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Tag: Remainder

In Conversation with Tom McCarthy Part Five

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 12, 2007

In the final part of my conversation with Tom McCarthy, we talk about the future. (Read the previous installment here).

WARNING!: This conversation contains adults themes and references to German literary Professors!

Part Five

DW: So, can you tell me about your new novel 'C'?

TM: It's advancing slowly, is the main thing I can tell you - not least because I find myself constantly doing interviews about Remainder and Men in Space (which don't get me wrong, I love doing, especially with you Dan). I'm about a third of the way into the first draft. In a word, it's a novel about mourning. In more words, it's a novel about the relationship between mourning, communication technologies and family structures. It's set around the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries, when radio was emerging and acquiring a quasi-mystical dimension: whereas spiritualists, for example, used to wait for their departed relatives to communicate with them by rapping on tables, now they'd trawl through the white noise, scanning the aether for hidden signals. I've been reading this brilliant book by a professor named Laurence Rickels called Aberrations of Mourning: Writing on German Crypts. He says that in this period, technology itself becomes the crypt in which the dead are mourned - and, further, that German literature in particular is one big death cult. I love that. If Remainder was, as 3:AM Magazine claimed, essentially a French novel written in English, C will be my German one.

DW: Any final thoughts?

TM: Yes: big love to all my friends at Raincoast - and in Toronto, Canada and www-land.

DW: Thanks Tom. I hope you'll be back in Canada soon!

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

Click here for Part Three

Click here for Part Four

In Conversation with Tom McCarthy Part Four

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction + Podcasts / October 11, 2007

Today is the fourth installment of my conversation with British novelist Tom McCarthy. When we met in Toronto last year, we talked a lot about music and movies between events, and I was keen to pick up where we left off when we corresponded by email...

(Read the previous installment here)

WARNING!: This conversation contains adult themes and references to avant-garde New York rock bands!


Part Four

DW: The music of The Velvet Underground features in MEN IN SPACE, and I know we share a love of My Bloody Valentine. How does music influence your work?

TM: Funnily enough (and without giving away too much of the book's ending), the last word in Men in Space is 'soon', the title of the final song on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. It's not an accident. I'm of a generation that grew up on music, and it's shaped our whole sensibility in a really intimate way. Also, formally and thematically the best musicians are way ahead of the game: think of techniques like sampling, or the rapid-fire subcultural allusiveness of, say, Sonic Youth. It's hard to say exactly how music's influenced my work, but it's surely as inextricable from my life and work as for most people of my age.

DW: Who are listening to at the moment?

TM: Just now, Nirvana.

DW: REMAINDER - a book about repetition - was published in 2005, 2006 and again in 2007. Do you ever feel like life is imitating art?

TM: When someone hijacks an aeroplane and flies it in a figure-of-eight until it runs out of fuel, then I'll know that Remainder's found the one Quixotic reader every book potentially has, its Mark Chapman.

DW: After the struggle to get REMAINDER published, how did it feel to see your debut novel on the cover story of the New York Times Book Review?

TM: It felt nice.

DW: When you were visiting Toronto last year for the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) you met with Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali. He's directing the film version of J. G. Ballard's HIGH-RISE, which has similarities with REMAINDER. Don't you live in a 60's high-rise? After reading Ballard, I think I would find using the lift either incredibly stimulating or completely debilitating!

TM: It was great meeting Vincenzo, and I can't wait to see his take on Ballard. I do live in a 60s high-rise. It's fantastic. Bizarrely (since you're talking of movies and directors), the producer who's putting together the film adaptation of Remainder came to visit me here recently - and got stuck in the lift on his way down. He got freed eventually and the project's still on. I should have bargained for a bigger percentage before phoning the fire brigade.

DW: Are you interested in film as medium? The protagonist in REMAINDER actively avoids it, and yet it seems tailor made for you...

TM: Although the hero of Remainder doesn't allow cameras at his re-enactments (effectively turning them into film sets without a film), he's obsessed with DeNiro in Mean Streets, and with heroes in movies generally. Whereas the rest of us are continually comparing ourselves to characters in movies and falling short, he reasons, characters in movies aren't comparing themselves and their actions to anyone or anything: they're 'just being' - and are therefore more authentic. His logic's skewed, but I'd say it's shared by virtually everyone who's ever seen a movie.

