Scott Navicky, author of the brilliant new novel Humboldtin conversation with Abby Sheaffer

Before you read this interview, I have to ask you to do one very important thing: GO BUY HUMBOLDTScott Navicky’s debut novel out now through the CCLaP is unlike any you’ve ever read before and you’re doing your mind a great disservice by not reading it. If that announcement and my review of this extraordinary book doesn’t sell you, perhaps this uniquely refreshing interview with the author will.

Humboldt is such a unique novel, how did it come to you?

As a magpiethinker, my inspiration usually comes from the words and ideas of others. The initial spark for Humboldt occurred as I was thumbing through an old Arts & Humanities college textbook. In the chapter on the Enlightenment, I encountered the following quote from Voltaire: “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” The more I thought about that quote, the more I liked it, and the more it made me want to read Candide, or Optimism. And it was while reading Candide that satori really struck.

In my review, I drew comparisons between Humboldt and classic screwball comedies from the 1930s (namely The Marx Brothers) were you indeed influenced by those films or did something else inspire you?

O drat! You’ve backed me into a corner with that question! I usually refrain from admitting this to people because it instantly marks me as slightly insufferable, but I don’t watch movies or TV. My refusal is not ideological; I just don’t enjoy the format. I’d rather spend two hours lying on the floor, listening to old Elliott Smith songs, which I do frequently. So I’ve never watched a single Marx Brothers movie. But that said: I love talking about movies, reading movie reviews in The New Yorker, and gossiping about movie stars (Kristen Stewart, what were you thinking?! )

What would you do if you ever met Humboldt in real life?

HA! But we have met! In the novel, we meet as I’m getting fired from the New York City art gallery that I used to work for; but our meeting is brief because, at the time, I’m being hounded by my boss’ “ferociously dainty shih tzu.” But if we were to ever meet again, I’m sure we’d enjoy a pleasant evening, drinking absinthe and talking about New Zealand rugby. (Humboldt’s a good listener and I’m very adept at manipulating every conversation so that it ends with a discussion of New Zealand rugby.)

For the rest of the interview, click HERE.


HYPERtext Interview with Scott Navicky

Scott Navicky’s debut novel Humboldt, or the Power of Positive Thinking, follows Humboldt’s rags-to-riches-to-rags trajectory — from dirt poor son of a soybean farmer to performance artist, to CEO, to prison inmate.

Hypertext Magazine sat down with Scott to find out the pros and cons of writing at a bar, what makes the ideal protagonist, and what it’s like to publish a debut novel.

Hypertext: Humboldt, or The Power of Positive Thinking, is your debut novel and is published through CCLaP. What was the publication process like for you? What steps in your career have you taken to get to this point?

Scott Navicky: Well, the steps I’ve taken so far are mainly figuring out ways to deal with failure over and over and over again. Which is tricky, but now I am very well versed at it. After I wrote the novel, I started querying agents.  I never thought of myself as a novelist, but I started writing and it went pretty quick. So, I put together a long list of agents and queried them all and they all shot it down. Then I started sending query’s to small presses that I found online and they all shot it down. CCLaP was literally the last publisher I had queried and I sent them something different because their word count was a third of what Humboldt was. CCLaP responded and said he didn’t want to publish what I sent him, but when I had something new, send it to him first. I said, “Well, I have something new, but it’s longer than what you’re looking for…”

For the rest of the interview, click HERE.


The Thrill of Rejection & the Sensible Drunkenness of Success

A writer can never have too much (or too little) advice on how to handle rejection. Every rejection, no matter how discrete, invokes the sensation of being punched in the face, and it’s extremely difficult to be magnanimous while that’s going on. So here’s my advice: with a slight shift in perspective, it’s possible to find rejection thrilling. The first step is learning how to take a punch. (Having been raised in a boxing family, I acquired this knowledge early in life.) The second step is learning how to enjoy taking a punch. That’s the hard part.

Once my debut novel Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP), 2014) was complete, I suffered twelve straight months of near-constant rejection. This did not come as a surprise. In fact, this rejection was so unsurprising that I had already parodied it in the novel itself. In a scene that occurs during intermission of Das Rheingold at Lincoln Center, after an initial burst of interest, Humboldt’s lifestory is rejected for publication in a curt exchange that includes numerous looks of “literaryagentagony.”

But during those twelve months, how much was I really suffering? Is it possible to say that those months were also thrilling? After years of Billy Budd-ing everything I wrote, it finally felt like I had risen from the depths of hobbywriting to the not-so-lofty lows of stock rejection letters.

For the rest of the essay, click HERE.



When my publisher first floated the idea of doing an annotated edition of my debut novel, a creative misreading of Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism, I acted surprised; but in truth, I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew that if my novel was ever to be published, I would sooner or later have to deal with the issue of all of my — what should I call them? — allusions? [No, that’s not quite right.] References? [That sounds rather stiff.] Unquoted quotations? [Wow, that’s awkward!]

