Mark de Silva - By gracefully weaving a study of the psychological effects of a militarized state upon its citizenry with topics as diverse as microtonal music and cloud physics, Square Wave signals the triumphant arrival of a young writer certain to be considered one of the most ambitious and intelligent of his generation

Mark de Silva, Square Wave, Two Dollar Radio, 2016.

excerpt 1
An excerpt in Guernica Magazine
An excerpt in The Collagist
An excerpt at Two Dollar Radio
Q&A about the book

Carl Stagg, a writer researching imperial power struggles in 17th century Sri Lanka, ekes out a living as a watchman in a factionalized America where confidence in democracy has eroded. Along his nightly patrol, Stagg finds a beaten prostitute, one in a series of monstrous attacks. Suspicious of his supervisor's intentions, Stagg partners with a fellow part-time watchman, Ravan, to seek the truth. Ravan hails from a family developing storm-dispersal technologies, whose research is jointly funded by the Indian and American governments.
The watchmen's discoveries put a troubling complexion on Stagg's research, giving it new shape and impetus, just as the weather modification project begins to appear less about dispersing storms than weaponizing them.
By gracefully weaving a study of the psychological effects of a militarized state upon its citizenry with topics as diverse as microtonal music and cloud physics, Square Wave signals the triumphant arrival of a young writer certain to be considered one of the most ambitious and intelligent of his generation.

"A brilliant debut, ambitious with its ideas, extraordinary in their syntheses and execution, and its stylish prose lit up everywhere by a piercing intelligence."—Neel Mukherjee

"Square Wave is, above all, just excellent. Mark de Silva’s prose is simultaneously uncompromising and unassailable. The resulting work is kinetic with an almost wistful erudition that relentlessly but organically plumbs the intersections between art, politics, and our baser human qualities. Ultimately, the novel's defiance of easy categorization or explication charges the story with a compelling mental resonance that somehow feels instructive."—Sergio De La Pava

“Mark de Silva’s truly accomplished Square Wave defies all categories. Provocative, fascinating, and edifying, Square Wave is a fiercely intelligent and thrillingly inventive novel.”—Dana Spiotta

“Ideas run deep beneath the crackling surface of Square Wave. In this fascinating, provocative novel, Mark de Silva unearths the tensions of the past and follows them into a troubled future.”—Joanna Scott 
The novel of ideas is alive and well in de Silva’s high-minded debut, in which the pursuit of art, the exercise of power, and climate control are strangely entwined. Carl Stagg is a writer working on a history of the Dutch-Portuguese War, which shaped 17th-century Sri Lanka, hoping to understand the echelons of power—which he encounters firsthand when he finds a beaten prostitute and becomes obsessed with finding who assaulted her. He is joined by Ravan, a guitarist whose family works in weather modification, and whose experiments are nearing a breakthrough that could have catastrophic consequences. Other key figures include Lewis, a painter whose violent tendencies quickly put him in over his head in Las Vegas’s pornographic underworld, and Larent, a trained musician beginning to hear something more than music behind his band’s harmonies. These tangents are all somehow linked to the Wintry Institute, “dedicated only to strengthening political literacy,” but perhaps influencing the expanding chaos behind the scenes. This is a heavily theoretical work, with ruminations on music theory, lectures on the evolution of social disharmony, and long academic conversations between political theorists—and yet, set against the backdrop of a crumbling America, this novel functions as a thriller where the confusions and obsessions of students are freighted with the dark reality they begin to uncover. De Silva isn’t shy about his intelligence, and he shouldn’t be; Square Wave is an intellectual tussle many readers will be happy to grapple with. - Publishers Weekly
An intellectual who earns his living as a “watchman” in a rapidly deteriorating America investigates a brutal assault while also researching his ancestors’ imperial exploits in 17th-century Sri Lanka.
In a satisfying twist on more traditional dystopian fare, the America of the future is unsettlingly recognizable in de Silva’s debut novel. Yes, faith in government has crumbled, violence is frequent, and various factions are warring with each other, but Starbucks and Target have managed to survive the chaos. In the fictional city of Halsley, Carl Stagg is paid to “wander and watch,” pacing the streets at night on the lookout for unusual activity. His routine is interrupted, however, when he discovers a severely beaten prostitute and begins to search for clues as to the perpetrator. Subplots abound and eventually coalesce: a fellow watchman is involved in a project to manipulate the weather; the prostitute, Jen, immerses herself in the adult film industry; Stagg, whose true passions are writing and history, prepares a series of lectures about European interlopers in Sri Lanka in the 1600s (some of the novel’s best chapters are set then). De Silva manages these varied plots skillfully, but in a novel rife with academics, his penchant for jargon too often makes the prose difficult to parse. A musician considering the “physics of sound” realizes that if he “were serious about cleaving to the harmonic series, what mattered was saving the smaller integral ratios, especially the superparticulars, as Ptolemy’s scale did.” Digressions into science and philosophy are equally abstruse. This cascade of detail ultimately serves to obscure big ideas, not illuminate them, and readers may find themselves too put off by the flood of exposition to engage with an otherwise intriguing story.
A novel of ideas that would’ve benefited from more emphasis on the novel and less on the ideas. - Kirkus Reviews

