“AVOID THE VOID” – An Interview with Sterling Bartlett, Author of How Did We Get Here?

Drawn and written by Sterling Bartlett, How Did We Get Here? is a tract, a rant, a sermon against the harbingers of our pyrotechnic-insanitarium endtimes, and possibly, if enough people pay attention to the Void, an illustrated pamphlet for a coming revolution. Fusing the sensibilities of Bobcat Goldthwait and Mark Fisher, How Did We Get Here? is both bracing and humanistic. Buy your copy HERE, and follow Bartlett on Instagram and Twitter.

I wouldn’t be a cheeky interviewer if I didn’t just throw the title back at you: so, how did we get here?

How Did We Get Here? I think we got here through complacency. Complacency to a hyper mediated communication landscape further narrowed by a viral outbreak. I think we got here through Confusion. Confusion about what words like fascism really mean. Many of us wailed and gnashed teeth at the bad orange man, meanwhile our new liberal savior is already walking back campaign promises. The scarecrow is roughly on track to outpace his predecessor’s record.

Why did we get here—despair, alienation, boredom—are these causes or symptoms?

Despair, alienation, and boredom are symptoms in my view. Deaths of despair occur less regularly in places where opportunities are widely available. Alienation runs rampant when you can no longer meet anyone face to face. Boredom ends up being the underlying mood of our time when so much of our attention and energy has been sapped away through screens, notifications, and twenty four hour news alerts.

When did we get here, when do you feel was the turning point toward this general condition we’re experiencing?

The following instances come to mind, though this is by no means a comprehensive list: The barely concealed public assassinations of King, JFK, Malcom X, and RFK in the ’60s did no favors for an already dwindling trust in American institutions. The proliferation of NGOs in the 80s and 90s locked into place patronage schemes, and dynastic income laundered under the guise of philanthropy. They became a sort of hollow noblesse oblige with kickbacks already baked in. The Tumblr-isation of Post Structural thought that seemed to catch fire around 2014 has pretty obviously served as a destabilizing cultural force. It’s attendant hyper-individuated, boutique politics have served to build walls between individuals, and prevent wider solidarity. (The word solidarity itself having fallen out of fashion in favor of “allyship”).

What did Void’s voice sound like while you wrote him (it?) ?

I never even considered it until someone told me Void should be voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait.

Void is some sort of alien robot, or robotic alien. You’ve mentioned your interest in UFOlogy. What theory do you subscribe to: Interdimensional or extraterrestrial?

Void may not exactly be a robot, and is not necessarily an alien in the classic sense. There are a few little easter eggs in the book that sorta point to Void’s nature/origin. In an oblique way, Void’s genesis folds into my own favorite theories of UFOlogy. I am attracted to a line of thinking that starts with Jacques Valee, and extends through John Keel, and Erik Davis. While not perfectly an interdimensional prescription, the basic gist of the theory is that most paranormal activity (not exclusive to UFO lore) exhibits major overlaps with human psychic phenomena. The various objects and apparitions may not necessarily originate on other planets and might not even exist materially. In my view, this wouldn’t make them any less “real”. Adjacent notions being the Egregore of chaos magic, or Mckenna’s machine elf manifestations.

I find your fusion of theory/critique and high strangeness very refreshing. What were your entry points in those areas of interest?

I initially came to theory through the lens of art & culture. I began with stuff like John Berger, Roland Barthes, and Dick Hebdige which led to publishers like Semiotexte, Zero Books, and E-flux. After that I dug into the CCRU and Baudrillard. Both seemed to point almost directly backward to the kind of science fiction that I enjoyed (William Gibson, Phillip K Dick, and JG Ballard). I took this as a kind of theoretical permission for me to close the loop, and fuse the two fascinations.

On that same note, I’m just curious about your influences. What did you grow up reading and watching and listening to?

As a kid in the late eighties I remember renting the same three movies over and over: Robocop, Alien, and The Thing. As a teenager, I was a skateboarder which did a lot to color my view of the world. City infrastructure took the shape of play objects rather than private property which led to inevitable clashes with authority. I read Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and William Cooper’s Behold A Pale Horse. By the late nineties I was listening to a lot of abstract hip hop like Cannibus, and Dr. Octagon which also reinforced weird, alternative ideas. Finally, The Matrix was released just before my eighteenth birthday which probably helped cement my position as a deeply suspicious young adult freshly loosed into gen pop.

How do you feel about being called a conspiracy theorist?

I think in order to answer that, we’d have to define the boundaries of what is considered a conspiracy: Is it a conspiracy when a flailing, outmoded media apparatus attempts to convince us that Russia installed our last president via Facebook memes? Is it a conspiracy when our current administration promises immediate Coronavirus aid, and instead gives us a performative candlelight vigil while simultaneously conducting a bombing campaign in Syria? If possessing thoughts that counter the consent manufacture prescribed by those in power makes me a conspiracy theorist, then I suppose I’ll wear the badge, though I might prefer to call it critical thinking.

The entity’s name—Void—recalls the idea of the “call of the void,” the subconscious moments where we entertain the idea of oblivion, like driving into oncoming traffic. I think we feel that at a societal or species level, a kind of yearning for extinction, thirst for annihilation, appetite for destruction. So I definitely see Void as a being summoned by our own thoughts. I forgot to ask a question.

call <VOID_SUMMONED_BY_OWN_THOUGHTS>
if %ERRORLEVEL% == 0 goto :next

:endofscript
echo "Script complete, avoid the void"

What are your thoughts on the movie Koyaanisqatsi?

Whoa, I haven’t thought about that movie in a while. I think I last saw it in 2003 while living with a roommate who worked for a small record store chain. One day he brought home (I think) all of the Reggio movies up until then. The only concrete memory I have of it is the Phillip Glass score. I do have a vague impression of it’s contextualization of modern life from a ten thousand foot view, which I remember thinking was novel. I should revisit those.

So, how do we get out of here? Or is that gonna be the sequel?

How do we get outta here? I’m not sure, I don’t have the map. Maybe if I give you a boost you can see over the hedge though?

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