George Salis: Your latest novel, The Logos, features two epigraphs, one of which is from the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard: “If a metaphysician could not draw, what would he think?” Can you take a stab at answering this hypothetical?
Mark de Silva: Thinking doesn’t get far without spatial metaphors: an argument hangs on an assumption, a certain concept is defined by its extension, and so on. Inferential structure, which is what thinking comes down to, can’t readily be understood—a spatial word itself—without invoking the two dimensions of the plane. So I suppose it wouldn’t be only metaphysicians in trouble without the capacity to draw, to delineate, to describe.
GS: Can you describe the logo that would signify the writer Mark de Silva?
MdS: The dollar sign. What else?
GS: The UK edition of The Logos, published by Splice, is over 1,000 pages, yet it’s written entirely in the first person. Why? Did you worry about a kind of solipsism with this decision or did you want to tackle this phenomenon head-on?
MdS: I wanted to picture a wide world from a single prospect, rather than use the multiple angles of my first novel, Square Wave. Claustrophobia only threatens when a narrator’s consciousness fails to embrace much besides the inanimate world and his own voice. That’s why much of Beckett’s writing feels confining—there’s so little event and action, other than the narrator’s running monologue. But a single point of view—which is all any of us has—seems like plenty when there’s a lot to see, as has been clear since at least the time of David Copperfield. The Logos bristles with worldly activity, even if we confront it through one person’s senses.
GS: The nameless protagonist of The Logos has some unsightly, even dark, thoughts, especially in the second half of the novel. Did you include these for the purposes of satire, realism, shock value, or some other reason?
MdS: Well, they’re thoughts that are there to be thought, and a reader’s thinking them in making his way through the book can be worthwhile, I think, for the fuller picture of the world they express.
GS: The Logos is certainly a New York novel. What does the city mean to you? I visited New York for the first time a couple of months ago and partly got the sense that it’s one big theme park.
MdS: There are frightening degrees of competence on display in New York. The place is full of virtuosi of all stripes, which can be handy when you’re looking for a nice meal or a good show. But real imagination is scarce there; no one wants to lose their place in line.
GS: There’s some obvious overlap between Gaddis’ The Recognitions and The Logos. Can you talk about what The Recognitions means to you as a reader and writer and how it specifically informed your own novel?
MdS: I think Gaddis, in The Recognitions, anyway, lays the most comprehensive foundation for what ails modern American life and art—their disfiguration by trade, by markets. The Logos is partly an attempt to see what might be spiritually salvaged from the world Gaddis first depicted. He was a pioneer in the sustained literary demolition of commodity culture. So I went sifting through the rubble for redeemable bits, the kind from which a viable picture of the good—or good enough, or good, considering—life can be built. That’s one thing, anyway, I was up to.
GS: Aside from Gaddis, some readers have been invoking the names of Musil, Mann, and other novelists of ideas, as it were. Do you accept these comparisons to The Logos or do you think they would give potential readers the wrong impression?
MdS: In various ways, those are all flattering comparisons. So long as we’re not using the term “novel of ideas” to hive off those authors’ works from “real” or “genuine” novels, I see no problem with it. From my point of view, many of the central works of extended prose fiction—Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote, Middlemarch, and The Brothers Karamazov among them—are deeply invested in the notion that there’s no understanding the unfolding of human lives without understanding the ideas animating them, whether consciously or not. Now, that’s certainly not all there is to understanding people; but to neglect the life of ideas limits the richness of one’s understanding of life as such.
GS: What is a novel you’ve read and think deserves more readers?
MdS: Speaking of Musil, Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers isn’t discussed all that much today. I’m not sure why. It’s a mesmerizing, mysterious triptych lurching from the gentlest satire of sentimental 19th-century novels to pages of transcendental philosophy that could come from Fitche or Schelling. But mostly the book dissolves its conceptual content fully in plotting and characterization: there are no real “mouthpiece” characters, and little feels ad hoc. A truly capacious work. I think of it often.
GS: You have a PhD in philosophy. What do you say to those who claim philosophy is dead, having been replaced by science?
MdS: It’s true that academic philosophy in America and England seems mired in a certain irrelevance, or at least exhaustion. That’s the way it has felt to me. But philosophy has always outlasted its doldrums (Rabelais mocked one of these infertile periods many centuries ago, not long before the creative rejuvenation brought on by the moderns: Descartes, Locke, and the like). Something or someone comes along—not infrequently, from outside professional circles, to reinvigorate the subject. Isn’t art, and writing, too, like this? Fields are always dying just before new elements, foreign agents, re-enrich the soil.
GS: You’re an admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I’m wondering what you think he would think of The Logos.
MdS: This is an interesting question I have no real answer for. He hated so many things, perhaps he would have hated it, too. But then he had a fondness for Germanic literatures, much as I do. If that’s rubbed off at all on my work, perhaps there’s hope.
GS: The Logos is certainly an ambitious sophomore effort. Is this something you’ll actively try to top with your third novel or will you simply go wherever your muse leads you? Have you started on the third one yet? Will you revisit the polyphonic/ironic energy of your first novel, Square Wave?
MdS: I have begun to read for a new novel that will probably be many years in the making. Topically, my sense is that matters like psychiatry, vagrancy, off-the-grid populations, and Hegel’s master-slave relationship will loom large. I do think the new book is unlikely to be in the unitary first person of The Logos, and that the pendulum is swinging back toward something more plural, though I doubt the result will resemble Square Wave too closely.
Read a review of The Logos by Matthew Taylor Blais here.
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Mark de Silva is the author of the novels Square Wave (Two Dollar Radio, 2016) and The Logos (Clash Books [US] and Splice [UK], 2022), as well as the essay collection Points of Attack (Clash Books, 2020). He holds degrees in philosophy from Brown (AB) and Cambridge (PhD). He is the fiction editor of 3:AM Magazine and a research editor at the New York Times Magazine. His website is here.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.