The Short Version: Sometime in the future, in a city called Halsley in an America not quite dystopic but certainly worse off than we are now, several lives intertwine: a writer interested in 17th-century Sri Lanka, a musician exploring microtones, the son of an Indian scientist researching weather modification, and more all come together not quite in harmony but in a sort of harmonic dissidence as the presidential elections loom…
The Review: I’ll admit that for quite a long time with this book, I didn’t quite know what the hell I was reading. On the one hand, it is a “novel of ideas” in the classical sense: chapter-long digressions on musical theory, philosophy, excerpts of a historical novel (or at least historical storytelling) about Europeans in Sri Lanka circa 1640. But these moments, at the beginning of the novel, seem so disparate and disconnected that I sometimes wondered what the hell was going on here.
But then a moment arrived, about halfway through, that threw the whole book into perspective for me, as Stagg is thinking about his Sri Lankan writing: “Perhaps, then, Stagg’s work was just historiography as an extension of radical interpretation, recovering the past as one recovers the meaning of sounds leaving mouths, a world, an idiolect, on every tongue.” Suddenly, the novel and its aims made sense to me: de Silva is not just creating a future version of our world, but he’s engaging it as a historian might, seeking to capture as many angles as he can of a particular moment. In this, de Silva’s book is almost a history of a time yet to come – or, as Stagg says near the end of the book, “he would be telling two stories at once, one about the past and another about the future.” The combination of those two stories is often written, as with Stagg’s Sri Lankan stories, set in the past to illuminate the future… but really, couldn’t an author just as easily set it in the future? Isn’t that just science-fiction?
But de Silva’s book is far less easily quantified. There certainly is some science fiction here, specifically in the collapsing U.S. state as well as the weather modification project that lurks in the background only to rise up suddenly at the denouement, but nothing about this novel feels like it needs the future to come to pass or like it needs some scientific advancement to become reality. This dystopia feels far more disturbing for the way it echoes the past – specifically, the past of Bret Easton Ellis and New York in the late 1980s, with shades of Ireland during the Troubles.
One of my favorite things about Ellis, especially in his run of great novels (Less Than Zero, The Rules of AttractionAmerican Psycho, even arguably Glamorama [although that may be more personal preference]), is the relentless numbness that his characters feel and that he seeks to evoke. There is a washed-out nihilism to his stories, a bleakness that only a few authors have ever really pulled off, because he captures how tiny our lives actually are. No matter how many drugs we do, how much money we make, how many people we kill, we will always only ever be a tiny blip on the timeline of humanity. de Silva’s character seem to be stuck in this same existential hole, even as they (all of them) seek to overcome these limitations through creativity, sex, drugs, discovery, or even just understanding another human being. Lewis- the son of a wealthy family with a wife he hates who goes out and beats working girls to within an inch of their lives – is the closest Ellis-ian analogue but so, too, is Stagg, whose inability to sort out his emotional life is reminiscent of Clay.
(ed. note: I bring up Ellis so heavily here because I have the great privilege of, in just a few weeks, talking to Mr. de Silva about his book and about Less Than Zero for So Many Damn Books – link forthcoming soon as the episode goes live.)
