Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Project for a New Mythology/Fisher King Press Interview

Interview with Jackson Fisher of Fisher King Press by Quinn of The Project for a New Mythology:

I don’t want to sound like I’m singing the praises of MySpace, but this interview is the result of a MySpace search. I was searching for fellow writers, editors, and publishers and found Fisher King Press (there’s also the official website where you can get submission guidelines and read some more about the press). I added FKP as a friend and went about my business. After an exchange of emails, I learned that we had a shared interest in Joseph Campbell. Because, I think, of this shared philosophical bent, Jackson suggested we collaborate on something. I suggested an interview, so here we are.

Quinn: The Fisher King, in legend, is also sometimes called the Wounded King. In some cases, the Fisher King and the Wounded King are separate characters, often a father and son, both with wounds to the legs or groin that limit their mobility and cause their kingdom to become wastelands. In some of the stories, he received his wounds as punishment for pridefulness. The Fisher King is also the guardian of the Holy Grail. He is healed when Percival arrives in search of the Grail. Considering your interest in and knowledge of mythology, it seems unlikely that the name for your press is only an interesting spin off of your surname. Does the story of the Fisher King hold any special meaning for you, and does it inform the mission of your press in some way?

Jackson Fisher: Before I answer this question, I think it is important to note that the Fisher King was healed only after Percival returned a second time and was able ask the vital question: ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ Now, to me, the Fisher King myth is about redeeming the unresolved psychological complexes that have been handed down from our forefathers and foremothers, complexes that for unknown reasons they were unable to resolve within themselves. I’m speaking of wounded psychological heritages that were passed down by forefathers who were never able to ask that famous question: ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ I view the Grail as a symbol of Self, or of psychological wholeness that is only achieved by asking this famous question - which is symbolic of dialoguing and developing a relationship with one’s own soul. It is in the creative process that I believe writers as well as readers find the wounded or lost parts of ourselves that have been scattered along the wayside as we adapt and try to function in this fast paced world of commerce and convention. It is in the creative process that archetypal energies and patterns, or universal themes, are reintroduced into our era as present day myths, and it is here that we can find the very essence of our beings, individually and in turn collectively. And this is what Fisher King Press is about, seeking out these brave souls and introducing their stories to the rest of the world.

Q: So far, you have published three books, all by Mel Mathews. On your "About FKP" page on the Fisher King Press website, you write: His writing, his process, had a profound impact on my own way of seeing and relating to myself, and the world around me. Could you tell us a little more about this transformation?

JF: I prefer not to speak of this on a personal level. There are things in life that are sacred, and to put words to these mysteries has a way of diluting a spiritual experience and transforming the sacred into the profane. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to you with this answer; I simply want to honor something within myself that I consider sacred. People will read and perceive in a host of different ways, based on their own existential histories, but I will say that if a book is fueled by the unconscious content of a writer who has courageously dipped down into the regions of soul and tapped into the underworld of the archetypal energies, in one way or another, this author is going to have an affect not only on self from having exorcised their demons, and angels, but they are also going to have an affect on society, and in turn, the world soul. This is why Mel’s writing has had such a profound impact on me.

Q: I've been looking at some overviews of Jung's theories because I am only slightly familiar with his theory of Synchronicity. From what I can tell, naïf that I am, Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Thomas Mann seem deeply inter-connected. I learned of this connection through an email exchange with you. How did you learn about this connection, and what particular books by these authors would you recommend? And Why?

JF: I don’t consider myself an authority on these wise men, but I will comment. I’d say that in some ways, they were all deeply inter-connected; they lived in the same era, or dreamtime if you will. But more importantly, they were all inner-connected within themselves. They were all true to their individual callings, each of them living an authentic life. They had their individual processes. Jung was a scientist, even though he was a mystic, his approach to the unconscious was most often scientific. Joseph Campbell’s approach into this realm was also in studying and comparing the archetypal parallels of a multitude or religions, myths, and fairy-tales. To convey his knowledge, Campbell, like Jung, had a deep experiential understanding of the archetypal world, but much of Jung and Campbell’s works were created, or most certainly crafted from an objective place. Thomas Mann, on the other hand, as is the case with many artists, seemed to live deeper in both worlds, at times from an unobjective position as an artist, but he also possessed a vast knowledge of the mythic world. My guess is that he was able, at times, to step out of the un-objective realm and incorporate his mythic understanding into his work, and in my opinion, this is a quality of genius, to be able to dance in and out of these different worlds. All of these men were genius, but Mann was an artist, not a scientist, and this is why I’m suggesting he probably spent more time living in the creative realm.

