Sunday, September 26, 2010

Readings: The Paris Review Interviews

The other day, Big Brown delivered a package to me containing a priceless gift from my good friend, Jim, in Arizona. There was no occasion; that’s just the kind of guy Jim is. The gift was a boxed set of the four-volume The Paris Review Interviews. It includes interviews with 99.9% of the twentieth century literati with whom I wish I’d had a chance to have a beer and a conversation.

Given the magnificence of this gift, I was inspired to launch a new feature here at Rodak Riffs: Readings: the Paris Review Interviews. The premise is this: as I read these interviews over time, I will make an attempt to isolate and share here a quotation from each one. These quotations will not necessarily be ones most likely to show up on a googled list of author so-and-so’s quotes. It will, rather, be something they said which struck a responsive chord in me—a belief, attitude, predisposition, taste, opinion, or (perhaps) defect, that I find myself sharing with that writer.

This idea did not come to me until I was half-way through the reading of the interview with a less-than-cooperative, drunk, and surly Jack Kerouac. I had begun with Marilynne Robinson’s interview, followed by that of Haruki Murakami, and then Kerouac. So this first installment will contain three quotes, as follow:

Marilynne Robinson, speaking about her propensity for a “puritanical hedonism”:

…I’m kind of a solitary. This would not satisfy everyone’s hopes, but for me it’s a lovely thing. I recognize the satisfactions of a more socially enmeshed existence than I cultivate, but I go days without hearing another human voice and never notice it. I never fear it. The only thing I fear is the intensity of my attachment to it. …I grew up with the confidence that the greatest privilege was to be alone and have all the time you wanted. That was the cream of existence. I owe everything that I have done to the fact that I am very much at ease being alone. It’s a good predisposition in a writer. And books are good company. Nothing is more human than a book.

Haruki Murakami speaking of what his works tell his readers about “how strange the world is”:

xxxI don’t want to persuade the reader that it’s a real thing; I want to show it as it is. In a sense, I’m telling those readers that it’s just a story—it’s fake. But when you experience the fake as real it can be real. It’s not easy to explain.
xxxIn the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writers offered the real thing; that was their task. In War and Peace Tolstoy describes the battleground so closely that the readers believe it’s the real thing. But I don’t. I’m not pretending it’s the real thing. We are living in a fake world; we are watching fake evening news. We are fighting a fake war. Our government is fake. But we find reality in this fake world. So our stories are the same; we are walking through fake scenes, but ourselves, as we walk through these scenes, are real. The situation is real, in the sense that it’s a commitment, it’s a true relationship. That’s what I write about.

Jack Kerouac speaking of his role (and technique) as a writer:

I really hate to write. I get no fun out of it because I can’t get up and say I’m working, close my door, have coffee brought to me, and sit there camping like a “man of letters” doing his eight hour day of work and thereby incidentally filling the printing world with a lot of dreary self-imposed cant and bombast, bombast being Scottish for pillow stuffing. Haven’t you heard a politician use fifteen hundred words to say something he could have said in exactly three words? So I get out of the way so as not to bore myself either.

I am a closet solitary, living in an unreal world, wishing that it would make more of an effort to cater to my jones for java and recognition of my genius. Nailed again. What can I say?