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The Big Other Interview #87: William Gillespie (Oh what a tangled webwork we weave!)

11/11/10 is not only Armistice Day/Veterans Day, but the day the world-as-we-know-it ends—one year before it happens—in William Gillespie’s stunning new novel Keyhole Factory.

The novel’s intersecting narrative structure draws from the “webwork” plot composition method of all-but forgotten mid-twentieth century writer Harry Stephen Keeler, and is perhaps the most fully realized postmodern version of the method.

A few of the novel’s 22 sections, or themes contained therein:

“The Bad Poet”—a fierce academic satire of overstuffed conferences keyed into the argument between earnestly literary poetry (good poetry) and a “mechanical approach to the art” (bad poetry).

“Morpheus Biblionaut”—a poet astronaut speeding to Alpha Centauri and back, also offered on the delightful CD-ROM companion);

A perhaps Monsanto-sponsored super-virus that liquefies like something out of Naked Lunch: the Pandora virus.

“Keep the Change”–a six-page narrative splits into an additional column on each succeeding page, tracing six initial victims of Pandora.

Crazed test monkeys escaping from their cages.

A convict who remembers the future and so becomes a test subject for the virus.

An inoculated population of scientists and government elites who spend the post-apocalypse inside a Blade Runner-like pyramid city.

A society of free farms operating on near-Luddite socialist models, terrorized by a distraught killer from the inoculated elite, exiled from the pyramid, who makes “art” through his elaborate staged murders of the commune dwellers.

In short, this is the most exciting book I’ve read since Steve Tomasula’s VAS: An Opera in Flatland.

So forget Franz Ferdinand, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, and surrender—as Gillespie has, when we met in a sort-of-café the where sort-of-intellectuals might gather—to the trench warfare known as The Big Other Interview.


Davis: Let me show you, William, how to really make people think you’ve created an eschatological pathogen. It can’t be that invisible stuff offered in Keyhole Factory. Rather, you take this newt, for instance, pound it like so into a soft mass. Now, strain the innards through this cheesecloth, add sugar, and…enjoy!

William: What the fuck is this green shit? Oh yeah yeah that’s right. And you just mix it in. Ah. [sips tea] Well, if you consider the entire diversity of life on earth—what we call the ecosystem—as a single organism, then are human beings, and the destruction they cause, really part of the organism any more? Or are we a cancerous growth? Or an invading pathogen? Look at is this way: if you were the earth, would people make you feel like you had fleas? And this, is this fish? Pickled? I thought this stuff was all raw.

Davis: Oh no, that’s not pickled. It’s the local specialty—cut just so to imply the pickled state. They call it facsimile sushi. May not even be fish, really. Do you recall the cover of the Village Voice just after that Tuesday?  Twin towers replaced by a hand holding a Polaroid of the buildings. View from Brooklyn, I think.  Do you remember that cover?

William: I was afraid you’d ask that. So, remember September 11? [laughing] I do. I was online watching the news stories change their explanation of what was happening minute by minute. Imagine that during a crisis even more overwhelming and confusing, you could listen to all broadcast transmissions simultaneously: radio and television, military and police radios, emergency services, walkie-talkies, and even phone calls. We’re saturated all the time with this electromagnetic language we can’t hear. I wanted to pry open the confusion in a moment of total crisis. So the story “Election Day” is written like an orchestral score for radios. Oo. I like these. I was expecting tentacles with suckers.

Davis: That’s papier-mâché if it’s anything. That not even octopus, William, but just the a picture of an octopus I put on your plate while you were fumbling for whatever the fuck that is in your pocket. Hey, no smoking with 25-feet of me!  Have some respect.