Now, you didn’t mention James Joyce, and I’m not an expert on any of these great men, but it seems that Joyce spent most of his time steeped in the unconscious. I’m not suggesting that he wasn’t also a genius, but to understand much of what Joyce wrote, it seems that a person would also have to experience being consumed or possessed by a pantheon of deities. I believe that Joyce intimately understood what he was writing about, and he suffered to have this depth of understanding, but unlike Mann, I can’t say that Joyce lived much in the objective realm. If Joyce had, I believe he would have been able to marry spirit to matter in his later books. Instead, you have stream of conscious, or better yet, a stream of the unconscious being poured out in words onto paper. His work is infused with archetypal patterns, but to try to wrap one’s mind around and interpret the eternal with logic and reason can be a most difficult, if not, at times, an impossible task to accomplish.

As far as recommending books, Inner City Books based in Toronto, Canada has published the works of several Jungians over the years. Another author comes to mind: Robert A. Johnson, also a Jungian, has published several books that are surprisingly easy to read and comprehend. Owning your Shadow is one of Johnson’s titles - all of his work is quite interesting, although, Johnson’s publisher is not Inner City. I don’t recall who his publisher is, but you can Google Robert A. Johnson and easily find his titles. The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine by Nancy Qualls-Corbett, also an Inner City Book, is a favorite of mine. All of Nancy Qualls-Corbett’s work is extremely important to our time. I recently finished Thomas Mann’s Joseph in Egypt. It's really something, how Mann can take a biblical story and transform it into a novel of such profound mythical insight. He turns the characters into real life everyday human beings as opposed to fixed images that the biblical scholars have formed for religion.

Q: In the book About Looking by John Berger, he has an essay titled "Why Look at Animals" where he claims that we are in the final stages of a process "by which every tradition which has previously mediated between man and nature [has been] broken." It has led me to believe that our breakdown is essentially between the vehicle and the tenor of our old metaphors, or mythologies. The natural, animal avatars no longer hold any significance and so the meanings of our myths are obscured by the "fading lenses" of these things – animals – we no longer have a significant relationship to. Do you think this could be part of the source of our society's Jungian Neurosis (malaise, empty consumerism, narcissism) – of being cut off from the archetypal world? And, more importantly, where do you think it might be possible to recover our connection, not just on a personal level, but a social level?

JF: I don’t believe we get ‘cut off’ from the archetypal world, but instead, we become possessed by these deities or energies that long for relationship. I believe that neurotic functioning in the world is caused by a lack of relatedness to the unconscious. It seems that during our time in this particular era, we lack a significant relationship to soul. I’m not speaking of everyone, but I’m speaking of the world population in general, those who have become part of the ‘machine.’ To live in relationship to soul and to be close to the unconscious, to develop a relationship with the archetypal underworld, calls for a lot of courage, and responsibility, because one steps away from conventional belief systems and turns inward to find the images. In other words instead of projecting the images out onto a religion, or any other vehicle for that matter, one is forced back upon self, where one has to come to terms with what these images mean on a personal level as opposed to what convention or an antiquated myth has been imposing, and this often is an artist’s true calling. You can call them artists, but in many ways, they are priests, who, by interpreting and defining symbols first for self, then bridge for humanity the gap between matter and spirit in their artistic endeavors.

I believe we are living in a time when the world is badly in need of a new myth, and I say this because the mass majority is not going to develop a relationship with the unconscious. They are too busy putting food on the table, tending to the demands of surviving in the modern world. But, humanity still needs something, and this is where the artist comes into play, for it is the artist who introduces myth in new, or renewed form, in a language that can be understood by the modern world.

I dare say we are leaving the Christian myth, or the myth of fundamentalism, and are stepping into a new aeon that contains a renewed myth for modern man, one that most certainly is taking form right now. To me, what fuels the ‘war on terrorism’ is regression, a retreat back to fundamentalism, be it that of Christianity or Islam: fundamentalism isn’t prejudice. It’s easier to run back to something that we know, even if it is an act of futility. We avoid stepping out into the unknown to participate in the forming of a renewed modern day myth, and instead cling to a fundamentalism that is failing us. Edward Edinger, a Jungian wrote about this some years back, and it’s quite interesting, Jung and Edinger’s perception of what is now unfolding. This is why I was really caught up when I came across your Project for a New Mythology!

Q: You published a reprint of Mel Mathews' first book and his second book in June, then followed that up with the publication of a third book, SamSara, in September. From what I know of the publishing industry, that sounds like quite the expensive endeavor. How big was the initial print run for each book, and do you intend to keep up the rapid pace?

JF: The initial print run for each book was 2,000 copies, but with overruns it came to about 2,200 copies per title. 2,000 books per title isn’t such a big number, but it’s an amount large enough to allow for offset printing, which in my opinion produces a much nicer finished product. Digitally printed books just don’t seem to have the quality, and the more I deal with bookstores and wholesalers, the more important I find that this plays a great role in whether or not a title is accepted into the market place. The print-on-demand publishers claim otherwise, but I’ve yet to find a digitally produced book that compares to the quality of one that is produced in an offset print run. If you look at the finished product in most bookstores, you’ll find that they agree.

