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A glimpse into Alejandro Jodorowsky's weird and fertile mind

At the LA Review of Books, Daniel Kalder interviews the inimitable Alejandro Jodorowsky. At 87 years old, the filmmaker, poet, novelist, actor, theater director, and all around mad genius is still as active as ever, with a new book called Albina and the Dog-Men, which the publisher describes as a “mystical folktale, road novel, horror story, and social parable.” In the interview, Jodorowsky talks about, among other things, his writing process and the purpose of art as he sees it. Here’s an excerpt:

Daniel Kalder: In El Topo, the cowboy begins the film as a gunslinger in black with a thick black beard. But in the end, he’s completely different, he’s wearing rags, he’s bald, he’s like a beggar. In everything you do, characters undergo radical change.

Alejandro Jodorowsky: I told you that the first little book I read was Shakespeare for Children. And there was Hamlet in it. And when I was reading, Hamlet was doubting. He never changes. I was so angry with Hamlet! Why doesn’t he change? Why doesn’t he solve his problem? I suffered a lot with that story; I suffered a lot that he never changed. And then I started to think that art exists to show you that life is changing all the time, that it’s continuously changing, that everything is changing. And characters need to change.

Eastern religions say: “Life is an illusion.” Now if life is an illusion, I will live the most beautiful illusion. I will suffer a beautiful illusion. Why suffer an ugly illusion, a terrible illusion? I started to make art, all the time thinking of healing the person who reads me, to give to that person an image of what she really is …

DK: Your work contains thousands of ideas, or at least hundreds of ideas. On every page, there’s a new idea, and then another. How do you begin? Do you have one image and then you start improvising from there, or do you have a grand plan in your mind?

AJ: When I need to write something, I am tired. For one day, two days, I am asking for what to do. And after a moment with a lot of tension: Whoosh! It comes. I don’t know how, I am not responsible for it, I receive these things. Because between consciousness and your unconscious, there is a world. You need to open that world. When you do, it’s like a river. Everything comes to you.

In The Incal, or in another of my comics, The Metabarons, I placed an impossible solution at the end of each chapter and then I waited. What is the solution to this problem? I didn’t know it myself. For example, in The Metabarons, the powerful warrior Othon needs to have children, but he lost his testicles in a fight with a bull. And he will have children because the oracle said he will have a son. How will he have a son?

But I found a way to do it, no? A woman comes who is a magician, and with a drop of his blood she makes sperm and he has a child. And in The Incal, I have impossible situations all the time.

DK: So you like to create impossible obstacles for your heroes to overcome?

AJ: Yes. I am not a worker, I do that for my pleasure … but in reality, I do it because from when I was a child, the only thing I love is art. I went to the university to study psychology and philosophy, but at that moment I had two ways in front of me. I could follow the way of intelligence or I could follow the way of imagination. I preferred to go by the way of imagination, to develop my creativity. I did exercises to develop my imagination.