Interview, Globe & Mail

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 12:33 PM

Unvarnished D. O. Dodd

Judith Fitzgerald

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked; it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
— Franz Kafka

D. O. Dodd, considered by the UK’s Jewish Telegraph Canada’s “mysterious” and “reclusive” author who “won’t reveal his/her gender,” puts little stock in the myth writers need to bend over backwards to sell their books. Books ought to sell themselves. The creator of Whispers the Missing Child, The Hostage Taker and the just-published JEW, an astonishing work marked by its stark and stripped stylistic attack representing a departure of sorts (or, perhaps, a destination), does stand apart, at least, in terms of its strategies. Few manage to make volumes where structure and content echo each other exponentially, shaping a third work of sorts, the one hanging around the corners of the brain long after the narrative concludes.

When I asked Dodd about a brief interview (after reading JEW) as well as an excerpt from the latest, Dodd graciously agreed; additionally, when I wondered if I ought to top this piece with the striking cover of the book (again), Dodd sent along a dazzling trio of drawings created by Claire Weissman Wilks specifically for the book.

In the following excerpt, JEW‘s unnamed main character wakes to discover himself in a mass grave:

. . . As he struggled, twisting and pushing, straining his muscles, he felt hard edges intrude upon his body, attempting to tangle with him as they shifted woodenly to become displaced.

The light closed over in one space and opened in bits in another. The drone of buzzing became louder.

He felt what must be a foot with his foot. Sole to sole. Frigid.

The muscles in his neck went taut as he turned his head to see a stopped living thing unto itself, an orb, trained on him with vacuous intent.

Then — as though bared by a shadowed hint of dawn — a face became apparent.

A woman with her breathless mouth open. Stalled.

It was then that he found the strength.

J. F.: Biography may enhance a given artistic work’s extrinsic value, understanding of a work’s genesis, creation, etc.; however, when it all comes down to dust-ups? Biography’s incidental to the work itself; the work ought to stand on its own two feet without extrinsic biographical triviata and tediosities. What do you think, though?

D. O. D.: The genesis of any work is a blot. Something trampled on or broken open. Something crashing down from the sky.

The biography of an individual writer means nothing. If not one person, seeing the moment and expressing it in a particular way, or with a particular sleight of hand, then another doing so at a later date. We are all made of the same joy and sadness.

There is nothing individual in fiction. Fiction is simply a cleverly constructed lie penned by the best trained monkey. One in short pants, one in a suit, one in a dress, one in cute bloomers . . .

You guard your personal life to an exacting degree. Does this sometimes turn burdensome for you? The endless question/s, the speculations, etc. Or, does amusement foot the bill better? You put your work out there on your terms; you consider this essential, IMO; and, the question: What attracts you to this position?

I am no more burdened by the perjury of my existence than the next person. As for amusement, I find comfort in laughing at the preposterous fluke of who I am.

What attracts me to this position is that I like to hide, not from work, not from my family, not from bills, not from obligations, but from every single thing.

I would like the writing judged for what it is, not for what I am, which is nothing much, a rake-thin stretch of insecure flesh and bones hoisted up on a set of 50-foot crutches.

Far too often, ruminations on the author’s damage, youth, blondeness, blackness, oldness, snideness, beauty, darkness, eloquence govern the slant of critical reception and, oftentimes, overshadow the book.

This is mainly due to the laziness and the ineptitude of literary critics operating in one of the few industries that persistently hires unqualified individuals to perform highly specialized tasks.

One of my greatest achievements of late is being far enough along in years to have finally distanced myself from the idiotic posturing of youth.

My books are made by writing, not by me, and certainly not by a personality poised before a mirror, polishing their teeth, while dreaming up a spiffy clutch of answers.

Charles Olson famously said, “Form is never more than an extension of content” (in Projective Verse). In fiction, if one substitutes structure (for form), does one arrive at an approximation of the relative importance of each (or both)? Can structure dominate content or can content drown structure to deleterious effect? Is this not part of your approach, the way in which the making of the work echoes the made work? Interchanging, balanced? How conscious do you consider that approach to be?

You could easily say that I am in no way conscious, particularly since that question tackled me so soundly it crashed me to the mat.

Your occasional missives and downright funny blogposts belie a serious mind not only on alert but also sounding the alarm. Aesthetically and culturally, does the river of dejectamenta swirling at our feet signal the end of culture or simply a phase where it retreats to roar back with a vengeance?

Culture will never roar back, not in North America, because it was never here long enough to set down roots, unlike in Europe where it had time to form muscle before being challenged by the larger-than-life vacuity of American cinema. How is it possible to wrestle against larger-than-life?

Presently, the e-book has lobotomized the publishing industry. They scramble like chickens with their heads cut off trying to find the e-glue fix-it-all to stick them back on.

This is an industry of whim governed by people who keep their eyes peeled for the fashionable next, which, generally, to their way of thinking, is the fashionable last.

There are a chosen few who recognize anything startling, outstanding, ground-breaking because, genetically, this is the way things go. Most people are of average intelligence and of average composure and barely have enough wits about them to draw up the zipper on their plaid sweater or to lift the paintbrush to paint it beige.

It is the same in any industry. Why would we think the blessed book business is any different?

Why fiction and when did you know it?

Fiction because I am a thief and a whore. I will write the loveliest description of your wedding photograph or colonoscopy if you match the digits I have in mind and scribble them down on a cheque.

I knew it when I imagined it.

What now in creative terms?

I am working on a book about domestic slavery called VAW. It will not be made into a motion picture because the two-dimensional is incapable of capturing that much pain.


(Trio of drawings © 2010 Claire Weissman Wilks. JEW excerpt © 2010 D. O. Dodd. Exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Used by permission. All Rights Reserved.)


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