DW: What are your favourite movies?

Orphée by Jean Cocteau: best film ever made, all about transmission, death, love, poetry and time. The INS radio project was a direct appropriation of the scenes in that film where the dead poet C�geste sends radio messages on illicit frequencies to Orph�e, who copies and repeats them. I like Tarkovsky's work, and was thinking of it when I wrote Remainder: all the slowness, the absorption in surface and texture. Another film I hadn't seen then but have since and think is brilliant is Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, in which a Peruvian townsfolk continually 'film' movies with wicker cameras and sound-booms after they've seen an American movie crew do it for real, making stylised events repeat ad infinitum. Lynch's latest film Inland Empire is stunning too: completely literary, labyrinthine, regressive. It's the best piece of art in any medium I've come across for years.

Click here for the Next Installment

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

Click here for Part Three

Photo credit: David Boulogne

In Conversation with Tom McCarthy Part Three

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 10, 2007

Here, in the third installment with my conversation with Tom McCarthy, we talk about art and Tom's work with the semi-fictional avant-garde network the International Necronautical Society.

(Read the previous installment here)



WARNING: This conversation contains adult themes and references to modern art!

Part Three

DW: You frequently explore and imitate the Kafkaesque nature of the Cold War (show trials, propaganda, arcane secrecy, sound recordings, radio broadcasts etc) in your work. On top of this, your interpretation of Soviet bureaucracy/totalitarianism is almost Dadaist. Do you see yourself in that tradition as artist and writer?

With the work I've done in a fine-art rather than literary field, I've definitely plugged into those histories. My semi-fake organisation the International Necronautical Society, or INS, deliberately uses the forms and procedures both of early twentieth century avant-gardes such as Dadaism, Futurism and Surrealism - manifestos, proclamations and denunciations - and of totalitarian political processes. So when we held a series of INS 'Hearings' in a London art gallery in front of the press and public, interrogating prominent contemporary artists and writers about their work, we looked at photos of the Stalinist show-trials and got a top theatre set designer, Laura Hopkins, to copy and reproduce the layout of the rooms: where the microphones are, where the press sits and so on. Later we broadcast a continuous stream of coded radio messages from the Institute of Contemporary Art, sending it around London by FM and over the web for rebroadcast by collaborating radio stations throughout the world, like some Cold War propaganda. What's really interesting when you look into these histories is how the artistic and political realms mirror one another: after all, both come out of a period in which the world was being remade by man, moulded by technology, ideology and aesthetics, like an art piece. The Russian Revolution is amazing in that artists were actively involved in shaping public life during and after it - for a moment at least, before they were packed off to labour camps by Stalin.

DW: Thinking of the sound-recording aspect of both your INS work and MEN IN SPACE, have you seen the movie The Conversation?

I have now, but when I wrote the first draft of Men in Space I hadn't. I'd seen an old Czech movie, made in the hiatus after '68 and quickly banned, called Ucho or 'Ear', all about audio surveillance, planting bugs in people's flats. By the time I came to redraft Men in Space I had seen The Conversation, and I'm sure it had an influence. It's a piece of genius: the audio surveillance expert lost in the labyrinth of his own phantasms and of a social and moral (or amoral) order too big for him to navigate; the death of God as represented by his hollowing out of his statue of Mary as he searches for bugs in it--My police agent in Men in Space, who starts out boasting that he can always get a strong signal from his bugs, then ends up losing the signal, all signals, and becomes a symbol of humanity abandoned by the message, by totality, by God: he has a lot in common with Coppola's hero - whose surname, by the way, is Caul: watch that space...

DW: Parts of MEN IN SPACE reminded me of Andy Warhol's 'Death and Disaster' series (death, repetition, etc). Is Warhol an influence on your work?

