An Interview with Andrew Bloy
[Scion of Leon Thrice Removed]
An Interview with Andrew Bloy
[Scion of Leon Thrice Removed]
Interview and intro by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert
Through the miracle of modern communications, A Journey Round My Skull is pleased to bring its readers the serendipitous fruit of the sort of felicitous happenstance only possible through the magic of the internet -- the discovery, in Los Angeles, of the great-grandson of that inimitable literary monument of Belle Epoch France -- the one and only Leon Bloy! [Bloy on JRMS: 1, 2, 3, 4.] Yes, the bloodline of the maitre is perpetuated in the unlikeliest of locales -- that modern Babylon perched on the perimeter of the Pacific rim -- Tinseltown! Great-grandson Andrew, himself a writer, as are his mother and his uncles, uses the pen name Drew Scott. Andrew reports that the boughs and branches of the family tree spread out as follows: pater familias Leon was his paternal great-grandfather who had two sons and a daughter (who died in infancy) in the early 1890s -- Andrew's grandfather Andre (Andrew's namesake), who changed his name to Arthur upon emigrating to America and Pierre, for whom his brother Peter is named; other grandchildren, besides Andrew's father, include an uncle and aunt in New Jersey whom he has never met. Andrew remembers from childhood hearing "tidbits and minor references to a long lost relative of some note" but confesses he had little literary interest at the time. It is with pride and pleasure that A Journey Round My Skull has asked Andy to share his observations and meditations about his illustrious ancestor.
JRMS: First off: how do you prefer to be called -- Andrew, Andy, or Drew?
A. B.: I usually just go by Drew. If anyone calls me Andy or Andrew 9 times out of 10 it's a telemarketer! [or an interviewer! -- ed.] My family calls me "The Heathen" (just kidding)!
JRMS: What is your first recollection of a family connection to Leon Bloy? Did the family regard him as a black sheep, a skeleton in the closet?
A. B.: I vaguely remember someone referring to his work but, honestly, I don't know in what context.
JRMS: What is your personal take on the "old man"? Are you familiar with much of his writing? Do you like what you've come across? Do you think there was justification for those of Leon's contemporaries who, though conceding his obvious talents, regarded him as everything from an obnoxious irritant and a slightly unbalanced windbag, to a subversive of the status quo and a dangerous crackpot?
A. B.: I know this sounds kind of sad but I've only read the translation of The Infusion on JRMS. I really like his way of twisting things -- it’s almost Poe-esque. Nobody knows at first who she poisoned… Could be Him! The crazy bitch is up to no good, that's for sure! I think unbalanced or dangerous are adjectives best used when describing wealthy and powerful men. Leon was just a poor schmuck with an empty stomach. You try to be civil with out a good breakfast! Absolutely, yes, Leon speaks from a soapbox – but that’s what a good writer does -- command you to read EVERYTHING he has to say…
Portrait of Leon Bloy by Felix Vallotton
JRMS: There's an abiding mystery about Leon Bloy. He was a driven man, a man possessed, a one-man crusade to correct the errors of the human race. In some respects, he was anachronistically old-fashioned even for the year 1900. He had the scolding, disdainful temperament of a Calvinist minister, the high moral tone of Juvenal or Swift, the raw cynicism and contempt for humanity of Bierce or Celine. Yet he was a proto-modernist par excellence -- he was "Kierkegaardian" as well as "hard-boiled" before either term assumed currency. He was Kafkaesque before Kafka, Borgesian before Borges; both of whom held him in the highest esteem and praised his insights and his stylistic innovations in the most laudatory terms. Further complicating the mass of contradictions the world knows as Leon Bloy is the fact that he wore a public face which was full of scorn and which was met, in turn, with the most scathing denigration, revilement and near total ostracism, while he had a reputation, in private, as the gentlest, kindest, most gracious and hospitable of men. What do you make of all this?
A. B.: Well, it might seem overly romantic of me to suggest that Bloy men are all cut from that same cloth, but it really is true. When I was growing up my dad's hero was Archie Bunker and, at age 83, he still flips off bad drivers. Definitely, I will never be accused of being a "warm and fuzzy" guy. My favorite person is a 65 lb. mutt named 'Luckyboy.' Everyone else is really getting on my nerves.
JRMS: Leon Bloy was as notorious for his personality as for his writings. To call him cantankerous would be an understatement. To call him opinionated would be like calling Tyrannosaurus Rex a carnivore. A blood and thunder preacher belching hellfire and damnation sermons, Bloy projected a fulminating tone which carried over boldly and undisguisedly into his fiction. As unsparing as he was of the shortcomings of his late nineteenth and early twentieth century contemporaries, how do you think the old warhorse would react to our world's twenty-first century ways?
A. B.: If he were alive today he would be locked up for shoving someone's I-phone up their bracket and likely have a reality show called 'Who Wants to Have A Squirrel Jammed In Your Eye?' It's funny how this convergence has led me to his work because I'm toying with the idea of bringing him into my universe for a week and seeing what happens. We'll do peyote to loosen him up for a little cross-country literary crime spree. I think he'll really dig Utah...
JRMS: Leon Bloy had one of the most distinctive, forceful faces of all time; the fearful countenance of a heavy judger of men, with eyes – seething liquid orbs teeming with indicible secrets -- borrowed from Svengali or the Buddha. His eerie, penetrating gaze, characteristic of the mystic or the mad genius, seems infused with the discharges of some sort of psychic energy gland cranked up full blast and capable, like the gorgon's gaze, of turning beholders to stone. Seeing as the serum of the same blood courses through your veins, one question begs to be asked: do you ever get itchy during a full moon and feel an insurmountable urge to howl at the top of your lungs?
A. B.: Psychic Energy Gland! That was the name of my band in high school! We did Def Leppard covers and dressed like Wavy Gravy. No, not a lot of itching or howling but I have blasted the guy in front of me at Starbucks with the 'Super Stinkeye' when he orders the latest non-coffee abomination these sheep pay nine dollars for... don't get me started…!
JRMS: What similarities with or differences from Leon do you feel you may have? What do you think Leon's life and career teaches about the nature of celebrity? It seems to have rankled Leon that people didn’t pay him more heed, and he chafed to see his colleagues garner worldly honors and recompense while he was left by the wayside. Perhaps our celebrity-obsessed, celebrity-saturated society can learn from Leon Bloy the lesson that celebrity is fickle and fleeting -- he was prominent during his lifetime but widely spurned and berated for his preachy attitude -- people then, as now, didn’t want their faults pointed out, let alone having their noses rubbed in them. And, despite his literary importance, Leon has continued to languish in obscurity for many decades. Do you think there’s a chance he may begin to be rediscovered in our post-punk, innately cynical era?
A. B.: We're not so different. I think we both feel a sense of betrayal by our respective societies: we both have a message and it's not what the general public wants to hear. I wish I could write pap for all the people who care less what goes in their eye hole, ear hole, and mouth hole. I'd be a bloody gazillionaire. I think Leon figured out that the writing thing wasn't going to basically change anybody or make any money, so he said to himself, "screw it -- I'll just do whatever I want." As far as celebrity is concerned, I'm a firm believer in reincarnation and he is here enjoying his celebrity right now.
JRMS: If you could meet your great-grandfather today, and say one thing to him, what would that be?
A. B.: First, we'd have a ribeye and a bottle of Petrus. I think I'd rather let him talk...
Coming soon: Leon Bloy's "The Taint of Lucre," translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert.
Leon Bloy, Mr. Intensity