Phumlani Pikoli on self-publishing, multi-media narratives, and ‘The Fatuous State of Severity’

Phumlani Pikoli is the author of The Fatuous State of Severity, a recently published collection of short stories featuring artwork by Fuzzy Slippers, Nolan Dennis, Skubalisto, Pola Maneli and Nas Hoosen.

Phumlani explains how writing to himself as an expressive method to come to terms with personal trauma has inspired the novel which offers an insight into post-apartheid suburban social dynamics, delving deep into the author’s own experiences.

In our interview with the author below, Phumlani explores the inspiration behind his debut novel, the advantages of deciding to self-publish, and the freedom found in learning to take yourself less seriously.


Tell us the story behind the story. What sparked the idea for your anthology, The Fatuous State of Severity

It was actually the crushing realisation that there was no point to taking life so seriously and I was hella corny as fuck for thinking my online persona meant anything really. I was in a psych clinic at the time and instead of following the route of just journaling my experiences and reflections, I decided to think of the most mundane situations and try make them as ridiculous as possible. I also had Nolan Dennis telling me to write for him from the other side of the world at the time. So it was kinda like I was writing to keep him company as well.


You collaborated with Sindi-Leigh Mcbride and a host of other creatives. How did this come about and what was the process like? 

I know most of the people who collaborated on the project rather well, in varying degrees of years spent together. So when I was voice-noting Nolan the stories on Whatsapp and I started feeling better as the meds started working in the clinic, I started sending them to more people. People engaged and immediately responded to my readings and I fucked with whoever wanted to fuck with it.   

Was it always your intention to self-publish? What has your self-publishing journey been like?

It was always my intention to self publish. We’re living in the time of Chance The “Motherfucking” Rapper! What’s stopping any of us from taking control of our means of production? In an age of democratized information, it’s so fulfilling to DIY art, I feel like it’s supposed to be done yourself anyway. Or maybe I should be asking for acceptance into the elitist circle-jerks of centralized notions of artistic merit, maybe I’ll stand a better chance of being canonized. 

Fuck it, I’m enjoying brick laying for now. Maybe I’ll sell out in a month for the right price.

In your film, a real time interpretation of your book, close friends narrate your short stories to camera. What, in your opinion, is the pertinence of a written story spilling over into the realms of video and audio?

The pertinence of the written spilling over in video and audio is like anything else really. Like, how often do we cut off our senses to focus on one? Not too often, I think. So this project grew into a multi-sensory ting from the jump. Quite often we forget that words are often visual stimuli. For instance: I had choc chip pancakes with ice-cream and maple tasting syrup with a side serving of bacon for breakfast this morning. Now I’m not sure about you, but I regarded the tastes of each of those breakfast ingredients and was immediately transported to a seat at the table, where I took in the aroma and visual pleasure of my meal this morning. I like the idea of things working in tandem as influences on each other, and in an age where digital and analogue are learning to co-exist, I’d be bored making single focused shit. 

What is the message that you would like readers to take away from your book?

For me this has always been a generational ode, reminding ourselves that we can achieve what we want and it’s so much doper to be more collaborative than competitive. To quote Al Gore in 30 Rock “There’s an African proverb that I just made up. It says: ‘If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.'” 

What are you currently working on? 

Well I’m putting together another anthology with various writers at the moment, which I think is going to be super fucking cool. I’m working on launching a Digital production Company and Publishing house and have a novel to drop this year. I’m hoping more films will fall on my shoulders too. So… Yeah…

Grab a copy of The Fatuous State of Severity here and check out the visual components, produced by Tseliso Monaheng and Phumlani Pikoli, over here 

Header image by Tseliso Monaheng

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