The Wonderful Asshole
Gary Indiana Won’t Grease It Up for Anyone
Archival Photos Courtesy of New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections
I never really thought I’d end up writing anything about Gary Indiana; I just wanted to meet him. Despite a 35-year career writing books that are more corrosive than alien blood, he’s been the subject of only a few magazine profiles and no one’s written a proper biography of him. Most young, semi-literate people are pretty sure they’ve heard of him, but it could be that they’re just thinking of the city from which Gary appropriated his last name (né Hoisington).
Gary is primarily a novelist, one who falls into the Not Forgotten but Criminally Underappreciated category that seems to plague authors of a certain age. Perhaps this is because the literary sense of today’s market has been dulled by what he calls “the procession of no-talent Brooklyn hacks named Jonathan”. But his struggle for success has also been hindered by a refusal to think of his life in careerist terms. “I’ve never had a career!” he once snapped at me. “I’ve never had a career because I don’t eat shit! Those creeps who have careers, they don’t even have to eat shit. Their mouths are already fucking toilets.” He’s been turning out straight-up masterpieces since his first novel, Horse Crazy (1989), a minimal, ambient story of gay love and drugs in AIDS-era New York. Close friend William Burroughs championed Gary’s early books, calling them “archetypal stories, expertly told. Fascinating to every man, no matter what his sexual tastes – like the characters in Genet.” If you want to get cover-blurby about it, you could say that Gary is one of the last of a seemingly dying breed of hardcore American intellectuals.
Today, a lot of Gary’s stuff is out of print. I can’t help but feel that this is partially his doing. “I’m a wonderful asshole but a horrible creep,” he said when I delicately asked him whether he had contributed to his own troubles in the marketplace. “Anybody my age with books still in print is just good at networking, greasing every asshole they come across. I can write the novel, and I can sell the novel. I’m just not capable of shoving that novel up anybody’s asshole.” In a 2002 interview in the Village Voice he cautioned against selling out, warning that “people think that you’re self-destructive if you’re willing to make gestures against power that insure the making of enemies. But if your only concern in life is your success and viability among the people who wield power, then you might as well just start taking a lot of Klonopin every day.” A classic communiqué from the solitary world of one who refuses to compromise.
Gary’s in his early 60s, although he looks much older, prematurely aged in a way that is somehow fitting to his oeuvre. Over the past 23 years, he’s written six crushing novels, mostly about the power relations surrounding sexuality, money, celebrity and brutality. He’s obsessed with the law, the moment where “reality and the law [collide] in a way that exposes the contradictions of the system we live in… where masses of people are kept in check by fear of the police and the threat of incarceration or execution, rather than by a shared sense of possibility.” Much of his source material comes from reality, especially when it comes to crime, and he’s extensively covered the trials of Rodney King and Jack Kevorkian and produced studies of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Arnold Schwarzenegger.