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Interview with Chip Smith of Nine-Banded Books

9bb [1]3,375 words

Chip Smith runs Nine-Banded Books [2], an independent and iconoclastic publishing house based in Charleston, West Virginia. He is also the editor of his of The Hoover Hog [3], formerly a ‘zine, now a blog. 

The catalogs and interests of Nine-Banded Books and Counter-Currents overlap in a number of ways. We have both published volumes by Jonathan Bowden and Andy Nowicki, for instance. Nine-Banded Books has also published Tito Perdue’s novel The Node.

There are other areas where our catalogs do not overlap. For instance, Nine-Banded Books publishes Peter Sotos and books on anti-natalism and Holocaust revisionism.

The purpose of this interview is to acquaint myself, and my readers, with a colleague in Alt-Right publishing and his authors.

Chip, tell us a bit about your background: where you are from, where you went to school, who your people are.

I was born and bred in central Appalachia. Working class family. Child of divorce. Not much to tell. A lot of people leave this area when they wise up, but for some reason that never occurred to me. After I nearly flunked out of high school in the late ’80s, I managed to get into a low-rung state college where I learned a few things and earned a useless degree. When I failed to secure professional employment, I did construction work for my father until the day when I ran into a former philosophy professor who offered me a job at a used bookstore that he managed. I liked that job very much, and I learned a lot about books—about regional literature, identifying first editions, the book trade from a distance. My book collection grew exponentially, and I read a lot.

After a few years the bookstore gig was up and I returned to the want-ads. Worked in a dry-cleaning plant. Did shitwork for a local print shop. Maintenance for an apartment complex. Some other stuff. Eventually, I stumbled into something more gainful and I stuck with it. The publishing thing—it was always on my mind, but money was an impediment. I don’t make money publishing books.

As to my “people,” well, I’m not sure. Maybe having the surname “Smith” makes genealogy seem less romantic, or maybe it’s that I never got on that well with my family, but for whatever reason, I never really felt the itch to investigate my lineage. If you’ve read Albion’s Seed, you’ll know that Appalachia was overwhelmingly populated by Scotch-Irish in the grungy fourth migratory wave from the British borderlands. From what little I understand, my roots may trace more to a Dutch-British line, but nothing would surprise me. I’d get a kick out of calling myself a Melungeon, but my blond hair and blue eyes make that implausible.

If I were to consider the question in more cosmopolitan terms, I guess I would list skeptics, misfits, monomaniacs, contrarians, sentimental losers. Anyone who ever had a heart, to quote Lou Reed (with the understanding that I alone stand in judgment of whose heart is true). Such, I suppose, are “my people.”

When did you found Nine-Banded Books, and what is the significance of the name?

Well, Bradley Smith’s book—The Man Who Saw His Own Liver—went to press in late 2007, so I guess that’s when 9BB got its formal start. I had approached Bradley maybe a year earlier about publishing his loosely biographical novel, A Personal History of Moral Decay, but he felt it needed work so we did Liver instead. It’s a novelization based on a one act play that was actually produced and prominently reviewed in the early ’80s, before Bradley came to be associated with Holocaust revisionism. I think it works really well as a novel, though I understand that some readers will find the Cold War anti-nuke sentiments to be a bit dated. I tried to address this in my preface, while making the case for Bradley Smith as a writer of little-remarked literary import. His stuff reminds me of Richard Brautigan.

Still, I’m not sure there was a founding event as such. Since I was a teenager, I’ve followed independent presses the way music geeks follow record labels, and I was always drawn to the idea that one enterprising individual could sort of take the reins and brand a body of literature over time. I think this is essentially what Barney Rosset did with Grove/Evergreen, and his example was one source of inspiration to me.

Another was Adam Parfrey of Amok and Feral House. I remember reading Apocalypse Culture when I was maybe 17. It was such a mind-blowing book at that time, and I came away with a sense that publishing was—or could be—a kind of garage punk performance. Parfrey had keen curatorial instincts that made all the difference. Apocalypse was billed as a kind of intellectual freakshow, but the bait and switch is what kept things interesting; once you were in, you discovered that the dark carnival being barked was about more than just tweaking bourgeois sensibilities.

