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Jerry Stahl, godfather of the gut-socking overshare

Jerry StahlLA Times Festival of Books

Latfob_stahlpanel

If the world ends up on its collective deathbed, every last one of us expiring from the unglamorously named swine flu, we can count on Jerry Stahl, right, to issue withering quips that will at least make us laugh. On the misnamed “Postmodern World” panel, the godfather of the gut-socking overshare taught his younger co-panelists, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Fiona Maazel, left, and Lee Kostantinou, center, a few things about the deadpan one-liner. Not that they weren’t capable players themselves.

A little gallows humor was needed for this dark but easy-flowing discussion. As moderator and “Big Lonesome” author Jim Ruland explained in the first few minutes, the panel wasn’t going to concern itself with endlessly circular arguments about the meaning of "postmodern" (as with "pornography," no one’s really come up with a working definition) but, rather, with the apocalypse in fiction.

This pronouncement made Stahl’s blue eyes glow like burning embers. “I always welcome the apocalypse,” he said, “and feel vaguely disgruntled that it never shows up. For me, it’s all weird foreplay till the end.” Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation blog and “Harry, Revised” guffawed from the front row.

If life is all weird foreplay till the end, the preferred titillation is chemical living – the arsenal of double lattes, high-grade marijuana and Oxycontin that deadens our senses, perhaps a kind of personal apocalypse, Ruland posited.

When the subject of drugs was first broached, Stahl drolly remarked, “I don’t know why everyone’s looking at me.”

Addiction plays a role in nearly all of the panelists’ work. Maazel’s novel “Last Last Chance” pits an addict’s “stupendous narcissism” against a super-plague, she said. Regarding his “Captives,” Hasak-Lowy said that his main character, Daniel Bloom, is “addicted to ambition … and will never fill up.” The rock stars flitting around Konstantinou’s “Pop Apocalypse” are hellbent on ingesting or applying any reality-sidewinder, including a “sexually stimulating foam.” (Top that, Pfizer!)

But for all the gritty end-time-obsessed discourse, a sense of hope managed to sneak in. Responding to an audience query about existentialism, Maazel said that she believes deeply that life has meaning and that she invests her writing with that sensibility, a sentiment echoed by Konstantinou. Hasak-Lowy said that his new book employs love as the dominant theme.

Stahl’s sense of hope was present too, but it came in a most flinty form. One best-case scenario, he said, is that the apocalypse “might’ve already happened and we’re just living in the blowback.”

— Margaret Wappler

Photo credit: Margaret Wappler

 
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