Tomorrow, Terror House Press will release its 38th book: Unsqualified Preservations by Mencius Moldbugman, a humor- and horror-themed short story collection examining Internet addiction, social justice, workplace culture, and other topics. Famed for his witty and insightful Twitter commentary and his contributions to anthologies such as Terror House’s Ending Bigly: The Many Fates of Donald Trump, Unsqualified Preservations is Moldbugman’s first book. Raw Egg Nationalist describes Unsqualified Preservations as “a tome that captures the true horror of the modern world in a way that only a writer whose pen name is a union of Moldbug and Bugman could.” I recently sat down for an interview with Moldbugman to discuss his book, his retirement from Twitter, lolcow hunting, and other topics.
Matt Forney: You’ve been a notable figure in our corner of the Internet for several years owing to your Twitter commentary and your occasional essays. What inspired you to write Unsqualified Preservations?
Mencius Moldbugman: It was less inspiration and more perspiration. With the exception of the leading story “Rickadoodle Applestrudel,” all of the other stories in the book had already been written by myself over the years. Some of them, like “President N-Word,” had been published on websites, and others have even featured in other books. “The Tourists” was my Passage Prize entry and most of the others had been written during my spare time over a period spanning ten years; one of the stories, which I won’t mention, was even an updated story of an essay I wrote 20 years ago. Since writing is my hobby and my preferred method of relaxing, I have accumulated a hard drive full of short stories, essays, and poetry, which I guess makes a refreshing change from the files of child pornography that fill most online anonymous hard drives. I had been working on “Rickadoodle Applestrudel” as a novella and wanted to see it published, but it was not quite long enough to be released as a standalone product. So I dusted off some of the better stories I had penned, gave them some thorough rewriting, and decided to turn it into a collection of short stories.
The collection is quite a large volume containing 15 stories of varying length. I did have several other stories that could have been included, but would have made the book too unwieldly. Some of the stories that didn’t make the cut included “How Richard Dawkins Got Pwned,” which involved Richard Dawkins being kidnapped by a cult of female atheists and being burnt to death inside a 20-foot-high wicker phallus, and “How I Married an Indian,” which was a twisted exploration of what would happen if the effects of Rohypnol lasted for years rather than hours.
MF: Your pseudonym is an obvious parody of Mencius Moldbug, the pen name of Curtis Yarvin, and you’ve often been mistaken for Yarvin. What influence (if any) has Yarvin had on your work and how do you see Unsqualified Preservations in relation to his work (if there is any relation)?
MM: In hindsight, I rather regret the name Mencius Moldbugman. My original idea was just to create a Twitter account that was a play on words: Moldbug + Bugman = Moldbugman. My Twitter account was mainly focused on the peculiar habits of small-souled bugmen—its early tweets were entirely about the accumulation of Funko Pop bobbleheads—but the next thing I knew I had 35,000 followers and random people on the Internet were messaging me to ask me for my thoughts on monarchism. You would be surprised how many high-profile names sent me direct messages thinking I was the real Mencius Moldbug. Often it would amuse me to think of the opposite situation and to imagine Curtis Yarvin getting questioned about some shitpost I had just written off the cuff. I am certain that this must have happened. However, when Yarvin’s wife passed away and I started to receive condolences about her passing, I knew that it was probably time to retire the name.
In general, I am a strong appreciator of the writing of both Yarvin and his fellow neoreactionary Nick Land and they have influenced my political thinking massively. My only complaint about Yarvin is when I paid $100 a year for his Substack, which transformed from a series of political essays into dating advice and sophomoric poetry. That transformation is one of the influences behind Unsqualified Preservations. In the introduction, I write how I am a fan of bait-and-switch and the delight found in unexpected surprises. It amuses me that there will definitely be at least one person out there who will buy Unsqualified Preservations and to their horror discover that it is not an insightful discourse on modern politics, but instead a story about morbidly obese YouTubers.
