NEW YORK — In early August, the Fresno-based writer and thinker Aris Janigian founded The Artifa[ctuals].com, a new and welcome addition to the sometimes paralyzingly simplistic discussions on culture in contemporary America. Race, class, politics and free speech are some of the topics that have already graced its pages and which promise to challenge, encourage debate and often provoke. Janigian is best-known as the author of five novels, including Riverbig (2009), This Angelic Land (2012) and most recently, Waiting for Sophia at Shutters on the Beach (2019). The latter may be seen as a prelude to his current undertaking, as it wittily deconstructs the world of politically correct academia.
Janigian’s most recent essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, A History of My White Privilege, looks at the term “white privilege” through the lens of his own Armenian immigrant family history. The piece garnered kudos in many circles and also angered some who see it as a concession to the right. Also to be found currently at The Artifa[ctuals].com: a wonderful drawing titled Policing Free Speech by cartoonist Lucine Kasbarian, some fun, raw poetry by California Beat Poet Laureate Rich Ferguson and a Jenny Zhang recap from eater.com that looks at some of the remarkable reasons behind the cancellation of this year’s James Beard Awards. I sat down with Janigian recently to discuss his new publication, the aforementioned essay and his desire to move the conversation in America past the present status quo.
Atamian: Your mission statement partly reads “The Artifa[ctuals] is a group of writers and artists who believe that illiberality and hive mentality menace our democracy and Western Civilization itself. In the spirit of the Large Hadron Collider our aim is to create a “collision space” (as opposed to a “safe space”) for critical thought and artistic expression.” Can you comment on this?
Janigian: I think the mission statement is pretty self-explanatory, but I would encourage people to read our Manifesto in order to get a richer sense of our project.
Atamian: Artifactuals — artifacts — are defined as “denoting or relating to an object made by a human being, typically one of cultural or historical interest,” as in items found perhaps in a time capsule by our descendants far down the road in time or conversely cultural artifacts that may have belonged to our ancestors, such as the famous 5,500 year-old shoe found in an Armenian cave a few years back. The term has an anthropological and everyday meaning to it, am I right?
Janigian: “Artifa[ctuals]. The first part of that word is supposed to an ironic twist on the word “Antifa.” Aside from that, an artifact has multiple meanings, it can move in several directions at once. In our Manifesto, it alludes to the “trace” left behind after the collision of particles in the Large Hadron Collider. That artifact of the collision, physicists hope, will provide a window onto the fundamental nature of the physical universe; we hope to get a glimpse into the fundamental nature of the human universe.