Scott Navicky, author of the brilliant new novel Humboldt, in conversation with Abby Sheaffer

Scott Navicky, author of the brilliant new novel Humboldt, in conversation with Abby Sheaffer

Before you read this interview, I have to ask you to do one very important thing: GO BUY HUMBOLDT! Scott Navicky’s debut novel out now through the CCLaP is unlike any you’ve ever read before and you’re doing your mind a great disservice by not reading it. If that announcement and my review of this extraordinary book doesn’t sell you, perhaps this uniquely refreshing interview with the author will. Interview after the jump.

(Image credit: CCLaP)

(Image credit: CCLaP)

Humboldt is such a unique novel, how did it come to you?

As a magpiethinker, my inspiration usually comes from the words and ideas of others. The initial spark for Humboldt occurred as I was thumbing through an old Arts & Humanities college textbook. In the chapter on the Enlightenment, I encountered the following quote from Voltaire: “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” The more I thought about that quote, the more I liked it, and the more it made me want to read Candide, or Optimism. And it was while reading Candide that satori really struck.

In my review, I drew comparisons between Humboldt and classic screwball comedies from the 1930s (namely The Marx Brothers) were you indeed influenced by those films or did something else inspire you?

O drat! You’ve backed me into a corner with that question! I usually refrain from admitting this to people because it instantly marks me as slightly insufferable, but I don’t watch movies or TV. My refusal is not ideological; I just don’t enjoy the format. I’d rather spend two hours lying on the floor, listening to old Elliott Smith songs, which I do frequently. So I’ve never watched a single Marx Brothers movie. But that said: I love talking about movies, reading movie reviews in The New Yorker, and gossiping about movie stars (Kristen Stewart, what were you thinking?! )

What would you do if you ever met Humboldt in real life?

HA! But we have met! In the novel, we meet as I’m getting fired from the New York City art gallery that I used to work for; but our meeting is brief because, at the time, I’m being hounded by my boss’ “ferociously dainty shih tzu.” But if we were to ever meet again, I’m sure we’d enjoy a pleasant evening, drinking absinthe and talking about New Zealand rugby. (Humboldt’s a good listener and I’m very adept at manipulating every conversation so that it ends with a discussion of New Zealand rugby.)

Looking back on your writing, do you feel this character, or any of the ensemble characters, have showed up in past vignettes, short stories or journal entries?

The only character who resembles any characters from my past work is Senator Dick Small (R, Idaho). The first novella I ever wrote, The Hand on Malcolm: How Impotent Old Men Screw the Country, was a political satire in which every politician was named something ridiculously phallocentric like Dick Limp or Dick Rambunctious. (And by the way, that novella is dreadful juvenilia and just mentioning it makes me cringe!) More than any character, it’s the ideas that have shown up again and again in my past work. Miseducation, the prison industrial complex, corrupt politics, art history, absinthe: all of these topics have been preoccupations of mine for years. Even the reality/unreality divide plays a central role in my work as a photography theorist.

How did the idea of “agricultural dyslexia” come to you?

My mother is an expert in the field of learning disabilities, so I grew up talking dyslexia at the dinner table. And I was actually working as a tutor for dyslexic college students during the early stages of composing Humboldt. One of the things that I find fascinating about dyslexia is listening to dyslexics describe the specific letter dislocation that occurs when they start reading. Crazy things happen! So while “agricultural dyslexia” is a humorous invention, it’s really not that outlandish in regards to how dyslexia actually works.

Your writing is very visual and cartoon-like, do you draw?

That’s a very astute observation! No, I don’t draw. But by nature, I’m not a novelist: I’m an art historian. I’ve always found that visual art is a great stimulus for my writing. There’s a tremendous emporium of visual imagery stored in my mind, which I visit frequently while writing.

What were some of the trials and tribulations you faced while writing this novel? How did you overcome them?

Actually, the writing process was pretty smooth. I would even be tempted to say that it went quickly, but I remember Voltaire supposedly wrote Candide in three days! (Trois jours? [angry snort] C’est impossible, Monsieur!) Writing a novel requires freeing up a large allotment of time and positioning myself to be able to do this was the most difficult part of the writing process. Obviously, unemployment was involved, and any unemployment (even of the voluntary variety) brings with it feelings of disillusionment, diminishment, doubt, and despair.

 Can we look forward to seeing more of your work in the future?

That’s the question that’s been keeping me awake at night lately! I’ve been working on an art history manuscript… (this is where my friends start groaning and rolling their eyes)… it’s about my experience viewing thirty-two hours of Christian Marclay’s video The Clock… (more groaning, more eyerolling)… yes, I’m aware that I don’t enjoy watching movies, but I had some free-time since the rugby season in New Zealand doesn’t start until late February… (most groaning, most eyerolling)… do you watch much New Zealand rugby?

A little more about Scott Navicky:

Born in Cambridge, Ohio, Scott Navicky attended Denison University and the University of Auckland, where he was awarded an Honors Master’s Degree in art history with a focus on photography theory. He currently lives in Columbus, Ohio.

 

 

 

 
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