If he’s anything — and there does seem to be some question about that — he’s difficult to pin down. We finally caught up with him outside a Starbucks (not that one, the one down the street), near 31 Flavors, whereupon he invited us in for what he calls a spot. Ray Harvey, make no mistake, is fiercely corporate.
It was 3:00 pm on a wintery afternoon in late January, the sky overcast but luminous. He prefers to sit inside these days, basking, he says, in that artificial air. When asked why, he demurs, a lackluster backhand, and then more or less says that he’s not one of the people who eats and drinks uncompromisingly al fresco. We believe him.
Muscular, mid-to-late thirty, Harvey has repose; he never touches his face. We sit near the slablike window that commands a view of the outlying plains. The telephone poles fall away into an intricate horizon. Distant semis flash….
Q: First things first: Bon Scott or Brian Johnson?
Harvey: Bon Scott.
Harvey: Because he’ll win the fight.
Q: How was your trip in? We heard rough.
Harvey: Actually, I found it tame.
Q: Tell us about your latest book —
Harvey: To be candid, I make it a rule never to gloss my own writing — unless I’m in the bedroom. I might, however, direct you to the first review of it to appear on Amazon.
Q: Many readers have noted a sort of subterranean preoccupation with the ribald in your writ—
Harvey: The what?
Q: The ribald.
Harvey:: Sex in movies, sex in books, sex in blogs — I find it all really too tedious to talk about. Let us, for once, beg off.
Q: Okay, okay. If, as you’ve said, “there is no order in the universe apart from what man himself puts there,” how, then, do you explain the symmetry of the universe?
Harvey:: Order is an epistemological word; it applies only to the conceptual mind. The universe is neither orderly nor disorderly. Man imposes order, like legends on a map. The universe simply is. It could be no other way.
Harvey: Yes. Matter does not possess a will. Matter, therefore, must act as it does.
Q: Your name–
Q: In many people’s mind, it’s inextricably associated with freedom.
Harvey: I don’t know that that’s true, but I have no real objection to it.
Q: But what is freedom? Isn’t it just a word?
Harvey: No. Freedom is the absence of force. I am opposed to force, in every manifestation. I believe only in the voluntary, the consensual, the chosen.
Q: What’s force?
Harvey: Force is a fist up your motherfucking ass.
Q: Do you really loathe environmentalism as much as you say, or is it partially put on?
Harvey: The truth is, I loathe environmentalism more than I could ever say.
Q: Why so?
Harvey: Because environmentalism is a lie. It’s bandwagon thinking. It’s non-thinking. Environmentalism is at its root a bastard philosophy, very seductive to some, but predicated upon entirely fraudulent premises. Environmentalism is repackaged Marxism. Surely everyone knows by now that Marx has been discredited.
Q: By whom?
Harvey: History has discredited him.
Q: In what way?
Harvey: Every communist regime has failed; no socialist regime has ever flourished. The only societies that have truly flourished are those that have been free, or relatively free.
Q: Others have commented upon your conspicuous concern with the lyrical, even as you rail politically.
Harvey: What of it?
Q: It has struck many of us as incongruous and almost quaint. Is there anything you care to say about that?
Harvey: Yes. Poetry is language at its best. It is concentrated speech. Poetry is style. Poetry is writer’s writing. Poetry is advertising — in good faith.
Q: Who is your favorite poet?
Harvey: Karl Shapiro.
Q: What is your favorite novel?
Harvey: The Possessed.
Q: Who is your favorite character in literature?
Q: How do you feel about form in poetry?
Harvey: Form is technique, and prosody is skill. Scansion is symmetry. To say that form is an artificial construct is like saying that chess is artificial because it has rules.
Q: But where are the rules for poetry? Are they in the sticks and stones? The sea? The sky?
Harvey: The rules “live in the masterpieces,” as Shapiro said. Rules are rooted in the nature of the human mind, which seeks order.
Q: How does one learn to write?
Q: Where do you write? In what sort of space?
Harvey: Standing near the window, where the light is strong. You could say I write in a cold sweat, or a whitehot fever.
Q: And yet?
Harvey: And yet? Yes. And yet. And yet I love the nighttime, when the moon rages and the lovers lie abed with all their griefs in their arms.
Harvey: Writing is rewriting.
Harvey: You can make it tough.
Q: What is beauty? Is it anything?
Harvey: It is everything. Beauty is symmetry. Beauty is the bah-bah in black sheep. It is the esthetically pleasing, it is the lovely. Beauty is not, finally, ineffable, but it is elusive.
Q: Some have said you’re obsessed with the body human. Would you say that characterization is true?
Harvey: The body human is my deepest obsession. Why? All that’s born, dies, and as the flesh without spirit is dead, so is the spirit without flesh dead. The spirit is a wind that passeth away and cometh not again. Therefore, whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest. And remember: Sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds. Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Q: Is human talent innate?
Harvey: No. It is willed.
Q: Come, now.
Harvey: Really. You decide, you act. Or not.
Q: What is your opinion of vigilante justice?
Harvey: Relatively low.
Q: Speaking of which, are you yourself highbrow, as you’re sometimes accused?
Harvey: Only by default, if at all.
Q: You would agree, though, man’s understanding of the eternal, is iffy at best–
Harvey: No, I wouldn’t. There’s no real mystery about the eternal, even though it’s made out to be so very mysterious. Time, like order, is epistemological. It happens inside the human brain. As such it only pertains to man. Time is specifically man’s way of measuring movement. Take man and man’s brain out of the equation and there is no such thing as time: there’s only movement. Movement of what? Things. Planets, particles, dust, matter — all these things do not truck with time. The universe is out of time in the literal sense. It is non-temporal. It is timeless.