Retrospectively, I think Parfrey was serving up a heaping dense platter of what Sister Y (Sarah Perry) has since described as “insight porn,” the sort of head-lit that tends to re-route mental polarities—that, in her words, gets you “epistemically pushed off of your reality.” Shock value only counts when there’s resonance, and with Parfrey’s literary provocations—and here I would be remiss not to also mention Rants and Incendiary Tracts and Cult Rapture—the afterburn has lasted for decades.

Anyway, that was the germ. The one that stands out in hindsight. Of course, it would be years before I got around to publishing books. The Hoover Hog came first, and I’m not entirely sure what I was doing there. I know that I had been ordering lots of “fringe” literature and haunting the stacks at local university libraries, just following one book or article or footnote to the next until I was sort of immersed in these controversial hot spots that absolutely demanded my attention.

At the same time, I really liked what Jim Goad was up to with ANSWER Me!—the wicked humor and literate personal investment he brought to troublesome topics. So I guess that provided the template when I began to channel these disparate threads—criminology, aberrant sexology, revisionism, sociobiology, bioethics, etc.—into a kind of low-rent journalistic hobby. Zine culture was running full-on back then so I threw two issues of The Hoover Hog into the din, to no consequence. They really weren’t very good.

I know this seems like the sort of thing you should grow out of, but I just never did. I was a latecomer to the Web, but I know that when I revived the Hog as a blog in I’m thinking 2005, I was firmly committed to the idea of publishing books.

The name? Just a nod to our friend the nine-banded armadillo. The story is that they were referred to as “Hoover hogs” during the depression when people in dire straits were reduced to dine on dillo-meat in lieu of pork. “Nine-Banded Books” just gilds the lily. There’s no deeper meaning, though I know that some readers have assumed that “Banded” is meant as a near-homonym for “Banned.”

The background is that when I was in college I wrote a paper about the use of armadillos in leprosy research and I found that I kept thinking about the little fuckers—to the point where armadillo imagery sort of melded with whatever I was reading. So, I don’t know, maybe I was trying to cure a neuro-quirk. They’re really interesting animals. They have litters of identical quadruplets.

armadillo [4]

Your authors Tito Perdue, Jonathan Bowden, and Andy Nowicki fall into the New Right or Alt-Right sphere. You also publish revisionist works by Bradley Smith, L. A. Rollins, and Samuel Crowell, the readership of which tends to be on the far Right. Tell us about your intellectual and political views. How did you end up publishing thought-criminals?

The alt-right association is more accidental—or incidental—than you might assume. There’s just so much low-hanging fruit on the right side of the vine—some really insightful and provocative and excellent writing. Mainstream publishers don’t want to touch it because, perhaps ironically, their decisions really are governed by political sensibility. I’m much more naïve. I just want these books to exist.

consideringsuicide [5]I made contact with Andy after reading his stuff in the right-anarchist journal, The Last Ditch [6]. When he sent me the manuscript for Considering Suicide [7], I read it in a couple of sittings and found myself in profound disagreement with much of his—or his narrators’—worldview. At the same time, I thought the book “worked.” I thought it had a sly edge, and perhaps because I am a convinced atheist, I liked the idea of publishing a novel that thrummed at these weird, theo-reactionary, Kierkegaardian chords. It seems that everyone plays on “teams” these days, but my view is that a partisan mindset is anathema to the reading life. For me, an abiding virtue of literature is that it allows you to set aside your priors and get into the headspace of someone—whether it’s a character or a scholar or a polemicist or a psychotic or all of the above rolled into one—who sees the world through a different lens. I like to think there was a time when this was better understood.

My political views have always skewed libertarian, or anti-authoritarian. It’s the sort of thing I might have argued passionately about when I was younger, but nowadays I’m more resigned to the idea that politics is largely an aesthetic trench. I hate taxes and gun control and drug prohibition and censorship for the same reason I hate Kevin Smith movies and the smell of sun-baked roadkill—because I’m constitutionally predisposed to viscerally abominate things such that harsh my buzz or stink up a room.

I’ll also admit to being susceptible to romantic or nostalgic vagaries, at times to the point of being a bit of a curmudgeon. I miss smoke-filled bars and free-range neighborhood dogs and casual drunk driving and the homosexual as cultural outlaw and dangerous playground equipment, and I remain stubbornly ambivalent about seatbelts. Do such tendencies enhance my crypto-reactionary cred? I don’t know. I do think extremism is more illuminating than guarded discourse.