After much dithering, I finally settled on the phrase “scissors and paste” bits. (In a similar vein, I dubbed my unique spelling tendencies: “portmantypos.”) Of course, even this phrase isn’t original: it’s pinched from James Joyce, who once declared that he was “quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man.”

Of course, there’s another word for such literary borrowing; it’s an ugly word that begins with P. (If anyone is interested in the perils of such behavior, I recommend Lizzie Widdicombe’s article The Plagiarist’s Tale (The New Yorker, February 13, 2012). And the funny/scary thing is: while living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I knew that guy!)

For the rest of the essay, click HERE.


Why I Write: Scott Navicky

Picking my favorite Elliott Smith song is a pleasurable impossibility. Some days, it’s something obvious like Waltz #2 (XO) or Son of Sam. Other days, it’s something obscure like Last Call or Angel in the Snow. Other other days, it’s Miss Misery, which is such a resilient song that it can’t be ruined by its association with Good Will Hunting. (Yes, I know: Ben & Matt are adorable in that movie. But c’mon, a genius janitor? The janitor where I went to college had a mullet and a splotchy tattoo of (I think) an anchor on his forearm; and when the weather got warm, he would walk around campus with his shirt off. Yeah, real Mensa material, aye?)

Yet while I’m forever flipflopping on my favorite song, picking my favorite Elliott Smith lyric is easy: it appears within the song I Didn’t Understand. My connection to this particular lyric happened by chance. One lazy Saturday afternoon while living in Portland, Maine, I purchased a used copy of the album XO from Bull Moose Records. After ascending the city’s saddlesteep streets (local Mainiacs never tire of pointing out how the city of Portland is shaped like a saddle), I put the album into my CD player (remember those?) and stretched out on my living room floor, which is the best way to listen to Elliott Smith songs. Because I had owned the album previously, most of the songs were familiar to me. But with I Didn’t Understand, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time. Elliott Smith did two things better than any other singer songwriter not named Bob Dylan: imagery and profanity. The lyric that still haunts me from I Didn’t Understand possesses both:

“There’s nothing here that you’ll miss; I can guarantee you this is a cloud of smoke/ Trying to occupy space. What a fucking joke. What a fucking joke.”

For the rest of the essay, click HERE.


Camera Carlos: Reflections on Imagereality (Alternative Title: cleavagecleavagecleavage)

While acclaimed photographer theorist Susan Meiselas, president of the Magnum Foundation, was seated in her office on West 27th Street finalizing details for the “Photography, Expanded” symposium, and acclaimed photography theorist Geoffrey Batchen was sitting in his office at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand researching the implications of photography’s reproducibility, failed photography theorist Carlos Spencer-Bayard was sitting in an Irish bar in Cleveland, Ohio thinking about cleavage. But the man known to his friends and family simply as “Ghost” was not ogling or fantasizing; he was philosophizing, or so he told himself.

Haunted by photography and fueled by failure, Ghost was beginning to grow weary of Facebook and its ever-present cleavagecleavagecleavage. Every morning when he logged into his account, he discovered a fresh batch of buxom photographs waiting for him. The timing and regularity of these deliveries (not to mention the doughiness of some of the photos themselves) reminded him of a bakery baking fresh bread. And it wasn’t just his female friends; somehow during the past five years, he had befriended a high number of “chest puppies,” as a man who takes numerous pictures of his naked torso in a bathroom mirror was known in local gay vernacular.

Were the Facebook accounts of other photography theorists so saturated with cleavage? Did Abigail Solomon-Godeau have to suffer through photo-after-photo of bosoms on vacation or socializing around town? Did Rosalind Krauss’ friends inundate her Facebook account with mirrored selfies taken after mundane midweek workouts (or worse: videos of these workouts themselves)? Did Victor Burgin even have a Facebook account?

For the rest of the essay, click HERE.


Nothingness & the Nightsky

As a small child, I used to mistakenly believe that physical deterioration was the most unpleasant aspect of getting older. Premonitions of an achy lower back, sore knees, arthritis, a hip replacement (or two), glaucoma haunted me nightly. After playing a single season of Midget League Baseball (I wasn’t very good), I became resigned to the fact that I would eventually need Tommy John surgery. While in High School, I remember scrutinizing the chapter on disease in health class like a man ordering sushi from an à la carte menu: two Palinopsia rolls, a piece of Sciatica sashimi, and some Kluver-Bucy Syndrome.

Now that I am an adult, I realize I was wrong: physical deterioration is NOT the most unpleasant aspect of aging. Erectile dysfunction is a foolish toy when compared to the canopy of darkness that continually envelopes adult life. Love, loss, betrayal, bereavement, disillusionment, diminishment: the sky gets darker and darker until all is consumed by the darknothingness of night. And the darkest hour of the blacknight comes with the unavoidable realization that death eventually takes away everything, even the most inconsequential of things. It takes away our books. It takes away the unfinished novels that live only in our dreamconsciousness. It takes away the songs we can’t stop singing. And it takes away our favorite poems.

For the rest of the essay, click HERE.


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