Absolutely. I think he's probably the best visual artist of all time. On top of that, his roots are Slovakian - or more precisely Carpathian-Ruthenian (the subject of a very funny documentary I'd love to see again, about Ruthenia's bid for independence with Warhol as their national symbol: I never quite worked out if it was a parody or not) - and after the Velvet Revolution he was very big in Prague. All the Czech artists imitated him without really working out why or what it was they were trying to do. There was even this one big graffiti portrait of him that appeared on a wall opposite a flat I was sleeping in one night, which became a kind of shrine.

DW: What other artists interest you?

Loads. I like Bruce Nauman, Anselm Kiefer, Josef Beuys, Francis Bacon - and then some of my contemporaries in London are doing amazing stuff: Rod Dickinson with his re-enactments of traumatic events like the Jonestown Massacre and Milgram Experiment; Mark Aerial Waller with his strange, cryptic films about nuclear contamination and secret technological undergrounds; Margarita Gluzberg with her warped shopping-and-slashing drawings. The creative dialogue in the UK seems to be taking place in the artworld at the moment: whereas mainstream publishing has purged itself of almost all high-literary content, these people I just mentioned are thinking seriously about literature in their work. Nauman too of course, with the enormous evidence of Beckett's writing in his images and actions...

pornography/forest (1 of 5) by Eva Stenram

DW: What is hanging on your living room wall?

I've got a large photo by Rut Blees Luxemburg called Orpheus's Nachtspaziergang or 'The Night Wandering of Orpheus'. It shows a public toilet bathed in blue light, and it was taken with a twenty-minute exposure, which means that there are actually people in it who passed in front of the camera but whom you don't see. In the same vein, I've got an image by my girlfriend Eva Stenram (who was a pupil of Luxemburg) from her 'Pornography' series, in which she's downloaded hardcore porn from the internet then digitally removed the bodies, so you just get an 'event-space' with no event in it - in this case, a quilt in a forest clearing. I've got an Alex Hamilton print in which he's redone the front page of a German newspaper as a series of illegible ciphers, and a drawing by Jim Harris in which two figures sit on a carpet shunting an empty canoe between them. Oh, and a postcard of Yves Klein leaping into the void, that a friend's altered to put his own face in the background (we'd had an argument about whether Klein actually leaped or faked the whole image).

Click here for the Next Installment

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

Photo: Tom McCarthy with John Calder

In Conversation with Tom McCarthy Part Two

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 09, 2007

Continuing my chat with British author Tom McCarthy (click here for Part One), the conversation turned to recurrent themes in Tom's work...

WARNING: The conversation contains adult themes and references to post-modernism and at least one Belgian deconstructionist!

Part Two

DW: Disintegration and death predominate in MEN IN SPACE, and they're central in your other work. What attracts you to these themes?

TM: They're core themes for literature. This is true from literature's 'highest' form, tragedy, to its 'lowest', comedy - which, as everyone who's best thought it through points out (I'm thinking of Baudelaire in The Essence of Laughter or [Paul] de Man in The Rhetoric of Temporality), is to do with breaking and falling, the end-point of all gravity being the grave. Men in Space is a tragi-comedy, and the comedy part of it is very much in the Baudelaire-de Man vein: its characters are held in gravitational force-fields, orbiting around death.

DW: Despite all the disintegration and death, there is a certain optimism in your novels too. They're not bleak. There's not a lot of despair. Do you see creative freedom, opportunity, possibility or even hope in disintegration?

TM: To bowdlerise Yeats: when things fall apart, some revelation is at hand. When the world shatters and falls away, transcendence becomes a possibility. To a large extent, Men in Space is an allegory of failed transcendence, as is Remainder: this is what the two books really have in common deep down. Transcendence fails - but some radical transformation takes place. I wouldn't call my disposition in them 'optimistic', and, to borrow a great line from Lacan, I never speak of freedom - but in both books disintegration induces dynamic and exhilarating states, sends people somewhere extreme: to the limits of the self, the world, the whole symbolic order. That's where literature should take you, its proper territory.

DW: Repetition, authenticity and absurdity are recurrent themes in your previous work, and they appear again in MEN IN SPACE. All these themes - death, disintegration, repetition, authenticity, the absurd - are characteristic of 20th century Modernism. Do you feel a particular affinity with the Modernist 'project'?