If I have one counter-libertarian bug, it isn’t immigration but animal welfare. At least in theory, I can imagine the negative externalities of open borders being sorted out under a propertarian regime (I realize, of course, that we do not live under such a system), but with high-yield factory-farmed livestock, I think we are faced with perhaps a sui generis instance where market efficiency overwhelmingly tends to perpetuate and conceal vast amounts of very real suffering. I’m not sure what can be done about this in a world where paleo diets are in fashion and bacon has become a byword for gluttonous pleasure, but I find it very troubling. I do view the development of lab meat as a positive turn and I am cautiously hopeful that as technology advances and taste improves, inexpensive live meat alternatives will lead to a reevaluation of the industrial treatment of animals. Steven Pinker’s recent thesis on the decline of violence is at least encouraging in this area—his focus on upheavals in moral sensitivity.

My broader intellectual disposition is maybe a bit more complicated in that I try to draw from different currents to make sense of the world. I’m really interested what might be described as collective social behavior and the sociology of belief formation, which covers a raft of subjects: popular delusions, hoaxes, mass hysteria, fads and manias, moral panics—everything from dietary crazes to war fever.

In a related sense, I am forever fascinated—and troubled—by the mysterious process whereby beliefs and ideas come to be culturally entrenched or, as Jonathan Haidt would put it, “sacralized.” You know this is happening when contrary lines of inquiry come to be stigmatized (or in some few contemporary instances, legally proscribed).

I think the “denial” shibboleth, whether it’s invoked to describe Holocaust revisionism or counter-consensus climate research or any number of other dissident perspectives, can be understood as a nasty little bug in this process. By calling someone a “denier,” the accuser is at once signaling his fealty to some entrenched consensus view while at the same time preempting the possibility of good faith intellectual engagement with contrary arguments or evidence.

This is how taboos are bred, and this is how discourse is corrupted. We see it for what it is in the context of religion proper (where “heretics” and “apostates” assume the role of “deniers”), but secular iterations are more insidious and generally withheld from critical analysis. I think many of the books I publish—certainly Crowell’s The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes—can at some level be understood as disruptive experiments against the prevailing clubhouse vocabulary.

Tell us about Jonathan Bowden’s book Mad [8] and how you came to publish it.

bowdenmad [9]I ordered a copy of the original Egotist Press edition of Mad [8] from the Loompanics catalog back in the early ’90s. I loved it then, and I love it now. It’s a difficult book to describe. It’s sort of a feverish prose-poetic discursion centered around Hobbesian strife. Scholarship as outsider art. I’m never sure where to pin it, but I love the modernist music and urgency of the thing. I even love the syntactic idiosyncrasies, the Britishisms, and the halting clauses that Jonathan insisted be preserved for the reprint. He was emphatic, for what it’s worth, that Mad was essentially a Stirnerite experiment. That makes sense to me. He told me he wrote it when he was a teenager, which is amazing.

How I came to publish it isn’t much of a story. I found myself thinking about the book one day and soon discovered that it had never been reprinted. So I looked up Jonathan’s website and sent him a note explaining that I admired the book and inquiring as to whether he would be amenable to seeing it re-issued under the 9BB logo. He was very gracious throughout our subsequent correspondence, and we were quick to work out an agreement. I don’t think I was much aware of his affiliation with British nationalism at the time, not that it would have mattered. I really don’t think of Mad as a rightist tract, in any case.

Do you have plans to publish any other Bowden books?

Yes. Before he died, Jonathan assigned 9BB publishing rights for two books: Sade and Aryan—both of which were originally released in the early ’90s, around the same time as Mad, and read, as far as I can tell, by no one. I love the intense amphetamine groove of his “early” books, where the pedantic voice comes laced with so much crazy energy. Sade, as you might guess, is a study—an eccentrically pitched study, to be sure—of the life and work of the Marquis de Sade. It recently moved to the front burner and should go to press later this year. I’m just waiting for my cover design guy to do his thing. Aryan is a different bird, appropriating novelistic devices to explore the psychology and praxis of Nazism. Reactionary readers who come expecting an apologia will be sorely disappointed.

