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?


Mad said...

Robinson: "Nothing is more human than a book." Sorry, madam, books are nothing WITHOUT humans to inspire them ...

Murakami: Somebody summed up beautifully my feelings about the last ten years as an OIF Vet.

Kerouac: "...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"

Did this man predict Starbucks, laptop computers, and the coming of my whiny-assed generation? The figurative man of letters has now been replaced by the metrosexual man of lattes ...

'Nuff Said!

Well, nice that you got friends with literary benefits, Rodak. And very well said on your part. Sadly, I can only express my joy at finding an unwanted copy of the OED in terms of this GEICO character

Rodak said...

What say, MS? Thanks for dropping by. The Geico commercial is classic. Geico commercials are probably the best thing on TV these days.

Mad said...

Wasn't beating up on Ms. Robinson (koo koo ca choo) I just think there are fine lines between solitude, withdrawal in disgust (as Richard Viguerie put it), and outright loner misanthropy; having crossed all those lines many times myself. The average empty headed social extrovert will never understand where Ms. Robinson is getting, so they will always inevitably paint the desire for solitude as withdrawal or misanthropy. As Jonathan Rauch put it, introverts think before they talk, extroverts think AS they talk.

Thus, the Robinsons of the world will need to seek shelter from the boring reign of the Twitters and Facebookers of the world.

Rodak said...

Have you read any of M. Robinson's books? She's among the best going, which is why I chose her interview to read first, out of the dozens of candidates.

Mad said...

Just checked her out on Wikipedia. "Housekeeping" seems interesting.

Rodak said...

All three of her novels are primo. I would rank "Gilead" highest.