Jay Slayton-Joslin speaks to Guillaume Morissette about art, Canada, the internet, and his new novel, The Original Face, published this month.
How similar are you to Daniel, the alienated narrator, and how similar is he to all of us?
Daniel is similar to anyone my age or younger than me in that he’s part of a generation that was given access to incredibly powerful tools, a lot of which are free to use, but very few ways to monetize the content he makes with these tools. Daniel thinks the internet should be decentralized and that more money should go to content creators.
<) )╯make facebook
( (> pay u
<) )> for your data
Otherwise, this book is a little more removed from me than my previous novel was, but I still use realism and real life experiences to examine contemporary issues I am interested in, so I’ll let you decide what you think is “real” and what isn’t.
Daniel’s art focuses on the internet. Do you have an interest in this and who are the important artists we should be following?
I started the novel being interested in “post-internet” artists like Jon Rafman or Jennifer Chan, both of which are Canadian, I think, and then ended up discovering a ton of new visual artists while writing this book. I would also recommend Nicole Ruggiero’s Instagram account and Robert Overweg’s video game glitches.
The novel deals with the Toronto – Montreal difference and even features a trip to Newfoundland. Do you feel there is a duality to the Canadian identity and did you mean for it to emerge as a theme?
To me, Canada is a bunch of provinces with wildly different geographic realities duct-taped together into a single country, so it kind of makes sense that within Canada, we would have several micro-Canadian identities that are performed in relation to or in opposition of one another. It’s weird, I only feel “Canadian” when I travel away from Canada, which instantly makes me feel incredibly Canadian all of a sudden. My previous novel was set entirely in Montreal, so when I started incorporating material in this book about Toronto and then Newfoundland, I started thinking that maybe this could be my “Canadian” novel. But then the question became, what the fuck is Canada? I still don’t know.
The novel features lots of social media, film & video game references. As a writer, how important is it to you to get this right, and how did you make it feel authentic and not dated?
I think the text will be dated no matter what I do. If I don’t mention specific social media platforms, their absence will be conspicuous. Because I namedrop very specific cultural elements, it’s possible that this novel will read as incredibly outdated and unintentionally hilarious, like, 10-15 years from now, but that’s okay. Hopefully reading it then will feel like digging up a time capsule or something.
The novel poses many questions, but admits it doesn’t have all the answers to modern life. Do you think we will never learn to be happy and content — or is there hope?
The best thing we can do is draw inspiration from Zen Buddhism, which is one of the only things out there that tells us to have less, not more, be nothing and live as simply as possible.
Appreciate the imperfect.
Accept the contradictions.
Never buy anything.
The original reality is empty and clear.
When discovering The Original Face as its initial form, did you realise this would be such an important aspect of the novel?
“Beauty in art or nature is a matter of relationships between things not in themselves intrinsically beautiful.”
What was your inspiration for the book, what were your influences and what did you want to avoid?
My jam is contemporary literature, so I like novels by people like Ben Lerner, Miranda July, Jarret Kobek, Tony Tulathimutte, Sheila Heti and Tao Lin. Another big influence on this book was Osamu Dazai, a Japanese novelist who passed away in 1948. I recommend his novel No Longer Human.
Animals seemed to be a redeeming & calming theme in the book — why is this?
Zootherapy is real. With people, affection can be kind of a rollercoaster. Some days, you get a ton, other days you only get rejection. Animals are more reliable. You don’t need to perform in front of a cat, like you can look like hot garbage and feel depressed and the cat will treat you the same as if you’re wearing a fancy tuxedo.
Someone smarter than me could probably figure out a connection between modern life forcing us to spend hours sitting in a room alone starring at a screen and the kind of support and companionship that a cat gives you, which allows you to feel seen while still leaving enough space for browsing the internet independently for several hours.
The novel ends brilliantly, but no in the conventional happy way people are used to. Do you feel this is a more accurate way of representing real life?
What do you feel the journey of literature is going to be like across the 21st century?
More novels and books will be published every year both in print and digitally until we reach a breaking point. This will be due to either global warming, which will raise costs for book publishers and force them to publish fewer print books per year, or the market will become sick of having to sort through thousands of books to find what they’re looking for and someone will come up with a better way to promote books, like maybe some sort of curation mechanism. I have no idea, really.