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The Shovel Mental Contagion
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William Gillespie of Spineless Books
speaks with Gene Dillon
| Web Site

William Gillespie writes a lot. He has read poetry aloud in crowded, smoky bars in Chicago. He has written and performed theatrical works with a group called The Weird Leading the Bored. He has spun vinyl on the radio in Champaign/Urbana. And he's also the second consecutive guest on The Shovel who knows how to play the ukulele. Unless he's lying.

William has written and published several books and is one of the founders of Spineless Books, an independent literary publishing house dedicated to the production and distribution of innovative literature in print and electronic forms, with an emphasis on collaborative writing, utopian thought, and formal experimentation. That description was shamelessly plagiarized from paragraph twelve below.



WG: Gene. There's this guy, right. Okay, wait. It's just... Okay, okay. Picture the scene, okay. There's like this... person. Okay? So imagine that. There's this person, and I'm not going to say whether it's a man or a woman, because how would you know really? And it's just standing there, right, like, on a, like, street. That's the vision. That's what I'm talking about.

It could be you. Or it could be me, dig? There's no telling, because everything it says can't be corroborated because it is in a language. Italics on language. Therefore everything is conjectural. But despite the inherent unreliability of data, or anything that takes place in a mind, it seems indisputable, inarguable, beyond question that there is in fact this guy. Just there, standing there, as if on a street, or in an elevator, or even standing in the L. You know, hanging onto the pole.

And that's really it, when you get down to it, when you sum the whole thing up: there's this guy and it might be you but you can't ever be sure, because you're just reasonable and educated enough to realize the utter inexactitude, the fallibility, the corruption of your observer who is reporting this guy to you, all of whom are you: the observer, the observed, and the voice that tells you that things aren't always what they seem. Italics on corruption.

Well, that's me. That's my situation and more or less has been since those days in the twilight of our tenure as guys who hung out in Chicago together, when you took me on walking tours of the worst-smelling streets, the oiliest perogis, the most graffiti, and the hunt for the most frightening cab driver. We went on a nature walk six blocks to the lake, which was covered with a fresh crust of floating debris, and Keith stood behind a tree to protect his camera from the sudden squall. I remember that. It was a failed nature walk but I was mostly in it for a pilgrimage to Myopic and Powells.

So when I tell you that Spineless Books is the revolution in publishing, it is.

GD: When I first bookmarked webster.com, I didn't realize that I had bookmarked my search for a word, rather than the home page. That word was "PIEROGI", and now every time I look up a word in the online dictionary, I am reminded of how to spell this specialty of Eastern European cuisine. A pierogi is exactly this: a case of dough filled with a savory filling (as of meat, cheese, or vegetables) and cooked by boiling and then panfrying.

Boy, I could go for a case of dough right about now.

I see your publishing notes, regarding italics. A friend once told me about eleven years ago, back when the web was all written on paper and sent overnight in Fed-Ex vans to locations all over North America, (not including Mexico) that to get your letters to slant slightly to the right, you must precede those letters/words with a "tag" containing the letter "i", as in "you" or "me", depending on who is writing. You start with the "less than" symbol, followed by the "i", or "you" as the case may be, then you add the "greater than" symbol. When you are finished slanting your letters slightly to the right, you put in another "less than" symbol, and then, GET THIS, you type a "slash" that actually goes in the same direction as the slanted letters, followed by another "i", (another you?) and yet another "greater than" symbol.

What this is doing is proving that neither you nor I is greater than or less than either I or you, or anybody else, for that matter. It's all about equality out here, and I think it's because the data has no physical weight.

WG: Exactly. It's like this guy. After giving the whole matter an awful lot of speculation he decides: I think, therefore I am. So far so good, but, I mean, it's not airtight. Even just the beginning - "I think" - is already begging the question, never mind the absurd conclusion. Take "I", for example - and this touches on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis - "I" is a linguistic way of drawing boundaries that coincide roughly with my skin, or my immediate zone (because (except on the L) we all have a zone of air surrounding us that we claim as personal space the way nations presume to own the ocean for a certain number of miles from their shores). Is the first person singular a structure in the language that leads to asocial tendencies such as individualism, capitalism (a system of global distribution of necessities whose engine is individual greed), abuse, murder, and torture? If so, then how can this guy feel all that good about his little syllogism? I can relate to wanting to prove you exist, but once you enter this world you have a lot of explaining to do about why things are the way they are with you a part of it. That's why I don't like interviews. They foreground the individual in a problematic way, in effect taking their thought and making it ad copy for the thinker.

