Mike Corrao doesn’t so much write books as he does gestate and hatch
them. His work is singularly alive—the text has a will of its own. I
like to imagine him pecking away on a Mugwump-shaped typewriter a la
Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch.
From the anatomical wordplay of Gut Text to the graphic fantasia of
Smut-Maker, Corrao’s writing consistently pushes the boundaries of
what “literature” is supposed to look like. His latest release, Rituals
Performed in the Absence of Ganymede, is a mind bending trip into the
unconscious. At times both nightmarish and absurd, the book is also
artfully designed in a way that demands unique participation from the
I corresponded with Mike in the closing months of 2020. We discussed his
fascination with the corporeal, the conflation of subject/object, and
evoking the muses amidst the incessant drone of technology. Read our
conversation below and be sure to check out Mike’s earlier Ligeia
Rituals Performed in the Absence of Ganymede is available from 11:11
I’m curious about the project’s origins. When did you first
conceptualize Ganymede, and under what conditions? Was there a
particular first image or line or idea that germinated all the rest?
I’m not completely sure when it first came about. It was after I’d
written Gut Text, which engages with four entities living within the
book itself. I was very much drawn to this idea of the text as something
organismal—something that can (or at least can attempt to) dynamically
render in front of the user. To a certain extent I view this as a sequel
to Gut Text, envisioning a fifth entity that is more complex and
malicious than those in the first book. An organism that can directly
speak to and manipulate the reader. I don’t really know where this
desire spawned from. I think in part it comes from a desire to see new
kinds of writing. I’m not particularly interested in traditional
narrative, plot, characterization. I’d rather explore what the text is
capable of beyond its historicized constraints. Part of this also
materialized in a fascination with labor. Making the user perform work
(whatever that means). I wanted to make something that has to be
actively engaged with, not passively read.
Because of this, most of my work tends to originate from a wide net of
images. At the beginning, I was reading Christopher Norris’ Hunchback
88, Joyelle McSweeney’s Necropastoral, and some of the CCRU’s work;
engaging with art like Goya’s Witches Flight; listening to Earl
Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs and Clipping’s The Deep; playing games
like Caves of Qud and Hylics. I try to pull inspiration from a lot
of different mediums.
Reading Ganymede, I often felt this sensation that the book had a
will of its own, like I was handling an autonomous organism, as you
mentioned. A few pages in, it immediately struck me as a sister to Gut
Text, albeit more sinister than its older sibling. Your writing tends
to fixate on the relationship between body and text—“This event hurts
you. As if your biology had been sutured to the text.” Your depictions
of flesh and bone being manipulated are terrifically vivid, oscillating
between the clinical and surreal. There’s a tangible sense of
physicality in reading your books. What draws you to exploring the
corporeal? What makes a text come alive for you, whether your own work
or someone else’s?
I view the corporeal as something uncomfortably familiar to us. Every
bodily ailment and injury is something we can imagine manifesting in our
own body. I think the horror or viscerality of the book comes from the
way that, no matter how surreal, you can project these events occurring
across your own anatomy. It gives the text power. The book knows that it
can make you react / squirm / uncomfortable. It knows that it has
influence over you. And I think that makes it feel more alive than any
Your label of the autonomous organism is great. I think it very much
hits what I’m getting at. The aliveness of a text in part comes from
its ability to respond to you / interact with you. It’s difficult to
make something narrative feel alive, because it has a set path. There’s
the potential for a reader to predict upcoming events. But when the text
is an entity the reader isn’t trying to figure out what will happen.
They’re trying to read expressions and gestures. It’s more likened to
analyzing someone’s posture than to recognizing tropes / trajectories.
I think that there’s a certain ludological element here as well.
Drawing from the interactivity of video games. A large part of the
process is trying to create a means for the user to interact with the
text. At times, this happens in Ganymede with pages that require the
reader to turn the book ninety degrees, or text in the gutter that
tempts them to pull the book apart. In other projects I’ve tried
including dice rolls and pages that asked to be cut or torn. I think
rooting the book in our world does a lot in making it feel like a living
The interactivity of the text makes Ganymede such a unique reading
experience—having to physically alter the book’s position to read
certain passages, moving your own body/head to follow snaking lines of
text. I appreciate how you challenge readers to engage with text in
often unexpected ways, making the reader “work” as you mentioned
earlier. Reading tends to be so passive, but you find clever ways to
make the process active. It’s like concrete poetry dialed up to the nth
degree. I think a big part of it is that your books incorporate numerous
graphic elements. Smut-Maker and Ganymede in particular mash text,
image, color, tone to create these fabulous, phantasmagoric hybrids. How
does your design work affect your creative writing, and vice versa?
Thank you! Originally design had been a very minor element of my work.
In my first book, Man, Oh Man the design was largely traditional
barring occasional blocks of repeated text. It was with Gut Text that
I started to play around a lot more with design. It felt like a logical
step forward. Not only experimenting with the content of the text but
its appearance as well. With the last few projects, I’ve been primarily
working on them in InDesign. I’ve found that it’s a lot more natural
for me to work on the design as I’m writing the book. Sometimes
structuring a page before I fill it with text, other times writing out
the page, and seeing what kind of appearance the content should take on.
