From an online interview on June 20 through July 3, 2018.
First off, tell us a little about yourself. How do you see yourself as a writer?
As a writer I see myself as a bit of an irreverent punk on a weird crusade. What’s the crusade about? I think it’s mainly about freedom, about telling the truth. It’s about seeing what is happening within and without, and translating somatic and cerebral phenomena into narrative poetry to make space for the evolution of the Dream.
So you are definitely embracing the “punk” aspect of our weird little genre.
Definitely. The “punk” aspect is what makes it a fun genre. There’s a playfulness and also a bit of a casual middle finger flipped in the general direction of (especially literary) authority.
So where did you first encounter the term “dreampunk”? I’m on a quest to discover its origins, but I have a suspicion it was independently invented by a few people.
I honestly can’t remember where I first heard the term “dreampunk.” “Dream” has always been my thang, and it made sense to me so I started using it… only to find that I suddenly belonged to the most awesome subculture ever to exist. A motley bunch, experimentally inclined.
In terms of what it means to me personally, that’s more nuanced. Inherently, dreampunk is shamanic in nature. A dreampunk in my view is similar to a nagual (dreamlike fate or guide) or a Zen master, a curandera, a Bone Woman, a wild old hag who lives in the woods, a ragged sage living under a bridge, that kid in The Matrix who bends the spoons. Teaching, imparting wisdom, are central, as is the use of sometimes shocking black humour. In the background, there is warmth and laughter and benevolence and the sincere hope that mankind becomes more than it currently is.
In this context, what constitutes a “dream"? Would a mystic vision count? A psychedelic trip? A system of delusions? How about a computer simulation?
All of the above, absolutely. Add to that other collective hallucinations that manifest as cultural or societal phenomena, inexplicable fixations, body symptoms, mental disturbances.
In more secular parlance, this is similar to the concept of Hegel’s “zeitgeist” or “spirit of the times,” or James Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis,” which is basically a fancy name for systems theory. A more banal interpretation is #whatistrendingontwitter (please don’t think this means I support the use of hashtags).
There’s something of a “deep dream” beneath that. The deep dream is real life, the sincerest desires of your heart, and the magnificent co-evolution of all life. We’re dreaming together. Story and dance are some of the ways I tune in to that. If I’m lucky I step out of my rigid ego and experience moments of profound bliss.
That idea of the “deep dream” gets into some very interesting territory. Could you maybe give us a short reading list for Dreampunk 101?
- The Shaman’s Body by Arnold Mindell
- Spiritual Ecology by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
- Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
- The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard
- Ecology of Wisdom by Arne Naess
- The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdoch
Thanks for that! I’ve got some reading to do. Now in the realm of fiction, can you think of particular examples (novels, movies, TV, etc.) that capture the feeling you want your work to have?
I tend to get obsessed with different types of aesthetic at different times. “The Dead City Blues” was pure me, but “Black Benjamin: A Cursed Tale” was inspired by From Hell (movie version). A documentary called The Occult History of the Third Reich had significant input into “Sigur”, and three particular anime movies inspired Letters to the Black Underground. The movies were Spriggan, Princess Mononoke, and (most especially) Sky Blue.
The dreamy element in my work owes a lot to Neil Gaiman and, above all others, to Robert Jordan. I am a hard-core WoT fankid. I am still inspired and forever in awe of his work, and I am so grateful that I stumbled across his books as a teenager. They opened up my imagination and probably kept me out of a good deal of trouble, too!
Something else that feeds into my work in a big way is music. A lot of the scenery in my stories comes from sonic sources. I love anything by Ultimae Records (big fan of Solar Fields, Asura, Aes Dana, Carbon Based Lifeforms, and Sync24 particularly), and a lot of stuff from the old Tympanik Audio record label. That music is woven into the fabric of each story, and pretty much into my soul.
Interesting influences. How do you hope to shape the dreampunk genre with your writing?
I would like my writing to influence dreampunk to become a genre that gives all our authors freedom to experiment and be weird. I want my work in dreampunk to be about loosening the grip that we have on imagination and encouraging readers and authors to partake in the process of consciously dreaming a new world into being. For me, each and every story I write is about moksha—liberation from different types of inner and outer oppression. At the same time, keeping things irreverent like any good punk might choose to do.
How can we support you in this mission? What should we buy and where can we find it?
Well, firstly, by doing this interview and working to bring this community of dreampunks together you are already helping and supporting in a huge way. Thank you for that, Cliff, and for the part you are playing in this ecosystem.
To those who want to learn more or read my work, you can find links through to my Amazon author page on my site at YelenaCalavera.co, where you can also read my blog. I talk a bit more about some of the things I’ve mentioned in this interview and there is also some flash fiction in there (all bizarre, as you would hope and expect).
I currently have four titles on the loose, all of a decidedly post-apocalyptic, dystopian flavour. My novel Letters to the Black Underground even seems to have been taken up as an instruction manual by governments the world over! Not in a good way, obviously.
I also facilitate some dreampunkesque workshops in and around London and am hoping to expand my reign of weirdness to the rest of Europe in the next year or two. You can find out about these workshops and also how I take dreampunk concepts and translate them into organisational development work at Sowelo.co.uk.
I hope to connect with some of you IRL in the future! Thank you all for supporting dreampunk. Be free, and be awesome.
Letters to the Black Underground (2016) by Yelena Calavera
Anna’s job is to create voice recordings of subliminally encoded advertisements and propagate them to unwitting citizens whose lives have been mapped out from early childhood to old age. She gets involved with a rebel faction known as the Black Underground and becomes entangled in an operation that could plunge mankind over the edge of the abyss.
Next Profile: L. V. Lloyd