MF: Your work shows influences both contemporary and modern; H.P. Lovecraft’s work is an obvious influence in some of your stories (such as “Safe Space”). What other writers and thinkers have had the biggest influence on your work and ideas?
MM: As much as I consider the French a country of degenerate cheese-eating poseurs, I love their literature. L’etranger by Camus and Mémoires d’un fou by Flaubert are the embryonic tales of that class of socially-ostracized outsider that many young men feel they have fallen into today. There is a distinct pathway from the early French existential works to Delicious Tacos talking about the pain of dating in your forties. The greatest living author today is French: Michel Houellebecq’s Platform and The Possibility of an Island are two of the greatest books you can read by a still-living author and it is astonishing that we still have a writer of Houellebecq’s caliber.
In general, I am the complete opposite of a modern-day U.S. university course on English literature in that I generally like my authors dead, white, and male. I devour classics. At one point in my life, I refused to read anything by anybody who wasn’t dead by 1935. I’ve softened on that stance since then, though. As well as Lovecraft, a more modern counterpart would be Thomas Ligotti. It was the connections between Ligotti’s work and the show True Detective that actually led me to this weird corner of the Internet in the first place.
I would also like to give a special mention to the memory of the greatest blogger ever: Chateau Heartiste. Almost all the wisdom I possess originated from him. He was the gateway to many illuminating paths. May peace be upon him.
MF: A number of the stories in Unsqualified Preservations, such as “Human Capital” and “HOT SINGLES IN YOUR AREA,” began life as Twitter threads before you fleshed them out into fully-fledged narratives. How did this affect the writing process versus the other stories you’ve written? Did you feel that writing on Twitter was advantageous, limiting, or neither?
MM: There should be no limitations on how stories are presented. Writers should seek out as many different mediums as possible to present their work. To this day, I remain impressed by the work of the mysterious _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9, who wrote a bizarre science fiction story that took place across the comment section of random Reddit posts. If you have never read this intriguing piece of literature, then you should check it out. The usage of the medium adds to the substance of the story. I want to see more of this. I want epic literature pieced together from graffiti smeared on the walls of Harvard. I want a tale that has to be put together from OnlyFans comments. The possibilities are endless.
The two stories that you mention were indeed initially Twitter threads written over several days and the writing process is very different. In both cases, they were experiments in improvisation and I was making the story up as I went along (the final published stories have been tidied up for consistency). This lends a jazz-like quality to the stories where the tale can take different paths depending on the writer’s mood that day or the feedback from Twitter followers. I also find the limiting aspect of Twitter to be perversely liberating. Admittedly, I share H.P. Lovecraft’s tendency to sometimes over-indulge in adverbs and description, so the word limit on Twitter actually forces you to write tighter and more concise. Conciseness is next to godliness and a perfect sentence is one where no word is wasted. Twitter actually helps to train this quality and is a machine for producing epigrams.
MF: A running theme in Unsqualified Preservations is the Internet and its often deleterious effects on human behavior; this forms the thrust of the book’s longest story, “Rickadoodle Applestrudel,” about the relationship between a right-wing Twitter anon and a mukbang YouTuber he becomes obsessed with. Both characters are fixated on attention whoring via the Internet, which ends poorly for each of them. This story particularly resonated with me as I look back on my own life and my behavior online in the process of writing my poetry chapbook. In your opinion, what is it about the Internet that drives some people to chase attention and popularity—even at the cost of their dignity and everything else—and how would you recommend avoid falling into this trap of seeking attention at all costs?