Where the book far outstrips any comparisons is in its intellectual rigor. It should be stated: this is not for the faint of mind. There are only a handful of truly world-class intellects in the world and de Silva makes a great case here that he should be considered one of them – and not just because he writes brilliantly about so many things but because he writes about so many things, brilliantly. How many authors could not only write equally well about such disparate concepts as cloud-seeding, the Dutch presence in Sri Lanka in the 1600s, and microtonal music… but who could then bring these stories together, in an almost dazzling feat of rhetorical skill? It’s easy to forget, in light of the intelligence on display, that de Silva is also a magnificent writer – a favorite image, one I hope will stick with me for many years, is the description of dissonance as wolves within the sound. I was reminded very much, in all of this, of Will Chancellor’s A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, another book that blended deep knowledge of art with even deeper knowledge of philosophy and history – and managed to spin wonderful flights of prose in the doing.
Sometimes, this intellectual heft does tire the reader – not in an irritating way, but in a literally exhausting way: you have to put the book down and rest for a bit, maybe even going back to re-read something a second time (and pausing again) in order to really approach some level of understanding. Even the political philosophy, in this America where the general populace has lost faith in democracy and where anarchist organizations carry out meticulously planned acts of destruction that don’t kill anybody but instead destroy edifices, monuments, even something as specifically targeted as the interior of a pool hall – even the politics can be difficult to follow for a moment, and I have studied more about politics and political theory than most. This book requires some dedication on the reader’s part, but the dedication is paid off when, as the page count dwindles, you find that you simply can’t put the book down.
I won’t speak too much about the actual developments of plot, partially because they are at times quite thin – the book still feels, more than anything, like it’s painting a picture of a moment in time, much like a historian might attempt, except that the moment in time has not yet occurred – but also because to give too much away would do de Silva a disservice. The not-immediately-obvious success of this book is, in fact, how well he builds narrative tension. I think the best analogue may be Laurent’s chapters that digress on the imperfection of widely-accepted musical theory and his pursuit of ever-more-outré sounds. (There’s a funny moment that could winkingly be applied to the dangers of the novel itself when, after one particularly destabilizing concert, a character berates Stagg saying that the audience was never meant to be there for the whole show, saying, “you weren’t supposed to stay to the end, Carl! Only the fools did! Or the ones with earplugs, like us.”) de Silva seems to be putting together moments that don’t coalesce, that seem to be at odds with the moments just before and just after, but as the novel winds towards its conclusion, they begin to resonate within the echo, building to a coherence and a harmony that is absolutely unsettling and undeniably masterful, even beautiful.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. There is, admittedly, a high entry cost to this novel. It requires the reader to be intellectually engaged in a way that, quite simply, they may not be able to achieve throughout the entire book. In these moments, one has to let it crash over them like the wave of a song and know that they will bob back to the surface again in the next chapter. I was gratified that de Silva didn’t lean too heavily on plots that could’ve been considered predictable, instead keeping this dystopic America in the background of the whole story, the scenario ever-present but ill-defined. It feels like a place we might not be too far away from, all the more so for the fears bubbling through the population. But even in the midst of this frightening global circumstance, the day-to-day still remains – the pursuit of beauty, truth, history, companionship. Square Wave is a history about a time yet to come. The question that lingers long after the book is done is whether it is an alternate history or one eerily prescient indeed. -