TM: My god yes. That's where we're at - or at least the legacy we have to deal with. Modernism (which in reality isn't a single project but rather a whole wave of interlinked events - wave upon wave, a giant tsunami) is as seminal an event as the Renaissance was, and the shock-waves of something that big take centuries to play themselves out. In the 'geological' time of the arts, Finnegans Wake happened a few seconds ago: we've hardly even realised that it's happened, let alone set up a coordinated response. The really good artists have realised and are responding: look at David Lynch's films, or Alain Robbe-Grillet's novels - but most of the players in the mainstream cultural industries are trying to pretend it didn't happen, or doesn't matter; and they'll be washed away, forgotten, as a result. And then the half-ass response, that we've moved on into 'post-modernism', is just ignorant, a misuse of the term: as the man who put the word into circulation, Jean-Francois Lyotard, points out: 'postmodernism' isn't some thing that comes after Modernism. Rather, it's 'an attitude of incredulity towards grand narratives': that is, the tendency within the modern towards rupture and fragmentation.

Click here for the Next Installment

Click here for Part One

Photo: Tom McCarthy with John Calder

In Conversation with Tom McCarthy Part One

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 08, 2007

After humble beginnings at French art-house publisher Metronome Press, Tom McCarthy's debut novel REMAINDER hit the mainstream when it was republished Alma Books last year. Rapidly attaining the status of modern classic, it garnered remarkable, at times breathless, reviews from The Toronto Star, The Winnipeg Free Press, The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail and The New York Times.

Something of a departure from the clinical detachment of REMAINDER, Tom's new novel MEN IN SPACE, which arrives in stores this month, is a looser and, in some ways, more humane novel. Already critically acclaimed, it has confirmed Tom's position as "one of the brightest new prospects in British fiction" (The Independent).

Tom and I caught up over email during the summer and discussed his new book, the success of REMAINDER, his influences and the cultural significance of My Bloody Valentine.

Taking my lead from Mark Thwaite at Ready Steady Book, the conversation will be posted in five parts through the course of the week.

WARNING: The conversation contains adult themes and discusses modern literature!

Part One

Dan Wagstaff: Could you tell me about your new novel MEN IN SPACE?

Tom McCarthy: The publisher's blurb sums it up pretty well: "Set in a Central Europe rapidly fragmenting after the fall of Communism, Men in Space follows a cast of dissolute Bohemians, political refugees, a football referee, a disorientated police agent and a stranded astronaut as they chase a stolen icon painting from Sofia to Prague and onwards. The icon's melancholy orbit is reflected in the various characters' ellipses and near misses as they career vertiginously through all kinds of space: physical, political, emotional and metaphysical. What emerges is a vision of humanity adrift in history, and a world in a state of disintegration." I couldn't put it any better myself.

DW: Where did the title come from?

TM: When the Soviet Union disintegrated, there was this Soviet cosmonaut up on a two-month mission, and none of the independent states wanted to take responsibility for bringing him back down. The Russians said it was the Ukranians' problem, the Ukranians the Azerbaijanis', and so on. So this poor guy had to stay up there indefinitely, stranded. He could look down on the landmass he'd left, but it wasn't the same country anymore. He's only a leitmotif in my book, something going on in the background while the other stories take place - but all of the characters are like him in some way or another: alienated, stranded, watching a fragmenting world through a screen. The saint in the stolen icon painting is also floating in the sky in a Plexiglass-like halo while the landscape below him is dismantled: another man in space. In a way, he's the main character, even though, again, he isn't a character properly speaking; but he embodies all the other characters' quandaries. There are women in the novel as well as men by the way, but 'People in Space' would have been a rubbish title.

DW: The novel is set in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution. Was the book based on your personal experiences?

TM: Yes. I lived in Prague from '91 to '93. It was an amazing time. A writer, Vaclav Havel, had come to power and put all his friends in parliament. You'd go to some gig and the drummer with five earrings and a spliff in his mouth was the minister for culture or whatever. I fell in with all these artists who were surfing on the wave of post-revolutionary euphoria - before the whole thing wiped out. The city was also a hub for young international Bohemians, because it was extraordinarily cheap and had a certain mystique about it, a real buzz. All these excited articles in American magazines were billing it as 'The Paris of the Nineties', which brought thousands upon thousands of sub-sub-Hemingways bearing down on the place...