MM: “Rickadoodle Applestrudel” is a very autobiographical story. It is the one story where I put a lot of myself and my own doubts and fears into that writing. No matter which side of the political spectrum you are coming from, the mechanics of social media—whether it be YouTube, Twitter, or any other platform—all lead to the same result. These platforms are designed just like casino machines to lure you in and keep you there. You may think that occasional shitposting is a harmless activity, but the longer you partake in such activities, the deeper the very real effects of dopamine and serotonin will have on your brain. Our brains are being rewritten in ways that have never happened before. In effect, we are reversing the breakdown of the bicameral mind. If you believe that man was once unconscious and believed the voices from his right brain hemisphere to be the words of gods, then you will acknowledge that as a species we have always yearned for a return of the gods to lend authority to our beliefs and decisions. This is what we are creating with Twitter and social media. We are sacrificing our self-control and self-consciousness for the creation of an algorithmic abomination that will one day take the place of divine authority by consensus. The more you use social media, the more you lose your consciousness to the basilisk. It is interesting when observing high-profile and prolific Internet creators. Whether they come from the left or the right, the result is often the same: drama, infighting, backstabbing, narcissism, and finally a self-destructive fall from grace. The Internet is a trap and it takes a very strong will not to fall into the trap. Even with the strongest of wills, writing anything online in our modern age just opens up oneself to the vicissitudes and whims of more malignant online personalities.
Just stay away. Stay offline as much as possible. Go outside and look at some trees.
MF: Much of the first half of the book consists of stories featuring female protagonists, which you jokingly call “Bad Things That Can Happen to Women.” Writing convincing female characters as a male (and vice versa) is always a tall order due to the fact that it’s difficult to put yourself into the shoes of the opposite sex, but I believe you pulled it off exceptionally well. What advice and recommendations would you have for writers struggling to create believable opposite-sex characters?
MM: Short answer: To quote Jack Nicholson’s character of Melvin Udall in the film As Good as it Gets when asked “How do you write women so well?,” his reply is, “I think of a man and I remove reason and accountability.”
Long answer: If you really wish to get inside the mind of a woman and how they think, read what they write. There are three types of writing that I believe fundamentally reveal the true nature of women: social media posts, young adult fiction, and—most importantly—erotica. Social media posts show how women which to present themselves to the world and also reveal a much darker side when the veil slips and respectable social media posting descends into hysteria and drama. Secondly, young adult fiction—a scene now entirely dominated by childless women—displays their hopes and fears. Finally, female-penned erotica is the deep-dive into the dark side of the female psyche. Do you know how many women fantasize about rape? The voices of women surround us constantly in today’s society. The authoritative voice of the university, of the corporation, of the Western government is a female voice. You just have to listen and take notes.
MF: China forms the backdrop of several of the stories in the second half of the book, such as “Dumplings” and “Leftover Women.” It—as well as Asia in general—is a region of the world you’re well acquainted with. What do you find appealing about China as a story setting?
MM: China is a fascinating canvas upon which to paint a story for several reasons. Firstly, the majority of Westerners don’t really know very much about the real workings of the country, so it becomes a backdrop where anything is possible. A dystopian hellscape or a utopian future could both be set in China and people would find it believable according to their own prejudices. When setting stories closer to home, the reader will already have their preconceived opinions on what is possible or relevant, but when the setting is moved to a faraway and strange land, then almost anything can seem believable. In some ways, China genuinely is like this and is a country where impossible events happen every day. Look at the recent quarantining in Shanghai where tens of millions were locked into their homes and anybody suspected of catching COVID was herded into a camp. This just wouldn’t be possible to such an extent in America. Ironically, the reverse holds equally true. The trajectory of the United States and its current ruling ideology seem utterly insane to the average Asian and thus completely illogical and incomprehensible.
MF: Finally, do you have any future books or other projects on the horizon? Given that you are no longer present on Twitter, are you planning to make a comeback on the Internet in some other form?
MM: I am delighted to no longer have an Internet presence and I intend to keep it that way. As for future projects, I am considering the possibility of a future book which could act as a compilation of the many Twitter threads and essays that I composed during my time online. The world needs to know about the danger of Swedish washing machines, Funko Pop bobbleheads, the proliferation of the Goatse meme into real life, and bookshelves arranged by colour. Perhaps one day I will find time to edit all of those essays and threads into a readable collection. If I do, I will be in touch.