Interview with Guillaume Morissette
Q: Hi, Guillaume. Who are some of your favorite authors/what are some of your favorite books?
A: A nonfiction book called, ‘A History of Celibacy’, I forget its author. Also Mark Leyner, Clarice Lispector, recent stuff like Lidia Yuknavitch/Tao Lin/Blake Butler, Bill Bissett, older stuff like René Daumal/Ikkyu/Pessoa, canon stuff like Ann Beattie/Lorrie Moore/Lydia Davis/Amy Hempel, Jean Rhys, Alain Robbe-Grillet, some Saul Bellow, ‘The People of Paper’ by Salvador Plascencia, other things.
Q: I’m a big fan of Clarice Lispector. Which one(s) have you read? What do you like about her?
A: I recommend, ‘Hour of The Star’ to people a lot. For a while, she didn’t feel like a human person to me, she felt like some sort of superhuman or terminator sent from the future to write sharp commanding novels with intensely lucid individual sentences, like I read somewhere that after ‘Passion According To GH’, she fell asleep holding a cigarette and injured her typing hand in the fire and then somehow still went on to produce another 8-10 books after that. Then at some point I read, ‘Near To The Wild Heart’, her first novel, and it made me feel closer to her and think of her as a person, and that made me question what I wanted my own writing to make me ‘come across as’, and my answer to that was: flawed, profoundly flawed, but hopefully lucid about the flaws and maybe minimally theatrical about them.
One problem when writing from the perspective of ‘I am the shittiest person alive’ and trying to cope with your failures/shortcomings by making fun of them is that it’s easy to start producing this sensationalized, almost cartoon version of your own misery, because your own misery needed edits at the sentence level. I write vaguely dramatic tweets from time to time (maybe this) and they’re always liveblogged from my internal process, but I don’t know if they come across as exaggerated or embellished or something.
Q: I’ve read the same three by her. I’m looking forward to reading the others.
You speak of your feelings of shittiness, flawedness, misery. Do you consider yourself a pessimist?
A: It’s weird, as a little kid I was kind of naïve and oblivious to a lot of stuff, like I have two older sisters and with videogames, we would pass the controller around and play one life each and when it was my turn they would tell me things like, ‘jump in this hole, there’s a secret level’, and I would do it and my character would die and it would be their turn again, and I would be like, ‘I fell for that again?’ As an adult, I’ve been elbowed in the face by life a lot, and I think that makes me approach things from a negative/cynical perspective, but I think it’s more ‘informed by pessimism’ then full-on pessimism, like I think some part of me still wants to feel naïve or be oblivious a little. That would explain tweets like this.
I have this story, ‘Banhood’, in my book, it shows this contradiction I think. The protagonist has entertaining starkly negative thoughts, but his actions seem, to me, to be based on this kind of misunderstood internal hopefulness. I thought about two personal experiences a lot while writing it, one was going back to my hometown (I live in Montreal now) and feeling totally removed from it, like I wasn’t really there, like I was a ghost or observing it with a telescope from the moon or something, and the other was, one time as a teen I was walking home at night with my sister and we passed in front of our grandma’s old house and started talking about missing that house and then somehow decided we wanted to see it one last time, and so we knocked and an eleven year old boy answered and looked confused but let us in anyway, and we got to look around this house, this completely changed house, and it was like, ‘I don’t know what we were hoping for’, and it felt sad and good at the same time.
You read my book, do I come off as pessimistic/negative? Are there other feelings/emotions that came across very clearly for you?
Q: I did get feelings of pessimism and negativity from the book. I also got the impression of an earnest desire to connect with people, I thought.
There’s been discussion on HTMLGIANT and elsewhere around the subject of sincerity, as a quality and a movement, via The New Sincerity. To me no writing or almost-no writing can be wholly sincere if only because of the pretense of making art. I’ve seen commentators trying to claim “sincerity” for their preferred camp or style of writing, much as people do with “realism.”