DW: The subsequent break-up of Czechoslovakia is a key backdrop to the novel too. What is it that interests you thematically about this?

TM: It's the fragmentation: things falling apart, the old order collapsing. It's always a dynamic situation, whatever period of history it happens in. There's a sense of enormous opportunity, and also of enormous disappointment when this opportunity isn't seized. Heinrich B�ll finds a similar situation in post-war, post-partition Germany in And Never Said a Word: the chance to create a new, autonomous order that will uplift a generation flickering into view like something delicate and miraculous - and then being snuffed out, with enormous human consequences.

DW: The events in the book are seen through the eyes of various different people living in Prague, and yet MEN IN SPACE is more intimate than the first-person narrative of REMAINDER. Why do think this is?

TM: It's a much more human book, most definitely. Not more humanistic, but more human. As a critic from the London Review of Books pointed out, the characters in Remainder become less and less human as the novel progresses, tend more and more towards the status of automata, until they're just tokens to be shuffled around by the psychotic narrator, figments of his warped subjectivity. In Men in Space each character has his or her own subjectivity - but those subjectivities don't connect properly. So ultimately it's not more intimate: just more intimately disconnected.

Part Two, tomorrow...

Photo credit: Alisa Conan

Tom McCarthy Interview (Part 3)

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 26, 2006

In the final part of the interview, author Tom McCarthy (Remainder and Tintin and the Secret of Literature) talks about the publication of his debut novel Remainder and the International Necronautical Society.

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

Raincoast Blog: Remainder has had an interesting route to publication. How did you end up at Metronome Press and how did Alma Books come into the picture?

Tom McCarthy: I finished Remainder in 2001, but the conglomerates wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole. To be fair, some editors pushed quite hard, but couldn't get it past their marketing departments, acquisition boards, whatever they call the ones who actually call the shots. So I involved myself more with art projects for a while - art projects which were actually literary projects in disguise. The art world is very literate. Virtually no one I met in publishing in the UK had actually read much literature beyond contemporary middle-market stuff, but artists, curators, critics and so on are super-literate. Some of them were even doing work based on the writings of Beckett, Huysmans, Robbe-Grillet and so on. So I found a kind of refuge in that arena. And it was in that arena that I met Clementine Deliss, who set up Metronome Press with Thomas Boutoux. They're both curators and critics, and they wanted to do a project around the legendary Olympia Press, which operated out of Paris in the 50s and 60s and published (in English) people who the conglomerates also wouldn't touch with a barge-pole: Beckett, Burroughs, Trocchi, Nabokov, people like that. Olympia was very tied in with visual art, and with soft porn, and Metronome Press wanted to emulate that - re-enact it, you could say. So in late 2005 they published my book and three others, plus ‘Teasers' that had erotic imagery from contemporary artists alongside excerpts from the books. They were determined that this was an art project, not a publishing one. So when Remainder was getting big press reviews and the UK chain stores were asking for it, they still only distributed it in art galleries and institutions. Then Alma came into the picture and produced a mass-market edition in 2006.

RB: Are you glad Remainder wasn't taken up by a large publisher in the UK, or do you just think about the millions that you could've made?

TM: Funnily enough, as I was signing up to Alma after the good reviews and the general buzz, one of the biggest of the bigs, who'd rejected it on two separate occasions before, came running in trying to gazump them, offering my agent I don't know how much. We were like: ‘It's the same book now as it was then. F*** you.' You've got to work with people who actually support what you want to do, or it'll all go wrong a year or two down the line. I've signed with Vintage in the US, but that was because they came across it, tracked down Metronome (which wasn't easy) and took it on their own initiative. The Editor-in-Chief, Marty Asher, said to me: ‘I don't know if one hundred or one hundred thousand people will like it as much as I do, and I don't care. It's what I want to publish.' And he can: he's got the power. He's like a fairy godmother. So's Clementine Deliss. And Alma. I wonder how many other serious novels there are out there that haven't found fairy godmothers yet. I'm lucky. Three years is nothing.