GD: Fucking interviews... Tell me of the origins of the choice of the word "Spineless" for this revolution. When you have time...

WG: Gene, Spineless Books is an independent literary publishing house dedicated to the production and distribution of innovative literature in print and electronic forms, with an emphasis on collaborative writing, utopian thought, and formal experimentation. Much of our literature is published on our big quiet website at spinelessbooks.com, but we have also published seven books with spines (Johnny Werd, Drawn Inward, Letter to Lamont, The Story That Teaches You How To Write It, Fourier Series, Mars Needs Lunch, and 2002: A Palindrome Story in 2002 Words). So Spineless Books, the name, is a joke. Most people get that. They think the joke is that spineless means (to quote webster.com again) lacking strength of character, having or showing a shameful lack of courage. But the joke is the opposite: as an unviable business with no resources in a mean world, all we really have is spine, something resembling a spinal column or constituting a central axis or chief support, or, as the cowardly lion might put it, courage.

GD: Italics on courage. It's good to present yourselves in a non-threatening manner anyway - to appear spineless could be a major advantage when you're out there trying to take on the amazons of the publishing world. It's like when you take over Australia at the beginning of a game of Risk, or like when you are Bill Gates, and you name your company "MicroSoft". Tiny and flaccid wins the race.

Speaking of invertebrates, the giant worm in the new King Kong movie was really disturbing. Like a giant body-condom with teeth. Why are we forced to imprint images like this into our memories? Who is in charge of developing these kinds of plot twists?

The pitch: "And then the crass, tough-looking ship's cook gets devoured by a giant tape worm. Its mouth is ringed with pointy teeth, and it slips over the cook's head like an oily, ribbed trojan, or a sausage casing, or something..." And he waits nervously to get the producer's reaction from across an enormous boardroom table made entirely out of elephants. An expensive-looking white man sits, pondering, mulling it over... Scratching his scalp... Sipping a hot beverage.

He looks the "writer" in the eye, and declares, "Yes. Yes. I like this. Let us insert this scene into our 120 million-dollar production."

And then we pay nine bucks through a hole in the plexiglass, and we get to see it and have dreams about it.

If I get Alzheimer's one day, will I forget the giant worm, as well as your first and last name? Will I have enough money to ride the L, hang onto a pole, and wonder where the hell I'm supposed to get off? Will I forget the fact that the pork chop sandwich at Slotkowski's has a bone in it? Will I break my teeth? Will I forget that I am a vegetarian?

I assume that complete memory loss would be extremely frustrating, unless you have the right attitude. If you do not know who you are, and you do not care: you could pretend you were anybody you felt like being! No fear of falling in love, no social obligations, no $8000 to find, and no memories of a giant tape worm slipping over somebody's head. Such empowerment! All amnesiacs should be put immediately into positions of power. With no memories, they would have nobody with which to get even. Something good would probably happen... Until they start accumulating memories. They could be replaced every week, in perpetuity, and returned to their place next to the pole on the elevated train where they were last discovered.

WG: Exactly. Wait... what?

GD: I'm glad you asked.

WG: That's what I was talking about earlier, Gene, memory. Take that guy, who at first thought that he thought and therefore existed, but now isn't so sure he wants to be associated with reality. Well, it's only memory that allows him even to know that he thinks. He can remember that he has been thinking, and memory allows him to get from the premise to the conclusion of a dubious syllogism. That worm, this conversation, it all boils down to one ugly word: content. Something that fills a form or worm with substance and intended messages. War is like that. And King Kong...

GD: Wait! Can I interrupt for a...

WG: It's already packaged, we just need to give it some meaning. With the war, as with the worm, that meaning is fear. Fear is hard-wired into the palette of human responses, and even safe, happy, comfortable book-readers, film-goers, and news-watchers can experience fear, even when there is nothing to be afraid of. Think of it, Gene, think of all the things you are afraid of, all the things you wanted.

GD: (long pause....) * sniff *

WG: But at Spineless, we aren't afraid. We can make a book walk on two legs.

GD: That's two more than the worm has.

WG: But let me take your important discovery about memory loss. The remake of King Kong is a certain kind of memory loss in which the collective American cultural unconscious has remembered an embarrassing incident incorrectly, altering that incident to bring it more into line with America's vision of itself as a fearful, winkingly racist, irrepressibly sexist, white, extravagantly rich hoodlum or executive producer. Memory is unreliable, we know that, but King Kong proves that even documentary evidence is unreliable. Movies are reshot, the web changes constantly, newspapers are edited after publication, the mind is a dying chemical soup, and I can't remember the name of your iguana nor the street you lived on. Memory isn't something old and fixed, its a dynamic and turbulent process. Was it Paulina?