William: [coughs] Man. I got a strong hit that time. Eyes watering. Wow. Sorry, what was the question? Well, take September 11 again (that’s when I started writing this book). Apparently a score of insane but incredibly well-organized hijackers armed with “box cutters,” trained in no-name Florida flight schools, managed to take control of, pilot, and navigate three jet planes into buildings, two of which subsequently neatly collapsed. This was far from obvious at the moment the events unfolded. I can remember conflicting new reports. There are documentaries that capture that confusion on the streets of New York. For Keyhole Factory, I imagined a trauma so global and shattering that there would never be that official narrative of what happened, just a lot of conflicting interpretations. I tried to create narrative form to represent that fragmentation.

Davis: Well, obla di obla da. Fragmentation, William, is not such a new idea in our post-pomo literary discursive subject position. What’s new here? Isn’t this the case of a book that knows the value of everything but the price of nothing?

William: No. This isn’t cynical; this is a happy fantasy. A deadly virus is the world’s best hope. I like to think that nature has planned that, and the last rainforest to be bulldozed will release such a microbe. Earth’s immune system.

Davis: Whoa, cowboy! I think we agree that any planet with this many choices for toothpaste and orange juice is far from perfect, but are you really suggesting that the virus is hope, and that we deserve to be eliminated from the system? Careful: this is an explosive question.

William: Is this one the firecracker? I was experimenting with what I called diegetic consistence:  the degree to which the text of a story could physically exist within the story universe. In other words, could one of the characters read the story? In the case of an epistolary novel, diegetic consistence is perfect, one. Those letters exist, with their exact wording, within the fictional universe bounded by the story. Same with a story written as a diary. Now, in the case of, say, the story in Keyhole Factory called “Bubbles” – circular paragraphs, each representing the dying thoughts of a character–diegetic consistence is zero: these words are accessible to only one character who dies before she can relate them.

Davis: Narratology show off! Talk to me once you’ve demonstrated intradiegetic homodiegtic (allodiegetic) narration while juggling a penguin and a breath mint. I think the waitress is trying to communicate with us via those semaphore flags.  Here, William, take these semaphore flags I keep in my backpack for cases such as these…

William: I know, I’ll try to flag her down. After Coover’s showy 1992 pronouncement of “the end of books,” the discussion of electronic literature has been dichotomous. People love to make sweeping pronouncements about technology and literature and the future. Ambulance chasers for the codex… Davis, what are you doing? Davis! [whispering] Put the gun away, man. I know the service sucks, but don’t go waving your piece around. Excuse me, miss. More soy sauce! Please! Chill, dude. Where was I? Yeah, e-book thugs take for granted that once Amazon or Apple finally wins the format war, readers will just line up with open wallets for whatever slop they’re ladling out. Why people read, what people read, or whether reading screens with hyperlinks affect comprehension, are not part of the discussion.

Spineless Books is interested in books with spines and electronic forms collaborate. Cybooks. That’s why Keyhole Factory includes a CD-ROM with an electronic translation of one of the stories. With a slightly different text. They stand alone, they stand together. More tea? What’s this pink stuff again?

Davis: That? The foam from my airborne plague virus dribbling from your mouth. I’ve enciphered the antidote into Keyhole Factory. Get it now before you die.

William Gillespie is the author of eight and five-sixths books of fiction and poetry, published under four names. He is co-host of the radio show Rock Geek F.M. (rockgeekchic.com), and publisher of the independent publishing house Spineless Books (spinelessbooks.com). Prominent collaborations include 2002: A Palindrome Story in 2002 Words, with Nick Montfort and illustrations by Shelley Jackson; and The Unknown, with Scott Rettberg and Dirk Stratton, a book and hypertext novel (co-winner of the trAce/Alt-X International Hypertext Competition, as judged by Robert Coover) (unknownhypertext.com). He holds an MFA in electronic writing from Brown University.

Keyhole Factory, by William Gillespie.

Revolving around an event that takes place on 11/11/11, interlocking, formally innovative stories plot the tragic trajectory of a world finally off the edge.
Cover art by Scott Westgard.
ISBN: 978-0-9801392-6-6.
6 by 9 inches.
410 pages.
Case laminate hardback.
Distributed by Ingram.

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