RB: What are you working on now?

TM: I'm editing the manuscript I wrote before Remainder, Men in Space, which Alma will bring out next spring. It's a novel about disintegration set in Prague during the break-up of the former Eastern Bloc. And I'm working on a new novel called C, about technology and mourning.

RB: I came to your artwork relatively late. Could you explain the International Necronautical Society to me?

TM: The INS is a construct, a cultural fiction that gets played out in both virtual and real spaces. It's got the bureaucracy of a Kafka novel (committees, sub-committees, sub-sub-committees), the political austerity of Stalinist governmental bodies (denouncing enemies and former members, issuing proclamations and so on), the cultural bombast of early twentieth century avant-gardes (it was launched with a manifesto very much modeled on the Futurist one of 1909), and the subversive viral energies of Burroughs and Debord (we infiltrated the BBC website a few years ago, inserting INS propaganda in its source code which only a network of a few hundred people could access). The INS is most visible when we hold Hearings, interrogating other artists and writers in front of press and public, publish reports or let public spaces such as the Institute of Contemporary Art in London host our FM broadcasting units; but it's operative all the time, everywhere. We are all necronauts - always, already.

RB: I get asked this all the time by people in the book industry, so I am going to ask you - were you tempting fate by calling the book ‘Remainder'?

TM: Remainder is the right title. It's about aftermaths, residues, what's left when everything else has been said, shown, repeated, taken away. In terms of the book industry it's the right title too: it was left behind, but it's still there.


Reviews of Remainder:
Ready Steady Book

Existence Machine

Short Term Memory Loss

The Midnight Bell

Other interviews with Tom McCarthy:
3AM Magazine

Ready Steady Blog

The Torontoist

Tom McCarthy will be appearing at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto on October 27th and 28th, 2006.

Tom McCarthy Interview (Part 2)

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 25, 2006

In the second part of the interview (click here for Part 1), author Tom McCarthy (Remainder and Tintin and the Secret of Literature) discusses ideas of authenticity, technology and the work of J G Ballard

Raincoast Blog: Authenticity is a recurrent theme in Remainder and yet a lot of contemporary culture strives to be arch, or ironic. As an artist/author, is authenticity something important to you in your own work? What makes something authentic? Is authenticity possible through repetition? Are irony and authenticity mutually exclusive?

Tom McCarthy: These are complex questions, and to even begin grappling with them we'd have to go back to Plato, the notion of the simulacrum, and so on. Art's whole currency and mode is inauthenticity, and yet it strives to be ‘truer' than, say, propaganda, science, journalism - in fact, than all other mediums. Paul de Man wrote a brilliant essay on irony and inauthenticity called ‘The Rhetoric of Temporality'. I hadn't read it when I wrote Remainder but it could be describing the book. He says that to recognise your own inauthenticity doesn't mean you become authentic: you just repeat inauthenticity at more and more self-conscious levels, and that double, triple, quadruple language is called irony. Having said that, there's ‘sincere' irony and pat, smug irony, like you get in the worst one-liner, get-it-got-it kind of art. In Remainder I wanted to deal with the whole question of inauthenticity authentically, if that makes any sense.

RB: Remainder starts with the narrator describing being knocked unconscious by an unexplained lump of technological hardware, and in his subsequent quest for authenticity he has an aversion to using technology during his re-enactments. Do you have reservations about technology? (I appreciate it's kind of ridiculous to be asking you this on email!)

TM: I'm not sure he's averse to technology. He doesn't want any cameras present during his re-enactments, but that's largely because that would collapse the whole book into a Baudrillard-style meditation on media and the image, which I really didn't want. He invests the huge sum of money which he gets as compensation for the accident in technology stocks. I'm fascinated by technology, or by the theme, at least. Techne means showing, revealing, and technology is the gauze through which the world reveals itself to us - and behind which it retreats. It's the veil.

RB: Do you own a mobile phone?

TM: My god, yes. I'd rather leave home naked than without my phone.

RB: What will the future look like?