I feel like this back and forth better integrates the two elements.
Neither consistently takes precedent over the other. At the same time,
it allows a comfortable amount of spontaneity. The text’s interactive
moments can occur naturally as I’m working.
With the last four or so projects that I’ve put together, I’ve found
myself trying to finalize page dimensions before starting the project.
With Ganymede, I knew I wanted the book to be smaller (4.25 x 7). It
feels like most design-oriented work that I see is always in these large
6 x 9 or 8 x 11 or 9 x 9 sizes. Which I understand. You want to show off
the work. But there’s something really fascinating to me about
presenting this in a small volume. I feel like it makes the exterior
seem more unassuming. It pulls your guard down. You don’t really expect
what’s going to come. And ultimately I think this adds to that sense of
the text as an autonomous organism. That from the outset, before you’ve
even opened the book, it’s trying to manipulate and deceive you.
Writing and design feel inseparable to me. They’re both essential to
assembling the text. It feels incomplete to focus on one without the
Ganymede feels very much rooted in the occult. Writing as ritual,
poetry as incantation. But there’s also a technological aspect to the
book—“A series of cybernetic limbs are attached to your increasingly
shitty body.” Parts of the book are like an ancient rite, while others
veer into the realm of science fiction. This juxtaposition creates such
a fascinating texture. The narrative becomes unstuck in time and space.
Do you view technology as a kind of “magic” that bends and enhances
our reality? Or has the omnipresent glow of a blue screen become more
like a curse corrupting our humanity? For instance, I keep staring into
my phone and thinking, “voidmachine,” ha!
I view both the occult and the technological as these unknowable
constructs. Both are expanding and changing, often when we are not
looking. They are something that we can try to communicate with, to
harness, to familiarize ourselves with. But they are always largely
out-of-view. Too complex or esoteric for us to fully grasp the logic of.
They operate under the whims of a random nothingness. Or maybe a set of
ever-obscuring algorithms. Troubleshooting sound settings and scrying
with a divination board both make me feel like I’m at the mercy of
something beyond the veil.
In the context of Ganymede, these are both chaotic constructs, with
their own agendas and functionalities. They can prolong whatever vessel
the reader is using at the moment, but they could turn it to mush as
well. Finicky methods to fix a finicky machine.
Another “chaotic construct” I noticed throughout Ganymede is the
tension between subject and object. The two become indistinguishable.
The subject’s existence hinges on a collection of objects, while the
objects are themselves defined by the subject. The demarcations collapse
even further as the voice of the text is conflated with the
reader—“The subject (you and I both) watches as the scum rises to the
top.” I find this exploration of subject/object to be extremely
relevant in a materialistic society such as ours. Americans tend to
commodify their very existence. Status determined by a collection of
shiny toys. Ganymede exposes how tenuous identity has
become—“Without objects, the subject is rendered a pile of mush,
powerfless and fragile.”
When broken down, the object remains an object. It may change in what
object it is, but its classification remains. But when the subject is
broken down, they are no longer a subject. They metamorphosize into the
former. This gives the text power two-fold. First, to show that you are
no better than objects. You are merely objects congregated together, and
second, that they can become part of you. Another object to the
collection. In the conflation of text and reader, the reader is forced
to recognize how fragile their identity is. And how dependent they are
on the objects that they think themselves above.
Thinking back to the last question, this goes hand-in-hand with
appearances of the technological. Does mutating or replacing objects in
the subject’s collection change what they are? Does the addition of
cybernetic limbs make your body less human? And is it okay to be less
human? I think that the self is something we are comforted by. It is the
identifiable “I” and so once this thing starts changing, we become
unsettled and anxious. In Ganymede, the materialism of this practice
takes an almost primitive approach, with the subject attempting to
embolden their position by adding more and more objects to their person,
becoming a larger collection, and in turn, more powerful / secure /
stable. But eventually, this amassed weight gives way and the subject is
forced to recognize how tenuous their status really is.
Ganymede embodies this meshing of subject/object. He’s Godlike in
that his power seems limitless, but perhaps more so because of his
absence. Ganymede reminds me of an anarchic Godot—omnipresent but
invisible, an unknowable paradox. He permeates the text without showing
face. His name is often blacked out and yet there’s no escaping him.
When you read this book, Ganymede possesses you, consumes you. Was it
challenging to write a character like this? Did Ganymede surprise you as
his shape developed?
I don’t necessarily feel like I made Ganymede. Or at least at the start
I hadn’t done it intentionally. He spawned as this spectral entity
looming just outside of view. Kind of developing independently of the
rest of the text (although deeply tied to it). The challenge came in
pinpointing his relationship to the reader and the text itself. Once his
intentions and desires became more clear, I wanted to try and replicate
for the reader the way that he had surfaced for me, adding these
redacted appearances of his name. Showing that even if he wasn’t always
watching, he could be. And even if he wasn’t always present, he could
appear at any moment. I view him almost as an esoteric deity, acting on
whims we cannot fully recognize. At the same time, I wanted it to feel
like he had some kind of intimate connection to the reader. He’s this
strange third party in the dynamic between text and reader. He doesn’t
exactly fit in all that cleanly. I was surprised to see him appear at
At its core, writing is a kind of alchemy. I’ve heard many writers
describe a similar phenomenon (and occasionally experience it myself).