There are experimental novels and novels that experiment and I wager that Square Wave aims to be the latter. I don’t mean that this novel will recreate the novel, rather, I believe it recreates what to do in the space between the covers. Mark De Silva’s debut is enticing and enthralling, it aims to hit all the literary neurons, seemingly all at once. This might be the closest we get to David Mitchell on LSD. But Mark De Silva doesn’t sit and smell his own achievements that he sets out to accomplish in this novel, he is constantly moving forward, pushing on much like his many narrators. While they stumble across obstacles and dilemmas, De Silva never relinquishes control. This novel is one of disorder and the eventual new one that created soonafter. It is about the process of rebooting humanity. As one of our many narrators sardonically says, “We must wait, I suppose, for events to unfold.”
The novel should grab readers easily enough. How could one go wrong with exploring weather modification and possible militarization? Can we ever truly get enough of Orwellian-like governments? Don’t we live for histories of fictional worlds? The key is that De Silva is able to make the right combination of all of the above. Square Wave is the perfect concoction to for the thirsty mind. The novel has three major roots: Carl Stagg and his operations as a night watchman, Carl Stagg’s detailed history of 17th century Sri Lanka, and his partner Revan and his family of highly ranked government and military officers and the attempts to properly control weather for the best and worst of situations. De Silva takes on a lot and is able to balance his way through all three of these plots with the most minor of missteps. With risk comes great reward. At times, the ambition seems to catch up to the story, and De Silva seems to understand this for he comments on the function and power of it: “That was the problem, the virtue, of poetry, of art. It outran you.”
De Silva is on point, or rather most at home, with the philosophy of writing itself. His goal to figure out the very necessary aspects and importance of history should not go unnoticed. The Sri Lanka plot highlights the upside and pitfalls of reading any history, “The only imaginations at work here, if any, are the authors of the source documents. What it is, is a completely granular history.” And yet De Silva is the author of this very own source document. He is giving us his own history. Fiction, here, is the incest of history. It is the stories we tell time and time again for the sake of believing them. Whereas a majority of the novel is spent developing reasons why history is important to the reader, some of his best points are in relation to why history is important to the writer: “They might also achieve what any one of the essays could not. In the space of one lecture, the only one there might be now, he could still suggest a whole narrative, a destiny, this way. Because even dust could be shaped into a trail. What matter was arrangement, order.” Late in the novel, one of his characters even questions this. “The prevailing thought,” he believes “in the priesthood was that their role was to write the present, not interpret the past or consider the veracity of the Chronicle, which was, after all, composed by them, their predecessors in the temple.” History grows because we allow it, we are both its masters and its servants.
Although the history subtext of the novel is one most worth noting for the writer, the political story also serves as a counter, a one-two punch courtesy of De Silva, to keep the reader entranced. There is an election coming and one that seems filled with controversies as important as the ones in our current run of elections. But De Silva doesn’t investigate the big players, or plays with the All The Kings Men plot. Instead, he explains why we are magnets to conflict, and why it simultaneously matters and doesn’t matter for us, no matter what happens:
One can’t help but observe these unities. Who gains from Celano and I being locked in a conflict that can only be internecine? In some sense, many do. The Christians and Muslims. The libertarians. But they have their own waves of crises. It’s just not their turn. So, in the largest sense, who games—who is strengthened—by the sight of so much strife between all of these rivals, as we head toward elections? We may say this much, I hope, without danger: these clashes can only imbue the elections themselves, along with the government responsible for holding them, with greater authority. Very likely the government will win them too, if they are seen to bring stability now. Conveniently, they can probably choose whatever means they please in bringing it. In a state of emergency, the people grow eager for a heavy hand.
This is the very core of modern humanity. We love and hate it for it is our master and our servant.
Square Wave is a lot of things. It is ambition and addicting, it is filled to the brim with depth and detail. It is a novel that isn’t quite like the others. And it is loaded with thoughts and characters that will stay with you long after you finish with the book and place it on the bookshelves with the other indie press books. It’s not the novel you expected when you first started and you still may not be sure what novel you ended up reading. De Silva says it best, “Nothing is perfect. And no process, not at all, is really, truly stable.” But there is an inherit beauty in reading something we don’t have control over, something that we can’t quite figure out. - Nick Sweeney

