Sunday, February 26, 2006

William T. Vollman

Never heard of this guy until I read an article about him in today's NY Times. He is apparently a prolific author of "metafiction". Not super popular, but has quite the cult-following.

It turns out that he is a mad man.

He are some excerpts from the Times article about his life:

"Finally he found a Times Square prostitute who allowed him to visit her at home in Morningside Heights, where he hoped to meet local youths who would instruct him in the popular pastime of surfing on the tops of elevator cars; instead, however, these youths held him down and pressed lighted cigarettes into his arms..."I was sort of joking around with them while they were burning me," he recalls, "because I figured that was what a good Iroquois would do."

...In order to become Franklin, Vollmann decided to spend two weeks alone at an abandoned weather station at the magnetic North Pole. "I really wanted to get inside the heads of those Franklin guys, try and imagine what their last couple of years must have been like, knowing that they couldn't get out, knowing they were probably going to die. Going someplace where I was totally by myself in the middle of the winter -- I thought I would learn something about loneliness and fear."

...Extremes of cold overwhelmed Vollmann's gear -- plastic shattered, the fringe of fur around his face froze to the consistency of a wire brush, and worst of all his sleeping bag failed to warm him, so that he was soon hallucinating from lack of sleep. "Every night now he wondered if he would live until morning," Vollmann writes. "Lying still in the darkness, waiting for the next shiver, he did his best to thrust beyond notice the collar of iron around his neck, the helmet of iron on his face and the frozen hood behind his head." Vollmann set his sleeping bag on fire trying to dry it. The rescue plane was late, but he survived.

...WHAT FURNISHES HIS ferocious drive is something he doesn't seek to conceal. Vollmann is the oldest of four siblings, and when he was 9 he was left in charge of his 6-year-old sister on the shore of a New Hampshire pond. "It had sort of a shallow bottom, and then the bottom dropped off abruptly. She couldn't swim -- I knew she couldn't swim. I just stopped paying attention at one point. I was lost in some kind of daydream." This dreadful instant of carelessness surrounding his sister's death is the source of the scrupulous attention Vollmann has been paying to absolutely everything ever since.

...He is as eager to please as a chameleon. Because he found the San Francisco prostitutes would not trust him unless he shared their drugs, he smoked crack about a hundred times, though he does not seem to miss it. Tonight people around him are drinking, and he has kept up glass for glass, with no apparent dent in his lucidity, but at other times he has no interest in alcohol. His first editor, Esther Whitby of Andre Deutsch in London, came away from a three-day visit "having no idea that he liked alcohol (which I don't) just as much as frozen milkshakes (which I do)." Meanwhile, in his preferred Thai and Cambodian haunts, the girls are usually uncomfortable with condoms. . . .

..."For the stuff I'm interested in, writing is not enough. I want to take some responsibility and act as well as write, do things that'll help people somehow, things like kidnapping the sex slave." Some months ago, he abducted a child prostitute from a brothel in the south of Thailand and whisked her away to Bangkok, where he set her up in a vocational school. "Then he went up north and met her father, and got a receipt for his daughter," so that Vollmann, technically, now owns a human being. "She doesn't particularly like me," he says, "but she was really happy to be out of that place, and she loves the school." He and his cohort Ken Miller, a photographer, confronted some serious danger here, local pimps being in the habit of murdering their child whores once they're worn out. But "I'm a real sucker for that stuff," Vollmann says, "you know, because of my sister, if she's a girl and she's in trouble, then anything I can do. . . .""

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