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Archive for November 26th, 2008

November 26th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

The role of Artists; Writers as Magicians; and Zadie Smith versus reactionary Critics

Many ‘Modern’ writers and artists have sold out, says Alan Moore. They treat art simply as entertainment to be fed to apathetic, bored audiences who live only to die. The role of the artist is to give the audience not what it wants, he claims, but what it needs: to transform individuals, and more generally, society at large.

I’d add that artists might also actively question accepted norms, stretch perceived notions of right and wrong, good and bad; re-define the beautiful, the ‘real,’ the true; see and expose the unseen in society, know the unknown; provoke, astound; challenge the accepted.

Perhaps Zadie Smith agrees with this. Perhaps she may, however obtusely, be alluding to this role in her attack on Josepj O’Neill’s perfect ‘lyrically real’ novel Netherland.

I agree that much of what passes for good literature these days, isn’t, and that this is partly due to the accepted wisdom that nothing surpasses the aesthetic value found in ‘realism’ and its capacity to convey feeling and understanding. Perhaps all Smith is saying is that artists/novelists are today failing us in their duty to provoke and astound precisely because capitalism undermines the experimental, and ‘reactionary’ critics like James Wood — by eulogizing what exists and perpetuating the status quo,  condemning or at least undermining attempts to stretch, see and expose, — foster a climate inhospitable to the creation of genuinely innovative works of art and literature.

Perhaps this is what she is saying. Then again, given all the subtle shadings and layered logic that adorn her argument, how’s a clueless prole to know. 


November 26th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Paris Review’s Philip Gourevitch on the worth of Author Interviews


Philip Gourevitch, editor of The Paris Review, in the Williamette Weekly, on the worth of author interviews:

In William Gaddis’ opus The Recognitions, his character Wyatt once said that if an author had more to say than was in the art, he would have put it in the art. So what’s the worth of an author interview?

That’s what William Gaddis said, but then he gave us a Paris Review interview. Talking about one’s art is irrelevant to the art; the art and the writing speak for themselves. But that doesn’t mean that the writing life and the question of craft-which are what’s essential to Paris Review interviews-aren’t a matter of interest. It’s not theorizing about the art, but relating how the writer goes about it, what they do physically, their daily routines, their annual routines, how characters come from you. This demystifies the creative process. When Wyatt says what he says, it’s a mystification and romanticization of the artist-not that I’m against that. Most writers know that writing is labor, craft and toil. Some things are learnable, and some things are unlearnable and have to be confronted again and again. These interviews are not biographical, and they are not literary criticism, but they do address what it is to be a living writer. There is quite a bit of humor in these interviews. They are essentially spoken essays about the nature of the undertaking. And obviously they do have value, interest, and merit, because generations of writers have used them as sort of a starter kit for how to be a writer.

I’d say this holds if the intended audience, as Philip suggests, is mostly prospective writers. If listenership tends to possess a more general interest in books and literature, this approach I think is best broadened, so that questions focus primarily on the text itself, secondarily on its  recognized form or genre, thirdly on technique, then political/social context and finally on the life of the author him or herself.

Then again, the opposite could be true. What’s most important is the connection established between those involved in the process, which usually requires a lot of listening, genuine interest, curiosity and respect.