Do you think of your writing as sincere? Does sincerity, to you, have to do with intent, effect, both, neither, something else? Do you care about that? Are you trying to “keep it real” as much as possible? What other kinds of things do you have in mind in terms of composition or effects?
A: I think very early on I wanted my writing to be as shameless as possible, and I still think of it using that word, ‘Shameless’, which makes more sense to me than sincere or not sincere. My second reading ever with English material was for a reading series called Synapse, and going in I didn’t know how a live crowd would react to my stuff, like, at all. I think all three of my poems had my penis in it. Most of my poems are self-deprecating or inspired by my neuroses and things, and at readings, I fit the part I think, like I naturally look awkward enough to come across as genuine with that kind of material. I have this poem called, ‘I have girly arms and I mean it’, I read it in Toronto at a thing and people seemed to like it and later in the crowd some people came up to me and instead of saying hi or something, they just groped my arms a little, to get a sense of how girly they actually were, which I thought was really funny.
In my book, I think of the stories as fiction and the poems as nonfiction, but then the poems sometimes have devices like pathetic fallacy in them and the stories are often just things that have happened to me that I give to characters, and those are also the parts I like the most, ‘informed by nonfiction.’ There was this piece published by Maisonneuve Magazine called, ‘How I failed at life in Quebec City’, which is entirely nonfiction and has very little literary devices and was terrifying to write because it had the potential to anger people or make them think of me very differently, and there’s a lot more going on in that piece, to me at least, than just, ‘sincerity’, even though it comes from a sincere perspective. I really felt like I had to overcome myself to write it, like part of me was like, ‘Fuck it, be reckless’, and another part was like, ‘But I am a scared four-year old.’
Q: Will you please comment on the story “and how they all fell to and speedily devoured the muskallonge that had eaten the carp”? That was my favorite of the stories.
A: I worked in videogames for 5-6 years, as mostly a game designer but also other roles. Then I quit. At one point, I worked on browsed-based online games aimed at children, and I remember feeling sad and purposeless and confused and like I was dying faster than I should be dying, and then at the same time I had to stare at intensely happy 2D creatures at work all day long, like smiling cartoon bears, and I had thoughts like, ‘I hate you guys so much’. I thought about that experience a lot while writing that story.
‘And how they all fell to’ is also about forced teamwork or artificial team chemistry, like artists, programmers, producers, other job titles coming together to work on a common thing they all only vaguely care about, and realizing they have nothing in common except having been assigned this project and being paid to work on it. This story in particular has a strong satirical tone and maybe even a kind of dream-like feel to it, like it’s not ‘how it happened’ so much as ‘how it felt’ I think. There’s also a ‘game designer’ character in there who’s demented and has a lot of crazy lines I really like.
Q: Finally, what other qualities/experiences do you have? Besides neurotic, sad, depressing, confusing feelings and experiences, what else? What is the lighter side of Guillaume Morissette? Have you ever been in love? Do you ever act very silly or get really happy for a while? Can you describe those moments?
A: So in 2010/11, I lived at a house that ran in the summer a weekly independent backyard cinema. We had no license and sold beer illegally and were visited by police officers and had to panic-hide the beer and were almost fined several times for noise complaints or other things. One of my roommates was a filmmaker and we screened mostly arthouse stuff or ‘fun’ movies like ‘Hausu’ but I liked the hosting part of running around a lot and talking to people coming in late more than the movie part. It also gave me the motivation to host things myself using the space, like we also had a very giant reading and house parties and etc.
Where I am going with this is that Montreal was a good city for me to move to, in that it forced me to develop a kind of social well-being, and I still feel like my self-confidence is an endangered species or that I am awkward from time to time or that it’s weird to think things like, ‘What do I want to do, go out or hide in my room’, with both answers apparently equally valid, but I don’t know, I am starting to feel really okay with my social self. My love life is still a kind of nuclear warzone, and I feel very cynical at the moment re my capacity to have a stable one-one thing and not fuck up at some point or grow to loathe myself, but maybe on some level I just want to be proven wrong.