Today we’re having a chat with Mason Hickman, Carve reading committee member, professional massage therapist, and lover of literature. You’ll walk away from the article knowing what the German word Gesamtkunstwerk means.
How did you become a reader for Carve?
I met Matthew Limpede through a mutual friend. After getting to know each other, he invited me to be a reader.
I notice you have a background in German studies. How would you describe the differences between German literature and American literature?
This question demands probably an unhealthy amount of generalization, but I’ll try to describe some aspects of German literature that seem characteristic, at least in my opinion. I think German literature is very self aware. Whereas American authors seem eager to differentiate themselves from their contemporaries and their past and innovate a new voice, German literature feels more in dialogue with itself. German authors know German literature, and the onion-like intertextuality that unfolds when you approach a work can be dizzying. Another aspect, at least in the 20th century, is an almost unashamedly skeptical stance toward redemption, and in that regard, German literature is very in touch with life. I think American storytelling, probably from Judeo-Christian tradition, is eager to message individualism and redemption. Literature from the Soviet occupied German Democratic Republic is a fascinating branch of German studies.
You’ve recently embarked upon a career in massage therapy. Can you think of any points of intersection between therapy and reading/writing fiction?
Too many to begin to elaborate here! The healing arts and the literary arts both belong to creative enterprise; the therapist is just as much an audience to the clients body as the client is to the therapist’s work. I also teach massage therapy, and I often draw comparisons to creative writing when teaching—things like punctuation, grammar and syntax, volume, pause and breath, focus. As a therapist, you’re taking your client on a tour of her body, but in a way that’s singular to you. You’re a reader and an author at the same time—you’re telling your client a story with your hands, but you’re also listening to the story of her body.
Is fiction necessary? Has it ever been?
Whether it’s necessary or not would be impossible to answer because to imagine civilization without fiction would be to enact a fiction making process but also presupposes the question, “necessary for what?” I’ll say fiction is consequential. It’s a consequence of our species’ ability to create and imagine alternate realities. This is often seen as a milestone in childhood development—when they start to lie. But fiction’s task is to mediate a pseudo-reality under mutual agreement between sender and receiver that it’s not real, and then convince the receiver that there’s value in this unreal-ness, and that’s kind of like saying at atom is 99% empty space, which is true. If nature has an impulse, it is to share. Sharing can be observed at all levels of biology, and the result—adaptation and evolution. Fiction is a vehicle for sharing, one of many that advance the evolution of human consciousness.
As a reader, how do you hope to see fiction evolve in the 21st century?
Cool question, and the 21st century is a long time. Technology is playing and will play an enormous role, but I think the trajectory is in line with a broad interpretation of the Gesamtkunstwerk—the ‘total art work’—in the form of sensory integration. One recurring trend in literary studies is the repudiation of form, and technology has always been the major force that has helped artists blur the lines in order to approximate a vision, and I hope to see a continuation of this. Imagine listening to a story and being able to watch your mind’s eye in a virtual reality module like a lucid dream. I don’t think something like this is very far away. But just like Frankenstein’s monster, fiction wants to be real. Technology is already facilitating this. But in spite of sociopolitical currents, and regardless of what form fiction takes in the future, I hope that writing can stay free.