David Thomas talks about ‘The Book of Hieroglyphs’

Excerpts from an interview with David Thomas, talking about his new book ‘The Book of Hieroglyphs…

> The Book of Hieroglyphs –  having read it, it’s pretty impossible to summarise the book in brief. Can you?

David Thomas> It’s not my job to summarize or explain. That’s your job. You chose it. Get on with it. My job is to keep moving, to keep pushing. To take the things I learn and apply them at the edge of a new frontier. I hate words. That’s not hyperbole or a melodramatic stance. I hate words. So I’m gonna write a book. So I figure out how to write a book with as few words as possible. Two things I learned about writing. One was from Hemingway: brevity, violent brevity. The reader connects the dots. That’s their problem. The other was from Shakespeare: there are no dots. Whichever was that humpback king – Richard or Henry, can’t remember – who evidently didn’t actually have a humpback – he makes that famous speech in the first scene during which, over the course of one long paragraph, his mindset goes through a 180-degree switchback. “Motivation” is a con in literature. It’s a carny huckster’s game of spot-the-ball. The rubes always lose. That’s what I learned from Shakespeare. So, to summarize the book: it’s your problem to connect the dots; there are no dots. All there is, is Meaning. Got it?

> But really you can’t fight that this is a poetry book – no matter which way you look at it.

DT> Fine. Then I just invented poetry. I am the Henry Ford of poetry. You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.

> In the opening words to the section ‘America’, you say “Americans write about America. It’s not a choice.” A lot of people aren’t going to recognise the America you present in this book, are they? Maybe some would even accuse you of doing it down by describing people and places as Ghosts and Ghost Towns?

DT> There are ghosts all over the world. There are ghost towns galore. It’s a growth industry. America gets everywhere first so it’s more apparent in the geography. Also I think you should consider whose values you are superimposing here. I am quite sympathetic to ghosts and ghost towns in the book, I believe – or at least neutral. Are ghosts a “bad” thing? I don’t believe I encourage that conclusion. Ghosts are people who are pulled or pull themselves out of the stream of time. What if you don’t want to go where that stream is going?

> The prose chapters at the back include commentary on Elvis, Russian Throat Singers, Eddison… you say that they are from a larger work called ‘The Geography of Sound,’ so will there be more from this work in the future?

DT> More excerpts will appear if I continue to write books. The Geography of Sound is the Great White Whale. It’s everything I know. It will never be finished – maybe on my death-bed with my last breath to a stenographer. I am auditioning secretaries to hire one to follow me around and write down the things I say. It used to be that one of the band had to do this but they do other things in their lives and I find this unsatisfactory. I intend to pay minimum wage and drop scraps from my table onto the floor for her to eat. She’ll have to be quick though. My whippet is a sharpish fellow. The eventual memoir of ‘Life With Mr Thomas’ will be sufficient recompense when I’m gone.

> This book has more humour in it than I expected – especially with the footnotes – are you worried that a different David Thomas will be revealed from the common perception that you are, um… shall we say… slightly surly?
DT> I’m a funny guy. One of the biggest revelations people have about Pere Ubu, for example, is that there’s alot of funny stuff happening. It’s the use of the God’s Eye point of view we deploy. Looking at yourself, removed from the moment. Seeing the humor of your human condition. The absurdity of your actions. The absurdity of your despair. Etc. I hate words. I hate talking. People in my bands are discouraged from talking when I’m around. They are certainly discouraged from talking to me. They know it annoys me. Little good comes of talking. It raises the blood pressure and yields mostly confusion. Better to know, to understand in the first place, without the use of words. That’s what music is for. So people think I’m surly mainly because I’m annoyed and I’m annoyed most often because someone is talking to me, battering me with chatter.

David Thomas will be previewing ‘The Book of Hieroglyphs’ in Brighton on the 27th July, before it’s official launch in London September 15th (details at ubuprojex.net).


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