Günter Grass: The Art of Fiction No. 124
An interview with the author, who died Monday.
An interview with the author, who died Monday.
"Really, the ideas and theories we form about others and their motivations are just as much portraits of ourselves as they are descriptions of other people. It’s impossible for them to be anything else, when you think about it."
An interview with the novelist, who died on Saturday.
“There’s only one subject for fiction or poetry or even a joke: how it is. In all the arts, the payoff is always the same: recognition. If it works, you say that’s real, that’s truth, that’s life, that’s the way things are. ‘There it is.’”
Michel Houellebecq on his controversial new novel, Submission, which imagines France electing its first Muslim president.
“'You have to understand: This is not your husband anymore, not a beloved person, but a radioactive object with a strong density of poisoning. You’re not suicidal. Get a hold of yourself.' And I was like someone who’d lost her mind: 'But I love him! I love him!' He’s sleeping, and I’m whispering: 'I love you!' Walking in the hospital courtyard, 'I love you.' Carrying his sanitary tray, 'I love you.'”
A public domain story of paranoia by the sci-fi master.
"Binary fission, obviously. Splitting in half and forming two entities. Probably each lower half went to the cafe, it being farther, and the upper halves to the movies. I read on, hands shaking. I had really stumbled onto something here. My mind reeled as I made out this passage."
“My mother kept scrapbooks of everything any of her children did all their lives, and among my scrapbooks are newspapers that I wrote on the typewriter at the age of six, The Hersey Family News, with ads offering my older brothers for various kinds of hard labor at very low wages.”
“I come to America, I go to England, I go to France…nobody’s at risk. They’re afraid of getting cancer, losing a lover, losing their jobs, being insecure. … It’s only in my own country that I find people who voluntarily choose to put everything at risk—in their personal life.”
Thoughts on necks.
“But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story.”
“A story is a kind of biopsy of human life.”
“In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.”
“I think you are asking me, in the most tactful way possible, about my own aggression and malice. What can I do but plead guilty? I don’t know whether journalists are more aggressive and malicious than people in other professions. We are certainly not a ‘helping profession.’ If we help anyone, it is ourselves, to what our subjects don’t realize they are letting us take. I am hardly the first writer to have noticed the not-niceness of journalists. Tocqueville wrote about the despicableness of American journalists in Democracy in America. In Henry James’s satiric novel The Reverberator, a wonderful rascally journalist named George M. Flack appears. I am only one of many contributors to this critique. I am also not the only journalist contributor. Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion, for instance, have written on the subject. Of course, being aware of your rascality doesn’t excuse it.”
INTERVIEWER: I imagine that people try to set you up as some sort of guru, whether political or metaphysical.
LESSING: I think people are always looking for gurus. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a guru. It’s quite terrifying.
“I think I knew that at heart I was an aging spinster.”
An interview on craft.
“No one works better out of anguish at all; that’s an incredible literary conceit.”
A woman from the past emerges with an offer.
"She was tall with a long, elegant nose like a thoroughbred. What people look like isn't the same as what you remember. She had been coming out of a restaurant one time, down some steps long after lunch in a silk dress that clung around the hips and the wind pulled against her legs. The afternoons, he thought for a moment."
An interview with the late writer.
A 12-hour interview on career and craft.
Dead creatures reflect on their current/eternal circumstance.
"Enshrouded and encased, the animal mummies are trying to be patient. They did not expect the afterlife to be lit with flickering, fluorescent bulbs. Darkened sarcophagi, woven boats rowed across the heavenly river, glimmering, gorgeous night—that was what they thought would be in store after they died and priests washed them with palm wine and pulled white linen tight."
An interview on craft.
A one-sided interview about a one night stand and a detailed, harrowing story about a sexual assault.
"That it was a titanic struggle, she said, in the Cutlass, heading deeper into the secluded area, because whenever for a moment her terror bested her or she for any reason lost her intense focus on the mulatto, even for a moment, the effect on the connection was obvious—his profile smiled and his right eye again went empty and dead as he recrudesced and began once again to singsong psychotically about the implements in his trunk and what he had in store for her once he found the ideal secluded spot, and she could tell that in the wavering of the soul-connection he was automatically reverting to resolving his connectionary conflict in the only way he knew. And I clearly remember her saying that by this time, whenever she succumbed and lost her focus for a moment and his eye and face reverted to creepy psychotic unconflicted relaxation, she was surprised to find herself feeling no longer paralyzing terror for herself but a nearly heartbreaking sadness for him, for the psychotic mulatto. And I’ll say that it was at roughly this point of listening to the story, still nude in bed, that I began to admit to myself that not only was it a remarkable postcoital anecdote but that this was, in certain ways, rather a remarkable woman, and that I felt a bit sad or wistful that I had not noticed this level of remarkability when I had first been attracted to her in the park."
Browsing the stacks with The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda.
I can’t ask anything. Once in a while if I’m forced into it I will conduct an interview, but it’s usually pro forma, just to establish my credentials as somebody who’s allowed to hang around for a while. It doesn’t matter to me what people say to me in the interview because I don’t trust it.