Everything Here is The Best Thing Ever was one of my top books for 2010. Gospel of Anarchy is sure to find its way on a similar list this year. Here are a few questions with Justin (and oh yeah, he's been here before):

I told my wife that this was the most Christian non-Christian fiction book I've ever read. That probably won't do for a marketing slogan, but I guess what I was really thinking was that you really describe spiritual experiences in a vivid way.

Thank you—that means a lot to me to hear. Like my protagonist, David, I come from a virulently secular background, so a huge part of writing this book for me was figuring out how to inhabit the language of belief, and to take the questions of faith seriously on their own terms. When I describe the book to people, most assume that it’s some kind of satire or denunciation, but it’s really not. I’m not a Christian, but I’m not sure this is a non-Christian book. Cultural conservatives will find plenty to object to about this book, but I think that Christian readers across the political and denominational spectrum will come away feeling as if their beliefs were explored in a full and serious away.

Are the tenets of the Gospel of Anarchy purely fictional? Or did you get some inspiration for those somewhere?

My book draws from many sources. It is interested in the histories and internal conflicts of two great traditions—Christianity and anarchism, both of which are utterly heterogenous and in constant flux. But if you’re speaking specifically about the “Seven Theses of Anarchristianity”, it’s a mixture. Most of the language and ideas are original, though some of it is borrowed, as in “Chaos is older than Creation,” which comes from the mystical anarchist Hakim Bey. Parker, the character who authors all this stuff, is consciously trying to unify the aforementioned traditions, which to him means embracing paradox rather than glossing it over. “The Pattern” is one of Kierkegaard’s names for Christ; he means that you pattern your life on Christ’s. So when Parker writes that “The Pattern is the breaking of the Pattern,” he is thinking the way that Kafka might have when he wrote that “the Messiah will come when he is no longer necessary.” It’s a question of whether “the pattern” should be followed at the level of the letter, i.e. to follow Christ’s literal instructions, or at the level of the spirit, where to be like Christ means to radically upset the balance of reality. In a Christian world, the target of that upset is necessarily going to be Christianity itself.

Do you think the way the members of Fishgut (the punk rock house) reacted to Parker's writing was a uniquely 'punk' thing to do or just more of a young person type thing to do?

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