TM: Who on earth knows? I don't even know what the present looks like! [J G]Ballard says we've collapsed the future into the present and we're surrounded by fictions and fantasies from which we can pick at will. He says that the writer's job is to invent the reality. I like that, that's very good.

RB: It's interesting that Remainder has been compared to J G Ballard, the author of Crash. Ballard seems to have this fascination with technology, and both Crash and Remainder have this clinical air of unease.

TM: Crash was a big influence. It's more the repetition side of things than the technology. Ballard's hero Vaughan re-enacts car crashes of the rich and famous. He's also obsessed with becoming authentic, as is Ballard-the-character-in-the-book. He keeps saying things like ‘the car crash was the first real thing that had happened to me'. The heroes of both Crash and Remainder use re-enactment and stylised violence as a portal towards the real - and fail spectacularly, excessively, luxuriously.

RB: Are you a fan of Ballard?

TM: Ballard is fascinating because he's a great writer without even being a good one. I don't mean this negatively: I'm a huge fan. But he doesn't care about polished prose (compare his sentences to Nabokov or Updike and they look like pulp) or depth of character. Having said that, Crash has an intense lyricism that comes from its almost incantatory, modulated repetition of technological and sociological terms, and Vaughan is a much truer presence for me than, say, some boring ‘rounded' figure out of Jane Austen. That's the great thing about Ballard: he's got a vision, he's a visionary, that makes him great, and the niceties he doesn't bother with. He knows exactly where he stands in this respect. I talked to him once and told him my theory that Crash was a re-write of Don Quixote, whose hero also re-enacts stylised violent moments on the public highways in a bid for ‘authenticity', and also fails fabulously - and he answered: ‘Your theory is great, but I've never read Don Quixote. I don't really read proper books, I'm very low-brow.' Genius.

RB: Who are your literary inspirations?

TM: I'm very un-Ballard in this respect. I went through a phase of worshipping Joyce, and read Ulysses and Finnegans Wake inside out. And before that, Conrad: I'd copy out whole passages from Heart of Darkness. Burroughs, Pynchon, Melville, Faulkner - The Sound and the Fury is the best book ever written in my opinion. I read lots, and try to work out how they do it. If you wanted to be really good at football you'd watch videos of Pele and Zidane and try to emulate their moves, then take them somewhere else. I like the French a lot: Genet, Blanchot, Bataille, Ponge. I like Shakespeare, and the Greeks. I'm really traditional I'm afraid. But then I've just published a book about how brilliant the Tintin books are from a literary viewpoint, so maybe I'm not all canonical!

The final part of the interview will appear tomorrow

Read Part 3

Tom McCarthy will be appearing at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto on October 27th and 28th, 2006.

Tom McCarthy Interview (Part 1)

by Dan
Author Q & A + Fiction / October 24, 2006

In Remainder, the extraordinary debut novel by author Tom McCarthy, the nameless victim of an unexplained accident uses compensation money to painstakingly reconstruct and re-enact his memories of a London apartment building. A darkly comic and unpredictable exploration of memory and identity, it was originally published by underground French publisher Metronome Press, and is now available to a wider readership courtesy of Alma Books.

Tom McCarthy's non-fiction book Tintin and the Secret of Literature is published by Granta Books (also available from Raincoast), and Remainder will be published in North America by Vintage in 2007. Tom is also the General Secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a semi-fictitious avant-garde network. He was born in 1969, and lives in London, England.

Raincoast Blog: Remainder has several incidental moments that appear significant but are ultimately unexplained. Do you know exactly what happens?

Tom McCarthy: If you mean do I know what exactly the ‘accident' consisted of, no. It's not Memento: it's not important what the accident is, simply that it happened, that we're in its aftermath. If you want to be literal about it, some bits of a satellite or plane falling on the hero's head wouldn't be a bad guess; if you want to be allegorical, you might think more along the lines that the ‘accident' is history, time, being thrown into the world in the first place. All the other loose ends have their place and function at one level or another - short councillors, extra cups of coffee, even cordite!

RB: Is ambiguity a virtue?

TM: For sure. If you were simply communicating a message you were certain about it wouldn't be any good as literature.