GD: Yes. Paulina the Iguana. We lived on Sparky Street.

WG: So to get back to this guy, who could be me or you. It knows how to tie its shoes and walk in the world, can remember its name and often its address, but knows better than to be sure about it. Is in a position to know its own fallibilities, flaws, weaknesses, fears, insecurities, and foolish memory. Would like to take a stand against the Movie King Kong, or the war, but knows it is not really in a position to know anything for certain.

So when you want to interview me for no stated reason, on no topic, for a website I am unfamiliar with, I say, why not, because how can I really know, you know?

GD: This moment will change our lives forever. Each choice of each word, each letter, each compression of phalange, strengthened by muscle, coated by epidermal tissue connecting with a piece of plastic indicating its unique linguistic identity to be sent through wires and by air to deliver the content to whoever happens to find it. It all begins with the mind of this guy. A mind either laid bare in pure knowing and courage, or mired in the muck and the tangle of fear and anxiety to some extent or another. I could give you the finger with the same part of myself that usually types the letter "i". But why would I do that? It's irresponsible.

This guy doesn't have time to be irresponsible anymore. I wonder if he knows this? Can he know this for certain? And if so, how often does he ignore this notion, anyway?

WG: Look, I haven't been being honest with you. About the worm. Truth is, I snuck into King Kong. After wasting money on the Narnia movie to accompany a naive friend who wanted to relive memories of childhood literature, we snuck into the next theater, where there was a ship tossing at sea and a beautiful actress playing a beautiful actress being kidnapped by scary ethnic stereotypes to be offered to a giant ape as a sexual plaything. This tapped so deeply into my icky cultural unconscious - ugly proof that, contrary to what I had previously put forth, I don't think and probably therefore am - that I was not consciously aware that I had missed the first hour of what must surely have been a debilitatingly long movie monster warehouse sale. It still seemed like a long movie to me. Draining. Humiliating even. The worm and all that. I didn't want to admit that I sneak into movies, because, well, a lot of kids read the web. And kids should be sneaking into museums, the opera, things like that. But not at my age, heavens no, they should be starring in operas by the time they get to my age. Or yours. I paid for the Johnny Cash movie though. Which is really what I wanted to talk about, why I wanted you to interview me for slate dot com, or, sorry, this is Wired? Anyway. Music documentaries remind me of weird science fiction. These humans with a divine and useless sense carry their battered tools from stage to stage, enduring every frustration to radiate a powerless force, misunderstood. Thelonius Monk burns a hole in a piano, increasing its value, Glenn Gould soaks his hands in a sink before going on. Who? Heinous, maladapted angels, lives given to acoustic waveforms and a smatter of applause. They have been surrendered to vibrations that most people aren't all that sensitive to.

GD: Gigi Allin threw his own poop at the audience. I paid him eight dollars. In advance. Cash money. It was my twenty-fourth birthday. I ran away, in a stampede, down a dark, crowded hallway to the bar area. It was terrifying.

I'm glad you didn't pay to see that worm.

"A divine and useless sense" - How and why does it become useless? There are the golden moments - the larger-than-life Cash moments - chunks of wisdom almost too large to swallow, the raw glimpses of energy and beauty that can inspire people to remember why anyone should be allowed to exist... So where is ruination?

I always thought it was in the 99% perspiration thingy. Nothing should feel like work. This is why I enjoy writing. It doesn't make me sweat. The basement is cool, and I have a fan.

WG: There's a lot of sweat in Straight, no Chaser. I'm thinking here of Stop Making Sense. Or Storefront Hitchcock. Imagine you are a Martian, or deaf, watching these movies. What sense would you, could you make? This, I think, is what it means to be this guy. In struggle.

GD: That's why we need real butter on our popcorn, William.

WG: Cigars, Gene, cigars. Because over at Spineless we've just published another book with a spine. Right in the middle of the interview. Table of Forms. That makes eight, Gene - nine if you include the hardcover of Johnny Werd - little vertebrates I've helped bring into the world. Books with legs, Gene. If you're still in Boulder I'll mail you some. Let me know. I like your painting. I'd like to use it on the cover of a book. And I'd like another Fuck t-shirt. Do you have any of those left? Italics on Table of Forms.

GD: It's on the way.








 
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