Mark de Silva wrote his debut novel Square Wave (Two Dollar Radio) between the hours of five and eight a.m., before day jobs at such revered publications as The Paris Review, Harper’s, and The New York Times. For the first five years, he showed it to no one, sparing friends and colleagues the awkwardness of false encouragement.
Contrary to the literary pedigree in which he steeps, de Silva comes from philosophy (he has a Bachelor’s from Brown and a PhD from Cambridge). He doesn’t want to be Jonathan Franzen or even Jonathan Lethem. He questions the rise of absorbing, familiar “memoir fiction,” and insinuates that J-Franz dumbed down for his audience to double his dollar. In a sprawling 3:AM Magazine essay from last December, de Silva writes:
Consider how many novels of agreed artistic merit — Tristram ShandyMoby DickThe Man Without QualitiesTo the Lighthouse, or, to take Franzen’s chosen status-model exemplar, The Recognitions — make no attempt to hold us in a continuous state of absorption. Their authors could not have failed to understand, in writing them, that it would have to be the ravenousness of the reader’s mind that drove him through these books, if anything did.
The ravenousness of the reader’s must drive him or her through Square Wave. By the author’s own admission, his is a strange, unflinching work that almost defies explanation. It takes place in the future, and the past, but it’s really about the present. It is equal parts discursive and destructive, philosophical and textural. His is a sci-fi novel of ideas — the former term a pejorative by literary standards, the latter one by de Silva’s.
I appreciate de Silva’s ideas, and his sentences, and his time, and his candor, but I won’t pretend I grasped the bulk of his book.
The Millions: You’ve said that the Square Wave writing process was deeply intuitive. Did you map out the plot beforehand?
Mark de Silva: Definitely not. I used index cards, but they were bits of sense memory, like the gleam of a knife or something. That would be enough to trigger a scene. That’s all I wanted from the index card. I didn’t want a fixed idea because I was writing what I knew would be regarded as a novel of ideas. I was especially wary about the wooden kind of book that comes out over-determined. It almost seems like a kind of allegory or parable; I was very concerned not to do that. It seems like such a waste both of philosophy and of literature: it’s the worst of both worlds. It’s not rigorous philosophy and it’s not glorious or imaginative literature.
I was wary of thinking about it too much. But I had had no real creative writing background since my undergrad days, when I had done a few fiction pieces and a couple of workshops. So I was doing this research and taking these notes and just hoping I could summon capacities that I had no real knowledge I could.
TM: Did you run into doubt?
MDS: When I applied for the Paris Review internship — you have to do these analyses of pieces and suggest what’s wrong, whether this belongs in the Review or not — my dad said, “How would you know anything about it?” [Laughs.] I said, “Well, I read a lot. Why does the world have to be this credentialized thing?” So I was starting from that outsider’s point of view from the beginning, even getting that job. I thought, I’m just gonna build from scratch, without an idea of what’s right and what’s wrong. And that was true of the entire book; it was a seat-of-the-pants thing. It was scary to do, but it was also like, look man, you’re not part of that creative writing world, you’re gonna have to find your own terms. Because I didn’t want to write a standard literary novel in the way that we have, you know, good novels by people like, say, Maggie Shipstead. I knew that wasn’t me, because I wanted to draw on all the philosophy and all that I had done. I knew there was not going to be a great template for what I was doing, so I said fuck it, I’m just going to run with it, see where my instincts take me.
TM: How did the work you read at the Paris Review and Harper’s affect that outsider’s mentality?
MDS: Being at The Paris Review was wonderful in the sense of — first of all it’s a great operation, a very interesting place with very smart people. But it was also teaching me that I was not going to write a Paris Review story. It’s just not who I am. We had a story run by Claire Vaye Watkins, another by Alexandra Kleeman, and Jonathan Franzen. It was a nice time to be there; we caught a lot of these big things. And Lorin Stein was just taking over, so there was a new regime. Lorin Stein plays a big role in shaping New York sensibilities; I think that’s fair to say.
I was seeing that, as much as I respected what was in the magazine — like I get why it’s in the magazine — I also did not feel an intuitive bond to it. These weren’t the stories I wanted to tell. It almost steeled me against becoming a hack Paris Review writer, like a bad version of Alexandra Kleeman. I figured, draw on your strength — your strength is your difference. Your strength is that you’re not one of these people. You’re not a Yale English major who has dreamt all their life to write for the Paris Review. You’re this weird philosophy guy who’s trying to find some way of harnessing his idiosyncratic sensibilities, and maybe it’s literature.
TM: Square Wave is a challenging book. Did you worry at all about its marketability?
MDS: I knew from the beginning that this was gonna be a difficult book to sell. [Laughs.] I wasn’t totally surprised when a lot of agents — who were nice enough to read, you know — just sort of shrugged their shoulders, saying, “I don’t even know how to criticize what you’ve done.” They didn’t say, “I didn’t buy that motivation;” that’s not the kind of criticism I got. It was more like, “I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know what kind of market exists for something like this.” [Laughs.]
But I was inspired by people like Tom McCarthy. I also remember reading Javier Marías, who has become for me a very important writer because he’s very discursive, very philosophical. But also his language is very, very literary, and he refers to his work as a mode of literary thinking. In other words, thinking and literature, thinking and scene and sense detail are one thing — not two things. It isn’t pretty language mapped onto thinking, or taking rigorous thinking and finding a way to turn it into literature. It’s trying to do both at the same time. I took great inspiration from Marías, because I saw this guy and thought, Oh, some people do this.
