Best known for his star turns on The X Files and Californication, David Duchovny is introducing new facets of his artistic side in 2015. While he is also expected to release a record later in the year, the droll thespian is now out with his debut novel, Holy Cow: A Modern Day Dairy Tale.
This, however, is not quite what one would expect. Duchovny’s tale tells the story of Elsie Bovary, an erudite cow determined to get out of Dodge and to the safety of India where her kind is sacred. She is aided on her journey by a pig determined to get to Israel (kosher laws) and a turkey to Turkey (because perhaps the name will mean he’s treated better). It is funny in parts and cringeworthy in others (expect a lot of puns). At times Duchovny’s conceit can produce moments where you nod appreciatively, and others like a Family Guy tangent that just doesn’t land.
In a Q&A with The Daily Beast, Duchovny riffs on polemical novels, criticism, fan fiction, and the future of The X Files.
Why a book about a cow, a pig, and a turkey?
Well, why a book about anything really, right? The thought occurred to me years ago that if I were a cow I would probably try to get to India if I was aware of what goes on. That struck me as kind of funny and kind of Disney—it had enough violence to be Disney—the threat of being slaughtered. I just kind of expanded it to what other animals might go on the lam to get to a country where they might be safe. A pig seemed safe in Israel because of kosher laws. I guess a clam or shrimp could go there, but that didn’t seem very dramatic. And then turkey to Turkey because the country’s named after them you would think. It became a picaresque story where these three allegorical figures are roaming the world and trying not to be eaten.
This is your debut novel, were you nervous about how it would be received?
Sure, there’s nervousness one gets when one will offer something to the world.
Was there any since you’re best known as an actor because it might be viewed as you dabbling?
Oh I don’t care about that. That’s really misinformed criticism, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you judge the work on its own? So if you’re coming to it with a preconceived notion of the author, what the author does, or how he wears his hair, then you’re a crap critic aren’t you? And you shouldn’t be doing your job.
One of the more serious aspects of the book is the criticism of the meat industry. At one point, however, your narrator talks about not sounding preachy. How important was that topic for you and do you think you wrote about it without being preachy?
It’s not a polemical piece, I don’t think of it that way. I personally don’t like works of political or polemical fiction. I don’t want to be taught that way. I’d rather just be taught the facts about something and I make up my own mind. I wrote this as entertainment, as a story, as an allegory. The issues that arise in the world that you write about are going to be issues that arise in the world. So with these animals, those are the issues that arise. I feel like it’s organic to them, so I would hope that it doesn’t feel preachy. I think it’s part of the fundamental fabric of the originating idea. So, I don’t know what else to say, I’m not trying to convert anybody to vegetarianism, I’m not trying to bring peace to the Middle East, although those things would be nice. I’m just trying to entertain people.
In the book you have mutual hatred for a pig bringing Palestinians and Israelis together. Do you have hope for common ground beyond that in the region?
You have to have hope. I think it’s obviously a very tangled situation. There’s a lot of history, and it goes back to partitioning of the Middle East after World War I. They drew borders that were arbitrary, and relocated tribes places where they’d never been. So it’s a country that’s been put in its place that’s not its original place. There’s a lot going on over there, and no, I don’t think I can solve it.
Your protagonist is not a big fan of technology and social media—do you feel similarly?
I don’t know if I’m a fan or not a fan. I’m not good at it, and I don’t find myself that interested in it. It doesn’t pull me. I don’t feel like checking that kind of stuff. I can’t deny that it’s part of the world, and it seems like it’s going to stay.
A lot of people who know you for your acting probably aren’t aware of your literary background in terms of your education. A bit has been made about your paper on Beckett. What was the title again?
The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels.
Do you regret that title?
No, because I don’t think anybody ever looked at it!
Now that you have read your own fiction, have you ever looked at any of the fan fiction about you on X Files?
I haven’t seen any fan fiction. I’m aware of it. I was shown stuff by my friend Nick Lea, who played Alex Krycek. It was a site for fiction that had me and my nemesis Alex Krycek as lovers and I thought that was pretty funny.
You write about the issue of the audience in your novel—did you have an audience in mind for the audience for the novel?
No, that’s a very Hollywood thing to think about, although it’s probably a book thing at this point, I don’t know, it’s so economics driven. I think it’s death to a creator, writer, painter, or whatever, to think about an audience before they work, or that you’re going to torture an idea out of its own real shape. You just have to kind of fill the shape of the idea and hope that an audience finds it. You can’t prescribe an audience.
The book has its fair share of jokes. How important to you was it to be funny?
It just seemed to me like that was the correct tone once I decided it was going to be narrated by a cow. I felt like I wasn’t going to be held up to any kind of, “Well that’s not really how a cow thinks.” So I was kind of free and then when I thought about what kind of consciousness would this narrating consciousness be, it kind of announced itself in a way to me as someone that knows about Homer but doesn’t know what a television is. That became kind of funny and interesting to me, there were all these disconnects between what the cow knows and what it doesn’t.
And a pig getting circumcised…
Well you can’t go wrong there. Comedy gold!
The big news a few weeks ago was that Twin Peaks is coming back. Do you think there will be a similar comeback for The X Files?
We’re talking about it. Everybody’s circling, probably closer than we have in years. Gillian Anderson, Chris Carter, and I have been talking about trying to get it together and to Fox about when and where. It’s difficult because there are three big moving parts, people that have careers and lives and live in different places, and so trying to get them all in the same place for any extended period of time is tough.
Have you and Gillian Anderson exchanged your novels?
No, I wasn’t even aware of her novel until I started doing interviews about this. If she wants me to read it I will.