Given the right conditions, the text is channeled rather than
deliberately constructed, a kind of literary divination—“The text
forms. First from nothing. From stray atoms rearranged.” Ganymede
strikes me as a meditation on the creative process itself. Assemblage of
the text can be done in a trance but can also be purposefully
disassembled and rearranged. The language and imagery reflect this,
evoking both organic and artificial elements. As a writer, how do you
strike a balance between the unconscious spark of creation and the
self-awareness of craft and revision?
I’m really drawn to the image of evoking the muses. This idea that
something else flows through you. Because I draw from so many disparate
sources while working, my role often feels more curatorial. The content
is predominantly born from that unconscious spark, but where it goes /
how it looks / its relation to the other passages, are by my hand.
Although even this can have some unintentional results. Often I don’t
really have an endgame in mind while writing. I let the work form
naturally and with little restraint. I find that I’m really deeply
affected by sound. I listen to a lot of avant jazz, noise music, and rap
while working. I like working in this not really distracted, but kind of
manic or hysteric state. Working in tandem with the over-stimulation.
It’s easier to work towards something dense and chaotic when everything
around you is embodying those characteristics. The revision process on
the other hand tends to be pretty calm haha. I’ll play YouTube videos
in the background or listen to something smoother like Drexciya or
Caretaker or Monster Rally. I tend to revise as I write, so a lot of the
work done during the actual revision process tends to be design
oriented. Either fixing layouts or adding them in. But often I find at
the end of putting a book together, that I don’t really feel like it’s
my book at all. I feel more like a participant than the actual author.
Going back and reading stuff like Smut-Maker or Ganymede feels like
reading something incredibly familiar, but not something that’s
I was reading your essay on John Trefry’s Massive over at the
Action Books blog the other day. I admire how you consistently bring a
formal inventiveness to your critical work, something I wish more
writers did. Literary criticism doesn’t need to be bloated and
academic, but it often ends up that way. Your book reviews, on the other
hand, exist at this wonderful intersection of creative writing and
critical analysis. How did you come to writing criticism? What’s your
approach when writing about other writers?
Writing about John’s book has been a lot of fun. The process approaches
something similar to that organismal quality I’m fascinated with. Since
Massive is a work-in-progress, I’ve been able to watch it grow /
mutate / rearrange itself as I write about it. I was immediately excited
when John approached me about it. And moreso, because he’s actually the
one that got me interested in critical writing. I remember a few years
ago he tweeted something like, “If you don’t view your reviews as your
art then you’re writing them wrong” and that’s really stuck with me.
The day after I saw that, I reached out to him to request a review copy
of M Kitchell’s In The Desert of Mute Squares. And since then I’ve
been trying to keep up a healthy pace reviewing contemporary titles.
Predominantly unconventional small press titles.
I think there’s this default sense that critical work has to be this
very formalized and rigid thing—it has to be written “like a book
review.” But in truth it can be as obtuse and free-flowing as any
fiction or poetry. I try to find a place between ekphrasis and analysis.
My goal is to engage with the work and to look at what it does
interesting. I’m not necessarily concerned with if it was good or bad.
I don’t think there’s much value in that. Especially in this small
press space where everyone’s—for the most part—just trying to put
out work that they’re passionate about. A little while back, Johannes
Göransson referred to one of my essays as a topographical reading and I
really like this. This survey of the landscape / documenting of
encounters. I think that’s always what I’m reaching towards: an
encounter with the text.
What’s next for Mike Corrao? Any upcoming projects you’d like to
There’s always something in the works. I have a play forthcoming from
Plays Inverse, Andromedusa, which explores some of the more bodily
aspects of my work. It follows the amalgamated bodies of Andromeda and
Medusa as they grow into a new celestial body. After that, I have
something a bit more medieval and cyborgean coming in 2022… although
that one might be a bit too far out to start talking about yet.
I’ve also started collecting my critical writing into a shared word
document, so something may come of that soon as well. Stay tuned.
Mike Corrao is the author of three novels, MAN, OH MAN (Orson’s
Publishing); GUT TEXT (11:11 Press) and RITUALS PERFORMED IN THE ABSENCE
OF GANYMEDE (11:11 Press); one book of poetry, TWO NOVELS (Orson’s
Publishing); two plays, SMUT-MAKER (Inside the Castle) and ANDROMEDUSA
(Forthcoming - Plays Inverse); and three chapbooks, AVIAN FUNERAL MARCH
(Self-Fuck); MATERIAL CATALOGUE (Alienist) and SPELUNKER (Schism -
Neuronics). Along with earning multiple Best of the Net nominations,
Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as 3:AM, Collagist,
Always Crashing, and Denver Quarterly. His work often explores the
haptic, architectural, and organismal qualities of the text-object. He
lives in Minneapolis.