'Questions and answers from a prolonged correspondence; an interview with Jamie Marina Lau' / Jeremy George
Jamie Marina-Lau is a Melbourne writer, her book ‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’ was published by Brow Books in April of 2018. The novel centers around Monk, and her newfound friend (relation -) ship with the mysterious Santa Coy. A novel in vivid and intense vignettes that move from (and through) Chinatown, casinos, music, tv-static, love, hunger and violence. I was lucky enough to meet up with Jamie and chat to her about the novel; its themes, her process and the what it means to be a “millennial”.
Jeremy George : ’Pink Mountain’ seems to have a complicated relationship to artistic labour and production. On one hand its hard to imagine the novel without it, but on the other it functions as such a source of anguish and cynicism throughout the book, particularly for the protagonist Monk. How did you go about depicting and exploring this tension surrounding the art industry whilst you were writing the novel?
Jamie Marina-Lau: The art industry in Monk’s periphery throughout the book is lightly but constantly paralleling against industries like the drug industry, religious organisations, forms of therapy, mysticism, academia and all other forms of industries which provide a comfort and security in the way that it inspires people beyond what’s tangible (like personality, spirituality, psychology). For Monk, what she sees and experiences throughout the novel - through most other characters, is the ability to profit off and build lifestyles off things which are essentially “intangible” or reach a “higher being”. The way this is all done inevitably never matches expectations, and the subsequent consequences happening around her are so jarring for her as a young person.
JG: This ideal of transcendence that you’re talking about is really interesting. I feel like throughout the book it runs hand-in-hand with the commonly held perception that to capitalise on something which is considered “sacred” (or “artistic”) is fundamentally grotesque. Maybe an example could be imbued in Monk’s father and his growing relationship with Santa Coy? I was actually never really sure who was corrupting who within their conspiratorial relationship, the new or the old, Santa Coy or Monk’s father. I guess the next question I had is whether this attitude, that art can be knowingly milked like a cash cow, comes from the past or the future- or do you consider it just a ubiquitous reality?
JM: That’s such a perfect way to talk about it. I think it’s an ubiquitous reality, but it’s also definitely something that our generation adopts to its fullest because of the resources we have which give us access to a type of nostalgia; early forms of experimentation with media, like film and photographs. Like we see our parents’ generation so clearly. We can find out so much about artists and separate them from their own realities, or romanticise their deaths or situations because we just piece together what they made with the way their admirers or haters reacted to them . The relationship between Santa Coy and the dad really stems from their stark contrast and the nature we have to idealise or be intensely inquisitive about whats foreign - we’re so used to being across it all.
JG: It is easy to romanticise the idea of art and the world that comes with it. Now that I think about it, its basically easy to romanticise anything seen through “sepia-glasses”, although I’m not sure that’s a phrase that is used. That’s why I loved the character of Monk so much, she moves through the book almost as a kind of cynical compass for all of that stuff.
You mentioned nostalgia before, and how "our generation" has this great nostalgia for past art forms and artists. Do you think this has anything to do with our use of technology? Our access to mass archival information? Critics have called your book almost emblematic of the "digital generation”. If we are so meshed in nostalgia because of new media technology, what do you consider to be the role of your book? Is it a book specifically for a “technology generation”?
JM: I think it’s funny how people have seen the digital side to it because the book almost only uses technology that’s already becoming nostalgic - like YouTube tutorials, VCR tapes. But there’s no mention of like Instagram or even digital marketing in the whole thing. I think the story sits in a funny time space, like a space where even the technology is existing to be more romanticised than it is practical. Particularly for someone like Monk- who sees everything voyeuristically, but because of the book’s format her line of vision is so ’zoomed in’. Through her, we get to see how the artist creates a product and ‘becomes a product’ themselves, but not really what and how they consume in order to ‘become’ it. So as for the role of the book, I guess it’s an embodiment of that. The contradiction of the fragmented, unwholeness of Monk’s voice and experiences being inside a print book. It reflects how the way we go and find things out using the internet- skim reading, pictures with captions, that kind of thing (not negative things, either!)- created the rhythm of the book. The fragmented format, focus on negative space and rhythm of the book is also just a style which fit naturally to Monk, because I guess she’s a character experiencing in this way. I’m also kinda wondering if people of Gen Y and Z find the book more appealing because we actually experience and empathise with reading and being taught to consume information like this.
JG: Whilst reading the novel I never considered that the technology used is what we would consider "outmoded" at the moment. Being heralded as a "millennial" writer actually really exposes the materiality of your book because it will necessarily be marketed through Instagram etc., which don't actually figure in the book at all. It seems to be because of this that the narrative takes on an almost self-refracting rhythm, functioning almost within a kind of contradiction. The way the characters approach receiving information is antithetical to the kinds of outmoded technology they use. As put by you, they become fragmented because they are based on a lack.
I think ‘Pink Mountain’ is so important because it exposes this reductive perception that "millennial literature" must be so deeply embedded in current technology.
Do you find that assumptions made about your writing, or more generally writing from the "technological age", are actually kind of functioning as a detriment to the work?
JM: Yeah I think the “millennial label” and references toward the book as “digital” is to do with that self-refracting rhythm. But for sure, that’s so easy to miscommunicate in selling the book. The over-flourished detail that I wrote a lot of Monk’s character inside of is the reflection of a crazy access to visual information and over stimulation, but often that’s confused with a kind of autobiography which is certainly a reduction.
JG: Often I think “millennial culture” is unfairly conflated with the kinds of social media technology that exist as the same. The crazy access to information that comes with the internet is a preoccupation for Monk during the novel- is it something you have dealt with as a writer? How do you try and approach the constant barrage of information and references? Do you find it overwhelming?
JM: I think so, it’s like every topic ‘could’ belong to us, so it’s up to us quite openly and publicly whether we are ‘invested in it enough’ to read, watch or think about it. I don’t know, I guess it helps to acknowledge it, like writing from Monks age perspective was interesting because it’s when you’re not defining yourself by what you know - you’re just observing. So when I wrote Monk, I was smothering myself with all that stimulus - unfamiliar music, films, writing, perspectives- and really kinda employed a form of “method-acting”, but in writing, of course.
JG: Haha, what was “that stimulus” for you?
JM: A lot of stuff from school, so short fiction and poetry, films, documentaries and always listening to music from YouTube loopholes, you know.
JG: Yeah, right.
JM: I was studying Breton and automatism at the time, so I was also so influenced by that style of writing and practicing it. With artists I was looking at a lot of Basquiat, Pollock and de Kooning. I was very drawn to just staying within a specific period and movement for the book, I think that’s how I work best - even if that’s not when the book is set.
JG: Kind of funny to consider the Youtube loophole as a way of consuming music- almost like a contemporary automatism. I think it’s probably about time to finish up, a generic but probably quite important last question: what are your plans for the future?
JM: I’m completely open now, I am writing the next book for Brow in 2020, but other than that I want to be able to do anything I believe in. That could be through another industry or through a different art form.
JG: Whatever it is I really look forward to it, thanks for answering my questions.
To purchase a copy of ‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’: https://www.theliftedbrow.com/pink-mountain-on-locust-island/
Cover image: picturing Jamie ML, taken by Jesse Mercieca