Tell us about Tito Perdue and how you came to publish The Node [10].

Perdue-Tito-The-Node-small [11]One day a note from Tito appeared in my inbox. He explained a little about his work and asked if I would be interested in looking at this dystopian novel he had written, something that more established publishing houses wouldn’t touch. So, knowing little about Tito’s previous writing, I began reading the manuscript for The Node [10] and soon found myself giggling like a kid. I know that critics to date [12] have focused on the book’s political and satirical themes, which is appropriate, but it’s such a rich stew of invention—and it is, I think, a genuine comic masterpiece.

I responded to Tito before I had finished the book, telling him it would be an honor to publish it, but I was careful — perhaps suspiciously careful — to explain that his literary reputation would scarcely benefit from his association with a dodgy, marginal publishing venture like mine. He assured me that wouldn’t be a problem, that he had already written himself into a corner and to hell with the big houses anyway. And so it went. Tito was an absolute pleasure to work with.

Of course, I’ve since had the opportunity to acquaint myself with Tito’s larger body of work—which is to say, the “Lee” novels (including, most recently, Morning Crafts [13]). What a trove. Tito is American original, and I’m very proud to include The Node in the Nine-Banded catalog. I only wish I could do more to promote it. But that’s true with all of the books. I send out the press kits and review copies, and crickets chirp back. I always feel that I’m letting my writers down.

Peter Sotos [14] is a writer whose name I have seen but whose work I have not read. Tell us about him.

Peter is a friend. Long ago we sort of bonded over our mutual appreciation of Andrea Dworkin’s work. He’s been very generous and supportive over the years, and I always look forward to arguing with him over drinks when I’m in Chicago. In person, he’s an incisive conversationalist and the kind of guy who puts people at ease. He’s charming, with a great sense of humor. He has a subtle command presence, as many writers do.

I also think he’s a brilliant and important artist and litterateur. There’s an epigram by Cioran where he says that only by continually approaching solecism can writing give the appearance of life. At the most granular level, I think that captures the alchemic genius of Peter’s work. Even as his writing has evolved, his literary voice has remained instantly recognizable, and I am frankly astonished by his singular command of language, by the way he constantly—and instinctively, I think—renders and reinvents modes of expression to corner and record such fragile currents of perception that would otherwise remain ineffable.

Of course, I am aware that the formalist defense never cuts it where Sotos is concerned, and I am just as aware of the profound stigma—there’s no other word, really—that surrounds his oeuvre. His subject, neurotically and “problematically” invested, is sex. More specifically, his subject is pornography. Yet more specifically, his subject is sexual violence as apotheosized in the forbidden language of child porn. And his form settles, for lack of better terms, around a volatile amalgam of critical and confessional extrapolation and interpretation. There’s nothing else like it.

Every biographical note will emphasize the fact that Peter was arrested for obscenity at some fateful turn, and that he was convicted for something arguably worse. Mikita Brottman calls him a “latter-day homo sacer” for good reason. I’m not inclined to argue with those who stop at revulsion, but for readers who take a wider view of art, who allow that prevailing cultural narratives—such as we may certainly document with reference to the terrain that preoccupies Peter, or, if you prefer, Peter’s writing—exist to be disrupted and subverted and, from whatever terrible vantage, understood, then I think the value of the work is self-evident.

In my introduction to Tool. [15] [the period is part of the title—Ed.] (not the work that Peter or I would suggest as representative, to be sure), I take polite issue with the “narrow defense” that some critics have proffered in justification of Sotos’ psycho-literary project—that it holds up a proverbial mirror to society’s underside and provides a commentary on media-glossed morality cum hypocrisy. I do think there is an incidental kernel of truth in this line, but the drift too often has the desperate, cloying ring of apology. And frankly, Peter deserves better. I am not interested in apologizing for literature that I find at once fascinating, mysterious, revelatory, and troubling.

Rosset had Genet with Sartre’s imprimatur. Those of us who have published Sotos are strung across a chasm without a net. I don’t expect everyone to understand that that’s the appeal, but I’m betting that the literati will catch up in time.

Editor’s Note: All Nine-Banded Books titles can be purchased direct from their website (http://www.ninebandedbooks.com/ [2]) or at Amazon.com [16].