TM: One of the themes of the book is that violence is inevitable and often unfathomable. If that’s the case, what should we do? How should that truth shape our philosophy and/or our politics?
MDS: I think the book…Thinking about it now, the book is an attempt to grapple — without that distance that’s normally part of academia — to grapple in a real life, textural way with just that question. It would be nice to believe that all our social problems or moral dilemmas could be resolved through mechanisms that became part of the culture as far back as the Glorious Revolution. From that point on, there’s a rejection of monarchy, the sovereign as an absolute, and the people are in charge of a parliamentary system. From that point on, we’ve believed that the parliamentarian system of consensus-building amongst discrete points of view is the best mode of governance. I don’t think the book is necessarily a rejection of that, but the book is a revisitation of the question, like, how certain can we be that these Enlightenment mechanisms can lead to a stable society?
In a community that’s so fractured — the way obviously America is, as well as many other parts of the world — is a simple taking of votes the way to solve those problems? Where the state is simply a managing agent, a sort of referee. We tabulate votes, and whoever gets the most, we’re gonna live that way. And the rest of the people are gonna have to learn to live with it. That’s our system, now, you know, and that 49 percent who lost end up feeling really, really unhappy. It’s the consequence of a certain kind of democratic, almost legalistic-democratic thinking, of poll-taking, vote-taking. Where the losers just have to live with it. Like suck it up, you lost.
TM: In our defense, that competitive streak does seem very American.
MDS: And now we’ve come to laugh at the half that lost! We’re not even trying to connect with them anymore. Like, “We have Congress now. You’ll live like us now.” And then the next election, “Oh, now we have Congress.” Or, “We have the President.” We’re not communicating anymore. I don’t think so. We just want to win. We want to win, and the book is about that idea of factional winning, right, ’cause there are all these competing factions — and how it seems the driving force for many of them is simply, “I wanna come out on top so that I can dominate the rest of the players. As long as I can hold on, then I don’t have to take the rest of the players seriously.” I think that’s how the book proceeds in a certain way. It’s frightening, but I do think it’s true to a certain kind of neutered conception of democracy.
Parts of the book suggest that the state itself has to take a stand on this. A community has to have shared values. It’s not enough to say, “We vote, and if I win, you’re gonna live like me,” or, “If you win, I’ll live like you.” That’s not a good agreement. That’s the contract theory, right? A contractual view of politics maybe is not as good as a communitarian view, where we say, “Tell me why living the way you want to live is a good idea. Just tell me.” Let’s have moral debates rather than vote-taking debates. I think a lot of our politics now is about who can get better numbers at the poll, rather than actually reaching out and trying to convince someone of a way of life.
TM: I’m assuming the current election season reinforces that notion for you?
MDS: Absolutely. I mean look at the way the elections are covered; we’re not even interested in understanding. We want to ridicule the Tea Party, but is that really productive, for even a leftist? I actually don’t think that’s productive. I think we have to ask what is motivating these people. After 9/11, for instance, the original reaction was, “We just need to kill a bunch of the people from the Middle East.” I mean, let’s face it, there was a bloodlust. Later people starting thinking very systematically — I think Susan Sontag said very shortly after, and very controversially, “We need to ask questions. Why would anyone be driven to do such heinous things, and to throw away their own life?” Like, these are suicide bombers. Something must be going on. These people are not insane. They don’t need to go to a psychiatrist. But that’s how we portrayed them: monsters.
They’re people who somehow feel betrayed. And I feel, in a different way, that with the Tea Party — from a solid, liberal-leaning citizen, which I feel like I am, essentially — that our obligation is to say, “What could drive someone to a Tea Party view?” Not to say, “Let’s rally troops and win, because these guys are nuts.” I don’t like that, and I don’t think that’s productive.
I’ve said this in a very roundabout way, but that’s my feeling about politics, and I think that comes out in the book.
TM: You’ve also said that you like the idea of stretching people’s brains a bit, and making them read something they wouldn’t normally read.
MDS: Right.
TM: You called these kinds of books — your kind of book — an “acquired taste.”
MDS: Yes.
TM: If your book is an acquired taste, what is it?
MDS: [Laughs.] It’s like a 140-proof, barrel-strength whiskey. It doesn’t go down easy. In terms of the reading experience, it has to be consumed quite slowly. We’ve gotten used to immediacy and absorption and rapidity. We expect books to just pull us in and run with it. This is a book that you should probably not try to read 100 pages of in a night.
I like literature, and experiences in life, that — rather than cater to our existing intuitions about how life works, or about how literature works — expand our understanding of common sense. I hope a book like mine will strike someone as violating a lot of common sense ideas about literature. I know it will. It violates my common sense about literature, and I wrote it. I had to follow my intuitions to this strange place. I know it’s kind of crazy and unstable and uncomfortable: that’s how I felt writing it. So you could say, in the weird way “memoir fiction” is all the rage now, that’s the way that autobiography figures in mine. -

Distant Visions: Putdownable Prose and the State of the Art-Novel,” 3:AM Magazine
On the Skin of the World,” The New Inquiry
Aeon ConversationsAeon Magazine
Through the Language Glass,” Paris Review Daily
The Stone Links, The New York Times

Mark de Silva holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Having served for several years on the editorial staff of the New York Times's opinion pages, he now freelances for the paper's Sunday magazine. His writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, The Paris Review Daily, and the New York Times.