Transrealism from the Hermit Kingdom: ‘Ain’t That What You Do?’
I received an email from one of my many North Korean readers the other day. He cited an article in the Guardian newspaper about the so-called literary form of ‘transrealism’. “Ain’t this is what you do at Dear Dirty America, no?” he asked me.
I had to squash my reader’s misconception at once. I can’t risk rumors of there being some ‘science fiction’ element to my blog. Tens of thousands of North Koreans rely on this website for their cheap laughs at America and the Western folly. They derive hope inside their impoverished nightmares by exchanging hushed commentary in their homes and in the limited public hangouts about what they’d read the night before.
As one reader wrote me a few years back, “We no like America, but we like DDA.”
So what is transrealism?
It is a word made up by a man named Rudy Rucker, who in 1983 wrote “A Transrealist Manifesto”. While there is a wide variety of styles and authors who can be pigeonholed into this category, the basic tenets of transrealism are mostly noticeable when a writer combines his everyday experiences and acquaintances with fantastical devices, like “time travel, antigravity, alternate worlds, telepathy, etc. — [which] are in fact symbolic of archetypal modes of perception.”
Rucker believes that is the only style left for authors to seriously and imaginatively write fiction. Who wants to read more dry realism? he asks. And who wants science fiction stories so far out of left field they hardly relate to anybody’s life on earth? Rucker is tired of it, so he saw the future of literature in Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.
Some have accused this website of playing fast and loose with reality.
Those people refer to old reports about angry mobs on Sunset Boulevard protesting the Charles Manson Hollywood Star. Others will refer to the story of 371 dead birds that fell dead on Larry King Boulevard and were quickly scooped up by scores of homeless folks as fresh meat.
Fantastical or not, those stories were mirrors for everyday human behavior. Through the lens of dead birds littering Hollywood’s most famous street, the scene became a microcosm of the wealth disparity in America when a Rolls Royce hit a homeless man who was too busy scooping up pigeons in the street to watch for traffic.
There was no time travel or flying saucers, but the very strange situation at hand provided a colorful contrast for life in America. For the readers who got stuck on the writing style, or tried to question how the author knew there were exactly 371 birds that fell that day, missed the point. In fact, for over a year, the author referred to those readers as “idiots and louse turds” until he had a religious revival in June of 2013, at which point he stopped speaking negatively of people, and animals, too.
You might wonder how such a strictly controlled nation such as North Korea could allow into its borders the free flowing ideas espoused by this website.
My good friend and favorite cultural philosopher Hubert Humdinger (he too has been called a fake, but he is very much real) told me, after four months of research, that it seemed to him DDA was streamed into the Hermit Kingdom at first as a joke.
With such news outlets as Fox News and CNN banned, the Minister of Culture had to give the citizens some gratifying news from America. Even
though the seams of tyranny seem tight from our distant, naive vantage point, you can be assured Kim Jong Un’s regime is not new to the game of strict social order. They know all discipline and horse-whipping equals revolt. Well, so to was the purpose of allowing this website into their hallowed halls: it’s like the burglar throwing a little fresh meat to the house dog while he loots the place. It’s like the ‘generous’ slave owner throwing an impressive feast once a year for his slaves.
The first ever DDA post to enter the insular Kingdom according to our records was called “In Heaven They Give Out Rolls Royces for Free“. No doubt the North Korean officials had a strong chuckle at that one. “Let the peasants believe in Heaven, and let them believe there are free luxury vehicles to boot!” they said. “Also, look how desperate and sad America is!”
They also, according to Humdinger, probably believed DDA would be the perfectly nonsensical sort of publication to make the residents feel they were getting a real choice in choosing information from the blogosphere.
It was fodder, basically, for the citizens. But then His Holiness, and the sexiest man in the East (according to some) read the article about Los Angeles constructing a giant sandbox to serve as a public bathroom facility for its tens of thousands of homeless folks.
Jong Un reportedly fell out of his chair laughing. But to be fair the chair had been his grandmother’s, and was very fragile. The rolling laugh jarred his belly fat, which shook the padded flesh of his thighs, and all that rumbling collapsed the chair’s legs.
Un’s Minister of Interior Design was put to death for the disgraceful moment, but that did not dampen Un’s love for this site. He read it, according to an inside source of mine, during his steam bath that night. “The servant boys set up a laptop next to the bath and scrolled down every minute or so.” Un reportedly read post after post. Most received a good-natured chuckle. Sometimes the chuckle was disruptive enough that Un let slip loose a little gas.
Ironically, Un was inspired enough by an article I wrote in 2010 about me being on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote my still unpublished novel, Parade of Bums, that he too set pen to paper and imagined his own stint on the CBS late night talk show. “We’ve got handsomest man in the East tonight on show,” Un has an awkwardly-sounding Letterman saying in his fictional transcript, “so ladies, buckle your belts as we welcome on Kim Jong Un. And Paul don’t you be jealous now,” Letterman’s character warns his band director and foil.
There is much more to be said about this website’s unorthodox connection with the Forbidden Kingdom. It is a strain, at times, on the author, as he fears CIA / FBI intervention. At some point we might be forced to cough up precious gems of information about North Korea, when we are deemed knowledgeable enough to be tortured for the insights.
This is what I wrote back to the reader who asked about ‘transrealism’: “How real do you want it to be?”