Paul Haines, 1970-2012
March 5, 2012
I saw him last at Swancon almost a year ago, where we talked and drank and ate and schmoozed like classy carefree gents. This is what I wrote for the collection he launched there.
People say that Paul Haines has bad taste. Try telling that to those he cooks for. Try telling it to the beneficiaries of his music collection culls. Try telling that to Paul Haines, the cannibal gastronome of his “Slice of Life” story suite, who knows just the right cuts and how they’re best served. In the thick of the muck, Paul’s fiction explores highbrow themes like the mystery of conception, the unreliability of perception, and the violence of redemption. Paul is a principled aesthete and a candid man of honour.
Paul is the guy who, at the first Clarion South in early 2004, kept my broke arse supplied with booze. As us ferals partied after six weeks of reprogramming, he bought two beers at a time as if my thirst was his own. This was a sincere morality adapted from the macho drinking culture of his uni days. He couldn’t let an orifice go dry, not when he was in a position to lubricate. And he refused my indebtedness: I owed not him but future poor lads in need of a drink. Pay it forward, with a twist. Of lemon.
This decent bloke is of course the same warped creature who makes readers squirm and cringe with his surrealist black humour, his confused, cruel, hungry, horny, unhinged characters and their equally fucked-up worlds. His exposed backpackers wander through the disorienting East or the degenerate West or somewhere else entirely, preyed upon by the powers-that-be or their own shadowy natures. Many of these characters go by the name of Paul Haines. I have often seen people recoil in his presence as a result of his work—and he’s quivered with satisfaction in response.
To read his fiction is to question the character of Paul Haines. His stories are plenty unsettling even without those infamous self-tuckerisations. His dystopia “Wives” with its brutal misogyny is simply the latest and finest in a long, disquieting stream. But when he does decide to give his protagonist his name, the disturbance multiplies.
It is a venerable technique that the likes of Chaucer and Dante up to Dick, Ellis, and Kaufman have experimented with, and Haines self-inserts with the best of them. Uncareful readers will confuse the protagonist with the author or perceive a monstrous ego at play in this literary autofellatio. All the better for Haines.
Paul Haines is not a wish-fulfilling Mary Sue; he is a fully developed, viscerally scarred character. Paul Haines is not a didactic author surrogate; he preaches nothing but the wages of existence. This is no cameo, no proxy, no Narcissus. By projecting himself into his narratives, he becomes the willing victim of his readers’ own projections. He wallows in the viral dispersal of his proper name.
Paul expects academic wankery of me, so how’s this for a dubious homonymy: there is a Greek verb phainesthai which means “to appear”; it is the root of phenomenon and phantasm and incorporates the sense of both pretense and manifestation. Phainesthai is to appear in a form undecidable between truth and falsehood, fiction and reality. It’s what Paul does. Against vivid exotic backgrounds, the character of Paul Haines dissimulates with a fierce honesty.
The SuperNOVA addendum to the Turkey City Lexicon will include phainesthai, or perhaps simply haines, to refer to self-insertion as literary extreme sport. This is how it will be used in the crit circle upbraiding of wannabe writers: “If you’re gonna to try to haines it, newbie, then don’t shy away from the verdict. You gotta put it all on the line.”
Haines puts it all on the line. The man has travelled, has lusted, has feared, has hurted in unimaginable ways. He laughs and cries as life bends him over and drives its toxic probe up his arse. He tells us all about it. He shames common delusion with his clarity of observation and frankness of expression. He gives the finger to death, to our decomposing bodies, to our poisonous world in exemplary fashion. He has struggled, and he has fought to flourish, too. He creates and fathers and loves.
Today there are no more vulgar drinking sessions. Paul’s colonoscopy punctured that blokey utopia. It forced him to vegetables and administered chemicals, forced him and others to a painful knowledge of the world as it is: singular bodies, each desiring and broken in its own way. The world according to Haines.
He and his character deserve the sweetest of revenge.