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Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Paris Review Interviews

Were you aware that the Paris Review, esteemed literary journal and propaganda tool of the CIA, prints extended interviews with novelists, poets, playwrights and at least one comics artist? Perhaps so. But were you also aware that you can access their entire archive of interviews via the globally connected computer network known as the Internet? And I recommend that you do. I can't get enough of them. They date all the way back to the 1950s and include everyone from T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway to Brett Easton Ellis, and the mysterious Elena Ferrante. Here's a random selection of excerpts from some of my favourites.

Joyce Carol Oates on the advantages of being a woman writer:

Advantages! Too many to enumerate, probably. Since, being a woman, I can't be taken altogether seriously by the sort of male critics who rank writers 1, 2, 3 in the public press, I am free, I suppose, to do as I like. I haven't much sense of, or interest in, competition; I can't even grasp what Hemingway and the epigonic Mailer mean by battling it out with the other talent in the ring. A work of art has never, to my knowledge, displaced another work of art. The living are no more in competition with the dead than they are with the living . . . Being a woman allows me a certain invisibility. Like Ellison's Invisible Man.

Gore Vidal engaging in exactly the kind of masculine one-upmanship that Joyce Carol Oates disapproves of:

Every writer ought to have at least one thing that he does well, and I’ll take Truman’s word that a gift for publicity is the most glittering star in his diadem. I’m pretty good at promoting my views on television but a washout at charming the book-chatters. But then I don’t really try. Years ago Mailer solemnly assured me that to be a “great” writer in America you had to be fairly regularly on the cover of the Sunday New York Times book section. Nothing else mattered. Anyway, he is now what he wanted to be: the patron saint of bad journalism, and I am exactly what I set out to be: a novelist.

Italo Calvino on trying to work in the morning:

Each morning I already know I will be able to waste the whole day. There is always something to do: go to the bank, the post office, pay some bills . . . always some bureaucratic tangle I have to deal with. While I am out I also do errands such as the daily shopping: buying bread, meat, or fruit. First thing, I buy newspapers. Once one has bought them, one starts reading as soon as one is back home—or at least looking at the headlines to persuade oneself that there is nothing worth reading. Every day I tell myself that reading newspapers is a waste of time, but then . . . I cannot do without them. They are like a drug. In short, only in the afternoon do I sit at my desk, which is always submerged in letters that have been awaiting answers for I do not even know how long, and that is another obstacle to be overcome.

Pablo Neruda on symbols:

NERUDA I don’t believe in symbols. They are simply material things. The sea, fish, birds exist for me in a material way. I take them into account, as I have to take daylight into account. The fact that some themes stand out in my poetry—are always appearing—is a matter of material presence.

INTERVIEWER What do the dove and guitar signify?

NERUDA The dove signifies the dove and the guitar signifies a musical instrument called the guitar.

Check them out for yourself, and let us know what your favourites are!


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