To call Fogged Clarity an “arts review” would be like calling Entropy a “lit mag”; sure it’s true, but it’s also a bit reductive given the scope of the org. Fogged Clarity is and has been doing some pretty great things all over the map; a few months ago they published a lengthy, sit-down interview with indie-folk darling, Bill Callahan and have recently acquired and published a manuscript through some quite unusual means that is very, very good.
Oh, and they release beautifully-filmed videos of poets and musicians performing and published frighteningly revelatory photographs, most recently of the horrifying paranoia at the Republican National Convention.
I chatted with founder Ben Evans, who, by the way, in his spare time happens to blog for a little place called the Huffington Post, about Fogged Clarity and what they’re up to.
Tell me a bit about the history of Fogged Clarity.
Fogged Clarity was a phrase I came up with upon studying Immanuel Kant with the scholar Joe Wagner at Colgate University. In both Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals Kant elucidates the transcendental principles, namely: time, space, and causality. Kant claims these principles are three by which any rational being’s mind must accord in order to intuit the world. This was revelatory to me, because in an experiential world that so often seemed chaotic, Kant was able to pin down some constancy, that is, a most basic common ground that human beings must start from when discussing matters of truth, beauty, justice, goodness…any concept really. These transcendental principals afford us, at least, some manner of “clarity”. Yet, myriad variations occur once we begin living; once we depart this a priori starting point that Kant’s principles lay out. Imagination, bias, genius, history and environment enter the moment we are born and begin, for better or worse, to fog our clarity. I’m thinking only now, that given our common rational starting point, perhaps anything that emerges henceforth can be considered true, for that thing, whatever it is, is forged from the materials of what must be true in order for it to exist at all. But that’s neither here nor there, and is also quite a dangerous concept given the current, quite insane, state of the nation. So Fogged Clarity: the artist’s bent, if you will; the creator’s disposition toward reality and consciousness as it is manifested in their art.
As far as Fogged Clarity’s real history is concerned, in 2007 I spent half a year in Eastern France drinking 2 euro bottles of wine in a clawfooted tub just a dripping walk from an adjoining library. When I wasn’t reading books I was out running, drinking, or traveling with German au pairs. I returned to the States feeling both the ache and the expanse of the world and of being. I took piano lessons, then wrote and recorded an album reflecting on my time abroad. I named the project Fogged Clarity. I named the album: “The Nicotine Heart Attack Premonition E.P.” (Ha!) It wasn’t good, but it was cathartic and it revealed to me the power of making. I wanted to do more of it, and celebrate others who were doing it. I thought then, like I think now, that learning and creating, in any manner, is the only work worth doing here. I didn’t even know arts journals existed at the time—just after releasing the album—that I had the idea for Fogged Clarity. I just had an impulse to put everything under one roof. No constraints. I wanted to create a forum for makers and creators conducting disciplined, serious investigations into what it means to be human, and to hurt. I wanted to create a space where folks could whisper their truths into the commotion of existence. In 2008, with the help and genius of an incredible artist and web designer, and my co-founder, Ryan Daly, Fogged Clarity was born. Without him, Fogged Clarity wouldn’t exist. Since we started, the journal has grown and developed organically much like a family, a mind, or a life. The way in which we approach the journal—what projects we choose to take on, publish, or promote—mirrors, I think, what both Ryan and I continue to learn and discover in our journeys. For me, personally, over the last two years I’ve developed a severe intolerance for bullshit, ego, and unnecessary ornamentation. I’ve realized that all the things I love and am attracted to come true, come direct, and come as a result of discipline and an unwavering attentiveness to one’s intuition and inner voice. Everything else feels false. And the hour now is too late for falsehood. I hope the journal reflects this.
What can you tell me about Rick Ewing?
