Gary J. Shipley is a writer and philosopher based in the UK. He has published in international, peer-reviewed philosophy journals, including Analysis, Mind, and Anthropology and Philosophy. He is also the author of five novels currently under consideration with various publishers.
David Hoenigman: What projects are you currently working on?
Gary J. Shipley: A book of philosophy entitled Contrivances: On Lacunae, Abstracta and Quasi-Materials. In it I focus on my three main areas of philosophical research: personal identity, ethics/metaethics, and aesthetics. A lot of the themes I investigate in my philosophical work are also present in my fiction, although the methods I employ to illuminate them are often very different.
DH: Can you explain some of these methods?
GS: In my philosophical work the idea is to make everything as transparent as possible, to arrive at solid conclusions. While writing philosophy I am first and foremost in the service of reason and empirical data. But sometimes (more and more frequently) I feel that there is more to be said, or if not said shown, and that whatever it is that needs to be said or shown isn’t susceptible to transparency in the same way, if at all. Fiction, for me, then, is like an extended thought experiment, but a thought experiment in which style and form are as much themes as they are expositional tools. In short, the difference is that between explaining and showing – which is not to say that there can be no overlap.
DH: Who or what has influenced your writing?
GS: A love of solitude and the study of philosophy.
DH: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
GS: C^0 is set primarily in the small seaside town in which I was brought up, and is peopled, in part, with individuals that have at one time or another inhabited the place. The rest of my books deliberately exclude almost all reference to locations you’d find on a map, or people that’d bleed if you cut them.
DH: Why do you avoid reference to locations?
GS: Aside from C^0, in which location serves a different purpose, I wanted the spatial details to be constructed from necessity. I wanted them to be like flimsy stage sets that pop up when the novel demands them, only to be disposed of without a second thought when they are no longer required. By utilising this approach I hoped to shift the balance of concentration in order to see what happened, to see how the narrative and the characters adapted to fill the void. Ultimately, it is the domain of the work itself that interests me – the work as embodiment of the experience of remoteness itself. This is nowhere more present than in C^0, for despite its worldly setting, the primary focus remains its own internal placelessness, genuine location being used as a way of better explicating the transformative vigour of literary space.
The main character in The Flesh Technique, himself a writer, expresses his own particular take on this point in the following passage:
“My wife is a museum curator. You don’t need to know her name, my name, the name of the museum, the name of the country or the town in which we live. You don’t need to know any of these things. Would you be able to imagine her any better if I was to tell you her name? If I told you her name was Julia Holloway would it make any difference? Well, did it? That, by the way, in case you were wondering, is not her name. I am sick of the emptiness of proper names, unless they are logically proper of course – I mean, who could do without them? […] What I have to say will not be made any clearer by my furnishing you with names. You will have to learn to live without them. The names have not been omitted in order to protect the anonymity of persons living and dead; they have been omitted so that I don’t have to think them up and write them down and you don’t have to read them. I will tell you what you need to know.”
DH: Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?
GS: Borrowing a fragment from Heraclitus, I’d say one of the key messages is that “[t]he hidden attunement is better than the obvious one.” I am celebrating enigma as an end in itself, an all-pervasive telos: the tangled spine of metaphysics, morality and aesthetics – enigma as driving force and (hidden) end. Like Heraclitus, I too write in the hope that my words will not be taken only in one sense (that which is most apparent), but that their variant senses will open up new, and possibly more rewarding, territories. C^0 and Theoretical Animals are the two novels in which this desire is expressed most concretely, as both books feature their own warped duplicates.
DH: What do you mean by warped duplicates?
GS: I mean that in both cases the text of the first half of the novel is used again, its original message manipulated and distorted, constantly taking the reader back into the work.
DH: What book are you reading now?
GS: In addition to various philosophical texts, I am reading the book I am always reading: Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet.
DH: Any memories of particular works: the writing of, feedback, the thought behind…etc.
GS: I have five novels currently under consideration with various publishers. They were all completed this year. Their titles are as follows: C^0, The Flesh Technique, Theoretical Animals, The Lice Killers (featuring text from Kenji Siratori) and roman. All of them explore the potential of literature to illustrate and embody philosophical observations. Although I have only just started trying to find a home for my fiction, it has already received praise from, among others, N. Frank Daniels (Futureproof), Nic Kelman (Girls), Reza Negarestani (Cyclonopedia), P. D. Smith (The Doomsday Men), and your good self.
DH: Did you plan to complete all these novels at roughly the same time?
GS: No. It just happened that way. In the last two years I have been able to finish long-term projects and to start and complete further ones: I worked on C^0 for over five years; The Flesh Technique was something that I wrote then revisited and largely wrote again in the last year; Theoretical Animals and The Lice Killers were written in the last couple of years; and the nature of roman (an experimental novel almost exclusively comprised from the donated texts of other writers) meant that I could fit it in around other things and yet still complete it in a matter of months.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.