April 26, 2010

Attempts to flee from oneself

Paul Auster in an interview for Believer Magazine (talking with the author, Jonatham Lethem) about writing:
PA: You try to surprise yourself. You want to go against what you've done before. You want to burn up and destroy all your previous work; you want to reinvent yourself with every project.Once you fall into habits, I think, you're dead as an artist. You have to challenge yourself and never rest on your laurels, never think about what you've done in the past. Just say, that's done, now I'm tackling something else. It's certain that the world's large enough and interesting enough to take a different approach each time you sit down to write about it.

JL: Anyway, your voice is going to be helplessly your own. And so the books will be united despite your attempts to ignore your own earlier work.

PA: Exactly, because all your attempts to flee from yourself are useless. All you discover is yourself and your old obsessions. All the maniacal repetitions of how you think. But you try. And I think there's some dignity in that attempt.

JL: I'm laughing, because now, as I'm about to begin a new novel at last, the only thing I'm certain of are the exclusions, the things I'll refuse to do again.


PA: Well, that's good. When you become aware of what your limits have been so far, then you;re able to expand them. And every artist has limits. No one can do everything. It's impossible. What's beautiful about art is that it circumscribes a space, a physical and mental space. If you try to put the entire world into every page you turn out chaos. Art is about eliminating almost everything in order to focus on the thing that you need to talk about.
and a little later:
PA: "I think the glory of the novel is that you're open to everything and anything that exists or has existed in the world. I don't have any proscriptions. I don't say: "This is not allowed because..."
What is said about the process of writing above is true of the way we ought to lead our lives in general too, I think.

I read the above interview with Auster and many other great interviews with writers in The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers in January and February this year. In addition to Paul Auster, I read interviews with John Banville, Haruki Murakami, Grace Paley, George Saunders, Marilynne Robinson, Ian McEwan, Tobias Wolff, and part of the interview with Joan Didion. The book is a delightful treasure trove and different of 24 interviews, with the interviewer also being a writer, sometimes a now famous name like Zadie Smith (who interviews McEwan). Definitely a book worth buying! (I am a big fan of Paris Review's collections of interviews with authors and poets and I'd put this collection right up there with those books.)

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