Rick Ewing…Well, roughly two years ago we received a short fiction submission in the Fogged Clarity inbox. The submission was simply an attachment titled “Smoking Monkeys”—no cover letter, no bio, nothing. I was inclined to believe it was dross, but just to make certain I opened the attachment, read the first page, read the first page again, read the entire 50-page novella, and came away from it quite stunned. The prose burned. It was smart, funny and poetic, and the narrative itself was damn good. I set it down a week, returned to it, and came away even more impressed. I emailed Ewing back, saying we’d accept the story for publication in our next issue, and asked him if he might have a moment to talk on the phone. I wanted to ask him who he was and where he came from. Given the caliber of the story, I thought it strange that there was no mention of an author named Rick Ewing on Google or anywhere else. (A quick note on “Smoking Monkeys”: the novella features a whip-smart, homeless, alcoholic narrator named Shepherd “Shep” McEvoy walking the streets of Houten Falls with his could-be lover/could-be criminal Celeste Wangai (also a drunk)). Upon getting Ewing on the phone I asked him how he managed to come up with such an electric and wholly real voice for his narrator. He proceeded to tell me that Shep McEvoy was, essentially, him. Like the narrator, Ewing was highly educated and had spent 5 years as a homeless alcoholic living on the streets of Patterson, New Jersey in the mid-aughts. Ewing said he had written “Smoking Monkeys” for half an hour a day over the course of 6 months on a library computer while getting sober and living in the Bellevue Men’s Shelter in Manhattan. Ewing went on to relate that he was a former university instructor turned Wall Street burn-out with an MFA in Theater. Given the biographical nature of his novella and his corresponding rise from hell and addiction, I decided on that phone call to print, rather than run online, Ewing’s novella. We raised $2,000 to have 150 copies of “Smoking Monkeys” designed and printed by Small Fires Press in New Orleans. The editions turned out beautifully and feature hand-designed letter-pressed covers, hand-sewn bindings, and Chaparral typefaces on Khadi handmade sheets. (We still have a few available copies if you know anyone interested ;): http://foggedclarity.com/article/smoking-monkeys/.
Getting the book in print and getting to know Rick was a ride, glad it’s over, but I’m proud of the product and everyone who helped to realize it. Oh, I should also mention, that, sadly, the woman Ewing’s “Celeste” character is based upon passed away while this project was underway. Ewing said he used to get drunk and listen to Gin Blossoms with her. Although no cause of death was listed in the obituary he sent me, Ewing speculated it was an addiction to alcohol that led to her premature death.
What are these Les Cheneaux Sessions you folks have been releasing these last couple of weeks?
Short assertions of the sublime, I hope. The Les Cheneaux Sessions began two years ago when I invited ten musicians, poets, and filmmakers up to my cottage on a Lake Huron island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Drinking wine and beer in sunlight on the shoreline and in the forests, Boston filmmaker Chris DeSanty filmed Chris Bathgate, The Hand in the Ocean, Gabrielle Schaub, and myself reading poems and playing music against various backdrops: moss-covered boulders, the porches of antique cabins and sun-spangled coasts. Last year we brought 15 new musicians and poets up to do the same thing with a bit more planning, those are what we’re releasing now.
The idea for the Les Cheneaux project was born from a very difficult time in my life, some of which was spent at the same cottage where the sessions are filmed. I wanted to rid the place of its ghosts, and thought bringing music, love, and friendship there was the best way to accomplish that. It worked. The sessions and the people involved in them are deeply important to me. I love the project and the people in it. I hope others do too.
In a hyper-stimulated age, that seems only to be getting faster, I hope the sessions offer people a chance to be still, to listen and watch and be present with something whose only intent is beauty.
How conscious are you of diversity when it comes to publishing work on Fogged Clarity?
I want to publish the best work we receive, all the while remaining conscious of the necessity of representing a variety of cultural narratives in Fogged Clarity’s pages. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we are exposed to voices across the cultural spectrum, if only to better realize our common, shared humanity. One would be naïve not to acknowledge that ethnicity and gender, and societal reactions to it, impact the fires that burn in each of us. I guess my goal is to provide a forum where all those fires burn together in a great conflagration; where distinct truths coalesce into one transcendent one.
What are you reading right now?
“The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety” by Alan Watts
What’s on your turntable?
Leadbelly’s Library of Congress recordings. The record arrived about three weeks ago. I was moved to buy it upon finishing Tyehimba Jess’ book (Leadbelly).