Concerning our pace as a publisher, we will be releasing five additional novels by Mel Mathews over the next five or six years. These books have already been written, but they are in various stages of the editing process. Most likely, you’ll see his fourth novel released Fall of 2007. We are also currently reviewing manuscripts in the genres of literary fiction and Jungian theory so plan on being introduced to new Fisher King Press authors in the not so far off future.

Q: On the "About FKP" page you write that in the process of working to get Mel's books out to a wider audience, you've developed a network of business relationships with designers, editors, proofreaders, marketers, distributors and advertisers. Could you tell us a little about how these relationships came about? Were these people you had known in other capacities? Were they long time friends? Friends of Friends? Or simply relationships that developed solely from the process of trying to get Mel's books published?

JF: These relationships were developed solely from the process of publishing Mel’s work. This wasn’t about trying to publish; the decision had already been made to publish. I can tell you that once this decision was made, doors just opened. I by chance met a man, actually rented a home from him, and we were making some unforeseen repairs when I was just moving into the house and I mentioned something about publishing books. He said something like, “Well, what do you need to know. I was in the publishing business for twenty years.” I told him I needed a graphic designer for starters. An hour later, he handed me a list of phone numbers with several contacts, and things just unfolded from there.

Q: Your web-site's front page has the line "Featuring tales of redemption, and some not so redeeming stories" and your query page lists the types of manuscripts you're looking for primarily as literary fiction, works on Jungian theory, and non-fundamentalist spirituality and religion. Think of this question as kind of like a "what turns you on?" type of thing: we all like good stories well told, so could you maybe tell us a little more about what you're looking for? What you're not looking for? And where do you see the press going in the future?

JF: I’m looking for writers who have the capacity to entertain; writers who can grab hold of a reader and carry them along through a transformative process. I’m looking for authors who have the courage to dig deep down into their souls. I’m looking for authors who are willing to become vulnerable, who are willing to risk being branded a lunatic or a heretic in the process of exposing their truths, be it in a work of fiction or otherwise. To me, a good writer has the courage to be honest and true to their creative process, and when I say honest, I mean in truly expressing themselves and not coloring it up for what might be a believed perception of public demands. I’m looking for authors who write wholeheartedly, be it from a place of rage, love, grief, gratitude…

One thing that I’m not looking for is work that allows people to remain trapped as life’s victim, and for this to come about, the author has to have left this very hell within self. I’m not suggesting that the hellish story shouldn’t be told, but in the process some form of reconciliation must take place. I’m not talking about that happily-ever-after crap, either - the type of thing that perpetuates a childlike state of dependence. I’m talking about reconciliation on a soulful level, where people become responsible for their lives and in turn contribute to the evolution of the world’s soul.

I can’t comment about the future of Fisher King Press. I’ve got my hands filled with the-here-and-now! I can say that as long as we continue to seek out and publish the work of authors who are able to dance in and out of the dream world of archetypal patterns and who are able to produce work that translates the eternal into modern day stories and myths… well, then you’ll probably be holding a lot more Fisher King Books in your hands as the years unfold.

Q: Would you tell us a little about yourself, please? Where were you educated? What did you do before starting FKP?

JF: Damn, I had a feeling there might be a question like this coming. I’ve never been much for credentials. I like to say that life has been and continues to be my greatest teacher. I have a formal education, but I’ve learned far more from having been graced with the love and fellowship of wise people of all ages and walks of life.

I suppose you could say I’m a businessman, but I don’t particularly like the word ‘businessman.’ I started with nothing, haven’t inherited a dime from a rich aunt, uncle, or parents. I’ve had my fair share of traffic tickets and was tossed in the can for being drunk a time or two in my youth, but otherwise, I’ve had no encounters with ‘the law.’ I’ve never sued anyone and I’ve never been sued. I left home when I was eighteen and I’ve been paying my way ever since, mostly as a consultant in the public relations field. Most of my success has been from my ability garner respect, build lasting relationships, and to preserve the integrity of the trust people have placed in my charge.

Q: Last question is that familiar multi-part question which I'm stealing from James Lipton and Inside the Actor's Studio:

What is your favorite word? - Life, eternal… I can’t say I really have a favorite word; these just came to mind right now.

What is your least favorite word? - Pop or trendy phrases bug me. For example: like, you know what I mean…

What turns you on? - Black Sheep, free thinkers, people without excuses, people with the courage to live authentic lives.

What turns you off? - Experts who think they have the answers for others and people who ask questions of the so-called experts when in fact, their truths can only come from within.

What sound do you love? - Hearty laughter, and the moans of a satisfied lover.

What sound do you hate? - Don’t like the train blowing its horn in wild abandon at two or four in the morning - that really bugs me. I also don’t care for horn honks from impatient drivers.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? - None comes to mind.

What profession would you not like to participate in? - Psychology, Psychiatry, Religion.

What is your favorite curse word? Hell, I never swear!

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? - Whom does the Grail serve?’

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